Saturday, March 2, 2013

Book Review: Revelation Chapters 1-5

Revelation 1-5. (Thru the Bible Commentary Series) J. Vernon McGee. Thomas Nelson. 152 pages.

Earlier in the year, I reviewed And the Lamb Wins by Simon Ponsonby and Preparing for Jesus' Return by A.W. Tozer. The Tozer probably remains my favorite, but, I definitely enjoyed reading J. Vernon McGee's first commentary volume on the prophetic book of Revelation. The first volume covers the first five chapters.

The first three chapters introduce the Revelation and focus on the seven letters to the seven churches. McGee's insights on these letters is quite interesting. At the very least, he provides great background on the actual churches. He also argues that each church represents an age of the Christian church. You don't have to agree with him perfectly to learn from him. For example, you can think all of the letters are relevant all the time to every church and still gain from reading McGee's commentary. Chapters four and five take us to heaven and gives us a glimpse of the Worthy Lamb.

One thing that I definitely appreciated about this commentary is the fact that J. Vernon McGee is decidedly premillennialist. After that viewpoint was horribly (and unfairly) mocked by Simon Ponsonby in his book, it was a relief to read a book that not only affirms premillennialism but has its own things to say about amillennialism!

But I also really appreciated how accessible it makes the whole book. For example,
Let's look at the Book of Revelation as an airport with ten great airlines coming into it. We need to understand where each began and how it was developed as it comes into the Book of Revelation. The ten great subjects of prophecy which find their consummation here are these:
1. The Lord Jesus Christ. He is the subject of the book. The subject is not the beasts nor the bowls of wrath but the Sin-bearer. The first mention of Him is way back in Genesis 3:15, as the Seed of the woman.
2. The church does not begin in the Old Testament. It is first mentioned by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16:18.
3. The resurrection and the translation of the saints (see John 14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
4. The Great Tribulation, spoken of back in Deuteronomy 4 where God says that His people would be in tribulation.
5. Satan and evil (see Ezekiel 28:11-18)
6. The "man of sin" (see Ezekiel 28:1-10)
7. The course and end of apostate Christendom (see Daniel 2:31-45; Matthew 13)
8. The beginning, course, and end of the "times of the Gentiles" (see Daniel 2:37-45; Luke 21:24) The Lord Jesus said that Jerusalem will be trodden down of the Gentiles until the Times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
9. The second coming of Christ. According to Jude 14-15, Enoch spoke of that, which takes us back to the time of the Genesis record.
10. Israel's covenants, beginning with the covenant which God made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. God promised Israel five things and God says in Revelation that he will fulfill them all.
Now I want to make a positive statement: The book of Revelation is not a difficult book. The liberal theologian has tried to make it a difficult book, and the amillennialist considers it a symbolic and hard-to-understand book. Even some of our premillennialists are trying to demonstrate that it is weird and wild. Actually it is the most orderly book in the Bible. 
My friend, the Scripture does not leave us in the dark regarding what He is doing today. It mentions three very definite ministries.
First, there is the intercession of Christ. He is our Great High Priest. He is standing at the golden altar in heaven today, where He ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). We love that part of His ministry. It is a wonderful thing.
Secondly, we have the intervention of Christ, He steps outside of the Holy Place to the laver. There He washes the feet of those who are His own. He washes those who have confessed their sins. Christians have sin, and those sins must be confessed in order to have fellowship with Him. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) He is girded today with the towel, and He carries the basin; He intervenes on our behalf.
There is yet another ministry of Christ that is not very popular. It is the ministry mentioned in the first chapter of Revelation, and I think that is one reason this section of Revelation is so little known. Here we see His ministry of inspection. What Christ is doing today is clearly outlined in the Scriptures. 
Yet the inscription on the cathedral in Lubeck, Germany, is still true:
Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us:
Ye call Me Master and obey Me not.
Ye call me Light and see Me not.
Ye call Me Way and walk Me not.
Ye call me Life and choose Me not.
Ye call Me Wise and follow Me not.
Ye call Me Fair and love Me not.
Ye call Me Rich and ask Me not.
Ye call Me Eternal and seek Me not.
Ye call Me Noble and serve Me not.
Ye call Me Gracious and trust Me not.
Ye call Me Might and honor Me not.
Ye call Me Just and fear Me not.
If I condemn you, blame Me not. 
J. Vernon McGee gave me a lot to think about!

