Monthly Archives: January 2019

Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes in the Main Lesson for This Week (Rev 6)

Some editorial changes in Lesson #5 made the text looks better. The changes were not numerous.

Some devotional questions were changed.

In the Sunday lesson, the change is made from “This whole scene is symbolic” to “Although symbolic, Revelation 6:1,2 is about conquest too.” This implies that there is a literal conquest in view in the vision. I do not believe that this is what the editor wished to say.

In the Tuesday lesson, the second paragraph is unnecessarily taken out: “The fourth seal calls forth pestilence and death. The graphic portrayal of the scene conveys the perennial truth that spiritual famine of the Word of God as a result of rejecting the gospel inevitably leads to spiritual death.” So also, “Beside their general application, the scenes of the seven seals also apply historically.”

In the Wednesday lesson, two sentences are added to the first paragraph, which clarify the point. Not bad.

Here’s my original manuscript before the editorial changes.


Lesson 5 * January 26-February 1

The Seven Seals

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 6.
Memory Verse: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us unto kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10, NKJV).
Revelation 6 continues the scene of chapters 4-5 describing Christ who, by taking the sealed scroll and sitting on the heavenly throne, regained what was lost through Adam. The destiny of all humanity was put into His hands. He is now ready to open the seals on the scroll and carry out the plan of salvation to its ultimate realization.
Pentecost marked the beginning of the spread of the gospel, by which Christ expands His kingdom by winning human hearts to himself. However, He has to rule in the midst of His enemies (1 Cor. 15:25). There are still many who do not accept his authority. Yet, He wants to bring them under his rule, for He does want anyone to perish but all to come to salvation.
Thus, the breaking of the seals refers to the preaching of the gospel, which started at Pentecost, and the consequences of rejecting it. The opening of the seventh and last seal brings us to the conclusion of this world’s history.
Revelation 3:21 gives us the key to the meaning of the of the seven seals: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne (NKJV).” Chapters 4-5 tell us of Christ’s overcoming and His exaltation to His Father’s throne, and chapter 7 of the overcomers before Christ’s throne. Thus, chapter 6 is about God’s people in the process of overcoming so that they might share Jesus’ throne.

*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 3.
Sunday January 27
The Opening of the First Seal
Read Revelation 6:1-8 along with Leviticus 26:21-26 and Matthew 24:1-14. Note the common key words in these texts? What do you learn about the meaning of the first four seals on the basis of these parallels?
The events of the seven seals must be understood in the context of the Old Testament covenant curses specified in terms of sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts (Lev. 26:21-26). Ezekiel calls them God’s “four severe judgements” (Ezek. 14:21). They were the disciplinary judgments by which God chastised His people when they became unfaithful to the covenant in order to awaken them from their condition. In a similar way, the four horsemen are the means God uses to keep His people awake as they await Jesus’ return.
There are also close parallels between the first four seals and Matthew 24:4-14 where Jesus explained what would happen in the world throughout history up until His return. The four horsemen are the means by which God keeps His people on the right track by reminding them that this world is not their home and of the reality of Christ’s return.
Read Revelation 6:1-2. The scene points to a conquest situation. On the basis of the color of the horse and the description of the horseman, what does this scene point to?
This whole scene is symbolic. It brings to mind Revelation 19:11-16, which portrays Christ as riding a white horse and leading the heavenly armies into the final battle of earth’s history. As a symbol of purity, the white color is regularly associated with Christ and His followers. The rider on the horse holds a bow and is given a crown, which evokes the image of God in the Old Testament riding a horse with a bow in His hand conquering His people’s enemies (Hab. 3:8-13; Ps. 45:4-5). The Greek word for the crown worn by the rider is stephanos, which is the crown of victory (Rev. 2:10; 3:11). This rider is a conqueror going forward conquering and to conquer.
The scene of the first seal describes the spreading of the gospel, which started powerfully at Pentecost, by which Christ began expanding His kingdom. There were many territories to conquer and many people to win. This conquest of the gospel will continue all until the ultimate conquest is realized with Christ’s coming in glory.
Prophetically, the scene of the first seal corresponds to the message to the church in Ephesus; it describes the apostolic period during which the gospel spread rapidly throughout the world (Col. 1:23).

Monday January 28
The Second and Third Seals
Read Revelation 6:3-4. On the basis of the description of the red horse and the rider, to what reality associated with the preaching of the gospel does it refer?
Red is the color of blood and corresponds to the mission of this horse. The rider has a great sword and is allowed to take peace from the earth, so that people may kill one another.
The second seal describes the consequences of the rejection of the gospel. As Christ is waging spiritual warfare through the preaching of the gospel, the forces of evil render strong resistance. Inevitably, persecution follows. The rider does not do the killing. Instead, he takes peace from the earth and inevitably, as a result, persecution follows. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth,” Jesus said. “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34, NKJV).
Read Revelation 6:5-6 along with Lev. 26:26 and Ezek. 4:16. On the basis of the description of the black horse and the rider, what reality associated with the preaching of the gospel is referred to?
The rider on the black horse holds a scale for weighing food. An announcement is made: “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius (Rev. 6:6, NKJV).” In Palestine, grain, oil and wine were the basic necessities of life (Deut. 11:14). To eat bread by carefully weighing the grain denoted great scarcity or famine (Lev. 26:26; Ezek. 4:16). In John’s day, a denarius was a daily wage (Mat. 20:2). In normal circumstances, a daily wage would buy all the necessities for the family. However, a famine would enormously inflate the normal price. In the scene of the third seal, it would take a whole day’s work to buy just enough food for only one person. In order to feed a small family, a day’s wage would be used to buy three quarts of barley, a cheaper, coarser food for the poor.
The scene of the third seal points to the further consequences of rejecting the gospel. If the white horse represents the preaching of the gospel, the black horse denotes the absence of the gospel. Grain in the Bible symbolizes the word of God (Luke 8:11). The rejection of the gospel inevitably results in a famine of the word of God similar to the one prophesied by Amos (8:11-13).
What lessons does the scene of the third seal speak to you? Does merely possessing the Bible mean that a person is safe from the spiritual famine?

Tuesday January 29
The Scene of the Fourth Seal
Read Revelation 6:3-4. What scene is here portrayed? How is this scene related to the previous one?
The color of the horse in the fourth seal is expressed with the Greek word chloros, which is the ashen-grey color of a decomposing corpse. The rider’s name is Death and Hades, the place of the dead, accompanies him. These two are allowed to destroy people by sword, hunger, death, and wild beasts over one-fourth of the earth.
The fourth seal calls forth pestilence and death. The graphic portrayal of the scene conveys the perennial truth that spiritual famine of the Word of God as a result of rejecting the gospel inevitably leads to spiritual death.
The good news is that the power of Death and Hades is very limited; they are given authority only over a part (one-fourth) of the earth. Jesus assures us that he has the keys of Death and Hades (see Rev. 1:18). Death does not have power over those who accept the gospel.
Review once again the contents of the messages to the churches in Ephesus, Sardis, Pergamum, and Thyatira in Revelation 2. Compare the situation in those churches with the scenes of the opening of the first four seals. What parallels do you observe between them?
Beside their general application, the scenes of the seven seals also apply historically. As was the case with the seven churches, the seals also correlate to the different periods in Christian history. During the apostolic times, the gospel rapidly spread throughout the world. This was followed by the period of persecution in the Roman Empire from the end of the first to the beginning of the fourth century, as portrayed in the scene of the second seal. The third seal points to the period of compromise of the fourth and fifth centuries, which were characterized by a spiritual famine of the Bible, which led to the Dark Ages or the medieval period. The fourth seal aptly describes the spiritual death that characterized Christianity during the dark, Middle Ages when the Bible was unavailable to people and tradition replaced and overruled the teaching of the Bible.
Go overs again Revelation 6:6, which states that “the oil and the wine” will not be affected by the famine of the third seal’s plague. Oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit, and wine salvation in Jesus Christ. Even when the word of God is scarce, the Holy Spirit is still at work and salvation is still available to all who want it. What lesson does this speak to you?

