Sigve Tonstad has made an appreciable contribution to scholarship on Revelation with his perceptive, compelling monograph. The central questions he seeks to address are the overarching rhetorical situation of Revelation and the answer to why Revelation was written in the first place. Critical scholars have generally contended that the unmistakable trajectory of the text points to a conflict between the seven churches and the Roman Empire, with texts like Revelation chapters 13, 17, and 18 in particular brought to defend this position.
Tonstad argues, however, on the basis of the depth and scope of the Old Testament narrative, which he sees as the primary background for John’s literary work, the trans-historical nature of Revelation 1:19 encompassing the past, present, and future and the central role of Revelation 6:9–11 as pointing to the human predicament and not just John’s situation as important precursors in facilitating his position for the centrality of the cosmic conflict in the interpretation of the Apocalypse.
The pivotal argument brought forward by Tonstad, however, is the story line of Revelation, which culminates in the death and expulsion of Satan in Revelation 20:7–9. The fact that Satan is left alone on the narrative stage at the end, highlights for Tonstad his importance and places Satan in a separate category distinct from the other protagonists. Recognizing the meticulous craft with which John drew on his Old Testament sources and the relevance of the Old Testament context for interpretation in Revelation, Tonstad makes a number of correlations between Revelation 20:3 and Isaiah14:15 and 24:22. The result of this is the admission by Tonstad that Revelation takes the fall of Lucifer in Isaiah as its primary background for the fifth trumpet (Rev. 9:1; 20:1–3).
He consolidates his position by recognizing the textual links between Revelation 20:2 and Genesis 3:13 in identifying Satan as a deceiver. Drawing on the intricate web of allusions within the narrative of Revelation leads Tonstad to find important textual links between Revelation 20:1, 2 and Revelation 12:7–9. After artfully weaving his argument together, Tonstad arrives at what represents for him the unremitting concern of Revelation—the cosmic conflict between God and Satan.
The theme of cosmic conflict is reflected in the following instances for Tonstad: the star of the third and fifth trumpet, the name of the agent causing destruction under the fifth trumpet, the war in heaven theme (Rev. 12:7–9), the binding and release of Satan (Rev. 20:1–10), and the description of Jesus as the “Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). Other factors that strengthen Tonstad’s position include the nuanced references to the “middle” utilized in Revelation 4 as the center stage for the praise rendered to God whilst similar references to the middle in Ezekiel, which for Tonstad is a significant intertext that portrays the struggle between God and Satan there.
Having established his argument, Tonstad, in the final chapter, seeks to develop his position on the enigmatic phrase “the faith of Jesus.” He postulates four options, namely the faith of Jesus, faith in Jesus, faithfulness of Jesus, and faithfulness to Jesus. After analyzing the subjective and objective genitive, Tonstad suggests that the phrase that most aptly portrays the story line of Revelation is the faithfulness of Jesus. This rendition reflects most concretely and explicitly the theme of the cosmic conflict and keeps the character of the divine government in view.
A concern here, however, is how Tonstad makes the leap of faith, as it were, from his contention for the cosmic conflict between God and Satan as the primary background for the interpretation of the book of Revelation and the phrase under discussion, without adequately developing a sound argument in linking the phrase “faithfulness of Jesus” to the issues in the cosmic conflict.
Another apparent weakness in Tonstad’s work is the omission of greater clarity on the specific role of Satan, for example, in the trumpets. While he has pointed to satanic activity in the third and fifth trumpets, he has nothing to say regarding the other trumpets. Granted that this may be beyond the purview of his monograph, some explanation would have helped the reader in identifying the role of Satan with more certainty.
Tonstad’s work is nonetheless deserving of serious attention in the continuing discussion involving the rhetorical situation and interpretation of the book of Revelation, and is by far the best contemporary defense of the Adventist position on the great controversy theme. It is a must read for every pastor!