Category Archives: Biblical

Original Teachers’ Notes for Rev 6 (Week 5)

I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (January 27 – February 2) 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.

LESSON 5
THE SEVEN SEALS

Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 5:5-6.

Study Focus: Chapter six describes the events that occur as the Lamb breaks the first six of the seven seals (Rev. 6:1-17).

Introduction: Chapter six portrays the first six of the seven seals. This scene follows directly on the vision of the heavenly throne room in chapter five.

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

1. The Four Horsemen (Rev. 6:1-8) Portray the Progress of the Gospel and the Consequences of Its Rejection. This interpretation depends on the identity of the white horse and its rider (6:1-2—see Theme 1 below).
2. The Main OT Background of the Four Horses Involves the Curses of the Covenant. The OT covenant, with its blessings and curses, is adopted in chapter six as a metaphor of the gospel.
3. The Judgments Portrayed in Rev. 6 Affect the People of God. This builds on the covenant promises and threats made to Israel in Lev. 26 and Deut. 32.
4. The “Souls Under the Altar” Passage Does Not Address the State of the Dead. The fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) has often been misused to argue consciousness after death.
5. The Adventist Reading of the Sixth Seal Is Supported by the Text. Close reading of Rev. 6:12-14 indicates both a movement in time and a literal meaning of sun, moon and stars.

Life Application. Participants are invited to explore the relevance of the traditional Adventist reading of Rev. 6:12-14 and the answer to Jesus’ question in 6:17.

Part II. Commentary

Chapter six is clearly based on chapter five. The chapter opens with “and” (Greek: kai), indicating a connection to what precedes. At the close of chapter five, the Lamb is holding the scroll (5:7-8) and receiving the worship of the heavenly host (5:12-14). As John continues looking (both chapters begin with John saying “and I saw”—5:1; 6:1), he sees the Lamb open seal after seal (6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12).
The events that occur as each seal is opened are not the content of the scroll. All seven seals need to be broken before the scroll can be unrolled and its contents seen (see 6:14).

Main Themes of Lesson 5 Elaborated:
1. The Four Horsemen (Rev. 6:1-8) Portray the Progress of the Gospel and the Consequences of Its Rejection. This interpretation depends on the identity of the white horse and its rider (6:1-2). All the horses but this one produce afflictions. White in Revelation always represents Christ or His people. The crown (Greek: stephanos) worn by the rider is the victory crown. With only one exception (Rev. 9:7), this kind of crown is always associated with Christ and/or His people in the New Testament. In the first five chapters of Revelation the word for conquering (Greek: nikôn, nikêsêi) also refers consistently to Christ and His people (see, for example, Rev. 3:21 and 5:6). The rider on the white horse in Rev. 19 is clearly Christ, and that rider is parallel to this one.
Clearly counterfeit is a major theme in Revelation, but when counterfeits occur they are always clearly exposed as such to the reader. In Rev. 6:1-2, on the other hand, there is no hint of evil. While the rider on the white horse in Rev. 19 wears the royal crown (Greek: diadêma) rather than the victory crown, the difference is explainable in terms of different stages of the conflict. Rev. 6 represents the church militant while Rev. 19 represents the church triumphant. The focus of the four horsemen seems to be the victory of Christ and the progress of both the gospel and resistance to the gospel.

2. The Main OT Background of the Four Horses Involves the Curses of the Covenant. The main theme of Rev. 4-5 is the throne and the threat to the throne. The theme of Rev. 6 is the curses of the covenant. The word “curse” here is not profanity, it expresses the consequences of disobedience (Lev. 26:21-26, Deut. 32:23-25, 41-43, and Ezek. 14:12-21). In the Old Testament these curses were sword, famine, pestilence, and wild animals. The curses were often seven-fold (Lev. 26:21, 24) and executed by four horses of different colors (Zech. 1:8-17; 6:1-8).
In the Old Testament the covenant was between God and Israel. The blessings and curses of the covenant there occurred in a literal fashion on the nation of Israel. In the New Testament, faithfulness to Israel’s covenant is determined in relation to Christ. Those faithful to Christ are blessed (John 12:32; Acts 13:32-33; 2 Cor. 1:20) and those who reject Him are under the curse (Rom 8:3; Gal. 3:13).

3. The Judgments Portrayed in Rev. 6 Affect the People of God. While the judgments of the seven trumpets fall on the wicked (Rev. 9:4, 20-21), the judgments of the seven seals fall on the unfaithful people of God. Satan’s kingdom has three parts in Rev. (16:13, 19) and the judgments of the trumpets fall on thirds of the earth (Rev. 8:7-12). But the seven seals concern “fourths” of the earth (Rev. 6:8). The fourth part would be the people of God. The difference is that Israel in the New Testament is determined in relation to Jesus Christ.

4. The “Souls Under the Altar” Passage (Rev. 6:9-11) Does Not Address the State of the Dead. Some readers assume that the “souls under the altar” represent bodiless consciousness after death. If taken literally, this would be contrary bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:42-44, 53), to Gen. 2:7 which sees the soul as the whole person, and Eccl. 9:5, which indicates no consciousness after death. But this text is clearly symbolic, echoing the story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:10-11) and the Altar of Burnt Offering in the Hebrew sanctuary, which is the only object in the sanctuary where anything happens at the base (Lev. 5:9).
The “souls” under the altar are not in a disembodied state in heaven. The Altar of Burnt Offering represents the cross of Christ and the persecution of believers, things that happen on earth. And the martyrs only come to life again at the beginning of the millennium (Rev. 20:4). As was the case with the blood of Abel, the martyrs are depicted as on earth, not in heaven. The crying out of the blood is a metaphorical way of saying that the things done to them are held in remembrance by God until their resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus (1 Thess. 4:16).

5. The Adventist Reading of the Sixth Seal Is Supported by the Text. In the book The Great Controversy and other pioneer SDA works, Rev. 6:12-14 is applied to events in the relatively recent past. The text describes two earthquakes separated by a series of heavenly signs. The first earthquake was understood to be fulfilled by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. This was followed by the darkening of the sun and redness of the moon in 1780, and the falling of the stars in 1833. The complete disruption of both the sky and the surface of the planet was seen as still future.
Two reasonable questions have arisen about this way of reading Rev. 6:12-14. 1) The entire passage is governed by the opening phrase, “when he opened the sixth seal.” So the most natural grammatical reading is that all the events in the passage occur at the same time, not separated by decades. 2) Are the earthquakes, sun, moon and stars to be taken literally or are they symbols of some sort of spiritual malady? Both of these objections can be met by close observation of the Greek text.
First, the earthquake in verse 12 is not at the same time as the one in verse 14. The earthquake in verse 12 (“great earthquake,” Greek: seismos megas) is paralleled to the earthquake in Rev. 11:13 (“great earthquake,” Greek: seismos megas). That earthquake is prior to the close of probation (which happens at the beginning of the seventh trumpet, see Rev. 10:7). On the other hand, the moving of every mountain and island (6:14) is parallel to Rev. 16:20, well after the close of probation. So if the two earthquakes are separated by an undetermined period of time, it is reasonable that the other events of Rev. 6:12-14 could also be fulfilled at different times.
Second, there is a fourfold “as” (Greek: hôs) in verses 12 and 13. In Greek this conjunction regularly introduces symbolism, which works best when what comes before the hôs is literal. So the actual sun became black “like” sackcloth and the moon became “like” blood. The descriptions are symbolic but the heavenly bodies are real.

Part III: Life Application

1. The Seventh-day Adventist pioneers understood Rev. 6:12-14 as involving the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the Dark Day of 1780, and the falling of the stars in 1833, almost a hundred years of history. How does a comparison with Matthew 24 help or hurt that interpretation? What is the spiritual payoff of a historicist reading of the sixth seal?
English translations of Matt. 24:30, like the NIV (“at that time”), do appear to associate all the heavenly signs with the Second Coming of Jesus, which is still future. But the Greek simply has “and” (kai), so the original text is as open-ended as Rev. 6:12-14 turned out to be. Matthew 24 does not settle the issue against the Adventist reading of Rev. 6.
Adventist readings of prophecy assure us that 1) God is in control of history, 2) His mission for the end-time and for His end-time people is clear, and 3) He cares deeply about His people, vindicating the martyrs (6:11) and protecting as many as possible in the satanic chaos just before Jesus’ return (7:1-3).

2. Does it matter if earthquakes, forest fires, and repetitive astronomical events produce prophetic fulfillments? Adventists have never required anyone to believe that the mighty acts of God violate the laws of nature that God Himself set up.

3. The conclusion of chapter six asks the question, “Who shall be able to stand?” (KJV) What is the biblical answer to that question and what relevance does that answer have for today? That single question has a double answer in Rev. 7. The 144,000 and the Great Multitude will be able to stand. Does God have one people at the end of time or two separate groups? Use this question and group discussion about it to build interest in next week’s lesson, which will address the issue.

The Controversy Over the 24 Elders

It is interesting to me that the identity of the 24 elders has suddenly become controversial within the SDA Church. It is a concept that is introduced in Revelation but is not defined in Revelation. Given that reality, I don’t think we ought to make this topic a subject of dispute or orthodoxy. But since it is being discussed this week, let me address the problem briefly. I have published two articles in a General Conference book that address the issue of Ellen White’s use of Revelation and I will share more detail at a later time. You can reference these articles in Frank B. Holbrook, editor, Symposium on Revelation—Book II, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, Volume 6, Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD: 1992, pages 163-172 and 363-373. These articles were specifically included because the Committee realized that many Adventists tend to ignore the text of Revelation as long as they have a “convincing” statement from Ellen White on what it means. But Adventists are to take their primary authority from the Bible and the Bible only. This was re-affirmed in the changes voted to the Fundamental Beliefs in 2015.

