Timeout: After the Thousand Years

This will be my next-to-last TIMEOUT. It has three concerns. First, does history — and history as Revelation presents it — have a punitive logic? This seems to be a big item in the Sabbath School lessons Seventh-day Adventists study this quarter all over the world. Does retribution operate the way presented in our study guide? If the scenes of violence are not instigated by God, what are they?

Second, the lessons push the view known as “historicism.” I shall not revisit the merits of the historicist approach again, but I want to assess the priorities. Does the interest in history compromise theology? Two elements stand out in the historicist version found in the lessons. One is preoccupation with the Roman Catholic Church, the “Beast from the Sea” (Revelation 13:1). The other is an unsubtle wish to see the Seventh-day Adventist Church featured in the last book in the Canon (10:5-7; 12:17; 14:6-12; 19:10). When I ask whether our interest in history compromises theology, I have two pitfalls in mind. With respect to the evil depicted in Revelation, there is a tendency to make an alleged instrument of evil, notably the papacy, eclipse the Dragon, the instigator of evil. With respect to the good described in Revelation, there is a corresponding tendency to allow the witness of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to encroach on God — as God is revealed in the testimony of Jesus. If these impressions are correct, we are short-selling the message of this book, and we could be in deep, deep trouble.

Third, one of the most intriguing elements in the book is “the thousand years,” mentioned six times in Revelation 20. “The Millennium” gets one page in the lessons (March 26). It deserves more than that.

Punitive Logic

According to the Quarterly, we travel through territory replete with retribution by the time we get to the millennium. There is soft retribution in the red, black, and sickly green horses in the seal sequence — described as “the consequences of rejecting the gospel.” There is harder retribution in the trumpet sequence: “the trumpets herald judgments against the inhabitants of the earth.” With the seven bowls, there is retribution without restraint.

With the cessation of Christ’s intercession in the heavenly sanctuary, the destiny of each individual is forever determined. The time has come for those who have spurned the gospel to experience God’s wrath in its fullness.

The unbearable pain inflicted by the plagues does not soften the hearts of unrighteous humanity so as to change their rebellious attitudes. Instead, they curse and blaspheme God, who executes these plagues. Nor do any of them repent.

The proposed scenario is stark. 1) The door of mercy closes. The last train pulls out of the station. Those who are left behind no longer have the option of changing their minds. 2) God’s wrath is poured out, resulting in “unbearable pain.” Who is doing it? God — that is who. 3) The plagues do not “soften the hearts of unrighteous humanity so as to change their rebellious attitudes.” Why don’t they change their minds? They can’t, of course, because it is a premise of the plague sequence that a change of heart is not on offer. Why should we even say that they don’t change their mind when change is not an option? Those who see God-ordained cruelty in this view, may have a point.

Why then is the execution of the last plagues necessary? The reason is found in the underlying theme of the book of Revelation: the wicked must face the righteous judgments of God. In the scene of the opening of the fifth seal, the martyred saints cry out for vindication. Their cry symbolizes the perennial plea of God’s people throughout history for deliverance from rebellious humanity. It is now in the pouring out of God’s final wrath that the prayers of God’s oppressed people are being answered. The wicked must experience the righteous judgments which are appropriate to their sins (cf. Revelation 16:5-7).

Is this really the case? Is this what our church wants to say to the world? Another option lies at hand — that God is not doing it. The attribution in the bowl sequence misses the slander that takes place in the text (16:10-11) and its interpretation. It misses the conflict aspect — what the other side is doing. It misses the theme of revelation as exposé that runs through the seals, the trumpets, the bowls — all the way to the end of the millennium. It compromises “the climax of prophecy” — God revealed in the Lamb that was killed with violence (5:6). It makes it seem like “an eye for an eye” is the teaching of the last book of the Bible, recalling that it is not the teaching of the hard-fought corrective in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-49; cf. Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:21).

