Commentary on Revelation (Beale)

Beale, G. K. Revelation. New International Commentary on the Greek Text. 

Regardless of one’s position, this is by all accounts the gold standard on Revelation. The background information alone justifies its place at the top.  Beale takes what he calls “an eclectic idealist” approach. Revelation’s use of symbols finds its anchor in the Old Testament, primarily the book of Daniel. Unlike a pure idealist approach, he sees future referents in the book, namely a future Antichrist. With all amillennialists, he sees the millennium spanning the church age.

He defends the “late date” of Revelation and so critiques preterist interpretations. As he notes, there was no systemic emperor worship under Nero.  Nero did persecute Christians, to be sure, but it was for the fire, not for religious reasons (Beale 5).  Even though “Babylon” is where our Lord was crucified, which seems to suggest Jerusalem, it is also spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, suggesting, rather, that all three terms are figurative (25).

Rev. 1:7 cannot refer to an early date because Zech. 12, its referent, speaks of the redemption of Israel, not its judgment.  Moreover, “tribes of the earth” never refers to Israel, but to the whole world” (26).

Another problem is that preterism limits the prophecies to 70 AD, whereas Daniel 2 and 7, the main passages quoted, are universal in scope and usually point towards a final judgment (44-45).

Structure of the Book

The best outline of the book will divide it into 7 or 8 sections (114).  Moreover, Beale suggests that such a division best falls under a fourfold division of 1:1-19; 1:20-3:22; 4:1–22:5; 22:6-21 (155).

Progressive-recapitulation: the seals/trumpets/bowls recapitulate each other by portraying judgment, then redemption (121).

Revelation 1:19 as Hermeneutical Key

Daniel 2:28-29 is the source for Rev. 1:19. When the LXX of Daniel says “what things must take place in the latter days,” John uses almost the same language to say “what things must take place quickly.” Eschaton ton hemeron genesthai en taxei.

Revelation 5

5:10.  Basileuo can be either future or present. Futurists connect it to Rev. 20:4. Beale opts for a present tense reading as it ties in with 1:5-6a. But if the referent to 1:5 holds, then these saints are reigning on earth right now, and that is not the case. To be sure, 1:6 speaks of his making us to be a kingdom, but if we aren’t currently reigning on earth, then it does not make sense to connect it to verse 5.

Revelation 6-8

Two questions present themselves to us.  Are the seals recapitulated in the trumpets and bowls?  Secondly, are the first four seals simultaneous or sequential?

Beale says the seals are simultaneous.  That does not seem right. For example, the actions of war and famine create the conditions for inflation. Moreover, Beale says these seals apply to the general church age (384-385). He says the seals “purify the faithful,” but he alludes to Leviticus 26, which contain covenant curses on God’s people.

He then says the four horsemen (“to kill”) is aimed at the Christian community. That does not follow for a number of reasons.  The first three plagues are aimed at the whole world (presumably killing much of the world). Why would this last plague be any different?  And in terms of this happening over “the church age,” while persecution does last throughout the age, it is never a worldwide phenomenon like in this passage.  Finally, and most problematic, if these seals purify the church and punish the wicked, then it is hard to see how killing Christians punishes the wicked.

6:9. Are the saints under the altar actual martyrs or Christians in general?  Beale says they represent all Christians. True, there is sacrificial language of the Christian life in the NT.  A simpler reading, though, is that these Christians were actually killed.  There is a future referent in the comfort provided to them (i.e., wait until the rest of the Christians are killed).  If killed at the end of the verse means killed, then it has to mean so at the beginning. Not only does this point to a future referent, but Beale even concedes that the future seems “imminent” (395).

9:5. This is where “spiritual readings” tend to break down.  If these judgments happen in the interadvental age, then it is not clear why the “two months” means anything.  If the two months are not literal, as Beale suggests, then how do they apply to an age that spans the whole church age? One could reply that they refer to a limited time at the end of this church age. That could work, but it does not seem that Beale takes that option.

9:18.  Do the plagues kill people in a spiritual or literal manner? Beale says they are literal.  The people actually die, but the duration of the plagues is not literal.  It is spiritually stretched out.  Presumably it is also for the entire church age, but this makes the time limit given by John unnecessary.

11:5. The two witnesses are the two lampstands, the church.  This is hard to square with the earlier comments of the church being trampled.  If the witnesses are protected from harm, then at the same time they can’t be trampled. Moreover, these witnesses are decisively killed, but the church is never decisively killed.

The witnesses’ resurrection means God vindicates them over the world system at the end of time.  The problem, though, is that in the text they are vindicated before the end of time.