The argument that the 24 elders are angels seems grounded primarily in four statements of Ellen White, two in private letters (Letter 65, 1898 and Letter 79, 1900), one in Great Controversy, page 613 and one in Signs of the Times, January 4, 1883. Letter 65, 1898 makes that point clearly (the “angel” that spoke to John in Rev 5:5 “is an elder”), the other three sources rather less so. GC 613 and the ST reference speak of angels laying off their crowns, which could be understood as an allusion to Revelation 4:10, where the elders “cast their crowns before the throne” (KJV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, ESV). But the wording of Ellen White is too imprecise to imply these statements are attempts to interpret Revelation 4 and 5. The references certainly echo the language of Revelation, but fall short of a quote or certain allusion. Ellen White was filled with the language of the King James Bible and it spills out everywhere without necessarily implying her intent to interpret the text where that language is originally used. So the two published statements are unclear for the purpose of definitively defining who the 24 elders are.
Letter 79, 1900 has holy angels joining the redeemed in the song of Revelation 5:9-10. That is evident also from the text of Revelation. The four living creatures and the elders (Rev 5:8) sing the song of Revelation 5:9-10. But if the four living creatures are angels, who are the “redeemed” that sing this song if not the 24 elders themselves? So this particular statement could actually be read to support the idea that the elders are “redeemed” humanity, as stated in this week’s lesson.

That leaves Letter 65, 1898 as the primary evidence for insisting passionately that it is apostasy for an Adventist to believe that the 24 elders are redeemed humanity. In this letter Ellen White seems to clearly say that at least one of the elders, the one speaking to John in Revelation 5:5, is an angel. This statement as written goes beyond the biblical text, which does not define elders in this way. So there are several possibilities. 1) Ellen White saw in vision that the elders in John’s vision were actually angels. 2) Ellen White had no definitive revelation on the subject but shared what was common understanding of Revelation 5 in her time. 3) The letter may have been written at a time when she was not at her best (illness, lack of sleep) and thus did not represent her clearest thinking. That might explain why you don’t find this kind of statement in her published works.

To use a private letter to defend ignoring exegesis of the biblical text flies in the face of two emphases of Ellen White herself. First, her own understanding on any subject should be based on her published works, which were carefully edited and generalized for public use (5T 696, see also 1 SM 66, TM 33). Second, her writings should not be used in place of the Bible or to undermine what the Bible itself says (5T 663-668). So a controverted point like this should not be settled on the basis of a single statement in a private letter, particularly when the best biblical evidence points in another direction. The number 24 recalls the priests in the temple (1 Chr 24:3-19) and the New Jerusalem (12 apostles and 12 tribes). Matthew 19:28-30 describes the 12 apostles as tribal heads of Israel. But even more significant, nowhere else in the Bible are angels called elders, sit on thrones, or wear victory crowns. If the elders of Revelation are angels, John would need to say so, since they are described in ways that never apply to angels elsewhere in Scripture. So the weight of biblical evidence falls on the likelihood that the 24 elders of Revelation represent redeemed humanity.

I do not wish to contribute to controversy on this matter. I respect those who disagree and grant that they have a good point. I am only seeking to demonstrate that attempts to argue a “true Adventist position” once and for all on this matter go beyond the available evidence. The consensus of Adventist scholarship in the 1980s and 1990s, as published in the above-mentioned book, was that the elders of Revelation represented redeemed humanity. That doesn’t guarantee the correctness of the opinion, but it should not be ignored either. And the editors of Sabbath School lesson are not in apostasy for having taken that position. In eternity we will know for sure. Let us be charitable to one another on the way there.

Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes in the Main Lesson for This Week (Rev 4-5)

Lesson 4 January 19-25

This week’s lesson has not undergone significant editorial changes. The most obvious change is that of the title. “The Enthronement of the Lamb” was changed into “Worthy is the Lamb,” which is drawn directly from the biblical text. I would suggest you pay close attention to the first paragraph in the Lesson on Thursday.

The Enthronement of the Lamb

Sabbath Afternoon
Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 4-5; Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:22-36; Eph. 1:18-23; Heb. 8:1.

Memory Verse: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21, NKJV).
The previous vision described Christ ministering to His people on earth. Now, the vision shifts from earth to heaven and from John’s day to the future. As we interpret these two chapters, we must remember several things. First, Revelation 4 describes the ongoing worship in the heavenly temple, but chapter 5 points to an event that took place at a specific point in time.
Furthermore, the vision of chapters 4-5 functions as an introduction to the rest of the book and provides a panoramic survey of history from the time of John until Christ’s return. As such, the scene of chapters 4-5 does not fit chronologically into the sequence of the vision. Before future history is revealed, we are given a glimpse of Christ’s inauguration into his post-Calvary ministry in heaven. In such a way, chapters 4-5 provide heaven’s perspective on the meaning of future events recorded in the rest of the book.
One may also notice that while the messages to the seven churches were written in straightforward language, from now on, the book employs a symbolic language that is not always easy to interpret. This language is taken from the history of God’s people as recorded in the Old Testament. A correct interpretation of Revelation requires a proper understanding of its symbolic language in light of the Old Testament.

*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 27.
Sunday January 20
In the Heavenly Throne Room
In the previous vision, John witnessed the spiritual condition of the churches in his day. In Revelation 4:1, Jesus invites him to come up to heaven to be shown the panoramic survey of history from his time until Christ’s return.
Read Revelation 4:1-8 along with Ezekiel 1:26-28. Where does the vision take place? In light of 5:11-14, what can we learn about the grandeur of the heavenly throne room? What does John see and hear in the throne room?
As the apostle looked through the open door into the heavenly temple, the first thing that caught his attention was God’s magnificent throne. Paul tells us that God abides in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16). Since God is inexpressible in human language, John portrays the splendid glory surrounding Him in terms of the dazzling brilliance of precious stones.
At the center of the throne room is the throne of God. The throne symbolizes God’s rule and governing authority over creation, while the rainbow around the throne signifies His faithfulness to His people. However, Satan, his usurping adversary, has disputed His authority. The central issue in the great controversy between God and Satan is about who has the right to rule. The purpose of the heavenly council gathered in the heavenly throne room was to settle once and for the question of God’s rightful rule over the universe.
Read Revelation 4:8-11 along with 5:9-14. Compare the heavenly worship in John’s vision with those described in Isaiah 6:1-3; Ezekiel 1:4-24; Daniel 7:9-10. What can you learn about true worship in these passages? Why is God worthy of being worshipped in chapter 4 and why is Christ the Lamb worthy in 5:9-14?
Revelation 4 gives a general description of the throne room in the heavenly temple and of the worship that repeatedly takes place there. While the worship in chapter 4 praises God’s creative power, chapter 5 celebrates the redemption provided by the slain Lamb. This shows that true worship recounts and celebrates God’s mighty acts of creation and redemption. God, who created the world in the beginning, has the power and ability to also restore it to its original condition and to turn it into the eternal home for his faithful people.
As you read Revelation 4-5, imagine yourself with John watching the worship in the heavenly sanctuary. Does this experience give new meaning to the word “worship?” How would this impact your choice of worship style? What impact would it make upon your worshiping experience in your local church?

Monday January 2
The Heavenly Assembly in the Throne Room
Revelation 4:4 mentions the twenty-four elders sitting on thrones that surround God’s throne. Look at the other places in the book where this group is mentioned. What do you learn about their activities?
The description of the elders shows that they are not angelic beings. The title “elders” in the Bible is always used for humans. In contrast to angels who always stand in God’s presence, these elders sit on thrones. The white robes they wear are the attire of God’s faithful people (Rev. 3:4-5). The victory crowns (Gr. stephanoi) on their heads are reserved exclusively for the victorious saints (Jam. 1:12). All of this suggests that the twenty-four elders are the glorified saints.
The number twenty-four is symbolic; it consists of two sets of twelve, twelve in the Bible being a symbol of God’s people. The twenty-four elders represent God’s people in their totality from both the Old and New Testament. The number twenty-four also mirrors the chiefs of the twenty-four divisions of priests who took turns serving in the earthly temple services (1 Chr. 24:1-19).
The fact that the twenty-four elders were never mentioned before in the Bible shows that they are a new group in the heavenly throne room. They must have been brought there shortly before the scene took place. They are most likely the ones who were raised from the dead at the time of Jesus’ death (Matt. 27:51-53). According to Ephesians 4:8, when Jesus ascended to heaven, He took a host of captives with Him.
The twenty-four elders ascended with Jesus to heaven as representatives of humanity, to witness the fairness in God’s actions in the realization of the plan of salvation. In Revelation 4, they were ushered into the heavenly throne room, together with the rest of the assembly, to welcome Jesus after His victorious death on the cross and to witness His exaltation to His heavenly position at his ascension.
Revelation 4:6-8 also mentions the four living beings. Compare their description with the four living beings in Ezekiel 1:5-14 and 10:20-22, and the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2-3.
The four living beings are the exalted angels who serve God as His agents and the guardians of His throne (Ps. 99:1). Their wings point symbolically to their swiftness in carrying out God’s orders and their eyes to their intelligence. Their appearances as a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle represent the entire order of creation. With their presence, God’s whole creation is represented in the throne room.