It restores lex talionis as the logic of Revelation, against the emphatic teaching to the contrary in the Book of Job. This point matters greatly. If Revelation’s concern is to show how the wicked “must face the righteous judgments of God” because of what they do to the righteous, Job’s concern is the opposite: how can it be that the righteous man suffers? Like Job, Revelation takes the harder question seriously, carrying on where Job left off. It takes Job’s theodicy question a notch higher by making it the reason for the crisis in the heavenly council. (I have explored this at length in God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense. To those who have tagged along in this series and don’t have the book, I hereby offer it to you for free. Send me your address at sktonstad@gmail.com, and I will send you a copy. You will owe me nothing, but you will be obligated to read chapter 14 in the book. If you able, I encourage you to put $25 in the offering plate [the Amazon price] for the church budget of your local church. Or buy a subscription to Spectrum).

“Give back to her as she herself has given, and double to her double for her deeds; in the cup she mixed mix double,” we read in the judgment on Babylon (18:6, translation mine). As a measure of fairness, giving back double is dubious. The premise of lex talionis in the Old Testament is proportionality: the punishment must fit the crime (Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:21). In Revelation, the exclamation conveys seriousness as well as certainty, and the dis-proportionality makes a non-legal point that reflects the way things work in the real world. The cry to “double to her double” is the cry of the mob in the street as it bears down on the victim. What Babylon dished out will come back to her, and it might come back in double measure because the cycle of terror escalates, spinning out of control.

What is the logic of history, then, if it is not punitive? Revelation knows what it is and bears a title to match it. The logic is revelatory. This option is thrown at us from the first word, and it is repeated over and over in all the openings (4:1; 11:19) and disclosures throughout the book. A similar logic of exposé is highlighted by Ellen G. White in a meditation on the meaning of the death of Jesus. “Yet Satan was not then destroyed,” she says. “The angels did not even then understand all that was involved in the great controversy. And for the sake of man Satan’s existence must be continued. The principles at stake were to be more fully revealed.” This view of God’s disposition resonates well with the notion of necessity in Revelation (1:3; 20:3). Time continues not because of a punitive yearning but because revelation has yet to run its course.

History and Theology

Above, I have hinted that the Quarterly’s interest in history puts theology at risk. Let me review two examples of how this works on the bad side of the conflict. 1) In the trumpet sequence, we have a logic of retribution, and we have dubious claims about historical referents: the first two trumpets “herald judgments upon the nations that crucified Christ and persecuted the early church: rebellious Jerusalem and the Roman Empire”; the third and fourth trumpets “portray heaven’s judgment against the apostasy of the Christian church in the medieval period”; the fifth and sixth “describe the warring factions in the religious world during the late medieval and post-Reformation periods.” I don’t mean to be malicious when I call this a sweeping and speculative connection between the text and history. But this is the lesser sin. The greater sin is to emasculate the most head-spinning, bizarre rhetoric in the book for a shallow purpose. Please read Revelation 9:1-21 again — of the fallen star, its descent into the abyss, the darkness that arises from the abyss only to become locusts, the locusts that become scorpions, the scorpions that become horses with heads in the front and at the rear end, heads that look like lions and have women’s hair. I know I am repeating myself, but I hope to see better days for this book. The bizarre imagery in the trumpets is Revelation’s representation of the demonic reality at work in the world. Our lesson and its historicist tenor compromise the theology of these symbols for an utterly unsatisfactory lesson on history.

2) This week we have the woman and the scarlet beast in Revelation 17 as our lesson. In the preterist interpretation, this beast represents the Roman Empire and the return of the emperor Nero. Josephine Massynberge Ford faults this interpretation for making it appear that “Rome sits upon Rome.” In the historicist application of these images, we are hard pressed to distinguish between the woman and the beast. Historicists, too, have “Rome seated upon Rome” and a time period to match it.

Revelation 17:3 describes the scarlet beast in terms similar to the sea beast of Revelation 13, which made war with, and overcame, God’s people (Rev. 13:5–7). It was this earlier period of persecution that caused the pure woman to flee into the wilderness during the prophetic period of 1,260 days/years, from a.d. 538 to 1798 (Rev. 12:13, 14). Though living in an age of ecumenism, Protestants would do well to remember the terrible persecution of the past, because, according to prophecy, something similar, but only worse, will happen again.

