Category Archives: Biblical

Revelation’s Place in the Bible (Rev 7)

The history of Revelation’s path into the biblical canon is unusual. Other debated books of the Bible began with a mixed reception and gained more and more acceptance over time. Revelation’s experience was nearly the opposite, going from accepted to disputed back to accepted again over several centuries.

It was accepted throughout the church in the first century after it was written, being used and approved by Hermas, Melito, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus (his position is questioned by some), Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hyppolytus and Tertullian. It was also included in the earliest list of authoritative New Testament books, the Muratorian Canon.

But in the Third Century, when the visionary Montanists in the east used Revelation to legitimate their own prophetic claims, their opponents responded by casting doubt on the legitimacy of the book. These doubts led to Revelation’s place in the canon being questioned in the Third and Fourth Centuries, especially in the eastern part of the Empire. As a result, Revelation was accepted into the canon fairly quickly in the Western Church, but was not fully accepted in the East until the Fifth and Sixth Centuries. In the end, its broad early support among the Church Fathers, combined with its role as a compelling capstone to the Bible, led to its full acceptance as Scripture.

The Genre of Revelation (Rev 6)

The New Testament genre “gospel” was an invention of the apostles. The genre “epistle,” as used in the New Testament, adopting a common writing style, was also largely an invention of the apostles. But the genre of Revelation, “apocalypse,” is an adopted genre. It is the only work of its kind in the New Testament, but there were many works like it in the ancient world, particularly within Judaism from around 200 B.C. to 200 A.D.

According to the scholarly definition, an apocalypse is a form of revelatory literature, which means it claims to directly communicate information from God to humanity. This is accomplished in the form of a story, a “narrative framework,” rather than poetry or some other form. The revelation is communicated to a human being by “otherworldly beings” such as angels or the 24 elders of Revelation. The revelation discloses “transcendent reality” (beyond the ability of the five senses to apprehend), about the course of history leading up the End, and about the heavenly, “supernatural” world.

Scholars also distinguish between two types of apocalyptic literature, the historical and the mystical. The historical type, characteristic of Daniel, gives an overview of a large sweep of history, often divided into periods, and climaxing with a prediction about the end of history and the final judgment. Historical apocalyptic visions tend to be highly symbolic, referring to heavenly and earthly beings and events (Rev 12 is a good example). The mystical type of apocalypse, on the other hand, describes the ascent of the visionary into heaven (as in Rev 4-5). While symbolism may be used in mystical apocalyptic, there is more of a sense of reality in the description, the visionary ascends into a real place where actions take place that affect the readers’ lives on earth. Both types can occur in a single literary work, Revelation being a clear example.

Ancient apocalypses sought to encourage faith in God and hope in God’s future kingdom among those facing difficult times. John seems to have adopted Daniel’s apocalyptic visions as the model for understanding his own visions (Rev 1:1, cf. Dan 2:28, 45). But Revelation itself is also called a prophecy (Rev 1:3, cf. 19:10; 22:7-10, 18-19) and is also heavily dependent on prophetic books like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah. In addition, there are echoes of epistolary genre in chapters 2 and 3. So Revelation has come to be seen as a mixed genre, the main part of the book a mixture of prophetic and apocalyptic features. It could be called a prophetic apocalypse or an apocalyptic prophecy.

Four Ways to Approach Revelation (Rev 5)

