I've never read through Revelation on my own before, and the talks I've heard on the book in the past have never really stuck with me. But there's something mysterious and controversial about this book of the bible that calls me to it and makes me want to uncover all its many secrets. I'd had my eye on this commentary by Paul Barnett for a while, after reading one of his other books on Mark (click here for a short review/opinion). Revelation: Apocalypse Now and Then is a part of an "evolving series committed to brevity, and academic integrity for busy people" says the blurb on the back. I couldn't think of a more apt description for the book, and indeed the series as a whole.
On days when I had only a small window of time to do my reading I was able to complete one short section in 10-15 mins, including reading the bible passage. But, the writing flows as such that on days when I had an hour or so to spare I was able to comfortably keep reading without needing to look up at the clock at all (impressive for a commentary I would say).
My main goal in reading this book was to have the mysterious codes deciphered for me so I could potentially read through the book on my own again in the future and find it fruitful. This, I feel the book has achieved for me. In clear and succinct language it presented me with reference points for the codes used by John and also cultural background that influenced the imagery throughout the book. I now know (for example) that the number seven is code for God and eternal perfection, while the "sea beast" is symbolic of the Roman emperor and his government. These are things I never knew before.
Beyond just this though, Paul Barnett does a wonderful job of illuminating truths in the text. Let me share a couple of my favourites with you:
Upon reading through the section Revelation 4:9-11 Dr Barnett makes the comment "Worship is the expression of agreement by the people of God about the truth of God." What a simple and wonderful statement. It has spoken volumes into my prayer life. When we express to our God that he is worthy to receive glory and honor and power and so on and so forth, we are not simply pandering to his ego, but acknowledging essential truths about the creator of the universe, and are thus worshiping and bringing glory to him by stating such truths and agreeing with them. Epic.
If I was to say anything negative about this book is that it doesn't have any study questions as suggested on the back cover. Very disappointing. I really found the study questions helpful in the book on Mark and was looking forward to having them again. I don't know whether they were left out on purpose due to the difficulty of the subject matter or if they were just over looked (I wouldn't be surprised as I have come across numerous grammatical and spelling errors that I thought were quite obvious and should have been picked up in editing.)
Also, I found that a few of the sections less than illuminating and more just rehashing in almost the exact same words as the passage. I guess this is because the author thought they were fairly self explanatory, but to me they weren't.
An easy four and a half stars. While I was disappointed about the lack of study questions but the book clearly stands on it's own without them. To quote J.I. Packer, "Revelation is a complex piece of writing that has mystified many, and it is no small achievement to write a simple commentary on it that dispels the fog. Dr Barnett, however, has done just this." I couldn't agree with him more. Dr Barnett is more than qualified to write such a commentary and his vast knowledge of Roman culture and the apocalyptic writing style is communicated simply and effectively. This is one of those books you fill with scribbled notes and highlighter marks, then put on the best shelf to be pulled out whenever anyone so much as mentions the book of Revelation at a dinner party. Oh, and it's not too long either (a two inch think commentary on Revelation would be rather daunting.)