For Seventh-day Adventists, the Prologue of Revelation brings out two things that might seem in tension with each other: a) the centrality of Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation, and b) the value added of a Seventh-day Adventist, historicist (apocalyptic sequences of history) reading of Revelation. 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 Revelation and uplifting Jesus Christ as the center of all hope?
What is the value of an SDA approach to Revelation today? Among other things, I would suggest the following. 1) The SDA view answers the three great philosophical questions of human existence. These are, in principle: Who am I? Where did I come from? and Where am I going? Who am I? A being made in the image of a loving, gracious and self-sacrificing God who prizes freedom so much that He has even given us power to create little people like ourselves. Where did I come from? I am not here as a result of random chance, but I am the result of a loving, creative purpose. That means that my life has meaning and purpose even when it is not appreciated by those around. It means that my life has infinite value in the eyes of the most important Person in the universe. Where am I going? Life in this universe will not end with a bang or a whimper. It will not end in primeval silence. It will end in an eternity of meaning, purpose and ever-deepening relationships.
2) The SDA approach to Revelation helps us see the hand of God in history. In our daily experience, it is often difficult to know what God wants us to do and just where God is leading in the major events around us. Apocalyptic prophecies like Daniel 2 and Revelation 12 affirm the giant principles upon which God bases His interaction with this world and the universe. As we see prophecy’s interpretation of the past, we have a clearer picture of what God is doing today and what He is likely to do in the future.
3) The SDA approach to Revelation gives us confidence in the midst of chaos that God is still in control of history. Events in the world seem increasingly out of control, but apocalyptic prophecy assures us that this is nothing out of the ordinary and God is well able to manage today’s governmental chaos just as he managed the many “beasts” of the past.
4) The SDA approach to Revelation gives us confidence that since God has been active in creation and throughout history, the hope that we have for the future is also real. Things will not always be as they are now. God is still working toward the ultimate fulfillment of His purpose and ours. We may not know just when the climax of history will occur, but we know that the outcome is assured and God’s faithful people, both living and dead, will participate in that outcome.
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 Revelation 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 Zechariah 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 Revelation it is Jesus who is pierced. In Zechariah it is the inhabitants of Jerusalem who see God come (Zech. 12:8-10), in Revelation it is 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 worldwide impact of the gospel and the church.
Rev. 1:4-6 opens the book with what I call a “triple trinity.” First of all, there is a “trinity” of persons; the Father (the one who is, was, and is to come; perhaps a fourth trinity in the larger scheme of the passage), 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 historical realities that qualify Jesus for the role He plays in Revelation. He is the one who died (He is the faithful witness/martyr—Greek: martus), rose (the “firstborn of the dead”), and has already 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 sound the same, but are one letter different) us from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom and priests to God. These actions are all directed toward His people. 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.
This “triple trinity” underlines the central theme of the book of Revelation. It is the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” He is THE ONE who died, rose, and now rules the heavens and the earth. These together are the decisive events that change everything in the cosmic conflict. The last trinity summarizes the things that Jesus does particularly for the human race.
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? Surely the 2,000 years that have passed since this was written do not fit with 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. In the Adventist perspective, the dead do not know anything, nor do they experience the passing of time. So for those who die, the next thing they experience is the Second Coming. In other words, we don’t know when Jesus will actually come, but we do know that in our experience He will 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. So even in John’s day, the second coming of Jesus is portrayed as soon.
This is such a challenging concept that I will repeat myself at the risk of redundancy, just to make the point. The purpose of prophecy is not to satisfy our curiosity about the future, it is to teach us how to live today. The purpose of prophecy is to motivate readers to the decisions and actions that are needed to accomplish both their salvation and God’s larger purposes (the Great Controversy). The book of Revelation portrays the End as soon, not because it will be soon from a human perspective, but because it must always be soon in the experience of each generation or the prophecies will not have the impact they need to have in our lives.
The book opens with a chain of revelation that centers in Jesus (Rev 1:1-3). He is the first person mentioned in the book, and the One who passes the revelation on to John (Rev. 1:1). The chain of revelation moves from “God” to Jesus and from Jesus to John through an angel and from John to the readers and hearers of his book (1:1-3). 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). Through these He loves us, has freed us from our sins by His blood (1:5b), and made us a kingdom and priests (1:6a). In the End, He will also come with the clouds (1:7).
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.
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.