Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes to His lesson manuscript on Rev 12

This week lesson has undergone some significant changes. Some changes significantly altered the points that were underscored in the original manuscript.

In the introductory Sabbath Afternoon lesson, some editorials have improved the text, while some have not. The opening sentence in the original manuscript: “Revelation 12 begins the eschatological section of the book” was changed into “Revelation 12-14 prepares us for the last-day events section of the book” (Rev 15:1-22:21). This change was done for the purpose of harmonizing this with the change of the structure of Revelation that was made in the introduction of the Quarterly. Does this mean that Rev 13:12-18 and 14:1-20 are not the end-time events?

In the Sunday lesson, some changes, although not enormous, are significant. For instance, the last words in the first sentence in the original manuscript: “A woman in the Bible is used as a symbol for the church (2 Cor. 11:2): a chaste woman stands for God’s faithful people while a prostitute stands for the apostate” were changed into “for apostate Christians.” This is true about the NT. What about apostate Israelites in the OT? Also, the sentence that is inserted in the middle of the last paragraph: “Revelation also uses the dragon, described as “having seven heads and ten horns,” as a symbol of those agents in the world used by Satan—pagan Rome (Rev. 12:4) and spiritualism (Rev. 16:13)” can, in my view, hardly be justified by the evidence from Revelation. The same assertion is repeated in the last paragraph of the Sunday lesson.

The Monday lesson was significantly rewritten and changed. It is upon each one of us to determine if those changes are justifiable.

In the Wednesday lesson, the first two paragraphs from the original manuscript are omitted.

In the Thursday lesson, some changes were made in the first paragraph. So also, in the last paragraph, the most significant of which is the removal of the sentence: “This satanic triumvirate stands as the antithesis to the Trinity of the Godhead (Rev. 1:4-6)” from the original manuscript. The rest of the paragraphs has been rewritten. For better? Possibly.

Lesson 8 * February 16-22

Satan, a Defeated Enemy

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 12:1-17; Gen. 3:15; Isa. 14:12-15; John 12:31-32.
Memory Text: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (Revelation 12:11, NKJV).
Revelation 12 begins the eschatological section of the book. While the first half of the book describes the spiritual struggles of the church in a hostile world throughout the Christian era, the second half focuses on the events leading up to the Second Coming and the establishment of God’s everlasting kingdom.
The purpose of chapter 12 is to give us the big picture behind the final crisis of this world’s history. It tells us that the end-time events are a part of the ongoing great cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan. They are a part of Satan’s unending and enduring attempt to overthrow God’s governance and set himself up as ruler over the earth.
In the book of Revelation Satan is the archenemy of God and His people. He is not an imaginary figure. His existence is real, and he stands behind all evil and rebellion in the world. He knows that his last chance to succeed against God is to win the final battle, which is in revelation referred to as the battle of Armageddon. So, he focuses all his efforts on preparing for that event.
The vision of Revelation 12 is intended to provide God’s people with an assurance that Satan is a defeated foe. The same Christ who defeated Satan during his earthly ministry, on the cross, and after His ascension at His enthronement in heaven, will also defeat him at the time of the end. Therefore, only hope for God’s end-time people is found in Christ.
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 24.
Sunday February 17
The Woman and the Dragon
Read Revelation 12:1-4. John observed in vision two great symbolic signs, the first of which is a woman pregnant with a child. What are some things that are notable in the description of this remarkable woman?
A woman in the Bible is used as a symbol for the church (2 Cor. 11:2): a chaste woman stands for God’s faithful people while a prostitute stands for the apostate. In Revelation 12, the woman first symbolizes Old Testament Israel bringing the Messiah into the world (vs. 1-5); in verses 13-17, she stands for the Christian church.
The woman is portrayed as clothed with the sun and standing firmly on the moon. The sun in the Bible represents the gospel (2 Cor. 4:6). The moon, as a reflection of the sun, points to the Old Testament promises foreshadowing the gospel.
In Revelation 12:1, the church is presented as standing on the Old Testament. What does this text teach us of the importance of the Old Testament Christians?
The next symbolic sign John observed in the vision was a red monstrous dragon. The dragon is later on identified as the Devil and Satan, the serpent of old (v. 9). The text says that his tail dragged a third of the stars from heaven down to the earth. The tail is a symbolic instrument of deception (Isa. 9:14-15; Rev. 9:10). Having fallen from his exalted position in heaven (Isa. 14:12-15), Satan was able to seduce a great number of the heavenly angels, who became evil spirits (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6) and have also become his associates in opposing God and his work of salvation throughout the history of the great controversy.
Read Revelation 12:1-5. The dragon is identified as the “serpent of old” (see Rev. 12:9). What connection do you see between Genesis 3:15 and the scene of the ancient serpent waiting by the pregnant woman for the child to be born in order to destroy Him?
Satan was waiting for the Messiah-child to be born since Genesis 3:15 in order to destroy Him. The whole scene concludes with snapshot pictures: the Messiah child is finally born, the dragon was not able to destroy Him, and the child was “caught up to God and His throne.”
According to Revelation 12:11, how are God’s people able to overcome Satan in their lives? How does the victory of Jesus over Satan provide you with comfort in your spiritual struggles with sin?

Monday February 18
Satan’s Permanent Expulsion from Heaven
Read Revelation 12:7-9. Revelation 12:5 tells that following Jesus’ ascension to God’s throne—which refers to His enthronement—a war broke out in heaven. What was the nature of that war that resulted in Satan’s definite expulsion from heaven?
Satan was first time expelled from heaven at the beginning of the great controversy, when rebelled against God’s government. He wanted to seize the throne in heaven and to be “like the Most High” (Isa. 14:12-15). He stood in open revolt against God, but was defeated and subsequently cast down to earth. By deceiving the first human couple, he usurped the rule over this world (Luke 4:6). As the ruler of this world (John 12:31), he had access to heaven to attend the heavenly council as a representative of the earth (Job 1:6-12).
However, the situation changed after the cross. By His death, Jesus redeemed what was lost and Satan’s true character was revealed before the universe. Revelation 5 shows that, after His ascension into heaven, Jesus was exalted to the heavenly throne. Before the whole universe, the rule over the earth was transferred from Satan to Him and He was proclaimed the legitimate ruler over the earth (Eph. 1:21-22; 1 Pet. 3:22).
The context of Jesus’ enthronement is the context in which the war in Revelation 12 takes place. Satan met the transfer of power and authority with great opposition. It was then that he and his associates were once again, but this time permanently, expelled from heaven. Jesus foretold this event saying: “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31).
Read Revelation 12:10-12, which describes the reaction of heaven to Satan’s expulsion. What significance does Satan’s expulsion have for God’s rule, Satan’s existence, and for the people on earth?
With Satan’s expulsion, “the salvation and strength and kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come” (Rev. 12:10). Since then, Satan and his fallen angels have been confined to the earth as a prison, until they receive their punishment (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Satan no longer has access to the heavenly courts to bring accusation against God’s people. Yet, He still has limited power to harm God’s people on earth, but with a realization that “he has a short time left” (Rev. 12:12).
How to understand Satan’s realization that he had a short time left, in light of the fact that his expulsion from heaven occurred almost two thousands years ago?

Tuesday February 19
The War on Earth
Read also Revelation 12:13-14. Having realized that he has been expelled from heaven, Satan continues his attack on the church during the prophetic 1,260 days? How was God involved with the church during that period?
“The casting down of Satan as an accuser of the brethren in heaven was accomplished by the great work of Christ in giving up His life. Notwithstanding Satan’s persistent opposition, the plan of redemption was being carried out. . . . Satan, knowing that the empire he had usurped would in the end be wrested from him, determined to spare no pains to destroy as many as possible of the creatures whom God had created in His image. He hated man because Christ had manifested for him such forgiving love and pity, and he now prepared to practice upon him every species of deception by which he might be lost; he pursued his course with more energy because of his own hopeless condition.”—Ellen G. White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 3, pp. 194-195.
With Christ’s ascension to heaven, Satan’s access to heaven ended. Yet, he continues his activities on earth by pouring his fury against the great object of Christ’s love on earth —the church. However, the church finds divine protection in the desert during the prophetic period of 1,260 days waiting for the return of Christ.
The period of Satan’s persecution is mentioned twice in Revelation 12 in terms of 1,260 days (v. 6) and “a time, times, and half a time” (v. 14 NKJV). They both refer to the period of the activities of the little horn mentioned in Daniel 7:23-25. In the Bible, prophetic days symbolize years. The time in history which best fits this prophetic period is A.D 538-1798 during which the church as an ecclesiastical power dominated the western world until the events of the French Revolution brought the church’s oppressive power to an end.
At the conclusion of the prophetic period of the woman in the wilderness, Satan makes a renewed attack to destroy the church. The dragon spews out of his mouth flooding waters in order to destroy the woman. A flood in the Bible is frequently a symbol for persecution (Isa. 59:19). At this point, a friendly earth swallows the waters and saves the woman and provides a safe haven for her.
The earth here appears a new player in the scene at the conclusion of the prophetic 1,260 days. What territory in modern history fits the characteristics of the earth in Revelation 12:13-16? How did the earth help the woman?

Wednesday February 20
Satan Prepares for War Against the Remnant
Revelation 12:7-12 explains the reason(s) for Satan’s rage at the time of the end: he has realized that (a) he was not strong enough against God; (b) he has lost his rule over this world; (c) he no longer has access to heaven, and (d) he has only a short time left. Now, he focuses on his last chance to overthrow God’s government.
Revelation 12:17 is a dual-directional text: it both concludes chapter 12 and introduces what comes next in the book. It tells us that the focus of the following chapters is on Satan’s preparation for the final war against the end-time remnant.
Read Revelation 12:17. At the end-time, why does Satan wage war against the remnant, not against the woman?
The term “rest’ or remanant” describes those who remain faithful to God while the majority apostatize (1 Kings 19:18; Rev. 2:24). At the end of time, as the majority of people in the world side with Satan, there will be a people who remain faithful to Christ and who will face Satan’s full fury.
In your words, what are the two characteristics of the remnant in Revelation 12:17? How can one be convinced that he/she belongs to God’s end-time remnant?
The end-time remnant keeps God’s commandments. Revelation 13 shows that the first tablet of the Decalogue will be central to the end-time conflict. The key component of the first four commandments is worship. The main issue in the final crisis is who should be worshipped. While the people in the world will choose to worship the image of the beast, the remnant will worship God the Creator (Rev. 14:7).
The end-time remnant’s second characteristic is that they “have the testimony of Jesus Christ,” which Revelation 19:10 explains as “the spirit of prophecy.” In John’s day, the expression “the spirit of prophecy” meant the gift of prophecy. The phrase “the testimony of Jesus” refers to Jesus bearing His witness through the gift of prophecy, just as He did through John (Rev. 1:2). Revelation shows that, at the time of the end, God’s people will have the prophetic gift in their midst, to guide them through those difficult times as Satan will make every effort to deceive and destroy them.
Revelation 12:17 states that the climax of the final events will be a war between the forces of evil and God and His faithful people. Can you imagine yourself in an outbreak of war? How would this impact your present life as well as your plans for the future?

