Exposition of the Book of Revelation

By Simon J. Kistemaker
Grand Rapids : Baker (2001). 635 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
13.1 (Spring 2002) : 131-133

 In Exposition of the Book of Revelation, this scholar, who recently completed the William Hendriksen NT series, offers evangelical convictions on details of introduction, then adds lucid, detailed perspectives on verses of Revelation. Hendriksen’s own commentary, More than Conquerors, on the Bible’s last book has been a text in some schools favoring an amillennial view. Now Kistemaker has finished his personal contribution.

Kistemaker argues for authorship by John the Apostle around A.D. 95-96, and shows characteristics relating the Apocalypse to the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John. He presents methods of interpreting Revelation, i.e., preterist, historicist, idealist, and futurist. On the futurist view, he misleads readers in saying that such a view of Rev 4–22 leaves only Chapters 1–3 as relevant to the contemporary church. In reality, the futurist view finds in Chapters 4–22 a great number of lessons in godly living and hope for today’s saints, just as other biblical books that teach Christ’s future coming have applications for today. Even such a scholar as Kistemaker can have a blind spot and misrepresent the facts about a view other than his own. Biblical books such as Genesis, far removed from today’s church, offer an abundance of relevant truths that impact life now.

The present commentary argues against a millennium between Christ’s future coming and the final judgment (45). Again, Kistemaker misrepresents a premillennial view by saying that glorified saints could not live joyfully on an earth with sin present. They can, as even holy angels in the OT and NT earthly appearances could have joy and as Jesus, the perfectly holy one, lived in a sinful world. To disprove a literal millennium after the Second Advent, the author cites Ezek 39:9 (seven years to gather and burn weapons) and 39:12 (seven months to bury corpses of a battle to cleanse the land) (45). He reasons that these texts need to be interpreted symbolically, proving that seven speaks of complete destruction and cleansing. With such logic, one can prove a case to his own satisfaction, but not in a way convincing and natural to others. Even with literal numbers, the texts yield a very reasonable zeal to dispose of weapons and cleanse the land.

A four-page outline (66-70) precedes the commentary (76-595). A bibliography (597-603) follows before the concluding indexes of authors, Scriptures, and other ancient writings. Kistemaker helpfully has made much use of many sources, and given very readable detail, interspersed with many special, brief sections devoting more attention to Greek words, phrases, and constructions. He often assists readers in discussing problem verses, offering reasons for favored views. Examples are “seven spirits” meaning the Holy Spirit (1:4), “the Lord’s day” designating the first day of the week (1:10), the angels of the churches referring to human messengers responsible for the churches’ well-being (Chaps. 2–3), “the one who overcomes” in these chapters denoting every truly saved person, “not erase his name” (3:5) being a strong assertion that a saved person can never lose salvation. Chapters 1–3, 4–5, and 21–22 evidence much good sense.

Those of a futurist persuasion will have great difficulty with many of the views in Chapters 4–20, especially. The seven-sealed book (5:1–8:1) reveals God’s complete plan and purpose for the entire world throughout the ages (202). Chapter 6 “describes the history of the world and the church” (219). The features of Chapter 6 occur in any era (220). The rider on the white horse (Chap. 6) represents the gospel which is unstoppable throughout the present age, for which Kistemaker uses Matt 24:14 (224). The 144,000 denote perfection of all believers from all nations, and 7:9 all of these saints entering heaven, having been kept safe (253). Locust-like beings in Revelation 9 symbolize demon forces, but a reader can be mystified by the statements, “This is a description of hell itself in which people seek to die but realize that death is eluding them (v. 6). Their mental and spiritual suffering is without end” (284). The passage depicts demons at work at any time against the saved on earth, before future blessedness. In Revelation 11, the temple of God is the church at worship (323), and Kistemaker sees no NT evidence for a physical temple being rebuilt at Jerusalem (322). The city in 11:1-2 is not earthly Jerusalem, but the New Jerusalem (326); the Christian church is the holy city (327). The 42 months signify “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24), which John makes equal to 1,260 days or three and a half years, which is the period of the Maccabean war when the temple was desecrated from June 167 to December 164 B. C. Somehow Kistemaker has this refer to 167-164, a time of triumph for the Gentiles, and then equates it with triumph of the Gentiles from Jesus’ ascension to His return (327).

More amillennialism follows. The two witnesses are the church of Christ calling the world to repent (329). Their 1,260 days of ministry are the period from the Great Commission to the end of the age of gospel witness (Matt 28:19-20). Many of the details in Chapter 11 “cannot be taken literally” (330). The woman of Revelation 12 is the covenant community of both OT and NT (355). The woman fleeing to the desert (12:6) is the church depending on God to provide necessities while waiting on earth for all of the 1,260 days for His return (359). In Chapter 20, the thousand years are “an indefinite period between the ascension of Jesus and his return” (536). For Kistemaker, the fact that Satan is bound means he is “unable to stop the advance of the gospel” (535). This suffers from problems such as the great way Satan is on the loose today, rampant (1 Pet 5:8), with Christians not being ignorant of his devices (2 Cor 2:11). In Kistemaker’s view, Christ has already taken possession of the nations as in Ps 2:7-8 (536), and has “deprived” Satan of leading them astray during this gospel age. Today, these nations receive the light of the world (John 8:12) and no longer live in darkness and deceit (536).

In Rev 21:1–22:5, God will renovate and transform the heaven and earth, annihilate and create them anew out of nothing (554). Many premillennialists can agree about this. Measurements of the eternal city are, Kistemaker writes, not literal but symbolical for symmetry and perfection (568).

One will test his own interpretations as he reads this highly diligent gathering of information, and be the better for it. He also will see, as in Hendriksen’s More Than Conquerors, how an amillennial expert explains the Revelation, which has been called “the grand central station for all the railroad lines of prophecy in Scripture.”