Hendriksen's book is a refreshing change from those of contemporary authors trying to fit today's headlines into Revelation's scenes.
Hendriksen was a Christian Reformed pastor and professor at Calvin Theological Seminary (he died in 1982). This book presents the Reformed view of John's Revelation. This may be a different interpretation than most readers of prophetic books are used to these days. That the book I reviewed is a 75th anniversary edition shows that the Reformed view has something to offer that is lasting, unlike popular prophetic books that quickly go out of print.
Hendriksen wants us to view Revelation as relevant, no matter what era we live in. It shows God's hand in history, His Protection, and His ultimate victory. “In the main,” he writes, “the purpose of the book of Revelation is to comfort the militant Church in its struggle against the forces of evil. It is full of help and comfort for persecuted and suffering Christians.” (13) The theme of the book is the victory of Christ and His Church over Satan and his helpers. It may seem like Satan is winning, but Christ is victorious in the end.
What about those who want to find contemporary events in its scenes? Hendriksen says a sound interpretation of the book must have as its starting point that the book was intended for believers in John's day. We should ask how the first readers understood the book in light of the conditions and circumstances of their day. We then realize that the book is also intended for believers in the centuries following.
A general overview of the book is given, a late date (A.D. 95 or 96) is defended, the author is discussed as are the major themes (conflict between the Church and the world, judgment upon persecutors, victory through Christ).
I really appreciated Hendriksen's discussion about the images in Revelation. He notes that they are so broad that they should not be confined to a particular era. He says they cover the entire gospel age in a parallel fashion. The bowls of judgment always follow the trumpets of warning, he says, in an ascending order leading to the final judgment.
I also liked his section on interpreting symbols. Don't press too hard, he suggests, just like with the symbols in the parables Jesus taught. We shouldn't try to find “deeper” meanings. He sees them as impressions describing the Church, satanic conduct, and human behavior.
Hendriksen does identify representations of visions. For the helpers of the dragon in chapter 13, he notes the first comes from the sea and the second from the land. “The first is Satan's hand,” he writes. “The second is the devil's mind. The first represents the persecuting power of Satan operating in and through the nations of this world and their governments. The second symbolizes the false religions and philosophies of this world.” (161) He adds that this image represents the opposition to the Church throughout the gospel age. Armageddon “is the symbol of every battle in which, when the need is greatest and believers are oppressed, the Lord suddenly reveals His power in the interest of His distressed people and defeats the enemy.” (181)
He takes us through the sections of the book, helping us grasp their meanings in light of his understanding of them. It helps us see Revelation as a book of comfort and encouragement.
This is not the kind of book on Revelation that will generate speculative headlines. It is a book that has stood the test of time in its understanding of John's message for us today. I highly recommend this book to those who are open to investigating the meaning of Revelation in a manner not tied to the novelties of current events.
My rating: 5/5 stars.
William Hendriksen (ThD Princeton Theological Seminary) was professor of New Testament literature at Calvin Theological Seminary.
Baker Books, 240 pages.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.