Dean Flemming, Foretaste of the Future: Reading Revelation in Light of God’s Mission

Flemming, Dean. Foretaste of the Future: Reading Revelation in Light of God’s Mission. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2022. 244 pp. Pb; $28.  Link to IVP Academic

Dean Flemming (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor emeritus of New Testament and missions at MidAmerica Nazarene University (Olathe, Kansas) and has served as a missionary educator in Asia and Europe. Flemming has published several works on the mission God, including Why Mission? (Reframing New Testament Theology) (Abingdon, 2015) and several academic articles and chapters on missio dei and contextualization of the Gospel.

A missional reading of the Apocalypse leads us to explore the book’s understanding of what God is up to in the world (God’s mission) and how God’s people, both in John’s time and our own, are called to be part of that mission (our mission), in our various global settings” (208). He defines the mission of God at various points in the book, but for a more detailed discussion of what Flemming means by this phrase, see his Recovering the Full Mission of God (IVP, 2013). For many readers, Revelation is not about mission at all, but predictions of future events at the end of the world. Flemming strenuously disagrees: “Revelation is not about scripting future events but revealing God’s great purpose to redeem and restore the whole of creation, including people, through the mission of the slain lamb. At the same time, Revelation seeks to shape Christian communities to take part in God’s saving purpose by living as a foretaste of God’s coming new creation, through their lips and through their lives” (3). This approach grounds Revelation in the social context of the first century Greco-Roman world, but his view is always on how the present church takes part in the mission of God today.

Reading Revelation Missionally Chapters 2-4 deal with the major characters of Revelation, God, the Lamb, and the Church. Flemming contextualizes Revelation in the culture of first century Asia Minor. This includes the imperial cult and the claims of the empire. For Flemming, “the greatest threat was not persecution as such but rather the temptation to cozy up to the ways of the dominant Roman culture, perhaps to avoid persecution” (39). Revelation must also be set into the context of the whole Old Testament. Revelation extensively uses the Old Testament, John “wallpapers Revelation with biblical echoes and allusions…John re-contextualizes and adapts them” for his theological and pastoral purposes (31). By setting Revelation in the proper context, there are many points in the book where Flemming expresses an anti-imperial reading of Revelation. But this is passive resistance to the Roman Empire. He cites Richard Hays, “A work that places a slaughtered lamb that was slaughtered at the center of its praises and worship can hardly be used to validate violence and coercion” (63).

Focusing on the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, Flemming rightly observes Revelation turns out to be one of the most important sources for ecclesiology in the New Testament. He observes several implications for missional reading of Revelation in these chapters. First, God’s people are to be priests and rulers, with echoes of the exodus. Second, God’s people are sealed and redeemed (Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-5). Third, God’s people are universal and uncountable. This speaks to the wide ethnic diversity of God’s people. Revelation tells the church of any age and any location, “despite present setbacks or pushbacks, your faithful witness will produce a rich harvest in the end” (93).

The next unit of the book treats major themes of Revelation. First, Revelation describes mission as witness (ch. 5). Revelation has a clear theme of being a faithful witness in the face of suffering (the faithful witness of Antipas; 2:13; cf., 17:6). A faithful testimony of Jesus is “an act of countercultural resistance” (102). For Flemming, the two witnesses symbolize the church (105). The two witnesses are, therefore, “like a parable for the witnessing church in every generation” (110). The fire in Revelation 11:4 is not a literal consuming fire but a symbol of the powerful testimony of the church (109). He does not explain how causing droughts, turning the waters to blood, and striking people with every kind of plague relate to the preaching of the gospel (11:6).

Chapter six deals with reading Revelation missionally and the judgements described in the book. The earth’s inhabitants “must decide either repent and give glory to the maker of everything or continue in your pigheaded pursuit of the worshiping of the beast” (125). John’s descriptions of destruction in Revelation are “symbols of God’s complete victory over sin and evil, and not literal descriptions of how that happens” (132). However, I wonder. The models which John uses from the Old Testament were actual, literal destruction. John models his descriptions on the Exodus, for example, and possibly the great slaughter of the Assyrian armies in 2 Kings 19:35–36. Although Flemming is certainly correct, Revelation does not provide a code for predicting current and near future events. Jewish apocalyptic literature (whether canonical or non-) usually expects real persecution of God’s people and a spectacular slaughter of God’s enemies.

