Category Archives: Biblical

Sunday Laws and Bible Prophecy (7): The Forehead and the Hand

The text of Revelation 13 continues with verse 16: “And he [the land beast] controls everyone . . . so that he might place a mark upon their right hands or upon their foreheads. . . .” In the biblical world the forehead represents the mind, the will, the personality. The hand is representative of action. So these symbols represent two kinds of response to the call to worship the image of the beast. There are those who are fully committed to the agenda of Satan and his allies and there are others who don’t really care, but they go along in order to preserve their jobs and their lives (Rev 13:16-17).

The central theme of Revelation, chapters 13 and 14, is worship. Revelation 13:14 alludes to the showdown over worship at Mount Carmel. This portion of the book makes reference to worship of the dragon (Rev 13:4), the beast from the sea (Rev 13:4, 8, 12; 14:9, 11) and the image of the beast (Rev 13:15; 14:9, 11). In all, there are exactly seven occurrences of the word “worship” in the central part of Revelation. In contrast is the single call to worship “Him who made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains of water.” Rev 14:7. The call to worship the image of the beast is a universal one, it goes out to the full range of social classes. “And he [the land beast] controls everyone; the small and the great, the rich and the poor, the free and the slave; so that he might place a mark upon their right hands or upon their foreheads. . . .” Rev 13:17.

Along with a willingness to worship the image of the beast, a new element is introduced. A mark is placed on all who are willing to worship the image of the beast. The mark is defined as the name of the beast or the number of his name. These likely correspond to the forehead and the hand. Names in the Hebrew context represent character. Some are marked because of their heart and soul commitment to Satan’s agenda to mold human beings in his own image (name on forehead). Others are marked because they are willing to go along with that agenda to preserve their own lives and prosperity in this world (hand and number).

These texts reflect a sharp polarization in the world as we approach the End-time. Revelation projects three types of people in the world at the end. One group is the saints who are called by many names (the remnant, the 144,000, the great multitude, the kings of the east, the called, chosen and faithful followers of the Lamb). The second group is a worldwide alliance of religion, called Babylon, the Great City, the Great Prostitute, the woman who rides the beast, and is represented by the unholy trinity; the dragon, the beast and the false prophet (Rev 16:13). The third group are whose without a heart and soul commitment to either camp. These are the secular, political and military powers of the world, also named by many names and symbols (Euphrates River, kings of the world, many waters, kings of the earth, the beast of Rev 17, the ten horns, the cities of the nations, seven mountains and seven kings). When these secular powers agree to enforce the death decree of Revelation 13:15, they make a “hand” commitment to the beast and his image. Satan desires worship from all, but he is willing to settle for a forced worship, a self-centered worship. The contrast between his character and God’s could not be more stark. This contrast is further underlined as we explore the meaning of the mark of the beast in Revelation.

True Signs of the End of Time

In spite of the challenges described in the previous blog, the subject of End-time signs cannot safely be ignored. The same chapter in which Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour (Matt 24:36) also offers indications as to when the coming is near (Matt 24:33). But what is Anear@ in actual time? A day? A year? A decade? A century? The author of Revelation considered Jesus’ coming to be near by 95 A.D (Rev 1:3; 22:10,12). So a Western chronological understanding of “nearness” is clearly false in light of the passage of 2000 years since the New Testament was written. From an Eastern perspective nearness seems to be much more a state of mind than a chronological fact.

But is there any sense that the coming of Jesus is chronologically nearer now than it was in the first century? Note Ellen White=s comment on the evidence in Matt 24:33, 36, “One saying of the Saviour must not be made to destroy another. Though no man knoweth the day nor the hour of His coming, we are instructed and required to know when it is near (GC 371, emphasis hers).” For Ellen White the coming was near because by her day the time prophecies leading to the Time of the End had been fulfilled.

Seventh-day Adventist students of Daniel and Revelation are aware that while the “last days” truly began in NT times, the Time of the End is a much more recent phenomenon. With the passing of the great time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation we are now living in the Time of the End. So these are not just ordinary times. The year 2000 is much closer to the End than the year 1000 was. We know that this world’s history is writing its final chapter. While we cannot know with certainty that this is the final generation, we certainly know that things can wind up very soon.

