Ellen White and the Sealing of Revelation 9:4 II (EWB 18)

The reality is that, in spite of Ellen White’s overwhelming interest in the end-time concept of the sealing, in places she is quite capable of using the concept of sealing more along the lines of Paul than of Revelation 7. In CT 459 the seal is an ongoing mark of God’s approval of the message that Adventists were preaching: “Who among our teachers are awake, and as faithful stewards of the grace of God are giving the trumpet a certain sound? Who are voicing the message of the third angel, calling upon the world to make ready for the great day of God? The message we bear has the seal of the living God (compare with John 3:33; 6:27; Rom 15:28; 1 Cor 9:2.).

In relation to people, Ellen White understands the seal of God to be placed on those who possess “the sign of the cross of Calvary” and are wearing the wedding garment. Letter 126, 1898 (= 7BC 968). The seal is a “passport to the Holy City” which all must have in order to enter (TM 444-445). One is not saved without the seal (Letter 80, 1898 [= 7BC 969]). It is placed on all who love God in the practice of everyday life (RH Oct 23, 1888). The seal is placed on those who make their “calling and election sure” (cf. 2 Pet 1:10). EW 58.

This brief survey indicates that with regard to the sealing, as in so many areas, Ellen White demonstrates a sensitive awareness of the full richness of the biblical language that she so readily adopts. Her grasp of the scriptural intent is far greater than that of most who quote her writings in relation to exegetical issues (including myself). Wisdom would indicate that it is unwise to assume exactly how she would have exegeted Revelation 9:4 had she availed herself of the opportunity. Her lack of comment on Revelation 9:4 may rather indicate that it does not concern her primary interest in the concept of sealing, the end-time sealing so clearly portrayed in Revelation 7 and so often quoted by her. To understand the seal of Revelation 9:4 in terms of the general New Testament usage is not contrary to her understanding.

The implications of the above is that attempts to see the seven trumpets of Revelation as entirely in the future on the basis of the sealing of Revelation 9:4 are going beyond what the evidence will bear. Ellen White herself never references Revelation 9:4 when she talks about the end-time sealing and she never references it when using sealing in the more general New Testament way as a reference to conversion. The timing of the seven trumpets should not be grounded on Ellen White’s references to end-time sealing. As she herself would encourage us to do, the seven trumpets are best understood on the basis of careful study of the text of Revelation itself.

Ellen White and the Sealing of Revelation 9:4 (EWB 17)

A major issue in the Adventist interpretation of the seven trumpets is the significance of the sealing in Revelation 9:4. Is it the end-time sealing of Revelation 7? Or is the more general sealing process typical of the rest of the New Testament? Does Ellen White have only one view of sealing in Revelation, or does she utilize the concept in the variety of ways in which New Testament writers used it? One thing is perfectly clear, she never discusses Rev 9:4, not even in GC 334-335, the only place where she mentions the fifth trumpet at all. Therefore, her view of the matter is not explicit, it can only be inferred, if at all, from her view of the sealing in Revelation 7.

It may be helpful as we begin to briefly review the variety of meanings that pertain to the New Testament concept of sealing. When a seal is placed on a document, message, or tomb, its purpose is to conceal or to confine (Matt 27:66; Rev 5:1-2, 5, 9; 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12; 8:1; 10:4; 20:3; 22:10.). An alternative meaning is to certify that something or someone is reliable (John 3:33; 6:27; Rom 15:28; 1 Cor 9:2). But the predominant meaning of sealing in connection with God’s people is as an indication that one has been accepted by God (“God knows them that are His”: 2 Tim 2:19 cf. 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13; 4:30). In this sense, sealing was a present reality already in the time of Abraham (Rom 4:11).

Ellen White has little to say about the New Testament passages which connect sealing to acceptance with God. Her primary interest in the idea seems limited to the significance of Revelation 7, which clearly focuses on the end-time sealing. In spite of this, however, she does not limit sealing to a purely end-time setting. She repeatedly refers to her time as the time when the four angels are holding the four winds (5T 717-718, 6T 26, 61, 426, and some 18 statements in the Review and Herald from 1885-1912), and to the sealing time as a present reality (EW 43-44, Letter 270, 1907 [= 7BC 969], RH July 13, 1897, 1SM 66, and 5T 50). Therefore, while she normally refers to the sealing as a future, end-time event (See RH Sept 23, 1873 and May 28, 1889 as examples, this is in harmony with the exegesis of Revelation 7), she does not limit the process to the very end of time.