What is the theological and historical counterpoint to God? Our lesson is now in an all-in mode to put the Roman Catholic Church at the center.

The scarlet beast is identified as the one that was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. This tripartite phrase is, first of all, a counterfeit of the divine name, Yahweh — “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:4, NKJV; see also Rev. 4:8). It also further points to the three phases of existence through which the beast has passed:

(1) The beast “was.” It existed in the past. Its prior activities lasted for the prophetic period of 42 months, also known as 1,260 days/years (see Rev. 13:5 and Lesson 9, Sunday).

(2) “Is not.” With its deadly wound (see Rev. 13:3), the beast went into its nonexistence phase, at least, as a persecutor, in 1798. It vanished for some time from the world scene; yet it survived.

(3) Finally, with the healing of the deadly wound, the beast will regain its power and exert it in full satanic rage.

Let me ask this: Is the Roman Catholic Church the ontological counterpoint to the one “who is and who was and who is to come”? Is there no better candidate? There is surely a better one — the star who fell from heaven to earth (Revelation 9:1-11; Isaiah 14:12-20). Just as Nero is too small for the force and range of these symbols in the preterist fallacy, the pope is, too. In the eyes of the heavenly council, before whom all this takes place, there can be no doubt who is who.

“Is not.” We have heard it said in our time that it matters what “is” is. It matters here, too. Whatever “is” is, it is present tense. We have a phenomenon that “is not” at the time when Revelation was written. Revelation was not written in the eighteenth century. “Is not” — in the present tense and from the vantage point of John — is by this criterion not 1798 when “the beast went into its nonexistence phase,” as the lesson seems to envision. “Is not” in present tense works for the Dragon, who stages a vanishing act that fits the story line in John (12:17; 13:1).

In our lesson, it is all about the papacy.

The seventh kingdom that “has not yet come” is the sea beast of Revelation 13 — the papacy, which dominated and harmed God’s people — that was to come after the time of John and after the fall of the pagan Roman Empire. History has powerfully attested to the truth of this prophecy, written many centuries before the events unfolded.

John is further told that the scarlet beast is an eighth world power, although it is one of the seven heads (world powers). Which of the seven? Because these heads are sequential in time, the eighth must be the seventh head that received the deadly wound. It is at the time of this eighth world power that the scarlet beast appears, carrying and advancing the goals of the harlot Babylon. Today, we live at the time of the healing of the deadly wound. This eighth world power will appear on the scene right before the end and will go to perdition.

If I were the Devil, I would be offended to see myself marginalized and overshadowed by lesser phenomena like Nero or the pope. But I would mostly be happy because my kind thrives on anonymity and concealment. Our interpretation compromises the force of the symbols in this chapter just as it does in the trumpet sequence, assigning a role to the Roman Catholic Church where Revelation has Satan in its sight. The one “who was and is not” works as a contrast between God and Satan; it works as a representation of Satan because he ascends from the abyss; it works for the present tense “is not”; it works for the Dragon that staged a vanishing act (12:17); it works by the fact that “he is an eighth but also of the seven” (all of them); it works marvelously by twice echoing the prediction that “he goes to self-destruction” (Revelation 17:8, 11; Isaiah 14:20). Most of all, it works because the heavenly council is more interested in this character than in Rome or America.

We have prioritized a historical concern (and prediction) that has made us less interested in the theological core issue in the cosmic conflict. Our field of vision is narrowed into a preoccupation with the papacy and Rome at the expense of other things in history. Try as we do to make 1798 an important event, the date did not change much. Try as we do to make Mussolini’s concordat with the Roman Catholic Church in 1929 a landmark in history, it is at best a small bump in the road. Meanwhile (back at the farm), Satan fired off other manifestations of the demonic in history, such as the Holocaust and Hiroshima, and he is not done. Against our narrow prophetic horizon, history is an offense simply by continuing without regard for our belief that it should end. Here I am, writing this TIMEOUT on a sunny Friday morning in Weimar, Germany, the home town of Goethe and Schiller, and the town where Nietzsche spent the last three years of his life. That, too, is an offense because Nietzsche was born in 1844.

