Tag Archives: theology of Revelation

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.

Original Teacher’s Notes for Rev 1:9-20 (Week 2)

Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 2:7.

Study Focus: Introduction to the messages to the seven churches (Rev. 1:9 – 2:7).

Introduction: Rev. 1:9-20 provides the backdrop for the messages to the seven churches in chapters two and three. Aspects of the glorious vision of Christ provide the unique setting for each of the seven messages. Jesus knows each of the seven churches and meets them where they are. The lesson closes with a more detailed look at the message to Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7).

Lesson Themes: The focus passage introduces the following themes (Rev. 1:9 – 2:7):

1. The Identity of the Lord’s Day in Rev. 1:10. The Sabbath is the most likely option for John’s understanding of the Lord’s Day.
2. Jesus Meets the Churches Where They Are. Jesus approaches each of the seven churches with different characteristics drawn from the introductory vision (Rev. 1:9-20).
3. John’s Basic Outline of Revelation (based on Rev. 1:19). In Rev. 1:19 John summarizes the whole vision as concerning the things which are and the things which will happen after these things. Rev. 4:1 shows that much of Rev. focuses on John’s future.
4. Interpreting the Seven Messages to the Seven Churches. The prophetic letter style of the messages to the seven churches points to a three-fold approach to interpreting them.

Life Application. Participants are invited to consider the implications of the frightening picture of Jesus in 1:12-16, John’s reaction to this picture (1:17), and Jesus’ gracious and comforting response to John (1:17-18).

Part II. Commentary

The introductory vision (Rev. 1:12-18) centers on a glorious picture of Jesus. He is the Son of Man (1:13), the one who died and is alive forevermore (1:18). Based on Daniel 10:5-6 and a number of other OT texts, this vision portrays the kind of Jesus who was seen only at the Transfiguration during His earthly ministry. The characteristics of Jesus in the vision are repeated throughout the seven messages of chapters two and three. The vision is like the stage backdrop to the first act of a play. The envelope of verses 11 and 19 make it clear that John received the vision of the entire book between those two verses.
In addition to the vision of Jesus (1:12-18) the lesson also addresses the location and time when John received the vision (1:9-11), a basic interpretation of the vision (1:19-20), and an analysis of the message to the church at Ephesus (2:1-7).

Main Themes of Lesson 2 Elaborated:
1. The Identity of the Lord’s Day in Rev. 1:10. The most popular view of Revelation 1:10 among commentators is that the “Lord’s Day” of Revelation 1:10 is Sunday, the first day of the week. The strength of this view is that later Church Fathers used the phrase with reference to Sunday, and the Latin equivalent, dominus dies, became one of the names for Sunday in the Latin Church. But all clear references to Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” are much later than Revelation and thus cannot serve as evidence for the meaning when John wrote.
The best explanation for the Lord’s Day in Rev. 1:10 is that John was referring to the seventh-day Sabbath. While the exact phrase “the Lord’s Day” (kuriakê hemêra) is never used elsewhere in the New Testament or in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, many strong equivalents refer to the seventh-day Sabbath. The seventh day is “a Sabbath to the Lord (kuriô) your God” (Exod 20:10; Deut 5:14). “The Lord” (kurios) often refers to the seventh day as “my Sabbath” (ta sabbata mou– Exod 31:12-13; Lev 19:3, 30; 26:2; Isa 56:4-6; Ezek 20:12-13, 16, 20-21, 24; 22:3-8; 23:36-38; 44:12-24). In the Hebrew of Isaiah 58:13 Yahweh calls the Sabbath “My holy day.” And finally, all three Synoptic Gospels (Matt 12:8; Mark 2:27-28; Luke 6:5) quote Jesus as saying “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (kurios tou sabbatou). It would be strange, therefore, if John used the phrase “the Lord’s Day” for any other day of the week than the one we call Saturday.