Tuesday January 22
The Sealed Scroll
Revelation 5 continues the throne room scene. The heavenly worship suddenly stops, and the focus of the whole assembly turns toward the heavenly throne and the scroll lying at the right hand of God.
Read Revelation 5:1. In light of Isaiah 29:11-12, what is the meaning of the sealing of the scroll?
The Greek text indicates that the scroll was lying on the throne at the right hand of the Father. It waited for the One who was worthy to take it and occupy his seat on the throne.
In the words of Ellen White, the sealed scroll contains “the history of God’s providences, the prophetic history of nations and the church. Herein was contained the divine utterances, His authority, His commandments, His laws, the whole symbolic counsel of the Eternal, and the history of all ruling powers in the nations. In symbolic language was contained in that roll the influence of every nation, tongue, and people from the beginning of earth’s history to its close.”—Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases 9, Letter 65, p, 7.
In short, the sealed scroll stands as a symbol of the plan of salvation. It contains the mystery of God regarding His plans to solve the sin problem and save fallen human beings. The full realization of that mystery will be realized at the second coming of Christ (see Rev. 10:7).
Read Revelation 5:2-7. What is the cause of the crisis in the throne room? Why is Christ the only One in the whole universe worthy to take the sealed scroll and unseal it? What do the symbols of the Lion and the slain Lamb represent?
The crisis in the throne room is related to Satan’s usurping rebellion against God. This planet, although created by God, has been under the dominion of the usurper Satan. The weeping of John expressed the tears of God’s people since Adam for salvation from the bondage of sin. The sealed scroll comprised God’s plan for the resolution to the sin problem. No doubt with His immeasurable power God Himself could realize that plan. However, the redemption of the fallen human race required two unique qualifications: someone who was divine and the blood of the Lamb. This is what has qualified Christ to assume the lordship over this earth and become our mediator in the heavenly sanctuary.
What encouragement and hope for the future do you find in the fact that the One who died on the cross of Calvary holds the destiny of the whole world in his hands?

Wednesday January 23
The Enthronement of the Lamb
Read Revelation 5:8-14 along with Ephesians 1:20-23 and Heb. 10:12. In your view, why is there so much emphasis on the taking of the scroll rather than on the reading of its content? Why did the heavenly throne-room assembly react ecstatically when the Lamb took the scroll from the throne?
As Christ the Lamb approached the throne, He took the scroll and presumably took His seat on the throne at the right hand of the Father. With this act, all authority and sovereignty was bestowed upon Him (see Eph. 1:20-22). At that moment, the whole universes acknowledged Christ’s rightful rule over earth. What was lost with Adam has been regained.
With taking the scroll, the destiny of all humanity is placed into Christ’s hands. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before Him and worship as they did in Revelation 4:9-10: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals for You were slain.” By this, the exalted angels and the representatives of redeemed humanity validate Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of humanity. With his blood, He has paid the ransom for fallen human beings and redeemed them for God and made them kings and priests to God; and they shall reign on the earth. While the former was accomplished on the cross, the latter will be realized at the second coming of Christ (Rev. 20:4-6).
The four living creatures and the elders are now joined by the countless number of the angelic host surrounding the throne directing praises to the newly-enthroned King: “Worthy is the slain Lamb who was slain to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” At this point all creation in heaven and on earth join together in offering royal adoration both to the Father and Christ: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Their praise is met with an Amen by the four living creatures and the prostration of the twenty-four elders, thus concluding this tumultuous celebration in the heavenly throne room.
Imagine that you are in the heavenly throne room and together with countless heavenly beings welcoming Jesus after his great victory on the cross? How would you feel watching Him as He approaches the throne, receives the scroll, and takes His seat on the throne? In what way would this scene impact your daily life and your view of the future?

Thursday January 24
The Significance of Pentecost
Revelation 5 describes one of the most decisive events in the history of the plan of salvation: the inauguration of Christ into His post-Calvary ministry as King and Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. By taking His seat on the heavenly throne at the right hand of the father (Hebr. 12:2), Christ is able to carry out the plan of salvation to its ultimate realization. He is also our mediator in the heavenly sanctuary and through Him fallen human beings have free access to God and find forgiveness from their sins.
Read Acts 2:32-36 along with John 7:39. What was the importance of the exaltation of Christ in heaven for the coming of the Holy Spirit? Why could not the Spirit come upon the disciples before Jesus was glorified?
The exaltation of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary was followed by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Revelation 5:6 mentions the seven Spirits that are “sent into all the earth.” The seven Spirits denote the fullness of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the world. While previously the Holy Spirit is regularly before the throne (see Rev. 1:4; 4:5), at Christ’s enthronement, he is sent to the earth. This sending of the Holy Spirit is related to the inauguration of Christ into his post-Calvary ministry. This meant that Jesus had appeared before the Father and that his sacrifice had been accepted on behalf of humanity.
“Christ’s ascension to heaven was the signal that His followers were to receive the promised blessing. . . . When Christ passed within the heavenly gates, He was enthroned amidst the adoration of the angels. As soon as this ceremony was completed, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in rich currents, and Christ was indeed glorified, even with the glory which He had with the Father from all eternity. The Pentecostal outpouring was Heaven’s communication that the Redeemer’s inauguration was accomplished. According to His promise He had sent the Holy Spirit from heaven to His followers as a token that He had, as priest and king, received all authority in heaven and on earth, and was the Anointed One over His people”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 38.
Read Hebrews 4:16 and 8:1. What hope and encouragement do you find in the fact that Jesus sits on the heavenly throne as our King and Lord? What impact does it make on you in dealing with everyday situations in your life as well as the uncertainty of the future?

Friday January 2
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “To My Father and Your Father,” pp. 833-835, in The Desire of Ages; “The Gift of the Spirit,” pp. 47-56, in The Acts of the Apostles.
The message of Revelation 4-5 is particularly important to the people of God living at the close of earth’s history. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost marked the beginning of the preaching of the gospel, the central message of which was about Jesus who had been exalted as King and Priest on the heavenly throne. This was the core of early Christian belief (Heb. 8:1) and the cornerstone of their preaching (Acts 2:32-36; 5:30-31). This truth was their motivation and the source of their faith and courage in the face of persecution and difficult life situations (Acts 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34). As a result, many people responded to their preaching. From that time on and through the presence of Jesus in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God manifested itself and keeps on manifesting itself.
As God’s people today, we must never forget that it is only the good news of salvation in Christ that can reach and transform human hearts and lead people to respond to the call of the eternal gospel to fear God, give him glory, and worship Him (Rev. 14:7). Our only hope is in our Savior who is our King and Priest on the throne of the universe. He is with His people and He will always be with them until the very end (Matt. 28:20), because He holds the future in His hands. Let us, therefore, never forget that keeping the essence of the gospel in mind will bring full success in preaching the final message to the lost and suffering humankind.
Discussion Questions:
What significance does the fact that with the symbolic sealed scroll the destiny of every human being on earth was put into Christ’s hands have for you personally? What comfort does it give to you today and what hope does this provide for the future? How does this impact your plans and decisions for both today and tomorrow?
The inauguration of Christ into his ministry in the heavenly sanctuary and the coming of the Holy Spirit are referred to as the early rain. The main content of the preaching of the early rain was the exaltation of Christ. What do you think, will the proclamation of the end-time gospel message be different?

Revelation Teacher’s Quarterly, Week 4, January 20-26 Analysis of Changes Made in the Editorial Process for the Teacher’s Edition

Basic theme: The Vision of Heavenly Throne Room (Rev 4 and 5)

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 last week, but still fairly minimal. I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive.

In section II of the Overview my statement that worship is “about what God has done” was supplemented by “and our appropriate, heartfelt response to it.” I suppose that is accurate in principle, but so much of our worship today tends to be human-centered and needs the corrective of the God-centered biblical focus and that might be lost on account of the addition.

In the opening paragraph of the Commentary section my statement that Jesus Christ is worshipped because He was slain was supplemented by “and is our Redeemer.” This addition suggests careful attention to the text of Revelation 5, where the slaying of the Lamb is the basis for praise in verses 6 and 12, but verse 9 adds the idea of redemption as a basis for worship. I was thinking mostly of Revelation 5:6 when I wrote what I did, but the editorial addition is also correct and I support it.

In Main Themes V the editors replaced my adjective “created” with “intelligent.” I think this was a great change, as my wording might unintentionally left the impression that Jesus was a created being. In using that term I was only thinking of His humanity (flesh) which was “created” (egeneto– John 1:14). But I think the changed wording is better.

In Main Themes VI the editors eliminated my comment that the Lamb joins His Father on the throne in Revelation 5. They are right that this is not exegetically stated in chapter 5, but is anticipated in Rev 3:21 and completed in Rev 22:5, so I think it is reasonable to assume that the events of Revelation 5 support an “enthronement” of Christ on the day of Pentecost, as He is now in the “midst” of the throne (Rev 5:6). But there is room for doubt, so I am OK with the change.

In Main Themes VII I wrote that Satan first appears in Revelation in the fifth trumpet. That is true in the literal sense, but the editors note that Satan is named in Rev 2:9 and 2:24. That is also true, so I support the editorial change here.

So in sum total, I think the editorial changes in this week’s lesson made things better rather than worse. It’s amazing the details that can slip through in the writing process both ways. I imagine the changes will be more troubling (to me) when we get to the heart of the book (chapters 8-14). You will, of course, be fully posted on all that right here. Stay tuned.

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 4-5 (Week 4)

LESSON 4
THE ENTHRONEMENT OF THE LAMB

Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 5:5-6.

Study Focus: The heavenly vision of chapters four and five Rev. 4:1 – 5:14).

Introduction: The passage covered in this lesson is divided into two parts. First, there is a general description of heavenly worship directed to the one sitting on the throne, God the Father (Rev. 4:1-11). Second, there is a moment of crisis in the heavenly throne room that is resolved by the appearance of the Lamb, Jesus Christ (Rev 5:1-14).

