Tag Archives: Revelation 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen White and the Timing of Revelation 5 (EWB 9)

There is only one statement that I am aware of in all of Ellen White’s writings that imputes unusual importance to any part of Rev 4-6 and 8-9. That statement is found in 9T 266-267. “Those who humble their hearts and confess their sins will be pardoned. Their transgressions will be forgiven. But the man who thinks that should he confess his sins he would show weakness, will not find pardon, will not see Christ as his Redeemer, but will go on and on in transgression, making blunder after blunder and adding sin to sin. What will such a one do in the day that the books are opened and every man is judged according to the things written in the books?
“The fifth chapter of Revelation needs to be closely studied. It is of great importance to those who shall act a part in the work of God for these last days. There are some who are deceived. They do not realize what is coming on the earth. Those who have permitted their minds to become beclouded in regard to what constitutes sin are fearfully deceived. Unless they make a decided change they will be found wanting when God pronounces judgment upon the children of men. They have transgressed the law and broken the everlasting covenant and they will receive according to their works.”

The above statement is part of an address read to the General Conference session of 1909 entitled “A Distribution of Responsibility” (the entire context is 9T 262-269). The first half concerns the need to make wise choices where the leadership of the church is concerned. The latter half (pp. 265-269) is a series of warnings made up largely of quotations from Matt 11:20-30, Rev 6:12-17, Rev 7:9-17, Luke 21:33-36, and Matt 24:42-51. The above statement precedes the quotation of Rev 6:12-17.

The statement is more ambiguous than we would like. It is clear that Revelation 5 is intended to play a significant role for those who are to act a part in the closing up of earth’s history. But it is not clear what that role is. Does Ellen White understand the chapter itself to be end-time? Is there an event portrayed there that is of particular importance to those who live at the end? Are there timeless theological truths there that will play their usual role also at the end? Is the passage inspirational because of its clear depiction of heavenly praise and worship? She does not say. A blank space is left, to be filled in by the reader.

One possibility lies in the mention of judgment both before and after the reference to chapter five. But this section of the address (9T 265-269) is neither an exegesis of Revelation 5 nor a theology of judgment. The previous statement associates judgment with the opening of the books (plural), while in Revelation 5 the single book remains sealed until after the scene so there is no explicit connection there. The later statement leads into the quotation of Revelation 6:12-17 where the Second Coming with its executive judgment is in view. Therefore, there is no explicit connection in her appeal to study Revelation 5 with these two references to judgment.

The soundest way to determine the reason for Ellen White’s emphasis on the importance of Revelation 5 for those who live in the last days is to read all her statements regarding that chapter. In fact, it is probably unwise to ever say “Ellen White says,” until one has looked at everything she has to say on the subject. We will attempt to do that in the next blog.

Concluding Thoughts on the Vision of Rev 4 and 5 (Enthronement 9)

Considering the biblical evidence regarding worship, how does the typical worship service in your local church compare? Is it God centered or is it centered on the worshipers? Does it emphasize what God has done or is doing (creation, cross, daily promptings of the Spirit) or what we must do? In the Bible, worship is always centered on what God has done rather than what we must do. And it is that God focus that unleashed the power of God’s original act (creation, Exodus, resurrection of Jesus) in the later situation (Exodus 15, 2 Chronicles 20, Daniel 9). When Israel recounted the mighty acts of God in their past, He acted mightily for them in the present.

Understanding and practicing this truth is the secret of unleashing God’s power in a local church. If worship seems powerless, it is because it is not centered in God. Worship is not about us, it is about God. Worship is not telling each other what we should do, it is reminding each other of what God has done.

What is the relationship between Revelation 4-5 and the Sabbath? In the vision of the heavenly throne room, worship is presented to God and the Lamb on account of creation (Rev. 4:11) and salvation (Rev. 5:9-10). In the Old Testament the Sabbath is the memorial of both creation (Exod. 20:11) and the Exodus, the great act of Israel’s salvation (Deut. 5:15). So the Sabbath points us to the mighty acts of God in creation, the Exodus and the cross.

The Sabbath reminds us that creation is solely God’s work, we had nothing to do with it, yet it affects everything we do. God made us free to live, choose, and create. The Sabbath reminds us of the Exodus, which is the model for our personal salvation. And Sabbath reminds us of the cross, where God demonstrated that He is safe to be in relationship. He does not even strike back at His creatures who are torturing Him and putting Him to death. Keeping the Sabbath is not about earning merit with God, it is a rehearsal of the mighty acts of God in creation, the Exodus and the cross. When we remember the Sabbath we are also remembering the great things God has done for us, and this is the foundation of true worship.

The Divinity of the Lamb (Enthronement 7)

We noted in the previous blog that Jesus Christ in the New Testament is included by the apostles in the one God of Judaism. He is not a “second God,” neither is He the Father Himself. He is somehow distinct from the Father, yet in the full sense included in all that monotheism asserts about the distinctions between the one God and everything else (John 1:1-5, 18). This led the church fathers to the traditional formulation of the Trinity, in which God is one, yet in another sense is three. Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human, one person with two natures. The word trinity does not appear in the Bible, but the traditional doctrine is thoroughly grounded in the evidence of the New Testament text.

One of the strongest biblical evidences for the divinity or deity of Christ is found in the progression of five hymns in the vision of Revelation four and five. The first two hymns are found in chapter four (Rev. 4:8, 11). In them praise is offered to the One sitting on the throne because He created all things. The third and fourth hymns, on the other hand, are offered in praise of the Lamb (Rev 5:9-12) because He was slain and purchased humanity for God. The fifth hymn offers worship to both the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb (Rev. 5:13). The fifth hymn is the clear climax of the series, in which the Lamb joins the Father on His throne and receives the acclamation of the whole universe.

