Home > Bible Study, Christian Authors, eschatology, Revelation > The Apocalypse: Revelation Commentary from James M. Boice

The Apocalypse: Revelation Commentary from James M. Boice

June 3, 2020

A lot of “stage-setting” for the end times scenario has occurred within the last several decades:  Israel back in the land (regathered in unbelief), and the worldwide travel and instant communication technology indirectly prophesied in Rev. 11:9-10 (see this previous post).  Very recent news is starting to look more and more apocalyptic:  a worldwide pandemic (the above two pieces were not in place during previous pandemics), killer hornets, riots and anarchy around the country, and even articles about the world leaders looking for someone to take charge and lead the world in dealing with covid-19.  (Note:  I am not saying that any of these things ARE end-times events; yet these events are interesting, in terms of what God is working out in this world, in His providence, in preparation for Christ’s Return.)
The Second Coming and our Blessed Hope  is always an important doctrine — oft-neglected, especially when the world appears to be stable and status-quo.  In the current world situation, the year 2020 which has turned out to be far from the normal life, resources that point us to the end times are especially to be appreciated.  One such offering, from Dr. Phillip Ryken and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, is a newly published commentary from the late James Montgomery Boice on the first six chapters of Revelation.   Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, and One LORD is compiled from Boice’s last messages at Tenth Presbyterian Church, just before he learned the news of cancer; Boice went home to be with the Lord before completing the series.  I’ve been aware of Boice for several years, as a modern-times covenantal premillennialist, and have previously listened to and read some of his teaching, such as his Psalms commentary on book one, and a few other messages.  Recently I’ve also started listening to some of his lectures on the minor prophets, and it was refreshing to hear his very clear and sensible exposition of Zechariah 14, including his reference to David Baron.
As I’m reading the first chapters in this new commentary, on Revelation 1, the original plan to complete the series was in his mind, and thus comes a touch of sadness when reading page 21, where Boice mentioned the Hebrew number equivalents, noting “We will discuss this puzzle when we get to chapter 13 ….”  In this case as always, it was “if the Lord wills,” and clearly the Lord had other plans, to take Boice home before that point.
The commentary on Revelation 1 provides Boice’s two main guidelines, along with interesting connections between Revelation 1 and OT passages.  This Reformation21 post provides a good excerpt on the introductory material.  Another interesting part here is the count of OT allusions in the book of Revelation:  79 references to Isaiah, 54 to Daniel, 48 to Ezekiel, 43 to the Psalms, 27 to Exodus, 22 to Jeremiah, 15 to Zechariah, 9 to Amos, and 8 to Joel.  Of the 404 verses of the 22 chapters of Revelation, 278 contain one or more allusions to an OT passage.
Revelation 1 is interesting in many ways, including the numerous Old Testament allusions, such as these, pointed out by Boice:

Other interesting points:

  • the seven lamps in this vision are separate lamps, not attached to each other like the Jewish Menorah.  This represents the universal church.  Here, also reference Matthew 5:14-15, the city on a hill and a light set on a stand.
  • Revelation 1 portrays Jesus as a priest (standing among the lampstands and tending them) and as a prophet, who has come to impart the revelation to the apostle John

Boice was less concerned about the specific futurist/historicist/preterist interpretations, focusing instead on the pattern, repeated throughout the book of Revelation, of visions that show the scene in heaven, followed by scenes on earth.  The purpose of Revelation, something that is applicable to all believers in all eras of history, is to get Christians from all periods of history and in all circumstances to look at things from God’s perspective rather than from man’s and to draw comfort and strength from that perspective.

