The following review of “Understanding the Book of Revelation” appeared in the December 2011 issue of Testimony magazine.
IT IS GOOD that the book of Revelation is studied and understood within the Christadelphian community, not least because of the blessing which its author, our Lord Jesus, promises in its pages: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (Rev. 1:3).
Sadly, the book is, in general, less studied among us than it once was, and less frequently used in our public witness to the gospel in these last days, This may be due, in part, to the existence of interpretations of Revelation which are not of the continuous historic approach. The resultant differences between interpretations may cause some brethren and sisters to abandon altogether any study of the book, and to reject the tried and tested expositions of some of our nineteenth century brethren.(1)
It is noteworthy that interested friends who have attended Christadelphian Learn to Read the Bible Effectively seminars have not infrequently asked for presentations on the book of Revelation. In response to these requests, a seminar was developed and used by a number of ecclesias, and the questions and difficulties that arose from this seminar led to the material being updated over time. It is this refined version of the Revelation seminar that Brother Philip and Sister Judith White, contributors to the original seminar, have adapted further and issued as the Revelation Resources Pack, consisting of two items.
The first of these, Book of Revelation, (2) is a 166 page, A5 format book supplemented by two DVD presentations by Brother White. DVD 1 lasts about an hour and is divided into two sections, the first covering Revelation 1-11 and the second part Revelation 12-22. DVD 2 lasts about eighty minutes and covers the whole of Revelation again, but this time looking in more detail at some of the principles of interpretation, the historical development of the beast in its various phases, and recent developments.
It is a major undertaking to explain the Revelation to those who have never studied it before, but Brother White and his team have produced a valuable resource which can assist to this end. All the slides used are reproduced in the accompanying book, which can be used alongside the DVD presentations. The DVDS are easy to use on a digital TV or computer with a sound card, or, for larger audiences, via a laptop computer and digital projector. Brother White moves briskly through his material, and the slides are nicely spaced.
Unnecessary repetition is avoided. Brother White has evidently presented this material to audiences many times, as his explanations are clear and he speaks with authority about Revelation and the history fulfilled by Jesus’ prophecies. From basic explanations of the symbols used, a picture is built up of the division of Revelation into sections based on its letters, seals, trumpets, vials and thunders. The description ‘reverse principle’ is used to suggest how Revelation jumps forward from a given point in history to the Kingdom and then back again to the history.
Brother White is at pains to explain how Revelation shows that the Truth quickly became corrupted, as Jesus and the apostles warned that it would. The clues and signs which true believers recognise the apostasy and distinguish it from the Truth are at all times pointed out. The continuous historic interpretation is used throughout, and the exposition of our early brethren is followed closely yet not slavishly. Additional material not available in the days of Brethren Thomas and Roberts, covering more recent history, has been added.
I very much liked these two DVDS, which could easily be watched by an ecclesia over, say, five sessions at their Bible class, or at a proclamation meeting. Alternatively, they can be studied at home at whatever pace is suitable. They are so reasonably priced that no ecclesia need omit them from its library on the grounds of cost.
The second resource is the 313-page A4 Book of Revelation Handbook. This offers supplementary material to the DVD expositions but can also be read as a standalone exposition of Revelation. The reviewer was struck by the knowledge of history shown by the authors. Revelation spans 2,000 years of history, involving not just one country but numerous countries of both Western and Eastern Europe and of the Middle East. This is a vast canvas, yet the authors write confidently, quoting numerous sources which in themselves may stimulate further reading and research, and all of which support the continuous-historic approach. Quotations from non-Christadelphian interpreters of prophecy, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Grattan Guinness, help to strengthen their conclusions.