A second feature of these hymns also highlights the climactic nature of fifth hymn (5:13). The last hymn is the climax of a grand crescendo of singing. Each hymn is offered by a larger and larger group of singers. The first hymn is sung by the four living creatures (Rev. 4:8). The second hymn is sung by the twenty-four elders (4:11). The third hymn is sung by both the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders together (Rev 5:9-10). The fourth hymn is sung by more than a hundred million angels (Rev. 5:11-12). The fifth hymn is sung by every creature in the entire universe (Rev 5:13). So the fifth hymn is the climax of a great crescendo as all attention focuses on the throne, affirming the divinity of the Lamb.

Why does the divinity of Christ matter? Because if Jesus is fully God, then the human life He lived on this earth is the most important event in the history of the human race. God Himself came down and lived among us (Rev 1:1-3, 14). In the humanity of Jesus we see the character of God on full display in a form that we can understand. This means that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the clearest revelation of God that human beings have ever had or ever could have. It means that when we have seen Jesus, we have truly seen the Father as well. If the Father Himself came down to earth and lived a human existence among us, He would be no different than Jesus was. Jesus Christ clarifies the picture of God in a way that nothing else possibly could.

The Worthiness of the Lamb (Enthronement 6)

The Lamb is brought forward as the one who is uniquely worthy to open the scroll (Rev. 5:5-6). The key qualities of the Lamb in the chapter are two-fold. The Lamb is slain, which is a pointer to His human nature. On the other hand, the Lamb is worshiped along with the one sitting on the throne (Rev. 5:13). This points to His divinity. The Lamb is represented as both human and divine, a God-man who is unique in all of history. Of all created beings (see John 1:3, 14, where it is not Jesus the person who is created, but His human nature), only the human Jesus could fully reveal the character of God and atone for human sin, because he was fully equal with God. So embedded in this symbolic vision is a profound Christology, a doctrine of Jesus Christ, who is both fully human and fully divine.

It is unlikely that the earliest Christians had the kind of sophisticated and complicated view of Jesus that the church fathers developed in the fourth and fifth centuries. But one can see the essential elements of that sophisticated view in Revelation five. Jesus is one person with two natures, one fully divine and the other fully human. It is not clear from Revelation five alone whether Jesus’ divinity was inherent to His person or whether it was somehow bestowed upon him at His enthronement. That Jesus’ divine nature was there from eternity and that His person was distinct from the Father is outlined in the opening chapter of John (John 1:1-5, 18).

The earliest Christians were Jews, strict monotheists. How did they come to accommodate a second “person” (the Greek word persona did not originally carry all the weight that the church fathers put on it) into their view of God? It is clear that they did not think in terms of two gods, that would have been a total abandonment of Judaism, something they were clearly not willing to do (Acts 15). But as they became convinced of the two natures of Jesus, they included Him in their understanding of the one God of Judaism.

This is clear the attributes applied to Jesus in the New Testament. The one God of Judaism was distinguished from everything else in the universe by four characteristics. He was the sole Creator, the unique Ruler of the universe, He had a unique name and was the only One worthy of worship. In the New Testament, all four of these characteristics are applied to Jesus. Two of these are clearly described in Revelation five. The Lamb is acclaimed as in the midst of the throne, sharing in the rulership of the universe, and is clearly considered worthy of worship (Rev 5:12-13), something that is appropriate only with God (Rev 19:10). Jesus is seen as distinct from the angels and worthy of the attributes Jews attributed only to God (Rev 19:10; 22:9).

The Meaning of the Sealed Scroll (Enthronement 5)

Students of Revelation through the centuries have some up with some 125 different explanations for the sealed scroll of Revelation 5. The more solid biblical options include a last will and testament, the constitution of Israel (Deuteronomy), a record of human history, an emblem of the Lamb’s right to rule, a record of human deeds, the Book of Life, and a list of rewards and punishments for human behavior (that would make it a scroll of judgment).

Many Seventh-day Adventists, based on a comment in a letter of Ellen White, suggest that the scroll contains the history of God’s providences, and the prophetic history of the nations and the church. If one takes that approach, the sealed scroll would represent the plan of salvation. John weeps (Rev. 5:4) because the plan of salvation will not be implemented unless someone is found worthy to open the scroll.

My own view, in harmony with Stefanovic, is that the sealed scroll must be understood in the context of an enthronement scene in heaven on the day of Pentecost. In some sense it could have elements of all the above. But in particular it represents God’s covenant with Israel (both OT and NT) that is ratified in the context of the death of Israel’s Messiah, the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Taking the scroll demonstrates the Lamb’s right to rule and to implement the covenant, including its rewards and consequences (further elaborated in the four horsemen of Revelation six). He is in control of history and implements God’s plan of salvation. The acclamation of the heavenly host (Rev 5:12-13) anticipates the great acclamation at the End (Rev 15:3-4) which affirms the character of God as a major element of the plan of salvation.

How do we know the book (Rev. 5:2, Greek: biblion) is a scroll and not more typical of books today? The codex, the form of a book where pages are glued together at one side, was an invention that took place somewhere around the time of Revelation. Before that books were rolled up scrolls or clay tablets. The form of the book in Revelation 5 and 6 is affirmed in Revelation 6:14 where the “sky receded like a scroll (Greek: biblion) rolling up.” For the author of Revelation a book and a scroll were one and the same thing. So sealing the scroll (by wrapping a piece of cloth around it and sealing it with wax) would hide the entire content of the scroll. All the seals would have to be broken before the content would be revealed. That means that the events unleashed when the seals were broken in chapter six are not the content of the scroll but events that are unleashed when each seal is broken. The scroll cannot be opened until all seven seals are broken.