While current events should not be used to encourage date-setting in any of its forms, hard or soft, we are certainly living in times like those the Bible associates with the End. Knowledge is increasing with breathtaking rapidity (Dan 12:4 does not address that issue in general, but exponential increase of knowledge in all areas accompanies increased knowledge of the Bible). The internet and satellite broadcasting make it possible for the whole world to hear the gospel in a short time (Matt 24:14). Divisions among nations are increasing. Weapons of mass destruction are in increasingly unstable hands. Rebellion, profanity, perversions, and violence are increasing (2 Tim 3:1-5). The Bible says, “When these things begin to happen, get up, lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28, my translation). One could say that we are living in “end-like times.”

How to Interpret the Signs of the End

It has never been easier to stay informed about world events. With the help of the internet one can amass a huge quantity of information about world affairs in a short period of time. But there are several problems when it comes to analyzing the significance of such information for Christian faith. For one thing, within this enormous mass of information one must distinguish between information which is sound and that which is simply someone’s empty speculation forwarded from computer to computer. It is necessary to become familiar with a news source’s track record over time, with its biases, and with its reasons for offering information on the internet. Christians must be slow to accept the latest report or conspiracy theory, especially when relatively reliable filters like major news organizations or church papers are silent on the subject.

But even when information is reasonably solid, it is imperative to look at the evidence from all sides of the question. Those who emphasize the nearness of the End love to talk about rising crime statistics, catastrophic earthquakes and floods, wars and rumors of wars, imminent economic collapse, and declining morality. But credibility is severely damaged when we ignore solid evidence that points in other directions. For example, many sincere Christian speakers and writers regularly predict the imminent arrival of a national Sunday law in the USA. Yet in my lifetime public attention to the idea of Sunday laws in the USA has been in a steady decline.

But what if your information is unquestionably solid, balanced, and carefully verified? You still have to determine whether that solid information is of any spiritual significance or not. It is all too easy to jump to conclusions about the significance of particular world events. Just because events are taking a course that reminds us of a particular prophecy, doesn’t mean that this particular event is what that prophecy was pointing to. COVID-19 is certainly one of the greatest international crises the world has faced in my lifetime. Yet there is no specific biblical prophecy that tells us a contagious disease will be a definitive mark of the End-time. No matter how solid our reading of the “signs” seems to be, we are expected to stay sober as we approach the End (1 Thess 5:1-11)! We damage the credibility of all preaching about the End when we use inaccurate information, are selective in our use of solid evidence, or make exaggerated claims that are inappropriate to our level of expertise.

A Different Look at “Signs of the End”

If wars, earthquakes and famines are signs of the age, it should not surprise us that what many call the “signs of the end” have been with us from the beginning of the Christian age. There were false messiahs already in Jesus= day (Acts 5:36-37), and plenty more shortly after. While peace characterized the Roman province of Palestine in AD 31, there were “wars and rumors of wars” throughout the 60s. There were famines (Acts 11:28), earthquakes (Laodicea in 60 AD, Pompeii in 63, Jerusalem in 64, and Rome in 68), and heavenly signs. It is reported that the quake in Jerusalem damaged the newly finished temple, just before the Roman sieges began in AD 66. The NT also contains abundant accounts of persecution, false teachers and false prophets in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, 2 Peter, 1 and 2 John, Jude and Revelation 2-3 (note 2:20 especially). Paul could even claim that the gospel had gone to the world within his lifetime (Col 1:23; Rom 1:8; 16:26). It is no wonder, then, that the apostles believed that they were living in the last days (Acts 2:14-21; Heb 1:2; 1 Pet 1:20; 1 John 2:18).

Compounding the issue is the question of just how unusual the events of the End will be. There is no question that NT descriptions of the final days are momentous. People develop strange diseases, rivers and seas turn to blood, and humanity is subject to climate change of searing proportions (Rev 16:1-9). Nations are angry (Rev 11:18) and confused (Luke 21:25), and the world is seriously divided over issues of faith (Rev 17:14). Unusual events take place in the sky and earthquakes, storms and disasters become more severe (Luke 21:26; Rev 6:12-15; 16:18-21). There is the deceptive confusion caused by competing claims to truth (Matt 24:24-27; Mark 13:19-23; 2 Thess 2:8-12; Rev 13:13-14) and direct demonic intervention (1 Tim 4:1). Although they were realities already in Paul=s day, social unrest and contempt for faith are expected to increase (2 Tim 3:1-5). The people of God suffer greatly from persecution (John 16:2; Rev 13:15-17; 16:4-7; 17:6). And many more considerations could be given.

