The Return of Jesus in the Prologue (Prologue 1:7)

The picture of Jesus’ return in Rev. 1:7 is based on allusions to Daniel 7 and Zechariah 12. The “he” of 1:7 clearly refers to Jesus, as He has been the subject of the previous two verses. “Coming with the clouds” recalls the son of man who comes with clouds to the Ancient of Days and receives dominion over the kingdoms of the earth (Dan. 7:13-14). In Revelation Jesus’ right to rule over the earth is recognized in heaven at His ascension (Rev. 5) and on earth at the Second Coming (Rev. 1:7).

The allusion to Zechariah is particularly interesting. In Zechariah 12:7-8 it is Yahweh who comes (Zech 12:7-8), in Rev. it is Jesus who comes. In Zech. 12:10, it is Yahweh who is pierced, in Revelation it is Jesus who is pierced. In Zechariah it is the inhabitants of Jerusalem who see God come (Zech. 12:8-10), in Revelation it is whole earth that sees Jesus come. In Zech. 12:11-12 it is the clans of Jerusalem that mourn, in Rev. it is the tribes of the whole earth that mourn.

In Revelation’s use of the Old Testament, therefore, there is a shift in emphasis from Yahweh to Jesus. There is a similar shift from the literal and local things of Israel to the worldwide impact of the gospel and the church.

The Threeness of God in the Prologue (Prologue 1:6)

Rev. 1:4-6 opens the book with what I call a “triple trinity.” First of all, there is a “trinity” of persons; the Father (the one who is, was, and is to come; perhaps a fourth trinity in the larger scheme of the passage), the Holy Spirit (represented by the seven spirits), and Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is mentioned last because He is the subject of the next two “trinities.”

Next comes a trinity of historical realities that qualify Jesus for the role He plays in Revelation. He is the one who died (He is the faithful witness/martyr—Greek: martus), rose (the “firstborn of the dead”), and has already joined the Father on His throne (“ruler of the kings of the earth”). The death and resurrection of Jesus provide the foundation of His heavenly reign.

The final “trinity” is a trinity of actions. Jesus loves us (Greek present tense), has freed or washed (two different Greek words sound the same, but are one letter different) us from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom and priests to God. These actions are all directed toward His people. The ultimate outcome of Jesus’ love, as expressed in His death and resurrection, is to raise His people to the highest possible status; kings and priests.

This “triple trinity” underlines the central theme of the book of Revelation. It is the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” He is THE ONE who died, rose, and now rules the heavens and the earth. These together are the decisive events that change everything in the cosmic conflict. The last trinity summarizes the things that Jesus does particularly for the human race.

The Book of Revelation Concerns Future Events (Prologue 1:5)

Rev. 1:1 tells us that a major purpose of the book is to “show His servants what must happen soon.” These are events in the future, from John’s perspective. But what does the text mean by soon? Surely the 2,000 years that have passed since this was written do not fit with soon! So the word “soon” must clearly be from God’s perspective in which a day is like 1,000 years (2 Peter 3:8).

But from our perspective the return of Jesus has always been soon. In the Adventist perspective, the dead do not know anything, nor do they experience the passing of time. So for those who die, the next thing they experience is the Second Coming. In other words, we don’t know when Jesus will actually come, but we do know that in our experience He will come an instant after we die. So the opportunity for us to get ready for His coming is now rather than sometime in the future. If Jesus’ coming were not portrayed as soon, many people would delay getting ready for His return. So even in John’s day, the second coming of Jesus is portrayed as soon.

This is such a challenging concept that I will repeat myself at the risk of redundancy, just to make the point. The purpose of prophecy is not to satisfy our curiosity about the future, it is to teach us how to live today. The purpose of prophecy is to motivate readers to the decisions and actions that are needed to accomplish both their salvation and God’s larger purposes (the Great Controversy). The book of Revelation portrays the End as soon, not because it will be soon from a human perspective, but because it must always be soon in the experience of each generation or the prophecies will not have the impact they need to have in our lives.

Jesus is the Central Figure of Revelation (Prologue 1:4)

The book opens with a chain of revelation that centers in Jesus (Rev 1:1-3). He is the first person mentioned in the book, and the One who passes the revelation on to John (Rev. 1:1). The chain of revelation moves from “God” to Jesus and from Jesus to John through an angel and from John to the readers and hearers of his book (1:1-3). What God gave to Jesus is called “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). What Jesus passed on to John is called “the testimony of Jesus” (1:2), “the things that he saw” (Greek: hosa eiden). What John passed on to his readers was “the words of this prophecy” (1:3), what John wrote.

