Friday, May 21, 2010

Book Review: The Gospel in Revelation

I've previously blogged about how I enjoyed Graeme Goldsworthy's Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, and I've had another book from the same author on my shelves for about the same length of time, without opening it. Spurred on by my recent preach in Revelation 5, I added this small volume to my 'to read' shelf on my desk. Once again, I'm glad to have read it, and just upset that I didn't read it all those years ago!

As Goldsworthy points out near the start, the book of Revelation is a frightening one for the ordinary Christian. Often, we don't know what to do with it - either neglecting it altogether (and therefore missing out on the great encouragement contained within), or getting embroiled in fantastical and erroneous predictions about the future end times and political prophecies. We tend to either extreme because we divorce Revelation from its bible context, and don't interpret it within the context of the gospel. The gospel is the key to understand it all.

Through a series of chapters examining the key features of the book (including the letters to the seven churches, the apocalyptic passages, hymnic passages, conflict, and the final separation), Goldsworthy builds on his central thesis - that the book is written to encourage Christians in their suffering, because 'their sufferings are utterly consistent with the reality of God's kingdom in this present age.' The Lion of Revelation 5 is the Lamb that was slain - that while the church now appears as her Lord on earth, suffering, one day she will be glorified with her Lord when he returns. 'That which the believer now grasps by faith will be open to every eye.'

The pattern of Christ's humiliation in the gospel is the ongoing pattern of the normal Christian life. 'The New Testament teaches that it is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which constitute the meaning, motive and power for Christian living.'

Goldsworthy discusses the Day of the Lord and what it means - 'The day of the Lord means the salvation of the people of God and the judgement of his enemies.' But while the Old Testament sees this as one event, with the day of the Lord ending the old era and bringing in the new, the New Testament modifies it to include the two comings of the Lord Jesus, with an overlap period between his first and second comings, when the old era will finally finish.

While Revelation has been seen as a happy hunting ground for fundamentalists (just think of the Left Behind series!), Goldsworthy argues that

'Revelation was written, not for the arm-chair prophets with their charts of historical events in the twentieth century and their intricate diagrams of the end of the age, but for the harassed subsistence-level first-century Christians of the Asia Minor province. It was written to bring them both warning and reassurance, to encourage them in their struggle and to liberate them from fear of the enemy within and without.'

All in all, this is a very useful book. It's a great introduction to the book of Revelation within its own context, and the wider Bible context. The principles of interpretation are Christ-centred, gospel-centred, and are clear and consistently applied. I wish I had read it a long time ago, and so it would be very profitable for anyone wanting to grasp what Revelation is all about. The explanation is clear, and the encouragement heartwarming.

While my copy was a small paperback in its own right, The Gospel in Revelation is also included in 'The Goldsworthy Trilogy' available from the Good Book Company.

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