But there is another side to NT teaching on this subject that is often ignored. Both Jesus and Paul portray the last days as exceedingly normal times in spite of all the spectacular events that will take place. As in the time just before the Flood (Matt 24:37), people will pursue their normal round of eating and drinking, and weddings will not be postponed (Matt 24:38). As in the days of Lot, there will be buying and selling (Luke 17:28), which suggests that the basic economic structure of the world is still intact. Planting and building continues (Luke 17:28). Most people seem to have no premonition that the End is upon them (Matt 24:39). Believer and unbeliever are working together in the field or in a factory on the day when Jesus comes (Matt 24:40-41).

Paul announces to the Thessalonians that the terrible destructions associated with the Second Coming itself (see 2 Thess 1:5-10) will come at a time when people are proclaiming “peace and safety” (1 Thess 5:2-3). To the average person on the street, the last days may seem like a golden age of peace and prosperity. The troubles, disasters, social disruptions, and persecutions of the End-time will be on the radar screen, but will not seem out of proportion to normal times. The majority, perhaps the vast majority, of people on earth will be surprised to see the ultimate end of history take place when it does. This should make us cautious in our broad and confident pronouncements regarding current events. But at the same time we must not overlook that the same text assures us that God=s true people will not be surprised (1 Thess 5:4-7). The normalcy will only be an apparent one, apparent to those without the eyes of Christian faith.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (6): Hermeneutical Keys

There are a number of hermeneutical keys that are suggested by a comparison of Daniel 2 and Daniel 7.

1) God speaks to each of His human emissaries in the context of their own time, place, and circumstances. He speaks in language they can understand and appreciate, even when He speaks in apocalyptic terms. He uses the language of the prophet’s past to paint a picture of the prophet’s future. God meets people where they are. This has hermeneutical implications. It means that in our study of apocalyptic literature, it is imperative that we seek to understand it in terms of the original time, place, language, and circumstances, as well as the content of the whole of Scripture. We should not expect to find God’s meaning for the text in some context outside that of the original revelation. God’s meaning for today will not contradict the message that He placed in the vision in the first place.

2) The purpose of apocalyptic visions is not simply to satisfy human curiosity about the future (although that may have played a role in the first instance, according to Dan 2:29). It is a message about the character and the workings of God. God is not only communicating something about the future course of history, He is revealing Himself as the One who is in control of that history. To study apocalyptic only as a key to unlock the future is to miss its message about a God who seeks to be known by His people. From a Christian perspective, apocalyptic is never rightly understood unless its central focus is on the “son of man,” Jesus Christ.

3) Apocalyptic is people-oriented. In conforming to the principle of “God meets people where they are,” it is evident that the purpose of apocalyptic is to comfort and instruct the people of God on earth. God offers a powerful message of both hope and warning to the original recipients of each message, and that message of hope and warning has a repeated application to every reader of these visions throughout history. Whether or not the forecast of history has always been rightly understood, God’s appeal to the human recipients of His revelation is ever fresh.

4) While in Daniel 2 and 7 the issue of God’s control over history is front row and center, it is important to see how that control is exercised in the larger sweep of the Bible. As a God of love, God initiates, encourages and respects the freedom of His creatures. The cross demonstrates that God does not exercise control through overwhelming power and dominance, but through demonstration of His character and persuasion. In Daniel 7 human exercise of power is portrayed in terms of vicious, carnivorous beasts that trample and destroy. In contrast, God rules by kindness (Rom 2:4) and self-sacrifice (Rev 5:6). God prefers to exercise His authority with gentleness and patience rather than intimidation and force.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (5): Visions Meet People Where They Are

The crucial question for prophetic interpretation is whether the general biblical principle of “God meets people where they are” is applicable to apocalyptic prophecies such as Daniel and Revelation. If so, how does it affect our interpretation of these prophecies? I believe it will be helpful to our purpose to notice that God at times even adjusted the form of apocalyptic visions in order to more effectively communicate to the inspired prophet. The most striking example is in the book of Daniel. There visions of similar content were given to two people from completely different backgrounds.

Many Adventists have tended to distinguish between the visionary experiences of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel. They say that the pagan king had a dream in Daniel 2 but that Daniel himself had a vision in Daniel 7. This distinction is not, however, warranted by the biblical text. Unusual wording in two passages, Dan 2:28 and 7:1, while often overlooked by commentators as of little interest, reveals that the experience of the two “prophets” was the same. In Dan 2:28 Nebuchadnezzar is told, “Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed are these” (NIV). In Dan 7:1 we are told, “Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed (NIV).” The underlying Aramaic is essentially identical with that of Dan 2:28. In both cases, God chose to reveal Himself in visionary form, He was in full control of the revelation.

