In The Heart of Revelation, Scott Duvall offers a thematic interpretation of the book of Revelation. If you are looking for a traditional linear commentary, this is not it. Duvall has written that work in his Revelation volume in Baker’s Teach the Text series. Here, however, Duvall extracts ten themes from the final book of the Bible, shows how the themes fit in book of Revelation, and then offers inspiring and accessible considerations of how these themes can equip and strengthen Christians today. The feel of the book is more devotional than commentary, though, in his unpacking of the themes, Duvall does address here and there certain technical questions concerning the book of Revelation and the eschatological proposals often put forward by readers of it. But these moments are the exception and not the rule in this particular work.
The ten themes are:
- God: “The Almighty”
- Worship: “You are Worthy”
- The People of God: “His Called, Chosen and Faithful Followers”
- The Holy Spirit: “The Seven Spirits before His Throne”
- Our Enemies: “The Dragon Stood on the Shore of the Sea”
- The Mission: “My Two Witnesses”
- Jesus Christ: “The Lamb Who Was Slain”
- Judgment: “How Long, Sovereign Lord”
- The New Creation: “I Saw ‘a New Heaven and a New Earth'”
- Perseverance: “To the One Who is Victorious”
Duvall’s approach to Revelation as reflected in this work is careful and sober-minded. For instance, he clearly believes that, yes, there are strong futuristic elements in Revelation. However, he helpfully shows that the book had real-life implications both for the original recipients of the letter as well as for the church today that go well beyond mere speculation about future events. In his call for perseverance in the midst of difficult times, Duvall seems to push against the popular notion of a pre-trib rapture (though he does not, as I recall, use that terminology), arguing instead that God is able to keep his church in the midst of and through the difficult times she will face. What is more, Duvall is perhaps a bit countercultural in showing how the book advances a profoundly sobering and frightening picture of the wrath of God against wickedness. I say this is “countercultural” simply because God’s wrath and judgment certainly are not present in any meaningful way in much modern Evangelical writing. I found his proposal that the two witnesses are symbolic of the proclaiming church interesting and look forward to seeing how his actual commentary handles that particular idea in more detail. I also really appreciated his helpful consideration of the “new heaven and new earth.”
Here are a few quotes from the book that struck me as noteworthy. They should help give a sense of the feel and approach of the book:
Rather than giving all our energy to speculating about the end-time battle and when and where it might occur, we need to be faithful in fighting the personal battles that come our way every day. This is what it means to stay awake and alert. To remain watchful means to remain faithful to Jesus. Simple obedience may not be as exciting as solving an apocalyptic puzzle, but it’s much more important. (p. 96)
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild? Not always. He is not only the Savior; he is also the Judge. He’s not only the Suffering Servant; he’s also the Warrior Christ. He is the Lamb of God, who was slain for our sins, but also a Ram with seven horns and seven eyes, symbolic of his perfect strength and penetrating insight (5:6). The Lamb is also the Lord of lords and the King of kings (17:14). While it’s tempting to create Jesus in our own image so that he’s under our control, the biblical Jesus refuses to be tamed. (p. 150)
But I don’t think Christians will stand before God at the great white throne judgment of Revelation 20. God has already judged the eternal destiny of his people by virtue of their resurrection (19:14; 20:4–6). God would not raise a person from the dead, give him a brand-new resurrection body prepared for life in the new heaven and new earth, and then condemn him to hell. And this final judgment occurs after God’s people have been resurrected.
The great white throne judgment is a destiny judgment for the unrighteous. The wicked are held accountable for their ungodly actions. These actions are confirmed by their names not being included in the “book of life” (13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15), the heavenly register of all true believers—those who have been granted heavenly citizenship. Since wicked human beings have rejected Christ and rebelled against God, they will join the unholy trinity in the fiery lake. (p. 154)
I once said to grieving people at a funeral that God will one day tell death to go to hell. It’s true. He will. (pp. 154-155)
The temptation to compromise with the pagan world isn’t just a first-century problem. Today’s world also tries to squeeze us into its mold. I’ve just lived through another Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping frenzy connected to the Christmas season, and Christians seem just as caught up in the materialism and consumerism as non-Christians. Money seems to drive just about everything these days. We also feel the pressure to water down biblical truth in order to conform to the prevailing view on particular ethical issues. Movies and music often influence our thinking more than the Bible. The lure of power tempts us to lies and deception and cover-up. The enticement of pornography abounds. The temptation to compromise is alive and well today. We’re in a real spiritual war, and the threat can be summed up in two words: immorality and idolatry. (p. 183)
I found this book to be frequently inspiring and a good overview of the major themes of the last book of the Bible. It seems to me that this would be a helpful work to orient the reader before he/she gets too lost in any particular eschatological controversy surrounding the book. In other words, Duvall has given us a fly-over of the forest. Other works, including his own, can help you examine more closely the individual trees.