Monday, April 16, 2012

When the Key Doesn't Fit: A Review of James M. Hamiliton Jr's "Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches."

I do not envy the man who attempts to write a commentary on the book of Revelation. It is a tough book to preach, let alone write a commentary on. There are far too many bad commentaries out there too. Some are overly speculative and leave the reader with little more than some great fiction reading. That is really a shame because of the book of Revelation is incredibly relevant to the church today. That is why I applaud James Hamilton's new commentary Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, which is a part of the the "Preaching the Word" series. Hamilton combines both great scholarly detail and incredibly relevant application into one commentary. You can tell as you read the book that Hamilton loves to preach and loves the church. It absolutely shines through in this commentary.

This commentary is written first and foremost with the pastor in mind. Each chapter is broken down into different parts: an opening illustration, the need that the part of Revelation meets in the church, the main point of the passage, a preview of the text (that is, an outline of the text), the context, the exegesis of the outline and then the conclusion. As you can see, the book is thorough and yet contains application throughout each section. This is a tremendous resource for pastors. Some of the charts Hamilton has in the book are absolutely wonderful as well.

Now, for the gritty details that every person wants to know about a commentary on Revelation. Hamilton is pre-mil but not a Dispensationalist. He is heavily, heavily influenced by G.K. Beale's theology of the temple. Hamilton is an expert in parallels between the OT and NT and draws heavily upon those parallels to formulate his exegesis of the text.

This is where, in my opinion, Hamilton runs into problems. Too often I feel that Hamilton will argue against a literal understanding of the text because he sees a parallel in the OT. As a result, it often feels that Hamilton is forcing a key into a lock that doesn't fit. An example of this is in chapter 21 where he exegetes 11:1-19. Hamilton argues that a) the temple is not a literal temple but rather is figurative for the church, b) the two witnesses are the church and c) the 42-months is not a literal 42-months but rather refers to church history from the time of the cross until the time of the beast.

He bolsters his argument showing the parallels between the two witnesses and Zechariah 4 as well as some inter-textual parallels. That is all well and good. But his hermeneutic runs afoul here. First, Hamilton points out that Daniel's "weeks of years" were, in fact, literal. But then, just a few sentences later, argues that there is no literal seven year tribulation. Logic would argue that if Daniel was literal for the first 69 weeks of years, he would be literal for the last one. Similarly, Hamilton argues that the two witnesses are the church because 1) in the Bible everything must be confirmed by two witnesses; 2) they are called lampstands and so are the churches in Revelation 1; 3) the image of the witnesses as lampstands and olive trees goes back to Zech. 4 which symbolically means that the church will be Spirit-empowered; 4) the witnesses have the power of Elijah and Moses which are symbolic of the protection the church will have.

The issue here is that if all of these images are based upon literal things (with the exception of Zechariah 4), why can't the two prophets be literal? Why can't they have power like Elijah and Moses? Why can't there be a literal temple? There is nothing intrinsic within the text that would suggest this has to be symbolic. In fact, a reader of the OT would expect there to be a literal fulfillment. It would seem to me that Hamilton is too quick to write off a literal interpretation of these events. Admittedly, a literal-interpretation of the text is not popular anymore. Still, I find Hamilton's interpretation of these texts unpersuasive.

That said, it would be a shame to miss out on what Hamilton himself mentions: regardless of your opinion of what the text says, all can agree that the Revelation 11:1-19 shows God's sovereignty in protecting his people. And there lies the beauty of this commentary--even when you disagree with Hamilton, he gets to the bigger picture. He reminds the reader of what really matters--unity and seeing the God of the Bible. He finds the lowest common denominator and reminds the reader of that.

That, to me, is the strength of this commentary and one of the reasons I love James Hamilton's writings. You may not agree with everything he says, but you will always come out worshiping God. So pick up Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. You won't be disappointed and you will certainly become a sharper exegete for it.

*Thanks to Crossway Publishing for providing me with a free review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. I was under no obligation to give this book a positive review.*

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Martin Luther, Counseling and the Cross

I just finished reading a sermon from Martin Luther on the cross. The sermon consists of 17 meditations on the cross and is divided into three sections. The first section is "The False Views of Christ's Sufferings." The second section is "The True View of Christ's Sufferings." The final section is called "The Comfort of Christ's Sufferings."

There is some immensely practical stuff in this sermon...especially for pastors who have to do a lot of counseling. Rather than retype the whole sermon, I will attempt to capture the 17 meditations that Luther gives:

I. False Views of Christ's Suffering
1) Don't reflect upon the sufferings of Christ in such a way that you get angry at either the Jews or lament about Judas. You are losing sight of what really happened and meditating on the wrong thing.

2) Do not think that there is anything magical in and of itself flowing from the Cross that prevents suffering. You are simply looking at the cross as something you can derive purely physical benefits from.

3) Do not mourn as those who have no hope when thinking about the cross. While a proper view of the magnitude of our sin is important, there is no reason to wailing as if Christ were still dead.

II. True View of Christ's Sufferings
4) When thinking about the cross, the horror of your sin should leave you absolutely terrified. The fact that Christ was killed because of your sin should devastate you.

5) Never doubt for a moment that it was you who killed Christ.

6) The suffering Christ underwent should have been yours...not for a few hours but for all of eternity.

7) The judgment of God should humble us and terrify us.

8) You must meditate upon your own wickedness in view of the cross and learn to hate your sin even more. If you do not look at the cross and hate your own sin, the sufferings of Christ are really no benefit to you.

9) If, for whatever reason, you do not feel horrified by the cross and your own sin, you should be scared. Pray to God to soften your heart for you are in danger of the fire of hell.

10) Meditate upon the cross frequently for it will greatly benefit your Christian walk.

11) If you are praying for Christ to devastate your sinful self when meditating on the cross, do not expect that it will happen right away.  However, God will eventually prick your conscience and you will be humbled. God will work in his own time.

III. The Comfort of Christ's Sufferings
12) Once you are done meditating upon your own wickedness and sin and are devastated by it, remember the glories of the resurrection and the forgiveness found in the cross. Then, make sure your sin is not still found in your conscience.

13) Cast all of your sin upon Christ and believe, with joy, that he has your sin and has made satisfaction for them.

14) If you can't believe this, ask God for faith to believe it!

15) Now, stop thinking about Christ's sufferings and meditate instead upon the love of Christ for you. He has done this out of love! What a glorious joy!

16) When your heart is established in Christ and you hate your sin, not out of fear of judgement but out of love for Christ, let Christ's death be an example for you. If you are suffering, remember that Christ suffered more. Your sufferings are but a shadow of what our Lord suffered.

17) Remember that in Christ, you have strength and comfort against any sort of sin you might encounter.

So many great meditations here by Luther! There is a lot of practical counseling material here. What a huge blessing to know that the cross is so multifaceted.