Wednesday January 30
The Opening of the Fifth Seal
Read Revelation 6:9-10. What two groups of people are in view in this scene? Why do the souls underneath the altar cry out to God? Why are they martyred? Who are those referred to as “those who dwell on the earth” (e.g., 8:13; 13:8; 17:2)?
The word “soul” in the Bible denotes the whole person (Gen. 2:7). The death of God’s faithful and persecuted people is here portrayed in terms of the sacrificial blood poured out at the base of the altar of sacrifice of the earthly sanctuary (Exod. 29:12; Lev. 4:7). Here are God’s people suffering injustice for their faithfulness to the gospel. They are crying to God asking Him to step in and vindicate them.
Read Revelation 6:11 along with Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 79:10. What was heaven’s response to the prayers of God’s martyred people? How long were they told to wait until God vindicates them?
The martyred saints were given white robes representing Christ’s righteousness as Christ’s free gift to those who accept His offer of grace (Rev. 3:5; 19:8). Then, they were told that they would have to rest until their brothers who would go through a similar experience are made complete. It is important to notice that the Greek text does not have the word “number.” Revelation does not talk of a number of the martyred saints to be reached before Christ’s return, but of the completeness regarding their character. God’s people are made complete by the robe of Christ’s righteousness, not their own merit (Rev. 7:10). The martyred saints will not be resurrected and vindicated until the second coming of Christ and the beginning of the millennium (Rev. 20:4).
Although the scene of the fifth seal applied historically to the period of the Middle Ages during which millions were martyred because of their faithfulness to the teaching of the Bible, it also denotes the experience of God’s suffering people throughout history, from the time of Abel (Gen. 4:10) until the time when God will finally avenge “the blood of His servants” (Rev. 19:2). The day is coming when Christ will come in judgment against the enemies of His people and bring “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:9, NKJV).
“How long, O Lord?” has been the cry of God’s suffering people throughout history. Have you ever struggled with an apparent lack of God’s intervention as you suffered injustice in your life? What comfort do you find in the scene of the fifth seal?

Thursday January 31
The Opening of the Sixth Seal
In the fifth seal, we saw God’s people suffering injustice in a hostile world, crying for God’s intervention on their behalf. The time has come for God to intervene in answer to the prayers of His people.
Read Revelation 6:12-14 along with Matthew 24:29-30 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10.
The cosmic signs of the sixth seal are those foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:29-30 that were to occur at the conclusion of the tribulation of the Middle Ages as the harbingers of the Second Coming. The sun, the moon, the stars, and the sky are literal here. The use of the words “as” or “like” points to a symbolic analogy to an actual thing or event—the sun became black as sackcloth, and the moon became like blood, the stars fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its late figs, and the sky receded as a scroll. The Christians in the western world recognized in the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, the dark day of May 19, 1780 experienced in eastern New York and southern New England, and the spectacular meteor shower over the Atlantic Ocean on November 13, 1833 the fulfillment of the prophecy with reference to Christ’s coming. This in turn led to a series of revivals known as the Second Great Awakening.
Read Revelation 6:15-17 along with 19:11-21. Also read Isaiah 2:19; Hosea 10:8; Luke 23:30.
The scene portrays people of all walks of life in a panic trying to hide from the terror of the upheaval at the coming of Christ. They are asking rocks and mountains to cover them in order to protect them from the “face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (NKJV).” The time has arrived for justice to be dispersed as Christ comes “to be glorified in His saints” (2 Thess. 1:10). Their end is described in Revelation 19:17-21.
The scene concludes with the rhetorical question by the terror-stricken wicked: “The great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (NKJV)” (see also Nah. 1:6; Mal. 3:2). The answer to that question is given in Revelation 7; those who will be able to stand in that day are the sealed people of God.
Reflect on the scene of the opening of the sixth seal. Do you feel that you would be able to stand before God on the day of His wrath? If you knew that Jesus would come in a matter of days, what changes would you make in your life?

Friday February 1
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “The World’s Need,” pp. 457-460, in Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers.
The vision of the opening of the seven seals points symbolically to God’s care for His people on earth. As Kenneth A. Strand pointed out:
“In Scripture there is assurance that God has always cared for His people: that in history itself He is ever present to sustain them, and that in the great eschatological denouement He will give the full vindication and an incomprehensibly generous reward in life everlasting. The Book of Revelation picks up and expands beautifully this same theme, and thus Revelation is not by any means some sort of offbeat apocalypse that is out of tune with biblical literature in general; it conveys the very heart and substance of the biblical message. Indeed, as Revelation emphatically points out, the ‘Living One’—the One who conquered death and the grave (1:18)—will never forsake His faithful followers and that even when they suffer martyrdom they are victorious (12:11), with the ‘crown of life’ awaiting them (see 2:10; 21:1-4; and 22:4)”—Kenneth A. Strand, “The Seven Heads: Do They Represent Roman Emperors?” in Symposium on Revelation—Book 2, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series 7 (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 1992), 206.
Discussion Questions:
After studying this week’s lesson, what valuable lessons have you learned from the scene of the opening of the seven seals? How has it provided you with the assurance that God is in charge of the events in the world? Does this fill you with the assurance that you can trust him when you face trials in your life? How does it impact your attitude toward the surrounding world? What changes have you decided to make?
Reflect on the following statement: “The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world.” Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 9. Think of your local church. Is it faithful in spreading the gospel in order to reach people with the gospel message? If it is not, what can be done to reach the surrounding world?

Revelation Teacher’s Quarterly, Week 5, January 27 – February 2 Analysis of Changes Made in the Editorial Process for the Teacher’s Edition

Basic theme: The Seven Seals of Revelation 6

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 more significant than average this week. I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive.

Under Life Application in the Overview part the phrase “Adventist reading” of Revelation was replaced with “historicist interpretation.” Since Seventh-day Adventists are the only major denomination that holds to historicist interpretation, the two phrases are really saying the same thing. But this change was made consistently, so the editors wanted to imply that historicism is more than just an Adventist approach out of several options. As a believer, I agree with that, but again thinking that non-SDAs are likely to be reading the lesson or attending classes I felt the phrase “Adventist reading” would play better with them. This underlines an Adventist trend from a focus on mission to a focus on apologetics (defending the faith to our own). Both tasks are needed, but if we turn our focus away from mission our reason for existence is harder to defend.

In the Commentary section (Main Themes II) the editors removed references to the throne as the main theme of the narrative (based on 14 references to the throne in chapter 4 and 5 more in chapter 5) and replaced that with “worship of God the Creator and the worthiness of the Lamb to apply His heavenly mediation to counter the threats on earth to God’s kingdom.” I don’t particularly disagree with that statement, but it is certainly less obviously on the actual data of Revelation 4 and 5 itself. This illustrates a trend in the church away from serious exegesis toward the assertion of “biblical” conclusions without much evidence given. Both conclusions can be argued from the text, but the first has the advantage of repeated language in the text itself.

In Main Themes V the editors removed my phrase “understood to be” in the sentence “The first earthquake was understood to be fulfilled by the Lisbon earthquake. . .” In my phrase you see the caution of the scholar and the missionary leaving space for those who disagree with a particular point to stay engaged with the text anyway. I like leaving readers the freedom to think and sometimes to disagree. But that may not be what major elements of the church need or at least think they need. At the end of the same section, the editors changed my “fourfold” use of “as” in Revelation 6:12-14 to “threefold.” I assume the editors were working from an English translation where the Greek “hôs” can be variously translated “like” or “as,” which masks the original. In the Greek, my “fourfold” was correct and the editors are wrong. The King James Version is consistent in translating all four “as.” I have noticed through the years an editorial preference for the New King James Version and in the NKJV the Greek “hôs” is translated “as” three times and “like” once. So it seems dependence on a single translation led to the editorial error in this section.

The first section of the Life Application has numerous small changes to strengthen the apologetic assertion of the historicist method over against a more measured scholarly and missional approach. The previous generation of Adventist leaders (1980s) was eager that everything be as accurate to the text of the Bible as possible and to be more tentative when the Bible was not crystal clear. The current generation seems more threatened by that kind of openness, so maybe these changes are the right thing to do, at least for some. But I am sure others will be disappointed at this shift in emphasis.

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 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

Original Teachers’ Notes for Rev 6 (Week 5)

I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (January 27 – February 2) Sabbath School Adult Teacher’s Edition for people to use or compare with the edited version. The changes were not massive or disruptive in most cases. I share my analysis of the changes in the next blog. These comments were made in response to the standard quarterly written primarily by my friend Ranko Stefanovic.


Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 5:5-6.

Study Focus: Chapter six describes the events that occur as the Lamb breaks the first six of the seven seals (Rev. 6:1-17).

Introduction: Chapter six portrays the first six of the seven seals. This scene follows directly on the vision of the heavenly throne room in chapter five.

Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage introduce the following themes:

1. The Four Horsemen (Rev. 6:1-8) Portray the Progress of the Gospel and the Consequences of Its Rejection. This interpretation depends on the identity of the white horse and its rider (6:1-2—see Theme 1 below).
2. The Main OT Background of the Four Horses Involves the Curses of the Covenant. The OT covenant, with its blessings and curses, is adopted in chapter six as a metaphor of the gospel.
3. The Judgments Portrayed in Rev. 6 Affect the People of God. This builds on the covenant promises and threats made to Israel in Lev. 26 and Deut. 32.
4. The “Souls Under the Altar” Passage Does Not Address the State of the Dead. The fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) has often been misused to argue consciousness after death.
5. The Adventist Reading of the Sixth Seal Is Supported by the Text. Close reading of Rev. 6:12-14 indicates both a movement in time and a literal meaning of sun, moon and stars.

Life Application. Participants are invited to explore the relevance of the traditional Adventist reading of Rev. 6:12-14 and the answer to Jesus’ question in 6:17.

Part II. Commentary

Chapter six is clearly based on chapter five. The chapter opens with “and” (Greek: kai), indicating a connection to what precedes. At the close of chapter five, the Lamb is holding the scroll (5:7-8) and receiving the worship of the heavenly host (5:12-14). As John continues looking (both chapters begin with John saying “and I saw”—5:1; 6:1), he sees the Lamb open seal after seal (6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12).
The events that occur as each seal is opened are not the content of the scroll. All seven seals need to be broken before the scroll can be unrolled and its contents seen (see 6:14).

Main Themes of Lesson 5 Elaborated:
1. The Four Horsemen (Rev. 6:1-8) Portray the Progress of the Gospel and the Consequences of Its Rejection. This interpretation depends on the identity of the white horse and its rider (6:1-2). All the horses but this one produce afflictions. White in Revelation always represents Christ or His people. The crown (Greek: stephanos) worn by the rider is the victory crown. With only one exception (Rev. 9:7), this kind of crown is always associated with Christ and/or His people in the New Testament. In the first five chapters of Revelation the word for conquering (Greek: nikôn, nikêsêi) also refers consistently to Christ and His people (see, for example, Rev. 3:21 and 5:6). The rider on the white horse in Rev. 19 is clearly Christ, and that rider is parallel to this one.
Clearly counterfeit is a major theme in Revelation, but when counterfeits occur they are always clearly exposed as such to the reader. In Rev. 6:1-2, on the other hand, there is no hint of evil. While the rider on the white horse in Rev. 19 wears the royal crown (Greek: diadêma) rather than the victory crown, the difference is explainable in terms of different stages of the conflict. Rev. 6 represents the church militant while Rev. 19 represents the church triumphant. The focus of the four horsemen seems to be the victory of Christ and the progress of both the gospel and resistance to the gospel.

2. The Main OT Background of the Four Horses Involves the Curses of the Covenant. The main theme of Rev. 4-5 is the throne and the threat to the throne. The theme of Rev. 6 is the curses of the covenant. The word “curse” here is not profanity, it expresses the consequences of disobedience (Lev. 26:21-26, Deut. 32:23-25, 41-43, and Ezek. 14:12-21). In the Old Testament these curses were sword, famine, pestilence, and wild animals. The curses were often seven-fold (Lev. 26:21, 24) and executed by four horses of different colors (Zech. 1:8-17; 6:1-8).
In the Old Testament the covenant was between God and Israel. The blessings and curses of the covenant there occurred in a literal fashion on the nation of Israel. In the New Testament, faithfulness to Israel’s covenant is determined in relation to Christ. Those faithful to Christ are blessed (John 12:32; Acts 13:32-33; 2 Cor. 1:20) and those who reject Him are under the curse (Rom 8:3; Gal. 3:13).

3. The Judgments Portrayed in Rev. 6 Affect the People of God. While the judgments of the seven trumpets fall on the wicked (Rev. 9:4, 20-21), the judgments of the seven seals fall on the unfaithful people of God. Satan’s kingdom has three parts in Rev. (16:13, 19) and the judgments of the trumpets fall on thirds of the earth (Rev. 8:7-12). But the seven seals concern “fourths” of the earth (Rev. 6:8). The fourth part would be the people of God. The difference is that Israel in the New Testament is determined in relation to Jesus Christ.

4. The “Souls Under the Altar” Passage (Rev. 6:9-11) Does Not Address the State of the Dead. Some readers assume that the “souls under the altar” represent bodiless consciousness after death. If taken literally, this would be contrary bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:42-44, 53), to Gen. 2:7 which sees the soul as the whole person, and Eccl. 9:5, which indicates no consciousness after death. But this text is clearly symbolic, echoing the story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:10-11) and the Altar of Burnt Offering in the Hebrew sanctuary, which is the only object in the sanctuary where anything happens at the base (Lev. 5:9).
The “souls” under the altar are not in a disembodied state in heaven. The Altar of Burnt Offering represents the cross of Christ and the persecution of believers, things that happen on earth. And the martyrs only come to life again at the beginning of the millennium (Rev. 20:4). As was the case with the blood of Abel, the martyrs are depicted as on earth, not in heaven. The crying out of the blood is a metaphorical way of saying that the things done to them are held in remembrance by God until their resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus (1 Thess. 4:16).

5. The Adventist Reading of the Sixth Seal Is Supported by the Text. In the book The Great Controversy and other pioneer SDA works, Rev. 6:12-14 is applied to events in the relatively recent past. The text describes two earthquakes separated by a series of heavenly signs. The first earthquake was understood to be fulfilled by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. This was followed by the darkening of the sun and redness of the moon in 1780, and the falling of the stars in 1833. The complete disruption of both the sky and the surface of the planet was seen as still future.
Two reasonable questions have arisen about this way of reading Rev. 6:12-14. 1) The entire passage is governed by the opening phrase, “when he opened the sixth seal.” So the most natural grammatical reading is that all the events in the passage occur at the same time, not separated by decades. 2) Are the earthquakes, sun, moon and stars to be taken literally or are they symbols of some sort of spiritual malady? Both of these objections can be met by close observation of the Greek text.
First, the earthquake in verse 12 is not at the same time as the one in verse 14. The earthquake in verse 12 (“great earthquake,” Greek: seismos megas) is paralleled to the earthquake in Rev. 11:13 (“great earthquake,” Greek: seismos megas). That earthquake is prior to the close of probation (which happens at the beginning of the seventh trumpet, see Rev. 10:7). On the other hand, the moving of every mountain and island (6:14) is parallel to Rev. 16:20, well after the close of probation. So if the two earthquakes are separated by an undetermined period of time, it is reasonable that the other events of Rev. 6:12-14 could also be fulfilled at different times.
Second, there is a fourfold “as” (Greek: hôs) in verses 12 and 13. In Greek this conjunction regularly introduces symbolism, which works best when what comes before the hôs is literal. So the actual sun became black “like” sackcloth and the moon became “like” blood. The descriptions are symbolic but the heavenly bodies are real.

Part III: Life Application

1. The Seventh-day Adventist pioneers understood Rev. 6:12-14 as involving the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the Dark Day of 1780, and the falling of the stars in 1833, almost a hundred years of history. How does a comparison with Matthew 24 help or hurt that interpretation? What is the spiritual payoff of a historicist reading of the sixth seal?
English translations of Matt. 24:30, like the NIV (“at that time”), do appear to associate all the heavenly signs with the Second Coming of Jesus, which is still future. But the Greek simply has “and” (kai), so the original text is as open-ended as Rev. 6:12-14 turned out to be. Matthew 24 does not settle the issue against the Adventist reading of Rev. 6.
Adventist readings of prophecy assure us that 1) God is in control of history, 2) His mission for the end-time and for His end-time people is clear, and 3) He cares deeply about His people, vindicating the martyrs (6:11) and protecting as many as possible in the satanic chaos just before Jesus’ return (7:1-3).

2. Does it matter if earthquakes, forest fires, and repetitive astronomical events produce prophetic fulfillments? Adventists have never required anyone to believe that the mighty acts of God violate the laws of nature that God Himself set up.

3. The conclusion of chapter six asks the question, “Who shall be able to stand?” (KJV) What is the biblical answer to that question and what relevance does that answer have for today? That single question has a double answer in Rev. 7. The 144,000 and the Great Multitude will be able to stand. Does God have one people at the end of time or two separate groups? Use this question and group discussion about it to build interest in next week’s lesson, which will address the issue.

