Revelation by Gordon D. Fee (NCCS)
Do you remember when you received your first study Bible? After receiving my first NIV study Bible at age 15, I quickly realized that I was not well equipped to understand all that was in this nice imitation leather covered tome. I quickly remember perusing catalogs looking for a resource that would help me study the Bible well. How to Study the Bible for All It’s Worth, co-authored by Gordon Fee was the man who helped me study the New Testament in its various forms well. It is therefore, no surprise, that this commentary on the Book of Revelation is no different. Gordon seeks to elucidate both the meaning of the book and its application while maintaining a healthy focus on the background of Revelation. After reading this gem, I was thoroughly impressed by the way Gordon boils the meaning of Revelation into discernible chunks that any reader can find helpful.
Gordon brings us up to speed with what type of literature the Book of Revelation is in the Introduction. After surmising that this book is of the apocalyptic genre, Gordon writes, “John, therefore, is not simply anticipating the End, as were his Jewish predecessors and contemporaries, he knows the End to have begun with Jesus, through his death, resurrection, and ascension. Absolutely crucial to all of this is his understanding of the Spirit as having come to be with God’s people until the End, and thus as a way the Risen Lord continues to be with them.” (xiii) There is a markedly different power at work in beginning of the end, namely through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Suffering Servant than most apocalyptic contemporaries. The prophetic Spirit, given to God’s people, points both back to what Jesus did and forward that his coming again will renew all things. The purpose of the book of Revelation hinges on two main themes; holy war and suffering. Christ as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and a “slain Lamb” is indicative of the war against Satan that is taking place in the book. Alongside the holy war theme, Gordon writes, “Then, in the rest of this half of the book (chs. 13-22) their suffering and death are specifically attributed to the Empire itself (“the beast”).” (xv) The Roman Empire as the Beast is constantly stirring up trouble for Christians here in Revelation and ultimately leading to the death of many faithful followers of Jesus.
The Fusing the Horizons sections in this commentary are some of my favorite. In the first one concerning John’s letters to the seven churches, Gordon comments on the analogous lines we can draw between the seven churches and our church. He notes that three problems plague both churches, namely the issue of assimilation, complacency, and persecution. Gordon writes, “The upshot of assimilation is that the church has rather totally lost its prophetic voice, calling out God’s coming judgments on the world to which is has so easily accommodated itself.” (62) The prophetic voice has been swallowed up by a cultural accommodation that makes any kind of clear voice for moral or spiritual holiness irrelevant and awkward. We don’t want to offend anybody but we end up offending God the most. Whether it’s the debasement of the wealth from Laodicea or the illusion of security held by the church of Sardis (45), the churches were eaten up by cultural idols and accommodation.
Lastly, Fee takes a nuanced interpretive approach to thorny issues that others have raised such as the millennium. Seeking to do justice to the intent of the text, Fee writes, “The picture itself is ultimately about the role of the martyrs during the thousand-year period. And even though there is no specific geographical location given, John seems clearly to have planet earth still in view. This is made certain by the language about “the nations” in verse 3 and the picture of the resurrected martyrs “reigning” with Christ….” (282) The focus is on the positions of the martyrs here in the thousand year reign and not so much with an exact unfolding of the number or the return of Christ in relation to it. Fee gets us away from narrowing too closely on a phrase or number in this text and seeing the larger narrative at work.
This is a wonderfully written commentary that is clear headed in its approach to interpreting Revelation in its larger context with reference to the situation with Rome. With brimming insight and application, Gordon Fee has put together a commentary that will encourage its readers for many years to come.
Thanks to Cascade Books (imprint of Wipf & Stock) and James Stock for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.