Book-notes on James Hamilton’s Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches
|April 3, 2012||Posted by Rick Hogaboam under Book Recommendations, Book Reviews|
Dr. James Hamilton does not disappoint in this recent installment of the Preaching the Word commentary series edited by R. Kent Hughes. I was hoping that Dr. Hughes himself would author the commentary on Revelation, but was just as excited to find out that Hamilton had been slated for this volume – good choice!
Dr. Hamilton’s commentary is unlike any other commentary I have read on Revelation, and, generally, novelty on Revelation is not to be commended. He is not novel in his material, but rather in the rare combination of idealism, premillennialism, and humble offering of his convictions. He sounds like an idealist amillennial throughout until he arrives at Revelation 20, where he opts for a premillennial reading. Even on his convictions of the millennium, he is willing to admit that the number 1,000 is likely symbolic, but is a sequential frame of time nonetheless.
He departs from the usual dispensational interpretation on just about everything else throughout the book. The author is careful to qualify his assertions with a humble tone, as is seen in the following exceprt:
Fourth, I am going to suggest that John has interpreted Daniel’s seventieth week in the various references to three and a half years that we find in the book of Revelation. My goal here is to set what John has written in chapters 6—16 within the wider story of the Bible in order to see how these events fit within what God has revealed of his plan. Whether my attempt to set out the details of the plan is correct or not, we can agree that there is a plan. The fact that there is a plan is reassuring (Hamilton Jr. 2012:163).
One of the helpful guiding hermeneutical principles for Hamilton is his adherence to chiastic understanding of the literary units in Revelation:
1:9–3:22, Letters to the Seven Churches: The Church in the World
4:1–6:17, Throne Room Vision, Christ Conquers and Opens the Scroll
7:1–9:21, The Sealing of the Saints and the Trumpets Announcing Plagues
10:1–11, The Angel and John (True Prophet)
11:1–14, The Church: Two Witnesses Prophesy for 1,260 Days, Then Opposition from the Beast
11:15–19, Seventh Trumpet: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” Worship!
12:1–13:10, The Church: The Woman Nourished for 1,260 Days, Then Opposition from the Dragon and the Second Beast 13:11–18, The Deceiving Beast (False Prophet)
14:1–19:10, The Redemption of the Saints and the Bowls of Wrath
19:11–20:15, Return of Christ, He Conquers, Sets up His 1,000- Year Kingdom, and Opens the Scrolls
21:1–22:7, New Heavens and New Earth: The Church in Glory
22:8–21, Letter Closing: Jesus Is Coming Soon
Another thing that chiasms accomplish is that they set mutually interpretive items across from one another. Thus, I would suggest that we should interpret 11:1–14, which describes the two witnesses, alongside 12:1–13:10, which describes the struggle between the woman who bears the male child (Jesus) and the great red dragon. Both sections deal with the church’s struggle against satanic opposition (Hamilton Jr. 2012:165).
Other noteworthy insights from Hamilton would be his understanding of the trumpets and bowls of judgment:
Both the first trumpet and the first bowl affect the earth. Both the second trumpet and the second bowl affect the sea, making it blood, and sea creatures die. Both the third trumpet and the third bowl affect the rivers and springs of water. Both the fourth trumpet and the fourth bowl affect the sun. Both the fifth trumpet and the fifth bowl result in humans experiencing terrible pain. Both the sixth trumpet and the sixth bowl depict armies massed for the final battle. Both the seventh trumpet and the seventh bowl result in the triumph of God in Christ. So I think the trumpets and the bowls are presenting complementary descriptions of the final judgments. There are also similarities between the trumpets and the bowls and the plagues on Egypt; so I think John presents the trumpets and bowls in Revelation as the plagues that accompany the new exodus. God will save his people at the end the same way he saved them at the beginning: by judging his enemies. These final plagues in Revelation, however, are not the only events in the New Testament that are presented as the new exodus. The death of Jesus on the cross is also spoken of as an “exodus” that Jesus accomplished at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). God redeemed his people through the death of the new Passover Lamb, Jesus (Hamilton Jr. 2012: 168-169).