Favorite quotes:
Revelation does not originate or begin anything. Rather it consummates and concludes that which has been begun somewhere else in Scripture...This is the reason that a knowledge of the rest of the Bible is imperative to an understanding of the Book of Revelation. It is calculated that there are over five hundred references or allusions to the Old Testament in Revelation, and that, of its 404 verses, 278 contain references to the Old Testament. In other words, over half of this book depends upon your understanding of the Old Testament. 
To those who claim that it is all symbolic and beyond our understanding, I say that the Book of Revelation is to be taken literally. And when a symbol is used, it will be so stated. Also it will be symbolic of reality, and the reality will be more real than the symbol for the simple reason that John uses symbols to describe reality. In our study of the book, that is an all–important principle to follow. Let’s allow the Revelation to say what it wants to say.
Let’s keep in mind that this book is a revelation of Jesus Christ. In the Gospels you see Him in the days of His flesh, but they do not give the full revelation of Jesus Christ. There you see Him in humiliation. Here in Revelation you see Him in glory. You see Him in charge of everything that takes place. He is in full command. This is the unveiling of Jesus Christ... The Bible as a whole tells us what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do. The Book of Revelation emphasizes both what He is doing and what He will do.
Notice also that there is a tie between Genesis and Revelation, the first and last books of the Bible. Genesis presents the beginning, and Revelation presents the end. Note the contrasts between the two books: In Genesis the earth was created; in Revelation the earth passes away. In Genesis was Satan’s first rebellion; in Revelation is Satan’s last rebellion. In Genesis the sun, moon, and stars were for earth’s government; in Revelation these same heavenly bodies are for earth’s judgment. In Genesis the sun was to govern the day; in Revelation there is no need of the sun. In Genesis darkness was called night; in Revelation there is “no night there” (see Rev. 21:25; 22:5). In Genesis the waters were called seas; in Revelation there is no more sea. In Genesis was the entrance of sin; in Revelation is the exodus of sin. In Genesis the curse was pronounced; in Revelation the curse is removed. In Genesis death entered; in Revelation there is no more death. In Genesis was the beginning of sorrow and suffering; in Revelation there will be no more sorrow and no more tears. In Genesis was the marriage of the first Adam; in Revelation is the marriage of the Last Adam. In Genesis we saw man’s city, Babylon, being built; in Revelation we see man’s city, Babylon, destroyed and God’s city, the New Jerusalem, brought into view. In Genesis Satan’s doom was pronounced; in Revelation Satan’s doom is executed. It is interesting that Genesis opens the Bible not only with a global view but also with a universal view—“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). And the Bible closes with another global and universal book. The Revelation shows what God is going to do with His universe and with His creatures. There is no other book quite like this.
There is a hard core of real facts in this book. What are "things"? One night Mrs. McGee and I took care of our little grandson. We let him play in the den where we keep a bunch of toys for him to play with when he stays with us. He went into the den and got out all of those things. In fact, he calls them his things. He spread them all over the floor of the den. We indulge the little fellow, and we didn't make him pick up all of his toys after he was through playing. We didn't pick them up either. So later that night, when I walked through the den, I stepped on some of his things. In fact, I stumbled over them and took a tumble. You can say that "things" are symbols, but you don't take a tumble over symbols. And in the book of Revelation, the "things" are made out of hard stuff. These "things" are reality. Any time John uses a symbol, he will make it clear to us that he is using a symbol. And we can be sure that he is using a symbol because the reality is far greater than the symbol. In fact, the symbol is a poor representation of the reality.   
“I am Alpha and Omega.” This is quite a remarkable statement in the Greek language. The alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. From an alphabet you make words, and Jesus Christ is called the “Word of God”—the full revelation and intelligent communication of God. He is the only alphabet you can use to reach God, my friend. The only language God speaks and understands is the language where Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega and all the letters in between. He is the “A” and the “Z,” and He is the “ABC.” If you are going to get through to God the Father, you will have to go through the Son, Jesus Christ.
Let me remind you that this is a Christocentric book. The glorified Christ is the subject. Don’t get your eyes on the horsemen or on the bowls of wrath or on the beasts—they are just passing through. Fix your eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One who was, who is, and who will be. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And John is to write the vision he has had of Him.
Dwight L. Moody put it like this: “He who is born once will die twice; he who is born twice will die once.”
This is the church that Stanley High spoke of when he said: The church has failed to tell me that I am a sinner. The church has failed to deal with me as a lost individual. The church has failed to offer me salvation in Jesus Christ alone. The church has failed to tell me of the horrible consequences of sin, the certainty of hell, and the fact that Jesus Christ alone can save. We need more of the last judgment and less of the Golden Rule, more of the living God and the living devil as well, more of a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. The church must bring me not a message of cultivation but of rebirth. I might fail that kind of church, but that kind of church will not fail me.
I have a sermon which I have not preached in quite some while, which is entitled, “Why Do You Want to Go to Heaven?” Many people say that not everybody who is talking about heaven is going to heaven. The better question is, Why do you want to go to heaven? Is the idea to miss hell? I myself do not think that to be an unworthy motive, but may I say to you that if you go to heaven, you are going to find yourself either getting down on your face or getting up, worshiping the triune God and especially the Lord Jesus Christ. If you find worship boring down here and you are not interested in worshiping the Lord Jesus and expressing your heart’s desire to Him, why in the world do you want to go to heaven? We are going to spend a lot of time up there worshiping Him.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

seth said...

I've read his Through the Bible commentary on Revelation, though since I'm in the amillenial camp (converted from premillenial), I don't agree with much of it. For an extremely well-balanced look at all four major views on Revelation (historicist, idealist, futurist, preterist), I recommend Revelation: Four Views by Steve Gregg. It's a terrific resource.