For Seventh-day Adventists the study of the book of Revelation rarely occurs without reference to the writings of Ellen G. White, a highly-respected founder of the Adventist Church and a major female author of the 19th Century. While most of her comments on Revelation seem based more on the scholarship of the time rather than her own personal study or direct revelation from God, the spiritual power of her writings continues to impact people today as much as it ever did. In a short series of blogs, I would like to address her writings on Revelation (which are fewer than most people who know of her realize). The content of these blogs is based largely on my entry “Book of Revelation” in the new Ellen G. White Encyclopedia. References to her books and manuscripts are in the standard abbreviated format as suggested by the Ellen G. White Estate (http://www.whiteestate.org/).
Ellen White’s view of the book of Revelation is most clearly discerned in the two major places where she directly addresses her understanding of the context and purpose of the book. The first and most comprehensive treatment was published in the Review and Herald, Feb. 18, 1890 and republished in Testimonies to Ministers, 112-119. The second treatment consists of two chapters in Acts of the Apostles (568-592).
Ellen White’s approach to Revelation was informed by a basic conviction. She believed that an end-time explosion in the understanding of Daniel and Revelation was the key factor behind the rise of the Advent movement. She felt, in other words, that in her time God had lifted a veil off from these books, enabling them to be fully understood (TM 113:3). The book of Revelation, therefore, was addressed to those living in the last days and the time of fulfillment was near (TM 113:3; 115:2; 116:2; 6T 61-62).
Although the Adventist pioneers had invested much in the study of Revelation, Ellen White was convinced that the book had not yet been fully understood (TM 113:2). Those wishing a deeper understanding would need to approach the book “humbly and meekly” (TM 114:4). The deeper understanding of Revelation that they gained would be a great boon to character development (TM 114:3). There would be a “great revival” (TM 113:2) marked by “an entirely different religious experience” (TM 114:3). So the primary goal of Revelation, in her thinking, was not knowledge, but character.
In terms of method, this deeper study would need to take two, somewhat contrasting forms. On the one hand, Ellen White advocated studying Revelation in the context of Daniel, as a follow-up to the visions given there (TM 114:6; EW 231:2). The two books were to be treated as close companions (TM 115:3,4; AA 585:1). On the other hand, she urged people to study Revelation in the context of all the other prophecies in the Bible (TM 112:1). She even went so far as to suggest that in the book of Revelation “all the books of the Bible meet and end” (AA 585:1). So a whole-Bible approach with special attention to Daniel was the basic method she thought should be applied to Revelation. But while Daniel and Revelation are complimentary, the two books are not the same. Daniel contains much that was sealed up (Dan 12:4), but Revelation was not sealed, its mysteries have always been “open to the study of all” (AA 584:1; RH August 31, 1897).
1) According to John 17:3, eternal life is to KNOW Jesus Christ, to make him the very first priority in one’s life. But the history of interpretation offers us an interesting paradox. Through the centuries, people have often been much more interested in knowing the Antichrist than in knowing the true Christ. Few other subjects have attracted as much attention and imagination from religious thinkers. So we need to keep this subject in balance if we wish to maintain spiritual health. The subject of Antichrist must be important or it wouldn’t be featured so centrally as it is in Revelation. On the other hand, it is not the one topic of supreme importance. That topic is Jesus Christ Himself. Antichrist is important because he seeks to take the place of Christ, to disguise him from the many who need eternal life. If we know him we can better avoid mis-readings of the gospel. Thus alongside the message of Christ, there is a valid place for study of the Antichrist, which we are attempting to do here. But such study needs to be kept in a subordinate place in comparison with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2) We have noticed that the Antichrist figure has worldwide impact and influence, especially at the end (Rev 13:7-8, 14,16). The final spiritual fraud will be global in extent. That means that no one will be excluded from the final test of true versus false worship. There will be no easy escape from the deceptions of the end. So it is important to be prepared; through study, prayer and self-distrust. But the sea beast will not stop with deception. When this does not achieve the desired results, he causes all who refuse to worship the image to be killed (Rev 13:15). He offers the attractive appeal: “Come with me, if you want to live.” Those who believe that the persecutions of the Middle Ages are forever gone, the future holds a big surprise. Those who live through those days will be the ones who do not love their lives even unto death (Rev 12:11).
3) When Antichrist seeks to deceive he does not put something bad in place of something good. That would no more be a good deception than attempting to buy good with play money. Instead, Antichrist seeks to replace the very best with something that is good in its proper place. A candle may give light in its proper place, but when lit on a sunny day it only creates a shadow. For instance, obedience (personal righteousness) is a very good thing in its place. Obedience as a response to what God has done for us is a beautiful thing. Believers should live righteous, sober and godly lives by the Spirit (Titus 2:12; 1 John 3:7). But when our personal obedience is put in the place where God’s mighty saving actions should be, that is the theology of Antichrist. The basic error of the medieval church was to make obedience the root rather than the fruit of our salvation. All other errors, such as indulgences, veneration of the saints, and the change of the Sabbath were possible once the gospel itself was forgotten. Antichrist uses the good to undo the best. In current evangelical thought and practice there are similar core distortions at times. What members of some churches want to know these days is not, “How can I please God?” but “How can God please me?” “How can church membership make my life radiantly happy, filled with success and contentment?” How quickly the words of Jesus are forgotten: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And “whoever would save his life will lose it” (Mark 8:34-35, ESV). So as it was in John’s day, there are still many antichrists among us, and some of them don’t even realize it. And perhaps the antichrist that we should most fear is self.