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First Quarter 2019 • January, February, March
COMMENTARY—THE BOOK OF REVELATION
Week 5: January 26–February 1
COMMENTARY ON "The Seven Seals"
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.
Throughout the rest of this quarter’s lesson, we will be handling Revelation as it is meant to be handled: as truth and warning.
Chapter 1 is an introduction to the whole book.
Chapters 2 & 3 are letters to actual churches and also a prophetic description of the moral and spiritual condition of the Church down through to the end of the Church Age.
Chapters 4 & 5 take us to the things that will take place “after these things”, meaning the things in Chapters 2 & 3 — the Church Age. Spiritually speaking, these are a prologue to the Tribulation which starts in Chapter 6, given from heaven’s perspective.
With that introduction in mind, this from the lesson:
Thus, the breaking of the seals refers to the preaching of the gospel and the consequences of rejecting it.
The problem with this is that it is based on the idea that the rest of the book of Revelation is merely repeating Chapters 2 & 3, rather than prophecy from our perspective as well as John’s. This guts it of all the meaning and the warning of the judgments that are to come onto the Christ-rejecting world after the Church age.
The phrase in verse 1, “after these things”, is clearly referring to what has come just before in chapters 2 & 3 — the Church age. The Greek words are quite clear in the meaning and must be taken at their literal meaning or the rest of the book is whatever you want it to mean. Sadly, that’s exactly what this quarter’s lesson does.
From the lesson:
Thus, chapter 6 is about God’s people in the process of overcoming so that they might share Jesus’ throne.
Not only does this reflect the author’s, and in fact the Adventist, insistence that the rest of the book is just a repeat and expansion of Chapters 2 & 3, but it also expresses an underlying and troubling belief that “overcoming” is a process that we must accomplish.
The Christian understanding of salvation, or “being saved” is that it happens at the moment of belief in Jesus as our Savior, the
One who paid the price for our sins and made us spiritually alive by the Spirit. With this understanding, we overcome by believing and accepting the free gift of salvation by the very fact that Jesus overcame on our behalf.
1 John 5:4, 5 gives the Biblical definition of overcoming:
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world-our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
As far as our walk with Jesus goes, yes, it is a process. But that process comes after being saved and made alive in Him as we grow in our walk with Him, not, as suggested by the lesson, an ongoing process of salvation itself.
The Adventist belief, on the other hand, without an understanding of the human spirit, says that salvation is a matter of a change of mind AND an ongoing process of becoming perfect, with a little help from God. In that thought you have the alternate reality that salvation itself is progressive and must continue in an upward direction, more good than bad, more improvement than ‘back-sliding’ or it (salvation) will be lost. This ‘balance-beam’ mentality puts the emphasis on our works to finish the salvation process.
In the words of Romans 4:4, 5
Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness”
If our works before or after the moment of salvation are needed to get or to keep that salvation, then our salvation depends, at least in part, on our work. That would mean that it is no longer a gift, but is wages, or something earned by us or owed to us. It also means that we would have at least something about which to boast.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8,9).
This may seem like a small matter, but it is reflective of a major problem with the idea of salvation and a misunderstanding of the human spirit.
From the lesson:
Read Revelation 6:1–8 along with Leviticus 26:21–26 and Matthew 24:1–14. Note the common key words in these texts. What do you learn about the meaning of the first four seals on the basis of these parallels?
The words these texts have in common are: “plague”, “sword” and “pestilence”. Somehow, the author believes that any instance of these words must mean the same thing in each instance. This is a classic example of eisegesis, or reading your own ideas into the text.
In fact, Matthew 24 is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, with an accompanying long view of end times. Leviticus 26 is a warning to the Children of Israel of the consequences of disobeying the Law as set down for them by God. And, as stated in the summary at the beginning of this week’s lesson, Revelation 6 is talking about the Tribulation or, according to Chapter 4:1, what takes place “after these things” or the Church age.
They are not talking about the same thing at all, and using some of the same words does NOT necessarily tie them together.