This chain of revelation is important for Seventh-day Adventists. It indicates clearly that the “testimony of Jesus” here is not the book of Revelation itself, which is what John wrote (1:3), it is the visionary gift that John saw (1:2). The remnant of Rev. 12:17 will later also have the “testimony of Jesus,” a visionary gift similar to the one John had.

So the Prologue points to Jesus as the central figure of Rev. The book is a revelation from Jesus and about Jesus (1:1). Jesus is qualified for His special role by his death, resurrection and heavenly reign (1:5a). Through these He loves us, has freed us from our sins by His blood (1:5b), and made us a kingdom and priests (1:6a). In the End, He will also come with the clouds (1:7).

Why Adventists Prefer the “Historicist Method” (Prologue 1:3)

In this blog series on the big picture of the Book of Revelation, I am indebted to the SDA concept of inspiration, the historicist method of prophetic interpretation, the unique organizational structure of Revelation, and a Christ-centered approach to interpretation.

The historicist method, in my view, is supported by the broad structure of Revelation itself. The book begins with the seven churches (Rev. 1:9 – 3:22), which primarily concern the situation of John’s day. The seals and the trumpets, on the other hand, each cover from the time of John to the End (4:1 – 11:18). The last half of the book (11:19 – 22:5), on the other hand, focuses almost exclusively on the last days of earth’s history and beyond.

This method is also supported by the allusion to Daniel 2 in the very first verse of the book. Let’s take a closer look at that verse.

Generally, the best way to approach Scripture is to take everything at face value, unless it is clear that a symbol is intended. In Rev. the opposite approach is indicated in the first verse. There it tells us that the entire vision was “signified” (Rev. 1:1, KJV, Greek: esêmanen) by either God or Jesus. So in Rev. the best way to approach the text is to treat everything as a symbol, unless it is clear that a literal meaning is intended (for example, “Jesus Christ” in Rev. 1:1 should be taken literally).

This insight takes even clearer shape when the reader discovers an allusion to Daniel 2 in the first verse of the book. The only other place in the Bible that combines “signified” with the unusual expression “what must take place” (Rev. 1:1, RSV, NIV, Greek: a dei genesthai) is Daniel 2 (LXX: combine verses 28 and 45). Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image was the place where God “signified” (2:45) to him “what must take place” (2:28) in the last days. What was to be “in the last days” in Daniel is now “soon” in Revelation.

At the very opening of the book of Revelation, therefore, one finds a powerful allusion to Daniel 2. This allusion ties the two books together, like companion volumes. While Revelation alludes to many of the prophets, there is a special bond between it and the book of Daniel. So we should expect at least some of the symbolism of the Rev. to point to sequences of history in John’s future. Apocalyptic sequences run from the prophet’s time until the End. Not all of Daniel is historical apocalyptic, but much of it is, and that is the case also with Revelation.

The Main Themes of Revelation’s Prologue (Prologue 1:2)

The Prologue to the Book of Revelation (Rev 1:1-8) introduces the following themes:

1. Jesus is the Central Figure of Revelation. This is made clear by the title of the book (Rev. 1:1), the qualities and actions of Jesus Christ (1:5-6) and His central role at the Second Coming (1:7).

2. The Book Concerns Future Events. These are not just end-time events, most were already future in John’s day (Rev 1:1).

3. The Vision Is Given in Symbolic Language. This is clear from one of the key words in Rev. 1:1 and that verse’s allusion to Daniel 2.

4. The Threeness of God. There is a “triple trinity” of persons, qualities and actions in Rev. 1:4-6.

5. The Return of Jesus. Rev. 1:7-8 addresses this.

I will have more to say about each of these themes in the blogs that follow.

The Prologue (1:1-8) of the Book of Revelation (1:1)

This is the first in a series of blogs on the big picture of the book of Revelation. On Facebook and Twitter I have been working the details of the book of Revelation piece by piece over many years. In the process of looking at the details, the big picture can easily be lost. So halfway through the larger project (chapters 1-5 and 10-14 are complete), I thought it would be helpful to go through the entire book in a series of blogs that would bring out the big picture view of each section. The first few blogs will focus on the Prologue to the book of Revelation, Rev. 1:1-8.