Hamilton also offers a lengthy explanation of his conviction that Daniel’s 70th week should be understood symbolically and not literally as a 7 year period. That will surely rile up some of his old Dallas Theological Seminary professors, but he makes his case convincingly. As for the millennium – which is no small matter – Hamilton says:
Jesus comes in judgment in 19:11–21, slays his enemies, and throws the beast and the false prophet into the lake of fire (19:20, 21). Then Satan is bound for a thousand years (20:1–3), and during that thousand years resurrected believers reign with Christ on earth (20:4–6). At the end of the thousand years, Satan is released and deceives the nations, led by Gog of the land of Magog, as prophesied in Ezekiel 38, 39, in a final rebellion. Note that in Ezekiel 38, 39 in the latter days Gog attacks the land that has experienced eschatological restoration (cf. especially Ezekiel 38:8, 11, 12).1 Satan’s final rebellion is defeated in 20:7–10, and then 20:11–15 shows the final judgment at the great white throne. Just as the defeat of Gog of Magog in Ezekiel 38, 39 is followed by the description of the new heaven and earth in the form of a cosmic temple in Ezekiel 40—48, so also the defeat of Gog of Magog in 20:7–10 is followed, after the final judgment, by a new heaven and new earth as a cosmic temple in Revelation 21, 22 (Hamilton Jr. 2012:366).
Responding more directly to amillennialists, Hamilton continues (2012:368):
Some think this binding of Satan for a thousand years happened when Jesus died on the cross, and they think that we are in that thousand-year period right now. In their view chapter 12 described the same thing as we see described in another way here in chapter 20. The differences between chapter 20 and chapter 12 are too significant for me to find that view convincing (see Table 22.1, “Differences in Detail between Revelation 12:7–12 and 20:1–3” in chapter 22 of this commentary). Those who think that we are now in the millennium are called amillennialists, but they do not necessarily think there is no millennium at all, just not one in the future. They hold that we are in the millennium now; so some prefer the label realized or inaugurated millennialism. Against that perspective, I find the view that the binding of Satan is something that will happen in the future far more compelling. This view holds that the millennium has not happened yet, so we are now in the period prior to the thousand years described in this text (thus the label premillennial).
I don’t want to give everything away that Hamilton says about Revelation 20, but I will offer these final words regarding the fourth verse about the resurrection (2012:373-374):
Dead people “came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Amillennialists claim that this is either regeneration or a coming to life in the presence of God in Heaven.7 I think that kind of explanation does violence to this text. These are clearly dead people, and these are dead people who were beheaded for the gospel. So their coming to life cannot be describing their regeneration. Look at the phrase in verse 4, “They came to life,” which is identified as “the first resurrection” in verse 5, and then immediately preceding that in verse 5 is a reference to “the rest of the dead” coming to life. “The rest of the dead” coming to life after the thousand years is neither regeneration nor an entrance into life in the presence of God in Heaven. It is physical resurrection, and the same is true of the believers coming to life in verse 4. Nor will it work to say that they came to life in the presence of God in Heaven because elsewhere in Revelation we read of people reigning with Christ on earth. Compare the last phrase of verse 4 with the last phrase of verse 6: 20:4, “They came to life and reigned with him for a thousand years.” 20:6, “. . . they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” Now with those two verses in mind look back at 5:10: “and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” I submit that the kings and priests who reign with Christ for a thousand years in 20:4–6 are the kings and priests who reign with Christ on earth in 5:10. It is useful also to contrast these statements about reigning for a thousand years here in 20:4, 6 with what we see at the end of 22:5, “. . . they will reign forever and ever.” So I think the most natural reading of 20:4 is to understand it as describing those slain during Satan’s war against the church then being resurrected after Christ returns and defeats his enemies, the angel binds Satan, and the thousand-year reign of Christ begins. This picture is substantiated by the description of the coming to life at the end of verse 4 as “resurrection” in 20:5: “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.” Putting 20:4, 5 together, we see that believers will experience the first resurrection, coming to life and reigning with him for a thousand years. The rest of the dead are not raised until after the thousand-year period.8 We have two resurrections envisaged in 20:4, 5. The first is of believers and happens at the beginning of the thousand-year reign of Christ. The second is of the rest of the dead, and it happens at the end of the thousand years.
What I like most about this commentary is that it is homiletical in nature. Hamilton is able to faithfully and colorfully illustrate the main point of each periscope in Revelation. He provides helpful illustrations that can be incorporated into ones preaching. It’s so easy to get sidetracked into disputes about the particularities in Revelation that one loses sight of the main points. I recommend this commentary and will turn to this in the future for both academic and homiletical reference.
© 2012, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.