Not only is the mode of revelation essentially the same, but the content of the two visions, when interpreted, is essentially the same. In Dan 2 the vision begins with the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar (Babylon), traces three kingdoms that will follow, and eventuates in the kingdom that the God of heaven will set up and which will never be destroyed (Dan 2:36-45). In Dan 7 we again have a series of four kingdoms, with the first representing Babylon (Dan 7:4,17), and again the interpretation eventuates in the everlasting kingdom of the Most High (Dan 7:26-27). To Nebuchadnezzar, the heathen king, God portrays the future world empires by means of an idol. The term translated “statue” or “image” is frequently used in connection with idolatry in the Old Testament (2 Kings 11:18; 2 Chron 23:17; Amos 5:26, etc.). That this meaning is to be understood here is clear from Daniel 3. There Nebuchadnezzar recognized exactly what to do with such an object! Nebuchadnezzar could appreciate God’s use of this cultural concept, since he saw the nations of the world as bright and shining counterparts of the gods that they worshiped.

God here chooses to use cultural expressions with which Nebuchadnezzar was familiar, and those concepts lent themselves to the point God was trying to make to him. God’s point in the vision was that He was the source of Nebuchadnezzar’s power and position (Dan 2:37-38), that He is in full control of all kingdoms of the earth (and their gods) and places them under the control of whomever He wishes (Dan 4:17). But Nebuchadnezzar was not to understand this point until his second vision (4:5, 34-37). In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar accepts that God is a revealer of mysteries (Dan 2:47), but his reworking of the idol into one totally of gold shows his unwillingness to submit to God’s control of history at this point in time.

For Daniel, on the other hand, the nations of the world were like vicious, ravenous beasts who were hurting his people (chapter 7). God again draws on the prophet’s knowledge and setting as He shapes the vision He gives to Daniel. This time, instead of symbolism drawn from the Babylonian world, He shapes the vision as a midrash on the creation story of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. God describes Daniel’s future in terms of a new creation.

“Daniel said, ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea’”(Dan 7:2). The concept of winds stirring up the sea is reminiscent of Gen 1:2, where the wind/spirit moves upon the waters of the great deep. As in the original creation, beasts then appear (Dan 7:3ff., cf. Gen 1:24-25; 2:19). In each story the appearance of the beasts is followed by the appearance of a “son of man,” who is given dominion over the beasts (Gen 1:26-28; 2:19-20, cf. Dan 7:13-14). What we have in this vision is an early example of “second Adam” typology, in which an end-time Adam figure takes possession of God’s kingdom in behalf of His people (Dan 7:13-14, cf. 7:27).

What message was God seeking to communicate to Daniel and his fellow exiles in Babylon? I believe it was the same basic message that God sought to communicate to Nebuchadnezzar. God is the One who is in control of history and of all the affairs of nations. To Daniel and his fellow exiles, things seemed out of control. The Godless nations flaunted their dominion (see Dan 7:6,12, which use the same word for “dominion” as Dan 7:14, 26-27) like carnivorous beasts ravaging a flock. To Daniel in Babylon, the message of Dan 7 was a great comfort: just as Adam had dominion over the beasts in the Garden of Eden, so the Son of Man, when he comes, will have dominion over these nations that are hurting your people. God is in control even when things seem out of control. He is the one who sets up kings and removes them.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (4): The Exegetical Imperative

The special nature of apocalyptic prophecy raises a separate issue. A generally accepted principle of biblical interpretation is that God meets people where they are. In other words, Scripture was given in the time, place, language, and culture of specific human beings. The knowledge, experience, and background of the Biblical writers was respected. Paul, with his “Ph.D.”, expresses God’s revelation to him in a different way than does Peter, the fisherman. John writes in simple, clear, almost childlike Greek. On the other hand, the author of Hebrews has the most complex and literary Greek in all the New Testament with the exception of the first four verses of Luke. In Matthew, you have someone who understands the Jewish mind. Mark, on the other hand, reaches out to the Gentile mind. So the revelations recorded in the Bible were given in a way comprehensible to each audience.