Thursday February 21
Satan’s End-Time Strategy
Revelation 12:17 marks a shift in Satan’s strategy as he tries to win the people of the world, and even to deceive Christ’s faithful followers. Throughout Christian history he has tried to prevent God’s work of salvation primarily by means of coercion and persecution. History shows that this strategy was not completely successful. However, in preparing for the final attack against the end-time remnant, Satan changes his main strategy from coercion to deception. This shift in Satan’s strategy corresponds to the transition from a historical to an end-time focus.
It is significant that the word “deceive” does not occur at all in the historical section of Revelation (chaps. 4-11). However, it is used regularly in the eschatological section (chaps. 12-20) describing Satan’s end-time activities in preparation for the final battle. The word “deceive” begins (12:9) and concludes (20:7-10) the description of Satan’s end-time activities in Revelation.
Read 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12 along with Revelation 13:13-14 and 19:20. What is the nature of the end-time deception?
“In the great final conflict, Satan will employ the same policy, manifest the same spirit, and work for the same end, as in all preceding ages. That which has been, will be, except that the coming struggle will be marked with a terrible intensity such as the world has never witnessed. Satan’s deceptions will be more subtle, his assaults more determined. If it were possible, he would lead astray the elect. Mark 13:22, R.V.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. xi.
Revelation 13-20 portrays Satan who, in endeavoring to win the world’s allegiance, launches a great counterfeit of the true God and His salvific activities in the world. In Revelation 13, a triune league is formed between the dragon and his two allies: the sea beast (13:1-10) and the earth beast (13:11-18). This satanic triumvirate stands as the antithesis to the Trinity of the Godhead (Rev. 1:4-6). Throughout the rest of the book, the members of this satanic triad are inseparably united in opposing God’s activities in the world and deceiving people to turn them away from God to side with Satan in the final crisis (Rev. 16:13-14; 19:20; 20:10). Revelation shows that the end-time deception will be so great that most of the people in the world will be seduced.
Twice in Revelation a call is made for wisdom and spiritual discernment in order to discern and withstand the deceptive nature of Satan’s end time activities (13:18; 17:9). What kind of wisdom is in view here? According to James 1:5, how can we obtain that wisdom?

Friday February 22
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Snares of Satan,” pp. 518-530, in The Great Controversy.
The purpose of Revelation 12 is, first of all, to tell God’s people that the end-time events are a part of the great conflict between Christ and Satan and his demonic forces. The book warns them that they are facing today and are about to confront soon in the future an experienced and furious enemy. Paul warns us of the end-time activity “of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9-10, NKJV).
The portrayal of the end-time events in Revelation is bizarre and frightening. Revelation urges us to take the future seriously and make our dependence on God our priority. On the other side, Revelation assures us that although Satan is strong and an experienced enemy, he is not strong enough to overcome Christ (12:8, as the Greek text indicates). For God’s people, hope can only be found in the One who has in the past victoriously defeated Satan and his demonic forces. And He has promised to be with his faithful followers “always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Discussion Questions:
Seventh-day Adventists claim to fulfill the characteristics of the end-time remnant? Should our self-understanding as the remnant give us the right to look down on other Christians? Does it imply that Adventists alone will be saved? Is salvation secured by the church membership?
Although God’s people face an experienced adversary, Revelation 12 assures them that Satan and his demonic forces are already defeated. What difference does it make to know that Satan is a defeated enemy?
Contemplate the following statement: “We talk altogether too much about the power of Satan. It is true that Satan is a powerful being; but I thank God for a mighty Savior, who cast the evil one from heaven. We talk of our adversary, we pray about him, we think of him; and he looms up greater and greater in our imagination. Now why not talk of Jesus? Why not think of his power and his love? Satan is pleased to have us magnify his power. Hold up Jesus, meditate upon him, and by beholding, you will become changed into his image”—Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, March 19, 1889. In what way do Christians magnify Satan’s power?

Revelation Teacher’s Quarterly, Week 8, February 16-23 Analysis of Changes Made in the Editorial Process for the Teacher’s Edition

Basic theme: Revelation 12

The changes to the Teacher’s Edition of the Adult Sabbath School Study Guide (known popularly as the Sabbath School Quarterly) for January to March 2019 were more significant than in the previous week. I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive.

In the Introduction to the Overview section a small change seems fairly substantive. In the middle of the paragraph I wrote about a “fresh picture” of the war in heaven in Rev 12:7-10. This was changed to “flashback to” the war in heaven. Is Rev 12:7-10 inserted into the narrative of chapter 12 as a flashback to something else or is it part of the context of chapter 12, referring primarily to events in the context of Jesus’ cross and ascension (Rev 12:5, 11)? Angel Rodriguez took the latter position in a quarterly series around the year 2002. The first position is traditional with Uriah Smith and others. I prefer the contextual approach since there is no indicator in the text itself of a flashback. In that case, the original war in heaven with its physical expulsion from heaven would be alluded to in Rev 12:4 and 13:8 (long before the birth of Christ in 12:5) and Rev 12:7-9 would primarily refer to Satan’s fall from influence in heaven (compare Job 1 and 2), although allusion to the original war may also be present.
I am very glad that Main Themes I and IV of the Commentary section survived intact. I think these exegetical observations are very helpful in supporting the Adventist understanding of Revelation in general and chapter 12 in particular.

In Main Themes V the following sentence was added, “Seventh-day Adventists see this gift fulfilled in the ministry of Ellen G. White.” I don’t at all disagree with that statement, but again for non-SDA readers that is a big leap. But if the editors are aware that the lessons are primarily used by SDA believers, then this addition is reassuring for them and appropriate.

In Life Application 2 editorial changes altered the words but not the meaning. Editors removed my comment that the casting out of Satan in Rev 12:9-10 “is more intellectual than physical” and added at the end of the sentence “he is not wanted (in heaven) there anymore.” Different words, same idea. Probably made my original better.

With the exception of the “flashback” language above, I feel the changes in this chapter left things the same or improved on them.

Again, for those who don’t have access to the standard printed edition of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide or the Teacher’s Edition for this quarter, you can access them online week by week at https://www.absg.adventist.org/. My original pre-edited Teacher’s Edition manuscript for this week is provided in the previous blog. You can also download audio of me teaching the lesson ahead of time each week at http://pineknoll.org/sabbath-school-lessons.

Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes to the Seven Trumpets

The Sabbath School Lesson #7 has generally not undergone significant editorial changes that would cause some serious concern.

Here are the significant changes:

The second half of the Tuesday lesson has been rewritten.

In the first paragraph of the Thursday lesson, the following has been removed: “. . . but they also may represent God’s people as they bear witness to the Bible. The two cannot be separated because God’s people are called to proclaim the Bible to the world.”

Also, the first of the Friday discussion questions has completely changed.

Lesson 7 * February 9-15

The Seven Trumpets

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 8:2-11:18; Num. 10:8-10; Ezekiel 2:8-3:11.
Memory Verse: “But in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets” (Revelation 10:7, NKJV).
Many Christians have struggled with doubts, wondering if their prayers only ascend above the ceiling. In the scene of the fifth seal, we saw that the cry of God’s oppressed people represented the cry of the faithful of all ages. These were portrayed as souls under the altar crying to God for justice and vindication, saying: “How Long, O Lord?” (Rev. 6:10). The voice from heaven urged them to wait for a while because the day was coming when God would judge those who harmed them. Revelation 6:15-17 pictures Jesus returning to this earth and bringing judgment upon those who harmed His faithful followers.
“How long, O Lord?” has been the perennial cry of God’s oppressed and suffering people throughout history (Ps. 79:5; Hab. 1:2). The scene of the fifth seal represents the experience of God’s suffering people throughout history, from the time of Abel until the time when God will finally judge and avenge “the blood of His servants” (Rev. 19:2). God’s suffering people must remain firm and believe that God hears the prayers of His people.
The vision of the seven trumpets shows that, throughout history, God has already intervened on behalf of His oppressed people, and has judged those who harmed His people. The purpose of the seven trumpets is to assure God’s people that heaven is not indifferent to their suffering. He is already responding to their prayers. The trumpets’ plagues fall on the inhabitants of the earth in answer to the prayers of His people.
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 17.

Sunday February 10
The Prayers of the Saints
Revelation 8 opens with a picture of seven angels standing before God ready to blow their trumpets. Before the trumpets are blown, another scene is inserted. Its purpose is to explain the theological meaning of the trumpets.
Read Revelation 8:3-4 along with the description of the daily services in the temple in Jerusalem given below:
The Mishnah explains that at the evening sacrifice the sacrificial lamb was placed upon the altar of burnt offering and the blood was poured out at the base of the altar. An appointed priest took the golden censer inside the temple and offered incense on the golden altar in the Holy Place. When the priest came out, he threw the censer down on the pavement, producing a loud noise. At that point, the seven priests blew their trumpets, marking the end of the temple services for that day.
One can see how the language of the evening service is used in Revelation 8:3-5. It is significant that the angel receives incense at the altar of burnt offering underneath which, in the fifth seal, the blood of the martyred saints prayed to God for intervention (Rev. 6:10). The incense represents the prayers of God’s people (Rev. 5:8). Thus, the prayers that the angel offers before God are the prayers of God’s persecuted people in the fifth seal. Their prayers are now heard by God.
Revelation 8:3-5 provides important information regarding the trumpets in Revelation:
a. The seven trumpets are God’s judgments on rebellious humanity in response to the prayers of His oppressed people.
b. The trumpets follow the death of Jesus as the Lamb and run consecutively throughout history until the Second of Coming (see Rev. 11:15-18).
Read Revelation 8:5 along with Ezekiel 10:2. What is the source of the fire that is thrown upon the enemies of God’s people? How does Ezekiel’s vision of hurling fire upon apostate Jerusalem elucidate the nature of the trumpets in Revelation?
The angel fills the censer with fire from the altar and hurls it down to the earth. Significantly, this fire comes from the very altar on which the prayers of the saints were offered. This shows that the seven trumpet judgments fall upon the inhabitants of the earth in answer to the prayers of God’s people. God’s people are not forgotten and God is going to intervene on their behalf. The hurling down of the fire may also be a warning that Christ’s intercession will not last forever.
Have you ever prayed to God because of harm done to you, but were not sure if your prayer went beyond the ceiling? What assurance does today’s lesson speak to you?

Monday February 11
The Meaning of the Trumpets
In portraying God’s interventions in history on behalf of His people, Revelation uses the imagery of trumpets in the Old Testament. Trumpets were an important part of the daily life of ancient Israel. Their sound reminded people of the worship in the temple; trumpets were also blown in battle, at harvest time, and during festivals.
Read Numbers 10:8-10 along with 2 Chronicles 13:14. What was the purpose of blowing trumpets in ancient Israel?
Trumpets were sacred instruments that were blown by priests. Blowing trumpets went hand in hand with prayer. It called on God to “remember” His people. During worship in the temple or during the festivals, the trumpets reminded God of His covenant with His people. During a battle, the trumpet sound, which was accompanied by prayers, called on God to save His people (see 2 Chr. 13:14). This concept is the backdrop for the trumpets in Revelation.
Read Revelation 8:13; 9:4, 20-21. Who are the objects of the judgments of the seven trumpets?
The events triggered by the trumpets in Revelation denote God’s intervention in history in response to the prayers of His people. While the seals concern primarily those who profess to be God’s people, the trumpets herald judgments against the inhabitants of the earth (Rev. 8:13). At the same time, they are warnings to the people to bring them to repentance before it is too late.
The seven trumpets cover the course of history from the cross until the conclusion of this earth’s history (Rev. 11:15-18). They are blown while intercession goes on in heaven (Rev. 8:3-6) and the gospel is being preached on earth (10:8-11:14). The judgments of the trumpets are partial as they affect only one third of creation. The seventh trumpet announces that the time has arrived for God to assume His rightful rule. The best way to apply the trumpets historically is:
(a) The first two trumpets herald judgments upon the nations that crucified Christ and persecuted the early church—rebellious Jerusalem and the Roman Empire.
(b) The third and fourth trumpets portray heaven’s reaction to the apostasy of the Medieval and post-Reformation eras.
(c) The fifth and sixth trumpets describe the situation in the secular world in the post medieval period in aftermath of the Age of Enlightenment, which is characterized by extensive demonic activity that draws the world into the Battle of Armageddon.
The seven trumpets bring a message of comfort to God’s people, showing them that heaven is not indifferent to what they experience in the world. What message does this bring to you?