There are four major ways that people have approached the book of Revelation. The approach you decide on determines to a large degree the results you find from studying Revelation. (1) The book of Revelation was written to seven churches located in the Roman province of Asia (Rev 1:4– Asia Minor). So one way to approach Revelation is like any other book in the New Testament, as a writing addressing real people in real places 2000 years ago (Rev 22:16). And this should be the foundation of any study of the Bible. The better we understand what it meant to the original readers, the better we can understand God’s purpose in inspiring the book. But when scholars limit the meaning of Revelation to the historical conditions of the Asian churches at the end of the First Century, when they see it as in no way predictive of the future, that approach is called Preterism. Preterism, in that sense, is too limited an approach to Revelation, it doesn’t take the book’s prophetic focus on the author’s future sufficiently into account.
(2) At the other extreme, Futurism rightly notes that Revelation addresses the Second Coming of Christ and similar events at the close of history (Rev 1:7). Futurists attempt to read nearly the entire book of Revelation (usually chapters 4-22) as speaking directly to the end of time and to no other time in history. But we have already seen how Revelation explicitly addresses the original situation of the churches of Asia. So an approach that limits Revelation to the events of the far future is no more adequate than Preterism is.
(3) A third way to read the book is suggested in Revelation 1:3, where a blessing is offered on all who hear and understand the words of the prophecy. Everyone who reads or hears this book is intended to benefit from it. The book is not just for the original situation or the end of the world. There is value for every person and every age. But some people have taken this idea a bit further and have come up with an idea called Idealism. In its extreme form Revelation is not really written to the first century or the end of time at all. It is simply a symbolic way of describing broad, general principles for Christians to live by. But such a reading in isolation is not an adequate response to the full realities of Revelation.
(4) Seventh-day Adventists believe that the approach that best fits the evidence of Revelation is the historicist approach. It embraces the positive insights of the first three approaches but is not limited to any of them. Historicism, rightly understood, allows each text to locate itself in time, it does not limit the meaning of the text in an arbitrary way, as other approaches do. It recognizes Revelation as an apocalyptic prophecy like Daniel (compare Rev 1:1 with Dan 2:28, 45), speaking to the entire course of history from the time of the prophet (95 A.D.) to the Second Coming of Christ and beyond. If the book of Revelation begins with John’s day (Rev 1:9-11) and ends with the End (Rev 19:11-21), it is reasonable to assume that it is also concerned with the historical developments in between. What has marginalized this text-based approach among scholars today is historicism’s long history of failed predictions and speculative exegesis. Seventh-day Adventists are instead called to approach Revelation’s history on the basis of a high and Christ-centered standard (TM 112-119).

The Structure of Revelation (Rev 4)

The structure of Revelation is partly evident in the text, but not without complications, which explains why there is little agreement among scholars on the book’s structure. The search for a structure usually begins with the four, numbered, seven-fold visions in the book; the seven churches (2:1 – 3:22), the seven seals (6:1 – 8:1), the seven trumpets (8:7 – 11:18) and the seven bowls (16:1-21). Each of these visions is preceded by an introduction related to the sanctuary (the seven golden lampstands—1:12-20; the heavenly throne room—4:1 – 5:14; the altar of incense—8:2-6; and the heavenly temple scene—15:5-8). Each of these introductions/visions forms a natural division of the book’s structure. The material between the trumpets and the bowls (12:1 – 15:4) also forms a natural division of the book. A sanctuary introduction to that section (reference to the temple in heaven and the ark of the covenant) can be found in Revelation 11:19.

The biggest challenge to any structure of Revelation is what to do with the second half of the book, especially chapters 17 and 18. It appears that there is a natural division in chapters 19 and 20, with a focus on the final events of earth’s history (19:1-10), the Second Coming (19:11-21) and the millennium (20:1-15). The search for a sanctuary introduction leads to 19:1-10, which has many of the elements found in an earlier sanctuary introduction, Revelation 4-5. The final natural division of the book is the New Jerusalem narrative (21:1 – 22:5). In this section of the book, the sanctuary setting seems to have merged with the vision as a whole. There is no temple there because the New Jerusalem itself is the Most Holy Place (a perfect cube—Rev 21:16, cf. 1 Kings 6:20), God and the Lamb dwell in city (21:22), and there is face to face contact with God before the throne (22:3-4). This makes a total of seven sections in the structure of Revelation; seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, 12-14, seven bowls, the millennium and the New Jerusalem.

What remains to be structured are two things, the opening (1:1-8) and conclusion (22:6-21), and chapters 17 and 18. The opening and conclusion have many parallels with each other and are fittingly called the Prologue and the Epilogue. Some see in chapters 17 and 18 an eighth section of the book, focusing on the Fall of Babylon, But an eighth section would be surprising, considering the centrality of the number seven in the book. A better approach is to note the many connections between the sixth and seventh bowl-plagues (16:12-20) and chapter 17. Since chapter 17 portrays the fall of Babylon the prostitute, and chapter 18 portrays the fall of Babylon the great city, both chapters offer a fitting expansion and conclusion to the seven bowl-plagues.

Some scholars have noted a chiastic structure in the above outline. The Prologue and Epilogue have many parallel elements, as do the Seven Churches and the New Jerusalem sections. The Seven Trumpets and the Seven Bowls are also clearly parallel. The resulting outline highlights the centrality of the vision of Revelation 12-14. Unlike the Greek/Western tradition, the central purpose of the book is not found in the conclusion, but in the center, the location of the heavenly war and the three angel’s messages. This has important implications for interpretation.