In terms of the meaning of sealing she once again is primarily interested in the meaning most appropriate to the situation of Revelation 7. The concept of the seal of God for her has special significance in the antitypical Day of Atonement. “Only those who, in their attitude before God, are filling the position of those who are repenting and confessing their sins in the great antitypical day of atonement, will be recognized and marked as worthy of God’s protection. The names of those who are steadfastly looking and waiting and watching for the appearing of their Saviour–more earnestly and wishfully than they who wait for the morning–will be numbered with those who are sealed.” TM 445.

This end-time seal provides protection in the time of trouble. EW 67, 71. It is placed upon those who prove loyal to the commandments of God (GC 613, Letter 76, 1900 [= 7BC 970], 2T 468) to the point of “perfection of character”(RH June 10, 1902 [= 6BC 1118], 5T 214, 216), “the likeness of Christ’s character”(EW 71, RH May 21, 1895 [= 7BC 970]) and genuine, conscientious Sabbath-keeping (including rejection of Sunday-worship– GC 605, Letter 76, 1900 [= 7BC 970], MS 27, 1899 [= 7BC 970], RH July 13, 1897, RH Apr 23, 1901, 5T 213, cf. 7BC 980 [= HS 213], GC 640, PP 307). Such definitions, of course, are not appropriate to the more general New Testament understanding of sealing exhibited in passages such Ephesians 1:13; 4:30 and 2 Timothy 2:19. Was she unaware of the more general meanings common to the NT? Would she have considered it inappropriate to apply them to Revelation 9:4, for instance, a passage that she never quoted or discussed? There are a few other statements of hers that I think will be of interest. Next time.

Ellen White and the Introduction to the Trumpets (EWB 16)

In the vision of Revelation 8:3-4 an angel stands before the golden altar, ministering incense before God. In many statements Ellen White appears to equate that angel with Christ. EW 32 (= LS 100), 252; MS 142, 1899 (= COL 156 = 7 BC 931); MS 21, 1900 (= SD 22); MS 14, 1901 (= 6 BC 1078). When she does so, she always speaks of the scene as a description of Christ’s intercession. MS 14, 1901 (= 6 BC 1078); MS 142, 1899 (= 7 BC 931 = COL 156); SD 22. Interestingly, however, in other statements she describes the scene in terms of angels offering incense, but in those cases she never uses the term “intercession,” reserving it for Christ alone. MS 15, 1897 (= 7BC 971); RH July 4, 1893; ML 29.

In her clearest allusions to Revelation 8:3-4, Ellen White relates this scene to the daily ministration in the first apartment of the heavenly sanctuary. GC 414-415; RH Nov 9, 1905; PP 353. Early in her ministry, however, she alludes to portions of the imagery with reference to the second apartment. EW 32 [= LS 100], 252, 256. In all clear allusions to Revelation 8:3-4, however, the ministration of incense is associated with Christ’s work of intercession and not with the Investigative Judgment. MS 142, 1899 (= COL 156 = 7BC 931); MS 14, 1901 (= 6BC 1078). The incense represents the “merit of Jesus” (RH July 4, 1893) or the “blood of the atonement.” MS 15, 1897 (= 7 BC 971).

In an earlier blog we made an extensive analysis of her single echo of Revelation 8:5. She appears to understand the throwing down of the censer in terms of an end to intercession, but it is not clear if she understood it as something that might happen repeatedly in the course of human history or as “the” final close of probation.

On the whole, Ellen White’s use of the language of Revelation 8:3-5 is remarkably compatible with exegesis of the passage. The basic concept of the passage is the intercession of Christ. In some sense this is brought to an end by the act of throwing down the censer. Her writings make it unclear, however, whether that act occurs before the blowing of the trumpets chronologically, whether it occurs repeatedly during the trumpets, or only at a specific point toward the end. In other words, she respects the ambiguity of the text and does not go beyond what is reasonably evident there.

