Major Book Reviews -- the Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Bauckham / Revelation: A Continental Commentary by Jurgen Roloff and Translated by John E. Alsup
Rissi, Mathias, Interpretation
THIS IMPRESSIVE Theology of the Book of Revelation is part of a series of interpretations of the theology of individual New Testament writings. Bauckham had already dealt with several problems of Revelation in his earlier writings and now presents his view of the main theological themes of the Apocalypse. He develops his understanding of the book in seven chapters, beginning with a summary of the historical questions. He sees in Revelation "one of the finest literary works in the New Testament" and "one of the greatest theological achievements of early Christianity." Revelation is a circular letter with a prophetic-apocalyptic message. John was a visionary who transmuted his visionary experiences "by a long process of reflection, study and literary composition." As a prophet, he interprets the prophetic message of the Old Testament. As a Christian, he knows about the fulfillment of all prophecy in Jesus Christ. In his "prophetic apocalypse or apocalyptic prophesy" John addresses "a concrete historical situation" from a heavenly perspective that enables him to see the earthly history and its outcome in the light of God. His view of the world is understood by Bauckham to be a strong antithesis to the Roman view. Therefore, the main theme of Revelation is the question "Who is Lord over the world?" This concentration on the political aspect, however, fails to support Bauckham's contention that the messages to the seven churches are "an introduction to the rest of the book," since they are not concerned with the confrontation with the power of Rome but rather with the purity of the faith.
In Chapter 2, Bauckham depicts John's understanding of God. With good reasons he demonstrates the significance of the "trinitarian" theology of Revelation and its theocenuic and christocentric character. The throne-vision in Revelation 4 is interpreted by Bauckham as an image of God's dominion over against the strong evil of "the Roman system which absolutizes its own power and prosperity." Bauckham's anti-Roman interpretation seems to go overboard sometimes, but in a wider sense he can also say that "the book is about the incompatibility of the exclusive monotheistic worship portrayed in chapter 4 with every kind of idolatry." "God's relation to the world transcends human analogy." "As a source, ground, and goal of all creaturely existence, the infinite mystery on which all finite beings depends, his relation to us is unique. We can express it only using language and images in odd ways that point beyond themselves to something quite incomparable with the creaturely sources of our language and images."
In the third chapter, "the extraordinary high Christology" of Revelation is examined. God's presence is realized in "the lamb," that is, the sacrificial savior of the world. He is the true victor over all powers.
His victory evolves in three stages according to Chapter 4, "The Victory of the Lamb and His Followers." "In the first stage of his work the Lamb's bloody sacrifice redeemed a people for God. In the second stage this people's participation in his sacrifice, through martyrdom, wins all the peoples for God. This is how God's universal kingdom comes." The work of Christ in these three stages is expressed in three symbolic themes: messianic war, eschatological exodus, and witness. Christ's victory enables him to open Revelation 5, which is interpreted by Bauckham as "the purpose of God" and the way the followers of Christ "participate in the coming of God's kingdom by following him in witness, sacrifice, and victory." Of course, this interpretation is only possible under Bauckham's assumption that Revelation 5 and 10 are identical and the unveiling of its contents does not begin before Revelation 10, an assumption that is certainly contradicted by the opening of the book in 6:1--8:1.
Chapter 5 portrays John's understanding of the Spirit and Chapter 6 opens up a discussion of the eschatology of Revelation. In a final section, Bauckham points to the relevance of Revelation for today. …