Ellen White articulated a high spiritual purpose for the book of Revelation. 1) The book was designed to keep the human agent out of sight and to exalt God and His law (TM 112:2). When readers view the glory of God portrayed there human pride is laid in the dust. 2) The close connection between heaven and earth in the visions was designed to teach that the connection between God and His people is “close and decided” (TM 114:5; AA 586:1). 3) Rightly understood, Revelation enables presenters to “uplift Jesus as the center of all hope” (TM 118:1). Revelation was not designed to satisfy curiosity about the future but to fix human eyes on Jesus and encourage a closer walk with God.
Ellen White’s view of Revelation’s authorship and time of writing was in harmony with the traditions of the Early Church Fathers as well as the conservative consensus around the turn of the Twentieth Century. She taught that the author of Revelation was the last survivor of the disciples, presumably John the son of Zebedee (AA 569:1). The Apocalypse was written in the time of Emperor Domitian, who summoned John to Rome to be tried for his faith, had him cast into a cauldron of boiling oil, and then banished him to the Isle of Patmos, a place of banishment for criminals (AA 569:4-570:4).
Where her statements are clear, Ellen White seems to consistently apply the “historicist” method to the text of Revelation (EW 230:2). “Some of the scenes depicted in this prophecy are in the past, some are now taking place; some bring to view the close of the great conflict between the powers of darkness and the Prince of heaven, and some reveal the triumphs and joys of the redeemed in the earth made new” (AA 584:1). Two examples of her historicist approach: 1) she sees the letter to the church of Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7) as a description of the entire Christian church in the apostolic age (First Century AD– AA 578:1-2, cf. AA 585:3), and 2) the message to Laodicea is particularly applicable to the Adventist people at the end of time (MS 33, 1894, quoted in 7 BC 961).
At the same time, however, she also acknowledges that the book of Revelation was given “for the guidance and comfort of the church throughout the Christian dispensation” (AA 583:1), something more akin to the “idealist” approach. The overcomer promises of all the seven letters, for example (including Rev 2:7; 3:5 and 3:21), belong to all the faithful ones striving against evil throughout the centuries of darkness and superstition (AA 588:1-2). The message to Ephesus offers an example of how to reprove sin for ministers today (MS 136, 1902, quoted in 7BC 956). The message to Laodicea applies to all who profess to keep the law of God but are not doers of it (RH Oct 17, 1899; DA 489-490).
Whichever way one studies Revelation, however, Ellen White sees the book of Revelation fulfilling a special role in the final era of earth’s history (TM 113:0; 115:2; 116:2; GC 341-342). The truths of the book are “addressed to those living in these last days” (TM 113:3; 8T 301). Many parts of Revelation (she cites in this context Rev 15:2-3; 21:2-22; 22:1-5, 14; and 14:2-5) are directly concerned with the ultimate triumph of God’s remnant church (AA 590-592). She believed that her generation was nearing the time when those prophecies would be fulfilled (TM 113:3). So while historicism was her primary approach to Revelation, she understood that the entire book would have special significance for the very last days (TM 116:5; 9T 267). Even the chains of history portrayed there would help God’s people correctly estimate the value of things and discern “the true aim of life” (PK 548:1-2).