Ellen White and the Trumpets II (EWB 15)

For those who may feel that my position on the statement in GC 334-335 undermines the authority of Ellen White, I strongly encourage you to read the Appendices to Selected Messages, volume 3, pages 433-450. See also the Introduction to The Great Controversy, which touches more generally on these themes in Ellen White’s own words. These pages include statements to the General Conference session in 1911 by W. C. White and letters that he wrote concerning the process by which The Great Controversy 1911 Edition was put together. These remarks and letters occurred well within Ellen White’s lifetime by her own son, and could have been easily corrected by her were they in error. It is clear from these that she did not consider her work to provide an inspired guide to historical events and details such as those provided in relation to Revelation 9. I offer a quick sampling of key statements here.

“Mother has never claimed to be authority on history.” 3SM 437. The rest of the paragraph, and some of the pages that follow, describes how and why the history in Great Controversy came to be included in the book, particularly the standard edition of 1911. “When Controversy was written, Mother never thought that the readers would take it as authority on historical dates, or to settle controversy regarding details of history, and she does not now feel that it should be used in that way.” In 3SM 433-450, there is significant description of just how the process of including history in the book took place. History is not the main point of the book, it is used to illustrate the main points the writer was seeking to make for her readers (after considerable research at least two directors of the White Estate have concluded that the same applies to biblical exegesis, something that mainly appears in her books with a lot of quotes and borrowing from other authors).

The above is underlined in a 1912 letter from W. C. White to S. N. Haskell, which included a written note from Ellen White: “I approve of the remarks in this letter.” The crucial statement for our purpose in that letter follows: “I believe, Brother Haskell, that there is danger in injuring Mother’s work by claiming for it more that she claims for it, more than Father ever claimed for it, more than Elder Andrews, Waggoner, or Smith ever claimed for it. I cannot see consistency in our putting forth a claim of verbal inspiration when Mother does not make any such claim, and I certainly think we will make a great mistake if we lay aside historical research and endeavor to settle historical questions by the use of Mother’s books as an authority when she herself does not wish them to be used in any such way.” See the entire letter at https://whiteestate.org/legacy/vault-haskell-html/#:~:text=C.%20White%20Statement%20of%20October%2031,%201912%20.

Assuming Litch was in error, as he himself later concluded, what do we make of God allowing such a mistake in the midst of an important movement that had His approval? When one reads the Bible with care, it becomes clear that God works with mistake-prone people to gradually bring about clearer and clearer understandings of His character and government. He does not give out truth that people are not yet ready to handle (see John 16:12). In Great Controversy it is clear that Miller himself made a major error of biblical interpretation, but that did not invalidate his work as a whole. In the case of Litch’s prediction, I think it is not unlike God to preserve a threatened movement by providing the “fulfillment” it so desperately needed and was looking for.

Ellen White and the Trumpets (EWB 14)

When it comes to the trumpets, unfortunately, Ellen White has very little to say. Only two statements are generally understood to offer meaningful comment on Revelation 8:7 through 9:21; they are found in Letter 109, 1890 and GC 334-335. On the surface, at least, the two statements point in opposite directions. One is often used to support an end-time scenario for the trumpets, the other to support Josiah Litch’s historicist account, which places the first six trumpets well in the past. Each of these statements will be examined briefly in turn. Four other possibilities will also be explored. Statements regarding Revelation 8:3-5, 11:7 and 11:18 may shed some light on Revelation 8:7-9:21, and statements regarding the sealing of Revelation 7 are often understood to impact on the meaning of Revelation 9:4.

Until recently, Seventh-day Adventist interpreters have rejected any futurist understanding of the first six trumpets. In the last few years, however, some have suggested that the seven trumpets have an end-time fulfillment, either in addition to or in place of the historical understandings of the past. This kind of interpretation seeks support in Ellen White’s statement in Letter 109, 1890: “Solemn events before us are yet to transpire. Trumpet after trumpet is to be sounded, vial after vial poured out one after another upon the inhabitants of the earth. Scenes of stupendous interest are right upon us.” This statement from a private letter was later published in 7BC 982, part of the Ellen White notes in the SDA Bible Commentary.

