Tag Archives: Rev 1:1-8

Revelation Quarterly, Week 1, December 30 – January 5 Analysis of Changes Made in the Editorial Process for the Teacher’s Edition

Basic theme: The Prologue of Revelation (1:1-8)

Much of my intention for this week’s lesson came through, although editing was heavy in places, with some interesting theological implications. In the “Lesson Themes III” portion of the Introduction (see previous blog for my version of the teacher’s notes being analyzed), “Vision” was changed to “Visions.” As we will see later (in the analysis of the Week 2 lesson), this has to do with how one interprets Revelation 1:11 and 1:19. I think of Revelation as a single vision, received during John’s experience in chapter one (Rev. 1:12-18), which has many parts. The editorial team seems to prefer the idea that Revelation is a collection of many different visions, as was the case with Daniel, Isaiah or Jeremiah. This is an interesting difference, but not very significant to interpretation.

Potentially more significant is the removal of my phrase “triple trinity” in Lesson Themes IV, replacing it with “threefold description of the Trinity.” In the Commentary portion of this lesson (section IV. The Threeness of God), the language of “triple trinity” is removed several times. My first impression was that the final editor must be anti-trinitarian, but then noticed the editorial insertion of the word “Trinity” in two places of this lesson. Early on in the Advent movement many leaders were not Trinitarian, but the church came to the place where the concept of Trinity is clearly expressed in Fundamental Belief number two. Anti-trinitarianism is making something of a comeback in some Adventist circles, but is firmly rejected by church leadership. Since the word “trinity” is not a biblical word, there was sentiment among church leaders to remove it from the title of Fundamental 2, but it was left there due to the concern that removing it would provide encouragement to the anti-trinitarians in the church. I am disappointed in the removal of my phrase “triple trinity” because it clearly expresses what is going on in Revelation 1:4-6 (three three-fold descriptions), I don’t think the editor(s) understood that, this change had to do with a preference in wording, it does not seem to have been theologically driven.

A more significant issue has to do with the prophetic interpretation of the messages to the seven churches (Revelation 2:1- 3:22). Seventh-day Adventists, along with many protestant Christians, have long interpreted the seven churches as a prophecy of Christian history, treating them much like Daniel 2 and 7. But the biblical form of these messages is not overtly apocalyptic, they read more like letters of Paul than apocalyptic visions. And there is no statement within them that clearly identifies them as prophetic of future churches in the course of history. So I prefer to see them on the surface as “prophetic letters” written to seven churches in John’s day (1:11; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; 22:16) that have value for all readers of the book (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). I believe, however, that there is good evidence that the church history interpretation of these seven messages was intended by John as an extended meaning. Many, especially non-scholars of Revelation, find such an approach inadequate and prefer to assert an overt prophetic or apocalyptic meaning as the primary intention of the messages to the seven churches. The changes made to the Teacher’s Edition of this lesson seem to reflect such a preference.

This brings me to an important observation. I speak and write in two different roles, as a believer and as a scholar. As a Seventh-day Adventist, I believe in the teachings of the church and seek to support them whenever I can. But as a scholar, I recognize that some SDA teachings have a more solid biblical basis than others. Such a dual stance allows me to live with conviction and commitment as a believer while at the same time being open to learning and growth in understanding. Such a dual commitment, I believe, is healthy and authentic. But many people have difficulty maintaining such a tension in their lives and the editors of the lesson in this case were acting to protect such from doubt and uncertainty. Whether such a move will ultimately support belief or work against it, time will tell.

A very small but important change occurred in the opening part of the Commentary section. I believe the seven trumpets end with Revelation 11:18 rather than 11:19. In my view, 11:19 is the “sanctuary introduction” for chapters 12-14. The editors shifted the end-point of the trumpets to 11:19, removing the sanctuary introduction from the following section. I think this move is wrong exegetically, but there are good scholars on both sides of the issue, so I suspect no serious harm is done by this change.

In section I of the Commentary section, a number of changes suggest the final editor did not understand the Greek text of Revelation 1:1-3. In the Greek there is a chain of revelation from “what God gave” (1:1) to “what John saw” (1:2) to “what John wrote” (1:3). This observation (removed from the lesson) serves two purposes: 1) it does not limit the “testimony of Jesus” to the Book of Revelation, as some opponents of Adventism claim, and 2) it equates John’s visionary experience with that which the end-time remnant will have in 12:17. The editors left in the claim that 12:17 looks forward to future prophetic revelations, but took out the best Greek evidence for that claim. Since I had to be brief, it is understandable if editors did not fully understand what I was doing here.