The Prologue to Rev. (Rev. 1:1-8) introduces the main themes of the book in relatively plain language. These verses contain no scary beasts, no heavenly journeys and no seven-fold sequences. Instead, they describe how the book got here (1:1-3), who sent it (1:4-6), and how everything will turn out in the end (1:7-8). The Prologue expresses the centrality of Jesus Christ to the whole book and prepares the reader for what is to come in straightforward language.

New Work on Revelation (The Big Picture)

I have completed blogging ten of the twenty chapters in the new book Conversations About God. Since I am not entirely done with editing that book, I am pausing the publication of those chapters in order to share some of my new work on the Book of Revelation. In the Facebook commentary I am publishing a paragraph a day toward a complete commentary. I started five or six years ago and have completed chapters 10-14 and 1-5. I plan to continue posting those daily, working through the four horses of chapter six right now. But that is the detailed picture. What often goes missing in that work is the big picture. I plan to blog the big picture for the next several months, chapter by chapter and section by section, building toward a complete theology of Revelation. Stay tuned.

Questions and Answers (10:4)

Lou: Here is a somewhat unrelated question. “The Larger View,” this person writes, “seems very intricate, very subtle and needing of a lot of study. Does this imply that a simpler view is still necessary for the masses of people who do not have the time or the knowledge to understand the Larger View?” And here’s a related question, “What is the truth about God? I hear it must be simple, and yet it seems almost too complicated to encompass. Please help me understand.”
How would you respond to these?
Graham: Ah, those are very fair questions. I think that the number one characteristic of the Larger View is its simplicity. Nevertheless, it might require a good deal of study to figure out. But when you apply the very best scholarship available to you, and you do a thorough job on the sixty-six books, you come up with this view about our God. All He asks of us is trust; not trust in a stranger, or trust in mere claims, but on the basis of demonstration. I don’t think anything could be simpler than that.
But I see validity to the question. Paul on Mars Hill delivered a magnificent address (Acts 17:22-31). He quoted the philosophers. He quoted the poets. He used long words. In fact, he used the longest word in the Greek New Testament. To the Athenians he said, “Oh, you are deisidaimonesteros (very religious)” (Acts 17:22). He even won a few of them that way (Acts 17:34). But in 1 Corinthians he says, “I’ll never preach like that again, magnificent as it was. This one thing I’ll do from here on: I will preach the message about Christ and Him crucified” (based on 1 Cor 2:1-2). So Paul, with all his scholarship, eventually focused in on the all-important thing. But when he preached Christ and Him crucified, he was preaching the Larger View about the One who died for angels as well as men. So the focus on the cross led him to the Larger View. I believe the thief on the cross knew enough to be saved, but I wouldn’t want to settle for that. So I’m going to keep on investigating, but if my discourses become more complicated, I’m moving in the wrong direction. So I like the implication here. It ought to be clear. It ought to be simple. But there are no shortcuts to that kind of clarity and simplicity.

Lou: Here’s a question that really touched my heart. This person wrote, “How are we, who have been raised as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, and have been taught to fear God and His judgments, to change to a love relationship? I am afraid of God! How do I dispel this fear?”
Graham: The One who would love to hear that question the most would be God Himself. If you came face to face with God and said, “God, I hesitate to tell You this, but I’m scared,” I wonder what He would do. Would He say, “I appreciate that?” Or would He say, “I think maybe I’d better not talk to you any longer, you’re so scared. I’ll send for My Son.”
In practical terms, the solution is to become convinced from Scripture that the One who came down to earth is fully God. We’re not afraid of Jesus. Yet the One who was with us is no less than God! And that’s what the Sabbath reminds us of, that same gentle Jesus is the Almighty Creator. When we know Him, perhaps, we could truly accept the “testimony of Jesus.” The ultimate testimony of Jesus is, “Do you want to know what My Father is like? If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9). We find it hard to believe that. It takes a little time. For one thing, it seems incredible on the face of it. And second, the enemy is opposed to our knowing this, so he will throw up every roadblock he can to keep us from believing this incredible truth.

Lou: In the next chapter we’re going to talk about “God’s Emergency Measures.” Those are the actions of God in the Bible that have raised a lot of questions.
Graham: Yes, because these measures can be misunderstood as supporting Satan’s charges. But when I think about God’s use of emergency measures, I think it speaks very well of Him. He took a number of risks when He chose to run things the way that He has done. We’ll get into all that in the next chapter.

