What sort of emotions does the last book of the Bible, Revelation, evoke in you?
Most people think of Revelation as a book about the last days including mythical beasts, end-time plagues and destruction, or “Babylon” and “Armageddon.” More than a few of my students note emotions like fear, apprehension, or disgust when they think about the book or its message; perhaps that describes you as well. Yet Revelation calls itself an “unveiling” or “disclosure,” and not of end-time events. It is a revealing of Jesus Christ. The lesson this quarter appropriately recalls this fact, and we must keep it in mind throughout our study. The book is the story of Christ’s atoning work for His people, beginning with John’s first century Christian community until our day, and even until the end of Christ’s atoning work. It is the story of Christ “going to prepare a place for us” (see John 14) through the Christian age until He puts an end to the sin problem, and restores the earth to the Eden it was intended to be.
A typical approach to Revelation is to study a few passages trying to find parallels for the symbols within history (reading the newspaper or internet headlines for clues). But Revelation is a “whole” book, that is, it’s written as a story, a narrative. It has characters, actions, a plot, settings, props, and a very satisfying conclusion! In order, then, to better understand the story of Revelation, I recommend reading the entire book through in one sitting, perhaps even aloud. It will take about 2 hours, but is well worth your time. The result will be the ability to see the big-picture of this great story. It will provide a framework within which to place the various sections of the book, some of which are quite familiar to us, but rarely seen in their broader Great-Controversy context. We tend to approach Revelation in a piece-meal way, with some passages given much more emphasis without noting how each passage connects to the overall flow.
Why do you think people often spend more time on some passages of Revelation than others? What passages do Adventist Evangelists tend to focus on? Are there passages you avoid?
A quick read through Revelation reveals that John uses a couple main sources for his imagery:
- Jewish Apocalyptic literature: writings that have a similar flavor to Revelation were already in vogue in Israel during the days of Jesus and John. These had an effect on the theology of Israel, especially concerning the Messiah’s reign and Jewish expectations.
- Greco-Roman Mythology: Revelation’s symbolism and amalgamation of beasts would not be a surprise to the Gentiles living in the Roman empire. The story of a coming king who destroys the monsters is a familiar narrative to these people.
- Christ’s first Advent: After the ascension of Christ, the disciples would have wanted to know where Jesus was and His work. John is answering the questions, “where is Jesus now, and what is He doing?” Without a doubt, John’s experience with Jesus was the most dramatic event in his life, and of course Revelation has Jesus as a central character.
- The Old Testament: If one does not know the Hebrew Scriptures, Revelation will remain a mystery. Though it never quotes the Old Testament, every chapter has allusions to concepts, places, people, events, or institutions in the Old Testament. With the original context of those stories, Revelation’s reader will see how God uses Israel’s history to show what is happening in the world today and what will happen in the future. Revelation suggests through its structure and themes that history repeats itself, and Christian Religious/Spiritual history also repeats itself.
How noticeable are these sources in Revelation? What does it say about how God communicates the about Jesus to the 1st Century? And to today?
Methods of Interpreting Revelation
Most scholars of Revelation fall into one of four main schools of interpretation:
- Preterist: Believe Revelation was written for and about John’s day. It is commentary on the struggles of the first-century church with Rome, what it meant to live as a follower of Jesus in a time and social/political environment hostile to people of faith in Jesus. For most preterist scholars, Revelation is not prophecy, and many preterists are not believers in God. Form them, Revelation is just literature from the author’s (maybe not even John the disciple’s) imagination, and mirrors Christianity of the 1st or 2nd century. Many commentaries are written from this perspective.
- Historicist: Revelation is prophecy that describes the flow of history from John’s day until the end of this current age. Though many Christians in the 1800s were historicists, as were most of the reformers, there are few true historicists left today, due in part to the failed predictions of William Miller and the great disappointment. Adventists hold that most of Revelation functions this way (though there are some minor disagreements, as we may see).
- Futurist: Chapters 1-3 describe the history of the Christian church (a historicist approach), but from ch. 4:1 and onward, it describes events to take place after the rapture of the church, during a literal time of 7 years of tribulation. Many evangelicals take this perspective, as do books like The Late Great Planet Earth and Left Behind.
- Idealist: Revelation is given in order to point out the general struggle between good and evil, both in our personal lives, and in culture more broadly.
Sanctuary Structure of Revelation
Both Paulien and Stefanovic, using Kenneth Strand’s work from several decades ago, have shown that Revelation’s cycles of seven are all introduced with a scene from the sanctuary. There are:
- candlesticks (ch. 1) before the seven churches (chs. 2-3)
- a throne (chs. 4-5)—a possible allusion to the table of showbread—before the seven seals (chs. 6-7)
- the altar of incense (ch. 8) before the seven trumpets (chs. 8-11)
- the ark of the covenant (ch. 11) before the dragon’s war and the seven angels of the great harvest (chs. 12-14)
- an end of priestly intercession (ch. 16) before the seven last plagues and the fall of Babylon (chs. 16-19).
At the conclusion of Revelation in chs. 21-22, there is no longer any temple. If the temple was given, according to Exodus 25:8, so that God could dwell among His sinful people, then it’s abrogation must mean that Christ’s intercession is done, and people now live with Him. The sanctuary shows the ongoing plan of Salvation and Revelation follows this pattern.
This introductory section is a “prescript” and sets the stage for the book. It describes the “line of communication” in giving the Revelation. Though John writes it in the 3rd person (refers to himself as “John” and “he”)
Who all is involved in transmitting the Revelation of Jesus Christ?
What is the relationship between the “testimony of Jesus” and “as much as he saw”? How does verse 2 help us understand the “testimony of Jesus”?
This section reads much like the introduction to other New Testament and Greco-Roman Letters. John’s immediate audience would be Greco-Roman congregations in significant cities in what today is Western Turkey. The greeting is a three-fold greeting. It is from God, the existing one and the one who is “coming back,” (Greek: erchomai, meaning “to come”) not just the one who “will exist in the future.”
The seven-fold, or perfect, Spirit of God is as much a source of Grace and Peace as is the Father and the Son. The exact nature of the Spirit isn’t argued in Revelation, only that the Seven Spirits of God are before His throne. Revelation’s symbolic use of the number seven should cause us to hesitate before assuming there are literally 7 Spirits of God. It is perhaps noteworthy that the Spirits are mentioned before Christ.
hThe gifts are also from Jesus who died and rose again. These references place the courtyard ministry of the Jesus-as-priest in the past for John. Jesus has already died as the sacrificed lamb, and risen again as the waters of the laver fittingly represent—the cleansing of water like baptism and rising to newness of life.
The cloud allusion recalls Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 and his ascension in Acts 1. The return of Christ is a theme that bookends Revelation, found in ch. 1 and 22 along with a reminder in ch. 16. Here, a special resurrection may be alluded to, those putting Christ to death now rising to see Him taking his place as King of Kings and Lord of Lords
Why do you suppose all the nations of the earth would mourn when Christ returns?
The book begins like a letter, but moves quickly into the visionary experience common to the Old Testament prophets, and even more in harmony with Daniel’s intense visionary experience (like Jewish apocalyptic material).