The Controversy Over the 24 Elders

It is interesting to me that the identity of the 24 elders has suddenly become controversial within the SDA Church. It is a concept that is introduced in Revelation but is not defined in Revelation. Given that reality, I don’t think we ought to make this topic a subject of dispute or orthodoxy. But since it is being discussed this week, let me address the problem briefly. I have published two articles in a General Conference book that address the issue of Ellen White’s use of Revelation and I will share more detail at a later time. You can reference these articles in Frank B. Holbrook, editor, Symposium on Revelation—Book II, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, Volume 6, Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD: 1992, pages 163-172 and 363-373. These articles were specifically included because the Committee realized that many Adventists tend to ignore the text of Revelation as long as they have a “convincing” statement from Ellen White on what it means. But Adventists are to take their primary authority from the Bible and the Bible only. This was re-affirmed in the changes voted to the Fundamental Beliefs in 2015.

The argument that the 24 elders are angels seems grounded primarily in four statements of Ellen White, two in private letters (Letter 65, 1898 and Letter 79, 1900), one in Great Controversy, page 613 and one in Signs of the Times, January 4, 1883. Letter 65, 1898 makes that point clearly (the “angel” that spoke to John in Rev 5:5 “is an elder”), the other three sources rather less so. GC 613 and the ST reference speak of angels laying off their crowns, which could be understood as an allusion to Revelation 4:10, where the elders “cast their crowns before the throne” (KJV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, ESV). But the wording of Ellen White is too imprecise to imply these statements are attempts to interpret Revelation 4 and 5. The references certainly echo the language of Revelation, but fall short of a quote or certain allusion. Ellen White was filled with the language of the King James Bible and it spills out everywhere without necessarily implying her intent to interpret the text where that language is originally used. So the two published statements are unclear for the purpose of definitively defining who the 24 elders are.
Letter 79, 1900 has holy angels joining the redeemed in the song of Revelation 5:9-10. That is evident also from the text of Revelation. The four living creatures and the elders (Rev 5:8) sing the song of Revelation 5:9-10. But if the four living creatures are angels, who are the “redeemed” that sing this song if not the 24 elders themselves? So this particular statement could actually be read to support the idea that the elders are “redeemed” humanity, as stated in this week’s lesson.

That leaves Letter 65, 1898 as the primary evidence for insisting passionately that it is apostasy for an Adventist to believe that the 24 elders are redeemed humanity. In this letter Ellen White seems to clearly say that at least one of the elders, the one speaking to John in Revelation 5:5, is an angel. This statement as written goes beyond the biblical text, which does not define elders in this way. So there are several possibilities. 1) Ellen White saw in vision that the elders in John’s vision were actually angels. 2) Ellen White had no definitive revelation on the subject but shared what was common understanding of Revelation 5 in her time. 3) The letter may have been written at a time when she was not at her best (illness, lack of sleep) and thus did not represent her clearest thinking. That might explain why you don’t find this kind of statement in her published works.

To use a private letter to defend ignoring exegesis of the biblical text flies in the face of two emphases of Ellen White herself. First, her own understanding on any subject should be based on her published works, which were carefully edited and generalized for public use (5T 696, see also 1 SM 66, TM 33). Second, her writings should not be used in place of the Bible or to undermine what the Bible itself says (5T 663-668). So a controverted point like this should not be settled on the basis of a single statement in a private letter, particularly when the best biblical evidence points in another direction. The number 24 recalls the priests in the temple (1 Chr 24:3-19) and the New Jerusalem (12 apostles and 12 tribes). Matthew 19:28-30 describes the 12 apostles as tribal heads of Israel. But even more significant, nowhere else in the Bible are angels called elders, sit on thrones, or wear victory crowns. If the elders of Revelation are angels, John would need to say so, since they are described in ways that never apply to angels elsewhere in Scripture. So the weight of biblical evidence falls on the likelihood that the 24 elders of Revelation represent redeemed humanity.

I do not wish to contribute to controversy on this matter. I respect those who disagree and grant that they have a good point. I am only seeking to demonstrate that attempts to argue a “true Adventist position” once and for all on this matter go beyond the available evidence. The consensus of Adventist scholarship in the 1980s and 1990s, as published in the above-mentioned book, was that the elders of Revelation represented redeemed humanity. That doesn’t guarantee the correctness of the opinion, but it should not be ignored either. And the editors of Sabbath School lesson are not in apostasy for having taken that position. In eternity we will know for sure. Let us be charitable to one another on the way there.

Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes in the Main Lesson for This Week (Rev 4-5)

Lesson 4 January 19-25

This week’s lesson has not undergone significant editorial changes. The most obvious change is that of the title. “The Enthronement of the Lamb” was changed into “Worthy is the Lamb,” which is drawn directly from the biblical text. I would suggest you pay close attention to the first paragraph in the Lesson on Thursday.

The Enthronement of the Lamb

Sabbath Afternoon
Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 4-5; Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:22-36; Eph. 1:18-23; Heb. 8:1.

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).
The previous vision described Christ ministering to His people on earth. Now, the vision shifts from earth to heaven and from John’s day to the future. As we interpret these two chapters, we must remember several things. First, Revelation 4 describes the ongoing worship in the heavenly temple, but chapter 5 points to an event that took place at a specific point in time.
Furthermore, the vision of chapters 4-5 functions as an introduction to the rest of the book and provides a panoramic survey of history from the time of John until Christ’s return. As such, the scene of chapters 4-5 does not fit chronologically into the sequence of the vision. Before future history is revealed, we are given a glimpse of Christ’s inauguration into his post-Calvary ministry in heaven. In such a way, chapters 4-5 provide heaven’s perspective on the meaning of future events recorded in the rest of the book.
One may also notice that while the messages to the seven churches were written in straightforward language, from now on, the book employs a symbolic language that is not always easy to interpret. This language is taken from the history of God’s people as recorded in the Old Testament. A correct interpretation of Revelation requires a proper understanding of its symbolic language in light of the Old Testament.

*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 27.
Sunday January 20
In the Heavenly Throne Room
In the previous vision, John witnessed the spiritual condition of the churches in his day. In Revelation 4:1, Jesus invites him to come up to heaven to be shown the panoramic survey of history from his time until Christ’s return.
Read Revelation 4:1-8 along with Ezekiel 1:26-28. Where does the vision take place? In light of 5:11-14, what can we learn about the grandeur of the heavenly throne room? What does John see and hear in the throne room?
As the apostle looked through the open door into the heavenly temple, the first thing that caught his attention was God’s magnificent throne. Paul tells us that God abides in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16). Since God is inexpressible in human language, John portrays the splendid glory surrounding Him in terms of the dazzling brilliance of precious stones.
At the center of the throne room is the throne of God. The throne symbolizes God’s rule and governing authority over creation, while the rainbow around the throne signifies His faithfulness to His people. However, Satan, his usurping adversary, has disputed His authority. The central issue in the great controversy between God and Satan is about who has the right to rule. The purpose of the heavenly council gathered in the heavenly throne room was to settle once and for the question of God’s rightful rule over the universe.
Read Revelation 4:8-11 along with 5:9-14. Compare the heavenly worship in John’s vision with those described in Isaiah 6:1-3; Ezekiel 1:4-24; Daniel 7:9-10. What can you learn about true worship in these passages? Why is God worthy of being worshipped in chapter 4 and why is Christ the Lamb worthy in 5:9-14?
Revelation 4 gives a general description of the throne room in the heavenly temple and of the worship that repeatedly takes place there. While the worship in chapter 4 praises God’s creative power, chapter 5 celebrates the redemption provided by the slain Lamb. This shows that true worship recounts and celebrates God’s mighty acts of creation and redemption. God, who created the world in the beginning, has the power and ability to also restore it to its original condition and to turn it into the eternal home for his faithful people.
As you read Revelation 4-5, imagine yourself with John watching the worship in the heavenly sanctuary. Does this experience give new meaning to the word “worship?” How would this impact your choice of worship style? What impact would it make upon your worshiping experience in your local church?

