The evidence drawn from fulfilled prophecy in the Bible shows us that prophecy is given as a natural extension of the prophet’s time and place. God meets people where they are and the prophecy engages the world as the prophet experiences it. Because that world is in constant change, now more than ever, we can expect that some elements of a prophecy are not fulfilled, because the conditions for fulfillment have not been met. In the case of the expectation that national Sunday laws will some day be enacted in the US Congress, the conditions for that were very strong in the late 1880s, but none of those conditions were in place any longer by the time of World War I. If such Sunday laws do occur in our future, they would occur in a world that is vastly different than the one Ellen White was familiar with.
Reviewing the biblical evidence on the mark of the beast (Rev 13:13-17), we concluded that there were four exegetical possibilities for fulfillment in the fact that the mark is contrasted with the seal of God and the Sabbath. It could reflect laws related to worship of another day (Sunday, for example). Two other options would be that every day is a Sabbath or no day is a Sabbath. The fourth option is laws forbidding Sabbath worship. All four of these options are exegetically defensible as ways to fulfill the text of Revelation 13. As we have seen, most statements on the topic by Ellen White see Sunday laws as the fulfillment of Revelation 13 but some statements portray Sunday laws as less of a threat and laws forbidding worship on the Sabbath as the greater threat. Statements regarding national Sunday laws in Congress are few and they are clustered in the period around 1888 where they are a logical extension of the situation in place at that point in time.
There are two ways to undermine God’s purpose for prophecy. One is to ignore the prophecies of the Bible and Ellen White. This is widely seen as a problem among students of the Bible. But another way to undermine the Bible is popular among enthusiasts of the Bible and, therefore, harder to see as a threat. It is to over-specify the details of a prophecy to the point where a particular scenario become fixed in people’s minds to the point that the fulfillment comes as a surprise and even a deception to the very ones anticipating it.
This happened in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were avid students of prophecy. We know this from books that exist to this day, like Fourth Ezra, Second Baruch and First (or Ethiopic) Enoch. These books reflect a mindset of deep consideration of the prophecies, leading to charting of events leading up to Messiah. Failing to understand how fulfilled prophecy works in the Bible, the Pharisees built up an expectation, based on study of the Bible, that caused them to reject Jesus when He came, because He did not fulfill their biblical expectations. This was a tragic error, and it could have been avoided by more attention to the conditionality of classical prophecy and the way prophecies are a natural extension of the prophet’s time and place. The messianic prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus, but in a way different from the way the Pharisees expected.
My concern is that Adventists could be making a similar mistake today in investing so much energy in the idea that a national Sunday law in the US Congress will be the specific trigger event of the end-time. This view is understandable as it gives us a measurable specific that is easily observed. But the conditions for such a law have passed and should it never happen exactly that way, some serious, sincere Adventist students of prophecy could miss the real thing when it happens, because their specific expectations are not met. More has changed in the world over the last hundred years than in the previous 6000. The expectation that this will have no impact at all on the way prophecy is fulfilled is uncertain at best. World wide Sunday legislation could still happen but fixing on that single detail (Congressional legislation) as the key could prove to be a major distraction when the time comes.
The final blog will offer a possible scenario for Sunday laws at the End and draw some conclusion on the matter.