Relevant Verses: Revelation 1-11, 12, 13-22
Leading Question: How does Jesus of the book of Revelation compare with the picture of Jesus as presented in the Gospels?
Part of the challenge of “hearing” the book of Revelation lies in the familiarity with the book which many readers bring to the book. That is especially true of Adventists who have been steeped in apocalyptic eschatology by virtue of their Adventist heritage.
So when the book opens with the phrase, “The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to him, one has to stop and think, realizing sooner or later that this is the revelation given by Jesus Christ, a revelation which came from God.
Question: How does our residual picture of God and of Jesus affect us when we seek to understand the book of Revelation? Is the cumulative image positive or negative or simply neutral?
The official study guide sees the book as being divided into two parts, with a bridge chapter between them. Revelation 1-11 is more historical, 13-22 is more eschatological with chapter 12 service as the bridge between them. Chapter 12 is also the chapter that tells of war in heaven, the chapter that defines the parameters of conflict between Christ and Satan.
Question: What contrasts between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New lurk in the background of this book, a book which never directly quotes the Old Testament, but is full of direct and indirect allusions to it?
Three significant contrasts mark the difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New:
1. Separation and distance. The separation between God and humanity begins in Genesis when our first parents were sent away from the Garden in shame. By the time Israel congregates around Sinai, one no longer sees a gentle God who came quietly walking in the Garden in the cool of the day, looking for his children. No; at Sinai God’s people stood afar off, having been warned by God (through Moses) not to get too close to the mountain.
Exodus 19:12 You shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Be careful not to go up the mountain or to touch the edge of it. Any who touch the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows; whether animal or human being, they shall not live’ (NRSV).
The idea of separation is reinforced by the way the sanctuary was structured. At the heart of the sanctuary stood the most holy place. The holy place was a step removed and was separated from the most holy place by a curtain. One step further removed was the courtyard.
Question: Since sanctuary language and imagery saturates the book revelation, how much of this separation remained? How much of it had already been overcome?
2. Indirect Communication. When God spoke directly to the people at Sinai, they were terrified. Thereafter, communication with God was indirect, filtered by Moses, and that was at the urgent request of the people. These lines from Deuteronomy 5 tell the painful story:
Deut. 5: 22 These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. 23 When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; 24 and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. 25 So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? 27 Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.”
28 The Lord heard your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they are right in all that they have spoken. 29 If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever! 30 Go say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ 31 But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” 32 You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. 33 You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess. (NRSV).
3. Fear. Those same lines from Deuteronomy indicate that the people were driven by fear. And God commended them for their fear!
Question: How much of that fear is reflected in the Book of Revelation. What evidence is there that God’s perfect love has cast out fear within the pages of this book? (Cf. 1 John 4:18)
Question: Does the opening of the ark in heaven (Rev. 11:19) suggest that the fear and distance was being overcome?
Question: Three times in Revelation, Scripture declares that Christ is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:11, 17; 22:13). What is suggested by the placement of these verses at the beginning and the end of the book?
Question: Many young Adventists report a terrifying and recurring dream of the Second Advent in which they are rooted to the ground when Christ comes in the clouds of glory (Rev. 1:7). Does the content of revelation contribute to that juvenile terror?