Questions and Answers (10:3)

Lou: When we talk about the seventh day, we’re talking about thousands of years, and the question has been asked, “How do you know what day is the seventh day? Could we be mistaken?”
Graham: One thing is for sure, nothing has meant more to a devout Jew than the seventh-day Sabbath. Jews can certainly look back to when the manna fell, double on Friday and none on Saturday. When that happened, everyone knew that was the seventh day—by God’s direction. And no devout Jew has lost track of the weekly Sabbath since that time. I would say that’s not debatable. We definitely know.
Lou: Jesus didn’t seem confused about it when He was here, either, and even the idea of Sunday as a day of resurrection would confirm the consistency of the weekly cycle.
Now the Sabbath command says, “Thou shalt not do any work, thou nor thy manservant. . .” and so forth (Exod 20:10). Is the Sabbath a day to just sit in a rocking chair in total idleness? What is the meaning of the phrase “Thou shalt not do any work?”
Graham: I’m curious that God would say, “In it thou shalt not do any work,” yet not tell us what work is. I take that as a compliment. God says, “The day is yours. I have suggested its many meanings. Just to sit there under duress and do nothing all day is not keeping the Sabbath. It’s supposed to be a delight.” And so God leaves it up to us to decide what work is. But many devout people through the years have consulted their theologians to determine what work is. In fact, I have a very large volume which describes Sabbath work. This book, called the Mishnah, says, “There are forty kinds of work save one.”
There are thirty-nine kinds of work, in other words, and each of the thirty-nine is broken down into many sub-categories. How far may you walk on the Sabbath? May you carry a pencil on the Sabbath? How many letters can you write on the Sabbath? I don’t mean epistles, I mean letters of the alphabet, all spelled out. The beauty of that system is, you always know whether you’re keeping the Sabbath or not. On the other hand, those rules also leave you fearful that you may have broken the Sabbath. That is why Jesus said, “You have placed burdens on people that are too heavy to bear.” The God of the Sabbath intended it for us to remember Him. But just how to do that is left up to us, and I like that.

Lou: A “Dear Abby” column once responded to a girl who wrote in saying she was going to marry a Seventh-day Adventist, and she wondered what that might mean. Abby suggested that she ought to talk to the man’s pastor and find out. But then another person wrote in and said, “I know about Seventh-day Adventists. If you marry a Seventh-day Adventist, there a whole lot of things you won’t be able to do.” Among these, the person suggested that the girl and her husband would never have any kind of marital relationship on the Sabbath. Some think Isaiah 58 says you shouldn’t do anything that’s your own pleasure on the Sabbath. Is God wanting us to be unhappy on the Sabbath?
Graham: When I heard about that column, I did a little research on the meaning of Isaiah 58:13. It really reads, “If you restrain your foot on the Sabbath from doing your business on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath delightful and Yahweh’s holy day honorable, if you honor it by refraining from business, from pursuing gain and from excessive talk then you will delight in Yahweh, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth” (The Anchor Bible).
Many other versions agree that the word “pleasure” is better translated “business.” You are invited on the Sabbath to enjoy yourself all you like, but don’t do your own business on that day. You don’t pursue your own interests on that day. It even says, “Value My holy day and honor it by not traveling, working or talking idly on that day.” Or as The Jerusalem Bible puts it, “Abstaining from travel, from doing business and from gossip.” But the main point there is, “Call the Sabbath a delight.” We’re supposed to enjoy the day, rather than pursue our own business or our own worldly gain on that day.
Lou: How can you command someone to “call the Sabbath a delight?”
Graham: Now we know from experience you can’t do that. When your girls were growing up, did you ever say to one of them, “Now look, don’t make any more faces. I want you to eat your spinach?”
“Yes, Daddy.”
“Yes, but I want you to enjoy it.”
“Yes, Daddy.”
“I want you to tell me how delicious it is.”
“Daddy, I’d be fibbing if I did, and I’d be breaking one of the commandments.”
There’s no way you can order somebody to enjoy something. But consider the things that God desires the most: Love? You can’t command it. Trust? You can’t command it. The enjoyment of the Sabbath? You can’t command it. It’s an invitation. We either do it or we don’t, and if we really observe the day, we do it in the highest sense of freedom and it is truly a delight.