Prologue (1:1-8)
I. The Seven Churches (1:9 – 3:22)
II. The Seven Seals (4:1 – 8:1)
III. The Seven Trumpets (8:2 – 11:18)
IV. The Great War (11:19 – 15:4)
V. The Wrath of God (15:5 – 18:24)
VI. The End of Evil (19:1 – 20:15)
VII. The New Jerusalem (21:1 – 22:5)
Epilogue (22:6-21)

A Short Summary of the Book of Revelation (Rev 3)

The opening of the book (Rev 1:1-8) states the main themes of the entire book in relatively plain language. The central theme of the book is Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1-2, 5-7) with particular attention to future events (Rev 1:1, 7). The source of the book’s content is a vision that originates with God and was handed down to John through Jesus Christ and “his angel” (Rev 1:1-3). The book John wrote was intended to be read aloud to the churches and “kept” by them (Rev 1:3). After a vision of the glorious Christ (1:12-20) and message to the seven churches (chapters 2 and 3), John and his readers get a glimpse through the open gates of heaven into the heavenly throne room itself. It is there that the centrality of the cross and of Christ in the operations of the universe becomes plain.

The seals, trumpets and bowls (Revelation 6-11 and 15-18) are mostly plagues of judgment. The seals and trumpets cover the whole Christian era, while the bowls focus especially on the end. The over-riding message is that God is in control of history even when it appears out of control.

For Seventh-day Adventists, the most critical part of the book is the central vision (Revelation 12-14). It describes the war in heaven (Rev 12:7-12), the birth and ascension of Christ (12:5), the experience of the church during the 1260 “days” (12:6; 14-16), the unholy trinity (dragon [12:3-4, 17], sea beast [13:1-10], and land beast [13:11-18]), the remnant (12:17; 14:1-3), and the three angels’ messages (14:6-12). There is also a symbolic view of the Second Coming (Rev 14:14-20).

The final chapters of the book cover the celebration of Babylon’s fall (19:1-6), the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7-10), the Second Coming along with the destruction of the enemy powers or earth (19:11-21), the Millennium and its aftermath (Revelation 20) and the New Jerusalem (21:1 – 22:5). The book closes with an appeal to the reader (22:6-21).

The “When” of Revelation (Rev 2)

Revelation appears to have been written in the context of some persecution, so scholars of Revelation have consistently looked to the reigns of Nero and Domitian as the likely context for the book. During the 19th Century the consensus of scholarship was that Revelation was written during the reign of Nero (54-68 A.D.), based on subjective interpretation of certain passages in the book. Revelation was, therefore, read in light of the persecution of Christians that began after the great fire of 64 A.D. Over the last hundred years, however, scholarly opinion has shifted to the later date for the book, around 95 A.D. Most scholars today read Revelation in light of an episode of persecution (or at least “perceived crisis”) toward the end of Domitian’s reign (81-96 A.D.). The earlier date has now fallen out of favor due to the lack of clear references to Nero’s reign in the text of Revelation and the fact that the church fathers universally favored the time of Domitian. The weakness of the later date is the lack of contemporary evidence for officially sanctioned persecution of Christians during the reign of Domitian, or for Patmos as a penal isle.

Ellen White assumes that John, the son of Zebedee, is the author of Revelation and that he came to be on Patmos as a result of persecution during the reign of Domitian, whom she explicitly names (AA 568-570). She took that position before the scholarly shift from an early date to a late date for Revelation. The setting of Revelation, in her view, would be the exile of the leader of the churches in Asia Minor to Patmos. Given the lack of evidence for widespread persecution, it is likely that whatever trials the church faced were based on local issues, such as disputes with the local synagogue or pagan neighbors. The purpose of Revelation was to strengthen Christians at a time when they were vulnerable to their surrounding culture.

The Book of Revelation and Its Author (Rev 1)

I am working on a series of blogs regarding LGBT issues and the church. But that is taking a little longer than I had expected. I plan to begin posting by the end of August. In the meantime I have completed a first draft of a Bible Dictionary entry on the book of Revelation. I thought you would find this interesting and helpful and I would love feedback, positive and negative (hopefully constructive either way). The total article is about 3200 words and will cover five or six blogs.

The title of the book (Revelation) is a translation of the Greek word for apocalypse (apokalupsis). Apokalupsis is a compound word that means revelation, disclosure or uncovering. What is uncovered in Revelation is a cosmic picture of Jesus Christ and a vision of “what must soon take place” (Rev 1:1). Revelation is the last book of the New Testament and is the great finale of the biblical symphony, drawing together names, places, stories, and themes from the rest of Scripture (AA 585).