A key theme in Revelation is mission and worship (ch.7). Commentators often observe that worship is an important Revelation; nearly every chapter includes a worship scene. As Flemming says, Revelation “is peppered with ritual acts” (141). Worship in Revelation announces God’s saving purpose. But worship also confronts the world as it is. This takes a political turn: Revelation asks, “who is worthy of worship? God or empire?” Imperial worship served as a social contract for maintaining a stable empire. Revelation is clear: worship of the beast needs to be resisted even if this leads to persecution or death. Christians resist Rome’s claims by non-participation in public liturgical practice” (154).

This leads to mission in politics chapter eight. How can politics be missional? He argues that a missional reading of scripture is always profoundly political (185). Flemming focuses this chapter on Revelation 13. The beast is an anti-imperial parody of the lamb (cf. Revelation 17, the whore of Babylon) Flemming argues that the name of the beast refers to Caesar. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss civil religion in a contemporary context. For Flemming, nationalism is idolatry. Revelation describes Babylon as economically exploitive, arrogant, violent, and dehumanizing of outsiders. He draws clear analogies to contemporary American political discourse. What is Revelation’s solution? Leave Babylon! Get out of the empire by rejecting greed and re-humanizing outsiders such as the poor and refugees. (Essentially, return to Old Testament prophetic social ethics, or the Jesus oriented social ethics found in the Sermon on the Mount, although Flemming does not make the point this way).

He briefly discusses the problem of reconciling Romans 13 with Revelation 13. Flemming says this is a classic example of contextualizing the gospel (171). Paul and John are addressing much different situations. This post on Reading Revelation as anti-imperial cult.

Chapter 9 discusses the new heaven and new earth. Even the new Jerusalem can be read in the context of mission. The new Jerusalem “drenches the whole earth in God’s presence” (190). Therefore, the aim of the church now should be shaped by this goal. Local churches ought to live as a preview and, the real presence of the new world which is to come. Finally, chapter 10 provides a helpful summary of a missional reading of Revelation with thirteen points of application drawn from the theology of the book. Flemming could expand each of these points into another book!

The book is illustrated with images drawn from ancient manuscripts and text boxes with salient quotes from scholars and other literature. Flemming writes for a wide range of readers, often referring to pop-culture (including a reference to Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock when describing the New Jerusalem, something I regularly do in my classes!)

One word of critique. Throughout the book, Flemming is clear that he has no time for any future predictions in the Book of Revelation. This is a common view in scholarship and one with which I do not completely disagree. However, I think he overplays dispensationalism’s view of the Rapture. For example, very few contemporary dispensationalists think Revelation 4:1 is about the Rapture. Quoting musician Larry Norman as a representative of dispensational theology is not at all fair (see page 4, for example). There are dispensational commentaries on Revelation by legitimate dispensational scholars, which would better serve Flemming’s argument. Describing a dispensationalist approach to Revelation as “pie-in-the-sky” by quoting novels and fifty-year-old popular songs is a strawman argument.

Conclusion. Flemming is correct: Revelation is more about unmasking the present than unveiling the future. Throughout the book, his application of Revelation’s symbols to first century world is clear and on point. His application to contemporary culture is challenging for readers in both America and throughout the world.


NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


The Rider on the White Horse – Revelation 19:11-16

The Return of the KingVirtually everyone agrees this passage describes the triumphal return of Christ. But as David Aune notes, the imagery used is not derived from other early Christian traditions concerning the return of the Lord (Revelation, 3:1046). The description of the return of Jesus as conquering king are drawn from a wide variety of texts in the Old Testament and Second Temple literature. In fact, the rider on a white horse is the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom.

The rider is described in somewhat familiar terms to those who read apocalyptic literature. His eyes are like a fiery flame (v 12).  Eyes like flaming torches are associated with heavenly beings, as in Dan 10:6 (Theodotian LXX). He has many crowns (diadems) on his head (12). In the Greco-Roman world, multiple crowns is an indication of sovereignty over territories.

Just as the dragon had seven crowns and the kings to come had crowns, so the rider has many crowns, perhaps so many they are not counted. He wears a robe dipped in blood (13). Normally blood is associated with the atonement, but this is not the case here.  The blood is that of the enemies of God, and is likely an allusion to Is 63:1-3.

A sharp sword comes out of his mouth (15a). This is a reference to the power of his word (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21), but the image appears elsewhere in Jewish apocalyptic.

4QIsaiah Peshera 8-10 iii 15-19 (tr. García Martínez, Dead Sea Scrolls, 186): [He will destroy the land with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he will execute the evil] ? [The interpretation of the word concerns the shoot] of David which will sprout [in the final days, since with the breath of his lips he will execute] his enemies.

