Category Archives: Apocalyptic

Sunday Laws and Bible Prophecy (10): The Key Statements of Ellen White

The first of the best-known statements of Ellen White on Sunday laws at the End is in The Great Controversy, page 573. I will quote the full statement and then make some brief comments: “In the movements now in progress in the United States to secure for the institutions and usages of the church the support of the state, Protestants are following in the steps of papists. Nay, more, they are opening the door for the papacy to regain in Protestant America the supremacy which she has lost in the Old World. And that which gives greater significance to this movement is the fact that the principal object contemplated is the enforcement of Sunday observance–a custom which originated with Rome, and which she claims as the sign of her authority. It is the spirit of the papacy–the spirit of conformity to worldly customs, the veneration for human traditions above the commandments of God–that is permeating the Protestant churches and leading them on to do the same work of Sunday exaltation which the papacy has done before them.”

Note first that this statement concerns “the enforcement of Sunday observance” in the United States. It is something that had been commonly done in Europe when the Roman Church had much more authority there than she ever had in the United States. But in this case the driving force behind the drive for enforcement was the Protestant leadership of the US government in the Nineteenth Century. Ellen White is not talking about some distant, future event, the movements to enforce Sunday observance were “now in progress in the United States”. She was speaking about current events in her context and the outcome of those current events for the future.

She returns to this matter on page 579 of The Great Controversy: “It has been shown that the United States is the power represented by the beast with lamblike horns, and that this prophecy will be fulfilled when the United States shall enforce Sunday observance, which Rome claims as the special acknowledgment of her supremacy. But in this homage to the papacy the United States will not be alone. The influence of Rome in the countries that once acknowledged her dominion is still far from being destroyed. And prophecy foretells a restoration of her power. . . . In both the Old and the New World, the papacy will receive homage in the honor paid to the Sunday institution, that rests solely upon the authority of the Roman Church.
“Since the middle of the nineteenth century, students of prophecy in the United States have presented this testimony to the world. In the events now taking place is seen a rapid advance toward the fulfillment of the prediction.”

In this statement she is clearly making reference to Revelation 13 when she mentions the beast with the lamblike horns (Rev 13:11). She indicates that this prophecy will be fulfilled when the United States as a nation shall enforce Sunday observance. In some form this will also occur in the “Old World”, a common reference in Ellen White’s time for Europe. And, once again, she makes it clear that this is not some distant, future event. The movement toward Sunday enforcement is already in motion and moving rapidly toward an outcome that would include both the United States and Europe. Her prophecy of the future was a natural extension of things occurring in her day.

All in all Ellen White makes perhaps a hundred references to Sabbath-Sunday issues at the end of time. But this statement is different from all the earlier ones. What is different about this statement is that it is not referring merely to Sunday legislation here and there in various states, but something that would occur as a whole nation. To see the significance of this, it is helpful to know that the story of the Great Controversy came in seven editions (Early Writings, Spiritual Gifts, Spirit of Prophecy, Story of Redemption, and three editions of The Great Controversy—1884, 1888, 1911). What may surprise some is that the first five editions (through GC 1884) speak in general about Sunday legislation without the specifics of a national Sunday law legislated in Congress. It is only in the year 1888, the same year that Senator Henry Blair introduced a national Sunday law into the US Congress, that we see the addition of a national move to enforce Sunday in her projections of the End. I have gone through two collections of all of Ellen White’s statements on Sunday laws. There are actually only two statements about a national Sunday law, and both of them were written in the year 1888 (later statements, like the 1911 edition of GC, are reprints of the earlier statements). We will come to the second statement in the next blog.

Sunday Laws and Bible Prophecy (8): The Mark and the Seal

How shall we understand the “mark of the beast” in the context of Revelation 13? The most obvious parallel to the mark is the seal of God. The seal is placed on the foreheads of God’s servants (the 144,000) to protect them from Satan’s destructive efforts when the four winds of the earth are released (Rev 7:1-3). An evident parallel to the seal of God is the 144,000 having the Lamb’s name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. In the Hebrew context names are associated with a person’s character. So the seal of God seems to have something to do with the character of those being sealed.

