Category Archives: Biblical

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.

Response to Randy Nim’s on Rev 10:7

Here’s my response to Randy Nim’s comments on Rev 10:7. Sorry for the length, but it seemed best to have it all in one document. I distinguish mine from his by the use of bold text. It was helpful to think the Greek through with his contrary reading in mind, I think you will enjoy the give and take as well:

Randy Nims comments: Revelation 10:6-7 reads, “There will be no more delay, but in the days when the seventh angel is [about] to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God will be fulfilled, as he announced (good news) to his servants the prophets.”

The 2300-day prophecy is coming to a close and it closed about the year 1844. When the sanctuary was restored to its rightful state [Daniel 8:14], then began the final phase of Earth’s history. This is when the investigative judgment began.

I believe Randy is right so far, on the basis of Rev 10:6, which signals the close of Daniel’s time prophecies.

Revelation 10:7 reads that “when the seventh angel is [about] to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God will be fulfilled.” The question becomes, what is the mystery of God and the good news. This is not the same event as Revelation 18:1 because in that passage coming down from heaven, having great authority, is the Holy Spirit that makes the earth bright with His splendor. This is the latter rain experience, which is not when the mystery of God is fulfilled. This is the final opportunity to make a decision to come into the boat before the door closes, but when did Noah start preaching? Noah revealed the truth years earlier! What was that truth?

Randy sees the blowing of the seventh trumpet as the same moment in history as the “no more delay” or “time no longer” of 10:6. The Adventist pioneers agreed. They were reading this text with the King James Version in mind. It says, “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished.” By this reading the finishing of the mystery could be part of the seventh trumpet. But this is based on a poor translation of the Majority text the KJV (this is not a textual issue) was based on. The NKJV corrects this: “when he is about to sound.” The finishing of the mystery of God is before the sounding of the seventh trumpet, not during it. The pioneers (and Randy) also missed the force of the “but” at the beginning of verse 7. It (Greek: alla) draws a stark contrast between verse 6 and 7: the mystery of God is not finished at the “time no more,” but just before the sounding of the seventh trumpet instead. So Rev 10:7 parallels the content of the sixth trumpet, from the “time no more” to the close of probation.

The mystery of God is described in Colossians 1:26-29 where it reads, “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.”

So Paul was preaching the mystery of God two thousand years ago. Noah was preaching it 4000+ years ago. Were the Millerites preaching the mystery of God before the end of the 2300-day prophecy? Absolutely! Even to this day, the Seventh-day Adventist Church preaches the mystery of God. We will continue to preach it until the latter rain produces the loud cry. It isn’t about a moment in time, but a process of time.

Unfortunately, the Antediluvians, those in Paul’s day, and the Millerites all dealt with a sweet message that had a bitter result. But verse 11 tells them and us to push forward and not give up.

I agree that the meaning of the “mystery of God” is the preaching of the gospel. It has gone on from the beginning and continues even after the close of Daniel’s time prophecies.

So just prior to 1844, just before the seventh angel was about to blow, just like it was preached before the flood, the mystery of God was preached. We are still preaching it today and will continue to preach it until the latter rain produces the loud cry.

Randy here assumes that Rev 10:7 talks about the continuation of the mystery of God not its completion. The ESV translation he seems to adopt above uses the ambiguous English word “fulfilled” for what happens to the mystery of God. Fulfilled can mean “finished” or it can simply mean “carried out.” In the latter case this would not be a reference to the close of probation (which presumably happens before the sounding of the seventh trumpet as noted above). But the Greek word is much clearer than the ESV. It is etelesthĕ from the Greek root teleŏ. This is the Greek word placed at the end of books (“The End”). It means “brought to and end, completed.” This is easy to see in Rev 11:7 and 20:3, 5, 7, when the 1260 days “were ended”, when the thousand years “came to an end.”

So about the year 1844 the seventh trumpet was sounded. It wasn’t a single blow, but a sound that continues to sound until the door is closed.

This last statement does not reflect the force of the Greek. The Greek of Rev 10:6-7 indicates a point in time when Daniel’s prophecies come to an end, but the preaching of the gospel does not come to an end at that time, it comes to an end when the seventh trumpet angel is “about to sound.” That means that the seventh trumpet does not begin in 1844, it begins after the close of human probation.

Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes to His Lesson Manuscript on Rev 19-22

This is the last posting of the quarter. It has been a joy to share the insights of my friend, Ranko Stefanovic, on the revisions to his lesson on Revelation in the Adult Bible Study Guide series. Below you will find his analysis of this week’s revisions, followed by his original manuscript. All the words that follow are his:

This is the final lesson of this year’s SS Quarterly on the Book of Revelation. For me, this quarterly has been a great educational experience. I received numerous emails, phone calls, and text and FB messages with different comments. About 95% of the messages were highly positive. It appears that both the standard and teachers editions have impacted both the minds and lives of many Adventists across the globe. All the glory to God for that. I want to express thanks to my friend Jon Paulien for his significant contribution to this SS Quarterly.

This final lesson has undergone some unnecessary alterations, although my original intention in the original manuscript has been retained in most cases.

The first half of the Sunday lesson was significantly altered. The following paragraphs have been replaced by a long quotation from Ellen White’s writings:

“As John described Christ’s return and his subsequent union with his people, he had ancient Jewish weddings in mind. The prospective bridegroom would go to the house of the bride-to-be for the betrothal. Upon payment of the dowry, the couple was considered married, but they could not live together. The groom would return to his father’s house to prepare a place for them. The bride remained at her father’s house to prepare herself. When the preparations had been made, the groom would return to take his bride to his father’s house, where the wedding would take place.

Two thousand years ago, Christ left His heavenly home to be betrothed to his bride on earth. After paying the dowry with His life at Calvary, He returned to His Father’s house to “prepare a place” for His bride (see John 14:2-3), while His bride remained on earth preparing herself. At the end of time, He will come back and take her to His Father’s house.”

The rest of the Sunday lesson has been edited, and in some cases, the edits improved the text.

The Monday lesson, except for the questions that begin and conclude that day’s content, has been completely altered, as the exegetical analysis of the biblical text was mostly replaced with a long quote from Ellen White.

The edits in the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday lessons did not change my intention in the original manuscript, but rather improved the quality of the text, except that the following sentences were removed from the middle part of the Thursday lesson:
“The New Jerusalem thus functions not only as the temple but also as the Most Holy place. In the earthly temple, only the high priest could enter the Most Holy place. In the New Jerusalem, this is a privilege granted to all the redeemed.”

Lesson 13 * March 23-29

“I Make All Things New”

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 19:6-9; 20:1-15; 21:1-8; 22:6-21; John 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 6:2-3; 1 Pet. 3:10-13.
Memory Text: “Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful’” (Revelation 21:5, NKJV).
The destruction of end-time Babylon is bad news for those who collaborated with this apostate religious system for personal benefit and gain because Babylon’s downfall means their own loss. For God’s people, however, it is good news (Rev. 19:1-6). Babylon was responsible for inducing the secular political powers to persecute and harm them (Rev. 18:24). The destruction of this great adversary means deliverance and salvation. This salvation is possible only after the total annihilation of this opponent of God and enemy of God’s people.
With the destruction of Babylon, the prayer of God’s people in the scene of the fifth seal is ultimately answered. Their cry: “How long, O Lord?” represents the cry of God’s oppressed and suffering people from Abel to the time when God will finally vindicate His people (Ps. 79:5; Hab. 1:2; Dan. 12:6-7). The Book of Revelation assures God’s people that the evil, oppression, and suffering will come to an end.
With the downfall of end-time Babylon, it is now time for Christ to come and usher in His everlasting kingdom. The remaining chapters of the book describe the conclusion of the Battle of Armageddon to explain how the destruction of end-time Babylon will actually occur (see Rev. 19:11-21). This is followed by the destruction of Satan as the great archenemy of God at the end of the millennium and of those who sided with him (Rev. 20). The end of evil means a new beginning with the establishment of God’s everlasting kingdom, which will be free of pain and suffering.
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 29.

