- Series: New Testament Theology
- Paperback: 184 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; unknown edition (March 26, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521356911
- ISBN-13: 978-0521356916
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 66 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Theology of the Book of Revelation (New Testament Theology) unknown Edition
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"A thorough reading--and rereading--of this slim volume suggests that Bauckman's hope that it may contribute to the renewal of the doctrine of God in our time may not be in vain, and that the series to which it belongs may likewise contribute to the renewal of biblical theology." M. Eugene Boring, Journal of Religion
"This volume will take its place alongside the many other outstanding works in this series." Review & Expositor
Close attention is paid to the literary form in which the theology is expressed as well as the original context to which the book was addressed. Contrary to many misunderstandings, it is revealed as one of the masterpieces of early Christian literature, with much to say to the contemporary Church.
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Bauckham demonstrates how it is a mistake to interpret Revelation from a purely historicial perspective (ie Preterist) which makes it relevant only to first century Christians. It is also a mistake to read it from a purely futuristic perspective (ie Dispensationalism) which doesn't make it relevant for the people to whom it was originally addressed. This also leads to false assumptions, some of which turn out to be false, and makes it even more confusing.
Bauckham believes that the symbolic creatures in Revelation can only be identified with specific first century entities which the original readers had to cope with. He is consistent with most scholars in identifying the Dragon with Satan, the Seprpent, which was the primordial source of chaos and evil in the universe. The Beast from the sea is the first century Roman Empire, and the beast from the land is the Roman imperial cult which propped up the deity of the emperor. These three represent an anti-trinity. The harlot is identified as the city of Rome and the 144,000 represent an army of faithful Israelites who act in the role of holy warriors in participating in the sacrificial martyrdom of the Lamb.
Revelation as a prophetic book canonized as scripture has a timeless relevance just as Jesus and the apostles used earlier prophetic books to explain the times they were living in. It's underlying message is just as relevant for Christians living today as it was at the time it was written.
Bauckham demonstrates how Revelation is thoroughly Jewish-Christian. It borrows heavily from the Hebrew scriptures and makes parallel reference to Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Exodus story. The use of Temple symbols also makes it highly unlikely that it was written by a gentile for a gentile audience.
Revelation shows a very high Christology, similar to Paul's letters, and is strongly trinitarian. Jesus is clearly the risen Lord enthroned in Heaven who will return in triumph. This blows apart the theories of modern liberal scholars who want to portray Jesus as a wandering itinerant revolutionary sage who was exalted by gentile churches centuries later. Revelation makes it very clear that the exaltation of Jesus began at a very early date within the Jewish Christian community.
Bauckham points out that Revelation is not for modern feel-good charismatic Christians. John calls the churches to be faithful witnesses to God's Kingdom even to the point of participating in Christ's sacrificial death through martyrdom. In the first century Roman Empire, declaring Jesus as your Lord had dire consequences.
Bauckham makes it clear that people who try to interpret Revelation from a purely futuristic perspective by trying to identify its symbols with present or future entities miss the whole point. Revelation's timeless message is that God's Kingdom, although hidden, remains in opposition to the idolatry of man-made kingdoms which are based upon power and exploitation. It challenges the status quo.
The hope which Revelation offers is that no matter how bad or corrupt the world becomes, God is still on the throne and will prevail in the end.
Richard Bauckham, an internationally acclaimed NT scholar with varying interests including Christology and eschatology, earned his doctorate at Clare College, Cambridge. Recently he was a NT studies professor at St. Andrews but has since retired (2007) to devote more time for research. His retirement research seems to be conducted out of Ridley Hall, Cambridge and is directed towards, among other interests, John’s Gospel. As regards the subject book, Bauckham takes a refreshing but formidable and critical approach that carefully considers Revelation’s historical context and its intertextuality, both within itself and with the OT.
Bauckham points out that Revelation belongs to three kinds of literature (1). Frequent prophetic oracles are carefully placed throughout it (3), and John consciously writes within the tradition of the OT prophets (5). Secondly, Revelation is an apocalypse (5). John experiences “visionary disclosure” (7). After being “transported in vision into the final future of the world” and seeing this world “from the heavenly perspective,” John discovers “God’s ultimate purpose for human history” which has implications for “Roman power and ideology” since “the time is coming soon when he [God] will overthrow the evil empires and establish his kingdom” (pp. 7, 8, 9). Both the abundance of visions and their skillfully arranged literary form are together operative in identifying Revelation as a holistic visionary experience, which markedly contrasts this apocalypse from the many others of John’s literary period, since traditional apocalyptic literature involved significantly less visionary experience and symbolism (10). Thirdly, Revelation is a circular letter (11). It is written to seven churches that are identified by name and whose recipients are to read the entire contents of the book (12-14). Chapter one is then concluded with a section on how to appropriately understand apocalyptic imagery. As a careful historian Bauckham encourages the reader not to understand the rich visions as “timeless symbols” (19).
Chapters two (23-53) and three (54-65) are treated together due to their significant theological overlap. John identifies God through numerous magisterial declarations such as (a) the “Alpha and Omega” self-designation, declared of both God and Christ (25-28); (b) “the One who was and is and is to come,” a designation intentionally recalling the divine name “Yahweh” (incredibly also shared by Christ through his judgmental parousia; 28-30); and (c) the “Lord God Almighty,” occurring seven times with the clear implication of God's perfect majesty (30). Further, Revelation's heavenly throne-room images are used in both cultic contexts – God is surrounded by magnificent creatures in Heaven who ceaselessly sing his praise in constant offerings of worship – and political contexts – the twenty-four elders are angelic beings whom Bauckham identifies as the divine council (30-35). God is holy and transcendent divinity, the sovereign and faithful creator, and righteous judge who comes in judgment over Rome and her oppression of God's people (35-53). All of chapter three is purposed to demonstrate how Christ is treated as equally divine through many of John’s visionary and literary images of magisterial sovereignty (54-65). Both are worshiped, come in triumph and marshal divine judgment. This is majesty beyond majesty. It is a vision of absolute authority expressed through the most certain terms of sovereignty available to John.
