Q & A Revelation 101

During our series Reveltion 101 – Finding Jesus in the Book of Revelation, attendees have been given the opportunity to ask questions of Dr. Steve Case. These questions and his answers have been included here.

From Session 1 &2

Question 1: You’re on a long journey of study and have presented ideas that are new to traditional SDA teaching on Revelation.  You’ve drawn on information about history and other things outside of the Bible.  If I want to explore this more, what would you recommend—things that have helped you the most?

Answer: From Session 2, I would say the things that has helped me the most is Key #7:  Jesus changes everything.

This is indeed the most important key, and that’s why we saved it for the last of the seven keys.  Spend time talking and listening to God.  Ask Jesus to reveal himself to you in the Book of Revelation.  I believe he is eager to do so.  Information about history or other resources aren’t nearly as important as hearing from Jesus.  I’m not saying this to be “politically correct” or “spiritually correct.”  I really believe talking to Jesus and then taking time to listen to him is the primary way to explore Revelation.  I have done this and I continue to do it.

I avoided the Book of Revelation for two decades after I burned out on my predictions not coming to pass.  For the past eight years, I have been immersed in this book with a whole new enthusiasm.  I have read a number of Bible commentaries, some with very different perspectives than what I have, and some that I disagree with for various reasons.  I continue to learn—both from what I agree with and from what I disagree with.

The three scholars that I’ve found to be most helpful are:  Jon Paulien, Ranko Stefanovic, and Jacques Doukhan.  You can Google any of these names and see resources they have made available from their decades of study of the Book of Revelation and other resources that relate to it (such as history and other things outside of the Bible).

As you read, keep asking yourself, “What does this tell me about Jesus?”  If your study in Revelation doesn’t reveal Jesus, then something is wrong.  If it does, then you’re on the right track.

Question 2: How can I get a handout of all of this information that you’ve presented in these first two sessions?  I need to study this over and over.  It’s too much for me to grasp hearing it for the first time.

Answer: Yes, you can get a handout of the first two presentations.  In fact, the Peachtree City SDA Church made available to each person present a complimentary copy of the 75-page booklet 7 Keys for Finding Jesus in the Book of Revelation.  This is the same material I presented in the first two sessions.  This booklet will allow you to go at your own speed and repeat portions that would be helpful to repeat.

I’d be happy to dialogue with you about any portions that need more clarification, or areas in which you still have questions.

Please accept my apologies for dumping so much new material on you.  My wife often tells me, “You’ve been neck-deep in this for almost a decade, so don’t expect other people to understand all of it the first time they hear it.”  You’ve proven the wisdom from my wife’s admonition.

I’m hopeful that as we use these seven keys as we begin our study of the entire Book of Revelation, that it will become more familiar, and that Jesus will indeed become the focus on the book that claims to be a revelation of him.

Questions from Session 4

Question: Would God save Satan if Satan asked for forgiveness?

Answer: I think so.  There are some people who say that Satan has had his chance for forgiveness and he doesn’t get any more chances.  This might be because Satan seemed to personally be responsible for killing Jesus.  Some might consider this the “unpardonable sin”—a sin that God cannot forgive.

According to Revelation 20:10, Satan will one day be destroyed in “the lake of fire.”  That makes is sound like he won’t receive forgiveness.  But does that mean that’s because Satan doesn’t ask for forgiveness or because God won’t give it to him?

Some quote Hebrews 6:4-6 (NIV), which reads:  “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

But as Jesus was nailed to the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgiven them, for they don’t know what they are doing (Luke 23:24).  They didn’t even ask for forgiveness, yet Jesus prayed for them to receive it.

In several places in the Bible we can read that “every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue will confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord” (see Phil. 2:10-11; Rev. 5:13; Isaiah 45:23).

When Jonah preached in Nineveh, his message was that God would destroy Nineveh in 40 days (Jonah 3:4).  The end of the chapter explains that God saw they had stopped being evil, so God had mercy on them and didn’t carry out the destruction he had threatened.  Jonah’s response shows he was more interested in being right and those in Nineveh being destroyed than he was merciful like God is merciful (see Jonah 4:2-4).