The rider has several names. First, he is named Faithful and True. These titles are used for Jesus in Revelation 1:5 and 3:14. Second, he has another name inscribed which he alone knows (12b). Divine beings sometimes had a secret name or were unwilling to give their true names. In Gen 32:29, for example, God does not give his name when asked. Third, his name is “the Word of God” (13b), reminiscent of John 1:1 where Jesus is called the Word. Finally, on his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed: King of kings and Lord of lords (16).

Mantiklos Apollo with inscription on its thigh

Mantiklos Apollo with inscription on its thigh

James Edwards has recently published several examples of writing on the thigh of statues. The article includes photographs of statues of Apollo found in Miletus (fifth century BCE) and Claros (sixth century BCE) with writing on Apollo’s thigh indicating who offered a sacrifice to Apollo. These two statues date centuries before Revelation was written, but there are literary references to inscribed statues in Cicero and Pausanias indicate the practice of inscribing a name to honor the donor was well-known. Since all but one of his examples are dedicated to Apollo, Edwards argues this is an allusion to the Apollo cult, something he argues appears in Revelation 12 (Edwards, 529-535). For Edwards, the name on the thigh is therefore a “divine rejoinder to the inscription on the forehead of the great harlot” (535).

In Jesus the Bridegroom, I suggested Isaiah 49:14-26 adapted elements of Lamentations and Jeremiah 2 into a complaint song. In Isa 49:14 Lady Zion complains that her husband has forsaken her. The Lord protests, however, stating that he has in no way forgotten his bride. The Lord cannot forget his bride Zion because her name is “inscribed on his palms.”

While the vocabulary is different, “inscribing on the arm” is an indication of love in Song 8:6. Fox sees a parallel between Song 8:6 and the Cairo Love Songs (COS 1.150) in which a young man expresses his desire to always be near his beloved: “If only I were her little seal–ring, the keeper of her finger! I would see her love each and every day.”  As Marvin Pope suggests, anatomical descriptions in poetry are quite flexible. An “arm wearing a ring” in Song 8:6 should likely be understood as a hand.

But there is considerable difference between a mark or symbol on one’s hand and a name inscribed on one’s thigh. However, in the context of the final chapters of Revelation, the rider on the white horse is coming to the wedding banquet of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-8). In Isaiah 49:18, the Lord swears an oath that Zion will adorn herself as a bride once again as her children return to Jerusalem. These verses are likely an allusion to Jeremiah 2:32, “can a girl forget her ornaments?”

I suggest, therefore, that the name on the thigh is part of the marriage imagery present in Revelation 19-22 and draws on the rich imagery of Israel’s marriage relationship with God in the Hebrew Bible. As in Isaiah 49, God has not forsaken his bride Israel and is now returning to rescue her from her oppressors.

The rider has come in order to judge in righteousness (11b).  That the messiah will be God’s righteous judge is a theme of several texts in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 98, 72:2, 96:13, Isa 11:4). He will wage war in righteousness (11b) and smites the nations with the sharp sword (15a).  He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (15b). That the Messiah will be something of a true shepherd is common in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 2:9) as well as Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25.

Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25 See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God.  Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles who trample her to destruction; in wisdom and in righteousness to drive out the sinners from the inheritance; to smash the arrogance of sinners like a potter’s jar; To shatter all their substance with an iron rod; to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth; At his warning the nations will flee from his presence; and he will condemn sinners by the thoughts of their hearts.

John describes this judgment as treading “the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This is yet another familiar metaphor for the anger of God in Revelation and the est of the prophets. John has already used this metaphor in Rev 14:19.

The Rider on the White horse therefore represents the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom. God intervenes in history by means of a mighty warrior who renders justice. He will punish the enemies of Israel, destroying them utterly. But he will also vindicate those who have suffered on behalf of their testimony for Jesus: they are raised to new life in Rev 20.


Bibliography: James R. Edwards, “The Rider on the White Horse, the Thigh Inscription, and Apollo: Revelation 19:16,” JBL 137.2 (2018): 519-536.Long, Jesus the Bridegroom: The Origin of the Eschatological Feast as a Wedding Banquet in the Synoptic Gospels (Pickwick, 2013).