Just as the Roman Catholic Church eclipses Satan with respect to the activity on the bad side in the conflict, the Seventh-day Adventist Church competes with God for space on the good side. We have written ourselves into Revelation’s timeline and cast of characters (10:5-7; 14:6-12; 12:17; 19:10). On Revelation 12:17, we still make the following claim:

Therefore, “the testimony of Jesus” refers to Jesus testifying to the truth through His prophets, just as He did through John (Rev. 1:2). Revelation shows that at the time of the end, God’s people will have the “spirit of prophecy” in their midst to guide them through those difficult times, as Satan will make every effort to deceive and destroy them. As Adventists, we have been given that gift of prophetic insight in the ministry and writings of Ellen G. White.

This text is not about our witness to Jesus or a prescient technical term for an inspired writer in the nineteenth century. Instead, it speaks of the constancy of God that was demonstrated in the costly testimony of Jesus. That testimony, in turn, has the Lamb that was “killed with violence” as its focal image (5:6). That testimony solves the crisis in the heavenly council. As noted in a previous submission, it belongs to a set of paired phrases scattered throughout Revelation.

the word of God as explained by the testimony of Jesus Christ (1:2)

the word of God as explained by the testimony of Jesus (1:9)

the commandments of God as explained by the testimony of Jesus (12:17)

the commandments of God as explained by the faithfulness of Jesus (14:12)

the testimony of Jesus as it explains the word of God (20:4).

I say it again: There is a melody in this book, a theme, even a refrain. God has been explained in the world through the witness of Jesus. We will lose nothing if we put ourselves at the periphery in these texts or say with John the Baptist, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). We will lose nothing if we say that “the testimony of Jesus” is the testimony Jesus gave. Not one of the key affirmations of the Seventh-day Adventist witness will suffer if we scale back our claims about ourselves. Conversely, much will be gained. In a world that is perplexed over the sense that God is absent, it matters little what we are. (We saw the house where Nietzsche spent the last three years of his life this morning, and Nietzsche said that God is dead). It matters not what we are, but it matters what God is — as God has explained himself in “the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:17).

After the Thousand Years

I grew up in a small inland village in the south of Norway. We were the only Seventh-day Adventists in the village, caught between a sizeable contingent of conservative Lutherans who looked on us with contempt and another sizeable contingent of secular people who were quite nice to us. My father was a colporteur and an activist who did not like to take “no” for an answer. I was no more than eight years old when he bought a large tape recorder and a slide projector. Soon thereafter we received a series of slides and tapes recorded by the president of the West Nordic Union of Seventh-day Adventists, Alf Lohne. He was a gifted speaker and a tireless innovator who later became a division president and a vice-president of the General Conference. In his retirement, I got to know him well.

My parents invited fellow villagers to our home to watch and listen to Lohne’s presentations. A few people came, far fewer than my father had hoped but enough to make it meaningful. I have no clear memory of the topics in the series except for one, on “the thousand years” or, as it says in Norwegian, “Tusenårsriket” (20:1-10).

Perhaps my fascination with the topic says a lot about me, but I remember it well. I can still summon pastor Lohne’s winsome voice and the “pling” of the recording that reminded us to advance to the next slide. Here, sixty years later, nothing has changed. Alf Lohne could have written these lessons, at least the one on “Tusenårsriket.” And all would be fine. No, Satan is not bound by force but by circumstances (20:1-2). Yes, the redeemed are in heaven, as Lohne and our lessons prove by other texts in the New Testament. Yes, the New Jerusalem descends to earth after the thousand years. Yes, the wicked will burn in fire that falls from heaven (20:7-10), but they will not burn forever. This was the hard part for pastor Lohne and for my father, and few in our village were convinced. They had the third angel’s message to prove that it is “forever” (14:9-11), and they had a resilient belief in the immortality of the soul. The series in our living room did not win any converts, but it created a memory for me that I still hold dear.

Our lesson says that after the thousand years, the redeemed “are now ready to witness the administration of God’s justice at the final judgment of the lost.” I take this to mean that we should believe that the redeemed will see and accept that God burns the wicked alive in fire that falls from heaven. The thousand years have prepared them. This was pastor Lohne’s view, too. I cannot remember when it ceased to be my view.