Monday January 2
The Heavenly Assembly in the Throne Room
Revelation 4:4 mentions the twenty-four elders sitting on thrones that surround God’s throne. Look at the other places in the book where this group is mentioned. What do you learn about their activities?
The description of the elders shows that they are not angelic beings. The title “elders” in the Bible is always used for humans. In contrast to angels who always stand in God’s presence, these elders sit on thrones. The white robes they wear are the attire of God’s faithful people (Rev. 3:4-5). The victory crowns (Gr. stephanoi) on their heads are reserved exclusively for the victorious saints (Jam. 1:12). All of this suggests that the twenty-four elders are the glorified saints.
The number twenty-four is symbolic; it consists of two sets of twelve, twelve in the Bible being a symbol of God’s people. The twenty-four elders represent God’s people in their totality from both the Old and New Testament. The number twenty-four also mirrors the chiefs of the twenty-four divisions of priests who took turns serving in the earthly temple services (1 Chr. 24:1-19).
The fact that the twenty-four elders were never mentioned before in the Bible shows that they are a new group in the heavenly throne room. They must have been brought there shortly before the scene took place. They are most likely the ones who were raised from the dead at the time of Jesus’ death (Matt. 27:51-53). According to Ephesians 4:8, when Jesus ascended to heaven, He took a host of captives with Him.
The twenty-four elders ascended with Jesus to heaven as representatives of humanity, to witness the fairness in God’s actions in the realization of the plan of salvation. In Revelation 4, they were ushered into the heavenly throne room, together with the rest of the assembly, to welcome Jesus after His victorious death on the cross and to witness His exaltation to His heavenly position at his ascension.
Revelation 4:6-8 also mentions the four living beings. Compare their description with the four living beings in Ezekiel 1:5-14 and 10:20-22, and the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2-3.
The four living beings are the exalted angels who serve God as His agents and the guardians of His throne (Ps. 99:1). Their wings point symbolically to their swiftness in carrying out God’s orders and their eyes to their intelligence. Their appearances as a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle represent the entire order of creation. With their presence, God’s whole creation is represented in the throne room.

Tuesday January 22
The Sealed Scroll
Revelation 5 continues the throne room scene. The heavenly worship suddenly stops, and the focus of the whole assembly turns toward the heavenly throne and the scroll lying at the right hand of God.
Read Revelation 5:1. In light of Isaiah 29:11-12, what is the meaning of the sealing of the scroll?
The Greek text indicates that the scroll was lying on the throne at the right hand of the Father. It waited for the One who was worthy to take it and occupy his seat on the throne.
In the words of Ellen White, the sealed scroll contains “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.”—Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases 9, Letter 65, p, 7.
In short, the sealed scroll stands as a symbol of the plan of salvation. It contains the mystery of God regarding His plans to solve the sin problem and save fallen human beings. The full realization of that mystery will be realized at the second coming of Christ (see Rev. 10:7).
Read Revelation 5:2-7. What is the cause of the crisis in the throne room? Why is Christ the only One in the whole universe worthy to take the sealed scroll and unseal it? What do the symbols of the Lion and the slain Lamb represent?
The crisis in the throne room is related to Satan’s usurping rebellion against God. This planet, although created by God, has been under the dominion of the usurper Satan. The weeping of John expressed the tears of God’s people since Adam for salvation from the bondage of sin. The sealed scroll comprised God’s plan for the resolution to the sin problem. No doubt with His immeasurable power God Himself could realize that plan. However, the redemption of the fallen human race required two unique qualifications: someone who was divine and the blood of the Lamb. This is what has qualified Christ to assume the lordship over this earth and become our mediator in the heavenly sanctuary.
What encouragement and hope for the future do you find in the fact that the One who died on the cross of Calvary holds the destiny of the whole world in his hands?

Wednesday January 23
The Enthronement of the Lamb
Read Revelation 5:8-14 along with Ephesians 1:20-23 and Heb. 10:12. In your view, why is there so much emphasis on the taking of the scroll rather than on the reading of its content? Why did the heavenly throne-room assembly react ecstatically when the Lamb took the scroll from the throne?
As Christ the Lamb approached the throne, He took the scroll and presumably took His seat on the throne at the right hand of the Father. With this act, all authority and sovereignty was bestowed upon Him (see Eph. 1:20-22). At that moment, the whole universes acknowledged Christ’s rightful rule over earth. What was lost with Adam has been regained.
With taking the scroll, the destiny of all humanity is placed into Christ’s hands. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before Him and worship as they did in Revelation 4:9-10: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals for You were slain.” By this, the exalted angels and the representatives of redeemed humanity validate Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of humanity. With his blood, He has paid the ransom for fallen human beings and redeemed them for God and made them kings and priests to God; and they shall reign on the earth. While the former was accomplished on the cross, the latter will be realized at the second coming of Christ (Rev. 20:4-6).
The four living creatures and the elders are now joined by the countless number of the angelic host surrounding the throne directing praises to the newly-enthroned King: “Worthy is the slain Lamb who was slain to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” At this point all creation in heaven and on earth join together in offering royal adoration both to the Father and Christ: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Their praise is met with an Amen by the four living creatures and the prostration of the twenty-four elders, thus concluding this tumultuous celebration in the heavenly throne room.
Imagine that you are in the heavenly throne room and together with countless heavenly beings welcoming Jesus after his great victory on the cross? How would you feel watching Him as He approaches the throne, receives the scroll, and takes His seat on the throne? In what way would this scene impact your daily life and your view of the future?

Thursday January 24
The Significance of Pentecost
Revelation 5 describes one of the most decisive events in the history of the plan of salvation: the inauguration of Christ into His post-Calvary ministry as King and Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. By taking His seat on the heavenly throne at the right hand of the father (Hebr. 12:2), Christ is able to carry out the plan of salvation to its ultimate realization. He is also our mediator in the heavenly sanctuary and through Him fallen human beings have free access to God and find forgiveness from their sins.
Read Acts 2:32-36 along with John 7:39. What was the importance of the exaltation of Christ in heaven for the coming of the Holy Spirit? Why could not the Spirit come upon the disciples before Jesus was glorified?
The exaltation of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary was followed by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Revelation 5:6 mentions the seven Spirits that are “sent into all the earth.” The seven Spirits denote the fullness of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the world. While previously the Holy Spirit is regularly before the throne (see Rev. 1:4; 4:5), at Christ’s enthronement, he is sent to the earth. This sending of the Holy Spirit is related to the inauguration of Christ into his post-Calvary ministry. This meant that Jesus had appeared before the Father and that his sacrifice had been accepted on behalf of humanity.
“Christ’s ascension to heaven was the signal that His followers were to receive the promised blessing. . . . When Christ passed within the heavenly gates, He was enthroned amidst the adoration of the angels. As soon as this ceremony was completed, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in rich currents, and Christ was indeed glorified, even with the glory which He had with the Father from all eternity. The Pentecostal outpouring was Heaven’s communication that the Redeemer’s inauguration was accomplished. According to His promise He had sent the Holy Spirit from heaven to His followers as a token that He had, as priest and king, received all authority in heaven and on earth, and was the Anointed One over His people”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 38.
Read Hebrews 4:16 and 8:1. What hope and encouragement do you find in the fact that Jesus sits on the heavenly throne as our King and Lord? What impact does it make on you in dealing with everyday situations in your life as well as the uncertainty of the future?

Friday January 2
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “To My Father and Your Father,” pp. 833-835, in The Desire of Ages; “The Gift of the Spirit,” pp. 47-56, in The Acts of the Apostles.
The message of Revelation 4-5 is particularly important to the people of God living at the close of earth’s history. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost marked the beginning of the preaching of the gospel, the central message of which was about Jesus who had been exalted as King and Priest on the heavenly throne. This was the core of early Christian belief (Heb. 8:1) and the cornerstone of their preaching (Acts 2:32-36; 5:30-31). This truth was their motivation and the source of their faith and courage in the face of persecution and difficult life situations (Acts 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34). As a result, many people responded to their preaching. From that time on and through the presence of Jesus in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God manifested itself and keeps on manifesting itself.
As God’s people today, we must never forget that it is only the good news of salvation in Christ that can reach and transform human hearts and lead people to respond to the call of the eternal gospel to fear God, give him glory, and worship Him (Rev. 14:7). Our only hope is in our Savior who is our King and Priest on the throne of the universe. He is with His people and He will always be with them until the very end (Matt. 28:20), because He holds the future in His hands. Let us, therefore, never forget that keeping the essence of the gospel in mind will bring full success in preaching the final message to the lost and suffering humankind.
Discussion Questions:
What significance does the fact that with the symbolic sealed scroll the destiny of every human being on earth was put into Christ’s hands have for you personally? What comfort does it give to you today and what hope does this provide for the future? How does this impact your plans and decisions for both today and tomorrow?
The inauguration of Christ into his ministry in the heavenly sanctuary and the coming of the Holy Spirit are referred to as the early rain. The main content of the preaching of the early rain was the exaltation of Christ. What do you think, will the proclamation of the end-time gospel message be different?

Revelation Teacher’s Quarterly, Week 4, January 20-26 Analysis of Changes Made in the Editorial Process for the Teacher’s Edition

Basic theme: The Vision of Heavenly Throne Room (Rev 4 and 5)

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 more significant than last week, but still fairly minimal. I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive.