2. Jesus Meets the Churches Where They Are. Jesus appears on the scene of Revelation in spectacular fashion (Rev. 1:12-20). The same Jesus is in close relationship with the seven churches (1:20). He knows each of them intimately (Rev. 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). And He introduces Himself to each church with one, two or three characteristics from the earlier vision.
The message to Ephesus (Rev. 2:1), for example, describes Jesus as the one who holds the seven stars in His hand (Rev. 1:20) and walks among the seven golden lampstands (1:12-13). In the message to Smyrna (2:8), Jesus is the first and the last, the one who died came to life (1:17-18). In the letter to Pergamum, He approaches with a sharp, two-edged sword (1:16). So it goes throughout the seven church letters.
Here’s the interesting thing. Jesus presents Himself differently to each of the seven churches. No individual church, therefore, has the full picture of Jesus. He is able to adapt to each church’s particular needs and circumstances. In other words, He meets each church where they are. And if no church and no Christian has the full picture of Jesus, then we all have reason to be humble. We are all learners. And we all have something to teach each other.

3. John’s Basic Outline of Revelation (Rev. 1:19). The author of Revelation often embeds clues about the organization and key ideas of the book in the transition texts. One of those transition texts is Rev. 1:19. In this text he lays out the plan of the whole book. It begins, “Write, therefore, what you have seen” (translations by author). This sentence parallels verse 11, “Write what you see.” Verse 11 is present tense and verse 19 is past tense (Greek aorist indicative). This means the entire vision of Revelation was given between the command in verse 11 and the command in verse 19. Now he is told to write it out.
What has John seen? Two things: “The things which are” and “the things which are about to happen after these things” (Rev. 1:19). So the book of Revelation will include both things current at the time of the seven churches, and things which were yet to come from their perspective. One part focuses particularly on the time in which John lives, and one part focuses on events that will follow after John’s time.
In Rev. 4:1 Jesus says to John, “Come up here, and I will show you the things which must happen after these things.” This is a nearly exact parallel to Rev. 1:19. Beginning with Rev. 4:1, the rest of Rev. focuses primarily on John’s future. While there are flashbacks to the cross (Rev 5:6; 12:11), to the enthronement of Jesus (Rev. 5:6-14), and even events before creation (Rev. 12:4), the primary focus from chapter four to the end of the book on is events future from John’s day.
What, then, are “the things which are” in Rev. 1:19? Everything between 1:19 and 4:1, namely the messages to the seven churches. While the seven messages have powerful implications for the whole Christian era, their primary focus is on the situation of those seven churches, and on the messages that Jesus brings to them. Careful attention to Rev. 1:19 shows how key texts of Revelation can help readers see the structure in John’s mind and in the mind of the One who gave him the vision.

4. Interpreting the Seven Messages to the Seven Churches. The messages to the seven churches are not apocalyptic in style, like Daniel 7 or Revelation 12. They are “prophetic letters.” They are more like the letters of Paul or like Matthew 24 than they are like Daniel 2. So their primary message was for seven actual churches in Asia Minor, the ones that originally received them (Rev 1:4, 11), and by extension for all those who read these messages (Rev 1:3; 2:7, 11, 17, 29, etc.).
There were, however, more than seven churches in Asia Minor and the spiritual conditions in those churches parallel the spiritual conditions of Christianity in different historical periods from the time of John until today. So embedded in these messages to seven historical churches was a grand survey of the major developments of Christian history. These periods are briefly discussed in the specific comments on each church in lessons two and three.

Part III: Life Application

1. Why is the gracious, forgiving Jesus, who washed the feet of His disciples, portrayed in such a spectacular and frightening way in Rev. 1:12-16? While the appearance of Jesus frightened John to his core, fear was not the response Jesus desired (Rev. 1:17-18). Like an elementary-school teacher in the classroom, God sometimes has to earn our respect before we will take His graciousness seriously. But to truly know God is to love Him. The Father is just like Jesus (John 14:9).