I have reached my self-imposed word limit and will not have space for the seven or eight reasons I have in my forthcoming commentary to counter this entrenched view. Here in Weimar we have had a busy day seeing the houses of Goethe and Schiller, Albert Schweitzer and Franz Liszt, Nietzsche and (for a short time) Hans Christian Andersen. We have also been to Buchenwald, where Dietrich Bonhoeffer served time before he was executed at Flossenburg. The scene that moved us the most was a snippet from the movie that we saw with fifty German school children who were there today. After the camp was liberated by American soldiers, they forced one thousand of the remaining citizens of Weimar to go to the camp to see the horror for themselves — for the revelation, not for the retribution.

If God is not dead, as Nietzsche asserted, God has left evil on a long leash. The most counter-intuitive disclosure in the book we are studying, other than the Lamb that was killed with violence (5:6), is the report that “after the thousand years, Satan must be released for a short time” (20:3). This is not what most responsible law enforcement agencies would do. And yet God does it, and God must have a good reason. I have grappled with this in Saving God’s Reputation and in my forthcoming commentary. In my reading, the plot that culminates in Satan’s release is anchored at the beginning (Isaiah 14:12-20; Genesis 3:1-6). When the voice of the Ancient Serpent was heard in Genesis, it made lack of freedom a characteristic of God’s government (Genesis 3:1). In Revelation, it is the logic of freedom that leads to Satan’s release. Within the logic of freedom — precisely the quality said to be lacking in God — Satan goes forth to work his undoing (Revelation 20:7-9).

This is revelation at work, not retribution.

Further Reading:

Revelation: For Re-Readers Only, January 5, 2019

Apokalypsis, January 8, 2019

Revelation and the Neighborhood, January 14, 2019

Timeout: Revelation and the Crisis of Historicism, January 18, 2019

Crisis in the Heavenly Council, January 21, 2019

Timeout: Cosmic Conflict vs. Historicism, January 25, 2019

Silence in Heaven — for about Half an Hour, January 28, 2019

Timeout: From Daniel to Revelation, February 1, 2019

Revelation 7: The 144,000 and the 233,000, February 4, 2019

Timeout: Storm Clouds over Historicism, February 7, 2019

Revelation’s Trumpets: The Devil is in the Details, February 11, 2019

Timeout: Disarray and Trivia in the Trumpets, February 14, 2019

Revelation 12: Don’t Rush at Ground Zero, February 19, 2019

Timeout: “1,260 Days” and the Smoke Signals in Flyover Country, February 22, 2019

Revelation 13: “The Dragon’s Story,” February 26, 2019

Timeout: “And Its Number is 666,” February 28, 2019

God Reacts: The Three Angels’ Message, March 5, 2019

Timeout: “The Smoke of Their Torment,” March 8, 2019

Armageddon Retrospect, March 12, 2019

Timeout: Armageddon Prospect, March 15, 2019

The Beast that Is an Eighth, March 20, 2019

Sigve K. Tonstad is Research Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Loma Linda University.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9503

There was war in heaven and Lucifer was his host were cast out.By decscit Lucifer took control of planet earth and all of Mankind. The final scene is wrath and retribution.In the midst Christ will return. Satan will make a last offense . He, his host and condemned mankind will be snuffed out… The remains will be purged with fire. Then God will create a new earth for all those who trusted in Him even as Job. The lesson will rise up forever as depicted in the smoke. The is no Everlasting burning in the sense of pain and regret. Only an Everlasting lesson of good and evil.

1 Like

This is a theological interpretation that pays its rightful dues to the human condition of a self- being-in-the-world-with-with-different-others. It takes human experience as the basic perspective for a healthy theology. And, it destroys any theology based on the movement from the universal to the particular. This is a theology viewed through the lens of Abraham, Isac and Jacob, as opposed to Greek speculative metaphysics. Thank you, Sigve!


