There was a time when it seemed like the only Christian books I read were on the subject of eschatology. I read books that compared the different views on how to interpret the millennium and read a commentary on Revelation written from an amillennial perspective. I thought that was sufficient until I joined a Bible study earlier this year. The next book on their agenda was a book on Revelation. I initially had the rather cynical thought, "But I've already read a commentary on Revelation!" (That book was More Than Conquerors by William Hendriksen.) But of course, no Christian who is serious about learning everything they can about the Bible should be content with reading only one commentary on a particular book. It came as no surprise then, that I truly enjoyed Dennis Johnson's book Triumph of the Lamb.
Johnson's book is a concise, exegetical look at the last book of the Bible. After an introduction and an overview of Revelation, he presents it in a more or less verse by verse format, explaining what each verse means. Readers who are aware of the various schools of interpretation regarding Revelation will instantly recognize Johnson's take as the idealist view. This view sees the many visions as symbolic of events and ideas that recur throughout the time between Christ's advent and his return. Many of the visions show the same event from different perspectives (or "camera angle" as Johnson likes to put it.) The idea that the visions in Revelation are not presented in chronological fashion may be strange to some, but Johnson points out over and over that this is the only view that truly makes sense.
There are many strengths to the book. Johnson's exegesis is solid. He offers sound interpretations not only of Revelation, but of the many verses from the Old and New Testaments that directly influence the text of Revelation. The Old Testament in particular is extremely important. I thought I was familiar with OT prophetic literature but I was amazed at just how much of Revelation is taken directly from such books as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah. Johnson also remains consistent throughout the book. He frequently points similarities in Revelation's visions and shows how they relate to one another and the overall picture of the book.
In addition his main points, Johnson also provides many interesting tidbits on subjects that might be of only passing interest to the casual reader. For example, he makes note of grammatical issues and how they relate to the proper translation of Revelation. He even points out which translations do a better job. (The NASB doesn't fare so well.)
I enjoyed Johnson's conclusion and felt it probably should be read first. (The appendix which explains the various views on Revelation is also useful and should be read at the start) He points out what the book should mean for Christians. It's more than just a series of puzzles to solve. Revelation is primarily a book of hope. It comforts the people of God whether they are believers in the 1st or 21st centuries. Revelation shows that God hears our prayers and that the time is coming when evil will be completely wiped out. There will be no more tears and no more suffering. God lets us know that even though we must endure hardships now, He has promised to rescue us through the work of His son Jesus. Our ultimate destiny is eternal union with God in the new heaven and new earth.
I already lean strongly toward the idealist view but I'm sure that people who do not agree with it will still benefit from Johnson's excellent presentation of this view. All four views (historicist, futurist, preterist and idealist) are orthodox and Christians should not be divided over them.