From the lesson:
The events of the seven seals must be understood in the context of the Old Testament covenant curses
This is actually true, but probably not in the way the author thinks. Since Chapter 6 of Revelation is talking about what will happen after the Church age, everything is expressed in typically Jewish terms. It is the “Time of Jacob’s trouble” in Jeremiah 30:7. This is after the Church Age, when God turns His attention back to Israel. It will be a time of severe trouble which is used not only to turn Israel back to God and to lead them to accept Jesus as the Messiah, but also punishment on the Christ-rejecting world who hate Israel. Since it relates specifically to Israel, not the Church, Jewish terms are used.
From the lesson:
Although symbolic, Revelation 6:1, 2 is about conquest, too. It brings to mind Revelation 19:11–16, which portrays Christ as riding a white horse and leading His heavenly armies of angels to deliver His people at the Second Coming.
Once again, we see the absurd notion that any time the Bible talks about a white horse, it must mean Jesus on a white horse. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
Here is where the lesson’s author strays from the literal meaning of Revelation and turns it back into a history lesson. And here is where we will stay with the summary given at the beginning of the commentary for this week’s lesson. In that context, we are talking about what comes after the Church Age.
The first horseman is on a white horse, but a close examination of his description shows that it is clearly not Jesus.
This shows the Antichrist’s hidden agenda — his agenda is not world peace but rather world domination. He starts out working for peace but that isn’t his final plan. He goes out, Revelation 6:2, “conquering and to conquer” which is a picture of the one-world mentality which has been alive and well for some time in the background of world events.
With all the war and death in the world now, the world is ripe for the coming of someone who can supposedly bring real peace. It will come under the umbrella of a complete uniting of the world under one government by a leader who convinces everyone that he can bring true peace. We are truly weary of war and death, and he will be welcomed as the one to save the world from it, instead of looking to the Prince of Peace.
Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).
The lawless one is the Antichrist, and we know that God will destroy him in the end but not before a great delusion in which the world in general is convinced that he is the only hope for peace.
From the lesson:
The second seal describes the consequences of rejecting the gospel, beginning in the second century. As Christ is waging spiritual warfare through the preaching of the gospel, the forces of evil render strong resistance. Inevitably, persecution follows. The rider does not do the killing. Instead, he takes peace from the earth. As a result, persecution inevitably follows. (See Matt. 10:34.)
As we are looking at this as prophecy of the Tribulation, we can see that although the Antichrist says he comes to bring peace, his plan of world domination turns to war and bloodshed against all who won’t follow him. These are the ones who comes to Christ during the Tribulation and are likely killed for it.
We know this can’t be the Church.
1. In Matthew 16:18, when Jesus said that He will build His Church on the foundation of Peter’s faith, He says that the gates of hell won’t prevail against it (the Church):
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
2. Then look at Revelation 14:7:
It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him
In Matthew 16, Jesus promised that the very gates of hell won’t overcome the Church, then in Revelation, the beast is overcoming the saints. This can’t be the same people. The Bible is God’s inspiried, “God-breathed” word and cannot lie or contradict itself.
The second and third seals are the result of this: war and famine. Contrary to the lesson, famine is not symbolic of the lack of the gospel but rather literal — people starving for lack of food. Although the Antichrist comes “in peace”, his plan will ultimately remove peace and bring war. War always brings famine.
The lesson gives a very good description of the denarius and how it was a day’s wage and could feed the family for a day. Also, how the war will inflate the price of everything leading to scarcity and famine. But after this good start, the author falls back on assuming a symbolic meaning and ignores the literal meaning of what will happen.
This isn’t a description of what happened in a supposed famine for God’s word in the fourth century but rather is a clear picture of the real, literal, physical devastation of the Tribulation. Remember, in Jesus’ own words, this will be a time so terrible that if it isn’t ended by the 2nd coming, there would be no one left alive — Matthew 24:22.
From the lesson:
The scenes of the seven seals portray the future of the church. As was the case with the seven churches, the seals correlate to the different periods in Christian history.
Once again, the seriousness of the catastrophic events described here are reduced to a merely symbolic representation of the past. If you keep in mind that this is describing real events in the end-times, you see the utter devastation caused by the war and famine. 1/4 of the people living on the earth at the beginning of the Tribulation will be dead by this point.
From the lesson:
Revelation 6:6 states that “the oil and the wine” will not be affected by the famine of the third seal’s plague. Oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13, Acts 10:38), and new wine symbolizes salvation in Jesus Christ (Mark 2:22).