I think that if Satan asked God for forgiveness, God would forgive him.  That’s what he keeps doing.  According to 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us, and to cleanse us from every wrong.”  I don’t think we’re the ones who determine when time runs out for Satan.  And God seems to love to forgive those he has created, including Satan.

Question: Who are the 24 elders and who are the 4 living creatures found in Revelation 4 and 5?

Answer: Let me address these two groups, one at a time.

The 24 elders have several characteristics the provide some clues.  They are dressed in white, an indication of God’s faithful people (see Rev. 3:4-5, 18; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14).  These 24 elders are mentioned 12 times in Revelation (Rev. 4:4, 10; 5:5, 6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4).  They also have stephanos victory crowns on their heads, which they cast before the throne as part of their worship of God.  They have harps (musical instruments for praising God like David did), as well as bowls of incense representing the prayers of God’s people.

What is the significance of the number 24?  With 12 being “the kingdom” number, it quickly can be factored into 12 + 12.  That could match the symbolism of God’s people in the Old Testament (the 12 tribes of Israel) and God’s people in the New Testament (the 12 apostles).  In Matthew 19:28, Jesus told Peter and the rest of the 12 disciples that when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, they would sit on 12 thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel.  There is your combination of 12 + 12.

For Seventh-day Adventists, who believe that when a person dies they “sleep” in their graves until the resurrection when Christ returns, the idea of 24 redeemed people from earth being in heaven when Christ was enthroned after his ascension in AD 31 can be problematic.  SDAs are quick to affirm that Enoch walked with God and is now in heaven.  Elijah was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot without ever dying.  And Moses experienced resurrection and went to heaven following his death on the borders of Canaan.  In fact, it was Elijah and Moses that met with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration to encourage Jesus shortly before his crucifixion (see Matthew 17:1-9).  But that doesn’t total 24.  Few recall that when Jesus died and there was a great earthquake, many tombs were opened and some people were resurrected (see Matthew 27:50-53).  Connect that story with Paul’s account that when Jesus ascended to heaven, he took captives in his train (see Ephesians 4:8), could it be that this collection of the redeemed entered heaven early as a foretaste of those who will be resurrected when Christ returns to earth?

The number 24 could have a different meaning with the Old Testament root of 24 groups of priests who served in the temple on earth (see 1 Chronicles 24:2-18).

What about the four living creatures?  The number four immediately calls to mind the symbolic meaning of the whole earth.  Like the 24 elders, they have harps and bowls full of incense.  But when you consider Old Testament roots for what we find in Revelation, we notice they look like the same four living creatures found in Ezekiel 1:4-10 and 10:14.  They also have many eyes, symbolizing they see everything that happens on earth.  The four unique faces of lion, ox, eagle, and man have creatively been associated with many things, such as the noblest creature (lion), the strongest (ox), the wisest (man), and the swiftest (eagle).  You could do a similar thing by calling each of them kings, such as the king of the forest (lion), king of the field (ox), king of the air (eagle), and king of creation (man).  Some have gone so far as to associate these four living creatures with the four Gospel writers:  Matthew (man), Mark (lion), Luke (ox), and John (eagle).  The reasons given don’t sound very convincing to me.

I mentioned during Monday night’s session that following the construction of the wilderness tabernacle, the 12 tribes of Israel camped in four sections around the sanctuary, and they were clustered in four groups with a standard for each group that also matched these four symbols (lion, ox, eagle, and man).  Numbers 2:1-31 describes it in this manner:

East:  Judah, Issachar, Zebulun (lion)

South:  Reuben, Simeion, Gad (man)

West:  Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin (ox)

North:  Dan, Asher, Naphtali (eagle)

The tribe of Levi was spread around the tabernacle in all four sections.

The Bible doesn’t specify the symbols on the banners for each of the four groupings around the tabernacle listed above; just that they had family banners (Numbers 2:2).  That comes from Jewish tradition outside of the Bible.


Questions from Session 5

Question:  In Exodus, at practically every turn, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart before having Moses bring a plague.  Does God harden the hearts of men in the same way during the tribulation?

Answer:  I’ve noticed the Bible indicates repeatedly that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  That raises the question of the fairness of God—if God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, how can Pharaoh be held responsible for something out of his control?