2. When Jesus meets people where they are, how far is He willing to go? In coming to John as the First and the Last (Rev. 1:17), Jesus assumes a title claimed by Yahweh in the Old Testament (Isa. 44:6; 48:12). He is everything the Jews of His time were looking for. But there is more. Rev. 1:17-18 presents Jesus as the fulfillment of (Gentile) pagan longings as well. In Asia Minor there was a Greek goddess named Hekate who exhibited many similarities with the picture of Jesus here in Revelation 1:17-18. She was called the first and the last, the beginning and the end. She was the goddess of revelation. She held the keys to heaven and hell. She could travel to and from these realms and report what she experienced there. She was also known as “Saviour” and used angels to mediate her messages.
Jesus, therefore, offers the reader everything that the worshipers of Hekate were looking for. This is a surprising extension of the principle that God meets people where they are (see also 1 Cor 9:19-22). Revelation teaches us that Jesus loves us and meets us just where we are. And as we come to Jesus, He will also lead us to where we need to go.

Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes in the Main Lesson for this Week (Rev 1:1-8)

The paragraph that follows is a summary of the changes made in this week’s main lesson (by Ranko Stefanovic). What follows is the original text that Stefanovic turned in, before the editing process, for those who would like to know that he originally intended. Please ignore the daily dates, they were put in just to fill space.

I (Ranko Stefanovic) share here the pre-edited original manuscript of the Lesson #1 (Dec. 31 to Jan. 5) of Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide for those who want to compare it with the edited version. In this week’s lesson, not too many changes were introduced. Two paragraphs were completely changed: the last paragraph in the Monday’s lesson and the second Discussion Question in the Friday’s lesson. I fully concur with the observations and comments shared by my friend Jon Paulien who authored the Adult Teacher’s Edition of the Sabbath School Quarterly.

Lesson 1 *December 31-January 5

The Gospel from Patmos

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 1:1-8; 22:16-19; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; Amos 3:7; Deut. 29:29.
Memory Verse: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3, NKJV).
The prophecies of Revelation were revealed in vision to the apostle John more than nineteen centuries ago during his exile on a small rocky island in the Aegean Sea known as Patmos (Rev. 1:9). Revelation intimates that it was to be read aloud in the church. Revelation 1:3 promises a blessing for the person who reads it aloud and for the ones listening to the reading. The listeners mentioned are the congregation assembled in the church to hear the messages of Revelation. However, they are not blessed because they simply read or listen, but because they heed the words of prophecy (see also 22:7).
The prophecies of Revelation are an expression of God’s care for his people. God wanted to reveal to us the things that would shortly take place in the future to make us realize the fragility and uncertainty of this life. He also wanted to inspire us to take seriously our eternal destiny and to reach people around the world with the gospel message of the kingdom.
Biblical prophecies are like a lamp shining in a dark place (1 Pet. 1:19) showing us where we are now and where we are going. They are intended to provide guidance for our life today and hope for our future. We will need this prophetic guide until the Coming of Christ and the establishment of God’s everlasting kingdom.
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 6.

Sunday September 30
The Title of the Book
Read Revelation 1:1-2. What is the complete title of the book of Revelation? Who is the ultimate author of the book? What was John’s role as the human author?
Revelation 1:1 states the title of the book as the “Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The word “revelation” comes from the Greek word apokalupsis (“apocalypse”), which means, “uncovering” or “unveiling.” The Apocalypse is thus an unveiling of Jesus Christ; it is both from Jesus and about Him. While it came from God through Jesus Christ (see Rev. 22:16), the book testifies that Jesus is also the focus of its contents. The Apocalypse is thus His self-revelation to His people and an expression of His care for them.
The title of any book states in a nutshell the book’s content. What does the title of Revelation reveal to us about Jesus and His activities on behalf of His people?
Jesus is the central figure of Revelation. The book begins with Him (Rev. 1:5-8) and concludes with Him (Rev. 22:12-16). Also, the Jesus of the Apocalypse is the Jesus of the four gospels. Revelation continues the description of Jesus and His work of salvation on behalf of His people described in the gospels, but focuses on different aspects of his existence and ministry. Essentially, it begins where the gospels end-with his resurrection and ascension into heaven.
Together with the epistle to the Hebrews, Revelation emphasizes Jesus’ heavenly ministry since his ascension. It shows that after his ascension Jesus was inaugurated into His royal and priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. Without Revelation our knowledge of Christ’s ministry in heaven on behalf of his people would be very limited and shrouded in mystery. Thus, the last book of the Bible provides a unique portrayal of Christ not found anywhere else in the Bible.
Read Matthew 28:20 and John 14:1-3. What two major promises did Jesus leave with His people before His ascension into heaven? How does Revelation show Jesus fulfilling these promises? How will Jesus fulfill His final promise to come back to take His people to their eternal home?
Consider the following statement: “Let Daniel speak, let the Revelation speak, and tell what is truth. But whatever phase of the subject is presented, uplift Jesus as the center of all hope, ‘the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright and morning Star’”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, p. 118.

