Ellen White and the Book of Revelation

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).

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