reviewed by Philip K. Gladden
“Can I get a witness?”
The preacher’s fervent request of the congregation is an apt description of Brian K. Blount’s new commentary on Revelation. Early in his work, Blount stakes out his approach to understanding and interpreting this complicated New Testament book when he writes, “Many believe that the primary message of Revelation was not for John’s church in John’s time, but for the universal Christian church in some future time. They are wrong. Revelation’s one revelation is the same revelation revealed by the Gospel writers, Paul, and the many disciples who followed each of them. Revelation’s revelation is that Jesus Christ is Lord. It is that simple and that straightforward” (p. 13). A faithful witness to that simple, straightforward revelation is Blount’s guiding principle for understanding Revelation.
Blount applies that approach throughout his detailed commentary. He emphasizes the first-century contemporary nature of John’s writing for John’s churches, not just with the classic interpretive subjects (e.g., the beast, the number of the beast, the horns and diadems), but in his treatment of all sections of the book. While numerous books have been and will be published, purporting to “de-code” the enigma of Revelation in order to predict the future for Christians and the church, Blount’s commentary lays out a convincing argument that John wrote for and to his churches about the danger of accommodating their faith to the Roman religious, political, and secular ideas, the most dangerous of which was the claim that Caesar/Rome was lord.
Repeatedly, Blount returns to this most important admonition against accommodation to the claims of imperial Rome. In fact, Blount makes a strong case that John advocated an activist Christian faith, urging believers to act and speak in ways that demonstrated their commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord over against the emperor’s claim on their ultimate loyalty. For example, Blount’s insistence on this theme of non-accommodation to Rome guides his interpretation of such topics as the martyrs, the mark of the beast, and the 144,000 blameless. These are just a few examples of the consequences and rewards of a faithful witness to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Blount’s commentary is heavily dependent upon Old Testament sources. His clear writing and meticulous arguments demonstrate the continuity between God’s purposes for his people and the entire world in the Old Testament story, continuing into the New Testament, and culminating in this last book of the Bible. This commentary is particularly well suited for use in teaching Revelation. Blount’s explanations of difficult texts and his insistence on reading all and parts of Revelation in the context of a faithful witness to the lordship of Jesus Christ will help the preacher, congregation, teacher, and students listen to Revelation on its own terms — as encouragement for first-century A.D. Christians to remain steadfast in their faith and witness to Jesus Christ.
Near the end of his commentary, Blount maintains, “John is writing about the future in order to exhort appropriate present witnessing behavior” (p. 394). Blount’s claim, and his focus on John’s message to his churches, in no way negates Revelation’s meaning and importance for twenty-first century believers. Throughout his commentary, Blount alludes to modern examples of “faithful witness” (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr., Allan Boesak of South Africa). Indeed, as one reads through this commentary and appreciates the urgency of John’s message to his churches to bear a faithful witness to Jesus Christ in the face of the competing economic, religious, and cultural claims of Rome, one can easily appreciate the relevance and urgency of this late first-century writing for twenty-first century believers.
While many books about Revelation concentrate on the future in order to
predict a timeline for the end-times, to the neglect of the historical and cultural setting of the first-century A.D., Blount’s commentary grounds John’s message firmly in the challenges his churches faced under the demands and pressures of Rome. Blount then explicitly relates the revelation of Revelation to today’s believers in a paragraph two pages from the end of his commentary. There he writes, “ … God and the Lamb still reign as Lord. This enduring indicative grounds an equally enduring imperative. Those who believe in that lordship — despite seeing pretensions to lordship in people and power, and despite enduring persecutions at the hands of those people and powers when they refuse to recognize their lordship — must continue to witness, in word and in action, to the lordship of Christ and the Lamb” (p. 415).
Brian K. Blount’s compelling commentary on Revelation brings to the foreground the essential question of the Christian life, both in the first and twenty-first centuries: “Can I get a witness?” Now, as then, the book of Revelation demands an answer to what Blount describes as “the book’s central ethical expectation” (p. 403) — a faithful witness to the lordship of God and Jesus Christ.
Philip K. Gladden is pastor of Wallace Church, Wallace, N. C.