The authorship of Revelation. The author of Revelation identifies himself as John (Rev 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), God’s servant or slave (Rev 1:1), and “your brother” (Rev 1:9). Apparently he was well-enough known to the churches of Asia Minor that he needed no further designation to gain the confidence of his readers. Though he is not directly called a prophet (but see Rev 22:8-9), his book is several times called a “prophecy” (Rev 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18, 19).

All known Christian writers through the middle of the Third Century attributed Revelation to John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, the author of the Gospel and epistles known by the same name. These writers believed that John was living in Ephesus until the time of Trajan (98-117 A.D.) and was buried there. So the traditional view of Revelation’s authorship has had strong external support through the centuries.

The first serious challenge to the traditional view came from Dionysius of Alexandria (died around 265 A.D.). He offered the following arguments: 1) There are substantial literary differences between Revelation and the Gospel of John, 2) the author did not claim to be a disciple or eyewitness of Jesus, 3) the Greek of the Gospel is grammatically correct but that of Revelation is not, 4) the author of the Gospel is anonymous while the author of Revelation names himself several times. In addition to these arguments, Eusebius of Caesarea (circa 325 A.D.) understood Papias (early second century) to believe that John the Apostle had died much earlier than the writing of Revelation. These considerations seem to have exacerbated the Eastern church’s doubts with regard to the canonicity of the book.

The evidence just cited is not as strong or convincing as might appear at first glance. 1) While there are differences between John and Revelation, there are some striking similarities as well; “the water of life” (Rev 21:6; 22:17, cf. John 4:10; 7:37-38), “keep the (my) word” (Rev 3:8, 10, cf. John 8:51, 52, 55; 15:20), the use of “name” (Rev 6:8, cf. John 1:6; 3:1). While the word for “Lamb” is different, only the Gospel and Revelation apply the concept of lamb to Jesus Christ (Rev 5:6 and 27 other times, cf. John 1:29, 36), both books refer to Jesus as “the Word” (Rev 19:13; John 1:1, 14), and both books make unusual use of the verb for “tabernacle” (Rev 7:15; John 1:14). They also have in common words like witness, life, death, thirst, hunger and conquest. Many of the differences between the Gospel of John and Revelation can be attributed to the difference in genre between gospel and apocalypse.

As noted above (items 2 and 4), the author of the Gospel is anonymous, so in neither case does the writer feel the need to detail who he is. 3) Greek was not John’s native language and editorial assistance would have been much more available to him in Ephesus than on Patmos. In addition, Semitic thinking and allusions to the Greek Old Testament explain a lot of the “solecisms” in Revelation. John wrote in Greek but thought in Hebrew. 5) The works of Papias are lost and the fragments cited by Eusebius are ambiguous. While historical certainty in this matter is not possible, the arguments for the traditional view of John the Apostle as the author of Revelation are at least as reasonable and valid as those that deny his authorship.

Unlike many books of the New Testament, determining the identity of the human author of Revelation is of relatively little importance to interpretation. This book is not, as earlier editions of the Bible had it, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” the book is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1).

Concluding Q and A (New Earth 8)

Why is the millennium necessary when the Second Coming seems to have brought all things to an end?

1) It is recovery time for the righteous. While there will be no conversions in heaven, there will be an ongoing need for personal and relational growth. Rev. 22:2 speaks of the leaves of the tree of life being for the healing of the nations. The choice of “nations” suggest societal and emotional healing more than physical. There may be people in heaven you didn’t like on earth or didn’t expect to see in heaven. Others you expected to see are missing. The thousand years will provide a safe space to learn and grow and transition into eternity.

2) It is examination time for the righteous. The redeemed will be free to explore the “books of heaven” getting answers to questions about God, about those we loved who are not there, and about issues in the Great Controversy. We will be able to explore a detailed biography of our own lives that will transcend anything we or anyone else could have done here on earth. We will share our biographies with each other in group healing sessions. There will be many questions and plenty of time to answer them.

3) Demonstration time for Satan and his followers. At the close of the millennium, Satan will be allowed totally free reign outside the City to run this earth the way he wants to (the text gives us on idea how long this period will be). Together, Satan and his followers will demonstrate one final time the destructive nature of their characters and the destructive nature of Satan’s form of government. This final demonstration will help to secure the redeemed and the unfallen universe in loyalty to God throughout eternity.

What ultimately is the purpose of the Book of Revelation?

