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Drawing on Tonstad, a Reflection on Revelation

Dragon detail from the Cambrai Apocalypse, c. 800-900 AD

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?

In a dramatic cosmic double-take, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is astoundingly revealed to be the slaughtered little lamb of self-sacrificing servant love, the Christ on Calvary, resurrected and representing God’s heart and character on heaven’s throne. God’s throne, mentioned 32 times in Revelation, is amazingly a cross—a cross of self-sacrificing servant love. Thus, to rule with God for eternity means to serve with God for eternity, empowered by the seven spirits of God. The number seven symbolizes God’s empowering and transforming Holy Spirit, comprehensive in grace, generosity, and power. More important than Jesus’s winning is how Jesus wins.

The mystery of history, reality, and existence is that God triumphs through self-sacrificing servant love through death, resurrection, and ascension.[2] The growing mountain that crushes the earthly kingdoms and fills the entire earth in Daniel 2:35 crushes by being crushed: “Christ was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). The natural consequences of Adam and Eve’s choice of death in Eden was freely absorbed and defeated in Christ on Calvary.

The Battle of Armageddon is not in the future; the Battle of Armageddon was fought 2,000 years ago on Calvary, where Christ was victorious over the powers of evil and death in his resurrection. “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:31, 32 NIV). 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).

Bible scholar Darrell Johnson notes, “As we will read in Revelation 19, the battle of Armageddon is never fought. The kings may gather, but the battle is never fought. The resistance ends simply by Jesus Christ showing up.”[3] Adventist New Testament scholar Jon Paulien adds a different twist on Armageddon. “The battle of Armageddon is in fact a battle for the mind. What counts at the end of time is the proclamation of the gospel, God’s final appeal to the whole world.”[4]

Not surprisingly, death and resurrection are also “the necessary pattern that is redemptive for all of us.”[5] The constricted false self of personal autonomy, apart from God, must die, or you and I will never be free. Denial and blame are the false self’s chief weapons for survival.

The cosmic double-take of Mary’s little lamb is appreciated by New Testament scholar Eugene Boring. “This is perhaps the most mind-wrenching ‘rebirth of images’ in literature. The slot in the system reserved for the lion has been filled by the Lamb of God.”[6] According to Loren John, “This scene, with its shocking switch of images, lies at the theological heart of the apocalypse. From here on, the image of Christ as lamb serves as the dominant image for Christ.”[7] As Sigve Tonstad points out, “The slaughtered Lamb (5.6) reveals the character of God in the context of the cosmic conflict. For this reason there is a close connection between the Lamb that breaks the seals and the announcement of victory in the war in heaven (12.7–9).”[8] Cosmic “shock and awe,” “jubilation,” and then silence ensue, as cosmic history, reality, and existence are transparently revealed and unmistakably understood to be created, sustained, and redeemed by the God of self-sacrificing servant love.

Simultaneously, on the stage of cosmic history, Satan’s character and ways are explosively revealed and unsealed times seven, trumpeted times seven, and the natural consequences of unrepentant evil (bowls) are poured out for all to see times seven. Cornered, the empire strikes back. Out ride the four horsemen of the apocalypse, delivering deception (white), persecution (red), famine (black), and war (ashen). A classic example of counterfeit religion, or 666, or deception, is the apocalyptic white horseman, who fraudulently feigns being Christ, conquering with bow and crown instead of with the self-sacrificing servant love of Calvary—a crown of thorns and the conquering sword of God’s word of truth.[9]

Darrell Johnson notes, “666 is the number ‘of man’ or ‘mankind’—anthropos; and not the number or name of one person or ‘a man’ as the article ‘a’ is not present in the Greek.”[10] And so Revelation’s narrator advises, “Here is a problem that you have to be wise to figure out. If you can, figure out what the beast's number means. It is man's number. His number is 666” (Revelation 13:18 NIRV). John, an astute Jewish Old Testament symbologist, would have seen the number “six, six, six” as unmitigated incompleteness or the ultimate state of confusion and chaos precipitated when angels or humans or institutions live autonomously apart from the true God.

Heavenly trumpets proclaim that Satan, who swept a third of the angels from heaven, now wreaks havoc on planet Earth where a third of Earth and heaven’s properties are symbolically destroyed. The bizarre amalgam and morphing of humans, beasts, scorpions, and insects symbolically unveil the demonic drama taking place in unseen realms. As Paul writes, “For we are not struggling against human beings, but against the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers governing this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 6:12 CJB).