The understanding of this statement is not particularly aided by its context. The statement is very general and uses the term “trumpet” as part of a collection of statements concerning the terrors of the end. The statement was not published in Ellen White’s lifetime, and it does not offer an exegesis of Revelation 8 and 9. The only connection to Revelation 8-11 is the single word “trumpet.” There is no indication of an exegetical usage and it is the lone reference like this in all of her writings. Since the comment is confined to a personal letter and is not intentionally included in her published works, she does not appear to be attaching any great significance to it. Rather than attempting to set the groundwork for future exegesis of the trumpets, Ellen White appears to be merely echoing the language of Scripture to heighten her description of future calamity to move a person to action and commitment. There are too many uncertainties with regard to her intention for the passage, therefore, to offer any conclusive guidance to exegesis of the trumpets. If the trumpets are to be interpreted as future, it needs to be demonstrated by exegesis of the text itself.

An entirely different approach seeks support from the statement in GC 334-335. In this statement Ellen White gives apparent support to the view proposed by Josiah Litch and published by Uriah Smith in Daniel and the Revelation that the fifth and sixth trumpets portray the activities of the Saracens and Turks over a 1200-year period. While the SDA church holds the official view that doctrinal and exegetical positions should be based on the Bible and not on the writings of Ellen White, most SDAs would be uncomfortable rejecting a view that she seems to state clearly and unequivocally. Her endorsement in a major published work would have an almost overwhelming effect on interpretation of the trumpets.

Many E. G. White scholars, however, including Arthur White (her grandson) and Robert Olson (both directors of the White Estate), do not consider her language to be an endorsement of the Islamic view. She uses such neutral terms as “according to his calculations,” and “the event exactly fulfilled the prediction.” This leads one to suspect that she herself was uncertain as to the correct understanding of Revelation 9 and reported Litch’s view because of its historical significance. She points out that as a result of the apparent fulfillment of Litch’s prediction, multitudes were convinced of the correctness of the Millerite principles of prophetic interpretation, and many men of learning and position united with Miller. Litch’s position played a critical role in the historical context she was describing.

To compound the problem with the interpretation, Litch himself later repudiated that view because of, among other things, an error in calculating the supposed time period of Revelation 9:15. He overlooked the effect of the calendar change in 1582 when he predicted that the supposed time period of Revelation 9:15 would wind up on August 11, 1840. So even if Revelation 9:15 portrays a period of time rather than a point in time (which is grammatically problematic—see my comments on Revelation 9:15 in the Facebook commentary at the Armageddon web site), the specific position described in Great Controversy is in error. Since no one since has been able to salvage Litch’s view in the form reported in GC 334-335, it is probably better to understand her account as a historical report and not a theological endorsement.

In the blog that follows this one in a few days, I will address the issue of how such a reading of Ellen White is supported by her own statements and those of her closest associates. Stay tuned.

Ellen White and Revelation 6 (EWB 13)

There is a paucity of statements by Ellen White associated with the seals of Revelation 6. Most of her scriptural allusions to the seals have to do with the souls under the altar in the fifth seal and the heavenly signs mentioned in the sixth seal. There is, however, one most interesting reference to the horsemen of Rev 6:1-8. “The same spirit is seen today that is represented in Rev 6:6-8. History is to be reenacted. That which has been will be again. This spirit works to confuse and to perplex. Dissension will be seen in every nation, kindred, tongue and people, and those who have not had a spirit to follow the light that God has given through His living oracles, through His appointed agencies, will become confused. Their judgment will reveal weakness. Disorder and strife and confusion will be seen in the church. Ellen G. White, Letter 65, 1898; Manuscript Release #667.

This statement in its context is unquestionably a citation of the biblical text of the seven seals. The first two sentences imply that the third and fourth seals (Rev 6:6-8) refer to historical realities that are past, but the spirit of which continues in Ellen White’s present and future. Her statement as a whole implies that the third and fourth seal represent spiritual confusion and perplexity in the church. In the standard Adventist view of the seals, they have their primary historical fulfillment in the corrupted church of the Middle Ages, but the principle of confusion and apostasy is not limited to that period of history. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, the text of Revelation 6-7 points to an end-time consummation of the four horsemen in the four destroying winds of Rev 7:1-3.

