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.

12 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. 🙂

      1. Robert Whiteman

        Yes, I agree that there is “safety in a multitude of counselors” if they are united in being taught of the Lord as He promises. Yet William Miller studied alone(none who claim the promises of God are alone) and arrived upon the truth before going to others. If God is our teacher, what or who could add to that? He is able to do “above all we could think or ask” and alone can open the pages of scripture without erring. But can we learn from Him?

  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.

  3. Henry Hills

    The 42 months of Revelation 13 are considered to be fulfilled by Adventist scholars and Ellen White. But she quotes all of Rev. 13 as relating to future events as well. Obviously the traditional fulfillment of Rev 13 is not the complete or final fulfillment.

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Henry, good observation, could you give me the reference? I think it would be helpful to my commentary project. Both points can be true at the same time when you consider the exegesis. As I have noted in the blogs, 12:17 sets the time of the vision of Rev 13 and it is all about the future, as EW apparently notes. But the final events (13:8-10, 12-18) involved characters who have a history before coming on to the scene at the end (13:1-7, 11).

      1. Robert Whiteman

        So, are you suggesting the 42 months remain in the future, or some application of it? We must keep in mind that “time shall be no longer” referring to no more time prophecies following 1844, that being the last to fulfill.

        What follows will be brief, (“one hour” is the language in ch 17) as every living soul in the world will make a decision in a short time. If we understand the true scope of these events yet to come, they could not take very long if our prayer is to be that our flight is not during the winter. So these events seem as if they will be very brief, don’t they? Especially if you consider that it is only not winter somewhere in this world for about 3 months of the year. Consider also that the “last warning” to Nineveh was accomplished in 40 days. I think the term “fire in the stubble” has been applied to the duration of events soon to arrive as a thief in the night.

        1. Jon Paulien Post author

          The 42 months are part of the history of the sea beast, prior to the end and thus compatible with a medieval church interpretation, not future from our perspective. See more detail in the Facebook commentary on Rev 13 published at the Armageddon web site.

      2. Rustin Sweeney

        I know we’re looking at Revelation specifically, but this reference to Daniel 11, “Much of the history that has taken place in fulfilment of this prophecy will be repeated.” In 19LtMs, Lt 103, 1904, par. 17 seems to suggest there can be a fulfillment and a fulfilling.

        1. Jon Paulien Post author

          That is certainly always true with general prophecy. Things are a bit more complicated with apocalyptic like Daniel 2, where the prophecy covers the whole of subsequent history in a single line.

  4. Eldie Jr. Villarente

    Are there any archives for all of the articles related to chapter 12 13, 14? thanks.

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