This week I am intensely engaged with the book of Revelation. The Adventist Church in Utrecht has organized a series of seminars on the theme: Finding Jesus in the Book of Revelation. The speaker is Dr. Steve Case, the leader of an independent Adventist organization in the United States that focuses primarily on youth activities. But Steve is versatile. He also teaches in the DMin program at Andrews University (Berrien Springs, USA), and, in addition, he conducts at least 3 or 4 times a year a seminar of 8 to 10 lectures on the last book of the Bible. This week such a lecture series takes place in Utrecht. People can attend the lectures physically in the Adventist church building in Utrecht, but the lectures are also streamed and they can be seen afterwards on YouTube. I have translated the material that Steve Case uses into Dutch, and have also been asked to translate the speaker simultaneously during all the sessions. A tough job, I can assure the reader of this blog, because the speaker keeps up a good pace, and each lecture takes at least an hour and a half.
Programs on the book of Revelation are a regular part of the church menu in the Adventist denomination. But Steve Case’s approach differs significantly from what you’ll hear in a typical “Revelation seminar.” This is immediately apparent from the title. The goal is to learn more about Jesus Christ through a study of Revelation. Usually, Revelation seminars focus on explaining how the prophecies of this last book of the Bible have been fulfilled over 20 centuries of history–since the first coming of Christ–and on what the period shortly before Christ’s return will be like. But Steve Case chooses a different angle. He maintains one should first try to understand what Revelation meant to Christians in the first century, when John, under inspiration, wrote down the message he had received from God and sent it to seven Christian congregations in Asia Minor. From that starting point, one must then try to discover what this message might mean for us personally, and for the community of faith of which we are members in the 21st century. Those who come to listen to Case, expecting to hear mostly about the significance of the scary beasts that are portrayed in Revelation, and who want to know more about spectacular predictions for the time of the end, may be disappointed. The next few days will not be about the misdeeds and theological errors of the Roman Catholic Church, nor about America’s role in the end times. Case keeps pointing out that the title of the book of Revelation indicates very clearly what its core is: The last book of the Bible, according to the first verse of the first chapter, is the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” Thereby the word “of” can indicate both that this Revelation comes from Christ, but very definitely also that it is a Revelation about Christ. Hence, the title of this week’s series of lectures is: FINDING JESUS IN THE BOOK OF OPENBARING.
Does Steve Case thereby deviate from the traditional Adventist interpretation of the book of Revelation? Yes, definitely! But he does not do so by shooting at that traditional interpretation. He simply looks at the text. What did it mean to the people at the end of the first century AD and how do those words have meaning for us? It is not primarily about knowing more about history or being able to construct a detailed timeline for the end times, but about whether we may gain a closer relationship with Christ.
I feel very comfortable with this approach. In the course of my working life in the Adventist Church, I have shifted quite a bit with respect to the interpretation of the books of Daniel and Revelation. This is true of many Adventist ministers, both in the Netherlands and elsewhere. In order not to cause too much of a stir, many prefer to remain silent rather than continue to defend all kinds of aspects of the traditional explanation that they have since left behind.
A number of years ago I took an extensive look at the developments in Adventism with regard to the interpretation of Daniel and Revelation . This resulted in a lecture at a meeting of the European Association of Adventist Theologians in Rumania in April 2011, which I edited into an article for the theological journal SPES CHRISTIANA last year (vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 5-24). I concluded that there is certainly a shift in the interpretation of the two books of the Bible, which from the beginning had such a special place in Adventist thinking and the Church’s proclamation of the faith. While it is true that the official church continues to insist on the so-called historical explanation, and that this approach can still be found in recent church publications, most authors have become much more cautious in their direct applications to historical persons and organizations. (Unfortunately, this is not true of several speakers and organizations on the fringes of the church. Their publications and the power points of their lectures can be immediately recognized by depictions of papal tiaras and hideous many-headed monsters.)
Steve Case has taken an approach with which I wholeheartedly agree. No doubt, however, some will raise an eyebrow. Was everything we said about the book of Revelation in the past wrong? Isn’t there more to say about Revelation than we will hear in the lectures being held this week in Utrecht? Perhaps there is. But finding Jesus in the book of Revelation is the most important thing of all. I hope that many participants this week will discover things in Revelation that will enrich them spiritually. To that goal I am happy to contribute.