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

1. Is Rev. 4 a General Description of Heavenly Worship or a One-Time Event? The details of the text answer this question.
2. The Biblical Concept of Worship. Worship is not about us, our feelings, or our duties. Worship is a recital of what God has done.
3. The Identity of the Twenty-Four Elders. The elders are not an angelic group, they represent the totality of God’s people.
4. The Meaning of the Sealed Scroll. The sealed scroll represents God’s plan of salvation.
5. The Worthiness of the Lamb. The Lamb is uniquely worthy to open the scroll because of His combination of humanity and divinity.
6. The Progression of the Five Hymns (Rev. 4:8, 11; 5:9-10, 12, 13) Underlines the Divinity of the Lamb.
7. The Cosmic Conflict Is the Unspoken Backdrop to this Heavenly Scene.

Life Application. Participants are invited to consider the implications of this heavenly vision for earthly worship and for our understanding of the Sabbath.

Part II. Commentary

At the beginning of chapter four John is invited up to heaven for the first time (4:1). Chapter four is a general description of the continual worship of heaven (see the textual evidence in theme 1 below), in which God the Father is worshiped on account of creation (Rev. 4:11). But chapter five is a one-time crisis event in heaven. A problem is presented that seems so large that even God cannot solve it (Rev. 5:1-4). But the matter is resolved by the appearance of the Lamb, the God-man Jesus Christ (see theme 5 below). He is worshiped because He was slain and this fact resolves the crisis in the universe (Rev. 5:5-14).

Main Themes of Lesson 4 Elaborated:
1. Is Rev. 4 a General Description or a One-Time Event? Three pieces of evidence indicate that chapter 4 is not a one-time event, but a general description of heavenly worship. 1) The throne in verse 2 is not set up, it “was standing” (NASB) continually in heaven (Greek: keitai, imperfect tense). 2) The singing in verse 8 is not a single episode, it goes on “day and night.” 3) The singing of the four living creatures is continuously repetitive (“whenever,” NIV, RSV).

2. The Biblical Concept of Worship. In Rev. 4:11, the ground of worship is “because” God created all things. In Rev. 5:9 worship happens “because” (NIV) the Lamb was slain. In Rev. 11:17 the reason worship happens is “because” (NIV) God has begun to reign. While often translated “for” in English, all three verses use the Greek word hoti, which means the reason or the basis upon which an action is taken. God is worshiped “because” of what He has done. Worship throughout the Bible is talking about, singing about, repeating the acts that God has done (Deut. 26:1-11; Psa 66:3-6; 78:5-15; 111:4). It even includes acting out the events of the cross through baptism (Rom. 6:3-4) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:26). Worship in the Bible is not about us, our feelings, or our duties. Worship is a recital of what God has done.

3. The Identity of the Twenty-Four Elders. The lesson rightly asserts that the number twelve in the Bible is often used as a symbol of God’s people and that the twenty-four elders could, therefore, represent God’s people in their totality from both Old and New Testament times. But space did not permit mentioning the most important biblical evidence for these assertions. In Matt. 19:28 Jesus tells His disciples that they would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This verse ties together the number twelve, thrones, the apostles, and the twelve tribes. In Rev. 21:12 the names of the twelves tribes are written on the gates of the New Jerusalem, while the twelve foundations have the names of the twelve apostles written on them (Rev. 21:14). The number twenty-four adds twelve to twelve, as occurs in Rev. 21. In Rev. 7:4-8, furthermore, the people of God are described in terms of twelve times twelve times a thousand (144,000). The multiple of twelve is seen also in the height of the walls of the New Jerusalem, 144 cubits (21:17). So the best explanation of the twenty-four elders is that they represent the people of God in both Old and New Testaments.

4. The Meaning of the Sealed Scroll. Ask the class how many options they can think of for the meaning of the sealed scroll of Rev. 5. Some biblical options include a last will and testament, the constitution of Israel (Deuteronomy), a record of human history, emblem of the Lamb’s right to rule, a record of human deeds, the Book of Life, and a list of rewards and punishments for human behavior (judgment). Based on a comment in a letter of Ellen White, the lesson suggests that the scroll contains the history of God’s providences, and the prophetic history of the nations and the church. The lesson sums up with the conclusion that the sealed scroll represents the plan of salvation. John weeps (Rev. 5:4) because the plan of salvation will not be implemented unless someone is found worthy to open the scroll.
How do we know the book (Rev. 5:2, Greek: biblion) is a scroll and not more typical of books today? The same word is used in Rev. 6:14 which says that the “sky receded like a scroll (Greek: biblion) rolling up.”

5. The Worthiness of the Lamb. The Lamb is uniquely worthy to open the scroll (Rev. 5:5-6). The key qualities of the Lamb in the chapter are two-fold. The Lamb is slain, which is a pointer to His human nature. On the other hand, the Lamb is worshiped along with the one sitting on the throne (Rev. 5:13). This points to His divinity. The God-man is unique in all history. Of all created beings (see John 1:3, 14), only the human Jesus could fully reveal the character of God and atone for human sin, because he was fully equal with God. So embedded in this symbolic vision is a profound Christology, a doctrine of Jesus Christ, who is both fully human and fully divine.

6. The Five Hymns (Rev. 4:8, 11; 5:9-10, 12, 13) Under-line the Divinity of the Lamb. The divinity of Christ is underlined in the progression of five hymns in this vision. The first two hymns praise the One sitting on the throne (Rev. 4:8, 11). The third and fourth hymns praise the Lamb (Rev 5:9-12). The fifth hymn offers worship to both the One sitting on the throne and the Lamb (Rev. 5:13). The fifth hymns is the clear climax of the series, in which the Lamb joins the Father on His throne and receives the acclamation of the whole universe.
A second feature of these hymns also highlights the fifth hymn. It is the climax of a grand crescendo of singing. The first hymn is sung by the four living creatures (Rev. 4:8). The second hymn is sung by the twenty-four elders (4:11). The third is sung by both the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (Rev 5:9-10). The fourth hymn is sung by more than a hundred million angels (Rev. 5:11-12). The fifth hymn is sung by every creature in the universe (Rev 5:13). So the fifth hymn is the climax of a great crescendo as all attention focuses on the throne, affirming the divinity of the Lamb.

7. The Cosmic Conflict Is the Unspoken Backdrop to this Heavenly Scene. A striking aspect of Rev. 4-5 is the total absence of Satan, in spite of the fact that the heavenly crisis must have something to do with the cosmic conflict (Satan first appears in the context of the fifth trumpet– Rev 9:11). But the role of Satan in Rev. 4-5 is clarified in Rev. 12:10. Rev. 12:10 summarizes the scene of chapter five in terms of Christ’s coming to power. But his coming to power is paired with the casting down of Satan, the “accuser of the brothers.” The verse clarifies that Satan accuses the brothers “day and night.” This is strikingly reminiscent of Rev. 4:8, where the four living creature sing the triple holy song “day and night.” Their constant praise drowns out the constant accusations of Satan, which are no longer heard or seen. Satan is absent from the scene of chapters 4-5 because he has already been cast down on account of the cross.

Part III: Life Application

1. Considering the biblical evidence regarding worship in theme 2 above, talk about the typical worship service in your local church. Is it God centered or is it centered on the worshipers? Does it emphasize what God has done (creation, cross, daily promptings of the Spirit) or what we must do? Understanding and practicing this truth is the secret of unleashing God’s power in a local church. If worship seems powerless, it is because it is not centered in God. In Bible times, when people rehearsed what God had done for them in the past, the power of God’s original act was unleashed in the worshipper’s present (2 Chr 20:5-22; Dan. 9:15; 10:19-21). Worship is not about us, it is about God. Worship is not telling each other what we should do, it is reminding each other of what God has done.

2. What is the relationship between Rev. 4-5 and the Sabbath? Worship is presented to God and the Lamb on account of creation (Rev. 4:11) and salvation (Rev. 5:9-10). In the Old Testament the Sabbath is the memorial of both creation (Exod. 20:11) and the Exodus, the great act of Israel’s salvation (Deut 5:15). So the Sabbath points us to the mighty acts of God in creation, the Exodus and the cross. Keeping the Sabbath is not about earning merit with God. When we remember the Sabbath we are also remembering the great things God has done for us, and this is the foundation of true worship.

Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes in the Main Lesson for This Week (Rev 2-3)

In Lesson #3 of January 12-19, some editorial changes were made. In particular, the person who implemented the late modifications was eager to specify the exact years marking the beginning and ending of different periods in the historical application of the churches. Also, some modifications were made in the lesson on Friday that diminished the application of the promises given to the overcomers.

God’s People in Cities

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 1:10-11; 2:8-3:22; 22:16-17.
Memory Verse: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3: 22, NKJV).
From the barren island of Patmos, Jesus sent via John a letter with seven messages to His people as a token of His care for them (Rev. 1:11). While those messages originally concerned the churches in Asia of John’s day, they were also written for all Christians throughout history, including our day.
A side-by-side comparison of these messages shows that they follow the same six-fold structure. Each message opens with an address in which Jesus addresses each church by name. The second part begins with the phrase: “These things says He who . . . ” in which Jesus introduces Himself to each church by mentioning some of the descriptive features found in chapter 1. Those descriptions of Jesus were suited to the specific situations and needs of those churches. In such a way, Jesus pointed to His ability to meet their different needs and situations. This brings to mind the four Gospels. The Gospels present four distinctive portraits of Jesus to four different groups of people.
Next, Jesus gives an appraisal of the church and then counsels the church how to get out of their situation. Finally, each message concludes with an appeal to hear the Spirit and with promises to the overcomers.
As we saw in last week’s lesson in our analysis of the message to the first church in Ephesus, and as we will see this week in our study of the remaining six messages. We invite you to list the features of Jesus mentioned in each of the seven messages. Then, locate those features in the description of Jesus in chapter 1. As we briefly analyze the message, we will try to see how the features of Jesus in each message suited the situation of the Christians of John’s day and what they mean for God’s people today.