This is supported by the wider use of sealing in the New Testament. In Ephesians 1:13, sealing by the Holy Spirit is the consequence of a faith response to the gospel. It represents the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. This sealing is a lifelong experience of the Spirit after conversion (Eph 4:30). It is the evidence that a person truly is known by God and belongs to Him (2 Tim 2:19). In the Second Christian Century, sealing was associated with baptism. So the seal of God has to do with the character transformation that happens as a consequence of a genuine relationship with God.

Revelation 7 and 14 place this sealing in an end-time context, as does Ellen White: ““(The seal of God) is not any seal or mark that can be seen, but a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved.” SDABC, vol. 4, 1161, Last-Day Events, 219-220. Ellen White understands the last-day sealing to be deepening of commitment and a completion of Christian maturity. Those who have to pass through the trials of the end-time cannot be the kind of believers Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:14, “Tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine. . . .” Likewise, at the End, Satan is forming his image into those committed to his side of the conflict. That makes the mark of the beast the mirror counterpart of the seal of God. The three angels (Rev 14:6-12) and the three frogs (Rev 16:13-14) both go out to the nations of the world. The end result is three types of people, as mentioned earlier. Those fully committed to God (the sealed), those fully committed in opposition to God (marked on the forehead), and those who go along with the beast and its image in order to preserve their lives and economic opportunities. Just as the seal of God provides protection to God’s people at the End (Rev 7:1-3, cf. Ezek 9:1-7), so the mark of the beast provides “protection” against the death decree and economic boycott of Revelation 13:15-17.

There is one further element to the mark of the beast. It is part of the beast’s counterfeit of the first four commandments of the Decalogue. The forehead and the hand echoes Moses’ call for Israel’s complete commitment to the commandments of God (Deut 6:4-8). In contrast, the beast and his image violate the first four commandments. The first commandment says to have no other gods before Yahweh. The dragon and the beast seek to be worshiped as gods (Rev 13:4, 8). The second commandment forbids the worship of images, the beast sets up an image to be worshiped (Rev 13:15). The third commandment forbids taking the Lord’s name in vain, the beast is full of blasphemy (Rev 13:1, 5-6). The mark of the beast is in defiance of the Sabbath, which is brought in on God’s side in Rev 14:7 (cf. Exod 20:11). If the law of God is a transcript of His character, you can see what is happening here, a rejection of God’s character and an affirmation of Satan’s. Satan’s character, in contrast with God’s, will be fully revealed in the final conflict.

The previous paragraph underlines that the Sabbath is a crucial issue in the final conflict. It also suggests that some counterfeit of the Sabbath will be central to the beast’s actions in the same conflict. What is less clear in the text is exactly what form that counterfeit will take. I can think of four options: 1) Another day (as in Sunday), 2) no day is a Sabbath (abolished), 3) every day is a Sabbath (not much different than two), and 4) force work or forbid worship on Sabbath. When dealing with Revelation 13 Ellen White normally works from number 1) above, but on at least one occasion mentions number 4). In the blogs that follow we will look at the evidence of Ellen White herself in the context of American religious history.

Sunday Laws and Bible Prophecy (6): The Image of the Beast

The deception of Revelation 13:13-14 results in the formation of an image to and of the beast, presumably the first beast of Revelation 13 that came up out of the sea. “And he [the land beast] was permitted to give breath to the image of the beast, in order that the image of the beast might speak and might cause whoever does not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” Rev 13:15. Typical of Jewish apocalyptic literature, the book of Revelation never quotes the Old Testament, but it alludes to it very frequently, using key words, phrases, ideas and structures to signal the reading to incorporate OT knowledge into the interpretation of a passage. We saw such allusions to the OT in 13:13-14: the experience of Elijah on Mount Carmel (fire from heaven) and the deceptive miracles of Pharaoh’s magicians.