The purpose of prophecy is not to satisfy our curiosity about the future, it is to teach us how to live today. The study of Revelation should motivate us to right living and to the avoidance of choices that are ultimately self-destructive and harmful to others. It helps to know that the little battles we face each day are just a microcosm of a much bigger war. Everything we think and everything we do truly matters in the ultimate sense of things. Revelation was designed to prepare people for the challenges of the end and in the process has brought hope, meaning and purpose to millions ever since it was written and will continue to do so until the conclusion of earth’s history (Rev. 1:3).

The Shape of the New Jerusalem, Pyramid or Cube? (New Earth 7)

The length, width and height of the New Jerusalem are all the same, suggesting a perfect cube (Rev. 21:16). But there is another shape whose length, width and height are the same, and that is the pyramid. There is nothing in the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation that requires either a cube or a pyramid? So how should we decide? Should we envision the New Jerusalem as a cube or as a pyramid?

Most interpreters envision the New Jerusalem as a cube and, in my view this is probably correct. A cube has twelve edges, but a pyramid has only eight. The description of the New Jerusalem makes abundant use of the number twelve and never uses the number eight. The New Jerusalem has twelve gates, twelve foundations, walls 144 cubits high, and dimensions measuring 12,000 stadia (Rev. 21:12-21). This wide-spread use of twelve coheres with the major use of twelve elsewhere in Revelation and the New Testament. It is the number of God’s people and the city becomes the bride of Christ when it is filled with saved humanity. While the text does not specify the shape, a cube would be consistent with the symbolism of Revelation.

What is theologically significant about the cube is that the only other cube in the Bible is the Most Holy Place of the Old Testament temple (1 Kings 6:20). Its sides and height were completely equal. The New Jerusalem, then, is modeled on the Most Holy Place. What is forbidden to all but the High Priest in Old Testament times is now open to all the redeemed. Relationship with Christ elevates all to the roles of kings and priests. All have face to face engagement with God (Rev. 22:4) in the heavenly Most Holy Place, the New Jerusalem.

The Backgrounds to the New Jerusalem (New Earth 6)

The vision of the New Jerusalem is grounded in the rest of the Bible. The waters flowing from the throne (Rev. 22:1) and the tree of life (Rev. 22:2) recall the Garden of Eden. So the New Jerusalem is the culmination of the whole Bible’s promise to one day restore the perfect conditions in which Adam and Eve were first placed. And those perfect conditions will build on the “healing of the nations” to bring about unity in the middle of breath-taking diversity.

The radiance of the city and its cubical shape (Rev. 21:11,16) recall the tabernacle and the temple (Exod. 40:34-35; 1 Kings 6:20; 8:11). There are only two cubes in the Bible, the Most Holy Place in the sanctuary and the New Jerusalem. With the New Jerusalem, the most hidden parts of the sanctuary are open and available to all. Where God was once hidden behind layers and layers of curtains, He is now available to be experienced face to face (Rev 22:4).

The very name “New Jerusalem” brings to mind the capital city of David’s kingdom. Jerusalem was the very center of the Israelite kingdom. There were three main north/south roads, one up the Mediterranean plain, one along the Jordan Valley, and one along the spine of the central ridge. There were three main east/west roads, one through the valley of Megiddo, one south through Beersheba and one across the central ridge from seacoast plain to Jordan Valley. Jerusalem was located at the intersection of the central north/south road and the central east/west road. Since there was also an abundant supply of water there, it was the natural location of Israel’s capital city. Just as Jersualem was the center-point of ancient Israel, so the New Jerusalem is the center-point of the New Earth.

Many parts of the design of the city also recall Ezekiel’s visionary temple (Ezek. 40-48). The New Jerusalem is the culmination of the prophetic vision for an ideal land and people that God would create. It would also be the center of the New Israel’s worship of God.

Many details of the New Jerusalem also recall the promises to the overcomers in the seven churches portion of Revelation (for example, the tree of life from the original paradise of God– Rev. 2:7; 22:2, the absence of the second death—Rev. 2:11, the importance of names—Rev. 2:17; 3:5, 12; 21:12, 14; 22:4, authority over the nations—Rev. 2:26; 21:24, the morning star—Rev. 2:28; 22:16, the New Jerusalem—Rev. 3:12; 21:2, 10, and the promise of the throne—Rev 3:21; 7:15; 22:1). The seven churches represent the church militant, the New Jerusalem represents the church triumphant.

The vision of the New Jerusalem doesn’t arise out of thin air, it is a blending of many allusions to the history of God’s leading throughout the Bible. It is truly the grand finale to the biblical symphony.