In Testimonies for the Church, vol.6, p. 614 she appears to allude to the third seal of Revelation 6:5-6: “In view of the infinite price paid for man’s redemption, how dare any professing the name of Christ treat with indifference one of His little ones? How carefully should brethren and sisters in the church guard every word and action lest they hurt the oil and the wine! How patiently, kindly, and affectionately should they deal with the purchase of the blood of Christ!” This echo of biblical language suggests that the oil and wine represent those who believe in Jesus. If so, the command of Rev 6:6 not to hurt the oil and the wine symbolizes God’s protecting care for His faithful ones.

Of the roughly half-dozen statements alluding to the souls under the altar in the fifth seal, one applies the cry of the martyrs to the persecutions of the Old Testament era! RH July 17, 1900. Two apply the cry of the martyrs in a general sense. “The voices of those under the altar . . . are still saying, . . .” RH May 2, 1893, see also COL 179-180. The cry represents God’s continuing awareness of the injustice in the world. Other statements clearly imply an end-time setting, although even here (with the possible exception of MS 39, 1906) the usage is primarily in a general sense rather than as a specific exegetical interpretation. See 6BC 1081 (= RH Dec 21, 1897); 7BC 968 (= MS 39, 1906); 5T 451; RH June 15, 1897.

Ellen White’s multiple focus and application is supported by exegesis of the passage itself. The souls under the altar are the product of persecution throughout history leading up to the time of their cry. That cry is prior to the pre-advent judgment (cf. Rev 6:10). The fact that the cry receives a partial response implies that the judgment has begun within the seal subsequent to the time of the cry. The last part of the seal has entered into the time of judgment and anticipates the final persecution of earth’s history. So an end-time focus is not inappropriate within a broad historical perspective, but the seal as a whole covers a broader scope than just the end-time.

It is evident, then, that Ellen White understands the fifth seal to be figurative. When she discusses the sixth seal, however, she sees it in literal terms. The earthquake of Rev 6:12 is identified with the Lisbon quake of 1755. The signs in the sun, moon, and stars are tied to those predicted by Christ (Rev 6:12,13; cf. Matt 24:29; Luke 21:25). These are identified with the Dark Day, May 19, 1780, and the meteoric shower of November 13, 1833, both occurring in North America. GC 37, 304-308, 333-334. The dramatic events of Rev 6:14, on the other hand, are associated with the return of Christ. See ST April 22, 1913; SR 411; PP 340; RH Sept 22, 1891; RH Jan 12, 1886. The despairing cry of the wicked to be hidden from the wrath of God and the Lamb is likewise understood to take place at Christ’s Second Advent. TM 444; PP 340-341; SR 411; RH Mar 18, 1880; RH Jan 12, 1886; RH April 28, 1891; RH June 18, 1901 (6BC 1070); 2T 41-42, etc.

While many statements by Ellen White that utilize language reminiscent of Revelation 6 are fairly ambiguous, her clearest, most exegetical statements are supportive of the exegesis of the text itself and also of Adventist interpretation of the text. Adventist interpreters must be careful not to twist off-hand comments about the seven seals in such a way that they undermine the clear implications of the biblical text itself.

Ellen White and the Sealed Scroll of Revelation 5 (EWB 12)

One of the most challenging concepts in Revelation is the sealed scroll of chapter five. In researching his dissertation on the sealed scroll of Revelation, Ranko Stefanovic identified more than a hundred different views on the meaning of the scroll in the history or Revelation’s interpretation. As I remember it, he concluded that the scroll of Revelation was the covenant scroll (Deuteronomy) delivered to the king at the time of his inauguration as king of Israel. He saw the time of that event as the ascension of Jesus to heaven after His resurrection. Needless to say, not every scholar of Revelation is fully convinced that Stefanovic has settled the matter.

Ellen White makes a handful of brief statements with regard to the sealed scroll of Revelation 5. In Testimony to Ministers, 115 she appears to suggest that the sealed scroll is the book of Daniel. After quoting Dan 12:8-13 she says: “It was the Lion of the tribe of Judah who unsealed the book and gave to John the revelation of what should be in these last days.” After restating the Daniel passage in her own words for some lines she states: “The book of Daniel is unsealed in the revelation to John, and carries us forward to the last scenes of this earth’s history.” The possibility that John may have intended an allusion to Daniel in Revelation 5 has been discussed by scholars, so such a view of the text is certainly possible. Her main point in these comments is, however, to encourage people to “Read Revelation in connection with Daniel. Teach these things” (last lines of TM 115). Rather than settling exegetical issues in the text, her intention is to encourage direct study and teaching of these texts.