The combination of image and breath is an unmistakable allusion to the early chapters of Genesis. God created male and female in His own image (Gen 1:26-27), using His breath to install the software of life into Adam’s earthy body. More than just oxygen, God was installing the life principle, with its unique personality and traits and that life principle included the “image of God.” That phrase is not used for the creation of animals. So there was something very godlike about Adam and Eve. They reflected God’s character in their own.

The beast from the sea is in the image of the dragon (Rev 13:1, cf. 12:4), which is also defined as the ancient serpent, Satan (Rev 12:9). So the phrase “image of the beast” implies a similar relationship to Satan as Adam originally had to God. Revelation 13:15 is telling us that at the end of time Satan will seek to implant his image into the human race in contrast to the image and character of God. Just as God’s breath installed His design into the human race, Satan at the End will seek to install his own design into the human race. The contrast could not be more stark, as noted in the previous blog in this series. Satan’s character prized lies and unreality (deception—Rev 13:13-14), intimidation and force (Rev 13:12, 15-17). Both qualities are summed up by Jesus in John 8:44. In contrast, God always speaks the truth (Rev 3:14; 15:3) and prizes human freedom (Rev 22:17). God never forces anyone. So the two sides in the final conflict grow increasingly apart as they model more and more the character of the God they worship.

The ultimate outcome of the formation of an image to the beast is to exhibit the murderous character of Satan (John 8:44) in a death decree. When the image of the beast comes to life it will “cause whoever does not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” Rev 13:15. This is a clear allusion to the Plain of Dura event in Daniel 3. There an image was set up for worship. All who would not worship Nebuchanezzar’s image would be thrown into the fiery furnace. Likewise, at the end of time, a decree goes forth that all who would not worship the image of the beast, all who will not conform to the beast’s (Satan’s) character, will be killed. Two other OT death decrees may also be in mind here, the lion’s den incident of Daniel 6, and the genocidal decree of Haman in the book of Esther (3:6, 13). The final era of earth’s history will include a replay of earlier attempts to destroy God’s people. But that is not all that Satan has in mind for the End-time.

Signs of the End: Are the Signs Really Signs?

When I was eight years old, I stood with my parents in front of our home and watched Sputnik (the first man-made satellite of earth) move with surprising speed across the night sky. Shortly after that an earnest fellow believer declared, “God will never let man land on the moon, Jesus will come first.” For him, as for many Christians, various events in today’s world provide evidence or signs that the coming of Jesus is truly near. He felt that since it would be inappropriate for human beings to defile another planet (having already messed up this one!), the approach of human exploration of the moon and the planets became a “sign” that the second coming of Jesus was at hand.

A few years later I got up at three in the morning to witness the live broadcast of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. Jesus did not come to intervene. Evidently human occupation of the moon was of less concern to God than my fellow believer had assumed. It turned out not to be a “sign of the End.” Incidents like these make people wonder: Will we ever know with absolute certainty that the return of Jesus is at hand? Are the signs really signs?

When we examine the New Testament, we discover that many world events that Christians take as “signs of the End” are really “signs of the age” instead. Rather than pointing to the timing of the second coming, they confirm that His predicted return at the end of the age is secure. They encourage us to believe that if Jesus knew the character of the whole age in advance, He will not be mistaken about the event that brings it to a close.

For example, when the disciples asked Jesus (Matt 24:3) about the “sign”of His coming and the end of the age, He replied, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” Matt 24:6 (NIV). Wars and rumors of wars made great signs of the End in the Jewish apocalyptic of Jesus’ day, but in Matt 24 they do not herald the End, they are part of what life is like before the End.

To fully understand what Jesus was doing in Matthew 24, it is helpful understand how the Judaism of Jesus’ day handled the same ideas (an excellent summary of the early Jewish perspective on signs can be found in D. S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964], 271-276). The Jewish understanding of signs, which the disciples of Jesus would have shared, was based on the Day of the Lord passages in the OT. It was felt that the near approach of the End would be marked by wars, wickedness, earthquakes, famines, and heavenly portents, among other things. So Jesus is not inventing the concept of signs, He is moderating their impact on the disciples. So it is fascinating that Jesus’ “signs” are generally used for the opposite of the purpose He intended.

