If you want to go deeper in your study of the book of Revelation or of eschatology in general, there is a wealth of resources available. The problem is that so many popular-level works on the end times involve a lot of downright awful interpretation! Just consider all the books that have tried to predict exactly when Jesus would return — like the classic booklet 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988! (Totally nailed it, right??)
Another challenge is that there are many different interpretive approaches to the book of Revelation. Some believe it mainly covers events that are now past for us (the Preterist approach). Others think it mainly conveys timeless spiritual truth applicable to the entire church age (the Idealist approach). Still others believe it is mostly about events that are still in the future and deal with the end of the world (the Futurist approach).
Generally I’ve found that the best resources take a somewhat blended approach, drawing insights from a variety of perspectives and offering charity towards proponents of other views. They also pay careful attention to the context in which Revelation was written. Since biblical prophecy about the end times is often difficult to interpret, it’s good to read from authors in more than one camp so that you can broaden your perspective.
With all that said, here are my favorite resources on Revelation and eschatology. I’ve divided them up into categories based on how accessible they are to a general audience, since some of these get pretty technical.
Reader-Friendly Works (Recommended for Everyone)
Jesus Wins: The Good News of the End Times by Dayton Hartman. Everyone wanting to start diving into eschatology would do well to read this little primer by Dayton Hartman. It’s short enough to read in one sitting and it frames the subject well: the whole point of Christian eschatology is that Jesus is coming back and Jesus wins. Everything else is up for discussion and shouldn’t be a test of orthodoxy. Hartman points to the early church creeds to show that none of them focused on end-times speculation. Jesus Wins is a rallying cry to keep the main thing the main thing. Yes, you can and should examine eschatological theories and hold the view you believe is the most biblical. But we should all focus on the central fact of Jesus’ victory that unites us and refuse to get divided by heated arguments.
The Throne, the Lamb & the Dragon: A Reader’s Guide to the Book of Revelation, by Paul Spilsbury. This book is the perfect starting place for anyone beginning their study of Revelation. It gives an orientation to how to read the book in a way that doesn’t miss the original message or get lost in speculation about all the details. Spilsbury distills a lot of scholarly wisdom into an enjoyable, readable, and faithful overview of Revelation that anyone can pick up and glean from. Even where I had some minor quibbles with his interpretations, I appreciated his winsome presentation. Highly recommended.
Revelation Verse by Verse, by Grant R. Osborne. If you just want one solid, easy-to-read commentary, this is a great bang for your buck. Having also produced a longer technical commentary on Revelation in the Baker Exegetical series (see below), Grant Osborne has done the church a great service in providing this shorter, reader-friendly commentary that makes his research more accessible. As the title says, he offers a verse-by-verse exposition of the book in a clear, concise manner. Osborne takes a dual-fulfillment approach, seeing Revelation as both a critique of the Roman Empire in John’s day and a prophecy of a future crisis involving a greater, Rome-like empire.
A Commentary on the Revelation of John, by George Eldon Ladd. Older than the other works on this list, Ladd’s commentary is widely considered a classic — and for good reason. He offers a simple, straightforward explanation of the text of Revelation, without sacrificing theological depth. And it doesn’t really feel dated, either, which can happen with older commentaries. Much like Osborne, Ladd blends preterist and futurist approaches and argues for a historic premillennial view.
Intermediate (Recommended for Seasoned Readers, Pastors, and Students)
Revelation: Four Views, A Parallel Commentary, Revised & Updated Edition, by Steve Gregg. If you’re still getting your feet wet when it comes to the different ways of reading Revelation, this book will be of help. It introduces the four main interpretive approaches to Revelation (Preterist, Historicist, Idealist, & Futurist), and then gives a running commentary on the whole book with each of the views represented in separate columns. The formatting of the commentary section is a little clunky and makes it a bit challenging to read, but the content is well worth it, especially for those who are eager to compare different approaches.
Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT), by Grant R. Osborne. One of my favorite scholarly commentaries on Revelation. Osborne provides detailed exegesis on the Greek text of Revelation (Greek terms are transliterated, so you don’t have to know Greek to make use of this commentary), and he covers all of the pertinent theological questions raised by the text. I also really appreciate this commentary’s introduction which, in addition to covering all the necessary background matters, includes a very helpful and detailed section on the theology of the book of Revelation. I particularly like that he discusses the importance of worship and missions as key themes in the book.
Three Views on the Rapture: Pretribulation, Prewrath, or Posttribulation, edited by Alan Hultberg. Part of Zondervan’s Counterpoints series, this book is a set of essays by three authors each advocating a different view on the timing of the rapture. It starts with a very informative introduction laying out the history of the debate, which provides helpful context before diving into the perspectives. Each author also provides their counterarguments to the other essays, making it a fantastic resource for seeing the strengths and weaknesses of each view. One thing I love is that all three writers claim that Scripture does not make the timing of the rapture perfectly clear, and therefore it should not become a source of division in the church. The need for humility is a pretty good thing for us to all agree on.
