Home > Christianity, Criticism, Study of the New Testament, Theology > The Theology of the Book of Revelation

The Theology of the Book of Revelation

  • Author: Richard Bauckham
  • Series: New Testament Theology
  • ISBN 10: 0521356105
  • ISBN 09: 052135691
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Published: 1993
  • Pages:
  • Format: PDF
  • Price:  $23.21



The Book of Revelation is a work of profound theology. But its literary form makes it impenetrable to many modern readers and open to all kinds of misinterpretations. Richard Bauckham explains how the book’s imagery conveyed meaning in its original context and how the book’s theology is inseparable from its literary structure and composition. Revelation is seen to offer not an esoteric and encoded forecast of historical events but rather a theocentric vision of the coming of God’s universal kingdom, contextualized in the late first-century world dominated by Roman power and ideology. It calls on Christians to confront the political idolatries of the time and to participate in God’s purpose of gathering all the nations into his kingdom. Once Revelation is properly grounded in its original context it is seen to transcend that context and speak to the contemporary church. This study concludes by highlighting Revelation’s continuing relevance for today.

Although the New Testament is usually taught within Departments or Schools or Faculties of Theology/Divinity/Religion, theological study of the individual New Testament writings is often minimal or at best patchy. The reasons for this are not hard to discern.

For one thing, the traditional style of studying a New Testament document is by means of straight exegesis, often verse by verse. Theological concerns jostle with interesting historical, textual, grammatical and literary issues, often at the cost of the theological. Such exegesis is usually very time-consuming, so that only one or two key writings can be treated in any depth within a crowded three-year syllabus.

For another, there is a marked lack of suitable textbooks round which courses could be developed. Commentaries are likely to lose theological comment within a mass of other detail in the same way as exegetical lectures. The section on the theology of a document in the Introduction to a commentary is often very brief and may do little more than pick out elements within the writing under a sequence of headings drawn from systematic theology. Excursuses usually deal with only one or two selected topics. Likewise larger works on New Testament Theology usually treat Paul’s letters as a whole and, having devoted the great bulk of their space to Jesus, Paul and John, can spare only a few pages for others.

In consequence, there is little incentive on the part of teacher or student to engage with a particular New Testament document, and students have to be content with a general overview, at best complemented by in-depth study of (parts of) two or three New Testament writings. A serious corollary to this is the degree to which students are thereby incapacitated in the task of integrating their New Testament study with the rest of their Theology or Religion courses, since often they are capable only of drawing on the general overview or on a sequence of particular verses treated atomistically. The growing importance of a literary-critical approach to individual documents simply highlights the present deficiencies even more. Having been given little experience in handling individual New Testament writings as such at a theological level, most students are very ill-prepared to develop a properly integrated literary and theological response to particular texts.

Ordinands too need more help than they currently receive from textbooks, so that their preaching from particular passages may be better informed theologically.

There is need therefore for a series to bridge the gap between too brief an introduction and too full a commentary where theological discussion is lost among too many other concerns.

It is our aim to provide such a series. That is, a series where New Testament specialists are able to write at greater length on the theology of individual writings than is usually possible in the introductions to commentaries or as part of New Testament Theologies, and to explore the theological themes and issues of these writings without being tied to a commentary format or to a thematic structure provided from elsewhere. The volumes seek both to describe each document’s theology, and to engage theologically with it, noting also its canonical context and any specific influence it may have had on the history of Christian faith and life. They are directed at those who already have one or two years of full-time New Testament and theological study behind them.

An helpful reviews

A Great Look at the Thought of Revelation

By Brian Gamel

Richard Bauckham treats Revelation in this series in a refreshingly original way and that is the major strength of this book. Because Revelation is unique in the NT – not only in thought but also in structure and style – it only makes sense to treat it uniquely.

Not coincidentally, there are seven chapters to his book which at once begins to shape the way Bauckham will treat this book. He begins by addressing what he sees as the root issue behind many people’s misunderstanding of Revelation – a misunderstanding of what kind of document it is. Most seem to treat Revelation as a code to be deciphered but Bauckham corrects this tendency by showing that Revelation is at once a letter (to the seven churches in Asia), a prophecy (not just of predictive events but of discernment for the present) and an apocalypse (literature which is characterized by the its view of the inbreaking of God’s power into history).

Through this Bauckham shows that Revelation is a response to the situation of his readers’ worldview. Many at the time were wooed and awed by the prosperity that Rome brought through its peace and worshipped its power and unequalled strength and Revelation is a critique of both. To combat the illusion that Rome propagates the seer John contrasts it with the image of the throne – the rule of God. Thus, the book is precisely so theocentric because at its core it is attempting to redirect the thought and attitudes of his readers from what they perceive to what is real.

This John does by presenting an alternative vision of reality through his imagery of beasts, angels, scrolls, martyrs and thrones. The imagery is meant to provide a way of viewing the truth of reality in a different way, to symbolize the truth behind the appearence of how things seem in the world.

This is Bauckham’s thesis and he exposits it very well. From his introduction and discussion about the centrality of God he goes on to look at the triune aspects of God’s activity. A chapter is devoted to the work of God, two to the Son (for both his person and his activities) and one to the Spirit. While this is done very well, my only reservation about this set up is its presupposing such a tangible view of the trinity by John, which is a bit anachronistic. But in spite of this the material is covered very well.

At the end the relevance of Revelation is expounded more forcefully than any other book in this series and it is here that Bauckham really shines in his book as he seems superb at exhorting and creating subjects for discussion.

Overall, this book is very well written. One thing of interest is to note that Bauckham uses far fewer citations in his book than most other authors in this series which is refreshing since I feel that more of his own thought and analysis is coming through and that the book is less a pastiche of all modern scholars on any given subject. This is of a piece with Bauckham’s natural and inviting way of writing and this makes his book very enjoyable and highly recommended.

The Themes of Revelation

By T. A Brink

I read this book for a class on Revelation at Catholic Theological Union. I am glad this book was the required text for that course.

This book is not a line by line exegesis of the Book of Revelation; instead Bauckham approaches Revelation thematically. Because of this thematic approach, the theology of Revelation becomes clear.

Bauckham also supports shows how Revelation is firmly connected to the Hebrew bible. After reading The Theology of the Book of Revelation, I finally decided to read Ezekiel for the first time. Bauckham clearly shows that the theology of Revelation is intimately tied to imagery and theology contained in the Hebrew bible (e.g. Ezekiel).

As to a prior reviewer’s comment that Bauckham’s book “spiritualizes the millenium into irrelevance,” the reviewer is correct. The parousia really is irrelevant to Baukham’s understanding of Revelation. Bauckham makes a very good argument that Revelation is not about Christ’s second coming.

Read this book if you want to read a very good commentary on Revelation which goes against the current popular way of understanding. This is definately not an end times book.

The Best on the subject

By DarrenGJohnson

I have read this book at least five times and will read it again, because it is quite simply the best read on the subject. It is not a verse by verse commentary, but a theological commentary that is reader friendly, but one recognizes the depth of research and understanding of history that Bauckham pours into this book. He has another book called The Climax of Prophecy that carries much of the same subject matter, but this one is an easier read. This book completely changed my thinking on the book of Revelation. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a serious approach to Revelation and not the canned stuff that you get from the Left Behind series. This book will leave you hoping for Bauckham to write a verse by verse commentary on Revelation. Until he does read Craig Koester’s book Revelation and The End of All Things along with this book. Bauckham makes sense of the 144,000, the two witnesses, the goal of history and how the book centers around the worship of God and Christ. I recommend this book for everybody from scholar on down.

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