Tuesday February 12
The Angel with an Open Book
The sixth trumpet brings us to the time of the end. What are God’s people called to do during this time? Before the seventh trumpet sounds, an interlude is inserted explaining the task and experience of God’s people at the end time.
Read Revelation 10:1-4. Describe in your own words what John sees in the vision. Why was John forbidden to write down what the seven thunders said?
This angel, who has the appearance of Christ, holds an open book. He places his feet on the sea and the land because what he is about to proclaim has worldwide significance. He shouts with the roar of a lion. A lion’s roar symbolizes God’s voice (see Hos. 11:10).
At that point, John hears the seven thunders speaking, which is another symbol of God’s voice (see Ps. 29:3-9). John is not allowed to write down what the thunders have said. There are things concerning the future that God has not revealed. In studying end-time prophecies, we must not venture beyond what God intended for us to know.

Read Revelation 10:5-7. Compare this passage with Daniel 12:6-7. Highlight all the words they have in common.
When the angel states that there will “be time no longer,” the Greek word chronos shows that he refers to a period of time. This points back to Daniel 12:6-7 where an angel states the persecution of the saints will last for a time, times, and a half time. After this prophetic time, the end would come.
The statement that time will be no longer refers to the time prophecies of Daniel, particularly a time, times, and a half a time or 1,260 years of the persecution by the Antichrist power (AD 538-1798). After this period, there will no longer be prophetic time periods. Ellen White states:
“This time, which the angel declares with a solemn oath, is . . . prophetic time, which should precede the advent of our Lord. That is, the people will not have another message upon definite time. After this period of time, reaching from 1842 to 1844, there can be no definite tracing of the prophetic time. The longest reckoning reaches to the autumn of 1844” (in SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 971).
Although the time of the end begins after Daniel’s time prophecies, the end is not yet. It is at the seventh trumpet’s sound that the mystery of God will be finished. This mystery encompasses the whole purpose of God to establish His eternal kingdom.

Wednesday February 13
Eating the Scroll
Read Revelation 10:8-11. What is John commanded to do in vision? What does the eating of the book symbolize?
Eating in the Bible is used to describe the acceptance of a message from God in order to proclaim it to the people (see Ezekiel 2:8-3:11; Jeremiah 15:16). When received, the message is good news; but when it is proclaimed, it sometimes results in bitterness as it is resisted and rejected by many.
John’s bittersweet experience in eating the scroll is related to the unsealing of Daniel’s end-time prophecies. John here represents the church that is commissioned to proclaim the gospel at the close of Daniel’s time prophecy of 1,260 days.
The context indicates that John’s visionary experience pointed to another bittersweet experience at the conclusion of the prophetic 1,260-day period. When, on the basis of Daniel’s prophecies, the Millerites thought that Christ would return in 1844, that message was sweet to them. However, when this did not happen they experienced the bitterness of the message they had proclaimed. Although disappointed and ridiculed, those who stayed firm found comfort in John’s visionary experience.
In John’s commission to “prophesy again” to the world, Adventists have seen themselves as the end-time prophetic movement delegated to proclaim the message of the Second Coming in connection with Daniel’s prophecies. When the gospel message is heard by the world, then the end will come.
Read Revelation 11:1-2. What is John ordered to do? What three things is he commanded to measure?
This passage continues the scene of Revelation 10. John was commanded to measure the temple, the altar, and the worshippers. The concept of measuring in the Bible refers figuratively to judgment (see Matt. 7:2). The temple that was to be measured is in heaven where Jesus ministers for us. The reference to the temple, the altar, and the worshippers points to the Day of Atonement (see Lev. 16:16-19). The Day of Atonement was a day of “measuring” as God judged the sins of His people. Thus, Revelation 11:1 refers to the judgment that takes place prior to the Second Coming. This judgment concerns exclusively God’s people—the worshippers in the temple. Its purpose is to determine who serves God and who does not.
Revelation 11:1 shows that the heavenly sanctuary message lies at the heart of the final gospel proclamation. It concerns the vindication of God’s character. As such, it gives the full dimension of the gospel message regarding the atoning work of Christ and His righteousness as the only means of salvation for human beings.

Thursday February 14
The Two Witnesses
The interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets shows what God’s people are called to do at the end time. The vision of the two witnesses describes their experience in the world as they bear witness to the Bible.
Read Revelation 11:3-6. In what way do the two witnesses reflect Zerubbabel and Joshua in their royal and priestly roles (see Zech. 4:2-3, 11-14) as well as the roles of Moses and Elijah?
The idea of two witnesses comes from the Jewish legal system that requires at least two witnesses to establish something to be true (John 8:17). The two witnesses represent the Bible; but they also may represent God’s people as they bear witness to the Bible. The two cannot be separated because God’s people are called to proclaim the Bible to the world.
The witnesses are pictured as prophesying in sackcloth during the prophetic period of 1,260 years (AD 538-1798). This points back to Revelation 10:11 where John was told that he has to prophesy. This shows that this call to prophesy extends to the church. Sackcloth is the garment of mourning (Gen. 37:34); this points to the difficult time through which God’s people must go as they proclaim the Bible to the world.
Read Revelation 11:7-10. In your words, describe what happened to the two witnesses at the end of the prophetic 1,260 days?
The beast that kills the two witnesses arises from the very abode of Satan. This killing of the witnesses applies historically to the atheistic attack on the Bible and the abolition of religion in connection with the events of the French Revolution. This anti-religious system possessed the moral degradation of Sodom, the atheistic arrogance of Egypt, and the rebelliousness of Jerusalem. What happened to Jesus in Jerusalem now happens to the Bible by this anti-religious system.
Read Revelation 11:11-13. What was the reaction of the world at the resurrection of the two witnesses?
The resurrection of the witnesses points to the great revival of interest in the Bible in the aftermath of the French Revolution, which resulted in the establishment of Bible societies and numerous missionary movements with the purpose of spreading the Bible. The word of God was triumphant.
Right before the end, the world will witness a worldwide preaching of the Bible like never before in history. This final proclamation will have a bittersweet effect, as it will provoke opposition empowered by the demonic activities working miracles to entice the world into to the final battle against God’s faithful witnesses (see Rev. 16:13-16).

Friday February 15
Further Thought: The seventh trumpet (Rev. 11:15-18) signals the conclusion of this earth’s history. The time has come for God to reveal His power and reign. This rebellious planet, which has been under the dominion of Satan for thousands of years, is about to come back under God’s dominion and rule. It was after Christ’s death on the cross and His ascension to heaven that Satan, as the usurper, was finally expelled from heaven and Christ was proclaimed to be the legitimate ruler of the earth (Rev. 12:10). Yet, this rebellious world still remained under Satan’s dominion. Christ has to reign as co-ruler with the Father “until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:25). The seventh trumpet heralds that the usurping powers have been dealt with and this world has finally come under his rightful rule.
The seventh trumpet outlines the content of the second half of the book: (1) The nations were angry: Revelation 12-14 describes Satan as filled with anger, (12:17) who with his two allies—the sea beast and the earth beast—prepares the nations of the world to fight against God’s people. (2) Your wrath has come: God responds to the anger of the nations with the seven last plagues, which are referred to as God’s wrath (see Rev. 15:1). (3) The time for the dead to be judged is described in Revelation 20:11-15. (4) And to reward God’s servants is portrayed in Revelation 21-22. (5) To destroy those who destroy the earth: Revelation 19:2 states that end-time Babylon is judged because it destroyed the earth. The destruction of Satan, his hosts, and his two allies is the final act in the drama of the great controversy (Rev. 19:11-20:15).

Discussion Questions:
Why is it important to understand that after the conclusion of Daniel’s time prophecies there are no more prophetic time periods? Do you know people who are preoccupied with setting dates for the final events? How can you help them?
Reflect on the following statement: “Again and again have I been warned in regard to time setting. There will never again be a message for the people of God that will be based on time. We are not to know the definite time either for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit or for the coming of Christ”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol 1, p. 188. What problems do you see with drafting detailed prophetic charts of the final events? How can one safeguard against such pitfalls?

Original Teachers’ Notes for Rev 12 (Week 8)

I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (February 17-23) Sabbath School Adult Teacher’s Edition for people to compare with the edited version. The changes were not massive or disruptive in most cases. I share my analysis of the changes in the next blog. These comments are related to the standard quarterly edition written primarily by my friend Ranko Stefanovic.


Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 12:11.

Study Focus: Revelation twelve covers the entire sweep of Christian history with glimpses of the universal war that lies behind the conflicts of earth.

Introduction: Revelation twelve portrays the history of both Old and New Testament Israel in four stages: 1) The period before the birth of Christ; with a glimpse of Israel represented by a woman (Rev. 12:1-2) and the original expulsion of Satan from heaven (Rev. 12:3-4). 2) The birth, ascension and enthronement of Christ with a fresh picture of the war in heaven as seen in the light of the cross (Rev. 12:5, 7-11). 3) The history of the Christian church between the two advents of Jesus, with a particular focus on the persecution of the church during the Middle Ages (Rev. 12:6, 13-16). 4) The experience of the end-time remnant in the final conflict of earth’s history (Rev. 12:17).

Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage introduce the following themes:

1. What Happens When New Characters Appear in Rev.
2. The Nature of the Cosmic Conflict.
3. Application of the Year-Day Principle.
4. The Biblical Concept of the Remnant.
5. Textual Issues in Rev. 12:17.
6. The Testimony of Jesus.

Life Application. 1) How does awareness of the cosmic conflict impact the way we look at the world and the way we find meaning and purpose in it? 2) What is the significance of the cosmic conflict on our understanding of the character of God?

Part II. Commentary

The twelfth chapter of Revelation portrays the history and experience of the church from the birth of Christ (Rev. 12:5) to the final crisis of earth’s history (12:17). As such it sets the stage for Revelation’s primary focus on end-time events from chapter thirteen on (see next week’s lesson for details on Rev. 13).

Main Themes of Lesson 8 Elaborated:
1. What Happens When New Characters Appear in Rev. There is an important literary pattern in the book of Revelation. Whenever a new character appears in the story, the author pauses the narrative and offers a visual description of that character and a bit of its previous history. This “freeze frame” often helps the reader identify the character. After this introduction, the character plays a role in the larger story.
In chapter one, Jesus appears as a character in the vision for the first time (Rev. 1:12-18— He is named earlier: 1:5,9). There is a visual description (1:12-16) and a bit of His previous history (1:17-18) followed by His actions in the subsequent vision (Rev. 2 and 3). In chapter eleven, the two witnesses are introduced similarly (11:3-6) followed by their actions in the context of the vision (11:7-13).
Two new characters appear at the beginning of chapter twelve (Rev. 12:1-4). First there is a visual description of a woman (12:1) and a bit of her previous history (12:2). Then a dragon appears and is similarly introduced (12:3-4). Only then do both characters begin to act in the context of the vision itself (Rev. 12:5ff.). The male child of verse five, on the other hand, is not introduced with a visual description, probably because He has already been introduced earlier in a different form (1:12-18).

