Of the writing of commentaries on the book of Revelation there are many. In his Commenting and Commentaries, first published in 1876, C. H. Spurgeon remarks that “the works upon REVELATION are so extremely numerous . . . and the views so many, so different, and so speculative. . . . Numbers of these prophecyings [sic] have been disproved by the lapse of time, and others will in due season share their fate.”1 And that was 135 years ago! Since then, the proliferation of commentaries on Revelation has increased exponentially.
There are several types of commentaries, and this includes those written on Revelation. They range from the highly technical (e.g., Hermeneia, Word Biblical Commentary, the Anchor Bible, International Critical Commentary, and The New International Greek Testament Commentary series) to popular expositions with almost no interaction with grammar and lexical issues. Overly technical commentaries parse and study every significant word and phrase. They tend to obscure the forest with their emphasis on the trees, but they are helpful because they force the reader to consider the text in its original language and setting.
The Renaissance New Testament is an extreme example of this methodology. Its 18 volumes cover 10,000 pages that includes the authors own translation, lexicographical analysis, Greek word order of occurrence, grammatical identification, the Greek text verse by verse, and a brief commentary. Randolf Yeager spent 50 years on the project. While I don’t always agree with the author’s assumptions and conclusions, his methodology forces anyone using his work to study a passage using the original Greek. Each and every word is parsed.2
Of course, a Greek-Interlinear also forces commentators to stick to what is written. Why popular commentators don’t use the numerous language aids available today is a mystery to me. Anyone writing a commentary on Revelation is duty-bound to know what he is commenting on. If a commentator claims that “this means that,” then he better be able to back up his assertion with textual evidence. In math it’s called “showing your work.” Too often “application is read back into the text with alarming frequency and with too little awareness of the hermeneutical steps being taken”3 to come to what always seems to be a dogmatic conclusion.
Then there are the commentaries that have a healthy mix of grammatical and lexical material as well as critical analysis of competing views. The best commentaries are honest enough to acknowledge that there are other views out there, and they have some merit and tradition behind them. William Hendriksen’s commentaries are in this category. It was what he didn’t include in his discussion of “this generation” in his commentary on Matthew (1973) that put me on the path in my study of eschatology. He let me know there were other positions out there and the proper interpretation of genea (“generation”) was very important. It was another Dutchman, J. Marcellus Kik and his commentary on Matthew 24 (1948) that clinched it for me. These two men were always comparing Scripture with Scripture while they analyzed individual words and their grammatical and lexical significance. Their methodology emphasized a biblical theological approach: Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. D. A. Carson, Darrel Bock, and R.T. France are in this category.
Popular commentaries leave out most of the technical material and offer what is claimed to be the result of the author’s work. At least this is way it’s supposed to happen. In reality, many of these commentaries are a compilation of the work found in other commentaries. The goal is to reinforce what is already believed by the book buying public. Generally, they regurgitate a particular ideological approach to a text with little critical analysis. This is especially true when it comes to commentaries on Revelation. The only thing new about them is how they change the interpretation based on what’s going on presently in the news, a form of “newspaper exegesis.” There’s almost no admission of how older commentaries got it wrong in the way lined up passages in Revelation with then current events.
My book shelves are filled with commentaries in all these categories and every type in between. In the past, Baker Publishing Group (Baker Books and Baker Academic) has stayed away from publishing popular end-time speculative commentaries on Revelation. The company built its reputation on publishing works like those of William Hendriksen and Simon Kistemaker in the multi-volume New Testament Commentary series and the multi-author Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. The end-time speculative works like Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth (1970) was left to Baker’s cross-town rivals Zondervan and Kregel.
I hope the publication of Jeff Lasseigne’s Unlocking the Last Days is an aberration or a mix up for Baker. It’s another sensationalistic novelesque treatment of Revelation being passed off as a studied work. Admittedly, it’s designed and being promoted as a popular treatment of Revelation. Even so, one does expect that at least some exegetical analysis be done instead of simply parroting one’s prophetic peers (e.g., John MacArthur, Warren Wiersbe, Billy Graham, M.R. DeHaan, Henry Ironside, Henry Morris).
Lasseigne’s Unlocking the Last Days falls in the latter category of a popular commentary that does not show its work and is not often consistent with its interpretive principles. A number of the author’s comments caught my attention. Let’s begin with the all-important time element, that is, when are the events revealed to John going to take place? The first chapter tells us that the things revealed “must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1) because “the time is near” (1:3). Lasseigne argues that
God sees time differently than we do (see 2 Peter 3:8 [“But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.”]). We read in Revelation 1 that these things “will take place shortly” and that “the time is near,” but it has been two thousand years. From our viewpoint, it seems like His return has been a long time coming. However, from God’s perspective, it has been like a couple of days. God’s delays are not His denials, and what He has promised He will accomplish, in His timing. (21)
Lasseigne’s comments are a conclusion based on an unproven assumption founded on a text that has nothing to do with the Greek words that are translated as “near,” “shortly,” or “soon,” especially when, as Lasseigne argues, “Revelation [apokalupsis] literally means . . . ‘to unveil, to uncover, and to reveal.’ God’s desire in Revelation is not to conceal but to reveal.” (15–16)
Instead of comparing the time words of Revelation 1:1 and 1:3 to the thousand years of 2 Peter 3, he should have made a comparison of the use of “near” and “soon” with the same words found elsewhere in the New Testament. He would have found that they mean “near, of place and position” and “of times imminent and soon to come pass” in every instance. A simple search of a concordance will demonstrate this to be true. Lasseigne sets forth the principle early in his commentary. He rightly argues that symbols should be interpreted in the light of other passages where similar symbols or explanations of symbols are found. “At the same time,” he writes, “we can interpret much of the remaining symbolism in Revelation by the rest of Scripture” (18).
If we compare Lasseigne’s understanding of 2 Peter 3:8 (a thousand years is a day and a day a thousand years), then why can’t the thousand years of Revelation 20 be a day? At least in this case we are comparing the use of thousand with thousand. He believes the thousand years of Revelation 20 should be interpreted literally; that’s why he describes himself as being “premillennial.”
We must interpret Revelation just like we interpret the other sixty-five books of the Bible: take the literal meaning unless something is clearly symbolic and intended to have a figurative meaning. Therefore, I believe the Bible is teaching us that Christ will literally return to the earth at the end of the tribulation, that he will literally rule and reign on earth, and that His reign will literally last for a thousand years (266).
So why didn’t Lasseigne interpret “near” and “soon” literally since these words never mean an extended period of time that encompass anything like thousands of years? Why didn’t he compare the use of “soon” (1:1; see Lk. 18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; 25:4’ Rom. 16:20; 1 Tim. 3:14) and “near” (1:3, 22:10; see Matt. 24:32–33; 26:18; Mk. 13:28–29; Lk. 19:11; Jn. 2:13; 3:23; 6:4; etc.) “by the rest of Scripture”? Try plugging 2 Peter 3:8 into other places where the use of “near” and “soon” are used and see if you can get a span of nearly 2000 years out of them. Here’s one: “The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (Jn. 2:13). Jesus really meant that the Passover only seemed near to Him because “God sees time differently than we do because ‘with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.’”