Sunday March 24
The Wedding Supper of the Lamb
The vision begins with a jubilant rejoicing in heaven celebrating what God has done for His people and an announcement that the long awaited union between Christ and his people is about to take place.
Read Revelation 19:6-9 along with John 14:1-3. How does a wedding appropriately illustrate the long awaited union between Christ and His people?
As John described Christ’s return and his subsequent union with his people, he had ancient Jewish weddings in mind. The prospective bridegroom would go to the house of the bride-to-be for the betrothal. Upon payment of the dowry, the couple was considered married, but they could not live together. The groom would return to his father’s house to prepare a place for them. The bride remained at her father’s house to prepare herself. When the preparations had been made, the groom would return to take his bride to his father’s house, where the wedding would take place.
Two thousand years ago, Christ left His heavenly home to be betrothed to his bride on earth. After paying the dowry with His life at Calvary, He returned to His Father’s house to “prepare a place” for His bride (see John 14:2-3), while His bride remained on earth preparing herself. At the end of time, He will come back and take her to His Father’s house.
How does the symbol of the bride appropriately describe God’s people as they await Christ’s return? What does the statement that the bride was “granted” to be arrayed in fine and clean dress suggest about salvation (see Isa. 61:10; Phil. 2:12-13)?
Revelation 19:8 states that the fine and clean linen were given to the bride by Christ. This shows that God’s people do not claim any merit for their deeds. The robes of God’s people represent “the righteous acts of the saints.” They are supplied to them by Christ, not made by them, and are washed in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). Jesus told a parable about a wedding. However, one of the guests preferred to wear his own attire instead of the wedding garment provided by the king, and was expelled from the wedding (Matt. 22:8-14).
Revelation 3:18 shows that the robes provided by Christ is the greatest need of God’s people living at the time of the end. That Jesus offers the Laodiceans to “buy” from him that robe shows that he asks for something in exchange: our self-sufficiency and trust in ourselves and our good works.
Revelation portrays God’s end-time people both as the bride preparing for the wedding and the invited guests? What truth do these two symbols convey to you personally?

Monday March 25
The Conclusion of the Battle of Armageddon
In Revelation 5, John watched as Christ was bestowed with authority to rule. However, His rule has been constantly defied by Satan’s usurping claims. The time has come for Christ to fight the decisive battle against Satan and his forces and assume His rightful rule.
Read Revelation 19:11-16 along with 16:12-14. What does Christ’s name as “the Word of God” and the fact that the sword comes from His mouth suggest about the nature of the final battle?
Christ is accompanied by “the armies in heaven” who are pictured as riding on white horses and “clothed in fine linen, white and clean.” This is the robe of the end-time saints signifying their righteous deeds (see Rev. 19:8). Revelation 17:14 shows that the end-time saints will accompany Christ in the final battle. In Revelation 7, they are portrayed as the militant 144,000 ready to enter the final battle. While in reality on the earth waiting for translation (1 Thess. 4:16-17), God’s people are spiritually already in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). They are portrayed as joining Christ in defeating the enemy’s forces.
Read Revelation 19:17-21 along with 6:15-17. The link between the two texts shows that the destruction of the wicked occurs in the context of the Second Coming. The scene here reflects ancient battlefields following a decisive battle. Compare the gruesome language here with the vision in Ezekiel 39:17-21, which describes the judgment of the pagan nation Gog.
In the sixth plague, the satanic triad entices the world leaders to engage in the battle against God’s end-time people. A worldwide confederacy is formed (Rev. 16:13-16). At that point, Christ appears on the scene (Dan. 12:1) and overthrows the satanic confederacy. Revelation 6:15-17 pictures the mighty men running in panic to hide from the Lamb’s wrath. The two members of the satanic triad—the beast and the false prophet—are cast into the lake of fire. The lake of fire here refers to the earth destroyed by fire, denoting the ultimate end of all rebellion against God.
The rest of the people are killed by the sword proceeding from Christ’s mouth. Paul explains that they are destroyed by the glory of Christ’s appearance (2 Thess. 1:8-10). The whole earth now resembles a battlefield filled with dead bodies. The defeat of the evil confederacy is total and complete.
Chapter 19 describes two suppers. Readers have a choice either to eat at the wedding supper of the Lamb or to be on the menu of the scavengers at the great supper of God. All have to make a choice.

Tuesday March 26
The Millennium
The Battle of Armageddon ends with the complete defeat of the satanic confederacy. Satan’s two allies are thrown into the lake of fire while the rest of the people are slain, awaiting the final judgment. The only person left is Satan.
Read Revelation 20:1-3 along with Jeremiah 4:23-26. During the millennium, how does the desolated and depopulated earth resemble Palestine during the exile? In what way is Satan bound by chains?
The 1,000 years (or millennium) begin with the return of Christ. At this time, Satan and his fallen angels are chained. The chaining of Satan is symbolic because spiritual beings cannot be physically bound. Satan is bound by circumstances. The plagues have desolated and depopulated the earth, bringing it into a chaotic condition resembling the earth before creation (Gen 1:2). In such a state, the earth functions as Satan’s prison during the millennium. Since there are no human beings to tempt and harm, all Satan and his demonic associates can do is contemplate the consequences of their rebellion against God.
Read Revelation 20:4-15. Where are the saints during the millennium? What happens at the end of the millennium? How is Satan unchained? In what way will Satan’s ultimate defeat occur? How will the final judgment take place?
Revelation shows that God’s people will spend the millennium in the heavenly places Christ prepared for them. John sees them sitting on thrones as kings and priests, judging the world. Jesus promised the disciples that they would “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). Paul stated that the saints would judge the world (1 Cor. 6:2-3).
This judgment concerns the fairness of God’s actions towards His creation. Throughout history Satan has raised many doubts concerning God’s character and His dealings with the beings He created. During the millennium, God allows the redeemed to access the records of history in order to find answers to all questions concerning the fairness of His decisions regarding those who were lost as well as questions dealing with His leading in their own lives. At the conclusion of the millennium, all questions regarding God’s justice are forever settled. God’s people are able to see beyond a shadow of doubt that Satan’s accusations were unfounded. They are now ready to witness the administration of God’s justice at the final judgment.
Do you have some questions regarding the farness of God’s dealing in your personal life as well as in the lives of others? Does it help to know that one day we will get answers to those questions?