2. The Nature of the Cosmic Conflict. The war in heaven is described in military language. There is the language of “war” (12:7– Greek: polemos), and “fighting” (Greek: polemêsai, epolemêsen). These Greek words normally describe armed conflict. But they can be used in figurative ways as well, to heighten the drama of quarrels and verbal disagreements (Jam 4:1). Upon closer examination, the war in heaven is more a war of words than a military event. There are four main evidences for this in chapter twelve.
First, the dragon sweeps a third of the stars down from heaven with his tail (Greek: oura). The tail is an Old Testament symbol for a prophet who teaches lies (Greek LXX: oura). Second, the dragon is defined in Rev. 12:9 as “that ancient serpent,” a clear reference to the lies about God spoken to Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 3:1-6). Third, the dragon/Satan is cast out of heaven as the “accuser of the brothers” in Rev. 12:10. It is his accusing words, rather than physical weapons, that cause his casting down. And finally, the dragon/Satan is overcome by “the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11). So the war of Revelation twelve is not a military battle, it is a war of words.

3. Application of the Year-Day Principle. The year-day principle is a crucial element of Adventist interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy. It goes something like this: “In Bible prophecy, whenever a period of time is listed in days, its fulfillment should be counted in years.” The principle as stated is not found anywhere in Scripture. But the Bible paves the way for it by highlighting year-day equivalencies. In Numbers 14:34, the forty years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness corresponds to forty days of disobedience. In Ezekiel 4:5-6 the prophet is ordered to lie down one day for each year of Israel and Judah’s disobedience. In Leviticus 25 the concept of a week and its Sabbath is extended from days to years. People would farm the land for six years and let the land “rest” during the seventh or sabbatical year. Daniel 9 contains seventy “weeks” of years. So the sabbatical concept highlights year-day thinking in biblical times.
But when should one apply prophetic days as years? There are several guiding principles to consider. 1) Since apocalyptic prophecies, like Daniel 7 and Revelation 12, are full of symbols, a symbolic meaning for any numbers in the prophecy should be considered. 2) Year-day numbers tend to be the kind one would not use in normal speech. No parent, for example, would say their child is 1260 days old, 42 months old, or even less, 2300 evenings and mornings! 3) In a sequence of prophetic events, if the prophecy makes more sense when counting the days as years, one should do so. For example, in Daniel 7, each of the four beasts rules for multiple decades, even hundreds of years. But when the chief opponent of God appears, it rules for only three and a half years. From the perspective of the end of history, it becomes evident that the unusual prophetic time period of Daniel 7 should be interpreted in years.

4. The Biblical Concept of the Remnant. The people of God in the final conflict are called the “remnant” (Greek: loipôn) in Rev. 12:17. The original meaning of “remnant” is “survivors of a disaster.” Due to flood, earthquake or conquest, a tribe or people could be totally destroyed. The survival of a remnant brought hope that the tribe or people could be restored to greatness in the future (see Gen. 7:23). Within the OT, a moral or spiritual meaning also came to be attached to “remnant.” The remnant was a “believing minority” through whom God could ultimately save the human race from extinction in spite of the presence of sin and evil in the world.
As a result, “remnant” was used in three different spiritual ways in the OT. 1) Historical Remnant. Any group that has experienced a mighty deliverance of God in the past, such as the descendants of Noah and the Israel of the Exodus. Such a group is visible, nameable and countable. It is a surviving witness to God’s prior salvation, whether or not it remains faithful to God (see 2 Chr. 30:6) 2) Faithful Remnant. This means those among a given historical remnant who remain faithful to the original message and mission of that historical movement. These are those God knows are faithful to Him (2 Tim. 2:19). They are, thus, less visible and countable to human eyes than the historical remnant (1 Kings 19:14-18). 3) Eschatological Remnant. The eschatological remnant is made up of all who are faithful during the apocalyptic woes of the end-time (Joel 2:31-32). This eschatological remnant will reach far beyond the borders of the historical or faithful remnants of the past (Isa. 66:19-20).
The book of Revelation contains all three types of remnant. The historical remnant in Rev. is the seed of the woman that appears at a particular point in history (Rev. 12:17). The church of Thyatira contains a faithful remnant in the midst of apostasy (Rev. 2:24). A surprising, expansive end-time remnant emerges just before the close of probation (Rev. 11:13). It is God’s purpose that the historical remnant faithfully prepare the way for the greater remnant to come.

5. The Testimony of Jesus. One of the marks of the remnant in Rev. 12:17 is that they are those who “have” or “hold to” (Greek: echontôn) the “testimony of Jesus” (Greek: tên marturion Iêsou). This means that John foresaw an end-time revival of the kind of visionary, prophetic gift he himself was given (Rev. 1:2). This meaning for “testimony of Jesus” is confirmed by a careful comparison of Rev 19:10 and 22:8-9. Those who hold to the testimony of Jesus in 19:10 are called “the prophets” in 22:9.

Part III: Life Application

1. Thought question: How do you see the world differently because of the cosmic conflict? What would it be like to live without that knowledge? The cosmic conflict powerfully answers the three great questions of philosophy; 1) where did I come from, 2) where am I going, and 3) why am I here? Knowledge of the cosmic conflict provides meaning and purpose to all that we do, connects us to something bigger than ourselves, and enables us to be relaxed about the future, knowing it is safely in God’s hands.

2. What is the significance of the heavenly “war of words” on our picture of what God is like? God’s side in the cosmic conflict places priority on love and self-sacrifice, respects the freedom of God’s creatures, and does not coerce but rather is patient, seeking to provide persuasive evidence. On the other hand, Satan seeks to win by persecution (force) and deception (telling lies). The casting out of Satan in Rev. 12:9-10 is more intellectual than physical. The hosts of heaven no longer take his lies seriously, his arguments have lost credibility.
Our picture of God to a large degree determines how we live and behave. If we think of God as severe and judgmental, we become more like that. If we think of God as gracious and self-sacrificing, we become more like that. We become like the God we worship.

Revelation Teacher’s Quarterly, Week 7, February 9-16 Analysis of Changes Made in the Editorial Process for the Teacher’s Edition

Basic theme: The Seven Trumpets

The changes to this quarter’s Teacher’s Edition of the Adult Sabbath School Study Guide (known popularly as the Sabbath School Quarterly) were fewer and less significant than in the previous week. I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive.

In Main Themes II of the Commentary section, the editors removed wording that alerted the readers to the fact that it is possible (but not likely) to read the trumpets as after the close of probation. Since quite a few Adventists read the trumpets that way I felt it was best to acknowledge that possibility and then show why it doesn’t likely work. The editors probably felt it was safer to act as if such views did not exist. That is a judgment call that editors have to make, like it or not. I’d prefer not to “make opponents disappear” but to deal honestly with their differences and seek to win them. But in practice my approach may not be as effective as I’d hope it would be.

In Main Themes III the editors removed my reference to Ezek 20: 47-48, which is critical to my interpretation of the first trumpet. But my interpretation was left intact. Do look at Ezekiel as you prepare to teach or participate. Regarding the second trumpet the editors added a reference to 1 Pet 5:13, which I think is helpful. I left it out because of space limitations. Regarding the fourth trumpet, the editors removed my suggestion (on the basis of comparison with the fifth trumpet) that the fourth could depict the rise of secularism after the Middle Ages. They prefer the interpretation of deepening apostasy in the church. I think that is less likely to be the case as we have there the imagery of eclipse rather than alteration (as in the third trumpet), but it may be correct. Regarding the fifth trumpet, the editors removed my references to Luke 8:31 in connection with the Abyss.

In Main Themes V I noted that the angel of Revelation 10 raised his “right” hand to heaven. The editors removed this, which puzzled me, since the word “right” (Greek: dexian) is clearly there in all manuscript traditions. But the NKJV, following the KJV, leaves that word out. Evidently the final editor, whoever that is, uses the NKJV almost solely and does not check the original.

In sum, I can only be delighted that most of my comments were accepted and published. The seven trumpets are extremely difficult and there is no SDA consensus on their interpretation. Have fun trying to work it through this week! I should mention that Uriah Smith’s interpretation (Fall of Rome) is not followed by most SDA scholars for a number of reasons. Among others, he did not study them himself (his comments are full of quotations from others), he got his views from non-SDA sources, the position is not based on analysis of the text itself, and Ellen White’s seeming endorsement is casual and her use of Rev 9 is peripheral to her intention for that chapter. For more on that see http://www.thebattleofarmageddon.com/interpreting_7_trumpets_jon_paulien.html.

Again, for those who don’t have access to the standard printed edition of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide or the Teacher’s Edition for this quarter, you can access them online week by week at https://www.absg.adventist.org/. My original pre-edited Teacher’s Edition manuscript for this week is provided in the previous blog. You can also download audio of me teaching the lesson ahead of time each week at http://pineknoll.org/sabbath-school-lessons.

Original Teachers’ Notes for Rev 8-11 (Week 7)

I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (February 10-16) Sabbath School Adult Teacher’s Edition for people to compare with the edited version. The changes were not massive or disruptive in most cases. I share my analysis of the changes in the next blog. The Teachers’ Edition is based on the standard quarterly edition written primarily by my friend Ranko Stefanovic.


Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 10:7.

Study Focus: The seven trumpets (Rev. 8:2 – 11:18) build on a view of the incense altar (8:3-4) and contain an “interlude” (10:1 – 11:13) which offers a view of God’s people in the midst of the horrific sixth trumpet (9:12-21).

Introduction: The purpose of the trumpets is clarified in connection with the fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11). In the daily (tamid) service of the temple in John’s time, incense was collected at the Altar of Burnt Offering and then offered at the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place. Reference to both altars and the prayers of the saints in Rev. 8:3-4 connects the trumpets with the scene in Rev. 6:9-10. The seven trumpets answer the prayers of the saints for judgment on those who have persecuted them (compare also 6:10 with 8:13). The trumpets, therefore, fall on the opponents of God’s people throughout Christian history.

Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage introduce the following themes:

1. The Meaning of Trumpets in the Bible.
2. The Time When the Trumpets Begin.
3. The Meaning of the Imagery in the First Six Trumpets.
4. The Relation of the “Interlude” to the Seven Trumpets.
5. The Allusion to Dan. 12 in Rev. 10.

Life Application. The prayers of the saints (Rev. 8:3-4) and the nature of opposition to the gospel provide two life applications in a fairly dark vision.

Part II. Commentary

The seven trumpets of Revelation (particularly 8:2 – 9:21) is one of the most difficult passages in the Bible to interpret. Faithful Adventist students of the Bible have not come to agreement on its meaning through the years. But there are aspects of the passage that are reasonably clear and some of these are elaborated below.

Main Themes of Lesson 7 Elaborated:
1. The Meaning of Trumpets in the Bible. The Greek words for trumpets and trumpeting occur 144 times in the Greek translation of the OT. The vast majority of those references (105 out of 144) concern either signaling in warfare, worship and prayer, or a combination of both. The clearest single passage on the meaning of trumpets is Num. 10:8-10. In ancient Israel the trumpets were always to be handled by the priests (10:8), even in warfare. So there is a spiritual meaning that Israel was to discern in the blowing of trumpets. Signaling trumpets represented a prayer to God for intervention in battle (10:9). Likewise, in the temple and on the feast days, the blowing of trumpets invited God’s spiritual intervention in the lives of His people (10:10). So the core meaning of trumpets in the OT is covenant prayer, calling on God to remember His people.
Most of the occurrences of trumpets and trumpeting in the NT are in Rev. 8-9. At first glance it might seem that signaling in warfare is the primary meaning in the seven trumpets of Rev. But the connection between the trumpets and the fifth seal (see Introduction above) underlines the prayer theme as the primary one here too. The trumpets are a response to the prayers of the suffering saints of God (Rev. 6:9-10; 8:2-6). It assures them that God has noticed their suffering and, even though He may seem silent in their experience, He is already acting in history against those who have persecuted them (compare 6:10 and 8:13—see Life Application number 1 below).