Jesus goes on: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” Matt 24:7-8. Wars, famines and earthquakes do not signal the End, they signal the beginning! The disciples asked for a sign of the End, Jesus gave them signs of the age. These “signs” are not intended to stimulate speculation regarding the timing of the end, they are to remind us of Jesus’ words, which encourage us to be watchful for the End at all times (Matt 24:42).

Jesus does seem to give a measurable sign of the nearness of the End in Matt 24:14. The End will come when the gospel has been preached to the whole world. Yes, the gospel must be preached to the world before the Lord comes, but it is not the kind of sign you can base a calculation on. After all, Paul had the impression that this sign had been fulfilled already in his day (Col 1:23). The only sign that meets the disciples’ intention is the “sign of the son of man” in 24:30. But this appears to be the literal glory that surrounds Jesus Himself at His coming. Those who wait for this sign will be too late.

Jesus’ response to His disciples is disappointing to me in a way. It would seem easier for us if He would have given us all the details about the End, and the events leading up to It, then we could line them all up, see exactly where we are, and know when we have to get ready. But apparently that wasn’t Jesus’ purpose. Apparently that wouldn’t have been the best thing for us. What then was His purpose in this chapter? He gives us that in Matt 24:42. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (26): The Time of Jesus and John

Someone noticed number 26 was missing. I wrote this and somehow never posted it. So here it is, in belated fashion.

The result of the dragon’s attack in 12:4-5 is to split up the woman and the child. He is snatched up to heaven and she flees into the desert, under God’s protection but still on earth (Rev 12:6). When the male child reaches heaven war breaks out there, with the result that the dragon and his angels lose their place in heaven and are hurled down (evblh,qh) to earth (12:7-9). When did this casting out take place? Verse 10 clearly addresses the same point in time as the war of 7-9. “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers has been hurled down.”

The time of the war in heaven is the time when the kingdom of God and the authority of Christ were clearly established (12:10). In the book of Revelation, this took place at the enthronement of the Lamb in as a result of His overcoming at the cross (Rev 5:5-6, cf. 3:21). Throughout the New Testament the Kingdom of God was seen as a present reality in the person of Jesus (Matt 12:28; Luke 17:20-21, etc.) and was established in force at His ascension when He joined His Father on the heavenly throne (cf. Heb 8:1-2, etc.). “Accuser of our brothers” (12:10) is a play on the Hebrew meaning of the word Satan (12:9), which means “the one who accuses.” Apparently up until the cross, Satan and his accusations still had a certain credibility in heavenly places (Job 1:6; Zech 3:1-2), but now this is all over. The accused can now overcome Satan by “the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (verse 11). Beale addresses this matter in a fascinating way, “The emphasis on Satan’s accusatorial role in 12:10 reveals that the angelic battle of vv 7-9 was figurative for a courtroom battle between two opposing lawyers, with one losing the argument and being disbarred for employing illegal tactics.”

The language of 12:7-9, however, is also reminiscent of 12:4, where the dragon hurled (e;balen) a third of the stars from heaven to earth. But that event occurred before the birth of Christ, and the war of 12:7-9 occurred after the ascension. So there are two separate events in this chapter in which a hurling down from heaven occurs, one is prior to the birth of Christ (12:4), and the other is after His ascension (12:7-10).

