Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to read through Joel Beeke’s expository commentary on Revelation published by Reformation Heritage Books. It is one commentary in a growing series of expository commentaries on the New Testament. At the time of this review, there are a total of 6 commentaries offered in this series by Reformation Heritage Books.
Reformation Heritage Books is investing in this series for two reasons primarily:
First, they believe it is important for current and rising ministers to have, “fresh and reliable expositions of God’s Word.” (xiv)
Second, “these volumes uniquely feature the expositions of an array of pastors from a variety of Reformed and confessional traditions. Consequently, this series brings a wealth of exegetical, confessional, experiential, and practical insight, and furnishes the reader with an instructive and stimulating selection of lectio continua [continuous reading] sermons.” (xiv).
Before I get into my actual review of the content of the commentary, I would like to commend Reformation Heritage Books on the quality of the actual printed book. At the risk of sounding snobby, the printed quality of this commentary is superb. It is published in a nice cloth over board hardback material, so it is very sturdy and makes it easy to jot down notes in the book itself. Speaking of jotting down notes, there is generous whitespace on each page. Whitespace is helpful for someone like me who enjoys jotting down thoughts as they read. The typeset is very readable too and prevents eye fatigue which makes a 600-page commentary feel like a 300-page book. Additionally, the commentary is written in Turabian format, so the footnotes at the bottom of each page are much appreciated and make for a very enjoyable and accessible reading experience.
Beeke writes as an “optimistic amillennialist” (xvii). That is to say that Beeke’s approach to Revelation isn’t to “find some literal or historical meaning in every detail of every verse” (xvii). As an amillennialist, Beeke writes this commentary from what he calls an eclectic point of view that “accents the idealist [idealist approach interprets this apocalyptic book as cyclical and relevant to every church age] approach” (9).
This commentary is eclectic in that it brings together strengths and forsakes weaknesses of other eschatological perspectives (the four approaches being idealist, futurist, historicist, and preterist) on this important book. According to Beeke, “the great theme of Revelation is the victory of Christ and His church over the old serpent, his helpers, and all the kingdoms of this world” (10). And Beeke traces this theme throughout 7 sections (10) across 36 chapters:
- The Son of Man and the Seven Churches (1:1-3:22)
- The Lamb and the Seven Seals of God’s Scroll (4:1-8:1)
- The Seven Trumpets (8:2-11:19)
- The War with the Dragon (12:1-14:20)
- The Seven Bowls of Wrath (15:1-16:21)
- The Fall of Babylon the Whore (17:1-19:21)
- The Victory of Jerusalem the Bride (20:1-22:21)
Beeke’s encouragement to readers can be summarized on page 11 of the commentary.
“the book of Revelation is about Jesus Christ and His victory over the powers of evil. It was written to offer hope to Christians in times of difficulty and darkness, and to warn others of judgment to come because of their persistent unbelief and impenitence. You might say the personal themes of Revelation are (1) Christ’s revelations of His glorious victory over evil, (2) hope for believers in the midst of persecution, and (3) warnings to unbelievers who are fast approaching judgment day. Remember that each of these themes applies to you personally, but do not approach Revelation as if you were solving a difficult puzzle. Do what John did: fall at the feed of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev 1:17). If studying Revelation doesn’t make you bow before the Lord Jesus Christ in wonder, adoration, and joy, then you have missed the point of the whole book” (11).
This quote is enough to see that Beeke cuts through the sensationalism many people have when approaching this book. Beeke cuts through the doomsday bestsellers. Beeke cuts through all of that and offers Christ- the Lion of Judah who is worthy to open the scroll (Rev 5:4).
As I said earlier, these seven sections in Revelation are divided into 36 chapters over the course of 600-pages. It is extremely readable. Because this is an expository commentary, it is very sermonic and therefore very devotional. I have benefited from Beeke’s ministry for a long time and expected this commentary to feel very devotional, and it did not disappoint. There are devotional meditations all throughout the book, and I offer some to you here:
“Revelation describes Satan as an insect with a terrible sting in its tail. Some insects can stin only once, and then they must die. Jesus came into this world to subject Himself to the sting of death. He did that to extract all the venom, poison, and pain of a sinner’s death. He absorbed it into His body on the tree. In subjecting Himself to the sting of death, Jesus Christ destroyed the devil’s power in death. There is no destructive sting left in Satan’s tail for you and for me if we trust in Christ alone for salvation” (279).
“When we hear about terrible things that are happening in the world, such as kidnappings, civil unrest, earthquakes, and fires, we must remember that Christ towers over everything. All is under His control” (296).
“The world [the ungodly multitude] comes into the church through nominal confessions of faith” (318).
“Before our Lord’s coming, the devil held sway over the nations. Before Jesus came, the Gentiles were in utter darkness. But now that Christ has died and risen again, and poured out His Spirit, Satan’s power over the world is curtailed and defeated” (515).
“Adam lived in an earthly paradise. He was lord of Eden. However, we are joint heirs with Christ. We sit in heavenly places in Him. Adam was on probation. He was forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That tree is not mentioned in Revelation 22, for you and I are eternally secure in our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no probation in glory” (570).
I have read a lot of commentaries on the book of Revelation. Some good, most really terrible. Beeke’s work stands head and shoulders above the rest. I wholeheartedly commend to you this commentary on Revelation. Read it devotionally. Since reading this commentary, I’ve purchased the entire Lectio Continua expository series from Reformation Heritage Books and am confident that they will bring the same devotional quality as Beeke’s work.
Joey Tomlinson (DMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a husband, father, and pastor at a local church in Newport News, Virginia. He blogs regularly on broadoakpiety.org and hosts a weekly podcast called The Broad Oak Piety Podcast with another local pastor in the community.