Friday, February 10, 2012

Review of Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches by James M. Hamilton Jr.

As a preaching pastor (for students on Wednesday evenings, Sunday morning Sunday school, and adults on Sunday evenings) about 6-8 times per year I come to that most difficult time when a series is almost completed and I have to decide on what book of Scripture or topic we will cover for the next few weeks/months. 

Most of the time I welcome input as I am trying to discover what to teach on next.  I usually eliminate the pleas for “let’s go through Revelations”.  First of all I eliminate it because Revelations is not a book in the Bible.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John is a book of the Bible but not Revelations.  I jokingly say that but underneath that joking statement is the reason why I usually avoid going through Revelation.  Most people view it as a manual for the end times.  I take a different approach to Revelation.  So out of fear of sorely disappointing people—or perhaps because I am afraid I do not quite have enough rapport to dismiss the Left Behind series—I tend to avoid going through Revelation. 

That may change.

Book Summary:

Jim Hamilton has written a tremendous “commentary” on Revelation.  It is part of the Preaching the Word series edited by R. Kent Hughes.  Hamilton shows how one can hold a historic-premillenial view (as I do—though I want to be amillenial) and preach through Revelation without every week just being “I’m not sure what this means but I do know that Jesus wins”. 

This book is marketed as a commentary.  While it could serve as a commentary and do a very good job it is actually a collection of sermons that Hamilton preached at his church.  These manuscripts are tweaked to fit a commentary type of mold.  For those familiar with Martin Lloyd-Jones’ “commentary” series on Romans this is almost what you are getting in this offering from Hamilton. 

There are 37 chapters with each having a catchy introduction followed by a brief placing of the text and a stating of the main point.  Hamilton then engages in practical exposition of the text at hand and then wraps it up with a helpful conclusion.  Revelation 1-22 is covered in this commentary, and the first sermon serves as an overview of the entire message of Revelation.

One could theoretically read through the book from front cover to back cover and benefit greatly.  But those that will perhaps benefit most from this work are pastors looking for a supplement to their own study and preaching through Revelation.  A large part of sermon preparation is trying to really come to grips with what the text says.  Hamilton’s commentary will be somewhat useful for that task.  But it will be most useful for the more difficult task of the preachers task; namely, trying to figure out how to say what the Scriptures say in a compelling way.  I could see myself consulting Hamilton’s work asking the question to myself, “how could I best explain this truth”. 

Is It Helpful?

As I worked through this book I asked two questions of it:

Is the book solid theologically and still fair to other positions?  This first question is important because I have read a decent amount of commentaries or books on Revelation that are either not sound theologically or largely dismissive of other positions.  Eschatology has proven to be a hot-bed for theological controversy.  So obviously the book that is often seen as an end times manual is usual fodder for end-times controversy.  So how does Hamilton handle these passages?  Consider is explanation of Revelation 3:10—an often used verse for those of a pre-tribulation mindset.  Does Hamilton just dismiss them as nutjobs or does he engage their views with grace? 

Whether you think 3:10 means that the church will be raptured before the tribulation happens, or whether you think the verse means that the church will be preserved through the tribulation, we can all agree that Jesus says he will keep his people from the tribulation ‘because you have kept my word about patient endurance’…It seems to me that this text refers to the church’s being preserved through the tribulation rather than the church being raptured before the tribulation…But again the important thing for us to see and on which we can agree is the clear commendation of the way the church has kept Jesus’ word.  (Hamilton, 117)

I love it.  He is never shy in explaining his position and why he holds it, but at the same time he is not dismissive of other views, nor does he castigate them and cast them off as “not believing what the Bible clearly teaches”.  Because of his gracious tone I believe that any reader, regardless of eschatalogical persuasion, could benefit from reading this work.

Would I use this book in my sermon preparation?

I have to be honest and say that though I love D. Martin Lloyd-Jones reading his sermons on Romans is about as laboring as typing out his entire name.  They are lengthy and often you would have to read 40 pages just to discover his commentary on a few verses that you might be preaching.  Because of my experience with Lloyd-Jones I was skeptical that Hamilton’s work could be beneficial as a commentary. 

However, I was wrong.  The sermons are broken up in such a way that it would be helpful for the busy pastor if he only wants to read Hamilton on a couple of verses.  It is not necessary to read through an entire sermon to catch a comment on a particular text. 

Furthermore, each sermon is usually only around 10 pages and they are easy and engaging reads.  I could see myself preaching through Revelation and after laboring over a passage coming to the sermon construction step of sermon preparation and turning to Hamilton to see how he dealt with a particular passage.  The wise pastor may even consider using (while citing of course) some of Hamilton’s introductions or conclusions—they are very beneficial. 

Should You Buy It?

If you are a pastor, yes.  If you are a pastor preaching through Revelation, then you would probably be a goon not to buy it or at least try to find it in a library.  If you are are not a pastor I would still say that you would benefit from this book.  I would encourage any member of our congregation to purchase this book and read through the chapters slowly and devotionally.  If it benefited God’s people being preached on a Sunday morning I’m pretty sure it would benefit them reading it on the toilet on Monday….Or maybe I should have said bathtub, bedroom, or breakfast table. 

For a commentary its very inexpensive at only a little over 20 bucks.
As a devotional book its a little expensive at just over 20 bucks

Either way you can buy it here.


  1. Mike,

    Thanks for the review.

    Have you read Beale's, Johnson's, or Osborne's commentary on Revelation? If so, would you mind comparing them a little bit for me?!

  2. I know I have used all three of those in the past, but I do not own them so I am working off memory. Johnson's I remember the least--so I won't even try. It's obviously less technical than Beale or Osborne. It doesn't really feel even like a commentary. If you have read John Newport's Lion and the Lamb it is closer to that perhaps than to Beale.

    I'd read Beale to try to answer the question, "What does the text say".
    I'd read Hamilton to try to answer the question, "How should I say this".

    Hamilton will answer questions about what the text says but it will be more beneficial for helping pastors formulate ways of saying things. At least that is what I took from it.



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