This quote from J.I. Packer (shared by Boice) well expresses the timelessness of God’s word, and the  immutability of our God:

Men sometimes say things that they do not really mean, simply because they do not know their own mind; also, because their views change, they frequently find that they can no longer stand to things that they said in the past.  All of us sometimes have to recall our words, because they have ceased to express what we think; sometimes we have to eat our words, because hard facts refute them.  The words of men are unstable things.  But not so the words of God.  They stand forever, as abidingly valid expressions of His mind and thought..  No circumstances prompt Him to recall them; no changes in His own thinking require Him to amend them.  Isaiah writes, ‘All flesh is grass … the grass withereth … but the word of our God shall stand for ever’ (Isaiah 40:6).


  1. June 3, 2020 at 6:58 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. alf cengia
    June 3, 2020 at 8:21 am

    What a pity he didn’t get to finish it!

    • June 3, 2020 at 8:32 am

      Indeed so, it would have been great to read.

      • June 3, 2020 at 10:04 am

        But wasn’t Boice a pre-tribber? Had he finished, would he have ended up misleading many after all? Lance Wonders

      • June 3, 2020 at 10:54 am

        Good question. Boice was covenantal pre-trib, not dispensational, and that makes at least some difference in emphasis. Covenantal pre-tribbers do not have an Israel/church distinction, and may not put as much emphasis on the rapture timing. Another current-day example is Dr. Michael Barrett, who teaches at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and has even taught series on the errors of dispensationalism. This version of pre-trib (covenantal pre-trib) is, I think, inconsistent (after all, the very idea of pre-trib came with and is part-and-parcel of dispensationalism), but less problematic than the dispensational form. But as to what if any teaching he would have included, in a Revelation series, specifically about the rapture timing, I don’t know what he would have said.

  3. June 4, 2020 at 7:19 am

    Good writing.

  4. Gerry
    June 4, 2020 at 9:49 am

    Hi Lynda:

    Thank you again for another informative post.

    I too was touched with sadness learning that a good man was taken home “early”, but at the same time, I know the Lord knows best.

    As such, I could not help but wonder if part of the reason would have been because as an influential teacher, the Lord did not want the pre-trib position to get any more positive teaching.

    As we get nearer, it becomes more important that these things be made more clear and correct, for there is less time available to recover from error.

    To my mind one of the greatest evils in dispensational teaching was its antinomianism.

    It is no accident, of course, that the antichrist is also called by The Word: “the lawless one”.

    Any false teaching about the Law, it’s purposes, Old Testament and New, for Jews and Gentiles, is a form of antinomianism, I believe, and is a work of Satan’s evil genius.

    Barcellos’ work on the Decalogue touched on many aspects of this I think, and of course there were many false teachings lumped into Darby/Scofield dispensationalism, but it’s direct and indirect attacks on God’s Law are second to none in terms of damning errors.

    Oh I do praise God’s Holy Spirit from mercifully delivering me from that system!

    One other thing, if you will permit me. You mentioned in your post that you were not “saying that any of these things”(referring to recent world events) “are end time events”.

    I appreciate your caution, but I believe as we get closer to that time, the Word teaches that we are to become more certain.

    Part of the confusion about this matter I think comes from the many who have ignored, or misunderstood, the Word’s teaching on “no man knows the day or hour”, of the Lords Return.

    Those words to me are plain and easily understood, even though the Greek translated “hour” doesn’t always mean 60 literal minutes.

    Especially since in Matthew 24 where so many very specific events are given by The Lord as signs of His second coming, He also tells us that though we do not know the day or hour, surely we should know the SEASON.

    He uses the example of the fig trees putting out new leaves to make His point:

    “32 ¶ “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.
    33 “So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near–at the doors! (Matt24:32-33).

    Summer is a season of the year. Depending on where you live it might be 2 months or 6 months, but it is never the less an unmistakable season, and we know it by obvious signs.

    Are we going to “learn this parable”, as He tells us?

    Paul admonished the Thessalonians for being deceived by teachers who “upset their faith” by false teaching on the timing of the Lords return, and tells the he told them while there that “that day will not come unless….”

