Monthly Archives: January 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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