Commentaries on Revelation

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3 John 

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For more great commentaries on Revelation, be sure to check:
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Subsections

Partial-Preterist Commentaries  14+

Historicist Commentaries  50+

Futurist Commentaries  3

Idealist Commentaries  10+

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Order of Contents

Introduction & Views
The Best Commentaries  17
General & Unclassified Commentaries  3
On Revelation Generally  6
Early Church  5
Medieval Church  4
Chs. 2-3: The Seven Letters  11
Revelation in Poetry  1
Authenticity of  2

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Introduction & Views

The Main Thing

The main thing to be kept in view in reading this dark, but important book of Scripture, is to be sensitive to the many spiritual truths contained in it (readily apparent to any and all who read the book, whatever interpretative paradigm one may take of the whole) and to keep these commandments insofar as we are able to understand them, until Christ comes again.

Rev. 1:3

“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”

There are many works in each category that will fulfill this end.  Take hope in Revelation’s promises, fear its judgments, and give glory to God who has revealed it beforehand.

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The Different Views of Revelation

The four main interpretative paradigms of Revelation are:

1 – Partial-Preterism

“[Most of] The prophecies contained in the Apocalypse were fulfilled with the destruction of the Jerusalem and the fall of heathen Rome.  This is the view of Bossuet, Grotius, Hammond, Wetstein, Eichhorn, Ewald, De Wette, Lucke, and others, among whom is the American expostitor, Moses Stuart.” – Spurgeon  

The Antichrist is often taken as Nero, Titus, Caligula, or others.  This view can be further divided into Premillennial (Gordon Clark), Amillennial (Jay Adams) and Postmilllennial (American Reconstructionism, Greg Bahnsen, Kenneth Gentry, American Vision, etc.).  

Hyper-Preterism, sometimes calling itself ‘consistent preterism’, ‘full-preterism’, or simply ‘preterism’, which says that all prophecies have already happened, including the 2nd Coming of Christ, is a false and reductionistic hermenuetic, involves serious heresy and is a repudiation of historic Christianity.  

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2 – Historicism

“The Apocalyptic prophecies are predictive of progressive history [through the Church age], being partly fulfilled, partly unfulfilled.  Thus Mede, Brightman, Isaac Newton, Woodhouse, Cunningham, Birks, Elliott (and many Germans).” – Spurgeon  The Antichrist is usually taken to be the Papacy (see our page: Antichrist).

This was the nearly universal view of the Reformation, puritans and confessional Reformed Orthodoxy (see WCF 25.6), and as such, is the majority historic Reformed view.  Historicism only declined in popularity after the 1850’s.

The strongest arguments for Historicism are:

(1) that it is in part by recognizing the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecies through progressive history that we discern that Jesus is the Messiah; and

(2) the book of Daniel is admitted by all evangelicals to be fulfilled through progressive history, and is thus historicist.  Every argument against Historicism is an argument against the book of Daniel.

New Testament revelation is interpreted in continuity with the light of the Old, and continues thereon, there being one understood method of interpreting prophecy through the whole Bible.

We recommend the general framework of this view (while not endorsing the details of any one particular author), which is consistent with understanding much of the prophecies to have symbolic and spiritual teachings, and hence a measure of Idealism (below).  Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Revelation is a prime example of such a mix.  Other recommended interpreters are Fairbairn, Hengstenberg and Steele.  We  declaim all predictive date setting.  

This view can be further divided into:

Premillennial,

(some of the early Church, J.B. Elliott, Charles Spurgeon, etc.  All forms of Premillennialism are contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith as they necessarily entail multiple resurrections and judgments, contra WCF 32 & 33),

Amillennial,

(Augustine, Lutherans and others)

and Postmillennial.

(Recommended, many of the Reformed, the Scottish Covenanters, et al.)

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3 – Futurism

Most of the Apocalyptic prophecies remain for the future.  “Thus, Burgh, Maitland, Benjamin Newton, Todd, and others” & “Kelly, and some Irish authors.” – Spurgeon

The Antichrist is usually taken as a future, individual person.  This view can be further divided into:

(1) The older, non-Dispensational understanding, which can be divided into: Historic-Premillennial, Amillennial and Postmilllennial.  The last two of these are not precluded by the Westminster Confession.

