Cooranbong, New South Wales
The launch of an Avondale academic’s Old Testament reading of Revelation has reminded Seventh-day Adventists of why they read Bible prophecy: to reveal Jesus Christ.
. . . let the language of the literature speak for itself without constructing a framework that forces it into a shape in which we think it belongs.
Panellists discussing Ancient Words, Present Hope, the new book by Avondale Seminary head Dr Kayle de Waal, noted during a symposium—held August 15—celebrating its publication how Revelation begins and ends with references to Jesus. They were responding to a question from moderator Nathan Brown who asked, “If Revelation is so complicated that you need a PhD in biblical studies or ancient languages to understand it, is it that important?” Dr Wendy Jackson, a colleague of Dr de Waal’s, answered yes. Even from a surface reading, she argued, Revelation offers hope and focus. “There’s a lot of chaos and confusion, but the Lamb is always there, and the Lamb overcomes.”
Conversation shifted to why the author of Revelation, John, wrote in codes and symbols. We are missing the point when the focus is on decoding Revelation, said former seminarian Dr Ross Cole. “The point is not what does every code and symbol mean. The point is the impact as a whole.” Dr David Tasker, also a seminary colleague, raised a practicality. If John, a prisoner at the time, had written literally, his letter would not have been approved by possible censors. “We assume freedom of speech,” added Dr Steven Thompson, a higher degree research supervisor at Avondale, “but one never knew who was listening or reading.” When he is reading Revelation, Dr Thompson reminds himself he is reading someone’s mail. His advice: do not impose a reading on a message intended for a particular audience.
Dr Tasker noted the continuing fascination some Seventh-day Adventists have with prophecy-based conspiracy theories. “Our challenge as a Church is to focus on Jesus rather than on the headlines.” Dr Jackson suggested such a reading of prophecy comes from a regard for propositional truth as an end in itself. “Propositional truth has a place only if it has an impact on my relationship with God and my relationship with the world.”
The discussion ended with the panellists reflecting on how Ancient Words, Present Hope contributes to our understanding of Revelation. Dr Thompson described the book as a third wave of Adventist thinking about the biblical apocalypse, “where we let the language of the literature speak for itself without constructing a framework that forces it into a shape in which we think it belongs.”
In his role as book editor at Signs Publishing, Brown represented Dr de Waal’s publisher at the launch. He says it is exciting to observe “a passionate scholar at work and to look over his shoulder to share in his discoveries. Ancient Words, Present Hope gives readers a greater appreciation of the Bible as a whole and a taste of the depths of meaning that reward careful Bible study.”