During my ministerial internship—now about half a century ago–I visited an Adventist family in Amsterdam. Our brother had just bought a large American car and I wondered what had prompted him to make this unusual purchase. Most Dutch people, if they could afford a car at all, tended to buy small European or Japanese cars. Our brother explained that he needed a large vehicle for the moment (in the near future) when he would have to flee, together with his family, because of the predicted persecution of all Sabbath-keeping Christians..He would then take his family and essential belongings to a wooded area in Sweden, where he felt he would be safer than in the densely populated western part of the Netherlands. (He seemed to have forgotten that this car would need a lot of gas, and that he might “not be able to buy or sell” while en route). Most of his fellow-believers did not take these same precautions, but I remember that, at the time, there was a rather general sense of impending doom among Adventists. Many were afraid that scary times were soon to come.
Even today many Adventist believers are frightened when they think of the difficulties that will be part of the Adventist of end-time scenario. Will they be able to stand tall during the “time of trouble”? What will happen to them when Sunday laws will make Sabbath-keeping a very risky business? And what about the close of probation and the time when they supposedly can no longer rely on a Mediator?
I am worried that in the coming quarter some of those fears may return or increase, as we study the book of Revelation in our world-wide Bible study hour. I fear that there will once again be a lot of emphasis on the dragon and the beasts, and that the kind of enemy-thinking that (I believed) was beginning to disappear will get a new impetus. Many Sabbath School members may be unaware of the fact that the study guide for this quarter has been significantly changed, at a very late stage, because church administrators discovered “serious theological mistakes” in the manuscript that had already been sent around to all Adventist publishing houses for translation and publication. Unfortunately, these changes were made to ensure that only the traditional viewpoints would be circulated.
Happily, there are a number of initiatives to point members to alternative perspectives and new ways of looking at the last Bible book. In my blog of three week ago I pointed to the weekly comments that are prepared by Pastor Werner Lange, a retired editor of the German Adventist publishing house and that are published in German and English on the website of the Hansa Conference (https://hansa.adventisten.de/aktuelles/offenbarung-diy/). An English version is also published on the website of Adventist Today (https://atoday.org). I also recommend the website of dr. Jon Paulien, who has many inspiring insights in the meaning of Revelation (http://www.thebattleofarmageddon.com).The weekly Sabbath School comments on the Spectrum website may also offer many fresh ideas.
As I study the book of Revelation in the coming months I plan to constantly keep in mind that this book is not a revelation of the dragon and the beast from the sea or the beast from the earth, but of the Lamb—Jesus Christ. I also want to keep in mind that the book begins with a vision of Jesus as he is walking between the candle sticks, which represent his churches. And that it ends with his presence in the midst of his people on the earth made new. Everything else must be related to this overall theme. Everything else is part of the pattern of Christian life that marks our pilgrimage with Christ: individually and collectively. Indeed, it is a story of ups and downs and we will meet challenges, in ever-changing constellations. But whatever happens, the Christian life can be a life of victory. That is the meta-story-line. Revelation should not give us a sense of dread, but rather a sense of destiny and victory. I hope that many who study their weekly lesson during this quarter will see something new and exciting in the Book of Revelation, and that their aim will not be to learn more about their enemies but to become better acquainted their Friend, whose revelation it is.