If there is any book in the New Testament that requires you to know the Old Testament, it is Revelation. Tremper Longman III, an OT scholar and prolific writer of books and commentaries, has written the volume on Revelation in Kregel Academic’s Through Old Testament Eyes series. Longman had already written a commentary and a how-to-read book on Daniel, and this prepared him to write a commentary on Revelation, which uses a lot of imagery from Daniel.
The Old Testament (and some ANE background) Longman’s interpretive lens to clear up misunderstandings we have about Revelation. He recommends knowing and being familiar with Greek culture and history as well as Second Temple period literature, but these lenses aren’t a focus in his commentary (though he does refer to them sometimes). If you are familiar with other Revelation commentaries, it is impressive that Longman was able to keep himself to writing only one volume (unlike Aune’s three volume set).
According to Longman, the main idea of Revelation is that “God is in control, and he will have the final victory” (14). Longman works to keep the main idea in view by honing in on the text verse-by-verse.
Longman holds to traditional views of authorship and date of writing. Revelation was likely written during the time of Domitian’s reign at the end of the first century. He believes John the apostle to be the most likely candidate for authorship, but notes that John the Elder might not be the same person as John the Apostle.
An Apocalyptic Letter
The genre is both a letter (written to seven churches) and an apocalypse, “a prophecy of a distinct type” (17). It portrays the future using highly figurative language in order to evoke a response of faithfulness in Christ from its readers, first century believers who lived in and around Asia Minor. Much of the figurative language, though also drawn from Greco-Roman culture and history, is “derived from the Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern mythic language” (17). You know, beasts from the sea, a divine figure who rides on the clouds (a la Goku). That sort of stuff.
Rather than understanding the language literally (like Hal Lindsey), Longman reads it figuratively. That means that the locust plague of Rev 9:3–11a is not made up of helicopters. They more likely “stand for horrific devastation that could take many different forms. They could point to war or to environmental devastation or any number of things” (18). In his section on Revelation 9:3–11 (see the text below), Longman shows how almost everything said about the locusts comes from the OT.
3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7 In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8 their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9 they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit.
Beale and Leithart understand the locusts to be demonic in some sense. Paul and Keener understand the locusts as representing a human army. Here Longman understands the locusts not to be “a literal locust plague,” but probably either “an army or, more likely, destruction and judgment” (145). A human army would make sense. Joel seems to describe locusts as humans (in Joel 2), and now John would be describing humans as if they were locusts. And that’s possible. But Longman doesn’t explain his other suggestion “destruction and judgment.” If there are no locusts, where is the destruction coming from? Who is doing the destroying? I understand the OT precedent of locust imagery, but John is writing about a general destruction, why use the image of locusts?
In Revelation 11:2–3, Longman looks to Daniel to understand the meaning of 42 months. He argues that Daniel’s “time, times, and half a time” refers to three and a half years, while still likely being a symbolic number. Daniel (a book which also uses apocalyptic imagery) teaches that God is in control and will have the final victory (165). The numbers we are given are not so that we can place dates on a calendar, but so that we may know “that evil will have a definite end” (166). This informs how we reads John’s 42 months (which is 3.5 years) in Rev 11:2–3.
(There are lists of each of these sections at the end of the book in a table-of-contents style.)
“Through the Old Testament Eyes”
While Longman draws on the OT throughout his commentary, these sidebars allow him to step back and shows how John is using a wide array of OT imagery.
When writing about the Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:6), Longman Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22, the sacrifice of lambs in the Mosaic law, the Passover lamb, and the exodus. Then he surveys how the NT authors understood Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to be the fulfillment of the second exodus.
“What the Structure Mean?”
Here Longman helps you understand how John organized his thought in a particular text, whether by using metaphor, contrast, parallels, hyperbole, repetition, or more.
Just to give a brief example, Longman has a sidebar on John’s repetitive use of the number four, which Longman believes denotes “universality or totally” (117). Tere are four angels, four corners of the earth, and four winds (Rev 7:1). The altar of Revelation 9:13 has four horns, and in 9:14 four angels who had been bound are released. There are four living creatures (4:6) and twenty-four thrones and elders (4:4).
The New Testament writers weren’t satisfied to just relay knowledge about who Christ was and how he fulfills God’s promises. This knowledge is supposed to lead to action—repentance and a change in how we live our lives. The Going Deeper sidebars are meant to show us how to apply Revelation’s practical implications. Longman looks at the topics of worship, God’s judgments, repentance, idolatry (and later its intersection with adultery), the devil, the fear of God, judgment and the environment, and more.
Longman has written a readable commentary for teachers and preachers that brings them back to the OT for understanding instead of the newspaper. His commentary is, as promised, full of OT insights that ought to teach you both more about the OT and more about Revelation, while at the same time drawing out application from such a wild book for our daily living so that we will reflect Christ in all that we do.
- Author: Tremper Longman III
- Paperback: 351 pages
- Publisher: Kregel Academic (May 10, 2022)
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