Book review: Revelation for Everyone

by N. T. Wright


This is a friendly, feel-good peek at the bloodiest book in the Bible. As one who has written about Revelation from a historical-critical viewpoint, detailing all the gory first-century details which inspired the Book of Revelation, Wright’s approach felt a little to me like bouncing happily along the surface. This is not a criticism; Wright’s Revelation is more palatable than mine, certainly more inspirational for a 21st-century audience.

Given Wright’s more conservative brand of Christianity, it’s eerie how often he and I agree on the meaning of the Bible’s most mysterious book. Wright recognizes the conflict between Christianity and Caesar worship pulsating through Revelation. He recognizes (as does nearly every serious scholar of Revelation) that the “Beast of the Sea,” identified by the hideous number 666, refers to Nero Caesar, and Wright pays homage to the rumor that Nero had come back to life. He counts, like I do, the seven kings of Revelation beginning with Augustus, not Julius Caesar, the popular choice among preterists. He even acknowledges the frightening urgency in the tone of Revelation, because its prophecies were expected by John to be fulfilled immediately. Indeed, some had already occurred, like the two witnesses of Revelation, before John put pen to paper.

Yet in all these cases, Wright glosses over the historical connections and emphasizes, instead, Revelation’s relevance to today. His focus is for Christians of today, recognizing that we still await the moment of Christ’s return. The “earthquakes” of Revelation (which should be read non-literally as merely earth-shattering events) remind us of the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the smashing of the Twin Towers. That’s a relevant stance, yet it did leave me feeling like Wright’s treatment was a bit artificial, regardless of his claim … that Revelation “in fact offers one of the clearest and sharpest visions of God’s ultimate purpose for the whole creation.”

This highlights the fascinating thing about scripture, and in particular the book of Revelation. Its vivid imagery and Christian lessons relate to followers of every century. Unless you read the book of Revelation literally—a method of reading that was appropriate only to one age and audience, the people of Asia Minor to whom John was actually writing—Revelation continues to be just as meaningful and “true” today as then.

Do not miss the final chapters, about the New Jerusalem! Wright reminds us that “Jesus, according to the whole New Testament, is already reigning.” He points out the fascinating verse in Ephesians 2:6, where the church is “seated in heavenly places in the Messiah Jesus.” As to the binding of Satan, Jesus had already accomplished this (Matthew 12:29). What it all means is the great promise: God has come to dwell with humans. So many readers of Revelation assume that the final description would be about heaven that they fail to see the glory of God’s New Jerusalem on earth—a “newness” we can share in today. Heaven and earth are forever joined together.

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