2. The Time When the Trumpets Begin. The throwing down of the censer (or fire) in Rev. 8:5 suggests to some Adventist interpreters that the events that follow (8:6) are after the close of probation. This would mean that the seven trumpets represent end-time events rather than a forecast of events in the course of Christian history. But a number of indications in the text make this very unlikely.
First, the pattern in the first half of the book is that the visions begin with the NT era and cover events throughout Christian history. Second, whatever the casting down of the censer (fire) in Rev. 8:5 means, probation is clearly not yet closed at the time of the sixth trumpet. The intercession at the altar is still taking place (Rev. 9:13). The gospel is still going forth (10:11; 11:3-6, 12-13). That the “interlude” of Rev. 10:1 – 11:13 should be included in our understanding of the sixth trumpet is shown in Theme 4 below. Finally, the proclamation of the gospel ends and probation fully closes only at the sounding of the seventh trumpet (Rev 10:7). So the seven trumpets of Revelation cover the whole course of history from John’s day to the close of probation and final events.

3. The Meaning of the Imagery in the First Six Trumpets. 1) The first trumpet uses the OT language of God’s judgments (hail, fire and blood– Exod. 9:23-26; Isa 10:16-20; Ezek. 38:22) directed against symbols of God’s OT people (vegetation and trees– Isa. 28:2ff.; Ezek. 20:47-48). Hence the lesson’s suggestion that the first trumpet represents God’s judgment on the Jerusalem that had rejected Christ (Matt. 23:37-38; Luke 23:28-31). 2) The second trumpet recalls in general God’s judgments on those who opposed Him (Exod. 7:19-21), and in particular the fall of ancient Babylon (Jer. 51:24-25, 41-42). The lesson, therefore, associated this trumpet with the fall of the Roman Empire.
3) The symbolism of the third trumpet parallels biblical imagery for the work of Satan (Isa. 14:12-19; Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:9). But the symbolism of lamp, springs, rivers and water suggest spiritual life and growth (Psa. 1:3; 84:6-7; 119:105; Jer. 2:13). The falling of the star and the embittering of the waters connect the two ideas suggesting a perversion of truth and a rise of apostasy. The lesson, therefore, associated this trumpet with the condition of the church in the Middle Ages. 4) In the fourth trumpet, the sources of light (sun, moon and stars) are darkened, the symbols of truth are partially eclipsed. This could represent the rise of secularism after the Middle Ages or the deepening of apostasy in the church (Exod. 10:21-23; Job 38:2; Isa. 8:22; John 1:4-11; 3:18-21).
5) With the fifth trumpet the partial darkness of the fourth becomes total and worldwide (Rev. 9:1-2; Luke 8:31). If the fourth trumpet represents the rise of secularism after the Middle Ages, the fifth would represent the triumph of secularism in the modern age. With God and truth totally eclipsed, sinful mankind is left to the demonic torment of suicidal desires (Rev. 9:3-11; Luke 8:31; 10:17-20). The only safety is in genuine relationship with God (Rev. 9:4).
6) While the first five trumpets have many allusions to ancient Egypt, the sixth trumpet particularly echoes biblical accounts regarding ancient Babylon. There are references to the river of Babylon (Rev. 9:14), the idolatry of Babylon (Rev. 9:20; Dan 5:4, 23) and the fall of Babylon (Rev. 9:21; Isa 47:9-12). There are also many parallels with the sixth bowl (Euphrates, battle language, demonic imagery– Rev. 16:12-16). So the sixth trumpet portrays the rise of end-time Babylon, with its opposition to God arising from within the church (Rev. 17:4-5).

4. The Relation of the “Interlude” to the Seven Trumpets. The trumpets focus on the wicked (Rev. 9:4, 20-21) but the “interlude” (Rev. 10:1 – 11:13) focuses on God’s people. The “interlude,” however, is not separate from the trumpets, it is part of the sixth trumpet. Rev. 8:13 describes three woes coming upon those who live on the earth. The first is the fifth trumpet (Rev. 9:12). The second woe is the sixth trumpet, but does not end until Rev. 11:14. So the bulk of chapters 10 and 11 are part of the sixth trumpet. While the forces of evil are gathering for the final crisis during the sixth trumpet (Rev. 9:16), the forces of the righteous are gathering to counter them (Rev. 7:4; Rev. 10:1 – 11:13).

5. The Allusion to Dan. 12 in Rev. 10. One of the clearest allusions to the OT in all of Rev. is found in 10:5-6 (compare Dan. 12:7). The two passages have eight major words in common. Both passages have heavenly figures standing on or above bodies of water. In both cases the heavenly figure raises his right hand to heaven and swears by the one who lives forever and ever. The connection between the “time, times and half a time” of Dan. 12:7 with the “time no longer” of Rev. 10:6 indicates that the angel of Rev. 10 is announcing the close of Daniel’s time prophecies in the context of the sixth trumpet (preparation for the final events, see Theme 4 above).

Part III: Life Application

1. The material in the seven trumpets does not lend itself to a great deal of life application. But the teacher could ask the following questions, with possible answers suggested.

2. How does the connection between the introduction to the trumpets (Rev. 8:3-5) and the fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) offer encouragement to those suffering for the sake of the gospel today? The martyrs’ cry for judgment in the fifth seal is answered by the seven trumpets. The message of the trumpets is that God sees the suffering of His people and responds to the injustice, not only at the end of time, but in the course of history. Like Job, we may not always understand what God is doing, but we have reason to trust Him even in the darkest times.

3. The judgments of the first two trumpets fall on those powers that combined to crucify Jesus (the religious authorities of Jerusalem under Caiaphas and Roman civil authority under Pilate). What does this tell us about opposition to the gospel? Opposition to the gospel and those who embrace it tends to come in two distinct ways; opposition from inside and from outside. Jesus was crucified when the leaders of Israel (inside) combined with outside powers (Rome). The greatest opposition often comes from those in the same faith.
A similar dynamic is seen in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The father is not only rejected (initially) by the son who left, but also by the one who stayed. The one is indifferent to the father, the other is motivated by selfish gain.

Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes in the Main Lesson for This Week (Rev 7)

From Ranko Stefanovic:

In SS Lesson #6, changes have been made to teach that Rev 7 portrays two different group of saved people.

The Tuesday lesson has been completely rewritten.

Also, in the Wednesday lesson, significant changes were made in the conclusion of the lesson: “The 144,000 are not a special small group of saints separated from the rest of the believers. They are the first fruits in the sense that they have been purchased by the blood of Christ and, as such, are the first fruits of the harvest of God (see Rev. 14:14-16).” The concluding statement was introduced stating that the 144,000 are “the firstfruits of the larger harvest of the saved through all the ages.”

In the Thursday lesson, the sentence “Abraham (Gen. 17:1) and Job (Job 1:1) were blameless, but not sinless,” “but not sinless” has be removed. And the fourth paragraph as a whole has been removed.

Here’s the original manuscript of this week’s lesson:

The Sealed People of God

Sabbath Afternoon
Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 7:1-17; 14:1-5; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; 2 Tim. 2:19; 2 Pet. 3:10-14.
Memory Verse: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14, NKJV).
The message of the opening of the seven seals shows that every person who claims to believe in Christ faces blessings for faithfulness to Christ or curses for unfaithfulness. Just as God used the curses of the covenant to bring the Israelites back to Himself, the first four seals describe God’s disciplinary means to wake His people up from their spiritual lethargy and make them victorious. Yet, God’s people suffer injustice and oppression in a world hostile to the gospel. At the opening of the sixth seal, God is ready to deal those who harmed his faithful people.
It is important to understand the place of chapter 7 in the structural arrangement of the book. It is inserted parenthetically between the sixth and seventh seals. The sixth seal brings us to the Second Coming of Christ. As the wicked face impending judgment, they run in a panic and call on the mountains and rocks to fall upon them and hide them from the wrath of God and the Lamb. They ask in terror: “Who is be able to stand?” (6:17, NKJV). Revelation 7 tells us that those who will be able to stand on the day of Christ’s coming are the sealed people of God.
Thus, Revelation 7 identifies God’s end-time people who will live at the time prior to the Second Coming. Their other characteristics are given in Revelation 14:1-5. On the other hand, there is another interlude inserted between the sixth and seventh trumpets (Rev. 10:1-11:14). This interlude coincides with the same time period as the scene of chapter 7 and describes the experience and task of God’s end-time people at the time of the end.

*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 10.

Sunday February 3
Restraining the Winds
Read Revelation 7:1-3 along with 2 Peter 3:9-14. What does John see? How long are the angels supposed to restrain the winds? What will happen when the sealing is concluded?
In the Old Testament, winds stand for destructive forces by which God executes judgments upon the wicked (Jer. 23:19-20). The blowing of the winds correlates with God’s wrath in Revelation 6:17. It is another way of describing the seven last plagues to be poured upon the unrepentant humanity right before the Second Coming (Rev. 16). However, these destructive forces are being restrained by divine intervention while the sealing of God’s people takes place.
In ancient times, the primary meaning of sealing was ownership. The meaning of the symbolic sealing in the New Testament is that, “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19, NKJV). God recognizes Him own people and seals them with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). At the end-time, the seal on the forehead marks those who choose to be on God’s side (Rev. 14:1). The seal of God is not a visible mark put on one’s forehead, but as Ellen White states, it means, “settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved”—Ellen G. White, The Last Day Events, p. 220. Those who willingly and knowingly side with the beast receive the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16-17).
The faithfulness of God’s sealed people has been tested in every generation. However, the test of faithfulness in the final crisis will be the keeping of God’s commandments (see Rev. 12:17; 14:12). In particular, the fourth commandment will become the test of obedience to God (Rev. 14:7). As the Sabbath has been the sign of God’s people in biblical times (Exod. 31:12-17; Ezek. 20:12, 20), so it will be the sign of loyalty to God in the final crisis.
Read Ezekiel 9:1-11. Ezekiel’s vision, which originally concerned the destruction of Jerusalem before the Exile, is the backdrop of the sealing in Revelation 7:1-3. In light of Ezekiel’s vision, what is the purpose of the sealing?
At the time of the end, the seal functions also as a sign of protection from the destructive forces of the seven last plagues—as in Ezekiel’s vision. Thus, the question raised in Revelation 6:17 receives the ultimate answer: those who will be able to stand protected on the day of God’s wrath are the sealed people of God.
Paul warns us not to grieve the Holy Spirit by whom we have been sealed (Eph. 4:30). How does one grieve the Holy Spirit?

Monday February 4
The Sealed People of God
Read Revelation 7:4-8. What is the number of God’s sealed people? Do you see this number as literal or symbolic?
The announcement of the number of those who are sealed marks the completion of the sealing. John hears that their number is 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel. The reference is not here to a literal number but what it signifies. The number 144,000 consists of twelve times twelve times one thousand. Twelve is a symbol of God’s people: the tribes of Israel and the number of the church built upon the foundation of the 12 apostles (Eph. 2:20). Thus, the number 144,000 stands for the totality of God’s end-time people.
Compare the list of the twelve tribes in Revelation 7:4-8 with those in Genesis 49 and Numbers 1:5-15. What are the differences between these lists of the tribes and the one in Revelation?
The twelve tribes listed in Revelation 7 are not literal because the twelve tribes of Israel are not in existence today. The ten tribes were taken into captivity during the Assyrian conquest (2 Kings 17:6-23), where they became integrated with other nations. The twelve tribes do not constitute Judaism today.
Also, the list of the twelve tribes in Revelation 7 is not a regular list. Judah is listed as the first tribe instead of Ruben. Also, the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are omitted, and Joseph and Levi are included instead. The obvious reason for the exclusion of Dan and Ephraim is because in the Old Testament these two tribes are apostate and idolatrous (Judg. 18:27-32; Hos. 4:17).
The list of the tribes in Revelation 7 is not historical but spiritual. It tells us that the unfaithfulness of the tribes of Dan and Ephraim does not have place among God’s sealed people. Also, the church in the New Testament is referred to as the twelve tribes of Israel (Jam. 1:1). The twelve tribes in Revelation 7 stand for the entire people of God.
The 144,000 are portrayed as an army modeled after ancient Israel going to war. In ancient Israel, there were 1,000 soldiers in a basic military unit (Num. 31:3-6). The symbolic number 144,000 denotes the church militant in terms of 144 military units of 1,000 ready to go to the final battle (Rev. 17:14) in contrast to the enemy army numbering 200 millions (Rev. 9:16).
Can you think of yourself as preparing for a war or battle? What preparation would you make? In what way would that preparation define your priorities in life?

