Longman, Tremper III. Revelation: Through Old Testament Eyes. Through Old Testament Eyes Series. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2022. 351pp.
Revelation: Through Old Testament Eyes is an insightful resource for students of Scripture doing exegetical research in Revelation. This review consists of two parts. First, I will list key contributions of this commentary. Second, I will demonstrate how I used this commentary in preparing a recent sermon. I received a free copy of this commentary from the publisher, Kregel Academic, in exchange for an honest review.
Tremper Longman III (PhD, Yale University) is Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies of Westmont College. He is the author of numerous books and commentaries, including the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writing and the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary.
Contributions of This Commentary
Naturally, most Revelation commentaries are written by New Testament scholars. The obvious strength of this commentary, however, is that insights are highlighted by an Old Testament scholar. This makes it truly Revelation through Old Testament eyes. Longman’s OT expertise comes to the forefront in a variety of ways. One, he cites possible OT allusions from the text. Some are obvious, like Jezebel (Rev 2:20; cf. 1 Kings 16:31–33; 18). There are also subtle ones like John using a reed to measure the temple and altar in Rev 11, echoing the future temple of Ezekiel 40–43. Longman points out, however, that Rev 11 is not a fulfillment of the prophecy in Ezekiel.
Two, Longman traces the development of an Old Testament theme throughout Scripture. For example, in his comment regarding “the Lord’s day” in Rev 1:10, Longman traces the background of the Sabbath throughout the Old Testament. Another example is his treatment of the temple from Rev 11:1–2, tracing the temple theme from God’s presence in the garden to the church.
Three, Longman simply cites OT references that either compare or contrast with the Revelation passage, whether it is intentionally alluded to or not. In Rev 1:16, the glorified Christ is described with a face “like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” Longman brings up Psalm 84:11 which speaks of Yahweh as “a sun and shield” and that the sun is no longer needed because Yahweh will be the everlasting light (Isa 60:19–20). Regarding the command to “wake up!” in Rev 3:2, Longman cites Joel 1:5, not as an allusion to Rev 3:2 but as a contrast. This seems to be based on Longman’s observation of the text and familiarity with the OT. He says,
The prophet Joel also instructed his audience to wake up, characterizing them as drunkards (Joel 1:5). . . . They were to wake up to experience the punishment that was coming on them. In the case of the church of Sardis, they were to wake up so that they could strengthen what was about to die.p. 67
Another feature I enjoyed in this volume is Longman’s literary-theological reading of Revelation in pp. 24–30. The author simply walks through the macro structure of the entire book. If you want the cliff notes of the entire book of Revelation, read Longman’s succinct and insightful, 7-page summary. He identifies the main theme of the book as:
Despite present troubles God is in control, and he will have the final victory. Therefore, persist in your faith and remain obedient to God.p. 25
How I Used This Commentary on a Sermon
Commentaries are conversation partners. It is always best to study the passage yourself before diving into the commentary literature so 1) you understand the discussion in the commentaries, 2) you have questions to ask that add to the discussion, 3) you have insights to share (and check if they saw the same thing), 4) you can agree or disagree with your conversation partners, and 5) you can change your mind about the passage. Without doing your own work, you will not have questions to ask, insights to check, thoughts to agree or disagree about, or views to change. Here is how I used Longman’s Revelation through Old Testament Eyes in my recent sermon on Revelation 3:1–6.
Before checking commentaries, my habit is to do my own exegetical work by translating the passage and figuring out the structure. Then after reading through the text several times, I write down what I think tentatively is the aim or theme of the text. I try to list down things I have observed from the text. My next list includes questions I have on things that are confusing or phrases I am uncertain about.
After doing this initial work, I then check the commentaries. First, I use commentaries to affirm my thoughts. I want to know if I got my structure, aim/theme right. I want to know if others see the same thing I saw, including several points of observation. In working through Revelation 3:1—6, the words “name” and “life/death” stood out. The absence of a commendation was also evident. Longman was not particularly helpful here, though it was not his fault. The verse-by-verse approach of this series prevented a discussion of structure and aim for each discourse. So, I leaned on other commentaries to check my work.
Second, I use commentaries to answer questions I have or interpretations I’m not sure about. So, I ran through my list of questions to see if Longman had answered any of them. My first question had to do with “the seven Spirits of God.” I view this as a reference to the Holy Spirit, and the number seven indicates perfection or completion. Longman points the reader back to his comments in 1:4. To my surprise, he interprets “the seven spirits” as a reference to angels! He cites Metzger and Tobit 12:15 as proofs. Longman disagreed with me. When something like this happens, sometimes I change my mind if I find the commentary convincing. But in this case, Longman did not make a compelling argument in my opinion, and since other scholars affirm my view, I stayed with it.
Another question I had was on the book of life. Longman was particularly helpful in pointing out the Old Testament background for this concept. He cited Psalm 69:28; Exodus 32:32; and Dan 12:1 as references.
Lastly, depending on how much time I have and how long my sermon is, I sometimes—very rarely—read through a commentary to see if there are other observations I missed. In this particular passage, I was interested to learn about some historical background that scholars may know that was not readily available to me based on reading the text. Longman is helpful in this regard, describing the city of Sardis this way:
Sardis, like Thyatira, was a busy commercial hub. Sardis had a storied past by the time the letter arrived in the city, having been the capital of Lydia when the famed and wealthy Croessus was its king in the sixth century BC. His kingdom came to an end when Cyrus the Great defeated the city in 546 BC, even before that Persian king defeated Babylon in 539 BC. Sardis had never again resumed its former glory but was still a substantial city in the first century AD.
This commentary is designed mainly for non-specialists who have a desire for deeper study of Revelation. Longman takes you to the Old Testament as the appropriate background in understanding Revelation. Old Testament allusions, examples, echoes, and quotes come to life in this commentary. Instead of merely using as reference, this commentary may be one of the few that you read through like a book.
The only quibbles I have are my disagreements with the author’s interpretation or conclusion. For example, I do find it surprising that Longman thinks the “seven spirits before his throne” in 1:4 refer to angels instead of the Holy Spirit. But we are talking about the Book of Revelation here. There are no two authors—or pastors for that matter—that agree with every single interpretation in Revelation. Remember, you read a commentary not because it agrees with your interpretation but to challenge, confirm, or strengthen your interpretation. To that end, Longman’s work has confirmed my own understanding of the text, but mostly also strengthened my views through disagreement with Longman. Commentaries are conversation partners, and Longman is an excellent one in this book.