7 Questions with Richard Phillips on Revelation in the REC series
Richard D. Phillips is senior minister of the historic Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author of thirty-five books and frequently speaks at conferences on the Bible and Reformed Theology. He has been the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology since 2000 and is series co-editor of the Reformed Expository Commentary series (P&R).
Dr. Phillips is an adjunct professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he serves on the Board of Trustees. He serves also on the Board of Directors of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, the Council of The Gospel Coalition, and the Council of the Gospel Reformation Network.
His degrees include a D. D. from Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary, an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B. A. from the University of Michigan. He and his wife, Sharon, have five children and live in Greenville, SC. Rick is an avid follower of University of Michigan sports and enjoys reading historical fiction.
1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Revelation?
I have had a long-standing interest in studying and preaching Revelation. I was attracted to this project by my sense that Revelation is both a tragically neglected Bible book and a critical perspective on this current age that is provided by the exalted Christ. In my view, the visions of Revelation should be as familiar to Christians as Psalm 23 or the parables of Jesus. Passages like Revelation 12 are essential for understanding the times in which we are called to trust and serve our Lord . My hope was to make a contribution to the making of Revelation accessible for Christians today so that its vital message is restored to the life of the church. I especially want to encourage and help preachers to preach through the book of Revelation.
I prepared myself for this project over a ten year period by studying both apocalyptic literature and biblical eschatology. One step was to preach through and publish a commentary on Zechariah, in order to gain some mastery of apocalyptic materials. Another was to preach through and publish a commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians, where Paul gives a straightforward presentation of end-times events. I felt I should have worked carefully through background materials like these, as well as the Olivet Discourse, before preaching Revelation. I also did long-term research on the excellent literature produced in the 20th and 21st centuries on the hermeneutics and theology of Revelation.
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
The Reformed Expository Commentary series, of which I am one of the editors, is aimed at pastors and motivated lay people. We seek to provide a scholarly exposition, but one that is not directly concerned with strictly academic issues. Our audience is not the seminary lectern but the pulpit and Sunday School teacher. Undoubtedly, a large portion of our audience is pastors who are preparing sermons. But I hear from many laypeople who use them devotionally as well.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Revelation?
Like all the volumes in the REC series, my Revelation commentary has a number of distinctive features: 1) It is explicitly Reformed in its doctrine, and seeks to highlight the doctrines of grace in God’s Word; 2) It is redemptive-historical in its approach to interpretation, reflecting a strong commitment to the Vos/Gaffin hermeneutic. This means that we strongly embrace covenant theology and see organic connections between the two testaments of Scripture, centered on the person and work of Christ. This is, of course, extremely significant for a Revelation commentary, in which the Church is so often displayed under emblems of OT Israel. It also means my commentary is explicitly and strongly amillennial, following the Hendriksen-Beale understanding of the book’s structure and message; 3) We apply the message to the reader, modeling for pastors how they might use the text for evangelism and pastoral edification. 4) It is a thorough exposition of the text, unlike many expository commentaries, not selectively treating the book but working through each passage in detail.
All of the REC commentaries were actually preached in our churches. As such, we seek to model thorough, scholarly, and applicatory expository preaching for others. In my view, such commentaries are particularly valuable for sermon preparation. A preacher needs excellent exegetical commentaries. But pastors will then be greatly helped by models of how others preached the passage. All of our authors enjoy ministry settings that permit an unusual amount of scholarly time in sermon preparation, so our volumes will distill a much broader range of reading than most pastors are able to do.
One other unique feature of my commentary is that I had the privilege of consulting the unpublished sermons of James Montgomery Boice, who died in the midst of his series on Revelation. I was his associate at the time and traveled with him regularly, enjoying many conversations with Dr. Boice on Revelation. It was a personal blessing to me to take some nuggets out of his material and bring them to public light.
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
That’s a hard question to ask about Revelation, because the whole of it is so memorable! But I was particularly impacted by the vision of chapter 1, which is so essential to framing the whole message of Revelation. It was a moving experience to meditate deeply on the glorified Lord holding the stars of the churches in his hands. But I might say the same thing about the visions of the heavenly throne room and the worship of heaven in chapters 4 and 5 – truly great and significant chapters of Scripture. The visions of Christ gathered with his church at the end of the age are so overwhelming (Rev. 7, for instance). Revelation 12 provides an essential historical grid that every Christian should know and it was a blessing to present this in detail. I also enjoyed teaching Revelation 20, with its interesting interpretive challenges and the blessing of helpful Christians find clarity on its message.
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
The great message of Revelation is the sovereign reign of Christ over present history for the protection and salvation of his church. As such, Revelation instills a strong awareness of our present relationship with a living Lord and Savior and the privilege of being his witnesses today. Most Christians do not think much about what Jesus is doing now, but Revelation sees him as sovereign over the counsels of God for the gospel age. Also, putting ourselves in John’s shoes on Patmos, beholding the Lord in his glory, is a faith-uplifting experience. All through Revelation, we see our Lord as he is presently acting both to judge and restrain sin and to bless and redeem his people. So I found Revelation to be a feast of communion with Christ, by the Spirit’s ministry in God’s Word.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Revelation
Revelation has some great resources. The two essential books, in my opinion, are William Hendriksen’s More than Conquerors, which introduces a structure to Revelation that completely unfolds its message and corrects crippling errors. Starting from that basis, Beale’s massive commentary is one of the great achievements in biblical commenting. His lucidity, attention to detail, insight, and structural clarity make Beale the single most valuable resource in preaching Revelation. It is big, though! Lesser known volumes I found very helpful included [Henry B.] Swete [Kregel reprint], [G.B.] Caird [Black’s New Testament Commentary], and [Richard] Bauckham (The Theology of the Book of Revelation and The Climax of Prophecy). I highly recommend the more popular volumes by [Paul] Gardner [Focus on the Bible] and [Steve] Wilmshurst [Welwyn] as well.
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
You are very kind to ask. Since preaching Revelation, I recently concluded a 3 ½ year exposition of Genesis. I published a short, theological treatment of Genesis1, titled, The God of Creation. I have since also published a commentary on 2 Samuel. I am finishing up the edits of a commentary on Psalms 42-72, which will come out in late 2019. It will be followed by a 2020 volume on Psalms 73-106. I also will publish a 2 Timothy-Titus volume together with Dan Doriani, in 2020 (I have Titus). Currently, I am preaching 1-3 John in the mornings and Hosea in the evenings, all of which is scheduled to come out in print. Everything except 1-3 John will be published in the REC series. So I am keeping busy on the writing front. The 2 volume Genesis commentary will be the really big project ahead of me – I expect it to take 4 or 5 years before that will be ready for publishing.
As for following my work, my sermons all appear on Sermon Audio as well as on our church website: www.spcgreenville.org. I periodically blog on Reformation21, although the above commentary writing explains why my blogging is so intermittent. I travel to preach a fair amount, although as I get older I am trying to cut back a bit, in part to focus my energies on writing. I frequently do church conferences on my book The Masculine Mandate, and am open to requests to speak to men’s groups on that topic.
Thank you for introducing my Revelation commentary to your readers. May He who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood receive glory and dominion.
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