The Heart of Revelation, J. Scott Duvall. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2019.
Summary: A thematic approach to the book of Revelation focusing around ten key themes which answer the basic question of “who is Lord.”
I think I’ve just found my new “go to” book when someone asks for help in understanding the book of Revelation. Instead of getting engaged in systems of trying to figure out who in contemporary history might be one of the Beasts, or the significance of the seals, trumpets, and bowls, J. Scott Duvall focuses on themes running through Revelation centering around the purpose of proclaiming that Jesus, not Caesar is Lord and will triumph, to the encouragement of a suffering and persecuted church.
Duvall thinks that taking context seriously is vital. Revelation cannot mean something to us that it didn’t mean to the original recipients. Duvall helps us understand how the seven churches faced pressure from Rome, from the Jews, and from false teachers. He emphasizes reading the book as a letter, as prophecy, and as apocalyptic, or an unveiling. He proposes that in interpreting that we try to understand what the book would mean to its original recipients, that we take the text seriously, but not always literally, since much is symbol, and that we focus on the theological message of each vision, particularly around the truth that “God is in control, and he will successfully accomplish his purposes.” Also, he offers a kind of theological glossary which he terms “Cast of Characters in the Divine Drama of Revelation,” offering a brief explanations of everything from “abyss” to “woman clothed with the sun.”
A chapter is devoted to each of the ten themes:
- God: “The Almighty”
- Worship: ” You are Worthy.”
- The People of God: “His Called, Chosen, and Faithful Followers”
- The Holy Spirit: “The Seven Spirits before His Throne”
- Our Enemies: “The Dragon Stood on the Shore of the Sea”
- The Mission: “My Two Witnesses”
- Jesus Christ: “The Lamb, Who Was Slain”
- Judgment: “How Long, Sovereign Lord?”
- The New Creation: “I Saw a New Heaven and a New Earth”
- Perseverance: “To the One Who is Victorious”
Each chapter traces the theme through the whole book, summarizing main points, offering key texts and a reading plan and community group questions. Indeed, the clarity of the text, the inclusion of this reading plan and questions makes this an excellent text for a class or small group, as well as an adjunct to personal study.
The thing that stood out to me most was the idea of the greatness of and ultimate victory of the Triune God. At the same time, chapters on the people of God, our enemies, our mission, and judgment emphasize the call to faith and faithfulness in witness, which has often been accompanied by suffering. Much of the global church needs to understand this. I found myself wondering if there is also a message for the American church in coming years. At very least, the challenge to faithful witness, vigilance, and a preparedness to suffer is a clear message of scripture.
I found myself pausing at times in worship and wonder on reading passages on the greatness of God, and the destiny of his people. One example from the chapter on “The New Creation”:
The new creation will be the fulfillment of God’s promise to live among us. This idea can be a bit scary until you let it sink in that every good thing that exists in our lives now comes from the Lord. He is our loving Father, who only wants to give us good things. He wants to be with us and wants us to be with him and to experience the perfect community, the very reality we were created for. In fact, all our longings and desires for life and goodness and beauty will be completely fulfilled in the new creation because we will be dwelling in God’s presence….Haven’t you ever wanted a short time of such peace and joy and love to last forever because it was so wonderful, almost a fleeting glimpse of heaven? We long for that world, and that longing comes from God, and he intends to fulfill these longings and desires. He will keep his promises (p. 176).
This book makes both a great first book on reading Revelation as well as a helpful resource for deeper study and for those who would teach others. It models a good example of doing biblical theology in tracing great biblical themes running through this book in a way that at the same time is consistent with the context and content of Revelation.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.