How long before the birth of Christ did the dragon sweep a third of the stars from heaven to earth? The traditional Adventist answer is “before creation.” The exact timing of that action is not addressed in this chapter, but a strong hint is found in Rev 13:8, where the Lamb is described as “slain from the creation of the world” (tou/ evsfagme,nou avpo. katabolh/j ko,smou). This comment finds no context in the entire book unless the dragon’s action in 12:4 represents that primeval attack on the Lamb. If that is the case, the war in heaven of 12:7-9, while clearly in the context of the cross in Revelation 12, nevertheless speaks in the language of that earlier conflict, as noted by scholars such as Adela Yarbro Collins.
In His earthly life, therefore, Jesus was participating in a war that had begun in heaven before His arrival on earth (Rev 12:3-4,7-9). At His ascension, Jesus establishes His kingdom and casts the “accuser of the brothers” (Rev 12:10) out of heaven. Since the dragon had already been cast out of heaven physically, according to the symbolism of 12:4, the language of 12:7-12 implies that after the Christ-event, Satan has no more influence over heavenly deliberations. This casting out is, therefore, more spiritual than physical. It is interesting, that while the dragon appears in all four stages of the conflict in chapter 12, the actions of Jesus, expressed in the images of the male child, the Lamb, Christ, and probably Michael, are confined to the second stage, the time of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and heavenly rule (Rev 12:5-10).

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (29): Conclusion

Even in apocalyptic prophecy God meets people where they are.  Although He knows the end from the beginning, He does not choose to express Himself beyond the comprehension of the original writer and audience.  Historicism, therefore, is built on passages where the time element is not explicit at the point of first reception.  Events can be portrayed as a long time in the future (Dan 8:26-27: 12:11-13) or extremely near (Rev 1:3; 22:10).  Whether the sequence of Daniel 2 would take a lifetime or thousands of years was not evident in the vision itself, but becomes evident with the passage of time.

So it is also with Revelation 12.  The vision clearly begins with the generation of Jesus and John and moves to the final events of earth’s history.  But the great length of the intervening period is not obvious from markers in the text, being hidden in the use of days instead of years among other things.  As history progresses and the time of fulfillment comes, the sequences and their historical fulfillment become more plain (John 13:19; 14:29).

It is probably true that none of the biblical writers foresaw the enormous length of the Christian era.  The passage of time has opened up new vistas in terms of the Lord’s patience and purpose.  Having foreseen such a delay, would not God prepare His people to understand the great events by which He is bringing history to its climax?  Historicism is grounded in the conviction that God knows the end from the beginning and cares enough for His people to share an outline of those events.  While it is only from the perspective of the Parousia that history will speak with perfect clarity, each generation must make the attempt to understand biblical apocalyptic or risk being surprised by God’s final acts (Rev 16:15 cf. 1 Thess 5:1-6).

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (28): The Final Attack on the Remnant

Rev 12:17 serves as a summary introduction to Revelation’s portrayal of a great final crisis at the conclusion of earth’s history. It indicates that there are two sides in the final conflict, represented by the dragon, on the one hand, and the remnant on the other. But the dragon does not immediately act on his anger. Instead he “went away” to make war. Why? Because he was frustrated by repeated failures in the course of apocalyptic history. He was not strong enough to last in heaven (Rev 12:8), he failed to destroy the man-child of the woman (Rev 12:3-5), and he failed to destroy the woman herself (Rev 12:16). Because of his repeated failures he realizes he doesn’t have the strength to defeat God’s purposes by himself, so he decides to enter the final conflict with allies, a beast from the sea and a beast from the earth (Rev 13:1-18). The remnant are ultimately, therefore, faced with three opponents: 1) the dragon; 2) the sea beast, and 3) the land beast.

In the book of Revelation, God is often spoken of in three’s–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Rev 1:4-5). So the dragon, the sea beast and the land beast in Revelation 13 would seem to be a counterfeit of the holy three, an alternative to the true Godhead. These texts indicate that there is to be a great, final world-wide deception where a counterfeit “trinity” stands in the place of the true God. The purpose of the counterfeit is to deceive the world.

Rev 12:17 summarizes the final stage of earth’s history in a nutshell, the rest of the book of Revelation elaborates on that summary introduction. Rev 13, for example, outlines in more detail the dragon’s war against the remnant of the woman’s seed (Rev 12:17). Linguistically this occurs in two great stages signaled by the Greek tenses in relation to the final attack of Rev 12:17. Two beasts (from the sea and the earth) are each given “character introductions” in past tense (Rev 13:1-7; 13:11). These past-tense portions begin with a visual description of each character followed by an account of that character’s subsequent actions. Being in the past tense, these actions would seem to have occurred prior to the dragon’s final war against the remnant.

