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First Quarter 2019 • January, February, March
COMMENTARY—THE BOOK OF REVELATION
Week 4: January 19–25
COMMENTARY ON "Worthy is the Lamb"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Through the grace of God, we have been gifted with His Holy Word to us. In the Old Testament we have history in Genesis and Exodus, and 1 Samuel through Esther. We have instructions for living for the whole Israelite economy and for its government in Leviticus through Deuteronomy. We have poetry and ‘wisdom’ literature in the Psalms through the Song of Solomon, and prophecy in all the major and minor prophets.
The lesson says that to understand the New Testament we must understand the Old. That’s true in every way, but it brings up a concern. When one misunderstands the Old, rearranges some of it to suit oneself, inserts the Church into parts of it, and generally takes from it only what fits one’s theology, there will be serious distortions to God’s Word.
One example is the Adventist insistence on claiming part of the instructions to Israel—the Law—as applying to the Church while ignoring the parts of the Law which are clearly not for us. An example of this would be taking just part of the dietary laws while leaving out much of the Law relating to civil government, rules about clean and unclean as relates to people, and the sacrificial system.
This is done by artificially dividing the Law into moral and ceremonial sections. There is nothing in the Word of God that would allow that and it opens the door to whatever the reader wishes to impose on the Bible. James 2:10 is clear on how wrong this is:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
Another example of this adjusting and distortion is now evident in this week’s lesson as we move into Chapters 4 and 5. It becomes evident in this section from the lesson for Sabbath:
One also may notice that while the messages to the seven churches were written in somewhat straightforward language, from now on the book employs even more symbolic language that is not always easy to interpret.
While that is basically true, I can see, from reading ahead in the lesson, that the confusion between symbolic and literal is used by the author to adjust the rest of Revelation to fit Adventist theology.
So, before continuing comments on the lesson, I will restate the Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation, usually attributed to Dr. David L. Cooper:
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate text, studied in the light of related passages and the axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.
If we allow the rest of Revelation speak to us rather than distorting it to fit pre-determined beliefs, we will learn much that we need to know about what is coming. Yes, there is a lot of symbolism coming, and yes, it is based on the Old Testament but we must be careful to take it all literally except where it is obviously symbolic.
And it should go without saying that the symbols must be correctly understood. Let the Bible explain itself.
So, on to the lesson
From the lesson:
Now John’s vision shifts from earth to heaven and focuses on the “things which must take place after this” (Rev. 4:1, NKJV)— the future.
Here is a crucial omission or distortion in the lesson that seriously distorts the discussion of the rest of Revelation, at least up to Chapter 15. After saying that what comes next is “the future” it is then changed to mean just more of the history lesson.
“These things” refer to what we have just read—Chapters 2 and 3 which are not only letters to actual churches but also describe the condition of the church down to the end times.
But did you notice the one word just before the second occurrence of the phrase “these things”?
The whole verse is:
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.
In the introduction to this quarter’s lesson, the author says this:
Revelation 4:1–11:19 repeats (or recapitulates) and builds on this history of the church, using apocalyptic symbols that add progressively more detail.
Revelation12:1-14:20 is the thematic center of the book and spans the history of the great controversy from before the time of Jesus to the Second Advent.
In ignoring that one little word “after” he is able to adjust the rest of the book of Revelation to fit Adventist theology by saying that it just keeps repeating itself in talking about the history of the church, rather than talking about what happens next, after the church age. This makes it a repetitive history lesson rather than exciting prophecy of what is to come. To do this, the author has to switch back and forth between symbolic and literal to make it all fit into the Adventist box.
In Adventist theology, there was Israel, who was then replaced by the Church, then the endtimes, which they see as focusing on the Church, then the Second Coming. When you don’t see anything between the Church and the Second Coming, you have to change that part of Revelation, Chapters 4-15, and make it mean something else. They have chosen to make those chapters a repeating history lesson which robs it of its impact and true meaning.