Monday October 31
The Purpose of the Book
Revelation 1:1 tells us further that the purpose of the book is to show us the things that will happen in the future. Anyone familiar with Revelation will notice that future events—whether those already fulfilled or those yet to take place—occupy most of the book’s content. While the first half of Revelation (chaps. 1–11) focuses on the events that occurred from the first century to the time of the end, its second half (chaps. 12–22) focuses on the events leading up to the Second Coming.
How do you understand that the book titled the “Revelation of Jesus Christ” shows us things that will take place in the future?
The primary purpose of biblical prophecies is to provide us with the assurance that, no matter what the future brings, God is in control. The entire Book of Revelation is structured in such a way as to assure us that Jesus Christ is with His people throughout this world’s history and its alarming final events.
Consequently, Revelation’s prophecies have two practical purposes: to teach us how to live today and to prepare us for the future. Studying them should make us better Christians for God’s glory, motivate us to take seriously our eternal destiny, and inspire us to reach others with the gospel message.
Read Deuteronomy 29:29. Revelation informs us of what will happen at the end-time. In your view, what two things that Revelation does not reveal to us about the end-time events?
Revelation’s end-time prophecies are not revealed to satisfy our obsessive curiosity about the future. The book only reveals those aspects of the future that are essential for our salvation and entry into the kingdom. They are disclosed to impress upon us the seriousness of what will happen so that we will realize our dependence on God. Anything else would go beyond God’s intention.
Much has been written and many predictions have been made regarding when and how end-time prophecies will be fulfilled. However, most of those predictions have been proven misleading, for they are drawn not from the Bible but rather from human imaginings or past or current events. The timing and manner of the unfolding of the final events will be clear to us only at the time of their fulfillment. The prophecies must not be a subject of speculation and sensationalism, but rather for strengthening our faith in the prophetic word. Their fulfillment will be a reminder to God’s people of Christ’s promise to be with them and to sustain them during those difficult times.

Tuesday October 2
The Symbolic Language of Revelation
Revelation 1:1 further states: “And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John.”
Here we find a very important word in the book. The word “signified” is a translation of the Greek word semainō meaning, “to show by symbolic signs.” This word is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) where Daniel explained to King Nebuchadnezzar that with the statue made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron God signified to the king “what will take place in the future” (Dan. 2:45). By employing the same word, John tells us that the scenes and events of Revelation were shown to him in vision in symbolic presentations. Guided by the Holy Spirit, John faithfully recorded these symbolic presentations exactly as he had seen them in the visions (Rev. 1:2).
This shows that the language in which the Revelation’s prophecies were described must not be interpreted literally. As a rule, while the reading of the Bible in general presupposes a literal understanding of the text (unless the text points to intended symbolism), studying Revelation calls for a symbolic understanding of the scenes and events recorded unless the text points to a literal meaning. While the scenes and events predicted per se are real, they were expressed in symbolic language.
Keeping in mind the symbolic character of Revelation will safeguard us against distorting the prophetic message. In trying to determine the meaning of the symbols used in the book, we must be careful not to impose on the text a meaning that comes out of human imagination or current meanings of those symbols. Their meaning must be in agreement with God’s intention as well as with the meaning of those symbols at the time of the writing of Revelation.
In trying to unlock the meaning of those symbols, we must remember that most of them were drawn from the Old Testament. By portraying future in the language of the past, God wanted to impress upon our minds that his acts of salvation in the future will be very much like his acts of salvation in the past. What he did for his people in the past, he will do for them again in the future. In endeavoring to decode the symbols and images of Revelation, we must start by paying attention to the Old Testament.
Why did God give the prophecies of Revelation in symbolic rather than in literal, straightforward language? Also, why did He use images and scenes from His former acts of salvation to reveal future events?