In section II of the Overview my statement that worship is “about what God has done” was supplemented by “and our appropriate, heartfelt response to it.” I suppose that is accurate in principle, but so much of our worship today tends to be human-centered and needs the corrective of the God-centered biblical focus and that might be lost on account of the addition.

In the opening paragraph of the Commentary section my statement that Jesus Christ is worshipped because He was slain was supplemented by “and is our Redeemer.” This addition suggests careful attention to the text of Revelation 5, where the slaying of the Lamb is the basis for praise in verses 6 and 12, but verse 9 adds the idea of redemption as a basis for worship. I was thinking mostly of Revelation 5:6 when I wrote what I did, but the editorial addition is also correct and I support it.

In Main Themes V the editors replaced my adjective “created” with “intelligent.” I think this was a great change, as my wording might unintentionally left the impression that Jesus was a created being. In using that term I was only thinking of His humanity (flesh) which was “created” (egeneto– John 1:14). But I think the changed wording is better.

In Main Themes VI the editors eliminated my comment that the Lamb joins His Father on the throne in Revelation 5. They are right that this is not exegetically stated in chapter 5, but is anticipated in Rev 3:21 and completed in Rev 22:5, so I think it is reasonable to assume that the events of Revelation 5 support an “enthronement” of Christ on the day of Pentecost, as He is now in the “midst” of the throne (Rev 5:6). But there is room for doubt, so I am OK with the change.

In Main Themes VII I wrote that Satan first appears in Revelation in the fifth trumpet. That is true in the literal sense, but the editors note that Satan is named in Rev 2:9 and 2:24. That is also true, so I support the editorial change here.

So in sum total, I think the editorial changes in this week’s lesson made things better rather than worse. It’s amazing the details that can slip through in the writing process both ways. I imagine the changes will be more troubling (to me) when we get to the heart of the book (chapters 8-14). You will, of course, be fully posted on all that right here. Stay tuned.

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 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

Original Teachers’ Notes for Rev 4-5 (Week 4)


Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 5:5-6.

Study Focus: The heavenly vision of chapters four and five Rev. 4:1 – 5:14).

Introduction: The passage covered in this lesson is divided into two parts. First, there is a general description of heavenly worship directed to the one sitting on the throne, God the Father (Rev. 4:1-11). Second, there is a moment of crisis in the heavenly throne room that is resolved by the appearance of the Lamb, Jesus Christ (Rev 5:1-14).

Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage introduce the following themes:

1. Is Rev. 4 a General Description of Heavenly Worship or a One-Time Event? The details of the text answer this question.
2. The Biblical Concept of Worship. Worship is not about us, our feelings, or our duties. Worship is a recital of what God has done.
3. The Identity of the Twenty-Four Elders. The elders are not an angelic group, they represent the totality of God’s people.
4. The Meaning of the Sealed Scroll. The sealed scroll represents God’s plan of salvation.
5. The Worthiness of the Lamb. The Lamb is uniquely worthy to open the scroll because of His combination of humanity and divinity.
6. The Progression of the Five Hymns (Rev. 4:8, 11; 5:9-10, 12, 13) Underlines the Divinity of the Lamb.
7. The Cosmic Conflict Is the Unspoken Backdrop to this Heavenly Scene.

Life Application. Participants are invited to consider the implications of this heavenly vision for earthly worship and for our understanding of the Sabbath.

Part II. Commentary

At the beginning of chapter four John is invited up to heaven for the first time (4:1). Chapter four is a general description of the continual worship of heaven (see the textual evidence in theme 1 below), in which God the Father is worshiped on account of creation (Rev. 4:11). But chapter five is a one-time crisis event in heaven. A problem is presented that seems so large that even God cannot solve it (Rev. 5:1-4). But the matter is resolved by the appearance of the Lamb, the God-man Jesus Christ (see theme 5 below). He is worshiped because He was slain and this fact resolves the crisis in the universe (Rev. 5:5-14).

Main Themes of Lesson 4 Elaborated:
1. Is Rev. 4 a General Description or a One-Time Event? Three pieces of evidence indicate that chapter 4 is not a one-time event, but a general description of heavenly worship. 1) The throne in verse 2 is not set up, it “was standing” (NASB) continually in heaven (Greek: keitai, imperfect tense). 2) The singing in verse 8 is not a single episode, it goes on “day and night.” 3) The singing of the four living creatures is continuously repetitive (“whenever,” NIV, RSV).

2. The Biblical Concept of Worship. In Rev. 4:11, the ground of worship is “because” God created all things. In Rev. 5:9 worship happens “because” (NIV) the Lamb was slain. In Rev. 11:17 the reason worship happens is “because” (NIV) God has begun to reign. While often translated “for” in English, all three verses use the Greek word hoti, which means the reason or the basis upon which an action is taken. God is worshiped “because” of what He has done. Worship throughout the Bible is talking about, singing about, repeating the acts that God has done (Deut. 26:1-11; Psa 66:3-6; 78:5-15; 111:4). It even includes acting out the events of the cross through baptism (Rom. 6:3-4) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:26). Worship in the Bible is not about us, our feelings, or our duties. Worship is a recital of what God has done.

3. The Identity of the Twenty-Four Elders. The lesson rightly asserts that the number twelve in the Bible is often used as a symbol of God’s people and that the twenty-four elders could, therefore, represent God’s people in their totality from both Old and New Testament times. But space did not permit mentioning the most important biblical evidence for these assertions. In Matt. 19:28 Jesus tells His disciples that they would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This verse ties together the number twelve, thrones, the apostles, and the twelve tribes. In Rev. 21:12 the names of the twelves tribes are written on the gates of the New Jerusalem, while the twelve foundations have the names of the twelve apostles written on them (Rev. 21:14). The number twenty-four adds twelve to twelve, as occurs in Rev. 21. In Rev. 7:4-8, furthermore, the people of God are described in terms of twelve times twelve times a thousand (144,000). The multiple of twelve is seen also in the height of the walls of the New Jerusalem, 144 cubits (21:17). So the best explanation of the twenty-four elders is that they represent the people of God in both Old and New Testaments.

4. The Meaning of the Sealed Scroll. Ask the class how many options they can think of for the meaning of the sealed scroll of Rev. 5. Some biblical options include a last will and testament, the constitution of Israel (Deuteronomy), a record of human history, emblem of the Lamb’s right to rule, a record of human deeds, the Book of Life, and a list of rewards and punishments for human behavior (judgment). Based on a comment in a letter of Ellen White, the lesson suggests that the scroll contains the history of God’s providences, and the prophetic history of the nations and the church. The lesson sums up with the conclusion that the sealed scroll represents the plan of salvation. John weeps (Rev. 5:4) because the plan of salvation will not be implemented unless someone is found worthy to open the scroll.
How do we know the book (Rev. 5:2, Greek: biblion) is a scroll and not more typical of books today? The same word is used in Rev. 6:14 which says that the “sky receded like a scroll (Greek: biblion) rolling up.”

5. The Worthiness of the Lamb. The Lamb is uniquely worthy to open the scroll (Rev. 5:5-6). The key qualities of the Lamb in the chapter are two-fold. The Lamb is slain, which is a pointer to His human nature. On the other hand, the Lamb is worshiped along with the one sitting on the throne (Rev. 5:13). This points to His divinity. The God-man is unique in all history. Of all created beings (see John 1:3, 14), only the human Jesus could fully reveal the character of God and atone for human sin, because he was fully equal with God. So embedded in this symbolic vision is a profound Christology, a doctrine of Jesus Christ, who is both fully human and fully divine.

6. The Five Hymns (Rev. 4:8, 11; 5:9-10, 12, 13) Under-line the Divinity of the Lamb. The divinity of Christ is underlined in the progression of five hymns in this vision. The first two hymns praise the One sitting on the throne (Rev. 4:8, 11). The third and fourth hymns praise the Lamb (Rev 5:9-12). The fifth hymn offers worship to both the One sitting on the throne and the Lamb (Rev. 5:13). The fifth hymns is the clear climax of the series, in which the Lamb joins the Father on His throne and receives the acclamation of the whole universe.
A second feature of these hymns also highlights the fifth hymn. It is the climax of a grand crescendo of singing. The first hymn is sung by the four living creatures (Rev. 4:8). The second hymn is sung by the twenty-four elders (4:11). The third is sung by both the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (Rev 5:9-10). The fourth hymn is sung by more than a hundred million angels (Rev. 5:11-12). The fifth hymn is sung by every creature in the universe (Rev 5:13). So the fifth hymn is the climax of a great crescendo as all attention focuses on the throne, affirming the divinity of the Lamb.

