Ellen White and the First Half of the Book of Revelation (EWB 8)

The closest thing to a major interpretive statement for the entire first half of the book of Revelation is found in the book The Great Controversy, pages 414-415. This statement is also found in Patriarchs and Prophets, 356. Both statements are also an expansion and clarification of the earlier and more ambiguous statement in The Story of Redemption, 377. A comparison of all three statements would be interesting, but will not be attempted here. I will limit myself to the statement in The Great Controversy, 414-415. There Ellen White offers a clear statement regarding the significance of the sanctuary material in Revelation, chapters 4, 8, and 11:

“The holy places of the sanctuary in heaven are represented by the two apartments in the sanctuary on earth. As in vision the apostle John was granted a view of the temple of God in heaven, he beheld there “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne.” Revelation 4:5. He saw an angel “having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.” Revelation 8:3. Here the prophet was permitted to behold the first apartment of the sanctuary in heaven; and he saw there the “seven lamps of fire” and “the golden altar,” represented by the golden candlestick and the golden altar of incense in the sanctuary on earth. Again, “the temple of God was opened” (Revelation 11:19), and he looked within the inner veil, upon the holy of holies. Here he beheld “the ark of His testament,” represented by the sacred chest constructed by Moses to contain the law of God.”

There is no question that Ellen White had these specific Bible passages in mind as she wrote. There are quotation marks and the exact references are provided. The statement also appears to be an attempt to explain the significance of the author’s original vision regarding these matters. The statement is found in chapter twenty-three of The Great Controversy (pages 409-422), which is entitled, “What is the Sanctuary?” So the passage is drawn from one of her major works and is central to the discussion of the sanctuary in its context. The purpose of the chapter is not, however, an exegesis of Revelation, so the passage may qualify more as a theological statement than an exegetical one. In any case, it is her most comprehensive statement on the meaning of Rev 4-11. Thus, it is of first importance for understanding her view of that portion of the book. It seems evident from this statement that Ellen White understood the seals and the trumpets to be taking place under the general rubric of the first apartment of the heavenly sanctuary, while the second apartment ministry comes into view only in Rev 11:19.

While this may seem a major conclusion to draw from just a few words, Ellen White clarified this statement in a Review and Herald article published on Nov 9, 1905. There she repeats the above statement with the following addition: “The announcement, ‘The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament,’ points to the opening of the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, at the end of the twenty-three hundred days,–in 1844,–as Christ entered there to perform the closing work of the atonement. Those who by faith followed their great High Priest, as he entered upon his ministry in the most holy place, beheld the ark of the testament.”

The title of her article was, “The Ark of the Covenant.” If Ellen White had considered it appropriate to indicate that the ark could be equated with the throne in Revelation 4-5, or with the activity in Revelation 8:3-4, this would have been the ideal place to do so. Instead, she makes it clear that Revelation 11:19 (the sanctuary introduction to chapters twelve through fourteen– the section that features the three angel’s messages) is the point at which the book of Revelation begins to concentrate on the end-time judgment.

These Ellen White citations call into question the assertions some make that the Ellen White writings can be used to support a Day of Atonement or end-time setting for the seals and trumpets as a whole. Such a position cannot be convincingly maintained on the basis of her writings, since there is no clear and explicit statement from her pen to that effect, and the citations we have noted imply otherwise.

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