Wednesday October 3
The Trinity of the Godhead
Revelation begins with an epistolary greeting similar to the ones found in Paul’s letters. The book was originally sent as a letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor in John’s day (see Rev. 1:11). However, Revelation was not written only for them, but for all generations of Christians throughout history.
Revelation 1:4 offers an epistolary greeting: “Grace and peace to you” (cf. Rom. 1:7). This phrase consists of the Greek greeting charis (grace) and the Hebrew greeting shalom (“peace,” “well-being”). Why are these two words always written as “grace and peace” and never “peace and grace”?
The givers of grace and peace are the three persons of the Godhead. Like the rest of the book, these three persons of the Godhead are identified in symbolic language.
God the Father is identified as the One “who is and who was, and who is to come” (see Rev. 1:8; 4:8). This refers to the divine name Yahweh, “I am who I am” (Exod. 3:14) referring to God’s eternal existence.
The Holy Spirit is referred to in terms of “the seven Spirits” (cf. Rev. 4:5; 5:6). Seven is a number of fullness. “The seven Spirits” correspond to the seven churches in which the Spirit operates. This refers to the universality of the Holy Spirit’s work among God’s people enabling them to fulfill their calling.
Jesus Christ is identified by three titles: “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth (NKJV).” They refer to his death on the cross, his resurrection, and his reign in heaven. Then, John states what he does: He “loves us and released us from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (NASB).
He “loves us” in the original Greek refers to Christ’s ongoing love, which embraces the past, the present, and the future. The One who loves us has released us from our sins by His blood. In the Greek, this refers to a completed act in the past; Jesus died on the cross when he released us from our sins forever. Because of what He did on Calvary, we enjoy the status of being “kings and priest” to God (see Rev. 5:9–10).
Read Ephesians 2:6 and Philippians 3:20, which describe the redeemed as the ones who are raised and made to sit with Jesus in heavenly places. How do you think that though we presently enjoy this glorious status in Christ as “kings and priests,” we are still in this sin-cursed world?

Thursday October 4
The Keynote of Revelation
The conclusion of the prologue of Revelation points to what is the focus the whole book: the return of Jesus in power and glory. Christ’s promise to come again is reiterated three times in the conclusion of the book (22:7, 12, 20).
Read Revelation 1:7-8. The wording of this text is derived from several prophetic texts: Daniel 7:13; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 24:30. What does this tell us of the certainty of the Second Coming?
In Revelation, the second coming of Christ is the point towards which history moves. The Second Coming will mark the conclusion of this world’s history and the beginning of God’s eternal kingdom, as well as freedom from all evil that causes anguish, pain, and death.
Like the rest of the New Testament, Revelation 1:7 points to the literal and personal coming of Christ in majesty and glory. Every human being, including “those who pierced him”, will witness his coming. These words point to a special resurrection of certain people right before the return of Christ, including those who crucified Christ on the cross of Calvary. While Jesus will, with His coming, bring deliverance to those waiting for Him, He will bring judgment to those who have spurned his mercy and love.

In the New Testament, Christ regularly refers to his coming as: “I am coming” never as “I will come.” The futuristic present tense points to the future event as already occurring. If you know that Jesus is indeed coming very soon, how would this affect your life today?

The certainty of Christ’s coming is affirmed with the words, “Yes, Amen.” The word “yes” translates the Greek word nai and amen is a Hebrew affirmative. These two words together express an absolute certainty. This affirmation also concludes the book (see also Rev. 22:20).
“Belief in the near coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven will not cause the true Christian to become neglectful and careless of the ordinary business of life. . . . Their veracity, faithfulness, and integrity are tested and proved in temporal things.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 309.
A well-known fact is that a given promise is only as strong as the integrity of the person giving it and his/her ability to fulfill it. How does the fact that the promise of the Second Coming has been given by God who has in the past kept all his promises, provide you with assurance that Christ will return as He has promised?