Wednesday March 27
“No More Sea”
With the eradication of sin, eternity begins. This earth is to be transformed into the home of the redeemed. In portraying the new earth and life on it, John draws much of the language from Genesis 1-3.
Read Revelation 21:1. In your view, why is the first thing that catches John’s attention the absence of the sea on the new earth?
The Jewish people knew three heavens: the sky, the universe, and where God dwells (see 2 Cor. 12:2). In Revelation 21:1, the earth’s atmosphere is in view. The contaminated earth and the sky cannot endure God’s presence (Rev. 20:11). The word “new” in Greek (kainos) refers to something new in quality, not in origin and time. This planet will be purged by fire and restored to its original state (2 Pet. 3:10-13).
Particularly interesting is that the first thing John observes on the new earth is that there is no longer any sea. While the oceans will undeniably cease???? to exist, the fact that John refers to “the sea” (with the definite article) shows that he had in mind the sea by which he was surrounded on Patmos, which became for him a symbol of separation and suffering. The absence of that sea on the new earth for him meant the absence of pain and suffering.
Read Revelation 21:2-8 and 7:15-17. What parallels do you see between the descriptions of the new earth and the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2? Why do you think life on the new earth is described in terms of what it will not be?
A life free of suffering and death on the restored earth is guaranteed by God’s presence among His people. This presence is realized with the New Jerusalem, “the tabernacle of God” where God will dwell among His people. The presence of God makes the city the temple of the restored earth.
God’s presence guarantees freedom from suffering: no tears, death, sorrow, crying, or pain, which are all the consequences of sin. With the eradication of sin “the former things have passed away (NKJV).” This idea was well articulated by Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, NKJV). The sisters knew that death could not exist in the presence of Christ. In the same way, the abiding presence of God on the new earth will secure freedom from the pain and suffering that we now experience in this life.
What does it mean for you personally that God will on the new earth dwell among His people?

Thursday March 28
The New Jerusalem
John now describes the new-earth’s capital. While a real place inhabited by real people, the New Jerusalem and life therein are beyond any earthly description (see 1 Cor. 2:9). The city is portrayed in terms of ancient fortified cities, the Old Testament temple, and a restored Eden.
Read Revelation 21:9-21a. What are the exterior features of the New Jerusalem? Why do you think the city is pictured as surrounded by colossal walls even though there is nothing on the new earth to harm it?
The New Jerusalem is referred to as the bride, the Lamb’s wife. In Revelation 19:7-8 this metaphor is applied to God’s people. The New Jerusalem is the place where Christ will ultimately be united with His people.
The city is surrounded by a high wall with twelve gates—three gates on each of the four sides allowing entry from any direction. This points to the universal scope of the city. In the New Jerusalem, everybody has unlimited access to God’s presence.
The city is further pictured as a perfect cube; it is 12,000 furlongs or stadia in length, width, and height. The cube consists of twelve edges. Thus, the city totals 144,000 stadia, which is the number of the totality of God’s people (Rev. 7:4). In the Old Testament temple, the Most Holy place was a perfect cube (1 Kings 6:20). The New Jerusalem thus functions not only as the temple but also as the Most Holy place. In the earthly temple, only the high priest could enter the Most Holy place. In the New Jerusalem, this is a privilege granted to all the redeemed.

Read Revelation 21:21b-22:5. What interior features of the city remind you of the Garden of Eden? What is the significance of the statement that there will be no more curse in the city (Rev. 22:3)?
The most prominent feature of the New Jerusalem is the river of water of life flowing from God’s throne (see Gen. 2:10). In contrast to the river in Babylon at which God’s people were sitting as captives longing for Jerusalem (Ps. 137), on the banks of the river of life in the New Jerusalem, God’s wandering people of all ages have found their home.
On both sides of the river is the tree life with leaves for “the healing of the nations.” This healing does not refer to disease, as on the new earth there will be no disease. It refers to healing all the wounds caused by the barriers that have torn people apart throughout history. The redeemed of all ages and from all nations now belong to one family of God.

