George E. Ladd’s section on the Apocalypse in his A Theology of the New Testament packs quite a bit into a few pages (16 to be exact), but considering how much Ladd has written on issues relating to the apocalypse (including a commentary on the book itself) it could have been longer. Not to mention that the section needs some updating.
The section most in need of updating is his section on interpretive views. This book was published in 1974 and revised in 1993 and the interpretive views he mentions are the standard fare for that period. The serious student of the twenty-first century, however, must interact with commentaries like those of G. K. Beale (NIGTC) and Grant Osborne (BECNT). Beale’s commentary is especially important since it is the first major conservative, evangelical commentary on Revelation explicitly to espouse an eclectic interpretive view.
The eclectic view, which is flexible in that it permits the text to speak for itself and adopts whichever interpretive view seems relevant to the material, has become somewhat of a trend in some circles and makes Ladd’s “choose only one” approach seem too limiting. In fairness to Ladd, however, this reviewer acknowledges that this was often the case in recent centuries.
In his section labeled “The Problem of Evil,” Ladd interprets the woman in Rev. 12 as referring to a mixed group comprised of Israel and the church despite an overwhelming number of interpreters of different stripes all saying that she refers to Israel. It is interpretations like this that makes one wonder if Ladd is simply trying to avoid giving any preference to Israel.
Speaking of Israel, Ladd is correct (according to this interpreter’s understanding) that the Israel of Rev. 7 is not literal Israel but in his discussion of the verse, he seems, despite one aside, to make this the church as opposed to Israel rather than the church comprised of Jew and Gentile alike. It is as if Ladd is trying to avoid mentioning or concluding that there is any future for ethnic Israel at all.
Ladd’s discussion of the millennial kingdom is a good example of how a chapter, though brief, can still cover much ground. Ladd’s explanation of the two resurrections on pp. 678-9 is superb in that even if one disagrees with Ladd’s conclusions, Ladd has succinctly explained his position and supported it in two paragraphs (albeit long ones). The bulk of this section is devoted to the discussion of the millennial kingdom and its necessity. This is one area where this reviewer had much difficulty for many years. It seemed as if there was no compelling theological reason for a temporal, intermediate kingdom and this reviewer kept asking himself “Why?” But that is the wrong question to ask first (though it is certainly not wrong to ask it at all). The first question is not why such a kingdom is necessary, but whether or not the Scriptures teach such a kingdom. If the Scriptures teach such a kingdom, then one who believes the Scriptures is compelled to believe in this kingdom. Ladd acknowledges that the Scriptures do not explain why such a kingdom is necessary (though there are some hints about its necessity), but that the idea of a kingdom is not far-fetched since Christians have long believed in a temporal kingdom now in which Christ reigns over his church.
In finishing his discussion, Ladd does not make the mistake some premillennialists make of emphasizing the millennium at the expense of the new heaven and new earth. The millennial kingdom is not the believer’s hope; the believer’s hope is dwelling in the presence of God in the new heavens and the new earth, seeing his face at the completion of God’s plan of redemption. Ladd’s portion of the book ends appropriately just as the Scriptures do with the consummation of God’s plan. Ladd’s final page-and-a-half reads like poetry and seems to move through theology to devotion (an example against pitting theological study and devotional reading against one another) and leads the reader to long for seeing God’s face in the New Heavens and New Earth.