Ellen White’s statement in Christ’s Object Lessons 294, on the other hand, suggests that she understood the scroll of Revelation 5 to contain much more than the book of Daniel. There she describes the scene at the trial of Jesus where Pilate washes his hands and the priests cry out, along with the mob, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Then she writes: “Thus the Jewish leaders made their choice. Their decision was registered in the book which John saw in the hand of Him that sat upon the throne, the book which no man could open. In all its vindictiveness this decision will appear before them in the day when this book is unsealed by the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” Here the scroll contains historical records that will be revealed when it is fully unsealed.

The statement in COL seems to align with volume six of the Testimonies, page 17: “The light we have received upon the third angel’s message is the true light. The mark of the beast is exactly what it has been proclaimed to be. Not all in regard to this matter is yet understood, nor will it be understood until the unrolling of the scroll; but a most solemn work is to be accomplished in our world.” Both statements suggest that Ellen White understood the full unrolling of the scroll as a matter for the future, not the past (such as AD 31 or 1844).

More recently, a letter has come to light which contains a fairly clear statement on the identity of the scroll (letter 65, 1898, manuscript release #667.). After quoting Revelation 5:1-3 she states: “There in His open hand lay the book, the roll of the history of God’s providences, the prophetic history of nations and the church. Herein was contained the divine utterances, His authority, His commandments, His laws, the whole symbolic counsel of the Eternal, and the history of all ruling powers in the nations. In symbolic language was contained in that roll the influence of every nation, tongue, and people from the beginning of earth’s history to its close. This roll was written within and without. John says: (Rev 5:4-5; 6:8-11; 8:1-4).”

This explicit statement about the scroll of Revelation 5 indicates that it contains the entire sum and substance of the Great Controversy as it pertains to the earth, including the acts of both God and His created beings throughout history. It is the record book of heaven. There are only two events in human history which contain in themselves such a summary of all things. One is in Christ at the cross. At the cross Christ embodied in Himself both the character of God and the sins of a fallen creation. The other event is at the close of the millennium, when all of history is laid open to view (GC 666-671). Since the judgment associated with the year 1844 is limited, in Ellen White’s thinking, to those who have professed Christ (GC 483), this statement does not pinpoint the year 1844 as the time when the Lamb took the book.

The most likely reference point for this statement is Christ’s enthronement in heaven in AD 31. Note that the scroll contains “the roll of the history of God’s providences,” an appropriate designation for the Old Testament, and “the prophetic history of nations and the church,” a statement most appropriate at the beginning of the Christian era, not near its close.

Combining all of the above, it appears that Ellen White understood the scroll of Revelation 5 to be the sum and substance of history, prophecy, and the entire plan and purpose of God. As such, it contains that to which both Daniel and Revelation point and more. It is anticipated in John’s vision, but is not fully opened to view until the end of history. It is truly the “book of destiny.” The statements of Ellen White illuminate our reading of Revelation 5, but they are not specific enough in themselves to settle the exegetical issues related to the sealed scroll of Revelation 5.

Ellen White and the Timing of Revelation 5—Part 3 (EWB 11)

While Desire of Ages, pp. 833-835 ties the entire scene of Revelation 4-5 to the event of Christ’s ascension and his subsequent enthronement in the heavenly sanctuary, some Adventist thinkers believe that a statement found in 7BC 967 suggests that Ellen White understood Christ’s taking of the book to have occurred in 1844, not AD 31. Let us examine this statement with some care.

“John writes, ‘I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne.’ Angels were united in the work of Him who had broken the seals and taken the book. Four mighty angels hold back the powers of this earth till the servants of God are sealed in their foreheads. The nations of the world are eager for conflict; but they are held in check by the angels. When this restraining power is removed, there will come a time of trouble and anguish.”