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.”[11] Tonstad writes, “The seven bowls [which repeat the trumpets point for point] have as their main goal to expose and curtail the Reign of Slander—till the day a loud voice goes forth ‘from the temple, from the throne,’ saying, It is done! (Revelation 17:7).”[12]

God’s mercy and grace set limits on evil’s contagion and carnage: “a fourth of the earth” in the seals cycle and “a third of the earth” in the trumpets cycle. “One-third is a symbol of mercy,” says Johnson. “Judgement is not total.”[13] The destructive powers of Satan are limited so the world is not destroyed, and the world is allowed to repent until Christ’s second advent. Many repent and others harden their hearts. God’s children are persecuted and protected, or “sealed,” with God’s Holy Spirit and character of self-sacrificing servant love. Paul reminds us that there is nothing in life or death, in tribulation or persecution that can separate us from the love of Jesus.[14]

God’s wrath and judgments are faithful, trustworthy, and true because they are revelatory and restorative and not retributive or punitive. God, with patient endurance, allows evil to fully vent and finally turn on itself. God likewise asks his followers to patiently endure as evil fully reveals its true colors (Revelation 6:9, 10; 14:12). “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6).

God’s epic weapon of choice? A two-edged sword/lightsaber signifying the razor-sharp and crystal-clear words of truth and light proceeding from God’s mouth, character, and heart.[15] The evil empire implodes as the forces of evil run amok, turn, and attack each other. Like a serpent eating its own tail, those who are duped and deceived by the dark side toss the Devil, like yesterday’s fake news, into the lake of fire for eternal destruction.[16]


Notes & References:

[1] F. F. Bruce, “The central message of the Book of Revelation is the message vision emphasized in chapters 4 and 5.” Lecture, “The Book of Revelation,” Regent College Audio, 1976, ID RGCD0607.

[2] Daniel 2:35; 7:13, 14; 9:24; Matthew 26:64. "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV).

[3] Darrell W. Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey Through the Book of Revelation (Canadian Church Leaders Network), 2004, Kindle Edition, 290.

[4] Jon Paulien, Seven Keys: Unlocking the Secrets of Revelation (Pacific Press Publishing Association), 2009, Kindle Edition, 96.

[5] Richard Rohr, The Good News According to Luke: Spiritual Reflections (New York: Crossroad), 1997, 152.
“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds’” (John 12:23-24 NIV). “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8 NIV). “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1 NIV). “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20 NIV). “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3 NIV).

[6] Eugene Boring, Revelation, 108. Quoted from Darrell W. Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, Regent College Publishing, 2004, 146. Johnson points out the Greek word for lamb in verse 5:6 is arnion, meaning little lamb. The little lamb is infinitely powerful (seven horns) and infinitely wise (seven eyes).

[7] John L. Loren, The Lamb in the Christology of the Apocalypse of John (WUNT 2.167; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 159. Quoted from Sigve K. Tonstad, Saving God’s Reputation (T&T Clark), 2006, 139.

[8] Sigve K. Tonstad, Saving God’s Reputation (T&T Clark), 2013, 141.

[9] Both Darrell Johnson and Sigve Tonstad give compelling scriptural evidence that all four horses of the apocalypse are a unit of deception and destruction, while the rider on the White Horse in Revelation 19:20-21 is Jesus. Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, 171; Sigve K. Tonstad, Revelation (Baker Academic), 2019, Kindle Edition, 120-124.

[10] Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, 249.
Similarly, Paul’s “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4 represents “mankind” or “humankind” as the Greek word for man “anthropos” does not include the article “a” man. Thus the “man of lawlessness” are humans who have embraced the serpent’s deception at the “middle” of the Garden of Eden; namely, that humans are autonomous gods in and of themselves and impervious to death. Stephen G. Brown, “The Intertextuality of Isaiah 66:17 and 2 Thessalonians 2:7: A Solution for the ‘Restrainer Problem,’” in Paul and the Scriptures of Israel, edited by Craig A. Evens and James A. Sanders. (Sheffield Academic Press), 1993, 262-264. This is an elegant proof that end time events will evolve around the serpent’s deception in the “middle” of the Garden of Eden.

[11] Tonstad, Revelation, 170.

[12] Tonstad, Revelation, 237.

[13] Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, 194.

[14] “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV).

[15] “In his right hand he held seven stars, out of his mouth went a sharp double-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16 CJB). “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrew 4:12 NIV).

[16] Tonstad, Revelation, 298, 299. “The attackers turn on each other (Ezekiel 38:21; 1 Enoch 100.1-3). The evil enterprise implodes. . . . ‘And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur,’ says John (Rev. 20:10). When this is included in ‘the picture which the seer saw’ (Flowers 1930, 526), it implores the reader to have more than one candidate on his/her short list for who is doing the throwing.”

Ron Reece is a physician and fourth generation Adventist, who completed a Graduate Diploma of Christian Studies at Regent College, British Columbia in 2010. 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.

Title Image: Detail from the Cambrai Apocalypse, c. 800-900 AD (public domain).

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