Friday October 5
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “The Study of the Books of Daniel and Revelation,” pp. 112-119, in Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers.
“This revelation was given for the guidance and comfort of the church throughout the Christian dispensation. . . . . A revelation is something revealed. The Lord Himself revealed to His servant the mysteries contained in this book, and He designs that they shall be open to the study of all. Its truths are addressed to those living in the last days of this earth’s history, as well as to those living in the days of John. Some of the scenes depicted in this prophecy are in the past, some are now taking place; some bring to view the close of the great conflict between the powers of darkness and the Prince of heaven, and some reveal the triumphs and joys of the redeemed in the earth made new.
“Let none think, because they cannot explain the meaning of every symbol in the Revelation, that it is useless for them to search this book in an effort to know the meaning of the truth it contains. The One who revealed these mysteries to John will give to the diligent searcher for truth a foretaste of heavenly things. Those whose hearts are open to the reception of truth will be enabled to understand its teachings, and will be granted the blessing promised to those who `hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written therein.’”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 583-584.
Discussion Questions:
If Revelation is the unveiling of Jesus Christ, why does the word “apocalypse” have a negative meaning today? What does this tell us about the popular perception of Revelation among Christians? Why is the word “fear” often associated with Revelation’s prophecies?
Ellen White stated that when the book of Revelation “is better understood, believers will have an entirely different religious experience” so that “heart and mind will be impressed with the character that all must develop”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 114. Do the people in your church who claim to study Revelation appear blessed to you? How do you feel being around such people? How does their study of the book’s prophecies reflect in their daily life and the way they relate to and treat other people, both inside and outside the church?

Spanish Analysis of Changes to Lesson 1

La lección de Escuela Sabática del primer trimestre de 2019 se centra en Apocalipsis, y empezó este sábado 29 de diciembre de 2018

Nota del traductor: Si bien el Dr. Ranko Stefanovic es el autor principal de esta lección sobre Apocalipsis, el Dr. Jon Paulien es el autor de la sección titulada “El sábado enseñaré”, correspondiente a la “Edición Maestros”. Esto es claro en la edición inglesa; sin embargo, por error su nombre fue omitido en la edición española.

Cada semana de este próximo trimestre planeo publicar tres cosas (si Dios lo permite): (1) mis comentarios al manuscrito original de la lección de Escuela Sabática “Edición Maestros” (EM), es decir, del texto pre-editado; mi análisis de los cambios de la EM (de la sección en la que fui autor) introducidos en el proceso editorial y su significado teológico (si hay alguno); y el análisis de Ranko Stefanovic sobre los cambios introducidos de la lección que él escribió, junto con el manuscrito original. El propósito de esto es ayudar a los estudiantes y maestros en su comprensión de los temas relacionados con la lección semanal.

Si no le gustan algunos de los cambios que hicieron los editores, preferiría que no culpara a Clifford Goldstein. Aunque él es el editor general de la Lección de Escuela Sabática para Adultos, hay grandes comités que aprueban las lecciones, y en un tema como el de Apocalipsis, hay muchas opiniones firmes con las que lidiar. Además, a veces, después de que un manuscrito es aprobado, incluso autoridades “superiors” pueden imponer su autoridad en el texto, y esa tentación es especialmente fuerte cuando se habla del libro de Apocalipsis. En líneas generales, se aceptó la mayor parte de lo que escribí, y lo que fue cambiado puede ser aclarado en esta serie de publicaciones de este blog. Espero que esto le sea útil para su propio estudio y enseñanza de la lección de Escuela Sabática para adultos del próximo trimestre.

Lamentablemente, la lección EM no está disponible en español de manera online; no obstante, pueden encontrar la lección estandar, en español, aquí: https://recursosdesperanza.blogspot.com/2018/12/leccion-de-escuela-sabatica-de-adultos.html; y la edición inglesa aquí: https://www.absg.adventist.org/. Para aquellos que desean escuchar las grabaciones en audio (inglés), pueden entrar aquí: http://pineknoll.org/sabbath-school-lessons.