Friday March 29
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Desolation of the Earth” and “The Controversy Ended,” pp. 653-678, in The Great Controversy, pp. 653-678.
The Book of Revelation concludes with what was introduced at the very beginning: the Second Coming of Christ in power and glory and the establishment of God’s everlasting kingdom. The return of Christ, when He will finally be united with His bride, is the climactic point in the book.
However, the book does not want to put these events in an unrealistic context. That Jesus is coming soon is the first reality. The second reality is that we are still here waiting for His return. While waiting, we must have a clear understanding of the messages of Revelation by reading it again and again until the end of all things comes. The messages of the Book of Revelation constantly remind us while waiting not to look to the things of the world but to fix our eyes on Him who is our only hope. The Christ of Revelation is the answer to all human hopes and longings amidst the enigmas and uncertainties of life. He holds the future of this world and our own future in His hands.
The book also reminds us that, before the end comes, we are entrusted with the task of proclaiming the message of His soon return, first to the members of our own family who do not have a relationship with Him, then to our neighbors, to people where we work, or as missionaries throughout the world. Our waiting for His return is not passive, but active. Both the Spirit and the church call: “Come!” (Rev. 22:17). We must join that call. It is the good news, and as such, it must be proclaimed to the people of the world.
Discussion Question:
What lessons do the description of the new earth in Revelation speak to you? How does it impact your life and your preferences in life?
Many times Christians are accused of talking much about the future and spending little time focusing on the present. How has your study of Revelation helped you understand that, while looking forward to the fulfillment of the blessed hope, you can have a fulfilling and content life today?
Revelation 1:3 promises blessings to those who listen, read, heed, and keep the words of the prophecies of Revelation. As we conclude our study of this book, what are the things you have discovered that you need to heed and keep?

Revelation Teacher’s Quarterly, Week 13, March 23-30 Analysis of Changes Made in the Editorial Process for the Teacher’s Edition

Basic theme: Revelation 19-22

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 minimal except for one major omission. I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive.

In the Lesson Themes part of the Overview, there are six themes, only one of which had any elaboration beyond the title. That is probably why my one elaboration (“The meaning of the “’new’ earth” for Lesson Theme I) was removed.

Under Main Themes I of the Commentary section, the second paragraph was removed. I include it here for your consideration. “Related to this, it is interesting that Genesis 1 describes the creation of the original earth as a recycling project rather than something built from nothing (Gen. 1:2-3). In conclusion, the total evidence related to the new earth falls short of certainty on this matter. What we do know is that God is not indebted to pre-existing matter, yet He seems rather fond of recycling.” I don’t know whether this was simply removed to save space or whether some part of it was offensive in some way. Let me know what you think.

In Main Themes II the word “metaphorical” was added to “souls under the altar.” I think that addition was a good idea. Minor edits in Main Themes III through VI were either OK or improved my original.

In Life Application 1 I wrote “While there will be no conversions in heaven, there will be an ongoing need for personal and relational growth.” This was changed to “There will be a need for coming to terms with the fact that some are there and some are not.” I think that is true, but I suspect there is even more. People will not only have to deal with who is missing, they will also likely have to deal with who is there. Imagine a concentration camp guard at Auschwitz is converted afterward and meets one or more of his Jewish victims in heaven. Do you think there might need to be some relational processing going on between them before either is fully ready to enjoy eternity? The leaves of the Tree of Life will be for the healing of the nations. Physical healing? I suspect not. More likely emotional and relational healing is in view. I can understand that such considerations may be considered too speculative for an “official” study guide, but I suspect there may be some healthy discussion about anyway that this week, so I thought I should share this perspective.

I think you can see that editing the Sabbath School lessons and their Teacher’s Editions is a challenging task. One cannot simply utilize editorial skills and Bible knowledge, there is a whole world of expectations to satisfy, both from central leadership and from the wider field of pastors and lay people. Today anyone can have a “bully pulpit” and attract a small or large segment of followers from around the church. Such groups exert pressure and sometimes affect editorial decisions. Although the results are sometimes (some would say often) disappointing from a scholarly perspective, I respect the process. As regards my own Teacher’s Edition, the outcome is probably the best that could have been expected.

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