*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 20.
Sunday January 13
Christ’s Messages to Smyrna and Philadelphia
Jesus’ second and sixth messages originally addressed the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia. These two churches did not receive rebukes from Jesus.
Smyrna was a beautiful and wealthy city, next to Ephesus in its importance. It was reputed for its science and medicine industries as well as for its famous stadium, library, and the largest public theater in the province. The city was a center of emperor worship, which was compulsory for all citizens. The immediate consequences for refusing to comply with this mandate were the loss of legal status, persecution, and martyrdom.
Read Revelation 2:8-11. How does the way Jesus presents Himself to this church relate to the church’s situation? What was the situation of the church? What warning does Jesus give to the church of what was coming in the future? What promise did He give to this church?
The message to the church in Smyrna also speaks to the church in the postapostolic era, when Christians were viciously persecuted by the Roman Empire. The “ten days” mentioned in 2:10 pointed to the severe imperial persecution that started in A.D. 303 by Diocletian and continued until A.D. 313, when Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan granting Christians religious freedom.
Can you think of Christians around the world who are suffering persecution? Would you keep them in your prayers?
The next church addressed by Jesus was located in Philadelphia (“brotherly love”). It was founded in the second century B.C. by the king of Pergamum, Attalus II Philadelphus, in honor of his brother. The city stood on the imperial trade road connecting all parts east with all parts west of the province. It was founded as a center for promoting the Greek language and culture in the area of Lydia and Phrygia.
Read Revelation 3:7-13. How does the way Jesus presents Himself in this message relate to the situation of this church? What does Jesus’ statement, “you have a little strength” say about the condition of the church? What promises does Jesus give to this church?
The message to this church aptly applies to the great revival of Protestantism during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The church of this period was driven by a genuine desire to carry the gospel to the whole world. As a result, there was a great explosion of the gospel that had not been experienced since the time of Pentecost.
Do you feel spiritually weak in your relationship with Christ? In what way does Christ’s promise to the Philadelphians apply to you?

Monday January 14
Christ’s Message to Pergamum
Pergamos or Pergamum was the center of intellectual life in the Hellenistic world. It was famous for it’s library of nearly 200,000 volumes. It was also famous for its magnificent temples, in particular, the grand altar of Zeus that dominated the city. The city was the center of the cult of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, who was called “the Savior” and represented by a serpent. People from all over the world were coming to the shrine of Asclepius to be healed. Pergamum had a leading role in promoting the cult of emperor worship, which was, as in Smyrna, compulsory. In such a way, the Christians in Pergamum lived in the city “where Satan dwelt” and where his throne was located.
Read Revelation 2:12-15. How does Jesus present Himself to this church? What was His appraisal of the spiritual condition of this church?
Surrounded by paganism and its grand temples, the Christians in Pergamum faced temptations from both outside and inside the church. While most of them remained unwavering in their faithfulness to Christ, there were some in the church who advocated compromise with paganism in order to avoid persecution and martyrdom. They were called Nicolaitans, most likely the followers of Nicolas, one of the seven deacons in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:5) who later turned to heresy. They are linked to another heretical group named after Balaam who seduced the Israelites on the way to the Promised Land (Num. 31:16). These two groups advocated conformity to pagan practices in order to avoid the discomfort of persecution. While the church in Ephesus did not tolerate such teaching (Rev. 2:6), these heretical teachers were able to seduce some in the church in Pergamum.
Read Revelation 2:16-17. What does Jesus urge the church to do in order to help them improve their spiritual condition? What promises does Jesus give to this church?
The message to the church in Pergamum also aptly describes the situation of the church in the period after A.D. 313. As Christianity won its struggle with paganism, many in the church went the way of compromise. Although many remained unwavering and faithful to the gospel, the fourth and fifth centuries witnessed spiritual decline and apostasy, during which the church wrestled with the temptation of compromise.
How does the message to the church in Pergamum apply to the situation of the church today? Do you see any parallels between the spiritual condition of church that you are a part of and the church in Pergamum?

Tuesday January 15
Christ’s Message to Thyatira
In comparison with other cities, Thyatira had no political or cultural significance. It was rather known for trade. The population consisted mainly of laborers and tradesmen who belonged to different trade guilds. Lydia, the purple fabrics dealer in Philippi, was originally from Thyatira (Acts 16:14). In order to run a business or have a job, people had to belong to trade guilds. Members had to attend the guild festivals and participate in temple rituals that included eating meat sacrificed to the patron god and immoral activities. Those who did not comply experienced exclusion from the guilds and economic sanctions. The Christians in this city had to choose between compromise and remaining faithful to the gospel.
Read Revelation 2:18-23. How does Jesus present Himself to this church? What were the qualities that Jesus commended the church for? What was the problem that troubled the church?
Like the church in Pergamum, the threat to the church in Thyatira was compromise with the pagan environment. They tolerated in their midst a female member who claimed to be a prophetess. Jesus names her Jezebel, after the wife of King Ahab, who led Israel into apostasy (1 Kings 16:31-33). Jezebel in Thyatira taught that it was okay for Christians to compromise with pagan practices in order to avoid the hardships. Jesus portrays her as a spiritual harlot. Those who condoned her teaching were committing spiritual adultery with her.
Read Revelation 2:24-29. While many in the church turned to apostasy, there was a remnant of those who remained faithful. What do you think are “the deep things of Satan” that this remnant did not come to know? Deliberate on the counsel and promise that Jesus gave to this faithful remnant?
The situation in the church in Thyatira applies to the condition of the church at large during the period of the Middle Ages. The danger to the church did not come from outside but from those who claimed to receive their authority from God. During that period, tradition replaced the Bible, a human priesthood and sacred relics replaced Christ’s priesthood, and works were regarded as the means of salvation. Those who did not condone the corrupting influences of the institutional church experienced persecution and even death.
How does Jesus’ message to the church of Thyatira apply to the congregation you are a part of? What kind of compromise are you tempted with in your life? Do you feel that you are a part of the remnant that has chosen to remain faithful and obedient to God?

Wednesday January 16
Christ’s Message to Sardis
The city of Sardis had a glorious history. A few centuries prior to Revelation, it was one of the greatest cities in the ancient world and the capital of Lydia, ruled by the wealthy Croesus. By the Roman period, the city had lost its prestige. While still enjoying prosperity and wealth, its glory was rooted in its past history rather than in present reality. The city was built on top of a steep hill and, as such, inaccessible. The citizens felt so secure that the city walls were carelessly guarded. The city was twice captured by surprise by soldiers who climbed the cliff and found that the overconfident citizens failed to post a guard on the walls.
Read Revelation 3:1. How does Jesus present Himself to this church and how does it relate to the church’s needs? What was His appraisal of the spiritual condition of this church?
While Jesus recognizes a few Christians in the church in Sardis as faithful, most of them only have a name, but are in reality spiritually dead. The church is not charged for any open sin or apostasy like those in Pergamum and Thyatira but with spiritual lethargy.
Read Revelation 3:2-6 along with Matthew 24:42-44; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8. What three things does Jesus urge the Christians in Sardis to do as a cure for their spiritual condition? What did the church have to remember? How did Jesus’ warning to “watch” correspond to the historical background of the city? What promise did Jesus give to those who remained faithful?
The message to the church in Sardis aptly applies also to the spiritual situation of the Protestants in the post-Reformation period, as the church gradually degenerated into lifeless formalism and a state of spiritual complacency. Under the impact of the rising tide of rationalism and secularism, focus on the saving grace of the gospel and commitment to Christ waned, giving place to rationalism and theological arguments. The church at this period, although appearing to be alive, was in reality spiritually dead.
The letter also applies to every generation of Christians. There are Christians who always talk in glorious terms of their past faithfulness to Christ. Unfortunately, the same do not have much to share about their present experience with Christ. Their religion is nominal, lacking the true religion of the heart and genuine commitment to the gospel.
Do you see symptoms of complacency in your own life? How can Jesus’ counsel to the church in Sardis help you personally in curing such a spiritual situation?