Here the “testimony OF Jesus” explains - 1) the “word of God”; 2) the commandments of God. Where does the testimony OF Jesus explain his work on the cross? Is that work simply and adjunct to the WORD and there COMMANDMENTS? Or does the cross have meaning and value more than just a parenthesis to the word and the commandments at the close of human history?

John must have changed his mind between the writing of the First Book of John, and the book Revelation as to the meaning of TESTIMONY OF JESUS. In John 5: 11, John defines the “TESTIMONY” to be “eternal life in His Son”. That sounds like it is, after all, a “witness to Jesus” rather than “witness of Jesus”.

Dr Tonstad, It seems to be a likely consensus by serious literary historians that the book known as the Apocalypse of John was not in fact written by the apostle known as John. The theology of the Gospel and Letters of John bear little resemblance to that of the author of there Apocalypse, and there are some serious literary problems in the Greek language of the two writers.

Do you agree with this? If this is probably true, then how differently might we assess the theology of the so-called Apocalypse of John?

Sirje, see my question below to Dr Tonstad. What do you think?

Tonstad: The most counter-intuitive disclosure in the book we are studying, other than the Lamb that was killed with violence (5:6), is the report that “after the thousand years, Satan must be released for a short time” (20:3). This is not what most responsible law enforcement agencies would do. And yet God does it, and God must have a good reason. I have grappled with this in Saving God’s Reputation and in my forthcoming commentary.

The answer is actually very simple and easy to understand. As long as the dragon is in the bottomless pit he can’t be thrown into the lake of fire. In other words, he must be released from the bottomless pit so that he can be thrown into the lake of fire.

Good point.

Whoever wrote whatever, it still remains that the central core of Christianity (the death and resurrection of Christ) doesn’t seem to come up at the end of earth’s history. It might squeak by as part of the testimony OF Jesus, but it certainly isn’t front and center. This makes the survivors (the remnant) commandment keepers and possessing the spirit of prophesy - (sounds familiar). No wonder then, the gospel takes second place (at best) for those who “make it”. This also changes the “rules of the game” midstream. Those who went to their graves before the remnant received their identifying marks, were saved by faith; while the remnant were needing to stand in judgment based on their own merits (since Jesus had left the inner sanctuary in heaven at some point), and the gospel of the cross was no longer needed.

Dr Tonstad,
I just loved your evocative story of the little boy, listening to the Bible study tapes and slides in your living room in Norway!

My father was also a colporteur, surely one of the most stressful occupations, confronting strangers in their doorways and trying to persuade them to buy books they do not want !

You state
If God is not dead, as Nietzsche asserted , He has left évil on a very long leash.

That for me is the crux of the whole GREAT CONTROVERSY issue.

Why so long a leash, one which interminably continues ad Infinitum, now two millennia after the atonement on the cross?

With the breaking news this morning, that Trump has been exonerated in the Mueller prove, the angry Democrats will have to retract their vicious assertion that Putin had some covert secrets about Trump and was blackmailing and exerting undue pressure on the president.

My question : Because God is allowing Satan such an inordinate leeway, so lengthy a leash, as you say, is Satan maybe. more co equal with God , or has he some undue power or influence that allows such lascivious latitude? He seems to have an overpowering influence on God, just as Democrats asserted Putin had on Trump.

My problem with this lengthy leash, is with each passing decade, century, millennium , post crucifixion, where supposedly all was settled, mankind is still mired in misery.

It seems that Satan’s lengthy leash is vastly more important to God than expediting the Second Coming and taking the saved home to heaven.

Meanwhile humanity languishes in horrific hardship, heartbreak and hopelessness, more despairing of the Second Coming with each passing year.

Surely the “good Angels “ and the “ unfallen beings on other planets “ should be clamoring that the leash is too long?

Now that you are in Weimar, the place of Nietzsche’s birth ( in 1844 ) may I offer you a vacation in my home in a village where Nietzsche lived for many years?

It is on the Mediterranean coast between Nice and. Monaco, a small village called EZE BORD DE MER.

There is a fifteen hundred foot cliff rising directly out of the sea, and up this cliff is a mule path leading to an ancient walled city called EZE, one of France’s “perched villages “.