Ian Paul, Revelation (TNTC)

Paul, Ian. Revelation. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 371 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series replaces the 1969 commentary by Leon Morris, originally published by Eerdmans. Ian Paul is described as “a freelance theologian” as well as an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and associate minister at St Nicholas’ Church in Nottingham, England. These three roles are reflected in this commentary. Paul certainly pays attention to the exegetical and theological details of the text, but he is also interested in accurately communicating the book of Revelation in a pastoral context.

Ian Paul RevelationThe fifty-six page introduction begins with the observation that Revelation has been an influential book on both culture and worship, but it is also one of the most neglected books of the New Testament. Outside of the first three chapters, few preach from the book of Revelation. For Paul, Revelation is an important book because it tests an exegete’s ability to read Scripture well. Perhaps the proof of this is the wide range of bad interpretations of Revelation over the long history of the church. But Revelation also has significant implications for how the Gospel interacts with culture.

Paul’s approach in the commentary is first to pay disciplined attention to the text. This close reading of what Revelation actually says is not always evident as commentators are often driven by theological assumptions. Second, Paul pays attention to how John draws on the Old Testament and parallel texts in the New Testament. This is more than a search for allusions to the Old Testament in Revelation, since how John uses the Old Testament may tell us quite about his theological agenda. Third, Paul wants to understand how John’s message would have been understood by the original audience. Again, this is often set aside by some commentators who are only interested in the eschatology of the book. This attention to the original historical and social context will inform the fourth element of Paul’s approach, to make connections to the real world. How does Revelation preach in the contemporary world? In order to bridge the gap between the culture of first century Asia Minor and make appropriate applications to modern issues, the exegete hear the text as it was intended by the author in the first century.

With respect to other introductory details, Paul dates the book to the reign of Domitian, A.D. 85-95. Although this date certainly allows for the apostle John to be the author (the traditional view), the authority of book comes from what has been written rather than apostolic authorship. Paul does provide an argument that the Gospel of John and Revelation could be written by the same person, he admits the evidence is not conclusive.

Based on this date, Paul’s introduction surveys the historical, social and economic context of late first century Asia Minor. This necessarily includes a short section on the pervasiveness of the imperial cult in the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3. Although he only has space for a short introduction to the issue, Paul emphasizes the importance of the imperial cult for understanding some of the imagery in the book. He also responds to recent discussions of the non-persecution of Christians during the reign of Domitian. Paul agrees there was no systemic, empire wide persecution of Christians, they nevertheless faces varying degrees of pressure, often economic, for their resistance to local gods and the imperial cult.

The introduction also includes a short section on the genre of Revelation. On the one hand, Revelation claims to be a vision, but on the other the book is constructed with extraordinary attention to details and remarkable subtly with respect to its allusions to the Hebrew Bible. Is the book “revelation or research”? For Paul, it is more important to attend carefully the text regardless of how John wrote the book. The book is apocalyptic, but it claims to be prophecy and it has some features of a letter. As such, the book makes claims about reality, even if those claims are made using complex metaphors.

Most commentaries on Revelation must deal with how the book relates to the future (or not). Paul offers short descriptions of idealist, futurist, historical and preterist approaches along with four theological positions on the kingdom, premillennialism, amillennialism, postmillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. Paul observes that although these eight possible positions are often presented as strategies for interpreting Revelation they are in fact conclusions about how the book should be interpreted. The interpreter brings their preterism or dispensationalism to Revelation rather than letting the book speak for itself. The book does speak to the Christians to whom it was addressed but it also has something to say about the future destiny of the world. In many ways the categories attempt to force Revelation into a theological slot which is not fully suited to the book. This blending of past, present and future is a healthy way to approach Revelation, although Paul does not always embrace the future aspects in the commentary.

The body of the commentary treats the English text (usually TNIV) in a verse-by-verse fashion. He divides each section into context, comment, and theology, although the first and last sections are usually just a short paragraph. When Paul deals with Greek or Hebrew words they appear in transliteration. Although this is certainly a scholarly commentary, in keeping with the style of the Tyndale series Paul does not often interact with other scholarship. This is refreshing since recent commentaries have become collections of views from other commentaries. Paul’s comments are intended to illuminate the text of Revelation and enable a reader to make sense of some difficult problems.