Thursday January 17
Christians in Laodicea
The last church addressed by Jesus was located in Laodicea, a wealthy commercial, industrial, and financial city situated on the major trade road. It was famous for a woolen manufacturing industry, its banks, which held a vast quantity of gold, and a medical school producing eye salve. The prosperity filled the citizens with self-sufficiency. Around AD 60, when an earthquake destroyed the city, the citizens declined an offer of assistance from Rome, claiming to have all they needed. Since the city lacked water, it was supplied through an aqueduct from hot springs from Hierapolis, which, as it reached Laodicea, became lukewarm.
Read Revelation 3:14-17 along with Hosea 12:8. Draw parallels between the historical characteristics of the city and Christ’s appraisal of this church. How did the self-sufficient spirit of the city pervade the Laodicean Christians?
Jesus did not rebuke the Christians in Laodicea for some serious sin, heresy, or apostasy. Their problem was rather complacency leading to spiritual lethargy. Like the water that reached the city, they were neither refreshingly cold nor hot, but lukewarm. They claimed to be rich and in need of nothing; yet, they were extremely poor, naked, and blind to their spiritual condition.
The church in Laodicea aptly represents the spiritual condition of the church at the close of this earth’s history. This is shown by strong verbal links with Revelation 16:15 in connection with the preparation for the final crisis, which shows that the church in Laodicea was set to be the model for the end-time church. The last church will exist in times of great political, religious, and secular upheavals and will face challenges like no previous generation. Yet, this church is self-sufficient and struggling with its authenticity. Christ’s warning to her has a far-reaching implication for all who are a part of that church.
Jesus assures the Laodiceans that He loves them and he will not give up on them (3:19). He concludes His appeal by picturing Himself as the lover in Song of Songs 5:2-6 standing at the door and knocking and pleading to be let in (3:20). Everyone who opens the door and lets Him in is promised an intimate dinner with Him. This call is not to be missed.
Read Revelation 3:18-22. What counsel did Jesus give to the Laodiceans as a cure for their self-sufficiency? What do gold, white garment, and eye salve symbolize (see 1 Pet. 1:7; Isa. 61:10; Eph. 1:17-18)? Jesus offered the Laodiceans “to buy” from Him these things. What did they have to trade in exchange for these riches?

Friday October 18
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “The Revelation,” pp. 578-592, in The Acts of the Apostles.
The seven messages to the churches show spiritual decline in the seven churches. The church in Ephesus was still faithful, although it had lost its first love. The churches in Smyrna and Pergamum were faithful, only a small number of wayward members were unfaithful. Thyatira was a divided church with two phases of her faithfulness to Christ. The churches in Sardis and Philadelphia were in a very serious condition. The majority in these churches was out of harmony with the gospel, while the remnant represented the faithful few. The church in Laodicea was in such a condition that there was nothing good to be said about that church.
In concluding each message, Jesus makes promises to those who accept his counsel. One might observe, however, that along with the evident spiritual decline in the churches, there is a proportionate increase in promises given. Starting with Ephesus, which receives only one promise, as each church follows the downward spiritual trend, each receives more promises than the previous one. Finally, the church in Laodicea, while given only one promise, receives the greatest: to share Jesus’ throne (3:20). This promise encompasses all the other promises given to the churches.
Discussion Questions:
How does this increase in promises along with the spiritual decline in the churches reflect the statement that when sin increases, grace abounds even more (Rom. 5:20)? Think of that in light of the statement that, “the church, enfeebled and defective though it be, is the only object on earth on which Christ bestows his supreme regard. He is constantly watching it with solicitude, and is strengthening it by his Holy Spirit.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, 2:396.
Often Christians say that it is hard to be a Christian in industrial, commercial, and metropolitan cities. What can be learned from the fact that in the prosperous cities in Asia there were Christians who remained loyal to the gospel and unswerving in the midst of all the pressure of the pagan environment?
Think of those Christians in Asia in light of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:15-19? How does the concept of being in the world but not of the world apply to Christians today, in particular those living in metropolitan cities?

Revelation Teacher’s Quarterly, Week 3, January 13-19 Analysis of Changes Made in the Editorial Process for the Teacher’s Edition

Basic theme: Message to Six Churches (Rev 2:8 – 3:22)

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 fairly small for this week, I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive.

My introduction statement was completely replaced. I was summarizing the order in which the seven messages were address in the main lesson, the editors instead summarized the theme of the messages as encouragement to God’s people over the centuries. A major editorial change, but not theologically significant.

A minor change occurred in Main Theme I. I had written that the letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia were “very largely positive.” The editors removed the “very” leaving them “largely positive.” A meaningful change that I could have made in thinking about it more. Later in the same paragraph I wrote that the chiastic structure of the seven message “tells us” that Laodicea, like Ephesus suffers from a deficiency of love. The editors changed the phrase to “suggests,” appropriate scholarly caution.

I was pleased that my section (Main Theme III) on the dark side of missionary endeavors (which is true but not pleasant for Christians to hear) was retained intact.

In Main Theme 5 the editors switched from third person to first person (“us” instead of “them”). I was writing with the assumption that some readers would not be Seventh-day Adventists and leaving them space to understand and appreciate what was said there. The change is aimed to identify with SDA readers and could make “outsiders” feel left out. I prefer the former, but it is the kind of decision best made from leadership’s perspective. Perhaps they know that non-Seventh-day Adventists won’t be reading the Teacher’s Edition.

In the Life Application I section, the editors added to a discussion of the Lamb’s bride “symbolized by the New Jerusalem.” I think that was a good addition. In Life Application II my clause “identify with His death and resurrection” was replaced with “invite Jesus to rule over our hearts and overcome,” eliminating a reference to Revelation 5:5-6.

In sum, you can work with this week’s lesson as if it came directly from my hand. There were no changes of major theological significance.
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 Teacher’s Notes for Rev 2-3 (Week 3)

LESSON 3

GOD’S PEOPLE IN CITIES

Part I: Overview

Focus of the Lesson: Rev. 3:21.

Study Focus: Messages two through seven to the seven churches of Revelation (Rev. 2:8 – 3:22).

Introduction: This lesson first pairs the messages to Smyrna and Philadelphia. The messages to Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea are then examined in the order they appear in the text.

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

1. The Chiasm of the Seven Churches. The seven churches are structured in a typical Hebrew style (see commentary below for details).
2. Encouragement in Trouble. The messages to the seven churches exhibit both spiritual decline and a corresponding increase in the number and weight of promises made to each church.
3. Christianity’s Greatest Advance and Its Contemporary Consequences. The message to Philadelphia forecast a time of great missionary advance. But that advance included aspects that have put Christianity on the defensive today.
4. The Message to Thyatira Is Different. The churches as a whole exhibit spiritual decline. That is also manifest in the messages to Ephesus, Pergamum and Sardis. But the message to Thyatira goes against the grain in a couple of ways.
5. Laodicea and the Final Era of Earth’s History. Evidence from the text supports the idea that Laodicea represents the church at the close of Christian history.

Life Application. The inclusion of Jezebel in the message to Thyatira invites the participants to reflect on the role of the four women in Revelation. Seventh-day Adventists are also invited to apply the message to Laodicea to themselves.

Part II. Commentary

The messages to the seven churches have a common structure, similar in form to ancient letters. 1) Jesus addresses each church by name. 2) He then introduces Himself to each church, using characteristics drawn from chapter one. 3) He offers an analysis of the strengths and/or weaknesses of each church. 4) Jesus provides counsel suitable to His analysis of each church. 5) An appeal is made to listen to the Spirit. 6) Each message concludes with a promise or promises to those in each church who overcome. In messages four through seven (beginning with Thyatira), numbers five and six are reversed.

Main Themes of Lesson 3 Elaborated:

1. The Chiasm of the Seven Churches. The structure of the seven churches exhibits a literary form that is grounded in Hebrew logic. In western thinking A + B = C. But in Hebrew logic A + B = A enhanced. This literary form is called chiasm (from the Greek letter X [pronounced “key”]). Writers produce chiasms when they reason full-circle back to the beginning point of an argument. The first point parallels the last point. The second point parallels the next to last point, and so on, with the climax at the center rather than the end. It is, perhaps, not coincidental that the form of the seven-branched lampstand in the tabernacle is analogous to a literary chiasm.
The letter to Smyrna (second) has many similarities with the letter to the Philadelphians (sixth), both are very positive messages. The letters to Pergamum (third) and Sardis (fifth) are both to churches in steep decline. The message to Thyatira (the fourth and middle church) is twice as long as the others and is different from all the others (see theme 4 below). This means that the first and last letters (to Ephesus and Laodicea) are also parallel. This tells us that Laodicea, like Ephesus, suffers from a deficiency of love.

2. Encouragement in Trouble. When you look at the seven churches as a whole, they seem to be in a state of decline and the rebukes from Jesus become more and more serious. The churches at Ephesus and Smyrna are faithful churches, only that Ephesus has a deficiency of love. But as you go through the churches things seem to decline from Pergamum through Sardis until you get to Laodicea, where Jesus cannot think of anything good to say about the church. While the message to Philadelphia is positive, the church is much weaker than Smyrna. In the message to Ephesus, there is a threat that Jesus will take a closer look at them. Laodicea makes Jesus feel like vomiting. This is a serious picture.
But this leads in to the most encouraging part of the messages to the seven churches. The first church gets one promise: The tree of life. The second church gets two: The crown of life and deliverance from the second death. The third church gets three: hidden manna, white stone, new name. The fourth church gets four, the fifth church gets five, the sixth church gets six. Each church gets more promises than the church before, and the seventh church, Laodicea, gets the promise to end all promises, to sit with Jesus on His throne.
As the condition of the churches declines, as the rebukes of Jesus become more severe, the promises of Jesus abound more and more. The worse things get, the greater the grace and power that God exerts. The deeper the problems you may have in life, the more powerful is the grace of Jesus Christ. This message speaks as powerfully for us today as it did in ancient times.