Reading Revelation Responsibly, by Michael J. Gorman. If you’ve only ever read Revelation as a play-by-play of what will happen at the end of the world and never familiarized yourself with how it might have impacted the life of a Christian living in the first-century Roman Empire, then this is a book you need to read. Gorman seeks to ground Revelation in its original cultural context and, in doing so, finds some convicting ways in which the book speaks to the relationship between the church and culture today. Backed by thorough scholarship, presented with candor, and full of practical insight.
Revelation (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the NT), by Buist M. Fanning. This is the most recent major commentary to come out so I’m still working through it, but already I can say that it will likely be the best academic resource supporting the Dispensational futurist perspective (dethroning the older, two-volume work by Robert Thomas). Fanning works very closely with the Greek text, so some exposure to Greek will be helpful. Each passage’s comments are also followed by a “Theology in Application” section that will be useful for preaching and teaching. Fanning sees Revelation as depicting a future “Great Tribulation” and favors a fairly literal reading, though he also draws insights from the idealist camp to make spiritual applications. He includes a nice little section at the end on the theology of the book of Revelation as a whole. Though I find quite a bit to disagree with in his interpretations, Fanning’s commentary will be a very important reference work in the futurist camp.
Advanced (Recommended for Scholars, Students, and Pastors)
Revelation (Anchor Bible Commentary), by Craig R. Koester. I’m so tempted to cheat and put this at the top even though it’s very much an academic work (clocking in at over 800 pages), simply because it is easily my personal favorite commentary on Revelation. Koester goes into incredible depth with Greco-Roman cultural and archaeological backgrounds that shed light on very challenging passages (especially with the letters to the seven churches in Rev 2-3 and the trumpet visions in chapters 8-9). He’s also very judicious when it comes to analyzing Old Testament references in Revelation, and his introduction includes a fantastic survey of the history of interpretation of Revelation. This isn’t to say I agree with Koester in all of his conclusions (he leans a little more preterist than I do, which I like to balance out with Osborne), but I benefited so much from reading this commentary and it is typically my first-off-the-shelf.
Revelation (New International Greek Testament Commentary), by G. K. Beale. This is a widely influential commentary among serious Revelation scholars, and it. is. technical! Beale goes in-depth into exegesis of the Greek, and his expertise is in the use of the Old Testament in the New, so he focuses a lot on cross-references and allusions to the Old Testament in Revelation. Beale takes a very eclectic approach, blending preterist, idealist, and futurist views. Useful for anyone academically inclined, but I found that his hardline Reformed theology led him to read a lot more determinism into his interpretation of certain passages than the text warranted. Also, it’s worth noting for those interested that Beale gives probably the most detailed case for amillennialism I’ve seen (see pgs. 972-1021).
What do you think? Know any great resources on Revelation & eschatology that I haven’t listed? Let me know in the comments.
See you down the path.
Categories: best commentaries, Eschatology, Resource Recommendations, revelation
Thanks for this! Great list. I’m sort of new to the study of Revelation, but IMHO, Bauckham’s Climax of Prophecy should be on this list (in the Advanced section). As you probably know, it’s not a commentary, but a collection of essays; so obviously it doesn’t deal with the whole text as commentaries do, but what’s in there is gold and is in much greater depth than commentaries are able to go.
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I thought about including Bauckham. Gorman barely edged him out for this list’s purposes, but you’re right, Bauckham is definitely worth reading!
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Here is one just out. A pre-edited copy is on WordPress:
The Revelation https://mmcdonald77.wordpress.com/about/ via @mmcdonald77
On The Revelation: The Whole Book https://mmcdonald77.wordpress.com/on-the-revelation-the-whole-book/ via @mmcdonald77
Word Biblical Commentary by David E. Aune is quite nice.in 3 Volumes.
Jack Van Impe too!
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This is a nice list!
For a small list it’s a good start; but somehow Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation deserves mention.
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Bauckham’s book is good, and a lot of the works on this list build off of his work. I almost included it, but in the end I felt that Spilsbury’s and Gorman’s books share many of Bauckham’s conclusions in a way that’s more accessible in some ways to a broad readership and I wanted to keep the list short.
Does anyone know about Mattias Rissi? He was a true Revelation scholar when I took his courses at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond VA in the 70’s. Nothing now currently in publication. I was able to find a copy of “The Future of the World: Exegetical Study of Revelation 19:11-22:15.” This a real jewel! I also found a copy of his book, Time and History.
Rissi’s influence was invaluable in writing my book: Worthy is the Lamb: The Book of Revelation as a Drama
I have been trying to get comments on Louise Lynn Schuldt’s book, “A Prophecy Paradox” . It was my first read on Preterism so I am not sure how it stands up to others. I really enjoyed it. It has the twist of considering the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius as prominent in fulfillment. Can anyone help.