Finally, the last section of Part III: Life Application had the most numerous and significant editorial changes. I have observed that many Seventh-day Adventist believers today, especially younger ones, feel a tension between traditional historicist readings of Revelation and the book’s claim to be a “revelation of Jesus Christ” and the gospel. I sought to acknowledge that tension and offer reasons why a both/and approach is better than an either/or approach. The editors seemed uncomfortable with that concession and removed the language of “tension” and “value added” that I had placed there. The motive, I am sure, was to protect believers from doubt, and that is important to do. But if the younger generation perceives a tension here, ignoring that reality won’t persuade them to embrace the historicist perspective. I prefer candor and openness to protectiveness, but I hope, in this case, that people above my pay grade have made the best decision for the church.

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 Revelation 1:1-8 (Week 1)


Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 1:1.

Study Focus: The Prologue (Rev. 1:1-8) and the Book of Revelation as a whole.

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

Lesson Themes: The Prologue to the Book of Revelation introduces the following themes:

1. Jesus is the Central Figure of Revelation. This is made clear by the title of the book (Rev. 1:1), the qualities and actions of Jesus Christ (1:5-6) and His central role at the Second Coming (1:7).
2. The Book Concerns Future Events. These are not just end-time events, most were already future in John’s day (Rev 1:1).
3. The Vision Is Given in Symbolic Language. This is clear from one of the key words in Rev. 1:1 and that verse’s allusion to Daniel 2.
4. The Threeness of God. There is a “triple trinity” of persons, qualities and actions in Rev. 1:4-6.
5. The Return of Jesus. Rev. 1:7-8 addresses this.

Life Application. The concluding questions invite the participants to balance the powerful insights of a Seventh-day Adventist reading of Revelation with the centrality of Jesus Christ in the End-Time story.

Part II. Commentary

The introductory essay tells us that the entire lesson series is based on the SDA concept of inspiration, the historicist method of prophetic interpretation, the unique organizational structure of Revelation, and a Christ-centered approach to interpretation.
The historicist method is supported by the broad structure of Revelation itself. The book begins with the seven churches (Rev. 1:9 – 3:22), which primarily concern the situation of John’s day. The seals and the trumpets, on the other hand, each cover from the time of John to the End (4:1 – 11:18). The last half of the book (11:19 – 22:5), on the other hand, focuses almost exclusively on the last days of earth’s history and beyond. This method is also supported by the allusion to Daniel 2 in the very first verse of the book (see the elaboration on this point in theme 3 below).

Main Themes of Lesson 1 Elaborated:
1. Jesus is the Central Figure of Revelation (Rev. 1:1, 5-7). The book opens with a chain of revelation that centers in Jesus. He is the first person mentioned in the book, and the One who passes the revelation on to John (Rev. 1:1). What God gave to Jesus is called “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). What Jesus passed on to John is called “the testimony of Jesus” (1:2), “the things that he saw” (Greek: hosa eiden). What John passed on to his readers was “the words of this prophecy” (1:3), what John wrote.
This chain of revelation is important for Seventh-day Adventists. It indicates clearly that the “testimony of Jesus” here is not the book of Revelation itself, which is what John wrote (1:3), it is the visionary gift that John saw (1:2). The remnant of Rev. 12:17 will later also have the “testimony of Jesus,” a visionary gift similar to the one John had.
So the Prologue points to Jesus as the central figure of Rev. The book is a revelation from Jesus and about Jesus (1:1). Jesus is qualified for His special role by his death, resurrection and heavenly reign (1:5a). In the End, He will also come with the clouds (1:7).

2. The Book Concerns Future Events. Rev. 1:1 tells us that a major purpose of the book is to “show His servants what must happen soon.” These are events in the future, from John’s perspective. But what does the text mean by “soon”? The 2,000 years that have passed since Rev. was written do not seem like soon! So the word “soon” must clearly be from God’s perspective in which a day is like 1,000 years (2 Peter 3:8).
But from our perspective the return of Jesus has always been soon as well. We don’t know when Jesus will actually come, but we do know that in terms of our conscious experience (Eccl. 9:5) He will seem to come an instant after we die. So the opportunity for us to get ready for His coming is now rather than sometime in the future. If Jesus’ coming were not portrayed as soon, many people would delay getting ready for His return.