7. The Cosmic Conflict Is the Unspoken Backdrop to this Heavenly Scene. A striking aspect of Rev. 4-5 is the total absence of Satan, in spite of the fact that the heavenly crisis must have something to do with the cosmic conflict (Satan first appears in the context of the fifth trumpet– Rev 9:11). But the role of Satan in Rev. 4-5 is clarified in Rev. 12:10. Rev. 12:10 summarizes the scene of chapter five in terms of Christ’s coming to power. But his coming to power is paired with the casting down of Satan, the “accuser of the brothers.” The verse clarifies that Satan accuses the brothers “day and night.” This is strikingly reminiscent of Rev. 4:8, where the four living creature sing the triple holy song “day and night.” Their constant praise drowns out the constant accusations of Satan, which are no longer heard or seen. Satan is absent from the scene of chapters 4-5 because he has already been cast down on account of the cross.

Part III: Life Application

1. Considering the biblical evidence regarding worship in theme 2 above, talk about the typical worship service in your local church. Is it God centered or is it centered on the worshipers? Does it emphasize what God has done (creation, cross, daily promptings of the Spirit) or what we must do? Understanding and practicing this truth is the secret of unleashing God’s power in a local church. If worship seems powerless, it is because it is not centered in God. In Bible times, when people rehearsed what God had done for them in the past, the power of God’s original act was unleashed in the worshipper’s present (2 Chr 20:5-22; Dan. 9:15; 10:19-21). Worship is not about us, it is about God. Worship is not telling each other what we should do, it is reminding each other of what God has done.

2. What is the relationship between Rev. 4-5 and the Sabbath? Worship is presented to God and the Lamb on account of creation (Rev. 4:11) and salvation (Rev. 5:9-10). In the Old Testament the Sabbath is the memorial of both creation (Exod. 20:11) and the Exodus, the great act of Israel’s salvation (Deut 5:15). So the Sabbath points us to the mighty acts of God in creation, the Exodus and the cross. Keeping the Sabbath is not about earning merit with God. When we remember the Sabbath we are also remembering the great things God has done for us, and this is the foundation of true worship.

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 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

Werner Lange’s Observations on This Week’s Lesson

The Messages to the Seven Churches
(Revelation 2–3)

The first part of the Revelation is devoted to praise and rebuke, advice and promises to the seven churches to which John’s letter (the Revelation) was addressed (Rev 1:4-11).

Try it yourself
What indications can be found in the seven epistles in Rev 2–3 that they refer to the situation in the congregations at that time, to later times or also to church history?
What indications are there that this section is meant as a prophecy of seven periods in church history, or what contra-dicts this notion in the text and the context?
What allusions can be found in the messages to the seven churches, and what do they imply for the interpretation?

Signposts / keys for the interpretation
In the context of the seven epistles there is a hint for their interpretation which is mostly overlooked. Immediately before Jesus Christ says to John, according to Rev 1:19:

Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now
and what will take place later. (NIV)

And right after the seven messages we read his command to John in Rev 4:1c (NIV/ESV):

Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.

The difference is obvious: The words what is now are missing.
Where is this what is now—in other words: the present conditions in the time of John—described? Logically between them in chapters 2 and 3. Therefore, the descriptions of the seven churches refer to their present condition; future deve-lopments are described only afterwards in the Revelation.
That the messages to the 7 churches (and the promises to the overcomers) were not only meant for them, but were addressed to all Christians in every age, is clear from the exhortations at the end of each message:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says
to the churches. (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)

This means that every congregation in the post-apostolic period should ask itself which of the descriptions of the churches applies also to them, and then follow the advice that Jesus gave to the congregation in question. And, likewise, each church or faith community should ask itself again and again critically whether one of the descriptions applies to it.
In this way, these seven epistles, like all the letters in the New Testament, are relevant to all Christians and churches throughout the time until the Second Coming of Christ.

Dead ends
The application of the seven churches to seven periods of church history has been widespread since the post-Reformation period, and Seventh-day Adventists were not the first to interpret the messages in this way. But this interpretation is supported neither by the context or the description of the churches nor by logic or church history.
An attentive perusal of the seven messages shows that there are no internal indications that they were also meant prophetically.
One argument for this, which is repeatedly stated, is the prediction to the congregation of Smyrna that some members of the congregation will be thrown into prison, be tested and will have a tribulation for ten days (Rev 2:10b). This is applied to the great persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian, and the year-day principle is applied to the ten days. However, this principle of a prophetic day signifying a real year only applies to symbolic biblical predictions (such as in Daniel 7 and 8). However, in Rev 2:10 no symbols are used, everything is to be understood literally. And the Diocletian persecution lasted only 8, not 10 years (303-11). In addition, the text includes a possible allusion to Daniel 1:12-14, which describes the trial of Daniel and his friends with regard to their diet. In the Greek text of the Septuagint, three words agree (test [peirasein] and ten days), the subject is the same.
A lot of factual and historical arguments speak also against the interpretation of the seven epistles as seven consecutive periods of church history.
Ephesus is applied to the state of the churches in the first century, but the seven epistles testify that the churches in the first century differed greatly from each other.
Sardes is applied to the Reformation period, but the church receives less praise than the church of Thyatira, which sup-posedly represents the medieval papal church. (Compare this with the very positive evaluation of the protestant reformers by Ellen White in her book The Great Controversy, chaps. 7–13). Moreover the description of the church in Thyatira does not accord with the description of the papal church in Rev 13:1-7.
Jon Paulien concedes that the verbal parallels between Rev 16:15 and 3:18 are “the best evidence” that “Laodicea represents the final church of earth’s history,” but this is not convincing at all, for there are also verbal and especially thematic parallels of Rev 16:15 to 7,14 and 22,14, while 3:18 has several thematic differences to Rev 16:15.
And how should the church of Laodicea accomplish the necessary proclamation of the eternal gospel before the Second Coming of Christ (14:6; cf. Matt 24:14), if all churches in the last days would be in the state of lukewarmness?
When the seven churches are interpreted in terms of periods of church history, either the text of the Revelation or the facts of church history are distorted.
Contemporary historical background
The descriptions of the churches contain numerous references to the situation in the respective cities:
• Smyrna (today Izmir) was an important harbour and trading centre, one of the wealthiest cities in Asia Minor (cf. 2:9: but you are rich).
• Pergamum had a famous temple of Zeus with a monumental altar that was twelve metres (40 feet) high; it looked from afar like a throne (cf. 2:13: throne of Satan, Zeus was sometimes represented by a serpent, as well as the god Asclepius, who was also worshipped in Pergamum; cf. 12:9).
• Thyatira possessed a sanctuary of the goddess Sambethe, an oriental Sybil and alleged prophetess (cf. 2:20: Jezebel … who calls herself a prophetess).
• Sardis was a centre of the wool and dyeing trade (cf. 3:4: white garments).
• Laodicea did not have sufficient water sources; the water that was needed was therefore led from hot springs, located six miles the north of Laodicea, by means of an aqueduct. It arrived in Laodicea lukewarm (cf. 3:16: because you are lukewarm).
The situation of the churches and their members was marked by the circumstances in the province of Asia in which they lived. Since Augustus it was the stronghold of emperor worship in the Roman Empire. The first provincial temple of the imperial cult was erected in Pergamum as early as 29 B.C. Smyrna got a temple for Tiberius in 26 A.D. and Ephesus a temple for Domitian in 89/90 A.D.
The Christians were exposed to possible persecutions du-ring this time. There was no general persecution of Christians (the first general persecution took place only in the years 249–51 under Emperor Decius), but the edict of Emperor Nero in the year 64, which had condemned the Christians in Rome to death, was probably included in the collection of edicts for the governors in the provinces, so that Christians could be con-demned on complaint for the simple reason that they were Christians (no special misconduct was required). If they participated in the imperial cult, they could escape punishment or execution (cf. the case of Antipas in Rev 2:13; the wording hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith points to the context of a lawsuit).
The letters to the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia indicate that these complaints probably came frequently from the Jewish side (cf. 2:9; 3:9). The historian Ethelbert Stauffer explains:

When the trials against Glabrio, Clemens and comrades on account of lese majesty became known in the year 95 … severe anti-Christian excesses and executions took place in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and elsewhere, and we have many evidences to the fact that the Jewish community in Asia Minor participated in these like [the Jewish historian] Josephus did in Rome at the same time.
The structure of the letters with introduction, central section and a double conclusion reflect the structure of royal and imperial edicts. Moreover, the introductory formula Thus says… was the primary feature of imperial decrees promulgated by Roman magistrates and emperors. Ethelbert Stauffer observes:

The introductory formula of the seven decrees of Jesus
is unmistakably formulated in antithetical analogy to the
introductory words of the Dominitian edicts.