    3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,
    4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
    5 ¶ Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? ( 2Thess 1:3-5)

    Just as you point out in your post on how Bonar did not understand how certain things could be literally true because of his own limited ability to see what would God would work out in time in order to accomplish the prophecy, it seems to me that God will see that there is a literal Jewish Temple built in Jerusalem where sacrificing according to Jewish Law has been reestablished, and in that temple the antichrist will declare to the world that he is God, literately, just as Paul teaches here.

    So much for the “eminence of the rapture fallacy”!

    If only we would just study carefully Gods Word, and compare scripture with scripture, and believe what God has said, so much error and confusion could be avoided.

    Oh Lord, we believe, help Thou our unbelief.

    Thank you again Lynda for carefully examining these things and reading widely and bringing your thoughts to your brothers and sisters where we can benefit from your studies.

    In Him
    Gerry .

    • June 4, 2020 at 11:46 am

      Thanks Gerry, for your thoughts and encouragement.
      [I could not help but wonder if part of the reason would have been because as an influential teacher, the Lord did not want the pre-trib position to get any more positive teaching.]
      That is an interesting idea, though one we may never know, the reason for God’s acts in Providence. Boice was a prominent covenantal pretrib voice, taken away at that time; yet John MacArthur, dispensational pre-trib, also very prominent and influential, is still preaching into his 80s. MacArthur’s friend, covenantal-teaching R.C. Sproul (who had his own eschatology varying views, never the historic premillennial view) passed away a few years ago.
      Agree, the antinomianism of dispensational (and modern-day NCT) is a great evil. I haven’t yet come across Boice’s teaching regarding the moral law; so far, I observe with him more emphasis on devotional writing, as well as history of the nations and eschatology/prophecy teaching. Certainly his predecessor, Donald Grey Barnhouse, was clearly dispensational. OTOH, Michael Barrett, who teaches at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, is covenantal premill, and pre-trib, yet clearly teaches the continuity of God’s moral law and the overall continuity from the Old to New Testament.

      Yes, Barcellos has done great work on the moral law and the Lord’s Day/Sabbath. I agree on the errors of classic/revised dispensationalism especially in terms of the moral law, along with their overall discontinuity and very wrong ideas about the Holy Spirit (Old and New Testament).

      Agree about the general season of the Lord’s return. As S. Lewis Johnson well explained (https://scripturethoughts.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/the-premillennial-rapture-timing/ ), there are conditions upon the time of Christ’s return, that certain things must happen before He returns. The dispensational pre-trib idea of an “any moment rapture/return” is not found in Scripture. I definitely see more of the stage-setting taking place; as I mentioned here, the worldwide technology is now in place, so Christ’s Return must indeed be very soon, and in a way and with the clearer details we have today, that earlier generations, including Horatius Bonar, could not even imagine. I still do not see that literal Jewish temple built in Jerusalem — which, I agree, is what must somehow happen according to 2 Thessalonians; I know that some have taken that in a ‘figurative’ symbolic sense, and it also seems to me that if fulfilled literally, whatever structure it is will not actually be God’s temple (as in approved by God) but something that the unbelieving Jews come up with. Another missing part is obviously the world leader who will appear to solve the world’s problems (the antichrist). What is happening now, on a worldwide scale, may well turn out to be the particular issue (or perhaps the current situation will directly lead to another greater issue, as an unintended consequence of the current pandemic) that brings the antichrist forward. Certainly we have now reached the point where the various world leaders have a serious problem to address, and they are seeing a gap in leadership — the place previously held by the U.S. president and the U.S. leaders generally – and looking for someone to take charge. So I do consider the recent months’ events as significant stage-setting.

      This is an interesting discussion, as we continue to walk with the Lord in these increasingly uncertain times. Yet God knows what He is doing, and will bring everything to pass in His time.


      • Gerry
        June 13, 2020 at 7:18 am

        Hi Lynda:

        Thanks for your thoughtful response and sorry to be so long in reply.

