Tag Archives: Revelation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Work on Revelation (The Big Picture)

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

Questions and Answers (2:1)

The theme of chapter two of Conversations About God by Graham Maxwell is what went wrong in God’s universe, in other words, what is sin and how did it mess everything up? After the lecture, Maxwell took questions from the audience mediated through the pastor of the Loma Linda University Church, Lou Venden (1984). Edited by Jon Paulien.

Lou Venden: Here’s a question that takes us back to the previous chapter and helps set the foundation for everything we are trying to do in this book. “You said that the book of Revelation was especially directed to the Christians living at the time when it was written. Can you explain that a bit more? I have always understood, or been told, that it has special relevance to the present day church instead. What do you think about that?”

Graham Maxwell: It’s true, I believe the book of Revelation was written first for the Christians of that time. They were discouraged, wondering why the Lord had not yet come. There was heresy in the church, opposition to leadership, and persecution. They needed the message of Revelation to point them to the larger view. They needed to know that they were caught up in a great controversy, but that God had already won the war.
We need it too. The book was written just as much for us as for them. We live at a time when we are faced with many of the same problems. And we need the same insight they did. Not so much a message about dates and events to come, interesting and helpful as that might be. Rather, we need the major message of the book of Revelation: Look a little higher, take a larger view of things. Realize that God has won the war. When we understand that message, our assignment and privilege is to go out and tell people that He’s won the war, and how He has won it. Supported by the message of this book, we can act more like players on a winning team instead of so often being on the defensive.

Lou: Are you saying that the meaning for us now may be even clearer when we understand its impact back then?

Graham: It’s the same message, but from our perspective in history, it should mean even more to us. God didn’t have a message for them and a schedule of events for us. I believe the consistent message of the book for all readers is to take the larger view of things. Set everything in the context of the great controversy. That perspective makes everything so much more significant. And it is a reading of Revelation that is positive and optimistic.

Lou: I have a question regarding the beginning of the rebellion in heaven. “Did any other angels question God before Lucifer did? If they didn’t, why didn’t they? Is it possible that another angel will question God again in the future? Since it happened once, why couldn’t it go on happening?”

Graham: I don’t know of any text that suggests other angels did what Lucifer did. The Bible only tells us a little of what happened. You remember that John said, “If I were to record everything that Jesus said and did, there wouldn’t be room in the world for all the books that could be written” (John 21:25). It’s enough for us to learn of Lucifer’s questioning rebellion and the consequences. Will this ever happen again? What about raising questions reverently? Of course, I think we’ll do that for eternity. How else could we learn? God is not afraid of reverent questioning at all. I think He’s complimented by it. But the Bible assures us that the kind of rebellion that arose with Lucifer will never arise again (see Nahum 1:9). Not because our freedom has been taken away, but because a costly basis has been established to provide us the answers we need. Jesus will always be there in His human form to remind us of all the answers God gave at the cross. And we’ll remember. And that will guarantee peace for eternity. But it will not take away our freedom.