Review of Simon Kistemaker on Revelation

by Vern Sheridan Poythress

[Published in the Westminster Theological Journal 64/1 (2002) 201-2. Used with permission.]

Simon J. Kistemaker: New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001. x, 635p. $39.99, cloth.


Kistemaker’s workmanlike commentary on Revelation has space (635 pages) to discuss both major and minor issues in interpreting Revelation. While paying attention to other views, the commentary takes a clear stand on the main issues. As one would expect from Kistemaker, it consistently takes positions consistent with a high view of scriptural authority. The author of Revelation is John the Apostle. The date of origin is about 95 A.D. The commentary adopts an idealist interpretive approach, stressing that the contents of the visions of Revelation are symbolical rather than literal. Like Hendriksen and Beale, Kistemaker sees the organization of Revelation as involving recapitulation, cycling back several times over the interadvent period. The book is amillennial in its approach to Revelation 20.

After 70 pages of introduction, the commentary simply splits itself up into one chapter of commentary for each chapter of the Book of Revelation. It provides at the beginning of each chapter an outline of that chapter of Revelation. But there remains some awkwardness when the modern chapter divisions do not correspond perfectly to the major structural divisions Revelation (as at 1:9; 8:2; 19:11; and 22:6).

The author provides his own fresh English translation at the beginning of each section of commentary, usually at the beginning of the chapter. He then provides a summary of the chapter or section, and next proceeds to exegete verse by verse. Excurses on “Greek Words, Phrases, and Constructions” occur at the end of the exegesis of each small section of text (usually two or three verses).

Kistemaker’s commentary is a solid and useful exegetical commentary. Moreover, I happen to agree with its stances on every one of the major issues listed in the first paragraph above, which commends it even more in my eyes.

But inevitably one starts asking how it compares with other commentaries on Revelation. Kistemaker’s commentary is only about half the length of Beale’s recent (1999) commentary, which hold similar interpretive views. Beale naturally has much more space to devote to the issues, and is able to go into greater technical detail. Kistemaker’s commentary is aware of Beale’s work, but fails to mention some of the valuable insights offered in Beale. For example, one could wish that it had mentioned the background of Rev 1:1 in Dan 2:45, in order better to explain the language of “the time is near.” Or it could have noted that both Rev 19:11-19 and 20:7-10 are based on Ezekiel 38-39, showing recapitulation. Many of the ideas were, of course, available in miscellaneous scholarly literature before 1999, but Beale has succeeded in bringing a lot together. Kistemaker’s commentary could be rated higher if it were not overshadowed not only by the size of Beale’s commentary, but its more insightful and thorough arguments for the positions that it holds. Moreover, for myself, I tend to side more often with Beale than with Kistemaker on those points of detailed interpretation on which the two disagree.

Kistemaker at times does not provide enough support to help convince people who do not hold to his overall views. For example, in the introduction he asserts that Revelation falls into two parts, 1-11 and 12-22 (p. 63). This two-part analysis has support from some other scholars, but Kistemaker provides no indication in the introduction as to what the support is. A few pages later his detailed outline of Revelation (pp. 66-70) does not take up this two-part idea, but constructs a sevenfold division of the whole. Why was the two-part idea mentioned, only to be dropped?

Then mysteriously, when one comes to chapter 12, the commentary brings up the two-part division again, explaining that the themes of the parts are “Christ’s church persecuted by the world (chapters 1-11) and Christ with the church persecuted by Satan (chapters 12-22).” But this summary of the thematic differences is unworkable, since (1) Rev 20:11-22:5 takes us beyond the time of persecution by Satan, and (2) Satan uses human agents (“the world”) for persecution in both halves of the book, which threatens to dissolve the supposed distinction between the halves.

Kistemaker’s amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20:1-10 is reasonable, but not as vigorously defended as it could be.

Kistemaker could strengthen his argument against the fall-of-Jerusalem interpretation of Revelation by referring to Rev 17:18 and noting the connection between the Prostitute of Rev 17-18 and Jezebel in 2:20-23.

Kistemaker’s commentary provides short summary statements introducing major divisions of Revelation. But one could wish for more. Readers need more help than usual with the Book of Revelation, to remind them of the “big picture” and its practical spiritual implications. Kistemaker’s commentary concerns itself primarily with a verse-by-verse exposition of the details–which is O.K., but does not sustain either interest or spiritual engagement as well as one could wish.


Vern Sheridan Poythress
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


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