Two examples will suffice to illustrate Paul’s method. In commenting on the first four seals, the four horsemen, Paul rightly dismisses the possibility the white rider is Jesus and suggests it is an allusion to Apollo and refers to pagan religions. The next four horsemen clearly refer to war, famine and death, the conditions of Asia Minor in the late first century. He suggests a parallel to Jesus’s teaching in the Olivet Discourse (using Matthew 24:5-29 and summarized in a simple chart, p. 148). The theological point John makes with this imagery is that the imperial myth of peace and prosperity is actually a myth. The Empire is full of chaos and suffering, only the sovereign God has power over this world. Certainly this is a message each generation of the church needs to embrace, no empire brings real peace and prosperity to this world. But Paul does not address any possible future hope in the first six seals despite the coming of the “great and terrible day of the Lord” in 6:16-17. Some scholars have suggested each of the seals, trumpets and bowls culminate in the return of Jesus. It is certainly possible understand the seals as pointing toward a future hope in the return of Jesus without embracing any complicated dispensational timeline drawn from Revelation 6.

With respect to the “number of the beast” in Revelation 13:16-18, Paul briefly explains the practice of Gematria and suggests the number refers to Nero Caesar in Hebrew. Both Nero Caesar and beast have a numerical value of 666 and identifying the number of the beast with Nero makes sense of some other elements of the chapter, such as the Nero Redivivus myth. Ultimately Revelation 13 is about human totalitarian rule which defies the sovereignty of God. The contemporary example for John is Nero and the Roman Empire, a message which will resonate in every generation of the church. Where Paul stops short is suggesting a future application of this defiant totalitarian rule to the ultimate enemy of God who will be defeated by God in the future.

Conclusion. Ian Paul’s commentary is an excellent guide to reading the text of Revelation. In keeping with the format of the Tyndale series, this is not an exhaustive commentary which delves into every nuance of the text. Compared to the commentaries by David Aune (WBC, now Zondervan, 1998; three volumes and 1600+ pages) or Greg Beale (NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1998, 800 pages), this book is a brief.  But other than scholars, few people have time to wade through the depths of such massive commentaries. This short commentary in the Tyndale series is a joy to read, both pastors and laypeople will appreciate Paul’s lucid style.


Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:



NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


“God’s Wrath is Completed” – Revelation 15:1-8

John says he sees another “great and marvelous sign,” the third such description in the book (cf. 12:1 and 12:3).  The sign, in this case, is the last set of seven angels. These are the last because “God’s wrath is completed.” God’s wrath is associated with Israel’s rebelliousness, but the prophets extend that wrath to the eschatological events (Isa 26:20, Ezek 7:19, 22:24, for example).

In Revelation, God’s wrath is a featured attribute of God.  This is a righteous wrath, and is to a large extent anthropomorphic.  God’s anger is not at all like human wrath, he is justly punishing those who have offended his law. The wrath of God is nearly completed.  This can be translated “has been accomplished,” meaning that with these final judgments the wrath which was begun in chapter 6 has run its course.

MosesThe doors to the heavenly temple are opened and seven angels appear with the final seven plagues. The description of this location is as the temple and the tent / tabernacle.  The reference to the tent is likely to the tent of meeting, the place where Moses spoke face to face with the Lord, yet another allusion to events of the Exodus.

Temples with open doors were considered a “bad sign” in the ancient world. David Aune lists several sources indicating a temple door opening by themselves was a sign of God’s wrath (Revelation, 2:878). The whole temple is filled with the smoke of the glory of God.  This is a theophany: God’s presence is about to come to earth to finish his wrath.

After announcing that the final wrath of God has begun, John witnesses yet another worship scene in heaven (15:2-4).  This worship scene has elements from chapter 4-5, now familiar scenes of heavenly worship (sea of glass, martyrs worshiping, harps and singing).  In this case the martyrs are identified as those who have overcome the beast and the number of his name.  Presumably they have been martyred because they refused to take the mark of the beast.

The song they are singing is identified as the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. The Song of Moses is found in Exodus 15:1-18, Deut. 31:30-32:43; and Psalm 90. The problem with the Song of Moses in this context is that there is no literary relationship between the song recorded in Revelation and the various versions of the Song of Moses in the Old Testament.  Perhaps what follows is only the Song of the Lamb and the reader is assumed to know what the song of Moses is. More likely is that the context of the original song is what John wants to evoke. If you head someone hum a few notes of a famous song, the whole song comes to mind.

The Song of Moses is worship of God because he has overcome the enemies of Israel. In Exodus, God rescued his people out of Egypt and overcame the Egyptians and their gods.  There are obvious connections between the following bowl judgments and Exodus. Just as he has done in the past, God is once again working to redeem his people from an oppressive and evil empire.