(2) Dispensationalism, that there is a hard separation between the dispensations  of God’s dealings with the Church age and national, ethnic Israel.  All forms of Dispensationalism are inconsistent with the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Dispensationalists are all Premillennial, though can be divided into:

(i) Pre-Tribulation: The Church is raptured before the 7 year Tribulation.  This is practically a standard of orthodoxy amongst many Fundamentalists and Evangelicals.  Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, John MacArthur are representative examples, among many others.

(ii)  Mid-Tribulation: Believing Christians are raptured in the middle of the Tribulation.

(iii) Post-Tribulation: The rapture happens after the Tribulation at Christ’s 2nd Coming.

No dispensational writings are included on this webpage as it represents a novel system of serious error, originating from the late-1800’s and early 1900’s.

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4 – Idealism

The prophecies of the Revelation generally do not have historic referents, often cover the whole time-span between the first and second comings of Christ, and are to be understood symbolically and spiritually.  

This view has become more popular in Reformed circles during the 1900’s, and is represented by B.B. Warfield, William Hendricksen, G.K. Beale and others.

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The Best Commentaries on Revelation

Articles & Booklets

Silversides, David – The Antichrist: a Biblical and Confessional View  Buy  2002  20 pages

While not a commentary on Revelation, this is one of the best short, easy to read explanations and arguments for the general historicist viewpoint.  

Silversides exegetes 2 Thess. 2, 1 John 2:18, and other passages.  He also defends why this doctrine is an important part of the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith.  Silversides is a Reformed Presbyterian of Ireland minister.

Warfield, B.B. – ‘The Apocalypse’  4 pp.  from his Selected Shorter Writings, vol. 2, pp. 651-4

Warfield’s piece is an explanation and defense of the Idealist position.

“B.B. Warfield’s short article below is probably the most helpful three page piece on the structure of the book ever written.” – Rev. Nick Batzig at FeedingonChrist.com   We will add though, that Warfield’s argument for Idealism is not incapable of critique.

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Simple, Practical & Devotional

1800’s

Bonar, Horatius – Light and Truth, vols. 5  d. 1889  Bonar expounds a verse or two from most chapters of the book.

Bonar (1808-1889) was an influential Scot and brother to Andrew Bonar.  

***  ‘…The passages selected are popularly expounded, but the thought is not deep.  The volumes will be more prized by the ordinary reader than by the minister.’ – Spurgeon

Ramsey, James – The Spiritual Kingdom, an Exposition of the First Eleven Chapters of Revelation  1873  This work has been reprinted by the Banner of Truth in their Geneva Series of Commentaries.  

Ramsey majors on the spiritual teaching of Revelation, but does take a general historicist approach, though unwilling to pin down many specifics (which is not a bad thing).

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Intermediate

1800’s

Fairbairn, Patrick

‘An Outline of the General Plan of the Apocalypse, from ch. 5-19’ in Prophecy, pp. 393-431

‘Prophecies in the Apocalypse concerning the Church and the Kingdom of Christ in relation to the Kingdoms of this World’ and ‘The Antichrist as Represented in the Apocalypse, and in regard to its overthrow and final doom’, in Prophecy, pp. 305-337 & 364-393

Fairbairn was a professor in the Free Church of Scotland.  The book is a standard work on Prophecy.  Fairbairn’s exposition is a good example of historicism mixed with idealism.

Steele, David – Notes on the Apocalypse  Buy  1870, 336 pages

This is perhaps the best medium-size historicist commentary on the book of Revelation.  It thoroughly uses scripture to interpret itself, is balanced, is hermenuetically on target, has an easy to discern outline, is brief, is easily consulted, answers all the major questions, and generally gets one in the right ballpark.

While this commentary is excellent and highly recommended, do be aware that Steele was the fountain-head of the ‘Steelites’ who have extreme and dangerous views of ecclesiology and covenanting.  Steele only mentions such views in a few isolated sentences in the book.  This should not detract from the value of the book.

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1900’s

Mauro, Philip – Of Things which Soon Must Come to Pass: a Commentary on the Book of Revelation  1933  650 pp.

Mauro was a Partial-Preterist, an American lawyer, judge and writer on theological topics.

Hendricksen, William – More than Conquerors  Buy   1st ed. 1940

This work has been greatly influential in 20th century interpretation and is Idealist.

