Revelation (Everyday Bible Commentary Series) Review

Book Review: 

Charles Ryrie was a renowned conservative Christian scholar, theologian, and author. This book is a commentary on the Book of Revelation, written on a popular level yet influenced by scholarship.

Ryrie’s perspective is pre-tribulational and pre-millennial. “Pre-tribulational” means that he believes that the church (both living and dead saints) will be raptured to heaven before the seven year Great Tribulation. “Pre-millennial” means that he believes that Christ will return at the end of the Great Tribulation and establish a thousand year reign on earth. Ryrie defends these views occasionally, while describing other views, using helpful visual aids.

Ryrie is also dispensational, but he overlaps with and differs from other dispensationalists whom I have read, such as E.W. Bullinger, who is often called a “hyper-dispensationalist.” At its basic level, dispensationalism distinguishes between the church and Israel, rather than treating the church as the new Israel. Ryrie adheres to dispensationalism in this sense. Unlike Bullinger, however, he does not treat the church as spectators of the Lamb’s marriage with Israel but rather holds that the Lamb is marrying those redeemed from among the Jews and the Gentiles. Yet, like Bullinger, Ryrie does make distinctions when it comes to the Lamb’s marriage. On pages 152-153, he states regarding the friends of the Bridegroom in Revelation 17:9: “These guests are not the bride, and they are not unsaved people, so they must be redeemed people who are not members of the church, the body of Christ.”

Like many dispensationalists, Ryrie also believes that the church operates under salvation by free grace and once-saved-always-saved. This perspective influences his approach to certain passages. Revelation 19:8 states that the bride is arrayed in fine linen, which is the righteous deeds of the saints. Ryrie states: “The bride is the bride because of the righteousness of Christ; the bride is clothed for the wedding because of her acts” (page 152). In Revelation 3:5, Christ promises the church at Sardis that the overcomer will not be blotted out of the Book of Life. Ryrie interprets overcoming as believing in Christ, in light of I John 5:4-5, and he states: “This statement does not threaten the possible loss of one’s salvation but rather promises assurance that no believer will ever lose it” (pages 35, 41). That is Ryrie’s approach to the promises to the churches in Revelation 2-3: they are not rewards for doing good, but rather they represent Christ trying to reassure the churches about the blessings that they already have, as that can strengthen them amidst temptation and persecution. Unfortunately, Ryrie does not really address Christ’s threats to the churches. What did Christ mean in Revelation 2:5 when he threatened to remove the Ephesian church’s candlestick, unless she repented? Is that a loss of salvation?

Ryrie is not exactly an antinomian. Regarding those who are cast into the Lake of Fire for certain sins in Revelation 21:8, Ryrie states: “Notice that the text does not say that anyone who has ever committed any of these sins will be excluded, but people whose lives are characterized in these ways” (page 167). He later calls them “unsaved people.” This is both helpful and unhelpful. Why are the “fearful” included in that list of unsaved people? Ryrie does not say. My guess is that, in the Book of Revelation, those who fear the world and the Beast will give in to them, and that brings condemnation. My problem with the verse is that I have long struggled with fear, and not just occasional fear.

As a conservative Christian, Ryrie tries to address the passages in Revelation that seem to suggest that the end is near, as in, expected to occur in John’s day. There were not many surprises there. Like a lot of dispensationalists, he interprets “things which must shortly come to pass” in Revelation 1:1 to mean that, when Christ does finally come, it will be quickly. But he realizes that Revelation 22:10 states that “the time is near,” so he says, “these events are near because a thousand years are as a day with the Lord (2 Peter 3:8)” (page 18). To his credit, Ryrie does cite passages in favor of his interpretation of “shortly.” He is not very convincing, though, for Revelation often conveys a tone of urgency.

In terms of strengths, the book is informative. For example, in discussing the Lord’s day in Revelation 1:10, Ryrie notes that kyriakos outside of the New Testament means “imperial,” so the Lord’s day could be when Christ “takes the reins of earthly government” (page 23) rather than Sunday. Ryrie sometimes ignores details, but at other times he tries to explain details, and he sifts through different perspectives in so doing. He refers to translational issues: the angel of Revelation 8:13 is actually an eagle; Ryrie does not explain the significance of that, however. Occasionally, Ryrie is rather elliptical. On page 146, he interprets Revelation 18:2’s statement about fallen Babylon being the cage of unclean and hateful birds by saying: “The latter phrase possibly alludes to the birds in the parable of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32), indicating the demonic forces at work in the apostate system.” What? The birds who rest in the branches of the tree in Matthew 13:32 are demonic? The book has a cozy tone, and yet one has to pay close attention lest one miss an intriguing insight.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.