Book Review: Grant R. Osborne, Revelation: Verse by Verse

Osborne, Grant R.  Revelation: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 417 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

This short commentary on Revelation by Osborne is part of his series published by Lexham Press in both print and Logos Library editions. As of December 2017, six of the commentaries have been published. I have also reviewed Osborne’s Romans, Galatians, and Prison Epistle commentaries.

Osborne wrote the Baker Exegetical Commentary on Revelation (Baker 2002) and his interpretive methodology to Revelation is similar in this shorter commentary. In the 2002 commentary he stated on the first page of the introduction his approach would use elements of both preterism and futurism. Preterism takes the symbols of Revelation as referring to events in the recent past or present of the original readers. Futurism takes most of the symbols in Revelation as predictions of events in a coming tribulation period just prior to the return of Jesus. Idealism interprets the symbols as referring to the general struggle between good and evil and the ongoing challenge for the church in society.

For example, Revelation is talking about the Roman Empire, but it is also talking about the future judgment the ultimate Roman Empire. In his exegetical commentary, Osborne defined apocalyptic as “the present is addressed through parallels with the future” (p. 22). But Osborne also sees value in a third approach to Revelation which interprets the symbols generally as referring to the ongoing struggle of Christians in an evil world (usually called “idealism”). By combining all three of these interpretive strategies to Revelation Osborne demonstrates Revelation had a clear application to the original readers as well as readers who live closer to the Second Coming of Christ, but also to all Christians in any historical and cultural context.

With respect to other often debated issues in Revelation, Osborne accepts the traditional view that the John of Revelation is the apostle, John the son of Zebedee. He dates the book to the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96) rather than to the reign of Nero. The earlier date has become more popular in recent years, especially among preterists who argue Revelation refers to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. During the reign of Domitian the province of Asia Minor experienced a surge of pro-Roman sentiment as well as further development of the imperial cult. As with his earlier commentary, Osborne sees this as background for many of the symbols in Revelation.

As with the other volumes in this Verse-by-Verse Commentary series, Osborne provides an outline in the introduction which becomes the chapters for the rest of the book. In general, this works out to one short chapter of commentary for each chapter of Revelation. He then works through the chapter commenting briefly on each verse. Although his comments certainly reflect an understanding of the Greek text, he limits his comments to the English text of Revelation. Likewise, he has certainly read secondary literature, but there are no footnotes to other commentaries on Revelation. When he contrasts several views he does so generally. For example, commenting on the 1000-year kingdom in Revelation 20, he contrasts premillennialism with post- and a- millennialism. His brief explanation is clear and does not need to be supplemented with citations of representatives of each view. This makes for a very readable commentary for the layperson using the book as a supplement to personal Bible study or in a small group context.

There are many symbols in Revelation which generate extensive discussion and debate. For the sake of this review, I will use an example drawn from Revelation 13, the mark of the beast. Osborne explains the practice of using letters for numbers and offers four possibilities for interpreting the number 666. In the 2002 exegetical commentary he offered five options, in the shorter he omits taking the number as chronological, linked to some future empire. He suggests the number refers to a world leader, likely Nero Caesar in Hebrew, but he is not dogmatic in the issue since there is merit to the view 666 is a repetition of a number symbolizing man’s failure. With respect to interpretation, Osborne points out John’s original readers would have seen the name and number of the beast as an allusion to the imperial cult (a preterist view), but all Christians ought to be warned against false teachers (“antichrists”) are remain vigilant as the world turns against the church (an idealist view). But he also says this will “culminate in a final ‘great tribulation’ (7:14) at the close of human history when the antichrist appears and establishes an ‘unholy Roman Empire’ with the false prophet the head of a ‘one-world religion’” (p. 236). This is a clear statement of a futurist interpretation of the mark of the beast.

This blending of approaches will not satisfy everyone. Interpreters of Revelation who are entrenched preterists will reject Osborne’s futurism, but futurists (especially classic dispensationalists) may find Osborne’s references to the Roman Empire or Imperial Cult distracting. In the end I think Osborne balances the three approaches to Revelation in a way which grounds the book in the real world of first century Asia Minor with clear application to the present experience of the church. This avoids dangers of a thoroughgoing futurism which makes the book irrelevant for the church today.

Conclusion. As with the other commentaries in this series, Osborne’s Verse-by-Verse Commentary will serve pastors and teachers as they prepare sermons on the text of the Bible. Osborne’s goal for this book is “to help pastors faithfully exposit the text in a sermon.” Osborne achieves his goal of providing a scholarly yet readable commentary on Revelation.


NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.