        I certainly agree that we do not know why Boice was taken home “early” so to speak.

        As to comparison with MacArthur and Sproul, they are both their own characters and neither would I consider accurate teachers of the “whole counsel of the Word of God”, as you allude to in your reply.

        Bunyan, in another catagory of faithfulness altogether, both teaching and living closer to God’s truth in my view, was taken home at age 60, and as some of the older authors comment on such matters, perhaps there are times when the Lord takes His favorite children home sooner because He will no longer deprive them of His full presence.

        You cover so many interesting points in your reply, and after I read it I thought to myself what a blessing it is to find a like minded believer “out there.”

        If one considers the “apostasy” Paul refers to as a sign of the end, along with the antichrist being revealed as he states in the Thess. passage a being a “falling away” “from the truth once delivered” by the apostles then both MacArthurs dispenstionalism with its denial of the perpetuity of the Decalogue and Sproul’s amillennialism, with its denial of Christ’s second coming to rule a thousand years when Satan is bound, are departures from the “faith once delivered”.

        Just because many now consider them both to be “great teachers” does not mean they are, and of course that very opinion may infact be a sign of the “apostasy” that Paul spoke of.

        I will never, I hope, forget finding Phil Johnson’s web site right after the Lord led me out of Darby dispensationalism and began to show me the wonders of the doctrines of Grace. You had to leave your email address at Johnson’s site to ask him a question so I did.

        Soon afternoon I received a computer generated“welcome to the family” email tauting the exceptionalism of MacArthurs teaching. Then came a series of more computer generated emails with “special offers” of “John’s” numerous publications and latest insights if one were to make a prayerful “donation”.

        I had recently been delivered by Gods Grace from one dysfunctional “family” and was given discernment to see and reject this offer as just what it was.

        Years later I ran into one of the “fruits” of his ministry in the form of a graduate of his seminary and employee of his multifaceted enterprise who was proud of his love of heavy metal music and other doubtful things incompatible with a heart full of the Holy Spirit, and then of course their rejection of God’s Moral Law, other than as a subset of “the law of Christ” I found telling.

        There is a reason that the Word tells us “by the Law is the knowledge of sin”, and is “a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ”, and of course there are consequences for rejection of these teachings.

        I could go on, but you get my point I think.

        May the Lord continue to bless and keep you and yours as we draw nearer to His soon return.


  5. Daniel Ayotte
    June 16, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    Thanks for the article Lynda. I’m curious about your thoughts on scholars using a apocalyptic literature approach? A lot of seminaries and scholars use this when talking about Revelation and prophetic passages that are visions. They mainly said that they can’t be understood because of the poetry that is used. Yet there is enough interpretation from the scriptures themselves that give a general understanding of the passage.

    Also what are your thoughts on Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 11? Some say it’s all future, or somewhat future, or not future at all. This would be another general road map to look for to see if it’s the end or not. Like we are waiting for 4 nations to form (some say 4 major around the world or 4 nations on the Mediterranean).

    • June 17, 2020 at 4:58 pm

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for commenting. Regarding “apocalyptic literature” — I would agree that the general plain language hermeneutic should be followed, and in the case of visions, that means recognizing things that are symbolic, and what they point to; and yes, often the text itself provides the interpretation (such as in Daniel 8, and various points in the book of Revelation.

      Regarding Daniel 7, 8, 9 and 11 — as I see it, a lot of it is future — the ending part of Daniel 11, and the references in Daniel 7 and 8 that include parts that have happened along with some verses that clearly have not happened yet. Most of the nations mentioned in Daniel 7 and 8 are past — Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome in its initial form. So, I don’t see a 4 nations idea as all future; the 4 nations reference in Daniel 8 refers to the split of Greece after Alexander the Great died. Certainly the prophecies that reference the 10 toes/horns, do not reference any clear historical event, and so that is generally understood as future — whatever form that may take — past ideas included the European Union. I consider that part as future.


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