Although oil is symbolically used in the New Testament to represent the Holy Spirit, here the text is talking about real, literal things. Oil and wine were commodities of the wealthy in Biblical times and would seem to indicate that during the Tribulation, the very wealthy can still get their necessities and even extras. This makes the wide-scale death even more horrifying as the rich have all they need plus more while the rest are left to die. In today’s terms, this is actually a pretty good description of what happens in certain autocratic forms of government and their aftermaths.
From the lesson:
The word “soul” in the Bible denotes the whole person (Gen. 2:7).
This idea is slipped in here to prop up the Adventist’s unbiblical belief that there is no soul, only a body and breath. In this understanding, there’s no way that the 5th seal can be anything but symbolic to them. So, it’s used by the author to refer to the martyrs down through history.
From the lesson:
God’s people have suffered injustice and death for their faithfulness to the gospel. They cry out to God, asking Him to step in and to vindicate them. These texts concern the injustice done here on earth; they are not saying anything about the state of the dead. After all, these people do not appear to be enjoying the bliss of heaven.
First of all, that last sentence is a rather sarcastic attempt to ridicule the idea of an immaterial soul. Hardly worthy of a serious study of the Bible.
The Greek word for souls is the plural for the Greek psuche. It can indicate the soul or immaterial part of man but it is often used to mean “lives” or “persons”. John sees them as very much alive. Men can destroy our bodies but they cannot destroy our souls.
The word “slain” is a term used for the slaughter of sacrificial animals. This would indicate that they were not just killed but they were slaughtered. In the dictionary “slaughter” is defined as the killing of great numbers of human beings (as in battle or a massacre). This is certainly the case if 1/4 of those living on the earth at the beginning of this time are now dead. In today’s numbers that would be hundreds of millions of people!
The text’s use of “judging and avenging” do not indicate, as the author claims, the request for God to “vindicate” the dead. It’s not a call for God to bring revenge for their deaths, but it’s a cry for justice and righteousness to prevail on the earth. This fits in with Romans 2:19 where we are told not to take our own revenge but that “vengeance is Mine says the Lord”. He will enact justice on all the sin and evil in the world in His own time.
From the lesson:
The martyred saints were given white robes representing Christ’s righteousness, which leads to their vindication—His gift to those who accept His offer of grace (Rev. 3:5, Rev. 19:8).
The use of the word ‘vindication’ here unfortunate. The dictionary definition is “justification against denial or censure”. Our forgiveness of sins is not just a matter of justifying or excusing it; rather it is declaring us as if we had never sinned.
And the giving of the white robes, Christ’s righteousness, does not lead to that vindication or forgiveness; rather it is to show that the forgiveness is already done. The white robes represent Christ’s righteousness, and they are given to us as a sign of our acceptance of His righteousness.
All the questions at the end of the day’s lesson are good, but they are in the context of the strictly historical interpretation of Revelation and refer to all those martyred through history.
Once again, the setting of Revelation, starting with Chapter 6, is the time after the Church Age, during the Tribulation. While there are parallels to events in history, the setting is quite clear — this is “after these things” or the Church Age. These souls were slaughtered “because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev. 6:9) during the wars after the Antichrist takes over the earth, and they are crying out for God to bring about His justice on the earth.
The final question for the day:
“ ‘Who can endure the day of His coming?’ ” (Mal. 3:2, NKJV). How would you answer that question, and what biblical reasons can you give for that answer?
This doesn’t seem to be related to the subject and in Adventist theology it is a leading question. If you don’t believe that you can be certain of your salvation until the Second Coming, how will you know how or even if you can endure?
To answer that, I would refer you to John 6, perhaps the most hopeful, reassuring chapter there is! Jesus said:
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.
And, for those who say that this gift of eternal life is in the future, not now, see what Jesus said in John 5:24:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
And John 6:47:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.
Do you see that? Eternal life is not just something you will get in the future (assuming you toe the line here and now, keep all the 10 Commandments and do more good than bad) but when you believe, you have it! Now!
And look at 1 John 5:13 which was written to those who had already come to faith in Jesus:
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
When you believe, you have — present tense — eternal life!
