Tom Schreiner has written the first volume in the (new) New Testament Theology (NTT) series by Crossway, this introductory volume being on the difficult book of Revelation. Schreiner, one of this series’ editors, has also contributed a short commentary on Revelation in the ESV Expository Commentary series and is replacing Grant Osborne’s volume on Revelation in the BECNT series.
As the subtitles gives away, The Joy of Hearing is a “theology of the book of Revelation,” surveying six main themes in Revelation (the chapter on the millennium is more of an appendix, as Schreiner notes). The New Testament Theology series aims to provide “students of Scripture with readable book-length treatments of the distinctive teaching of each New Testament book or collection of Books…from the perspective of biblical theology.” They keep in focus the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 2:7).
In his introduction, Schriener writes, “Revelation reveals to us where the world is going, and it tells us what we should do to be part of the new world that is coming.” But, as he notes, people are easily repelled by the book of Revelation because it is so confusing and difficult to read. Even Martin Luther thought that Christ wasn’t clearly taught or revealed in Revelation. But John reminds us in Revelation that even while it appears that evil is reigning, God is still on his throne. He has not forsaken his people, and Jesus will come and rescue us. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ stand at the center of history, and those who will suffer judgment are those who turn against Jesus.
Schreiner covers six themes within Revelation:
- Those who refuse to hear the truth;
- The saints and what they are called to do;
- God’s sovereignty, holiness, and judgment;
- The message about Jesus Christ—his shared identity with the God of Israel, his redemption for us, his return, the coming judgment;
- The Holy Spirit’s work in Revelation—the Spirit calls readers to hear what is said to the churches, and points to the crucified and risen Christ;
- The promises of blessing and the new creation.
Date, Genre, and Purpose
Schreiner argues that Revelation was written within the reign of Domitian (AD 81–96), but he also notes that “nothing in the book itself indisputably points to life under a particular emperor.” We simply lack the “definitive evidence” to know for sure when Revelation was written, and so “no interpretation should be accepted that demands a particular date.”
Revelation is both an apocalyptic and prophetic book written for the first-century churches in Asia Minor. Because it was written to a certain people at a certain time, even though we have many varying interpretations today, the first-century readers would have been able to understand the text John wrote. Revelation begins (1:3) and ends (22:7, 10, 18, 19) with references to the book being one of prophecy. Written as an apocalypse, we see the world from God’s perspective. God will save those who follow him and punish those who don’t. He will also destroy “the existing fallen cosmic order” and restore “the cosmos to its original pristine perfection.”
The purpose of Revelation isn’t to show us that helicopter locusts will attack the earth in the future. Instead, John wanted to see “ethical formation and transformation, since genuine hearing leads to obedience,” that is, “to keeping the words of the prophecy (1:3; 22:7).”
A Brief Look
In chapter two, hearing in Revelation should lead to action. Schreiner surveys the seven statements that occur throughout Revelation about how those who hear will be “blessed.” Those who hear (and thus do) will be “happy” and “flourish” because when the end comes they will receive their reward. He writes, “All seven ‘blessed’ statements are eschatological, drawing a connection between the final reward and the new life believers live—their worship of the one true God, their utter devotion to Jesus, their refusal to align themselves with the beast, and their pursuit of goodness.” Schreiner also surveys the texts about conquering, suffering, and perseverance.
One thing I really appreciate about Schreiner is how clear his writing is. He is able to give nuance with clarity, and he carefully represents other views. In chapter seven, which he refers to as a kind of appendix, Schreiner looks at how believers will (or already are) reigning with Christ for 1,000 years. Schreiner briefly describes postmillennialism before looking further at historical premillennialism and amillennialism. While he ultimately sides with the amillennialist reading of Revelation and of the meaning of the millennium in Revelation 20, he is sympathetic to the premillennialist reading. While Schreiner can explain Revelation 20 with an amill perspective, noting that “the amillennial interpretation… has many strengths since it fits with the reading of the entirety of the Scriptures,” he gives the best arguments from the premill side and even notes that “the premillennial position in many ways seems to be a more natural way to explain Revelation 20.” As Schreiner admits, it isn’t a weakness to admit that there isn’t clarity. As well, the millennium won’t last forever; it is the new creation that is eternal and to which we should set our eyes—when we will see God face to face.
This is a great start to the New Testament Theology series, and I really look forward to the upcoming volumes. Schreiner is clear and careful, deep but easy to read. Since this is a theology of Revelation, Schriener doesn’t lead you into the weeds. That means there will likely be some places where you will disagree and where Schreiner hasn’t been able to give enough information on his particular view. Regardless, he draws Revelation together and helps you to “hear” the words in Revelation better in order to form you into a better doer, one who perseveres and conquers.
- Series: New Testament Theology
- Author: Thomas R. Schreiner
- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Crossway (November 30, 2021)
- Read the Introduction and Chapter One
Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway. 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.