Así, el lunes de la próxima semana planeo publicar (tanto en Twitter como en Facebook) los comentarios al manuscrito original sobre la EM para aquellos que quieran verlos o compararlos con la versión editada (y publicada). El martes planeo publicar mi análisis de los cambios hechos en la EM de la próxima semana. El jueves planeo publicar el manuscrito original de Ranko Stefanovic para la lección estándar de la Escuela Sabática de la semana, junto con algunos comentarios de él sobre los cambios realizados. Si usted utiliza estos recursos, deberá estar bien preparado.

Lección 1: Para el 5 de enero de 2019

Análisis de los cambios realizados en el proceso editorial
de la “Edición Maestros” (EM)

“El sábado enseñaré”
Tema central: El prólogo de Apocalipsis (1:1-8)

Se ha plasmado gran parte de mi intención para la lección de esta semana, aunque la edición fue severa en algunos lugares, con ciertas implicaciones teológicas interesantes. En la parte “Temática de la lección” en el punto III, se cambió “visión” por “visiones”. Como veremos más adelante (en el análisis de la lección de la semana 2), esto tiene que ver con cómo uno interpreta Apocalipsis 1:11 y 1:19. Pienso en Apocalipsis como una sola visión recibida durante la experiencia de Juan en el capítulo uno (1:12-18), la cual tiene muchas partes. El equipo editorial parece preferir la idea de que el Apocalipsis es una colección de muchas visiones diferentes, como fue el caso de Daniel, Isaías o Jeremías. Esta es una diferencia interesante, pero no muy significativa para la interpretación.

Mucho más significativo es la eliminación de mi frase “tiple Trinidad” en el punto IV, la cual fue reemplazada por “trilogía de Dios”. En la parte del “Comentario” de esta lección (tema IV, “La trilogía de Dios”), el lenguaje de “triple Trinidad” se elimina varias veces. Mi primera impresión fue que el editor final debe ser antitrinitario, pero luego noté la inserción en el texto de la palabra “Trinidad” en dos lugares de esta lección. En los inicios del movimiento adventista, muchos líderes no eran trinitarios, pero la Iglesia llegó al punto en que el concepto de la Trinidad se expresa claramente en las Escrituras, y esto se explica en la Creencia Fundamental # 2 del libro En esto creemos. El antitrinitarismo está volviendo aparecer en algunos círculos adventistas, pero es rechazado firmemente por los líderes de nuestra Iglesia. Puesto que la palabra “trinidad” no es una palabra bíblica, hubo un sentimiento entre los líderes de la Iglesia para eliminarla del título de “Creencia Fundamental # 2”, pero se dejó allí debido a la preocupación de que su eliminación proporcionaría aliento a los antitrinitarios de la Iglesia. Estoy decepcionado por la eliminación de mi frase “triple trinidad” ya que expresa claramente lo que está sucediendo en Apocalipsis 1:4-6 (tres descripciones triples). No creo que los editor(es) hayan entendido eso, pero los editores de estas lecciones han hecho valer el derecho de controlar el estilo final de la forma del lenguaje, y este cambio no parece que sea impulsado por la reflexión teológica.

Otro asunto aún más significativo tiene que ver con la interpretación profética de los mensajes a las siete iglesias (Apo 2:1-3:22). Los adventistas, junto con muchos cristianos protestantes, han interpretado por mucho tiempo las siete iglesias como una profecía de la historia cristiana, tratándola de manera muy parecida a Daniel 2 y 7. Pero la forma de estos mensajes no es abiertamente apocalíptica, se parecen más a las cartas de Pablo que a las visiones apocalípticas. Y no hay ninguna declaración dentro de los mensajes que los identifique claramente como profecía acerca de futuras iglesias en el curso de la historia. Así que prefiero verlos superficialmente como “cartas proféticas” escritas a siete iglesias en los días de Juan (1:11; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; 22:16) que tienen valor para todos los lectores del libro (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Creo, sin embargo, que hay buena evidencia de que la interpretación de la historia de la iglesia de estos siete mensajes fue pensada por Juan como teniendo un significado extendido. Muchos, especialmente los no estudiosos del Apocalipsis, encuentran que este enfoque es inadecuado y prefieren afirmar un significado profético o apocalíptico abierto como la intención primaria de los mensajes a las siete iglesias. Los cambios realizados en la EM de esta lección reflejan esta preferencia.