The quotation in the initial sentence is clearly from Revelation 5:11. Does Ellen White’s statement set Rev 5:11 after the breaking of the seals? Since Revelation 5:11 contains an allusion to Daniel 7:9-10, it has been argued that the location of the vision is in the Most Holy Place at the time of judgment from 1844 on. In that case, when the Lamb “came and took the book” in Revelation 5:7, he was moving from the Holy Place into the Most Holy. To read Ellen White in this way is biblically problematic, since the Lamb was already standing “in the midst of the throne” (Rev 5:6) before he “comes and takes the book” (Rev 5:7). To assume a change of apartments in Rev 5:6-7 is to suggest that the “throne” is a way of speaking for the entire sanctuary, something found in neither the Bible nor the writings of Ellen White.

So what do we do with Ellen White’s statement in 7BC 967? It certainly associates Revelation 5:11 with the events of Revelation 7:1-3, which are end-time. However, her statement is a general description of the work of angels, and Ellen White repeatedly uses the language of Rev 5:11 in general descriptions of the work of angels (compare 7BC933; 7BC 967-968; GC 511-512; PP36; CH 32, among others). Therefore, if the primary function of the statement has to do with the work of angels in general, we should not overstate its significance for the exegesis of Rev 5.

More exegetically problematic still is her second sentence: “. . . the work of Him who had broken the seals and taken the book.” This reverses the order of the biblical text and seems to place the breaking of the seals in the past, even though the sixth and seventh seals deal with the Second Coming and beyond.

The statement included in the SDA Bible Commentary was taken from Letter 79, 1900, written on May 10 of that year. The letter is a rambling appeal to a William Kerr, calling for a fuller commitment to the gospel and to obedience to God’s commandments. Ellen White’s personal journal indicates that she was extremely weak and weary, not having had significant sleep for three days! Overwork and sleeplessness would account for the rambling nature of the letter. Although the letter is lengthy, there is little coherent flow of thought from one paragraph to another. It nears its conclusion with a general description of the work of angels in helping God’s people obey. There is no reference to the investigative judgment.

The statement we are examining is found nowhere else in Ellen White’s writings. Nor is it central to the point of the letter, which is quite homiletical in its thrust. Such an isolated statement in an unpublished letter should not be used to overturn the impact of careful exegesis and such major published statements as GC 414-415 and DA 833-835. The fact that she was tired in the extreme on that day may account for her confusion regarding the order in which the breaking of the seals and the taking of the book took place.

I hope this concrete example of how Ellen White sometimes interacts with Revelation without having the intention of offering an exegetical explanation of the text. To use an off-hand statement in her writings to over-ride the plain meaning of the biblical text would neither be appropriate to serious study of the Bible, nor be respectful to her own view of the relation between her writings and the Bible. Having said that, creative exegesis can have devotional value, as long as such readings do not claim biblical authority.

Ellen White and the Timing of Revelation 5—Part 2 (EWB 10)

The soundest way to determine the reason for Ellen White’s emphasis on the importance of Revelation 5 for those who live in the last days is to read all her statements regarding that chapter. When this procedure is followed, the reader is impressed by her repeated use of the chapter as an inspiring vision of heaven that can have a motivating effect on those who live on the earth, encouraging them to look above what their eyes can see and contemplate the glories of an eternal world, thus becoming inspired to want to be there themselves.

“Who can be trifling, who can engage in frivolous, common talk, while by faith he sees the Lamb that was slain pleading before the Father . . .” “By faith let us look upon the rainbow round about the throne.” TM 157.

“Think of Jesus . . .” Letter 134, 1899 (quoted in 7 BC 933)

“In view of the revelation made to John on the Isle of Patmos . . . . how can those who claim to see wondrous things out of the law of God, be found in the list of the impure, of the fornicators and adulterers . . .” TN 433.

After quoting portions of Revelation 5 she says: “Will you catch the inspiration of the vision? Will you let your mind dwell upon the picture? Will you not be truly converted, and then go forth to labor in a spirit entirely different from the spirit in which you have labored in the past . . .” (see 8T 44-45 for full context)

She also writes: “If we would permit our minds to dwell more upon Christ and the heavenly world, we should find a powerful stimulus and support in fighting the battles of the Lord. Pride and love of the world will lose their power as we contemplate the glories of that better land so soon to be our home. Beside the loveliness of Christ, all earthy attractions will seem of little worth.” (see context in RH, Nov 15, 1887)

In these kinds of statements we find, perhaps, the best clue to the significance of Revelation 5 in the last days. It is the clearest and most exciting depiction of heavenly worship in all of Scripture. Those who meditate upon this scene will find encouragement and motivation to remain faithful to end, even as their spiritual forefathers in earlier times found encouragement and motivation in the same passage.