Tuesday February 5
The Great Multitude
John the Revelator heard that the number of God’s sealed people was 144,000. The apostle then expected to see them entering the tribulation of the seven last plagues.
Read Revelation 7:9-14. What group of saints does John see at this point? How are they described and where do they come from? What are they shouting before God’s throne?
John sees the Great Multitude as they come out of the great tribulation of the seven last plagues (Rev 7:14). Who is this incalculable multitude?
The key to their identification is found in a special literary feature, “I heard” and “I saw.” Many times, John hears about something in vision, but when he actually sees it, it appears to him in a different symbol (see Rev. 5:5-6). John had previously only heard that the number of the sealed people was 144,000. As the winds are to be unleashed, they are ready to enter the great tribulation of the seven last plagues. Yet, John did not see them as such because they are spread in every nation, tribe, people, and tongue.
When he actually sees them, they appear as a great, incalculable crowd coming out of the great tribulation. The war is over, and they are no longer on earth but before the throne of God. They appear as incalculable, not because of their uncountable number, but because they stand in contrast to the countable 144,000. They are no longer seen as an army, but as the church triumphant.
This shows that the 144,000 and the Great Multitude are the same group of God’s end-time people pictured in different times and circumstances.
Read Revelation 14:1-3 along with 15:2-4. In light of Revelation 5:9 and 7:10, what is the content of the new song sung by the 144,000? Why are the 144,000 the only ones able to learn that song?
Revelation 14:1-3 pictures the 144,000 as God’s triumphant people with the name of God on their foreheads; they are committed to God in their mind and character. While Revelation 7:9 pictures them as standing before God’s throne, in chapter 14 they are standing on Mount Zion. Mount Zion is the place of God’s rule (Mic. 4:7) and of deliverance for God’s people (Isa. 31:4; Joel 2:32). The 144,000 have passed through the final crisis and are now celebrating the great victory over the forces of darkness.
Read about the reward of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:15-17. How does their future relate to their past? How does one wash the robes making them white in the Lamb’s blood?

Wednesday February 6
Those Who Follow the Lamb
Revelation does not explain who exactly the 144,000 are, but rather what they are. All we can learn is that, as the last generation, they are the representatives of all God’s saved people who will have to go through the final crisis of this world’s history.
Read Revelation 14:4-5. What are the three chief characteristics of the 144,000 saints? How are these characteristics related to the description of the end-time saints in Revelation 14:12?
Revelation 14:4-5 builds upon the description of the 144,000 as the ones who keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12). Although they experienced the fullness of Satan’s wrath in the final crisis, they have remained firm because of their close relationship with Jesus.
In light of Revelation 17:5, in what sense have the 144,000 not been defiled with women? How is this related to the fact that they are redeemed from people as “the first fruits” to God?
That the 144,000 have not defiled themselves with women mirrors the practice among ancient Israelite soldiers of not having sexual relationships with women prior to battle (1 Sam. 21:4-5). Similarly, the 144,000 entering the final battle are symbolically portrayed as not spiritually defiling themselves with women.
Sexual immorality is a symbol of unfaithfulness to God. Revelation 17:5 talks about the end-time prostitute Babylon and her daughters, with whom all the people of the world will commit fornication (see Rev. 18:3). However, the 144,000 will remain loyal to Christ and resist the defiling relationships with Babylon and apostate religions. They “follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”
The 144,000 are further described as the ones who “have been redeemed from among men” as “first fruits to God and to the Lamb (NKJV).“ In ancient Israel, the first fruits were the best fruits of the harvest offered to God. The term “the first fruits” refers to God’s saved people in their totality as distinct from the people in the world (see Jer. 2:3; Jam. 1:18). The 144,000 are not a special small group of saints separated from the rest of the believers. They are the first fruits in the sense that they have been purchased by the blood of Christ and, as such, are the first fruits of the harvest of God (see Rev. 14:14-16).
To have the name of God on one’s forehead means to reflect His character. How is such a person recognized? As you think of the members in your congregation, does their behavior indicate that God’s character is engraved on their minds and characters?

Thursday February 7
Salvation to Our God and the Lamb
Read Revelation 14:5 along with 2 Peter 3:14. Revelation describes God’s end time people as “without fault.” How is this achievable?
The final characteristic of the 144,000 is that “in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God” (NKJV). The deceit spoken of here refers to Satan’s end-time deceptions (Rev. 13:14). While most of the people in the world choose to believe his lies, God’s end-time people will receive the love of the truth so as to be saved (2 Thess. 2:10-11).
“Without fault” (Gr. amōmos, “blameless”) refers to the fidelity of the 144,000 to Christ, not their morally sinless status. In the Old Testament, Abraham (Gen. 17:1) and Job (Job 1:1) were blameless, but not sinless. Two thousand years ago, Christians were called to be holy and without blemish before God (Eph. 5:27; Phil. 2:15).
In the closing days of this world’s history, the 144,000 will reflect the true character of Christ. Their salvation will reflect what Christ has done for them, rather than their own holiness and works (see Eph. 2:8-9). The 144,000 have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14), and, as such, are found “spotless and blameless” before God (2 Pet. 3:14).
Revelation nowhere indicates that in God’s kingdom there will be two distinct groups of saved people: the final generation of saints who will reach a level of holiness that no generation before them was able to attain. The 144,000 are not a select group of super saints who will, at the Second Coming, be granted special privileges not available to the rest of the redeemed. The redeemed saints are all dressed in the white robes provided by Christ (see Rev. 19:8). These white robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb and make all the redeemed equal before God.
Meditate on the following statements: “We need to be refined, cleansed from all earthliness, till we reflect the image of our Savior, and become ‘partakers of the divine nature.’ . . . When the conflict of life is ended, when the armor is laid off at the feet of Jesus, when the saints of God are glorified, then and then only will it be safe to claim that we are saved and sinless.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 355. How can we live a life of sanctification in active preparation for eternity, and yet not suffer from the pitfalls of perfectionism and fanatical holiness?

Friday February 8
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Sinlessness and Salvation,” pp. 353-357, in Selected Message, book 3.
The identity of the 144,000 is a hotly debated issue. What seems evident in Revelation is that the 144,000 are the last generation of God’s people in the closing days of this earth’s history. We know that they will go through the time of the tribulation of the seven last plagues (see Rev. 7:15-17) and that their loyalty will be tested like no generation in the past.
Yet, who will be in that group is not revealed to us. This is one of the secrets that God has kept for Himself (Deut. 29:29). Only the future will reveal who will be a part of this group of saved saints. Regarding this, we have been given a warning:
“Christ says that there will be those in the church who will present fables and suppositions, when God has given grand, elevating, ennobling truths which should ever be kept in the treasure house of the mind. When men pick up this theory and that theory, when they are curious to know something it is not necessary for them to know, God is not leading them. It is not His plan that His people shall present something which they have to suppose, which is not taught in the Word. It is not His will that they shall get into controversy over questions which will not help them spiritually, such as, Who is to compose the hundred and forty-four thousand? This those who are the elect of God will in a short time know without question.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol.1, p. 174.

Discussion Questions:
Think of the following admonition: “Let us strive with all the power that God has given us to be among the hundred and forty-four thousand.”—Ellen G. White, in SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 970. How can you put these words into practice? How does this striving impact your daily decisions?
An important characteristic of the 144,000 end-time saints is the singing of the new song. As you think of your own life, does your present spiritual walk reflect a song of a fresh experience with God? Or, does your life reflect your past stale stories of God’s works in your life, lacking evidence of present commitment? How does your present life reflect a new song of your spiritual walk and experience with Christ? Do you know Christ working in your daily life, or do you just know about Him?

Revelation Teacher’s Quarterly, Week 6, February 2-9 Analysis of Changes Made in the Editorial Process for the Teacher’s Edition

Basic theme: The Two Groups in Revelation 7

The changes to the Teacher’s Edition of the Adult Sabbath School Study Guide (known popularly as the Sabbath School Quarterly) for January to March 2019 were more significant than in previous weeks. I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive.

The introductory paragraph of the Overview was entirely replaced. I wrote “Chapter 7 offers an answer to the question of Revelation 6:17. The 144,000 sealed ones and the great multitude in white robes will both be discussed.” For this the editors substituted “Revelation 7 reveals the importance of being sealed in order to survive the calamities that accompany the Second Coming.” I’ll let you decide which option is more useful to you. My intent was to set chapter 7 in its immediate context. A question is asked at the end of chapter 6 and receives a double answer in chapter 7. This change seems to illustrate the shift away from exegesis to summaries of what the church has generally understood about the passage. Since this is the Teacher’s Edition, I thought here that teachers needed to go deeper than surface summaries.

In Lesson Themes IV there was another complete substitution. I was making the point that within the church there are two ways of viewing the two groups of Revelation 7. If felt this is important for teachers to know. It now reads “The lesson is ambiguous regarding the answer to this question,” which is kind of saying the same thing in less clear terms, or so it seemed to me.

In the introductory paragraph of the Commentary section of the lesson there is a small change due to a textual problem in the text. The medieval manuscript tradition behind Rev 6:17 (the basis for the KJV and NKJV versions) has “his wrath,” referring back to either the Lamb or the one sitting on the throne in 6:16 (most likely “the Lamb”). The broader text tradition (behind most English versions) has “their wrath,” referring to both divine figures. The editors switched from the reading of the NRSV (which I had placed there to the reading of the NKJV, underlining their seeming preference. From a scholarly perspective, this is disappointing, but the KJV tradition is very popular in the churches, especially the older generation, and they can be very vocal about their preferences. Several other small changes in that paragraph seemed helpful to me.
In Main Themes III the editors saved me from an error. Joseph replaces Ephraim rather than Manasseh. Not sure how I did that, just a mental mistake.

In Main Themes IV there is a major omission of exegetical material regarding how God’s people are described with many names in Revelation. I include the entire omission here. “Two examples. 1) God’s people are called “remnant” in 12:17, then 144,000 in 14:1. But 14:1 alludes to Joel 2:32, where the same group is called “remnant.” The two groups are the same. 2) The 144,000 are then called “saints” in 14:12. So remnant, 144,000 and the saints are different ways of describing the same end-time group.” It seemed to me that was helpful information for a Teacher’s Edition, but maybe space was needed and that seemed the best place to make it. The addition of “Also, Revelation 14:1-5 further distinguishes the 144,000 form that group” at the end of the section leaves the impression the editors believe the two groups are different, but in other parts of the Teacher’s Edition, they have left references to the evidence for a unified reading in the text. In any case, Sabbath School classes should be aware that Adventists are not in agreement on how to read this aspect of chapter 7.

