This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2014 vol. 171 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Revelation: The New American CommentaryHolman Reference, Nashville September 1, 2012
In the introduction Patterson discusses a number of matters such as authorship (the apostle John, p. 21), date (AD 95, p. 23), genre (a “prophetic circular letter which not infrequently makes use of apocalyptic imagery and device,” p. 25), text, canonicity, and symbolism. In a section on the history of interpretation, Patterson describes five approaches to the book: preterist, historicist, idealist, futurist, and an eclectic approach held by G. K. Beale, which is essentially a modified idealist position (pp. 26–30). Patterson maintains the futurist position (pp. 29–30). Another helpful section is on the theology of the book. In addition Patterson includes sections on premillennialism (pp. 35–40) and pretribulationalism (pp. 40–45). He clearly affirms both, although he is reluctant to label himself a dispensationalist. He rightly highlights the significance of the imminent return of Christ (p. 43). Also included is a section on preaching the book (pp. 45–48). This section should encourage those desiring to preach and teach Revelation, and it provides suggestions on how to avoid abuses of the difficult language in the book.
Patterson devotes significant space to the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:14–15; pp. 103–8). The teaching of Balaam is John’s label for some people’s antinomianism and immoral practices, and the teaching of the Nicolaitans may be an early form of Gnosticism (pp. 104–8).
Patterson is cautious about symbolic language in Revelation and avoids assigning referents to controversial symbols. The ten horns on the beast in 13:1 are ten rulers, but the kingdom is not specified (p. 275). The text does not specify the meaning of the mark of the beast (13:16–17; p. 282). The number of the beast (13:18) identifies it as a man, but Patterson does not suggest who that is (p. 282). Any reference or allusion to Nero here and elsewhere is rejected (pp. 275, 323). Babylon in Revelation 17–18 is “a religious system purporting to represent the true God while actually doing the work of Satan” (p. 321). The seven kingdoms mentioned in Revelation 17:10 are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece (those fallen), Rome (present), and a future persecuting empire (pp. 323–24). Patterson takes a literal view of 20:4–6, which states that Christ will reign on the earth for one thousand years (353–56).
Some will not be pleased with Patterson’s refusal to engage in speculation and identify many of these symbols, though this is one of the strengths of this volume. It might have been helpful, however, to explore what these symbols meant to the original audience. This would not be speculating on these identities; it would simply be an attempt to understand the text in its original context.
The volume is enhanced with various pastoral excursuses that address contemporary needs. For example following the discussion of Revelation 13 and the beast, Patterson includes an excursus with practical advice on avoiding deception by false teachers (pp. 282–83). And in an excursus on worship in Revelation 4, he discusses contemporary issues involved in worship (pp. 160–61). After discussing the bowl judgments in Revelation 16, Patterson discusses demon possession. He concludes that a believer cannot be demonized (pp. 316–17).
Commendably Patterson avoids speculation about current events, and he describes his views so that readers need not wonder where he stands on major points.
In light of all the scholarly material on apocalyptic genre and Revelation, more interaction with these sources would have been helpful, including major commentaries by Aune, Beale, Osborne, and Thomas and important monographs.
For those interested in a recent, popular, readable commentary on Revelation from a pretribulational and premillennial point of view, Patterson’s volume may be the best available. He provides well-reasoned arguments for this position and avoids extreme claims.
—Joseph D. Fantin