My comments on chapters 4-15 will assume that John meant what he said when he described the vision to be about what comes “after these things” which was the Church age. He is describing the endtimes or what is commonly called the Tribulation. As we go through the next chapters, you should notice that all of the language and symbols are distinctly Jewish which indicates that it shows God’s dealing with Israel, not the Church. This is quite contrary to Adventist theology but it makes the next chapters much easier to understand and removes the need to distort, change, add to and just ignore the meaning of the words.
The first sentence in today’s lesson:
Starting in Revelation 4:1, Jesus invites John to come up to heaven to be shown a panoramic survey of history from his time until Christ’s return.
Here the author is clearly laying down his ground rules in support of Adventist theology—that the next chapters are just a repeat of chapters 2 and 3. Again, this robs it of all its meaning and changes it from prophecy to history.
From the lesson:
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 that John saw gathered in the heavenly throne room was to affirm God’s rightful rule over the universe
Once again the might and power and glory and omnipotence of God is reduced to that of an inferior god who must submit His power to a created being and try to convince other created beings—us—that He has the right to be where He is.
Not only is that serious blasphemy, but it comes out of a distortion or misunderstanding of the words used to describe God sitting on the throne.
The Greek words for sitting are two words which, when used together, indicate that He is firmly seated and in total control. He is not a weak God who must fight to keep His throne and try to convince us to come to His side. Nor does He have to fight the usurper to win back His throne. And it is ludicrous to think that He must subordinate Himself to the will and challenges of the devil.
The whole idea of the Investigative Judgment makes a mockery of the sovereignty of God and blasphemes His very nature.
At least the day’s lesson ends on a positive note:
Think about what the gospel teaches: the One who created not just us and our world, but the entire cosmos, also was the “Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12, NKJV) for us. What amazing hope does this teaching present amid a world full of pain and turmoil?
It is so sad that such praise of the almighty God is accompanied by ideas that tear down His might and power by making Him submissive to a created being.
Much is made of the 24 elders on the thrones. The author is careful to stress that the number 24 is symbolic, not literal. The reason becomes clear in the following description of the identity of the elders. They are assumed to be those who were resurrected along with Jesus and ascended to heaven with Him.
First of all, the word ‘elders’ in the New Testament is virtually a technical term for the leaders in the Church which would indicate that they are there as representatives of the whole Church.
The golden crown, stephanos in the Greek, is the crown of victory promised throughout the New Testament as the reward to believers for overcoming through Jesus Christ.
The white raiment in Scripture is consistently associated with and promised to the believers.
All of these words are those used to describe believers, overcomers, the Church. So this cannot be the Old Testament faithful who were raised with Jesus and went to heaven with Him. None of those descriptive words are ever used in Scripture to apply to them—only to the Church.
This one sentence from the lesson is closer to the truth than the author might want to admit:
The fact that the 24 elders were never mentioned before in the Bible implies that they are a new group in the heavenly throne room.
The Bible says that it is in the hand of the One on the throne while the lesson says that it is on the throne near His hand. This is either a careless mistake or an indication of a larger problem—that of changing Scripture to fit the author’s theology.
The position of the scroll is significant. The right hand of God is always a symbol of His strength and justice. God is now ready to bring judgment upon sinful man and His plans must be carried out.
This is devalued by the EG White claim that it is just a book of history:
(The little scroll is) ““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, vol. 9, p. 7.”
By insisting that the next part of Revelation is just another history lesson, the full impact of the righteous, holy and unavoidable judgments of God on a sinful world are removed. This has the result of altering our perception of the very nature of the God who is going to act. He is Holy, Almighty, Creator, Judge, Provider, Sovereign and totally in control. His judgments must be carried out and none can stop Him.
When the seals are opened, the judgments of the tribulation are released so this can't be just the history of what God HAS DONE!
Here we can see the insidious result of changing the meaning of Chapters 6—15 by turning them into a history lesson.
From the lesson:
In short, the sealed scroll 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 occur at the second coming of Christ.
God’s plan to “solve the sin problem” has already been completed and guaranteed with the resurrection of Jesus! The author’s use of the word ‘mystery’ would seem to indicate something that is not understood rather than the New Testament meaning of something that was previously hidden but now made known.