This point was driven home with great power a few decades ago. In the nineteenth century, New Testament Greek was thought to be unique. It was quite different from both the classical Greek of Plato and Aristotle and the Greek spoken today. Some scholars thought that the New Testament had been given in some special kind of Greek, perhaps a “heavenly language.” Then someone stumbled across an ancient garbage dump in Egypt. It was filled with the remnants of love letters, bills, receipts, and other products of everyday life in the first century. To the shock of many, these papyrus fragments were written in the same language and style as the books of the New Testament! The New Testament was not written in a heavenly language, nor in the cultured language of the traditional elite, but in the everyday language of everyday people. God meets people where they are! The Sacred Word was expressed through the cultural frailty of human beings.

This principle is clearly articulated in Selected Messages, Volume 1, 19-22:
“The writers of the Bible had to express their ideas in human language. It was written by human men. These men were inspired of the Holy Spirit. . . .
“The Scriptures were given to men, not in a continuous chain of unbroken utterances, but piece by piece through successive generations, as God in His providence saw a fitting opportunity to impress man at sundry times and divers places. . . .
“The Bible, perfect as it is in its simplicity, does not answer to the great ideas of God; for infinite ideas cannot be perfectly embodied in finite vehicles of thought.”

In affirming this principle we do not fall into the trap of treating the Bible as if it were merely exalted human conceptions of God. The richness of the human elements in the Bible are not a liability, they are part of God’s intentional design for His Word. God has chosen to reveal Himself in this way for our sakes. At some points in the Bible the human elements of expression reflect the personality and style of the human author, seeking to express God’s revelation in the best possible human language. But at many points in the Scriptural narrative, it is God Himself who bends down and takes onto His own lips the limitations of human language and cultural patterns for our sakes. There is, perhaps, no clearer illustration of this than the Ten Commandments, which come directly from the mouth of God (Exod 20:1-19), yet include significant elements of the cultural milieu within which they were received (including slavery, idolatry, and neighbors who possess oxen and donkeys). Clearly this aspect of the nature of God’s revelation has implications for hermeneutics.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (3): General and Apocalyptic Prophecy

In reaction to the work of Desmond Ford, an earlier generation of Seventh-day Adventist scholars sought to distinguish 1) general prophecy, represented by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and others, and 2) apocalyptic prophecy, represented by Daniel and Revelation. General prophecy, sometimes called “classical prophecy,” was seen to focus primarily on the prophet’s own time and place, but would occasionally offer a glimpse forward to a cosmic “Day of the Lord” leading to a new heaven and a new earth. Apocalyptic prophecy, on the other hand, was seen to focus on history as a divinely-guided continuum leading up to and including the final events of earth’s history. Such prophecies are generally unconditional, being grounded in God’s over-arching purpose for history more than in the human response to that history. General prophecy focuses on the immediate situation of the prophet, while apocalyptic prophecy has more of a long-range view.

Because of its dual dimension, general prophecy may at times be susceptible to dual fulfillment or foci where local and contemporary perspectives may be mixed with a universal, future perspective. Apocalyptic prophecy, on the other hand, does not deal so much with the local, contemporary situation as it does with the whole span of future history, including the major saving acts of God within that history. The greater focus of general prophecy is on contemporary events, the greater focus of apocalyptic prophecy is on end-time events. While general prophecy describes the future in the context of the prophet’s local situation, apocalyptic prophecy portrays a comprehensive historical continuum that is under God’s control and leads from the prophet’s time all the way down to the End.

General prophecies, which are written to affect human response, tend to be conditional upon the reactions of peoples and nations (Jer 18:7-10; Jonah; Deuteronomy 28). On the other hand, apocalyptic prophecies, particularly those of Daniel and Revelation, tend to be unconditional, reflecting God’s foreknowledge of His ultimate victory and the establishment of His eternal kingdom. Apocalyptic prophecy portrays the inevitability of God’s sovereign purpose. No matter what the evil powers do, God will accomplish His purpose in history. A key interpretive principle, then, is to determine which Biblical prophecies are general in nature and which are apocalyptic. When the genre has been determined, the appropriate approach can be taken.

