Why This Is Needed
The book of Revelation is the topic for this quarter’s Sabbath School Bible study. This last book of the Bible is probably one of the most telling, yet misunderstood, books in the entire Bible. You’ll find, however, that it reveals precious gems of wisdom for end-time believers, especially when an historicist approach is used to decipher the prophecies there. What a comfort and blessing its study can evoke, as God’s children see how the beautiful plan of salvation has unfolded before our eyes down through the centuries.
As you delve deeper into its pages you will encounter symbolic mysteries that baffle and trouble even the most studious theologian. How does a Sabbath School class handle these yet-unfulfilled prophecies, and other questions in the Bible that seem to have no solid basis for consensus, in a way that doesn’t cause undue skepticism and debate?
One prominent goal of Sabbath School is, of course, to promote systematic Bible study in a way that creates a cohesive unity with our brothers and sisters in Sabbath Schools around the world. How precious is that unity, as we discovered last quarter in our study of “Oneness with Christ”.
#1 Problem: Controversial Interpretations
We must do all we can to discourage Sabbath School members (and sometimes even the teacher) from playing “devil’s advocate”, which is asking questions for the sole purpose of encouraging needless and unwanted controversy.
Not every symbol in the Bible has an exact interpretation that fits well for all time. Remember, 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that “we know in part and we prophesy in part.” Let’s not quibble endlessly over minor differences of interpretation that do not affect our salvation (such as who the 144,000 are). Let’s instead be open to ideas, but aware that no one has a clear picture or a firm answer for every theological issue.
Reason to Avoid This
There are some who thrive on the exciting atmosphere of this kind of interaction, but there are always those in class who are not going to thrive spiritually in the harsh, emotional climate it creates.
Going back to 1 Corinthians 13, keep in mind that “the greatest of these is love.” Faith and hope have their place, especially in the study of Revelation, but when our conversation becomes a stressful debate, we aren’t promoting love (“the greatest of these”) and are doing the gospel a great disservice.
#2 Problem: Misplaced Speculations
Another area you might want to avoid in a group study of Revelation includes making sensational projections, using the most recent current events. These speculations are often bantered about haphazardly, without regard for the spiritual condition or Biblical knowledge of all those in the class.
Let’s remember that people thought both World Wars of the nineteenth century were surely signs that Jesus was coming within a short time. Then again, John F. Kennedy, a Catholic who became president of the United States in the sixties, raised concerns among Christians once again that His Coming would happen within their lifetimes.
More recently, many of us today were convinced that the loss of the Twin Towers in New York City on 9-11 most assuredly was another grim reminder of the final conflict and indicated a quick end of the world, perhaps in a few years. Even that’s been eighteen years ago now.
Reason to Avoid This
No doubt these signs may be valid ones and part of God’s overall plan for the world, and indeed an indication that the end is near. But let’s be careful lest an alarmist-style presentation of them lead to emotionally-charged, and even fearful reactions from those hearing them. God does not want us serving Him out of fear, but out of love. So, use caution when, how, and where you discuss topics of current events as being signs of the end.
It’s permissible, and maybe even desirable, to want the Second Coming to happen before we die. But let’s not allow our interpretation of the signs, even those with merit, be so exact that God has no room to move in another way as events unfold.
God does not reveal everything to us, and surely doesn’t expect us to see every sign as soon as it happens. He only expects us to be ready spiritually and to help others get ready.
Unfortunately, there are also many who become fixated with studying the signs, instead of making Jesus and spreading the gospel the focus of their lives. We are to watch for the signs of the time, but isn’t an undue focus on the signs almost the same as date-setting that Ellen G. White warned against? It can have the same effect on God’s people—causing them to lose faith and/or become lax or negligent about getting ready. Let’s not let all this divert attention from our real mission, that of developing a close relationship with our Lord.
#3 Problem: Petty Issues
There is also the danger of inconsequential topics being raised in Sabbath School, and this applies to whatever Bible topic we are covering. Whether it’s the interpretation of Bible symbols, or just focusing on how much food to stockpile and when to flee to the mountains when the final tribulation starts. Overly detailed, prophetic charts should also be avoided in Sabbath School, for the sake of those members who aren’t more well-grounded in God’s word.
Reason to Avoid This
It doesn’t take long for some in the class to see that these petty, valueless lines of discussion are of no spiritual or practical benefit, and therefore are an unwarranted waste of time. The disappointing result is they disrupt or limit the time for more important sharing in class.
Let these things, along with secular politics and current events of the day, be discussed outside of Sabbath School, if at all. Let’s keep our study of unity and oneness in Christ foremost in our Sabbath School discussions this quarter, as we strive to stick to the topics at hand and get to the bottom of God’s Revelation in a way that is spiritually enriching to us all.
#4 Problem: Monopolizing the Conversation
This problem needs little description. We’ve all seen how one or two persons (even the teacher) prevent others from contributing to the discussion by monopolizing the entire class time with their comments. It ceases to be a dialogue and turns into a monologue.
Reason to Avoid This
I would like to thank Connie Nelson, who blogs for Outlook, for bringing this topic to my attention. She and I have been collaborating ideas to help others see the need for change in some Sabbath School classes. She recently showed me a disturbing text message from one of her daughters, and expressed concern that we need to have friendlier discussions in Sabbath School, so her daughter, and others like her, will keep coming. There’s more than one way to fix this, and it isn’t just millennials who are at risk, as you’ll see in Connie’s article on this topic.
Rachel Ashworth, another Outlook blogger, gave some helpful hints for Sabbath School a few months ago as well.
Finally, here is the link to my blogs about this quarter’s lessons about Revelation. I think you’ll find them very user-friendly for both teachers and students. I use The Teacher’s Notes myself to facilitate a Sabbath School class. The questions in these Notes do help keep the conversation flowing!