Esto me lleva a una observación importante. Hablo y escribo en dos roles diferentes, como creyente y como erudito. Como adventista, creo en las enseñanzas de la Iglesia y trato de apoyarlas en todo momento. Pero como erudito, reconozco que algunas enseñanzas tienen una base bíblica más sólida que otras. Esta postura doble me permite vivir con convicción y compromiso como creyente, al mismo tiempo que estoy abierto al aprendizaje y al crecimiento en la comprensión. Creo que este doble compromiso es saludable y auténtico. Pero muchas personas tienen dificultades para mantener tal tensión en sus vidas y los editores de la lección en este caso actuaron así a fin de protegerlos de la duda y la incertidumbre. El tiempo dirá si tal medida apoyará en última instancia la creencia o si va en contra de ella.

Un cambio muy pequeño pero importante ocurrió en la parte inicial de la sección “Comentario” de la edición inglesa, pero no en la edición española. Así que este párrafo está basado a lo que puse en inglés. Creo que las siete trompetas terminan con Apocalipsis 11:18 en lugar de 11:19. Este último es la “introducción al santuario” para los capítulos 12-14. Los editores cambiaron el punto final de las trompetas a 11:19, quitando la introducción del santuario de la siguiente sección. Creo que esta medida es errónea desde el punto de vista exegético, pero hay buenos estudiosos de ambos lados del asunto, por lo que sospecho que este cambio no perjudica gravemente a nadie.
En el punto I de la sección “Comentario”, una serie de cambios sugiere que el editor final no entendió el texto griego de Apocalipsis 1:1-3. En el griego hay una cadena de revelación de “lo que Dios dio” (1:1), a “lo que Juan vio” (1:2) y a “lo que Juan escribió” (1:3). Esta observación (quitada de la lección) tiene dos propósitos: 1) no limita el “testimonio de Jesús” al libro del Apocalipsis, como algunos opositores del adventismo afirman, y 2) equipara la experiencia visionaria de Juan con la que tendrá el remanente del tiempo del fin en 12:17. Los editores han puesto a un lado la afirmación de que 12:17 espera futuras revelaciones proféticas, y han sacado la mejor evidencia griega para esa afirmación. Como tenía que ser breve, es comprensible que los editores no entendieran completamente lo que estaba haciendo aquí.

Finalmente, la última sección, “Aplicación a la vida”, tuvo los cambios editoriales más numerosos y significativos. He observado que muchos creyentes adventistas, especialmente los más jóvenes, sienten una tensión entre las lecturas historicistas tradicionales del Apocalipsis y la afirmación de que el libro es una “revelación de Jesucristo” y del evangelio. Intenté reconocer esa tensión y ofrecer razones por las que un enfoque de ambos es mejor que un único enfoque. Los editores se mostraron incómodos con esa concesión y eliminaron el lenguaje de “tensión” y “valor añadido” que yo había puesto allí. El motivo, estoy seguro, era el de proteger a los creyentes de la duda, y eso es importante hacerlo. Pero si la generación más joven percibe una tensión aquí, ignorar esa realidad no los persuadirá a abrazar la perspectiva historicista. Prefiero la franqueza y la apertura a la protección; pero espero, en este caso, que las personas que están por encima de mi nivel de remuneración hayan tomado la mejor decisión para la iglesia.

Nuevamente, para aquellos que no tienen acceso a la edición impresa estándar de la lección de Escuela Sabática para Adultos o a la EM de este trimestre, pueden acceder a ellos en línea semana por semana en https://www.absg.adventist.org/. Mi manuscrito original pre-editado de la EM de esta semana se encuentra en el entrada anterior. También puede descargar el audio de mi enseñanza de la lección con anticipación cada semana en http://pineknoll.org/sabbath-school-lessons.

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)

LESSON 1
THE GOSPEL FROM PATMOS

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.