The major hermeneutical implication of this determination has to do with the time and frequency of fulfillment. An apocalyptic time sequence, by its very nature, is limited to a single fulfillment. Daniel 2 for example, whose meaning is fairly clear, covers the entire span from Daniel’s time until the End. It is not, therefore, readily given dual or multiple fulfillments. A classical prophecy such as Joel 2:28-32 (or the Day of the Lord concept in general) may readily be applied to the original situation as well as to similar situations in the future.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (2): Apocalyptic Thinking

Some scholars believe that the historical type of apocalyptic thinking (like Daniel 2 and 7) began with Zoroaster, a pagan priest of Persia, but the relevant Persian documents are quite late and may be dependant on Jewish works rather than the other way around. It is more likely that the “dawn of apocalyptic” can be traced to the prophetic works of the Old Testament, like Isaiah 24-27, 65-66, Daniel, Joel and Zechariah. When the prophetic spirit ceased in the Persian period (5th to 4th century BC), pseudonymity (a later writer adopting the name of an earlier, more famous one) became a way that uninspired writers sought to recapture the spirit of the ancient prophets and write out what those ancient prophets might have written had they been alive to see the apocalyptist’s day.

Apocalyptic writers believed that this world order is evil and oppressive, and under the control of Satan and his human accomplices. It would shortly be destroyed by God and replaced with a new and perfect order corresponding to Eden. The final events of the old order would involve severe conflict between the old order and the people of God, but the final outcome is never in question. Through a mighty act of judgment, God condemns the wicked, rewards the righteous and re-creates the universe.

The apocalyptic world view, therefore, tends to view reality from the perspective of God’s overarching control of history, which is divided into a series of segments or eras. It expresses these beliefs in terms of the themes and images of ancient apocalyptic literature. Although this world view can be expressed through other genres of literature, its fundamental shape is most clearly discerned in apocalypses.

While the same scholars who have created such helpful definitions may think of people who hold such beliefs today to be out of touch with contemporary reality, Seventh-day Adventists will recognize that their fundamental beliefs are decisively grounded in ancient apocalypticism. In other words, for Adventists the books of Daniel and Revelation are not marginal works appropriate to occasional Saturday night entertainment, they are foundational to the Adventist world view and its concept of God. Daniel and Revelation provide the basic hermeneutical grid from which Adventists read the rest of the Bible. For Adventists to reject this world view would be to inaugurate a fundamental shift in Adventist thinking.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic: Defining Terms

As we all struggle with the consequences of COVID-19, many people want to know what the Bible in general, and biblical prophecy in particular, may offer that can guide us in these challenging times. So I decided to offer a series of reflections on the issue of interpreting biblical apocalyptic; the genre of literature to which the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation belong. I have addressed this topic at a scholarly level for nearly forty years now, but my purpose is to keep the blogs readable for the general audience.

John J. Collins of Yale University, whom I count as a friend, has worked with a team of scholars for some fifty years now on how to define “apocalypse” and “apocalyptic.” (Among his many works, I recommend the following as a first read on this topic: The Apocalyptic Imagination, third edition, Eerdmans, 2016.) The term “apocalypse” is drawn from the introductory phrase of the biblical book of Revelation (Rev 1:1) and means “revelation” or “disclosure.” From the second century AD onward, it became increasingly used as a term for extra-biblical works of a character similar to Revelation. So modern scholars are not out of line in applying the label “apocalyptic” to a whole collection of similar works existed in ancient Judaism, such as Daniel, Ethiopic Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch and other works produced before and contemporary with Revelation.

Collins’ team of scholars analyzed all such texts from 250 BC through 250 AD and developed a definition based on their common characteristics. The definition they developed was published in Semeia 14 in 1979 and remains the scholarly consensus to this day: “An apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.”

As I understand this definition, an apocalyptic work like Daniel or Revelation is revelatory literature, which means it claims to communicate information from God to humanity. This is accomplished in the form of a story, a “narrative framework.” The revelation is communicated to a human being by “otherworldly beings” such as angels or the 24 elders of Revelation. The revelation discloses “transcendent reality,” that which is beyond the ability of our five sense to apprehend, about the course of history leading up the God’s salvation at the End, and about the heavenly, “supernatural” world.

While not present in the above definition of apocalypse, scholars also distinguish between two types of apocalyptic literature, the historical and the mystical. The historical type, characteristic of Daniel, gives an overview of a large sweep of history, often divided into periods, and climaxing with a prediction about the end of history and the final judgment. The mystical type of apocalypse describes the ascent of the visionary through the heavens, which are often numbered. While one might be tempted to view these two types of apocalypses as distinct genres, several ancient writings, including the book of Revelation, mix elements of both types in one literary work. For Seventh-day Adventists, the historical type has been of primary interest.