His promise is so clear—all who believe on the Son have eternal life and Jesus Himself will raise him (and her) up on the last day! He promises that He will lose NONE of them. That is how you endure the Day of the Lord.
With that promise, it is clear that any “enduring” is only in the physical realm, not the spiritual. The ones who will have to endure are those who come to Christ during the Tribulation. They will be slaughtered and will have to endure. The Church, on the other hand, has the guarantee of salvation based on Jesus finished work, not our own works. (John 6: 38-40, Eph. 2:8, 9)
We don’t have to work at clinging to Jesus; rather, He is holding onto us (John 10:28, 29). Now THAT is certainly a blessed assurance!
From the lesson:
The last three signs of the sixth seal were foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:29, 30. They were to occur near the end of the “great tribulation” (Rev. 7:14), in 1798, as the harbingers of the Second Coming.
This simply doesn’t make any sense. According to this, in order to support EGW’s claims about the falling stars, the dark day and the Lisbon earthquake, we are in the Great Tribulation now? And have been since the 1700’s?
Here is where the historical interpretation is so wrong. It jumps back and forth between past and future with no consideration for the meaning of the text. This happens when you try to insert yourself, in this case the Adventist Church, into the meaning, to validate your own existence and importance.
The lesson jumps back and forth between future — the Great Tribulation — and past — 1755, 1780 and 1833 simply because that’s what Ellen White said. It makes no sense but it has to be true because she said so. Hardly “accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15)!
But if you treat Revelation as what it is, prophecy of end-times, it falls into place and makes perfect sense. Before the 2nd Coming, during the Tribulation, the signs in the stars, the dark day and a mighty earthquake will all take place over the whole world as a warning of the end and of the final judgments coming.
The first five seals are God’s judgments, brought about largely through the acts of man and the Antichrist but the 6th seal is directly the act of God Himself. Man has become convinced that he is the ruler of the world and in charge, but these judgments, apparently worldwide, will shake not only the foundations of the earth but also man’s arrogant belief in his superiority. Even through all of this, God is still trying to reach man before it is too late.
To relegate these three signs to three very localized events on earth in the past is to trivialize the impact these acts of God will have on the world.
From the lesson, quoting Kenneth Strand:
The book of Revelation picks up and expands beautifully this same theme, and thus Revelation is not by any means some sort of offbeat apocalypse that is out of tune with biblical literature in general; it conveys the very heart and substance of the biblical message.
While the work of God in the past is spectacular and amazing, the book of Revelation is most certainly not an “offbeat apocalypse” out of tune with the rest of the Bible.
All through the Old Testament, and in the New Testament, in the words of Jesus Himself, the disasters and judgments of Revelation are future, certain and cataclysmic! To discount it is to discount God’s own words and allow whatever interpretation you want to support. That would seem to be directly counter to the words of Revelation 22:18, 19:
I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
Distorting, downplaying and just mishandling the words of Revelation certainly fall under the warnings in the last chapter of the book.
By making the book of Revelation strictly historical, except parts that can’t be forced into that mold, and generally bending it to fit a preconceived theology (eisegesis not exegesis), the first two questions at the end of the lesson are senseless and useless:
Question 3, in Adventist theology, can be answered only with uncertainty. Only by keeping the 10 Commandments, particularly the 4th, by adhering to at least some of the dietary laws of the Old Covenant and by trying to do more good than bad can one even hope to “endure”. And that hope is so tenuous that they cannot be sure of their success until the 2nd Coming!
I don’t call that “hope” at all. Biblical hope is anticipation, not cross-your-fingers wishful thinking. No wonder so many give up and either work harder, try not to think about it or just chuck the whole thing.
Instead, trust in Jesus and His FINISHED work. He did it all — all you have to do is believe (John 6:35-40) and accept it on faith.
You will fail in your walk from time to time, but He and the Father hold you securely in their hands and no one can take you out of their hands (John 10:28, 29)!
When you fail — sin — you are still safe in His hands; all that has happened is an interruption in your relationship with Him. At that time, all you have to do to restore the relationship is to confess to Him (1 John 1:9). This is not being saved again, merely restoring the relationship.
Then, look at Revelation as what it is — God’s warning of the Tribulation to come. Just remember, you are safe in His hands and nothing — NOTHING — can separate you from His love (Romans 8:38, 39).