3. Christianity’s Greatest Advance and Its Contemporary Consequences. The lesson brings out that the message to Philadelphia applies to the great revival of Protestantism during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This motivated the church to carry the gospel to the whole world. It resulted in the greatest expansion of Christianity since the time of Pentecost.
But there was a dark side to this expansion. Missionary endeavors too often rode on the back of the West’s colonial expansion in the economic and political realms. As a result, many non-Christian peoples today see Christianity as a self-serving tool of Western imperialism rather than a humble, self-effacing movement that seeks to improve the lives of others. This attitude is increasingly found even in the more “Christian” parts of the world. Christianity as a whole is on the defensive today. In this context manipulation or political involvement of any kind on the part of the church plays into the negative stereotypes that have arisen. The gospel message can no longer rely on political and economic support for its success. It has been thrown back to Jesus’ original plan of “power made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

4. The Message to Thyatira Is Different. As mentioned earlier, the churches of Rev. as a whole exhibit spiritual decline. That is also clearly manifested in the messages to Ephesus, Pergamum and Sardis. But the message to Thyatira goes against the grain in several ways. First of all, it is twice as long as the other six messages. This is fitting to its role at the center of the chiasm. Second, it is the only church whose faithful members merit the title of “remnant” (the “rest” [Greek: loipois] in Thyatira– Rev 2:24, KJV).
Third, it is the only church that is getting better. Jesus says that their “latter works exceed the first” (Rev 2:19, ESV). While all the other churches are either in decline or holding steady, Thyatira was already improving when Jesus came to deliver His message to the church. Placed at the center of the chiasm of the seven churches, this positive message means that all the churches are capable of the changes Jesus calls them to. While Satan accuses in order to discourage and distract, Jesus and the Holy Spirit rebuke in order to encourage and to heal.

5. Laodicea and the Final Era of Earth’s History. Seventh-day Adventists have often seen the message to Laodicea as applying particularly to the church at the end of time. The best evidence for this is the connection between Rev. 3:18 and Rev. 16:15. No other text in the Bible contains the four major words found in both of these passages. Both verses have the Greek words for “seeing” (Greek: blepô), “clothing” (Greek: himation), “shame” (Greek: aischunê, aschêmosunê) and “nakedness” (Greek: gumnotês, gumnos). This is a striking parallel. In the midst of the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:14-16) there is a call to end-time watchfulness in the language of Laodicea (Rev. 16:15, cf. 3:18). This is striking evidence that Laodicea represents the final church of earth’s history.

Part III: Life Application

1. How many women are portrayed in the Book of Revelation and what is their role in the message of the book? There are four women portrayed in Revelation. Two are positive figures and two are negative. The first is Jezebel, the leader of the opposition to the faithful ones in Thyatira (Rev. 2:20-23). The second is the godly woman of Revelation 12 (Rev. 12:1-2, 5-6, 14-17). The third is prostitute Babylon (Rev. 17:1-7, 16). The fourth is the bride of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-8). All four are ultimately associated with the church, either positively or negatively. Jezebel, the opponent of Thyatira anticipates prostitute Babylon, who is dressed like the High Priest (Rev 17:4). If the first part of Thyatira represents the medieval church, then the two images are very closely related. Opposition to Christ often wears a Christian face.
Similarly, the woman of Rev. 12 represents the faithful people of God throughout history. The bride of the Lamb (Rev. 19) represents the faithful of God at the end of history. So it stands to reason that Babylon (Rev. 17-18) represents opposition to God from within the church at the end of time. “Woman” in Rev. represents both the best and the worst of human interaction with God.

2. How should Seventh-day Adventists apply the message of Rev. 3:18-21 to themselves? What is there in the text for all of us to learn? Gold can express the value we have in God’s eyes. White raiment represents the righteousness of Christ that is given to us. Eye salve represents the spiritual discernment that helps us clearly see our need for Christ.
Although Jesus disciplines as needed (Rev. 3:19), He never forces anyone to follow Him. He gently invites and leaves the decision to us (3:20). And He holds out the promise to end all promises to us. If we identify with His death and resurrection (Rev. 3:21; 5:5-6), we will participate in His throne. As expressed by the gold tried in the fire, God sees infinite value in us.

3. What encouragement can we take from an awareness that many ancient Christians remained faithful to God in the midst of godless cities?

Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes in the Main Lesson for This Week (Rev 1:9-20)

From Ranko: “In this lesson, some problematic changes have been introduced. The most problematic is introduced the last paragraph that was inserted stating that Rev 1:12-20 describe Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. This is opposite of what Revelation clearly shows. John is not taken in vision into the heavenly sanctuary until 4:1, where he is taken up to look through the door inside the heavenly throne room of the heavenly sanctuary.”

Lesson 2 *January 6-12

Among the Lampstands

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 1:9-20; 2:1-7; Lev. 26:11-12; Ps. 73:2-28; Rom. 5:20.
Memory Verse: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21, NKJV).
Psalm 73 describes the Psalmist’s bewilderment as he observed the boastful pride of ungodly people. They lived in abundance and ease with their heads lifted toward heaven mocking, “How does God know?” Unfortunately, the prosperity of the ungodly is starkly juxtaposed with the suffering of the righteous. This injustice greatly distressed and troubled the Psalmist (Ps. 73:2—16). In his perplexity, he went to the sanctuary (73:16-17). There, in the presence of God, he acquired a deeper understanding of the matter. He left the place of his encounter with God with the determination: “It is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all your works” (Ps. 73:28, NKJV).

Centuries later, an aged apostle found himself on a rocky prison island because of his faithful witness to the gospel. In his distress, he got news that the churches he was in charge of were suffering. It was at that critical moment that he had a visionary experience in a sanctuary setting where he had a special encounter with the resurrected Christ.
Similar to the experience of the Psalmist centuries earlier, this visionary experience revealed to John the mysteries of this life. This sanctuary scene provided him with the assurance of Christ’s presence and care for his people. This assurance he was to pass on to the churches in Asia as well as to the succeeding generations of Christians throughout the centuries until the end of this world’s history.

*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 13.

Sunday January 7

On Patmos
Read Revelation 1:9. What does John the Revelator tell us of the circumstances in which he received the visions of Revelation? Why was he on Patmos?

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Patmos (modern Patina) was a barren, rocky island in the Aegean Sea; it was ten miles long and six miles wide across its widest part. Romans used it together with some other surrounding islands as a penal colony for banished political offenders. Early Christian authors living relatively close to the time of Revelation state unanimously that Roman authorities banished John to Patmos because of his faithfulness to the gospel. The aged apostle endured on Patmos all the hardships of Roman imprisonment. He was treated as a criminal, chained in fetters, given insufficient food, and forced to perform hard labor under the lash of the whip of merciless Roman guards.
John’s exile to Patmos led to the writing of Revelation as did Daniel’s exile in Babylon led to the writing of the book of Daniel. Therefore, in what way do you think their experiences helped them to relate to the situations of God’s people to whom they communicate God’s message?
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“Patmos, a barren, rocky island in the Aegean Sea, had been chosen by the Roman government as a place of banishment for criminals; but to the servant of God this gloomy abode became the gate of heaven. Here, shut away from the busy scenes of life, and from the active labors of former years, he had the companionship of God and Christ and the heavenly angels, and from them he received instruction for the church for all future time”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 570.
The followers of Christ should never forget that whenever they find themselves in circumstances similar to that of John, they are not left alone. The Patmos experience always results in a revelation of Christ. The same Jesus, who came to John with the words of hope and encouragement in the midst of his hardship on Patmos, is still present with His people to sustain and support them in their difficult life situations.

Monday January 8

On the Lord’s Day
Read Revelation 1:10 along with Exodus 31:13; Isaiah 58:13; Matthew 12:8. According to these texts, what day in the Bible is clearly specified as the Lord’s? How meaningful this day must have been for John in the midst of his hardships?
“It was on the Sabbath that the Lord of glory appeared to the exiled apostle. The Sabbath was as sacredly observed by John on Patmos as when he was preaching to the people in the towns and cities of Judea. He claimed as his own the precious promises that had been given regarding that day”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 581.
The expression “the Lord’s Day” brings also to mind another day in the Bible called the “day of the Lord” (Isaiah 13:6-13; 2 Pet. 3:10). This is the day of the Second Coming when God will bring the history of this world to its end and establish His kingdom. This suggests that the apostle John received the vision of Revelation on the seventh-day Sabbath in which he witnessed the future events leading up to the Second Coming of Christ (cf. 1:7). That is the reason why the Sabbath became for him a foretaste of a life free from suffering, which he and the faithful of all ages will experience at the Second Coming.
“The Sabbath, which God had instituted in Eden, was as precious to John on the lonely isle . . . What a Sabbath was that to the lonely exile, always precious in the sight of Christ, but now more than ever exalted! Never had he learned so much of Jesus. Never had he heard such exalted truth.”—Ellen G. White, in The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 955.
Compare the two versions of the fourth commandment of the Decalogue in Exodus 20:11 and Deuteronomy 5:15. These two texts point to the seventh-day Sabbath as a memorial of both creation and deliverance reminding us that God both made us and purchased us. What implication does this twofold aspect of the Sabbath have for you personally? What special meaning does the Sabbath have to you when you find yourself, like the apostle John, in the midst of perplexity and suffering?
The first angel in Revelation 14:7 urges the inhabitants of the earth at the time of the end to “worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water,” which is the language from Exodus 20:11. What does this tell us of the end-time significance of the Sabbath in Revelation?

