Bruce Green. The Thrill of Hope: A Commentary on Revelation. Bowie, Texas: Start2Finish Books, 2014. ISBN-10: 1941972179. ISBN-13: 978-1941972175. See here to purchase the book.
The Thrill of Hope is a thought-provoking book about the
Book of Revelation. Its author, Bruce Green, is part of the Tenth
Street Church of Christ in Opelika, Alabama. I do not know much about
the Tenth Street Church of Christ, but I am vaguely familiar with the
Churches of Christ’s teachings about prophecy, on account of friends and
acquaintances who are part of the Church of Christ, and also books that
I have read, such as a book of Guy Woods’ answers to questions about
the Bible. I was curious to learn more about how a Church of Christ
devotee would approach specific passages in the Book of Revelation.
My understanding is that the Church of Christ maintains that
Revelation primarily concerns the first century C.E., even though they
acknowledge that it has lessons that are relevant to subsequent
generations of Christians. My understanding is also that the Church of
Christ does not interpret the millennial reign of Christ literally. I
do not know if Churches of Christ would accept the labels of preterist
(or at least partial preterist) and amillennial, but my impression is
that they fit these categories. I wanted to read Green’s book, not only
to see how a Church of Christ person would interpret specific passages
in Revelation, but also to read ideas about how I can approach
Revelation as a Christian. I have not known what to do about passages
in Revelation that seem to suggest that Christ is coming soon, or
quickly, now that we are about two-thousand years after the Book of
Revelation was written. Did the Book of Revelation make a prediction
that did not come to pass—-that Christ would return in the first
century? I am aware that Church of Christ people tend to interpret
“soon” in the Book of Revelation literally, so I was interested in
learning more about such a position.
Bruce Green’s book did not disappoint. His argument is that the Book
of Revelation is about God’s historical judgment of the Roman Empire.
According to Green, Christ’s coming in Revelation is not how a number of
Christians interpret it. Rather, Christ’s coming in that book is about
Christ coming in judgment against Rome, since coming in Scripture can
refer to God coming in judgment (at various points in history).
Moreover, for Green, the kingdoms of the world becoming the kingdoms of
Christ in Revelation 11:15 is not about Christ coming to earth to rule
and create an earthly paradise, but rather is the manifestation of
Christ’s already reigning kingdom. Green refers to passages in
Revelation that appear to suggest that Christ is already reigning (1:5;
2:26-27; 3:21), and he contends that Christ manifested this kingdom—-or
brought it near in proximity—-by justly punishing Rome. Green likens
Christ’s kingdom to a submarine, which is underwater but sometimes
manifests itself by coming above water: Christ’s kingdom already existed
in the first century, but it came near when Christ exacted judgment
against Rome. What about the rewards of the righteous and the
punishments of the wicked that are promised in Revelation? Green
affirms that the righteous who resisted Rome will receive everlasting
bliss and that the wicked who sided with Rome will go to the lake of
fire. But Green also maintains that Revelation was promising temporal
blessings to the faithful Christians. Things historically got better
for Christians after the death of Domitian, Green notes. Green also
interprets the new heavens and the new earth in light of the Great
Commission to spread the Gospel.
I should add that Green interprets a significant amount of Revelation
symbolically, as representing such things as Rome, the church’s witness
against it, and Christ’s judgment of it. Green notes that the Greek
word esamenen in Revelation 1:1 relates to the Greek word for symbol,
and so he concludes that Revelation is a book of symbols of what would
soon occur. Let me also say that I was impressed that Green addressed
questions one might ask regarding his position. For example, did Christ
truly judge Rome in the first century, when the Roman Empire continued
to exist for a few centuries longer? That is an excellent question, and
I admire Green for addressing it.
I am not entirely convinced by Green’s arguments. First of all,
Revelation seems to me to be part of the apocalyptic tradition, and my
impression is that apocalyptic literature often forecasts a near end,
followed by paradise. Why would Revelation be any different? Second,
the statement in Revelation 11:15 that the kingdoms of the world have
become the kingdoms of Christ seems to me to concern more than people
seeing Christ’s justice against Rome: they appear to describe a transfer
of authority over the world’s kingdoms from the world to Christ. While
Revelation may acknowledge that there is a sense in which Christ rules
now, that does not preclude that it was also hoping for a time when
Christ would rule more fully, over earth. And, third, looking at other
uses of the Greek verb semaino in the New Testament, it does not
necessarily concern using symbols, but communication, or indicating
something (see John 12:33; 18:32; 21:19; Acts 11:28; 25:27). I
acknowledge that Revelation has its share of symbols, though.
Green’s book is still thought-provoking, and it draws from respected
scholars (e.g., N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, etc.). I appreciated
Green’s insights, particularly his story about how he used to judge
certain Christians as lukewarm but came to view them sympathetically
with maturity. Green also made a lot of references to movies,
television shows, music, and literature, and that enhanced the book.
His story at the end about Aretha Franklin appearing to comfort Billy
Preston while they were rendering “O Holy Night” was moving, and Green
told the story in an obviously heart-felt way.
The publisher sent me a review copy of this book through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.