“This work ably sets forth the amillennial interpretation of this prophecy.” – Cyril J. Barber

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Advanced

1600’s

Durham, James – A Learned and Complete Commentary upon the Book of the Revelation   EEBO  Buy  d. 1658

Durham (1622-58) was a Scottish covenanter and writes in the historicist school of interpretation, which was the nearly universal view of the Scottish covenanters, along with the Reformation and puritan era.

** – ‘After all that has been written, it would not be easy to find a more sensible and instructive work than this old-fashioned exposition.  We cannot accept its interpretations of the mysteries, but the mystery of the gospel fills it with sweet savor.’ – Spurgeon

Poole, Matthew – Critical Synopsis of the Bible: Revelation, 3 vols.  Buy

This is different and much larger than Poole’s Annotations on Scripture.  Here Poole gives something of a history of interpretation (from Jewish writers until Christian interpreters of Poole’s own day) on every verse of the Bible.

‘…you will find in Poole’s Synopsis a marvelous collection of all the wisdom and folly of the critics.  It is a large cyclopedia worthy of the days when theologians could be cyclopean, and had not shrunk from folios to octavos.  Query—a query for which I will not demand an answer—has one of you beaten the dust from the venerable copy of Poole which loads our library shelves?

Yet as Poole spent no less than ten years in compiling it, it should be worthy of your frequent notice—ten years, let me add, spent in Amsterdam in exile for the truth’s sake from his native land.  His work is based on an earlier compilation entitled Critic Sacri, containing the concentrated light of a constellation of learned men who have never been excelled in any age or country.’ – Spurgeon

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1800’s

Hengstenberg, William – The Revelation of St. John Expounded, vols. 1 (1-12:17), 2 (12:18-End) Here is the table of contents for both volumes.

Hengstenberg is a good example of Historicism mixed with Idealism.

**  “Highly esteemed by the best judges.” – Spurgeon

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1900’s

Swete, H.B. – The Apocalypse of St. John, the Greek Text with Introduction, Notes and Indices  1906

Swete (1835–1917) was an English Biblical scholar and professor at Cambridge, following B.F. Westcott.  He was a liberal.

“A masterful exposition of the Greek text… Amillennial.” – Cyril J. Barber

Charles, Robert H. – A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Revelation, vol. 1 (1-13), 2 (14-22)  1920  in The International Critical Commentary

Charles (1855–1931) was an Irish Biblical scholar who is known for his works on the pseudopigraphia.  The ICC series is liberal.

“This work and Swete’s exemplary treatment vie for supremacy.” – Cyril J. Barber

Gentry, Kenneth – Before Jerusalem Fell, Dating the Book of Revelation  Buy  478 pp.

This is the most in depth defense of the early dating of the authorship of the book of Revelation to the late A.D. 60’s, as opposed to the more common later dating in the A.D. 90’s.  This may be the most exhaustive contemporary defense to date of the partial-preterist position.  As thorough as Gentry’s scholarship is, his tightly argued case is not above critique.

In Gentry’s argument for the internal evidence within the book of Revelation for an early date, he gives an interpretative commentary on the major, significant portions of Revelation.

Beale, G.K. – Revelation  Buy  1998  in the New International Greek Testament Commentary series

Beale is an Idealist.  This is perhaps the standard, modern, advanced work on the Revelation.  One will need to be familiar with Greek in order to adequately read it.

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The Magnum Opus of all Historicist Commentaries

Elliott, E.B. – Horae Apocalypticae: A Commentary on the Apocalypse, Critical and Historical, Including also an Examination of the Chief Prophecies of Daniel…, vol. 1, 2, 3, 4  2nd ed. 1846

Elliott (1793-1875) wrote here the most exhaustive historicist defense and exposition of the Book of Revelation, building upon all the commentators before him.  The last volume includes a critique of all of the other main interpretations of Revelation.  He was a historicist premillennial (as was Charles Spurgeon who has commended it).  ‘Horae Apocalypticae’ in the title means ‘of the hours of the Apocalypse’.

***  “The standard work on the subject.” – Spurgeon

Abridgments of Elliott (in order of shorter to longer):

Pratt, J.H. – Paraphrase of the Revelation of St. John  1862  97 pages

This is a paraphrase of the Book of Revelation, starting at chapter 6, according to E.B. Elliott’s interpretation.  This is a handy way of quickly seeing how Elliott interprets the book without digging through his 4 volumes.