This mule path has been designated the NIETZSCHE TRAIL, since Nietzsche hiked this fifteen hundred foot ascent daily, while mentally composing the chapters of his books

I will buy your book, but pay you with a vacation in my village, so that you too, can traverse the NIETZSCHE TRAIL, ( Chuck Scriven and other SPECTEUM leaders have hiked this poignant pathway )

1 Like

The law of God as stated in Ex 22:4 tells us that if a thief steals something and it is returned to the owner alive (referring to the case of an animal) the thief is to pay back double, i.e., steal one sheep, return two.

Hence, God’s penalty specified against Babylon is not excessive or punitive beyond the normal application of His law. In fact, He applied it in the same way to His wayward people before He restored them! (see Jer 16:14-18; Is 40:1-5). At least legally, there is no escalation of terror here. What Babylon has taken will be returned to God, and there will be an appropriate punishment. As the author states elsewhere, revelation, not retribution.

On Thursday, the SDA SS lesson says. ‘Burning by fire was the punishment for a priest’s daughter who was involved in sexual immorality (Lev. 21:9).’

My understanding is that she was to be killed and then her body burned in order to cleanse the camp. She was not to be ‘burned alive at the stake’. This would be in agreement with other passages in which God says burning people alive has never come into His mind (Jer 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; Ez 16:20-22). In fact, Jesus rebuked the disciples when they asked Him if He wanted them to call fire down to consume an unreceptive village. He implied that they were not acting in agreement with the Spirit of God. (Luke 9:54-56)

The best we can make from our humanity is phileo love - we love those who are our friends and are in agreement with us and so it is our nature to fight our enemies and wish evil upon them. As the article states, God’s love is agapé (Matt 5:38-48) and so our challenge is to interpret God’s judgments, and the revelation of Jesus Christ this book wants us to receive, through the lens of the (sometimes tough) love of God.

Punishment means nothing unless it means to educate. There is nothing to teach at this point in the story (Revelation). It is all finished; yet, there is burning and not a little anguish. What would that teach and to whom?


I can’t imagine the purpose of God reincarnating one’s dead relative or friend, only to have them acknowledge and bow to Him and then be incinerated. Are the saved to somehow be satisfied by this? The only thing it would teach me (should I be among the saved) is that Christ’s teachings about loving enemies and forgiving others were situational and not really God’s true nature.
Can the saved then be at peace with God and love Him unreservedly?

My understanding of God’s plan for us involves judgment and resulting rewards and penalties based on what we had the opportunity to believe and do. Again, we are saved by grace through faith. So no matter how poorly we do in the judgment, our salvation is not lost (See 1Cor 3:10-15).

But yes I believe that any punishments will have restoration as an essential element. As I have said here several times, I think things are to be rolled out in stages over several future ages. To be honest, I have an awful time trying to square that with the book of Revelation, even when I try to see everything symbolically.


DaveMoffat: On Thursday, …

Wikipedia: In Germanic mythology, Thor (/θɔːr/; from Old Norse: Þórr) is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, the protection of mankind, and also hallowing and fertility. Besides Old Norse Þórr, extensions of the god occur in Old English as Þunor, and in Old High German as Donar (runic þonarᚦᛟᚾᚨᚱ). All forms of the deity stem from a Common Germanic *Þunraz (meaning ‘thunder’).

Wikipedia continued: The name of the god is the origin of the weekday name Thursday. By employing a practice known as interpretatio germanica during the Roman Empire period, the Germanic peoples adopted the Roman weekly calendar, and replaced the names of Roman gods with their own. Latin dies Iovis (‘day of Jupiter’) was converted into Proto-Germanic *Þonares dagaz (“Thor’s day”), from which stems modern English “Thursday” and all other Germanic weekday cognates.[3]

Notice it says they adopted the Roman weekly calendar (of Constantine) and not the weekly calendar of God (or the Church).

Exodus 23:13. And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth.

Psalm 19:4 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

Psalm 141:3 Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.

Zechariah 13:2 “It shall be in that day,” says the Lord of hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered.

