Drawing on Tonstad, a Reflection on Revelation

The entire book of Revelation needs to be interpreted in light of Revelation 4 and 5.[1] There the character and ways of God are fully revealed to heaven and earth. In the heavenly throne room, the question vexing the universe is asked: Who is worthy to unseal the seven-sealed scroll of cosmic history and cosmic reality?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/sabbath-school/2023/drawing-tonstad-reflection-revelation

Like Elijah’s showdown with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel near the mountain of Har-Megiddo (Armageddon), God supplied the victory with a sacrificial lamb (Genesis 22:8). (…) Many commentators present God as the agent of destruction in Revelation, thus “many readers send the bill for the calamities in the trumpet sequence—and in the world—to the wrong address.” Tonstad writes, (…) God’s wrath and judgments are faithful, trustworthy, and true because they are revelatory and restorative and not retributive or punitive.

“Like Elijah’s showdown on Mount Carmel” ? “God’s wrath” ? “Not retributive or punitive” ?

But why then leave us with these constant contradictions and conflicting thoughts, words, and images, and instead of constantly trying to minimize or symbolize them away, take them seriously at last, and acknowledge at least the possibility that they may have something to do with the author of Revelation himself, who might have kept some of that retributive mind that we see throughout the Bible beginning with Genesis:

"The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. (…) And God said (…) behold, I will destroy them with the earth. "

Genesis 6: 11-13

But also in our most fiery psalms:

“O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

Psalm 137: 8-9

“The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.”

Psalm 58: 11

And which C.S. Lewis himself famously and honestly confronted in his “Reflections on the Psalms”:

“In some of the Psalms the spirit of hatred which strikes us in the face is like the heat from a furnace mouth. In others the same spirit ceases to be frightful only by becoming (to a modern mind) almost comic in its naïveté … If we are to excuse the poets of the Psalms on the grounds that they were not Christians, we ought to be able to point to the same sort of thing, and worse, in pagan authors. . . . I can find in them lasciviousness, much brutal insensibility, cold cruelties taken for granted, but not this fury or luxury of hatred. . . . One’s first impression is that the Jews were much more vindictive and vitriolic than the pagans.”

C.S. Lewis

Why not admit and accept, or at least consider, the thought then that this may have to do with the same retributive mind that Jesus himself rebuked in his own disciples John and James, as in Elijah’s fashion, they proposed to ask for fire to descend on the Samaritan town that refuse to let Jesus through: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (Luke 9: 55-56) ?

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Perhaps this essay does not answer all the questions we may have about the book of Revelation, but they answer enough of them for me. I found it breathtakingly focused on the reality of God’s character, which is the lens we need to view all scripture through…as best as we can comprehend God’s character, that is.

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I agree…

The article twists the idea of the wrath of God, certainly seen in Rev. 14 depicting those who reject the angels’ messages as drinking undiluted wine from the cup of his wrath and suffering torment from God himself, as if God is not responsible. He is according to the revelator. Retributive justice was certainly an OT concept that the author of Revelation drew upon, especially considering the remarkable dependence of the book on the Hebrew scriptures.

If one wants to reject such a picture of God based upon their own moral conscience or conception of God, as Herold Weiss has stated on these threads, then that is fine. Just don’t twist what Revelation is saying in order to do so. Christ is the lamb, but judgement is also executed by God through him, in which his enemies are made his footstool, and ultimately eliminated. There is just too much imagery that attributes this action to God himself in Revelation, and too many references to God’s judgement of the wicked made by both testament as a whole and by Jesus himself that speak against such a wholesale rewrite of the apocalypse.


Please don’t read just the above excerpt but my entire article. I would enjoy your opinion on it.

*This is an excerpt from a larger paper, “The Three Angels’ Messages: An Antidote to the 1844 Theological Divide of Neo-Darwinism, Karl Marx, and Frederick Nietzsche,” which is available “here”

Best regards,
Ron Reece

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