Did Ellen White associate the scene of Revelation 5 with any particular event in history? In Desire of Ages, pp. 833-835 (a briefer version is in RH July 29, 1890) she ties the entire scene of Revelation 4-5 to the event of Christ’s ascension and his subsequent enthronement in the heavenly sanctuary. There is no question that Ellen White has Revelation 4-5 in mind in this passage, and that this scripture plays a central role in the passage. Desire of Ages is certainly one of her major books, and the use she makes of it is in harmony with the most natural understanding of the biblical text.

Although the events of Revelation 5 originally took place at a particular point in time, however, we should not insist that the three hymns of acclamation found in Revelation 5:9-14 were only sung once. No doubt they enter the repertoire of the ongoing worship services in the heavenly sanctuary. Thus, Ellen White can quote from this section in the context of what is happening in heaven now (7BC 933; COL 176; MH 417– note that in PP 36 she even quotes Rev 5:11 in a pre-creation context). She can also quote verses 9-13 in the context of the experience of the redeemed as they enter the heavenly courts after the Second Coming (TM 433; GC 545, 647-648, 651-652, 671; 6BC 1083; 8T 44– GC 545 in particular appears exegetical with respect to Rev 5:13). This application is supported by the observation that the song of verse 13 presupposes the involvement of the entire creation, an event only fully realized after the destruction of sin and sinners at the close of the millennium.

Ellen White and the Timing of Revelation 5 (EWB 9)

There is only one statement that I am aware of in all of Ellen White’s writings that imputes unusual importance to any part of Rev 4-6 and 8-9. That statement is found in 9T 266-267. “Those who humble their hearts and confess their sins will be pardoned. Their transgressions will be forgiven. But the man who thinks that should he confess his sins he would show weakness, will not find pardon, will not see Christ as his Redeemer, but will go on and on in transgression, making blunder after blunder and adding sin to sin. What will such a one do in the day that the books are opened and every man is judged according to the things written in the books?
“The fifth chapter of Revelation needs to be closely studied. It is of great importance to those who shall act a part in the work of God for these last days. There are some who are deceived. They do not realize what is coming on the earth. Those who have permitted their minds to become beclouded in regard to what constitutes sin are fearfully deceived. Unless they make a decided change they will be found wanting when God pronounces judgment upon the children of men. They have transgressed the law and broken the everlasting covenant and they will receive according to their works.”

The above statement is part of an address read to the General Conference session of 1909 entitled “A Distribution of Responsibility” (the entire context is 9T 262-269). The first half concerns the need to make wise choices where the leadership of the church is concerned. The latter half (pp. 265-269) is a series of warnings made up largely of quotations from Matt 11:20-30, Rev 6:12-17, Rev 7:9-17, Luke 21:33-36, and Matt 24:42-51. The above statement precedes the quotation of Rev 6:12-17.

The statement is more ambiguous than we would like. It is clear that Revelation 5 is intended to play a significant role for those who are to act a part in the closing up of earth’s history. But it is not clear what that role is. Does Ellen White understand the chapter itself to be end-time? Is there an event portrayed there that is of particular importance to those who live at the end? Are there timeless theological truths there that will play their usual role also at the end? Is the passage inspirational because of its clear depiction of heavenly praise and worship? She does not say. A blank space is left, to be filled in by the reader.

One possibility lies in the mention of judgment both before and after the reference to chapter five. But this section of the address (9T 265-269) is neither an exegesis of Revelation 5 nor a theology of judgment. The previous statement associates judgment with the opening of the books (plural), while in Revelation 5 the single book remains sealed until after the scene so there is no explicit connection there. The later statement leads into the quotation of Revelation 6:12-17 where the Second Coming with its executive judgment is in view. Therefore, there is no explicit connection in her appeal to study Revelation 5 with these two references to judgment.

The soundest way to determine the reason for Ellen White’s emphasis on the importance of Revelation 5 for those who live in the last days is to read all her statements regarding that chapter. In fact, it is probably unwise to ever say “Ellen White says,” until one has looked at everything she has to say on the subject. We will attempt to do that in the next blog.