Grounds for a Historical Reading of Revelation 13 (Thirteen 3)

In traditional Adventist reading of Revelation, the primary focus of Revelation 13 is on the Middle Ages (and the role of the Papacy at that time) and beyond (the rise of the USA to world power). But biblically Revelation 13 is an extension of the end-time war of Rev. 12:17. The dragon goes away to make war, calling up allies from the sea and from the land to assist him. Can the two different perspectives be reconciled or does one have to choose one or the other?

It is true that the actual focus of Revelation 13 is on the final battle of earth’s history; with its fiery deceptions, image of the beast, death decree and mark of the beast (Rev. 13:13-17). But few have noticed the verb tenses in the chapter and their implications for its meaning. The main sentences of Revelation 13:1-7, 11 are all in past tenses, mostly aorist indicative in the Greek. On the other hand, the main sentences of Revelation 13:10, 12-18 are all present or future tenses. So the chapter itself clearly contains evidence for sequences of history. Each of the two new beasts acts in the context of the end-time (Rev. 12:17), but has an introduction in past tenses which includes a visual description followed by a summary of its previous history (sea beast: 13:1-7, land beast: 13:11). So the description of the final battle in this chapter (13:12-18) is preceded by the previous history of the two main characters in that battle.

Revelation 13, then, covers two of the historical periods listed in Revelation 12. The introductory, past-tense sections of Revelation 13 (verses 1-7, 11) parallel the middle period of Revelation 12 (12:13-16). The present and future-tense sections of Revelation 13 (verses 8-10, 12-18) parallel the final period of Revelation 12:17. So Revelation 12:17 sets the time of Revelation 13 as a whole, but Revelation 13 includes historical introductions which fit the traditional Adventist perspective. Everything that Uriah Smith and others put into the Middle Ages is in past tense in Revelation 13. Everything that they put into the future is in present or future tenses. To the grammar of the Greek in Revelation 13 supports a historicist reading of the chapter.

3 thoughts on “Grounds for a Historical Reading of Revelation 13 (Thirteen 3)

  1. Robert Whiteman

    I guess I don’t see 2 perspectives here. I see Rev 12-20 as one very detailed view of what lies just before us, and why/how it has come to this. To me, this 13th chapter of the Revelation confirms the prophecies of Daniel with more detail, including the 2nd (lamb-like) beast. But beyond this still unfolding “history lesson”, I have personally found 13:8 to be the most important verse/detail to understand clearly in this chapter. It strips away the group focus and places responsibility directly on the individual(ME) and the choice that all must make, which will either lead them to join these beasts or Christ, who will finally overthrow and destroy them.

    Yes, we are shown a “behind the scenes” look, and from these can understand the daily headlines much more accurately and see the eternal relevance. It also reminds us of the importance of our mandate from Christ(Matt 28:19,20, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8, Rev 14:6-12, etc) and of what we must also help others to see from this vital historical and present day understanding of the eternal issues all will face soon.

    As for the traditional SDA focus on the middle ages, I must have missed that part somehow, since I see the greater focus in 13 being on today, as these scenes are still unfolding to bring us quickly to the crisis point that few will be ready to meet. (yes, I get the historical importance and do not overlook it) I will admit that I learned early to skip the commentaries, taking only scripture as my guide to this great prophecy(both Daniel and the Revelation) with the promise of God to “instruct and teach [me]” Himself(Ps 32:8). Doesn’t Rev 1:1 repeat this promise? I must only meet the condition of being a servant of God, by grace through faith. He then opens His word as no other can. Of all the discoveries from this great prophecy(D&R), this is the most important of them to me personally.

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Your basic method is a good one, but when it comes to Rev it is unwise to face the text alone. Others can point out our blind spots. But since you are engaging with this site, you obviously knew that already. đŸ™‚

  2. Henry Hills

    “Revelation 13:4-10. This entire chapter is a revelation of what will surely take place.” 7BC 979.10
    THE DAY DAWNS (a book published 2/2/18) looks at this and many other endtime issues from the Bible and Spirit of prophecy.


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