The rest of the description of the scroll and the scene in the heavenly throne room are good—until the last sentence when the “Mediator in the heavenly sanctuary” is inserted. To most Christians, that isn’t a problem but when understood in the context of Adventist theology, it is a major contradiction of the Bible.
It’s trying to put Jesus into the role of a High Priest in the order of Aaron which is contrary to Hebrews which says that Jesus is of the order of Melchizedek. See Heb. 5:10.
This is done to support the idea of the Investigative Judgment which itself denies the finished work of Christ.
Today’s lesson is doing well until it quotes Hebrews 7:25 and leaves out a most important word. Hebrews 7:25 does not merely say that Jesus lives to make intercession but rather it says He “always lives to make intercession”!
It may sound like a minor difference but in Adventist theology, Jesus will stop making intercession for His people and they will have to be perfect in order to stand before the Holy God.
From EG White:
Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil (GC p. 425).
Not only does she say that Jesus will not always make intercession for us, she also says that we must be perfect ourselves, by our own diligent efforts.
A little further down in the lesson we see this:
How can we start rejoicing, even now, in the future that awaits us?
How can we rejoice now when we think that we must be perfect and without a mediator? It isn’t possible and we know it—which may explain why there is so little anticipation within Adventist theology and in the pews of Adventist churches.
There are all kinds of problems here, starting with the first paragraph which again introduces the IJ and the supposed continuation of the Aaronic priesthood.
And in the next paragraph:
As our Mediator in the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus works to save us.
Jesus’ last recorded words on the cross tell us that His work is finished and with His triumph over death at His resurrection, we are guaranteed life in Him. To say that he is still working to save us is to call Him a liar and to make our assurance of salvation very unassured. This is further reinforced by the fact that He is portrayed as sitting at the Father’s right hand. The priests’ work was never done so they stood. Jesus’ works done so He is sitting as in Eph. 2:6.
Again from the lesson:
Read Acts 2:32–36 along with John 7:39. What hope and encouragement do you find in the fact that Jesus stands in heaven as our Priest and King?
Compare to that Eph. 2:4—6:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Jesus has finished His redemptive work and is now seated by the Father. He is not standing, doing the ongoing work of an Aaronic priest, but He is finished which is clearly demonstrated by the fact that He is sitting.
At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus is said to be standing which would indicate that He is about to begin the work of judgment. Until then, as in Ephesians 2, He is seated at the right hand of the Father, having finished His work in our behalf.
The lesson today keeps pounding home the message that Jesus is our Priest—reinforcing the Adventist confusion over just what kind of priest He is.
The last sentence before the questions is this:
Nothing else we preach is more important than the Cross and what it teaches us about God.
In typical Adventist teaching, the cross is crowded out by the Sabbath, health laws, food laws, the 10 Commandments—and everything else that we must DO to be saved.
Ask anyone who has been through the Revelation Series, and they will tell you that only one night is devoted to talking about Jesus while the rest is all about the scary images and beasts and threats about the mark of the beast.
Here is a link to an excellent article written by Chris Lee who attended one complete series and reported on the message given:
Ask an Adventist what he or she believes and you will probably hear about the Sabbath, vegetarian diet, healthful living and the 10 Commandments. Again, all things we must do to be saved.
Question #2 at the end also asks that we read two verses:
Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created (Revelation 4:11).
And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth (Revelation 5:9, 10).
And then asks this: “How is the Sabbath, and what it teaches, an expression of these two wonderful truths about our God?”
I would answer, ‘Nothing’ as that is not what is taught by the Sabbath. It was given to Israel as the weekly, repeatable sign between Israel and God to indicate that they would continue to honor the covenant He made with them. Their weekly rest on the Sabbath pointed them forward, as in fact all of the Law pointed, to when the Savior would come. After He came and perfectly fulfilled the Law on our behalf, our rest is now in Him, showing that we trust (rest) in Him and His finished work and that we will no longer have to work to be saved.
This kind of unsupported, un-Biblical assumption is often inserted into Adventist writings which tends to give it legitimacy without any actual Biblical support. After a while, the eye just glides over it and approves without ever checking to see if it is true.