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Reading Revelation without the fear

REVIEWS | Michael Jensen
Eternity #67 March 2016

Let me be honest. As a working preacher, I find most biblical commentaries don’t give me much help at all. Too many of them are brick-sized and even then can’t tell me anything about what a biblical book actually says. I don’t want that to sound anti-intellectual. There’s a place for your standard biblical commentary and some are exceptional. But a preacher requires a different kind of help, especially when it comes to a book such as the book of Revelation.P15_Book Cover

The book of Revelation is a book that preachers – and many Christians – like to avoid, because it has been seen for too long as the domain of the lunatic fringe. But even when you do take the bit between the teeth and decide to preach from it, your troubles are only just beginning. The lengthy and lurid descriptions, the confusing imagery, the long chapters – it’s enough to make a preacher scurry back to the Pauline epistles or the parables of Jesus, (maybe after a couple of sermons on the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3.)

But Paul Barnett’s new book, John the Pastor: Encouragement for a Struggling Church, is written in such a way as to be immediately of help to preachers and congregations alike. Barnett quickly gets to his point, and organises his material in an easily accessible manner. He offers discussion questions, and even sermon outlines.

Barnett takes much of the fear and trepidation about reading the book away, by clearly explaining how the symbols in the book work and what they mean – that the number four, for example, refers to the four corners of the earth. Likewise, he reminds us of how deeply enmeshed in Old Testament images and language the book is.

But even more importantly, Barnett emphasises the pastoral nature of the book of Revelation. This is a book to which Christians of today need to pay careful attention – not so that they can figure out when the end times are coming, or who the beast is, but so that they can know how to survive in a sometimes-hostile world.

The world in which we live is in many ways like the world of the first century, with its gleaming, proud civilisations and its terrible wars. As Barnett shows, our world is no less violent than John the Apostle’s. Christians have the profound reassurance that, because of Jesus Christ, they are on the winning side. I hope, with Barnett, that the Christian church renews its interest in studying the book of Revelation. This excellent guide will be a great blessing in helping us to do that.

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