Tag Archives: Rev 4-5

The Controversy Over the 24 Elders

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson 4 January 19-25

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

The Enthronement of the Lamb

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

Memory Verse: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21, NKJV).
The previous vision described Christ ministering to His people on earth. Now, the vision shifts from earth to heaven and from John’s day to the future. As we interpret these two chapters, we must remember several things. First, Revelation 4 describes the ongoing worship in the heavenly temple, but chapter 5 points to an event that took place at a specific point in time.
Furthermore, the vision of chapters 4-5 functions as an introduction to the rest of the book and provides a panoramic survey of history from the time of John until Christ’s return. As such, the scene of chapters 4-5 does not fit chronologically into the sequence of the vision. Before future history is revealed, we are given a glimpse of Christ’s inauguration into his post-Calvary ministry in heaven. In such a way, chapters 4-5 provide heaven’s perspective on the meaning of future events recorded in the rest of the book.
One may also notice that while the messages to the seven churches were written in straightforward language, from now on, the book employs a symbolic language that is not always easy to interpret. This language is taken from the history of God’s people as recorded in the Old Testament. A correct interpretation of Revelation requires a proper understanding of its symbolic language in light of the Old Testament.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The changes to the Teacher’s Edition of the Adult Sabbath School Study Guide (known popularly as the Sabbath School Quarterly) for January to March 2019 were more significant than last week, but still fairly minimal. I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, for those who don’t have access to the standard printed edition of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide or the Teacher’s Edition for this quarter, you can access them online week by week at https://www.absg.adventist.org/. 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 http://pineknoll.org/sabbath-school-lessons.