Thus the seven letters should not be understood as informal letters, but rather as formal and public edicts. Christ thus presents himself to the churches as the eternal sovereign and King of kings (19:16b), who gives instructions to his subjects. In fact, the messages to the seven churches have almost nothing in common with personal letters.
On the other hand, the seven epistles also have parallels to the structure of ancient covenants with (1) a preamble, (2) a prologue, (3) stipulations or demands, (4) blessings and curses and (5) witnesses. The preamble (1) introduces Jesus with the phrase The words of him who (literally: Thus says), followed by a title; the prologue (2) speaks of past relations in such terms as I know your works; the stipulations (3) are introduced with the imperative of repent (to change one’s mind), usually follo-wed by instructions as to what should be done; the blessing (4) consists of a statement of reward in the promises to the over-comers, or sometimes of threats (2:16; 3:3b); and the Spirit, who must be listened to, acts as witness (5). The seven epistles would thus function as a statement of a kind of covenant renewal to each of the seven churches.
Both interpretations of the structure of the seven messages to the seven churches have some merit and are not mutually exclusive. In the following studies we will find again and again that both the Old Testament background and the parody of the Roman imperial cult play an important role in the Revelation.

Some explanations
Rev 2:6, 15: works/teachings of the Nicolaitans. Who are meant by this is unknown and has often been the subject of speculation. The term derives from the Greek name Nicolaos, which is a compound of the verb nikeiv = to win and laos = people, meaning “the one who conquers the people.”
2:9/3:9: synagogue of Satan. Both times this expression is related to the phrase those who say that they are Jews and are not. After the lost war against the Romans and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Jewish Christians were no longer tolerated in the synagogues because they refused to take part in the fight against Rome. In order to identify and disfellowship them from the synagogues, an 18th blessing was added in 90 A.D. to a Jewish prayer with 17 blessings. This was pronounced in religious services, and was actually a curse on the Nazarenes (the followers of Jesus of Nazareth; see Acts 24:5) and on heretics. The Jewish Christians were thus forced to identify themselves by their silence at this point and could then be excommunicated. The sharp judgment in Revelation against the Jews may have been a reaction to this. Christ called the Jews who wanted to kill him children of the devil (John 8:41, 44).
2:14: teaching of Balaam. In this verse we find an allusion to the machinations of Balaam against the people of Israel. The story in Genesis 22–25 must be taken together with the remark in 31:16 in order to interpret the statement in Rev 2:14. Balaam was a role model for false teachers and seducers.
2:14b, 20b: eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. Already the Council of Jerusalem ordered the Gentile Christians to abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols … and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:29). This involved sacrifices in pagan temples and participation in public festivals, when sacrificed meat was eaten, as well as participation in cultic temple prostitution, which at that time was part of the cult and generally accepted. Paul also warned emphatically against these practices in his letters (see 1 Cor 10:14-22; 6:15-20; the private consumption of meat from the market, which may have been offered to an idol before, was considered harmless by Paul, if the Christian brother was thereby not wounded in his conscience, see 1 Cor 8). It is possible that the teaching of the Nicolaitans led to the same practice as the teaching of Balaam; the connection between Rev 2:14 and V. 15 supports this suggestion.
2:20: Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. The name Jezebel refers to the wife of King Ahab, who led him into idolatry (1 Kings 16:31-33; 21:25), killed the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4a, 13a) and practiced idolatry and sorcery (2 Kings 9:22b). The false prophetess Jezebel in the church of Thyatira, like Balaam, also seduced Christians to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
Through the seductions by Balaam and Jezebel, behind which was certainly Satan (cf. 12:9), and the frequent mention of Satan (2:9, 13, 24; 3:9) and the devil (2:10), we also see how the basic motive of the conflict between Christ and His church and Satan shines through in the seven epistles.
3:19: those whom I love. Here the usual NT verb for love (agapeiv) is not used, but the verb for amicable or brotherly mutual love (phileiv). When we respond to God’s love, a amicable relationship also arises from God’s side, as John 16:27 shows (here, too, phileiv is used).
3:21: the one who conquers. The term literally means who wins and according to the grammatical form in Greek (a present participle) points to a constant victory or overcoming. This verse gives us a clear explanation of what is meant by it the comparison with Jesus. It is not about overcoming sin, but overcoming all Satan’s hostilities and temptations. How this is possible is explained in Rev 12:11, immediately after the description of the central motif of Revelation (vs. 7-9):

They (the brothers and sisters) have conquered him
by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,
for they loved not their lives even unto death.

This overcoming is possible because of Christ’s redemption, and their public loyalty to him, and the use of his help (cf. Heb 2:17-18; 4:15-16; Jude 24-25). Because of the conflict between Christ and Satan, into which every follower of Christ is drawn, undivided faithfulness to Jesus is required. This includes:
• to hold fast to the first love for Jesus (2:4);
• to remain faithful in persecutions until death (2:10);
• to abstain from idolatry and fornication (2:14, 20);
• to persevere in awaiting the return of Christ (3:3);
• not to be lukewarm and satisfied with oneself (3:16-17).

Promising pathways
Make a list of everything Jesus praises in the churches, and a second list of what he rebukes. Which focal points do you recognize?
Follow the basic motive of the Revelation, the conflict be-tween Christ and Satan, in the seven letters to the churches.
Find in Rev 21–22 how the promises to overcomers at the end of each letter will be fulfilled on the new earth.

Statements by Ellen G. White
The only time Ellen White dealt with the Revelation in an entire chapter of a book is in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 57, where she applies the message to the congregation of Ephesus “as a symbol of the entire Christian church in the apostolic age”. She wrote about the other messages in general (on p. 585):

The names of the seven churches are symbolic of the church in different periods of the Christian era. The number 7 indicates completeness, and is symbolic of the fact that the messages extend to the end of time, while the symbols used reveal
the condition of the church at different periods in the history
of the world.

Ellen White, however, wrote nothing more in her chapter about the meaning of the other epistles and did not apply them to periods of church history. Moreover, the above passage is a paraphrase of Uriah Smith’s statements about the meaning of the seven epistles.
Ellen White applied the message to Laodicea to the Adventist churches from 1873 onwards (her husband James had done this first). This statement from 1889 may serve as an example:

If ever there was a people that needed to heed the counsel of the True Witness to the Laodicean church to be zealous and to repent before God [Rev 3:19], it is the people who have had opened up before them the stupendous truths for this time, and who have not lived up to their high privileges and responsibilities. We have lost much in not living up to the light of the solemn truths which we profess to believe.

But she often applied the rebuke to the church of Ephesus for leaving their first love (2:4) also to the Adventist churches.
She had already written in 1859 on the individual application of the counsel to the church in Laodicea:

Individuals are tested and proved a length of time to see if they will sacrifice their idols and heed the counsel of the True Witness [Rev 3:18]. If any will not be purified through obeying the truth, and overcome their selfishness, their pride, and evil passions, the angels of God have the charge: “They are joined to their idols, let them alone,” and they pass on to their work, leaving these with their sinful traits unsubdued, to the control of evil angels. Those who come up to every point, and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may, have heeded the counsel of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation.

Which of the seven churches most closely resembles our local church? Which advice of Jesus is therefore applicable to us? (This question should be discussed in a group.)
Which accusation against one of the seven churches applies to me personally? What then am I supposed to do?
Preparation for Revelation 4–5
Search in Revelation 4–5 for parallels and possible allusions to statements in the Old Testament.
Notice the drama described in chapter 5, in contrast to chapter 4. What might that indicate, in connection with the statements about the lamb, regarding the opening and the content of the scroll with seven seals?

© Werner E. Lange
Retired book editor of the German Adventist Publishing House

Reactions to my elaborations are welcome. They can be sent directly to me per e-mail (
I would welcome, too, if the PDF is shared, or the website with the elaborations is recommended to other church members.
In the coming weeks I will discuss in my local church the inter-pretation of the chapters of the Revelation corresponding to the theme of the respecting Sabbath School lesson. A summary as PDF will be provided each Friday on the website before the respective lesson begins in the Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.
You can download all PDFs of the project “Revelation DIY” under!Agfvhk0oak34jZBoDxAbbPJKmCC2JQ. Link to an overview of all available files and a video (Hints in the Introduction):