Tucker, H. Carre – Brief Historical Explanation of the Revelation of St. John according to the Horae Apocalypticae of Elliott  1863, 117 pages

E., H.E. – The Last Prophecy: Being an Abridgment of Elliott’s Horae Apocalypticae, to which is subjoined his last paper on ‘Prophecy Fulfilled and Fulfilling  1884, 375 pages

This work was originally intended as a course of lectures in church history for the young pertaining to the events of the Book of Revelation.


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General and Unclassified Commentaries on Revelation

Simple, Practical & Devotional

1800’s

Bonar, Horatius – Light and Truth, vols. 5  d. 1889  Bonar expounds a verse or two from most chapters of the book.

Bonar (1808-1889) was an influential Scot and brother to Andrew Bonar.  

***  ‘…The passages selected are popularly expounded, but the thought is not deep.  The volumes will be more prized by the ordinary reader than by the minister.’ – Spurgeon

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1900’s

Scroggie, William G. – The Great Unveiling: an Analytical Study of Revelation  Buy  1920

“A study guide of the different views of interpretation, which, for brevity, clarity, and accuracy, is hard to duplicate.” – Cyril J. Barber

Barnhouse, Donald G. – Revelation: an Expository Commentary, God’s Last Word  Buy  1971

Barnhouse was reformed and was a presbyterian.

“Contains articles reprinted from Revelation magazine.  The last two chapters have been contributed by Ralph Keiper.” – Cyril J. Barber

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Intermediate

1800’s

Rogers, George – Lectures on the Book of Revelation, vol. 1, 2, 3, 4  1844

**  “Not half so well known as it ought to be: a mass of judicious remarks.  We do not subscribe to the author’s system of interpretation, but his expositions always command our respect.” – Spurgeon

Vaughan, C.J. – Lectures on the Revelation of St. John  1861/1882  555 pp.

Vaughan was an Anglican.

**  “Does not grapple with the difficulties, but inculcates the lessons of the book.  A sensible course.” – Spurgeon

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1900’s

Barclay, William – The Revelation of John, 2 vols.  Buy  1961 in The Daily Bible Study Series  1961

Barclay was a liberal.

“Volume I is devoted entirely to chapters 1-5, and provides an extensive study of the seven letters to the churches of Asia.  It in no way duplicates material contained in the writer’s Letters to the Seven Churches.  The chief value of this set lies in the historical data and interesting Greek word studies.  Apart from these notable features, the exposition is uninspiring.” – Cyril J. Barber

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On Revelation Generally

De Graff, D.G. – Chs. 44-46 of Promise and Deliverance, vol. 4 (on Rev. 12, 19, 21-22)

De Graaf was Dutch Reformed.

On the Old Testament portion of the larger work:  “De Graaf studies the Old Testament with an eye on the covenant and the kingdom of God.  The book is written in an easy-to-undrstand style.” – Tremper Longman III, 4 out of 5 stars

Warfield, B.B. – ‘The Book of Revelation’  12 pp.  from the Schaff-Herzog Cyclopedia, vol. 3, 1884, pp. 20134-2038, also in Selected Shorter Writing of B.B. Warfield, vol. 2, p. 80 ff.

On the Words of Christ

Stier, Rudolph – Chs. 9-12 of Words of the Risen Savior  1859  30 pp.  Stier expounds Rev. 2-3; 4:1; 21:5-8.  Some of the words of Christ, for instance in ch. 1, are not expounded.

***  “No one can be expected to receive all that Stier has to say, but he must be dull indeed who cannot learn much from him.  Read with care, he is a great instructor.” – Spurgeon

On the Words of the Angels

Stier, Rudolf – Part 2: the Revelation of St. John  1862  102 pp.  in Words of the Angels, or, their Visits to the Earth and the Messages they Delivered 

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The Early Church on the Book of Revelation

Compilation

ed. Weinrich, William – Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Revelation  Buy

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Individual Fathers

Victorinus – Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John  20 pp. in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, pp. 344-364

Andrew of Caesarea – Commentary on the Apocalypse  Buy

Oecumenius – Commentary on the Apocalypse  Buy

Victorinus of Petovium,  Apringius of Beja, Caesarius of Arles, Bede the Venerable – Latin Commentaries on Revelation  Buy  The works have been translated into English

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The Medieval Church on Revelation

ed. Francis Gumerlock

Early Latin Commentaries on the Apocalypse  Buy  

“In the century after Bede at least six different Latin commentaries on the Apocalypse were produced, but until now none of them were available in English translation. This book provides translations of two brief Apocalypse commentaries from approximately 750-810 CE.”