Changes in Life Application 1 are consistent with an editorial view that the destruction of the wicked is an active punishment by God rather than a natural consequence of their separation from God. You can defend both positions from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy and both positions are held in the church, but the editorial position has greater popular support and is likely the reason for these changes.

In summary, this week’s lesson is the most heavily edited and contains the most interesting theological implications so far. On the other hand, the changes are still fairly minimal. I am glad that technology allows us all to explore these issues more deeply here.

Again, for those who don’t have access to the standard printed edition of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide or the Teacher’s Edition for this quarter, you can access them online week by week at https://www.absg.adventist.org/. My original pre-edited Teacher’s Edition manuscript for this week is provided in the previous blog. You can also download audio of me teaching the lesson ahead of time each week at http://pineknoll.org/sabbath-school-lessons.

Original Teachers’ Notes for Rev 7 (Week 6)

I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (February 3-9) Sabbath School Adult Teacher’s Edition for people to use or compare with the edited version. The changes were not massive or disruptive in most cases. I share my analysis of the changes in the next blog. These comments were made in response to the standard quarterly written primarily by my friend Ranko Stefanovic.


Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 6:17.

Study Focus: Chapter seven answers the question of 6:17, who will be able to stand at the second coming of Jesus?

Introduction: Chapter seven offers a two-part answer to the question of 6:17. The 144,000 sealed ones and the Great Multitude in white robes both represent the end-time people of God.

Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage introduce the following themes:

1. The Meaning of Seals and Sealing. Documents are sealed to conceal or validate their contents. People are sealed as a sign of ownership or for protection.
2. Eph. 4:30 and the Cosmic Conflict. In context, the grieving of the Spirit is a localized version of the cosmic conflict.
3. Is the number 144,000 Literal or Symbolic? The lesson reads the number symbolically, this is supported in Theme 3 below.
4. Are the 144,000 and Great Multitude Two Different Groups or Two Ways of Describing the Same End-Time People of God? The lesson is ambiguous regarding the answer to this question. See further discussion of this issue in the Commentary section below.
5. Rom. 3:19-23 and the Meaning of “Without Fault” (Rev. 14:5). The lesson references Rom. 3 to argue against an absolute perfection interpretation of “without fault.” This is further elaborated below.

Life Application. Participants are invited to reflect on God’s restraining of evil in today’s world, and the meaning of both the military imagery in Rev. 7:1-8 and the new song that only the 144,000 can sing (Rev. 14:3).

Part II. Commentary

Chapter seven is inserted parenthetically between the sixth (Rev. 6:12-17) and seventh (8:1) seals. Chapter six closes with the opponents of God calling on the rocks and mountains to hide them from the face of God and the wrath of the Lamb (6:15-16). They then close with the poignant statement, “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Rev. 6:17, NRSV. That question is answered in chapter seven with the appearance of two groups, the 144,000 (Rev. 7:4-8) and the Great Multitude (7:9-14). In order to survive the calamities that accompany the Second Coming, it is necessary to be sealed (7:1-3), saved by God (7:10) and have robes washed in the blood of the Lamb (7:14). The end result is a people who are continually before the throne of God, serving Him in His temple (7:15). The purpose of Rev. 7 within its larger context is to identify what God’s people will be like just before the Second Coming.

Main Themes of Lesson 6 Elaborated:
1. The Meaning of Seals and Sealing. In the ancient world, sealing a book had two main purposes. One sealed a book to conceal its contents from view (Isa. 29:11; Rev. 10:4) or to validate the contents as being authentic or official (1 Kgs. 21:8; Esth. 8:8; Jer. 32:44). Concealment seems to be the basic purpose of sealing the book in Rev. 5. The book was already validated by being in God’s possession. Breaking the seals and opening the book would bring its contents into view.
A more symbolic use of the word sealing had to do with people. Sealing a person could be a sign of ownership (Exod. 21:2-6; Eph. 1:13; 4:30; 2 Tim. 2:19; Rev. 14:1) or a sign of protection (Ezek. 9:4-6). In early Judaism sealing was associated with circumcision. In Second-Century Christianity, sealing was associated with baptism. So the sealing of people by God would be a sign that they belong to God (2 Tim. 2:19; Rev. 9:4), and that God knows the ones who belong to Him. In a spiritual sense, sealing validates where a person stands with God.
But the sealing of Revelation 7 is different. Here the “servants of God” (Rev. 7:3– already sealed in the first sense) are sealed as a protection against the calamities that accompany the End-Time (Rev. 6:15 – 7:3). See first point under Life Application below.

2. Eph. 4:30 and the Cosmic Conflict. In light of the above, it may surprise some that the lesson refers to Eph. 4:30 in the context of this end-time sealing for protection. The context of 4:30 is a list of moral behaviors that grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:25 – 5:2). But there is an apocalyptic element to this list of behaviors. Believers are to give “no opportunity to the devil” (4:27, RSV, ESV). Instead, they are to be imitators of God (5:1). So grieving the Spirit is in the context of the cosmic conflict between God and Satan. The believer is to imitate the character of God (truth, honesty, graceful and encouraging speech, kindness, tender-heartedness, forgiveness, love, self-sacrifice) rather than the character of Satan (lying, anger, stealing, abusive speech, bitterness, hard-heartedness, slander, hatred). As is the case in the Book of Revelation, the little battles of daily character work are tied to the much bigger conflict in the universe.

3. Is the number 144,000 Literal or Symbolic? A symbolic reading of the number is to be preferred. 1) The list of twelve tribes is not found in this form anywhere else, it is not a literal list. Judah is listed first, instead of Reuben. Joseph (father of Ephraim and Manasseh) replaces Manasseh. The tribe of Dan is missing from the list and Levi is included (compare Num. 1:5-15; 13:4-15). They are also not listed in birth order (Gen. 49:3-28).
2) Rev. 1:1 tells us the whole book of Revelation was “signified” (KJV, Greek: esêmanen, often translated “made known”), symbolic language referring to the future. So in Rev. the best way to approach the text is to treat everything as a symbol, unless it is obvious that a literal meaning is intended.
3) Reading the tribes as literal descendants of Jacob flies in the face of the fact that at least ten of those tribes are essentially lost to history. Some Jews can still trace their lineage back to Judah, Benjamin or Levi, but not the rest.

4. Are the 144,000 and Great Multitude Two Different Groups or Two Ways of Describing the Same End-Time People of God? A surface reading suggests that the two groups are different. The 144,000 is a specific number of Jews (7:4-8) while the Great Multitude is an innumerable collection of Gentiles (7:9). The 144,000 is called “first fruits” in 14:4, implying there is another group like them. But closer reading militates against those initial impressions.
First, the terms used for God’s end-time people are often interchangeable in Rev. Two examples. 1) God’s people are called “remnant” in 12:17, then 144,000 in 14:1. But 14:1 alludes to Joel 2:32, where the same group is called “remnant.” The two groups are the same. 2) The 144,000 are then called “saints” in 14:12. So remnant, 144,000 and the saints are different ways of describing the same end-time group.
Second, John never sees the 144,000. He hears the number (7:4), but when he looks he sees a group that no one can number (7:9). This is a literary pattern in Rev. John hears one thing (Lion) then sees its opposite (Lamb), but the two are different ways of describing one reality (Rev. 5:5-6, see also Rev. 1:10-12; 17:1, 3).
Third, in Rev. 14 there are two harvests, the wheat and the grapes. The wheat, representing the righteous are the first fruits of that harvest. The 144,000 in Rev. 14 represents the entirety of God’s end-time people.

5. Rom. 3:19-23 and the Meaning of “Without Fault” (Rev. 14:5). The Rom. 3 text makes it clear that nothing a human being can do earns justification before God (3:20). All have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God (3:23). The present tense of “fall short” (Greek: husterountai) means that all our best efforts, now and continually, still fall short of God’s absolute standards. So “without fault” does not mean absolute perfection, it means absolute loyalty, the kind where one would rather die than choose to sin. The 144,000 trust Jesus to keep their robes clean (7:14) and are uncompromising in their loyalty to the one who redeemed them (14:4-5).

Part III: Life Application

1. Reflecting on Rev. 7:1-3, do you think we are living in a time when God is restraining evil forces or a time when they are being let loose? If God is the one restraining, who is the one doing all the damage? When God does act in judgment, why does He do so? Some possible answers:
In many ways today’s turbulent times feel as if everything is falling apart. On the other hand, compared to the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II, the casualties of terrorism are fairly minor in scope and most neighborhoods are reasonably safe. So one could argue we still live in a time of restraint.
The finger of blame for the evils in the world falls clearly on Satan in the book of Revelation (Rev. 9:11; 12:12). He is the destroyer, not God.
When God acts in judgment, the purpose is not to hurt and destroy. God judges either to discipline His people (as in Rev. 3:20) or to protect them from harm by evil forces (Rev. 7:1-3; 20:7-10). Satan is relentless in his pursuit of destruction. If it were not for the restraining influence of His Spirit, things would be far worse than they are now.

2. Why is there so much military imagery in the Bible? Military imagery is familiar to people today as well, as the news, action movies and spy thrillers keep war activity in the center of people’s consciousness. God meets people where they are, using familiar language to illustrate spiritual truths. In Revelation, careful observation tells us that the most important battles are often a “war of words.” The war in heaven is between Christ and the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev 12:10-11). The battle of Armageddon is won by those practicing spiritual watchfulness (Rev. 16:14-16).

3. What is the meaning of the “new song” in Rev. 14:3? Why can no one sing that song except the 144,000? The 144,000 have a unique experience, passing through the character-shaping events of the end-time (Rev. 7:1-3; 14:1-5). The tribulations of the end-time will develop in them a unique appreciation for Christ that would not have happened otherwise. God does not will the troubles of the end-time, but He uses them to enhance the Christ-likeness of His followers. The end-time believers will then be able to play a unique role in eternity (Rev. 7:14-15—see theme 4 in the Commentary above).

Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes in the Main Lesson for This Week (Rev 6)

Some editorial changes in Lesson #5 made the text looks better. The changes were not numerous.

Some devotional questions were changed.

In the Sunday lesson, the change is made from “This whole scene is symbolic” to “Although symbolic, Revelation 6:1,2 is about conquest too.” This implies that there is a literal conquest in view in the vision. I do not believe that this is what the editor wished to say.

In the Tuesday lesson, the second paragraph is unnecessarily taken out: “The fourth seal calls forth pestilence and death. The graphic portrayal of the scene conveys the perennial truth that spiritual famine of the Word of God as a result of rejecting the gospel inevitably leads to spiritual death.” So also, “Beside their general application, the scenes of the seven seals also apply historically.”

In the Wednesday lesson, two sentences are added to the first paragraph, which clarify the point. Not bad.

Here’s my original manuscript before the editorial changes.


Lesson 5 * January 26-February 1

The Seven Seals

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 6.
Memory Verse: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us unto kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10, NKJV).
Revelation 6 continues the scene of chapters 4-5 describing Christ who, by taking the sealed scroll and sitting on the heavenly throne, regained what was lost through Adam. The destiny of all humanity was put into His hands. He is now ready to open the seals on the scroll and carry out the plan of salvation to its ultimate realization.
Pentecost marked the beginning of the spread of the gospel, by which Christ expands His kingdom by winning human hearts to himself. However, He has to rule in the midst of His enemies (1 Cor. 15:25). There are still many who do not accept his authority. Yet, He wants to bring them under his rule, for He does want anyone to perish but all to come to salvation.
Thus, the breaking of the seals refers to the preaching of the gospel, which started at Pentecost, and the consequences of rejecting it. The opening of the seventh and last seal brings us to the conclusion of this world’s history.
Revelation 3:21 gives us the key to the meaning of the of the seven seals: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne (NKJV).” Chapters 4-5 tell us of Christ’s overcoming and His exaltation to His Father’s throne, and chapter 7 of the overcomers before Christ’s throne. Thus, chapter 6 is about God’s people in the process of overcoming so that they might share Jesus’ throne.