Tuesday January 9

Encountering Christ on Patmos
Read Revelation 1:12-18. Compare John’s portrayal of Christ with the divine being in Daniel 10:5-6. How does Jesus appear in the vision? What is He doing?
John sees Jesus dressed in a priestly robe walking among the lampstands. The vision reflects the ancient Israelite temple in which the lampstands provided light (see 1 Kings 7:49).
The picture of Jesus walking among the lampstands points to God’s promise to ancient Israel to walk among them as their God (Lev. 26:12). In Revelation, the lampstands represented the seven churches in Asia to whom Revelation was originally sent (Rev. 1:20). In the symbolic walking among the lampstands, Jesus fulfills the covenant promise given to Israel; He will be continually with his people until he brings them to their eternal home.
Moreover, the picture of Jesus as a priest among the lampstands is drawn from the cultic practice in the Jerusalem temple. The daily task of an appointed priest was to keep the lamps in the Holy Place burning brightly. He would trim and refill the lamps that were waning, replace the wick on the lamps that had gone out and refill them with fresh oil and re-light them. In such a way, the priest became acquainted with the situation of each individual lamp. In the same way, Jesus is personally acquainted with the needs and circumstances of the seven churches.
Read Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19, etc. What does the statement, “I know” say about Jesus’ acquaintance with the situations and needs of God’s people in those churches?
Jesus came down to Patmos, first to provide encouragement to John. He identified Himself with the titles of God as ”the First and the Last” (see Isa. 44:6; 48:12). The Greek word for “last” is eschatos from which the word eschatology (“end-time”) comes. This shows that the focus of eschatology is on Jesus Christ who has the last word with regard to the final events. He is “the living one” and is in possession of “the keys of death and of Hades” (1:18). Keys are a symbol of power and authority. His faithful followers don’t need to fear because death and the abode of the dead are under his control. No matter what the future brings, He will always be with His people until the very end.
Do you sometimes find yourself on a “patmos,” surrounded by a sea of dire circumstances that cause fear in your life? What lesson does the scene of Jesus among the lampstands speak to you?

Wednesday January 10

Christ’s Messages for Then and Now
John lived the last part of his life in Ephesus. He was a pastor overseeing the churches in the province. While he was on Patmos, those churches started experiencing serious problems. However, the aged apostle could not provide them with guidance.
Read Revelation 1:11 and 19-20. Jesus also gave to John distinctive messages for the seven churches in Asia. What does the fact that there were more that seven churches in the province and that only seven were chosen suggest about the symbolic significance of these messages for Christians in general?
The messages that Jesus commissioned John to send to the seven churches are recorded in Revelation 2-3. Their meanings apply on three levels:
Historical application. Those messages were originally sent to the seven churches located in the prosperous city centers in Asia in the first century. The Christians there faced serious challenges from the pagan environment. Several cities set up emperor worship in their temples as a token of their loyalty to Rome. Emperor worship became compulsory for all citizens in those cities. Citizens were also expected to participate in the city’s public events and pagan religious ceremonies. Because Christians refused to participate in those events they faced losing their legal status, persecution, and even martyrdom. Commissioned by Christ, John wrote the seven messages to help them with the challenges of their pagan environment. An understanding of this historical context helps us understand the primary meaning of those messages.
Prophetic application. The fact that Revelation is a prophetic book and that only seven churches were chosen, points to the prophetic character of the seven messages. The spiritual conditions in the seven churches coincide with the spiritual conditions of Christianity in different periods of history. The seven messages are intended to provide, from heaven’s perspective, a panoramic survey of the spiritual condition of Christianity from the first century until the time of the end.
Universal application. While originally sent to the churches in Asia, the seven messages contain lessons that apply also to different Christians in every period in history. They were sent together as one letter and they had all to be read in every church (Rev 1:11). In such a way, they represent different types of Christians in any place and time. For instance, while the general characteristic of Christianity today is Laodicean, some Christians may, instead, have the characteristics of some other church. The good news is, God “meets fallen human beings where they are”—Ellen White, The Faith I Live By, p. 10.

Thursday January 11

Message to the Church in Ephesus
Read Acts 19. What do you learn here about the city of Ephesus and the beginning of the church there? What were some of the challenges of the pagan environment that Christians in Ephesus faced?
Ephesus was the capital and the largest city in the Roman province of Asia, located on the major trade routes. As the chief seaport of Asia, it was a very important commercial and religious center. The city was filled with public buildings such as temples, theaters, gymnasiums, bathhouses, and brothels. It was known also for magical practices and arts. The city was, however, notorious for immorality and superstition. Yet, the most influential Christian church in the province was located in Ephesus.
Read Revelation 2:1-4 along with Jeremiah 2:2. How does Jesus present Himself to this church? For what great qualities does Jesus commend the church? What concern does Jesus express about the members in the church?
In their early days, the Ephesians were known for their faithfulness and love (Eph. 1:15). Although experiencing pressure both from outside and inside the church, the Christians in Ephesus remained firm and faithful. They were hardworking and doctrinally sound. They could not tolerate false teachers in their midst. However, as the members emphasized sound doctrine and orthodox behavior, their love for Christ and their fellow members began to wane. Although firm and faithful, in the absence of love, their works became cold and legalistic.
Read Revelation 2:5-7. What three things does Jesus urge the church to do in order to revive their first love and devotion to Christ and their fellow believers? How are these three things sequentially related?
Prophetically, the situation in the church in Ephesus corresponds to the general situation and spiritual condition of the church in the first century. The early church was characterized by love and faithfulness to the gospel. But by the end of the first century, the church began losing the fire of its first love, thus departing from the simplicity and purity of the gospel.
Throughout history Christians have always found themselves torn between practicing sound doctrine and expressing love and compassion. Imagine yourself as part of a congregation whose love is waning? The members may not be rebuked of any open sin. They are doing what’s right, yet they suffer from formalism and coldness. How can Jesus’s counsel help such a church get out of such a situation?

Friday January 12

Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Patmos,” pp. 567-576, in The Acts of the Apostles.
“The persecution of John became a means of grace. Patmos was made resplendent with the glory of a risen Saviour. John had seen Christ in human form, with the marks of the nails, which will ever be his glory, in his hands and his feet. Now he was permitted again to behold his risen Lord, clothed with as much glory as a human being could behold, and live. What a Sabbath was that to the lonely exile, always precious in the sight of Christ, but now more than ever exalted! Never had he learned so much of Jesus. Never had he heard such exalted truth.
“The appearance of Christ to John should be to all, believers and unbelievers, an evidence that we have a risen Christ. It should give living power to the church. At times dark clouds surround God’s people. It seems as if oppression and persecution would extinguish them. But at such times the most instructive lessons are given. Christ often enters prisons, and reveals himself to his chosen ones. He is in the fire with them at the stake. As in the darkest night the stars shine the brightest, so the most brilliant beams of God’s glory are revealed in the deepest gloom. The darker the sky, the more clear and impressive are the beams of the Sun of Righteousness, the risen Saviour.”—Ellen G. White, “John the Beloved,” in Youth Instructor, April 5, 1900.
“Looking down through long centuries of darkness and superstition, the aged exile saw multitudes suffering martyrdom because of their love for the truth. But he saw also that He who sustained His early witnesses would not forsake His faithful followers during the centuries of persecution that they must pass through before the close of time.”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 588.

Discussion Questions:

John the Revelator shares with the readers what he saw and heard on Patmos. As you read Revelation 1:12-20, what do you see and hear? How does the vision of the glorified Christ impact your daily life today and your walk with Him?

Somebody said that religion is something people try in their life after they have tried everything else. As we have deliberated this week about John’s experience on Patmos, what impact has this made on your decision, after all you have tried in your life, to try Jesus Christ?

Revelation Teacher’s Quarterly, Week 2, January 6-12 Analysis of Changes Made in the Editorial Process for the Teacher’s Edition

Basic theme: The Vision of Christ and the Church at Ephesus (Rev 1:9 – 2:7)

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 fairly small for this week, I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive. Toward the end of the Overview (Part I) I spoke of the “frightening picture of Jesus” in Revelation 1:12-16. The editor(s) changed “frightening” to “startling.” I suppose they found the idea that Jesus could be frightening distasteful. But I based that adjective on Revelation 1:17 where Jesus assures John afterward, “Do not be afraid.” I understand the shift, but prefer to use biblical language when possible.

In the first paragraph of the Commentary section (Part II) the editors took out a sentence where I note that verses 11 and 19 form an “envelope” around the vision of Jesus (Rev 1:12-18). Since verse 11 invites John to write what he sees and verse 19 encourages him to write what he has seen, I take it that the entire vision of Revelation (summarized in 1:19) was seen in between (my reasons are spelled out in the third section of the Commentary part, which survived). That would mean that the whole book of Revelation came in a single vision. The editors prefer the idea of multiple visions. If Revelation 1:19 describes the whole book (the “things which are” describing the seven churches and the “things which must happen after this” [compare with Rev 4:1] from Revelation 4-22), then my view is to be preferred. I think the motive in removing this sentence is to protect the idea that the prophetic role of the seven churches is primary, which I find hard to see in the text itself. I see the seven churches as prophetic letters, with a primary address to the original audience (“the things which are”), but prophetic implications for church history. This is not a life and death sort of difference. The prophetic view of the churches is exegetically defensible either way, even if not exegetically compelling. Related to this, in the third section of the Commentary part, a sentence is removed where I said that the seven churches are not apocalyptic in style, like Daniel 7 and Revelation 12. I will let the reader compare these texts and decide for themselves.

In the second section of the Commentary part, a sentence was removed (“No individual church, therefore, has the full picture of Jesus”). I think that is evident in the text, as each church is approach with one to three characteristics of Jesus, not the whole of Rev 1:12-18). I suspect the sentence was removed so readers would not get the implication that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has less than a full picture of Jesus. We can discuss what “full picture of Jesus” means in that context. In my experience, I have learned a lot about Jesus from believers who are not Seventh-day Adventist.

The editors added the fifth section of the Commentary part, as I did not say anything additional regarding the message to the church at Ephesus, leaving the reader to draw that from the standard lesson. I thought it was a good and helpful addition.

Finally, in the Life Application section, I note that the editors left my reference to the appearance of Jesus frightening John “to his core.” That tells me that the change was editorial preference rather than a deep-seated difference in theology or interpretation of the Bible.

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.