The Seven Seals of the Apocalypse: Medieval Texts in Translation  Buy  Includes 15 authors from the 6th through the 15th centuries on Rev. 5-8

ed. Wallis, Faith – Bede: Commentary on Revelation  Buy  in Translated Texts for Historians by Liverpool University

Bede (672/3 –735) was a Medieval English monk and historian.

Nicholas of Lyra – Apocalypse Commentary  Buy


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Revelation 2-3, the Seven Letters to the Churches

Practical to Intermediate

1500’s

Perkins, William – A Godly and Learned Exposition or Commentary upon the Three First Chapters of the Revelation. Preached in Cambridge  1595  220 pp.

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1600’s

More, Henry – An Exposition of the Seven Epistles to the Seven churches together with a brief discourse of Idolatry, with application to the Church of Rome  1669  140 pp.

More (1614-1687) was an Arminian, Latitudinarian Anglican. 

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1800’s

Cumming, John – Apocalyptic Sketches: Lectures on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor  1854  560 pp.  Cumming has 4 lectures on verses in ch. 1 as well.

**  “Here the views of Elliott [a historicist] are admirably popularized.” – Spurgeon

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1900’s

Whyte, Alexander – The Angels of the Churches  n.d.  60 pp.  being chs. 27-33 in Bible Characters: our Lord’s Characters, p. 249-312  d. 1921

Stott, John – What Christ Thinks of the Church: an Exposition of Revelation 1-3  Buy  1958

“Characteristic of the writer’s penetrating insight and usual brilliant exposition, these messages on Revelation 2-3 set forth the ideal qualities of the church.” – Cyril J. Barber

Morgan, G.C. – The Letters of our Lord: a First Century Message  Buy  1961

“A series of simple, devout messages revealing the conditions of church life to be found continuously in the Christian church.” – Cyril J. Barber

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Intermediate to Advanced

1800’s

Trench, R.C. – Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia  1897  270 pp.

“An important exegetical exposition.” – Cyril J. Barber

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1900’s

Ramsay, William – The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia and their Place in the Plan of the Apocalypse  1904  520 pp.

Ramsay (1851–1939) was a Scottish archeologist, New Testament scholar and the foremost authority in his day on Asia Minor (to which area are addressed the seven letters in Rev. 2-3).  

After a lifetime of research, from initially being skeptical of the early Church history recorded in Acts, he came to the conclusion that “it was written with such judgment, skill, art and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement” and that “You may press the words of Luke [who wrote Acts] in a degree beyond any other historian’s and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment…”

“A brilliant study of the historical and archeological material relating to these churches.” – Cyril J. Barber

Blaiklock, Edward M. – The Seven Churches: an Exposition of Revelation chapters 2 & 3  Buy  1950

“An up-to-date historical treatment.” – Cyril J. Barber

Barclay, William – Letters to the Seven Churches in the Book of Revelation:a Background and Interpretation  Buy  1957

“A historical treatment based upon a careful re-creation of the historic setting of the first century A.D.  Includes a description of the pagan religions and customs, Caesar worship, persecution, the slander of the Jews, internal heresy, and apathy—all of which faced the early church.” – Cyril J. Barber

Tatford, Frederick A. – The Patmos Letters  Buy  1969

“A scholarly investigation into the historic setting of the Asian churches in the first century A.D. together with a careful exposition of the text of Scripture.” – Cyril J. Barber

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Revelation in Poetry

Malet, Arthur – The Books of Job, Ecclesiastes and Revelation rendered into English Verse, also Solomon and His Bride, A Drama from the Song of Songs  PoD  1883

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The Authenticity, Apostolicity and Integrity of the Book of Revelation

Hengstenberg, E.W. – The Revelation of St. John Expounded, vol., 2, pp. 389-492

Chappel, John – ‘A Concise Review of Evidence Respecting the Authenticity and Divine Inspiration of the Apocalypse’  1828  51 pp.  in Annotations on the Apocalypse

Chappel was an Anglican.

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Related Pages

Whole Bible Commentaries

Old Testament Commentaries

New Testament Commentaries