The Handbook also deals in detail with some of the frequently asked questions about Revelation. For example, on page 76 the authors observe:
“lf we are going to find anything hard to absorb in the Book of Revelation, it is going to be here [Rev. 5v7] we may ask, ’How can the Lamb take from the occupant of the throne (i.e. from himself) the scroll?’ The answer lies in understanding the basis of G0dmanifestation in which Jesus is both the ‘Alpha and Omega’, the sacrificial Lamb for atonement and also the supreme ruler of the world as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The occupant of the throne can therefore be regarded as the Father in manifestation (as We also see in Isaiah 6). If this complication seems obscure, we must remember that the Lord Jesus Christ is everything-the door of the fold, and yet the good shepherd; the altar, the victim on the altar, and yet the High Priest of that same altar; and, at the same time the father’s representative enthroned.” Their exposition of the difficult chapter 11, concerning the temple and the two witnesses, the reviewer also found very helpful. Understanding the different stages through which the Roman fourth beast of Revelation 12 and 13 passes is never easy, but on page 192 there is a helpful diagram showing the relationship of the dragon (the Eastern emperor in Constantinople), the beast of the sea (the papacy and ten kingdoms), the beast of the earth (the Holy Roman Empire) and the image of the beast (the papal empire). The useful comment is made that is important to realise that each of the three beasts of chapters 12 and 13, plus the image, continue on historically at the same time.”
Another little comment helpful to the reviewer is on page 206: ”When Constantinople fell in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks, the Greek (Septuagint) Old Testament Bible of the early church, written about 250 years before Christ and which had been read and preserved by the Greek Orthodox Church through the centuries, was taken by fugitives to the West. Within five years Greek was taught in the University of Paris.” This flowering of learning in the West (the Renaissance) led eventually to the Reformation.
The treatment of the three frog-like spirits and battle of Armageddon are excellent. lt could be commented that Russia aspires to the greatness and richness of the Byzantine Empire, and, with the developing closeness of the Putin’s government to the Russian Orthodox Church, it can be seen how the invasion of the Land of Israel might be seen as protecting the ’holy places’ of Jerusalem. It is not without significance that this was one of Russia’s justifications for going to war against Turkey and its allies during the Crimean War. The authors are convinced that the ”false prophet” from whom a frog-like spirit emanates can be linked with the Roman Catholic apostasy described as the ”man of sin” in 2 Thessalonians 2.
The Handbook is divided into fifty-six sections, each of which is reasonably complete in itself and capable of being used as a short study piece. Page 5 lists many of the sources used in compiling the Handbook, although there are many more non-Christadelphian sources quoted in the text, and these too may be sources of further historical research. There is an index in the smaller Understanding the Book of Revelation, but none in the Handbook. Occasional blank pages and gaps could usefully be rectified in a second edition. Yet overall this package of resources is excellent in every way.
The authors have faithfully expounded the Scriptures and given us the benefit of their experience in delivering the material to interested friends and brethren and sisters, getting to grips with an enormous amount of historical detail to explain the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecies. And, exhortationally, they understand that the message of Jesus is to be alert to false teaching in his name and to combat it and protect the ecclesias from it, that we might look forward with conviction and hope to the glorious day when the Kingdom is established and the pure teaching of God will go forth from Jerusalem. Having this material presented visually, orally and in writing gives every incentive for all brethren and sisters to make use of it, and thereby to become better acquainted with this precious last message of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Revelation Resources Pack is heartily commended to all readers.
“. . . the Apocalypse is first of all an examination of the work of God in creation. The last book of the Bible is like the final movement in a symphony played in time and space, following a patterned rhythm. The first movement began in Genesis. Themes which begin in this book weave their way through the rest of Scripture, and thunder out together in the Apocalypse to a final, majestic conclusion.”
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, G. R. Walker, bound copy of original magazines, p. 2
The Testimony, December 2011
1. For instance, Brother John Thomas’ Eureka: An Exposition of the Apocalypse (Birmingham, The Christadelphian, 1861) and Brother Robert Roberts’ Thirteen Lectures on the Apocalypse (Birmingham, The Christadelphian, 1908)
2. Understanding the Book of Revelation by Philip and Judith White (2011). Available by post from 9 Coppice Way, Stafford, ST16 TRN, UK. Tel. +44 (0) 1785 213090. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.revelationsteps.org.uk . Price £5 post paid within the UK. Prices for overseas purchase via PayPal available at the website www.revelation-steps.org.uk or via application to Brother and Sister White.
3. The Revelation Handbook by Philip and Judith White (2010). Post, email and website details as above. Price £17 post paid in the UK. Overseas purchases as above. The Handbook can also be downloaded free of charge from either of the two DVDS using Adobe Acrobat software.