3. The Vision Is Given in Symbolic Language. Generally, the best way to approach Scripture is to take everything literally, unless it is clear that a symbol is intended. In Rev. the opposite approach is indicated by the first verse. There it tells us that the entire vision was “signified” (Rev. 1:1, KJV, Greek: esêmanen) by either God or Jesus. So in Rev. the best way to approach the text is to treat everything as a symbol, unless it is clear that a literal meaning is intended (for example, “Jesus Christ” in Rev. 1:1 should be taken literally).
This insight takes even clearer shape when the reader discovers an allusion to Daniel 2 in the first verse of the book. The only other place in the Bible that combines “signified” with the unusual expression “what must take place” (Rev. 1:1, RSV, NIV, Greek: a dei genesthai) is Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image was the place where God “signified” (2:45) to him “what must take place” (2:28) in the last days. What was to be “in the last days” in Daniel is now “soon” in Revelation.
At the very opening of the book of Revelation, therefore, one finds a powerful allusion to Daniel 2. This allusion ties the two books together, like companion volumes. While Revelation alludes to many of the prophets, there is a special bond between it and the book of Daniel. So we should expect at least some of the symbolism of Rev. to point to sequences of history that run from the prophet’s time until the End. Not all of Daniel is historical apocalyptic, but much of it is, and that is the case also with Revelation.

4. The Threeness of God. Rev. 1:4-6 opens the book with what could be called a “triple trinity.” First of all, there is a “trinity” of persons; the Father (the one who is, was, and is to come), the Holy Spirit (represented by the seven spirits), and Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is mentioned last because He is the subject of the next two “trinities.”
Next comes a trinity of qualities that ground the role Jesus plays in Rev. He is the one who died (He is the faithful witness/martyr— Greek: martus), rose (the “firstborn of the dead”), and joined the Father on His throne (“ruler of the kings of the earth”). The death and resurrection of Jesus provide the foundation of His heavenly reign.
The final “trinity” is a trinity of actions. Jesus loves us (Greek present tense), has freed or washed (two different Greek words that sound the same, but are one letter different) us from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom and priests to God. The ultimate outcome of Jesus’ love, as expressed in His death and resurrection, is to raise His people to the highest possible status; kings and priests.
5. The Return of Jesus. The picture of Jesus’ return in Rev. 1:7 is based on allusions to Daniel 7 and Zechariah 12. The “he” of 1:7 clearly refers to Jesus, as He has been the subject of the previous two verses. “Coming with the clouds” recalls the son of man who comes with clouds to the Ancient of Days and receives dominion over the kingdoms of the earth (Dan. 7:13-14). In Rev. Jesus’ right to rule over the earth is recognized in heaven at His ascension (Rev. 5) and on earth at the Second Coming (Rev. 1:7).
The allusion to Zechariah is particularly interesting. In Zech. 12:7-8 it is Yahweh who comes (Zech 12:7-8), in Rev. it is Jesus who comes. In Zech. 12:10, it is Yahweh who is pierced, in Rev. it is Jesus who is pierced. In Zech. it is the inhabitants of Jerusalem who see God come (Zech. 12:8-10), in Rev. it is the whole earth that sees Jesus come. In Zech. 12:11-12 it is the clans of Jerusalem that mourn, in Rev. it is the tribes of the whole earth that mourn.
In Revelation’s use of the Old Testament, therefore, there is a shift in emphasis from Yahweh to Jesus. There is a similar shift from the literal and local things of Israel to the spiritual, worldwide impact of the gospel and the church.

Part III: Life Application

1. The lesson focuses on the opening to the book of Rev., the Prologue (1:1-8). One way to begin the lesson would be to ask What is your favorite Bible story opening? Participants might answer “baby Moses in the bulrushes,” “the diet test for Daniel and his three friends in Daniel 1,” “the anointing of David, the shepherd boy,” or “angels visit the shepherds at Jesus’ birth,” as examples. How does the opening of a Bible story or book affect the way you understand the rest of the story?

2. The lesson brings out two things that participants may feel are in tension with each other: a) the centrality of Jesus Christ, and b) the value added of a Seventh-day Adventist, historicist, reading of Rev. The teacher can invite the participants to wrestle with this tension by questions such as: What value does the unique SDA approach offer in today’s world? How do you keep a balance between articulating the historical details of the SDA reading of Rev. and uplifting Jesus Christ as the center of all hope? Some answers to the first of these questions: The SDA view a) answers the three great philosophical questions; Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? b) helps us see the hand of God in history, c) gives us confidence in the midst of chaos that God is still in control of history, and d) gives us confidence that since God has been active throughout history, the hope that we have for the End is also real.