Place of Refuge in the Desert

Beale says topos is always a synonym in the NT for “temple” (648).  I guess that is true.  At first glance it does not seem likely.

Excellent section on the Beast language.  Rightly points to Leviathan and Behemoth in Job.  The Beast will be a Roman-like system reaching its zenith in an individual.  I can go with that.

Mark of the Beast

The mark is figurative (716)..  This does not seem right.  Even though the seal on believers is spiritual, the mark is recognizable in that you cannot buy or sell without it. That is evidence of a physical mark. Moreover, once one takes the mark, there is no going back. If the mark were simply the values of the world-system, then repentance for a wayward Christian is impossible. That does not seem right. 

Chapters 16-22

If the bowl/trumpet judgments are stretched out through the church age, then how should we expect these judgments acted out in history? The most likely reading is they are acted out at the end of the church age. Otherwise, the entire church age should be one of economic destruction (perhaps, see p. 814).  Historically, the opposite is true.  

16:16.  According to Beale, Armageddon is symbolic.  I think that is probably right.  In any case, I do not think the greatest battle in the history of humanity will be fought on the plains of Megiddo.  Because Armageddon is symbolic, so Beale argues, the “city” of “Jerusalem” is symbolic.  I do not think that is accurate. According to Zechariah 14, Jesus will stand on the Mount of Olives in the context of this battle, and when he stands there, the mountain will split.  Because the splitting of the mountain will create an escape route for the Jews, we know that Zechariah is speaking literally.  A symbolic reading cannot work.

17:10.  Beale picks up again his critique of preterism and its identification of the seven kings. He lists the following arguments:

  1. With which emperor does one begin counting: Augustus, Julius, or Caligula?  The text is not clear and any choice is arbitrary.
  2. Do we count the brief reigns of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius “during the eighteen months between Nero’s death and Vespasian’s capture of Rome” (873)?
  3. “How could the eighth emperor also be one of the seven without introducing a figurative notion into an otherwise literal method?”

The Millennium

Foundational to any argument for amillennialism is the rejection that Revelation 20 is sequential Revelation 19.  Beale makes a strong case that it recapitulates the church age rather than follows the battle of Armageddon (974ff). Not every one of his subsidiary arguments, however, is good.  Amillennialism, despite its strong argument for recapitulation, must overcome a number of hurdles.

(1) Exactly how was Satan bound?  He was bound so that he could deceive the nations no more. Revelation 12-13, unfortunately, has him doing precisely that.  This is a fatal contradiction to the recapitulation theory. One could argue, perhaps, that Satan no longer deceives “all” the people in a nation.  That removes the contradiction, but it does not seem to be what John is saying.

(2) If Satan’s binding is co-extensive with Christ’s redemptive work, then does his loosing undo Christ’s work?  That cannot be right.  Beale is aware of this problem, but he thinks this only applies to Christ’s purchasing a people for himself.  True, Christ did that but it is not clear how that removes the problem.

As it stands, I do not think Beale has given sufficient rebuttals to the above charges. Before we become premillennial, I think another option is available.  Satan is bound so that he may not lead an assault on the “Mount of Assembly” (which is what har maggedon means in Hebrew) until the final hour.  That is a much better reading.

The next problem for an amillennial reading is the resurrection language. The main problem is that resurrection, on the amillennial reading, means spiritual in one clause and physical in the next with no clear indicator of a change. Beale counters that the New Testament speaks of our “being raised with Christ in the heavenlies,” and that clearly does not mean a physical resurrection.  Perhaps.

The death of the righteous (souls beheaded) is the first physical death of the saints. The second spiritual death of the wicked is spiritual (1005).  Therefore, since the two types of death are different, so also are the two types of resurrection.

It is logically possible, but by no means certain.  Beale asks another question: is it not wrong to have the glorified saints in heaven return to earth for a millennium?  Would they not be leaving their spiritual blessedness (1011)?  We need to be careful with this line of argument.  On the surface, it is Platonic, not biblical.

There are a few other problems.  This cannot refer to the whole of the “godly dead” in the church age, for John says they were specifically killed (beheaded, actually) by the Beast, whom Beale says is at the end of time.

So which interpretive theory is correct?  Probably amillennial, at least at this point in my reading.  I think the case for recapitulation is solid, but I do not think other amillennial arguments are that good.

In conclusion, Beale provides us with an excellent commentary on Revelation.  My only real complaint is the format in the series.  Unlike commentaries in NICOT or NAC, there is no block of text before each section.


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