Revelation is a difficult book for many to understand. I often forget that it is, but I remember every time I read the end of Revelation 12 that “the woman who gave birth to the male Child… was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. 15 So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. 16 But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.” (Rev 12:13-16). I read this and I think, “Wait…. what?”
Brian Tabb has written about Revelation as the capstone of the Bible. It is the last book, and it draws its symbols from all parts of the OT and packs it with NT theology. Tabb takes an eclectic approach. Instead of reading Revelation as occurring entirely in the past, the future, or as just an ongoing conflict between God and Satan through the ages, Tabb basically says “yes” to all of them. In a way. He writes,
Put another way, the Apocalypse recounts how Jesus has already begun to fulfil biblical prophecy as the slain Lamb who conquered and sits enthroned in heaven. This book of prophecy encourages followers of the Lamb to hope in Jesus’ future return, while also reorienting our perspective on present challenges and motivating us to conquer the dragon and his allies through the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Rev. 12:11). (11)
Since this is in the introduction, I don’t want to spend too much time here, but I do want to give you an overall idea of the book. There are four parts to Tabb’s book. Part One examines the triune God in Revelation, Part Two, the worship and witness of Christ’s followers and foes, Part Three, God’s plan for judgment, salvation, and redemption, and Part Four, God’s word.
Part one gives three chapters to God who rules from his throne and sustains all things, to Christ as the conquering Lamb who reigns and will return as the messianic King, and to the Holy Spirit as “the creative and revelatory presence of God, who speaks to the churches through his authoritative book of prophecy” (24).
Part Two has two chapters on “the suffering, witnessing, reigning and conquering people of God,” as well as how the beast fights against the Lamb for the loyalty of the nations (25).
Part Three shows the theme of judgment and new exodus deliverance (ch 7), the contrast between the Babylon harlot and the New Jerusalem bride (ch 8), and how the new creation is better than the first Eden (ch 9).
Part Four shows how Revelation is both “genuine prophecy and authoritative Scripture revealed by the risen Lord Jesus for the benefit of his people” (ch 10). Chapter 11 concludes with biblical-theological themes that call the readers to “hear” its message and to follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Rev 14:4).
The Chocolate Milk
Revelation’s genre is apocalypse, prophecy, and epistle.
- Apocalypse refers to unveiling what is hidden.
- Many think Revelation is a book of prophecy that focuses solely on foretelling the future. Yet, like the OT prophets, John not only foretells the future but “calls for present obedience to God’s revealed truth” (2). John does this through symbols (which he sees in visions). Why symbols? Revelations actually decodes our reality. Symbols shape the worldview of the believers to love what is lovely and to hate what is wicked. The word takes what is evil and parades it as beautiful. But, like fairy tales, Revelation blows the mirage away and shows the vileness of what is evil, and shows “what is true, good and beautiful” about “God’s revealed standards” (2). Seeing what is good will “motivate them [believers] to live counterculturally in the world as faithful witnesses who ‘follow the Lamb wherever he goes’ (Rev. 14:4)” (2).
- Revelation is an epistle. The whole letter is written to the situations of the seven churches, not just chapters 2-3.
What did the visions do? Tabb writes that Revelation’s symbols “challenge readers to resist worldly compromise, spiritual complacency and false teaching. They also encourage embattled believers to persevere in faithful witness and hope in the present and future reign of God and the Lamb” (8).
One example is with the Babylonian harlot of Revelation 17. John mixes images from the OT and culture to communicate meaning to his readers. So Revelation’s Babylon shares language with other “whoring” cities found in the OT: Tyre (Isa 23:15-17), Egypt (30:7), Ninevah (Nah 3:4-7), and the first Babel (Gen 11:1-9). Culturally, Rome had “popular depictions of the goddess Roma as a virtuous woman dressed for battle, lounging on Rome’s seven hills” (166). Yet John’s harlot, arrayed in purple and scarlet, is a satire. The city not a “virtuous woman.” She is a prostitute selling her wares, “exerting immoral influence on other nations” and accumulating “massive wealth through vast economic networks” (170).
John mixes cultural images of (his) present-day Rome with wealthy, immoral cities from the OT. We see that there is a theme running the the OT cities and Rome of John’s day. If Rome could be likened to cities 1,000 years earlier, then Revelation takes the mask of wealthy cities today and shows them to be just like Rome, Babylon, Nineveh, Egypt, and the first rebellious city, Babel.
Tabb has many tables and charts throughout his book, and they show the parallels Revelations shares with other parts of Scripture. To name a few, Tabb compares
- Creation in Genesis 1-2 with the plagues of de-creation in Revelation 8-9;
- Revelations trumpets and bowls with Exodus’ plagues;
- The laments over Babylon (Rev 18) and Tyre (Ezek 26-27);
- Ezekiel’s future temple (Ezek 40-48) with Revelation’s New Jerusalem (Rev 21-22);
- The differences between Babylon the great and the new Jerusalem bride;
- Eden (Gen 2-3) and the new Jerusalem (Rev 21-22);
- The inheritances of the new creation as promised to the seven churches (Rev 2-3), fulfilled in the new creation (Rev 21-22), and as seen in the OT.
The Spoiled Milk
Tabb’s chapters focused heavily on how Revelation was using the OT to make new images and to show the Christians how to decipher the world around them. Though the information was good, much of the chapters read like mere facts. That is, John uses this image, from these OT passages, which meant this to his readers. On the other hand, unlike many other books, Tabb doesn’t use his conclusions to merely repeat the chapter but instead to tie everything together and to draw out the meaning to you.
Yes. I wasn’t blown away by this book like I was with Beale’s volume on the temple or Morales’ volume on Leviticus, but Tabb still does a great job handling Revelation, and I would enjoy seeing a commentary by him on the book. (He did write the notes on Revelation for the Zondervan NIV Study Bible.) Tabb is very similar to Greg Beale, and sometimes to the point where I felt like I should actually be reading Beale instead. (Tabb does refers to other Revelation giants like Bauckham, Osborne, and Koester.) Yet he really does make his own voice heard through out the book, and he isn’t parroting Beale. He makes good use of the OT and does well at fulfilling the aims of each section e(.g., the roles of the trinity in Revelation, the followers of the Lamb, the rebels, the two cities, etc.). Pastors would find this book helpful because of the topics Tabb focuses on for each chapter. Students and teachers would find this helpful as well.
- Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology
- Author: Brian J. Tabb
- Paperback: 276 pages
- Publisher: Apollos (March 21, 2019)
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Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.