Read this if…
- you are even a bit scared of trying to tackle the book of Revelation
- you are curious as to how Revelation fits into the grand narrative of the Bible.
- you need some more tools in your interpretation tool box.
Revelation is often considered one of the most confusing books of the Bible, and consequently it’s regularly overlooked or ignored. But no longer. In Between the Cross and the Throne, Matthew Emerson walks us through the book of Revelation, unpacking its complex imagery and pointing out major themes. In conversational tone, he reminds us that Christ died, but he has risen. The Lord reigns, but evil persists. We live between Christ’s ascension and his final conquest–and that should give us hope.
Review by Joe Valenti @jvalenti
Several years ago I ventured to preach through the entirety of Revelation with our high school students. It was interesting to say the least. In all honesty, my study of Revelation before that time had been minimal at best. I could deal with the first couple of chapters and could make a few observations here and there, but when it came to bowls, trumpets, demon frogs, and prostitutes riding red monsters, I was a bit of a fish out of water. I studied Revelation in depth for months for that sermon series, and I wish I would have had Matthew Emerson’s book as a resource!
There are several types of texts that one can use to study books of the Bible. Introductions offer excellent overviews of arguments concerning author, date, and purpose, while also offering a brief outline of the book. Commentaries of different types can help with interpretation, application, and original language issues. It is also important to employ good hermeneutics (interpretation skills) as you study and there are lots of books on how to do this as well. Therefore, I was a bit curious as to what this little book (only 79 pages before the notes) was going to add to the conversation. But Matthew Emerson surprised me.
Emerson’s book is not one of the traditional resources for book study mentioned above. Rather, Emerson supplies the reader with specific interpretation tools calibrated for the book of Revelation. First, he draws attention to the thesis of Revelation – a call to believers in Christ to remain faithful to him even through trials. Secondly, Emerson explains the three genres of literature contained within the book and how the use of these genres ought to influence our reading and understanding of it. Finally, he offers an overview of the literary devices and symbolism that pervade the book.
“The clue to the entire book, the key at the top of Revelation’s map, is recognizing that John uses pictures to describe reality throughout the book…to understand this visual story we must grasp the use of symbols.”
On the technical side, the writing is understandable and concise. Concise writing is a wonderful weapon which Emerson wields well. He has a knack for making simple what could easily become confusing. The book is laid out and organized well giving it a readable flow that builds through the conclusion.
I could spend time in this review dealing with the different views of interpretation that Emerson espouses. However, that would be a disservice to this text. Emerson spends little to no time arguing for his view or against others. I appreciate his laser focus in this book, namely, to help people engage meaningfully with the book of Revelation. Emerson notes that:
“Revelation is an exciting book, with its images of many-headed Dragons and Beasts, angels blasting judgment trumpets, and Christ returning in glory as the conquering king. Sometimes, though, these figurative images cause today’s believers to shy away from John’s Apocalypse because such images are simply unfamiliar to our modern imaginations.”
Sadly this is very true – even for many pastors. But Emerson’s short text offers excellent insight into the symbolism and imagery that will allow readers to tackle Revelation with a bit more confidence. Of specific note are chapters 4 and 5 which explore the relationship between Christ and his bride over against the Dragon and his harlot. Emerson masterfully draws attention to how the “unholy trinity” of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet are meant to make a mockery of the true, triune God. Seeing this contrast is vital to a proper understanding of Revelation.
“The unholy Trinity is a deceptive mockery of the true and only triune God, and the Harlot is a deceptive mockery of Christ’s Bride.”
This will be a book that I recommend often to both students and adults alike as a starting guide to reading Revelation. Emerson has provided the church with a very useful resource. This book is reminiscent of Dale Ralph Davis’ The Word Became Fresh which gives readers tools for understanding how to read Old Testament narrative. Emerson has given readers a road map for understanding the unique cocktail of literature that is Revelation. I commend this book to you highly!