DaveMoffat: the SDA SS lesson says. ‘Burning by fire was the punishment for a priest’s daughter who was involved in sexual immorality (Lev. 21:9). My understanding is that she was to be killed and then her body burned in order to cleanse the camp. She was not to beburned alive at the stake’. This would be in agreement with other passages in which God says burning people alive has never come into His mind (Jer 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; Ez 16:20-22). In fact, Jesus rebuked the disciples when they asked Him if He wanted them to call fire down to consume an unreceptive village. He implied that they were not acting in agreement with the Spirit of God. (Luke 9:54-56)

Good observation Dave.

The burning of people alive was a phenomenon that enveloped the whole continent of Europe in the 17th century (European witch hunt). Tens of thousands (Probably more; we really don’t know the full extent) were hunted down by the Jesuits, Dominicans, and the civil authorities. It was a systematic smear and extermination campaign against a segment of the population that was perceived to be a threat to the RCC. The European nations have never felt any remorse whatsoever for what took place (But I’m sure Trump can relate with the people who were smeared and labeled as witches).

I would suggest that the fire that came down out of heaven and devoured them (Rev. 20:9) is not fire as we normally think of it.

1 Like

This has been such a worthwhile series, feel sad that the quarter is over, but I’m much richer for it. Enjoyed this.


There are at least a couple of NT books where the authorship is in question (Hebrews…) as well. I guess it’s irrelevant since they are part of the canon. When it comes to Revelation it does sound totally different from what John sounds like previously. Digging deeper, it was common for other writers to use the apostles’ names, so it brings up all kinds of issues. No Adventist is going to question this - not out loud.

1 Like

The question of the canon has also been dormant for a long time. However, there is a now a group of scholars studying the topic of the use of the Apocryphal in Adventist history, especially the formative period. There are many surprises for those think the canon was a settled issue for them. Go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/163051517746167/

Not true. From the Wars of the Roses to the Holocaust, there have been countless apologies, and councils regretting bloodshed, many changes in laws, and religious reforms, all designed to turn nations and people away from such violence. It is no accident that Britain and European nations have been foremost in advocating human rights, including freedom of worship and religious expression.


David, in trying to understand how completely you have accepted Jewish laws and customs, would you mind telling how many of the hundreds of Old Testament requirements in observance of the laws that you follow (besides not mouthing the name of other gods) and give reasons for not feeling bound to keep the laws that you presumably don’t keep?


The European nations have never felt any remorse whatsoever for what took place

Jordan-River: Not true. From the Wars of the Roses to the Holocaust, there have been countless apologies, and councils regretting bloodshed, many changes in laws, and religious reforms, all designed to turn nations and people away from such violence.

That may very well have been but I haven’t seen any apologies (remorse) for the so called witch hunts of Europe that took place in the 17th century. What I’ve seen has been more of a complete and utter disbelief that such an episode could ever have taken place (“how could they ever have done such a thing?”).

Children were accusing parents and parents accusing children and not batting an eye when people were being tortured and burned alive. Why did our forefathers hate them so much? That’s the question I ask. We still don’t completely understand the European witch hunts. The people who were maligned and hated by European society could very well have been the righteous people of God spoken of in Daniel; or the camp of the saints that were surrounded in Rev. 20. Even Christ said, "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, what will they call the members of His household (witches?). And, “If they have done these things in a green tree, what will they do in the dry” (torture and burn alive?). And don’t forget, “parents will deliver up children and children will deliver up parents”.

Hugh Trevor-Roper’s “The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century” gives a pretty good overview of what was going on. He makes a pretty good case that the witch hunts were a product of the Catholic Counter Reformation that began in earnest after the Council of Trent in 1560 but really picked up steam after pope Gregory’s reform of the Roman calendar. I don’t believe the Catholic Church has ever offered an apology for the part they played (but I could be wrong).

The witch hunts ended suddenly. For all we know, maybe the people who were hunted down, tortured, and burned alive were finally raptured away from their enemies.

I began this quarter’s lesson studies hoping to learn more about the book of Revelation. Thanks to you, Dr Tonstad, I have learned more. I am going to order a copy of your book now.