The story of the plagues in Egypt can be found in the early part of the book of Exodus.  I counted seven times that the Bible says, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” and two times that Pharaoh’s heart.  Here are the references:

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart

Ex. 4:21      God predicted this before Moses arrived back in Egypt

Ex. 7:3        God predicted it when Moses arrived in Egypt; before he saw Pharaoh

Ex. 9:12      Following the plague of boils (Egyptian magicians affected, too)

Ex. 10:1      Following the plague of hail

Ex. 10:27    Following the plague of darkness

Ex. 11:10    After announcing the death of the firstborn, but before it happened

Ex. 14:4      After the Israelites left Egypt, but before the Red Sea

  Pharaoh hardened his own heart

Ex. 8:15      Following the plague of frogs

Ex. 8:32      Following the plague of flies

Pharaoh’s heart remained hard (by God or by Pharaoh?)

Ex. 7:13      After Aaron’s staff/snake ate the staff/snakes of Pharaoh’s magicians

Some people have explained this by stating that God is like the sun that sends warmth to the earth.  If you are made of clay, you will harden when the sun shines on you.  If you are made of wax, you will soften when the sun shines on you.  That seems to satisfy some people, but I don’t find it that satisfying.  I didn’t make me; God did.  So why did God make me out of clay or why did he make me out of wax?  It seem to still fall on God as the one who’s responsible; not me.

Besides the specific statements, let’s also consider the historical context.  The Pharaohs of Egypt have kept God’s people in slavery for more than 400 years.  Where’s the justice in that?  But having this kind of power for so many generations can easily lead a person to think they will always have dominion over another group of people.  This was part of the reason why Moses didn’t want to return to Egypt to lead God’s people out of slavery to the Promised Land.  But God predicted Pharaoh’s heart would be hard (what a surprise!) and that’s when Moses should tell him right from the start that Pharaoh should let Yahweh’s people “Yahweh’s firstborn son” leave to worship Yahweh.  And when the predictable response would be, “No,” Moses was to notify Pharaoh that Yahweh would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son.  This was more than simply a death.  The death of the firstborn indicated the end of a family line.  Pharaoh’s dynasty would come to an end (see Exodus 4:21-23).

Indeed, the reflex response of Pharaoh was, “Who is the Lord (“Yahweh”), that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord (“Yahweh”) and I will not let Israel go.”  In other words, your god, Yahweh, is not god to me.  That’s when Pharaoh make life even harder on the slaves (see Ex. 5:6-21).  Life became so bad for the Israelites that Moses told God, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me?  Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

This was not a quick fix.  It took much more time and a lot of hardship for both the Israelites and the Egyptians.  This turned out to be a standoff between Pharaoh as god and Yahweh as God.  Notice some of these verses in the unfolding story:

Exodus 7:5, “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”

Exodus 8:10 (NLT) Moses speaking to Pharaoh, “Then you will know that no one is as powerful as Yahweh our God.”

Exodus 9:13-21.  This passage shows that it was indeed a showdown, but also that God was giving opportunity for people to obey.  Instead of wiping out the Egyptians, he instructed them and gave them the chance to not be hurt by the plagues if they would simply obey Yahweh.  Notice this message before the plague of hail:  “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.  For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth.  But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.  You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go.  Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now.  Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every person and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’” Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside.  But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field.

The story continues along these lines until Pharaoh finally acknowledges that Yahweh is God.

The same type of thing happened later with Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel chapter 4), another powerful ruler who dominated God’s people, but had to learn the hard way that Yahweh is God over all.

You asked if God does this type of thing during the tribulation.  I’m assuming that you mean the time mentioned last night in Revelation 7:14 in describing the great multitude.  “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

We saw with the seven seals and seven trumpets that times of difficulty are for the purpose of turning people to God.  When the seven plagues come in Revelation 16, those opposed to God refuse to repent.  Prior to that, people are invited to “come out of Babylon” so you won’t receive her plagues (Rev. 18:4).  It sounds like most don’t; but some do.

It’s not until Revelation 22:11 that we read, “Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”  It seems that God is far more interested in wining people over to his side than to harden their hearts against him.  The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel wrote, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  I think that’s what God wants to do for everyone, whether you’re Pharaoh or a common, everyday person in America.