In chapter four, the lengthiest of the book (66-108), Christ’s role is to turn the kingdoms of the present world into the “kingdom of our Lord and his Messiah” (Rev. 11:15) and Bauckham identifies John’s supporting motifs as “messianic war,” “the eschatological exodus” and “witness” (67-73). (Primary weight is given to the witness motif.) John hears that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah. . . has conquered” (Rev. 5:5), but what he sees is a “Lamb whose sacrificial death (5:6) has redeemed people from all nations (5:9-10)” (74). This is “conquest by sacrificial death” in the place of “military violence and narrow nationalism” (74). This redefinition proves foundational for Bauckham since the sacrificial death of Christ is understood prescriptively for the witnessing church. He identifies the “144,000 from the twelve tribes” (Rev. 7:4-8) with “the innumerable multitude from all nations” (Rev. 7:9); “the two images depict the same reality” (76). The 144,000 are further seen in parallel with the Lion of Judah, and the innumerable multitude with the slain Lamb (76). The two groups are indicative of a single entity, what Bauckham calls “the army of martyrs” (76). The two witnesses (Rev. 11:3), further identified as lampstands (Rev. 11:4), are also seen as a single entity by Bauckham, namely the Christian church (84-5). Therefore, the army of martyrs is the church created by the Messiah in his death (75), which is further identified by the two witnesses who conquer the beasts (89-92; esp. 90), and whose martyrdom affects a new exodus, i.e., the conversion of the nations (84, 98-104). The parousia, with all of its warlike violence needs “the image of witness to supplement” it for a more clear understanding (105). And the millennial reign, not to be considered a literal period of time (107), is more indicative of a theological truth: the vindication of the martyrs (107).
The New Jerusalem is the focus of chapter six. Initially, attention is given to the cities of Revelation: (a) Babylon (= Rome); (b) “the holy city” (not to be confused with earthly Jerusalem);11 and (c) the New Jerusalem (126-32). Bauckham then moves from here to his presentation of the New Jerusalem as (a) place (132-6), (b) people (136-40), and, more specifically, (c) God’s own divine presence (140-3). It is in this last point that “God’s creation reaches its eschatological fulfillment when it becomes the scene of God’s immediate presence” (140).
In the final chapter Bauckham contemporizes Revelation for today’s church. One subheading in particular deserves noteworthy attention since it comprises the question of predictive prophecy and truth (146-56). Bauckham writes that Revelation must be understood as traditional biblical prophecy with a predictive element (149), but the predictive element is said to have found fulfillment, although continuing relevance remains for the church today (156).
Bauckham has written a very good presentation of a very challenging NT book. His theology (proper) of Revelation, which is detailed carefully in chapters two and three is nothing short of inspiring, and serves to illustrate greatly the absolute sovereignty of God and Christ. And although it is overly exaggerated, Bauckham’s development of the witness motif may still prove helpful in illustrating the importance of witness both theologically and contextually. However, the numerous associations of the witnesses motif with Christ’s own atoning death and eschatological coming are a cause for confusion. A few examples with added emphases follow: Christians are a causal force in defeating the beast: “Christians. . . are called on to defeat by their faithful witness to the point of death, that is, by the blood of the lamb” (90). (Bauckham seems to almost substitute the unique death of Jesus with that of the martyrs here, but cf. 92 for some qualification.) Christians are also seen suffering, according to Bauckham, in the grain harvest, whereas Revelation depicts them as vindicated by the authoritative Christ (96-7). The universal kingdom of God comes, quite incredibly, through the blood of the martyrs: “The martyrs celebrate the victory God has won through their death. . . this is how God’s universal kingdom comes” (101). The conversion of the nations is also accomplished partly by the blood of the martyrs: “In this way they fulfill their calling. . . for the salvation of all the peoples” (103). Even Christ’s authoritative parousia, where he comes as the sole judge, is understood as a joint effort with the suffering witnesses: “we need the image of witness to supplement that of war in understanding Revelation’s picture of the parousia” (105; but see 104-5 for further associations).
Bauckham further mingles the martyrs’ blood with Christ’s own as a generative force for the prevalence of God’s kingdom over unrepentant nations (106). We have not cherry-picked statements that would betray Bauckham’s own emphasis. In each of the subheadings of chapter four, the martyrs’ witness is seen as pivotal for the success of eschatological events that Revelation, by contrast, presents as uniquely Christological.
Back of these critical concerns may lay a deeper confusion over the nature of eschatology. Though Bauckham has written that apocalyptic details should not be confused as “timeless symbols,” his equation of the New Jerusalem as God’s presence seems to do just this (136-143). And where we previously observed the magisterial presentation of God’s/Christ’s absolute sovereignty over creation, we later discover that such theology is largely non-informative for Bauckham’s eschatological claims. This is clearly seen in Bauckham’s treatment of the millennium, the parousia, the harvesting of the earth, the great war between the Christ-followers and the beast, etc. Bauckham demonstrates, perhaps, a common British inclination to historicize eschatology: “Thus, Revelation, in its predictive element, found fulfillment in its own immediate future and also finds a continuing relevance that transcends its original context. . .” (156).
As a formidable scholar in apocalyptic literature, much of Bauckham’s work proves very rewarding. While the careful reader will find great aid in the work of Bauckham, and useful material for a more mature understanding of apocalyptic, the careless student will need to pursue more balanced approaches in his studies.