*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 3.
Sunday January 27
The Opening of the First Seal
Read Revelation 6:1-8 along with Leviticus 26:21-26 and Matthew 24:1-14. Note the common key words in these texts? What do you learn about the meaning of the first four seals on the basis of these parallels?
The events of the seven seals must be understood in the context of the Old Testament covenant curses specified in terms of sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts (Lev. 26:21-26). Ezekiel calls them God’s “four severe judgements” (Ezek. 14:21). They were the disciplinary judgments by which God chastised His people when they became unfaithful to the covenant in order to awaken them from their condition. In a similar way, the four horsemen are the means God uses to keep His people awake as they await Jesus’ return.
There are also close parallels between the first four seals and Matthew 24:4-14 where Jesus explained what would happen in the world throughout history up until His return. The four horsemen are the means by which God keeps His people on the right track by reminding them that this world is not their home and of the reality of Christ’s return.
Read Revelation 6:1-2. The scene points to a conquest situation. On the basis of the color of the horse and the description of the horseman, what does this scene point to?
This whole scene is symbolic. It brings to mind Revelation 19:11-16, which portrays Christ as riding a white horse and leading the heavenly armies into the final battle of earth’s history. As a symbol of purity, the white color is regularly associated with Christ and His followers. The rider on the horse holds a bow and is given a crown, which evokes the image of God in the Old Testament riding a horse with a bow in His hand conquering His people’s enemies (Hab. 3:8-13; Ps. 45:4-5). The Greek word for the crown worn by the rider is stephanos, which is the crown of victory (Rev. 2:10; 3:11). This rider is a conqueror going forward conquering and to conquer.
The scene of the first seal describes the spreading of the gospel, which started powerfully at Pentecost, by which Christ began expanding His kingdom. There were many territories to conquer and many people to win. This conquest of the gospel will continue all until the ultimate conquest is realized with Christ’s coming in glory.
Prophetically, the scene of the first seal corresponds to the message to the church in Ephesus; it describes the apostolic period during which the gospel spread rapidly throughout the world (Col. 1:23).

Monday January 28
The Second and Third Seals
Read Revelation 6:3-4. On the basis of the description of the red horse and the rider, to what reality associated with the preaching of the gospel does it refer?
Red is the color of blood and corresponds to the mission of this horse. The rider has a great sword and is allowed to take peace from the earth, so that people may kill one another.
The second seal describes the consequences of the rejection of the gospel. As Christ is waging spiritual warfare through the preaching of the gospel, the forces of evil render strong resistance. Inevitably, persecution follows. The rider does not do the killing. Instead, he takes peace from the earth and inevitably, as a result, persecution follows. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth,” Jesus said. “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34, NKJV).
Read Revelation 6:5-6 along with Lev. 26:26 and Ezek. 4:16. On the basis of the description of the black horse and the rider, what reality associated with the preaching of the gospel is referred to?
The rider on the black horse holds a scale for weighing food. An announcement is made: “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius (Rev. 6:6, NKJV).” In Palestine, grain, oil and wine were the basic necessities of life (Deut. 11:14). To eat bread by carefully weighing the grain denoted great scarcity or famine (Lev. 26:26; Ezek. 4:16). In John’s day, a denarius was a daily wage (Mat. 20:2). In normal circumstances, a daily wage would buy all the necessities for the family. However, a famine would enormously inflate the normal price. In the scene of the third seal, it would take a whole day’s work to buy just enough food for only one person. In order to feed a small family, a day’s wage would be used to buy three quarts of barley, a cheaper, coarser food for the poor.
The scene of the third seal points to the further consequences of rejecting the gospel. If the white horse represents the preaching of the gospel, the black horse denotes the absence of the gospel. Grain in the Bible symbolizes the word of God (Luke 8:11). The rejection of the gospel inevitably results in a famine of the word of God similar to the one prophesied by Amos (8:11-13).
What lessons does the scene of the third seal speak to you? Does merely possessing the Bible mean that a person is safe from the spiritual famine?

Tuesday January 29
The Scene of the Fourth Seal
Read Revelation 6:3-4. What scene is here portrayed? How is this scene related to the previous one?
The color of the horse in the fourth seal is expressed with the Greek word chloros, which is the ashen-grey color of a decomposing corpse. The rider’s name is Death and Hades, the place of the dead, accompanies him. These two are allowed to destroy people by sword, hunger, death, and wild beasts over one-fourth of the earth.
The fourth seal calls forth pestilence and death. The graphic portrayal of the scene conveys the perennial truth that spiritual famine of the Word of God as a result of rejecting the gospel inevitably leads to spiritual death.
The good news is that the power of Death and Hades is very limited; they are given authority only over a part (one-fourth) of the earth. Jesus assures us that he has the keys of Death and Hades (see Rev. 1:18). Death does not have power over those who accept the gospel.
Review once again the contents of the messages to the churches in Ephesus, Sardis, Pergamum, and Thyatira in Revelation 2. Compare the situation in those churches with the scenes of the opening of the first four seals. What parallels do you observe between them?
Beside their general application, the scenes of the seven seals also apply historically. As was the case with the seven churches, the seals also correlate to the different periods in Christian history. During the apostolic times, the gospel rapidly spread throughout the world. This was followed by the period of persecution in the Roman Empire from the end of the first to the beginning of the fourth century, as portrayed in the scene of the second seal. The third seal points to the period of compromise of the fourth and fifth centuries, which were characterized by a spiritual famine of the Bible, which led to the Dark Ages or the medieval period. The fourth seal aptly describes the spiritual death that characterized Christianity during the dark, Middle Ages when the Bible was unavailable to people and tradition replaced and overruled the teaching of the Bible.
Go overs again Revelation 6:6, which states that “the oil and the wine” will not be affected by the famine of the third seal’s plague. Oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit, and wine salvation in Jesus Christ. Even when the word of God is scarce, the Holy Spirit is still at work and salvation is still available to all who want it. What lesson does this speak to you?

Wednesday January 30
The Opening of the Fifth Seal
Read Revelation 6:9-10. What two groups of people are in view in this scene? Why do the souls underneath the altar cry out to God? Why are they martyred? Who are those referred to as “those who dwell on the earth” (e.g., 8:13; 13:8; 17:2)?
The word “soul” in the Bible denotes the whole person (Gen. 2:7). The death of God’s faithful and persecuted people is here portrayed in terms of the sacrificial blood poured out at the base of the altar of sacrifice of the earthly sanctuary (Exod. 29:12; Lev. 4:7). Here are God’s people suffering injustice for their faithfulness to the gospel. They are crying to God asking Him to step in and vindicate them.
Read Revelation 6:11 along with Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 79:10. What was heaven’s response to the prayers of God’s martyred people? How long were they told to wait until God vindicates them?
The martyred saints were given white robes representing Christ’s righteousness as Christ’s free gift to those who accept His offer of grace (Rev. 3:5; 19:8). Then, they were told that they would have to rest until their brothers who would go through a similar experience are made complete. It is important to notice that the Greek text does not have the word “number.” Revelation does not talk of a number of the martyred saints to be reached before Christ’s return, but of the completeness regarding their character. God’s people are made complete by the robe of Christ’s righteousness, not their own merit (Rev. 7:10). The martyred saints will not be resurrected and vindicated until the second coming of Christ and the beginning of the millennium (Rev. 20:4).
Although the scene of the fifth seal applied historically to the period of the Middle Ages during which millions were martyred because of their faithfulness to the teaching of the Bible, it also denotes the experience of God’s suffering people throughout history, from the time of Abel (Gen. 4:10) until the time when God will finally avenge “the blood of His servants” (Rev. 19:2). The day is coming when Christ will come in judgment against the enemies of His people and bring “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:9, NKJV).
“How long, O Lord?” has been the cry of God’s suffering people throughout history. Have you ever struggled with an apparent lack of God’s intervention as you suffered injustice in your life? What comfort do you find in the scene of the fifth seal?

Thursday January 31
The Opening of the Sixth Seal
In the fifth seal, we saw God’s people suffering injustice in a hostile world, crying for God’s intervention on their behalf. The time has come for God to intervene in answer to the prayers of His people.
Read Revelation 6:12-14 along with Matthew 24:29-30 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10.
The cosmic signs of the sixth seal are those foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:29-30 that were to occur at the conclusion of the tribulation of the Middle Ages as the harbingers of the Second Coming. The sun, the moon, the stars, and the sky are literal here. The use of the words “as” or “like” points to a symbolic analogy to an actual thing or event—the sun became black as sackcloth, and the moon became like blood, the stars fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its late figs, and the sky receded as a scroll. The Christians in the western world recognized in the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, the dark day of May 19, 1780 experienced in eastern New York and southern New England, and the spectacular meteor shower over the Atlantic Ocean on November 13, 1833 the fulfillment of the prophecy with reference to Christ’s coming. This in turn led to a series of revivals known as the Second Great Awakening.
Read Revelation 6:15-17 along with 19:11-21. Also read Isaiah 2:19; Hosea 10:8; Luke 23:30.
The scene portrays people of all walks of life in a panic trying to hide from the terror of the upheaval at the coming of Christ. They are asking rocks and mountains to cover them in order to protect them from the “face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (NKJV).” The time has arrived for justice to be dispersed as Christ comes “to be glorified in His saints” (2 Thess. 1:10). Their end is described in Revelation 19:17-21.
The scene concludes with the rhetorical question by the terror-stricken wicked: “The great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (NKJV)” (see also Nah. 1:6; Mal. 3:2). The answer to that question is given in Revelation 7; those who will be able to stand in that day are the sealed people of God.
Reflect on the scene of the opening of the sixth seal. Do you feel that you would be able to stand before God on the day of His wrath? If you knew that Jesus would come in a matter of days, what changes would you make in your life?

Friday February 1
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “The World’s Need,” pp. 457-460, in Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers.
The vision of the opening of the seven seals points symbolically to God’s care for His people on earth. As Kenneth A. Strand pointed out:
“In Scripture there is assurance that God has always cared for His people: that in history itself He is ever present to sustain them, and that in the great eschatological denouement He will give the full vindication and an incomprehensibly generous reward in life everlasting. The Book of Revelation picks up and expands beautifully this same theme, and thus Revelation is not by any means some sort of offbeat apocalypse that is out of tune with biblical literature in general; it conveys the very heart and substance of the biblical message. Indeed, as Revelation emphatically points out, the ‘Living One’—the One who conquered death and the grave (1:18)—will never forsake His faithful followers and that even when they suffer martyrdom they are victorious (12:11), with the ‘crown of life’ awaiting them (see 2:10; 21:1-4; and 22:4)”—Kenneth A. Strand, “The Seven Heads: Do They Represent Roman Emperors?” in Symposium on Revelation—Book 2, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series 7 (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 1992), 206.
Discussion Questions:
After studying this week’s lesson, what valuable lessons have you learned from the scene of the opening of the seven seals? How has it provided you with the assurance that God is in charge of the events in the world? Does this fill you with the assurance that you can trust him when you face trials in your life? How does it impact your attitude toward the surrounding world? What changes have you decided to make?
Reflect on the following statement: “The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world.” Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 9. Think of your local church. Is it faithful in spreading the gospel in order to reach people with the gospel message? If it is not, what can be done to reach the surrounding world?