In each scene the Greek of Rev 13 then moves from description in the past to a mixture of present and future tenses (Rev 13:8-10; 13:12-18), describing the actions of these two beasts in the context of the final attack of Rev 12:17. So two stages of history are clearly marked off by the Greek tenses signaling events prior to the dragon’s war (past tenses) and an elaboration of the events of the war itself (present and future tenses). Beale has noted that Rev 13 is parallel in time with 12:13-17, which coheres with the Adventist position described here.

There is one further passage in Revelation which speaks to this end-time deception, Rev 16:13-16, the famous Battle of Armageddon passage. Here the counterfeit trinity of Rev 13 uses demonic spirits that look like frogs to gather the kings of earth for the final battle. Since frogs were the last plague that the magicians of ancient Egypt were able to counterfeit (see Exod 7:18-19 in context), the use of frogs as a symbol here signals that the message of Revelation 16 has to do with the last deception of earth’s history.

The three frogs are the demonic counterparts of the three God-sent angels of Rev 14:6-12. Both groups of angels have a mission to the whole world (Rev 14:6; 16:14), one trio calling the world to worship God, and the other seeking to gather the people of the world into the service of the unholy trinity. The final showdown takes place at “Armageddon” (Rev 16:16).

My work on the “Armageddon” article for the Anchor Bible Dictionary led me to the conclusion that the best way to understand the word Armageddon, in the light of the Biblical evidence, is as the Greek form of a couple of Hebrew words that mean “Mountain of Meggido.” Meggido was a city on a small elevation at the edge of the Plain of Jezreel. Looming over the place where the city of Megiddo was, however, is a range of mountains called Carmel.

What counts for Revelation is that Mount Carmel was the place where the great Old Testament showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal took place (1 Kings 18:16-46). On that occasion God answered Elijah’s prayer to bring fire down from heaven onto an altar in order to prove that Yahweh was the true God, not Baal.

According to Revelation, the Mount Carmel experience will be repeated at the End. Once again there will be a showdown between the true God and a devious counterfeit. But it will be different this time. At the End the fire that comes down falls from heaven will fall on the wrong altar. It will be the counterfeit Elijah and the counterfeit three angels who bring fire down from heaven to earth (Rev 13:13,14). On that day all the evidence of the five senses will suggest that the counterfeit trinity is the true God. Adventists see themselves as the “church of the remnant” whose recognition of the realities described in these prophecies enables them to help prepare their fellow Christians and others for the unique challenges of the last days.

Revelation 12, therefore, clearly demonstrates the successive stages of prophetic history that are characteristic of the historical type of apocalyptic found in Daniel 2 and 7. Observing carefully the markers in the text, the author’s use of character introductions and way the Old Testament is utilized, we have detected three stages of Christian history running from the time of Jesus and the John to the end of all things. When we note that at least two of the main characters in the chapter were active in the time before the birth of Jesus (which we will call below Stage Zero), there are a total of four successive stages of apocalyptic history.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (27): The Broad Sweep of Christian History

Rev 12:12 makes the transition between the experience of Jesus, in his various symbolic representations, and the vision’s renewed focus on the woman back on earth. Her exile into the desert was introduced in 12:6 and now becomes the focus of the devil/dragon, who was angered by his casting out and by the knowledge that “his time is short.” In apocalyptic language this verse tells us that after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the church took the brunt of Satan’s wrath on earth (Rev 12:13-16). Having been cast out of heaven, the dragon pursues the woman into the desert (12:13). The language of 12:13-16 is reminiscent of several accounts in the Old Testament, the vision of Daniel 7, the Exodus from Egypt, and the temptation and fall in the Garden of Eden.

The language of “a time, times and half a time” recalls Dan 7:25, as do the seven heads and the ten horns of the dragon who pursues the woman. In Daniel 7 the breakup of Rome into ten parts was followed by a little horn power, which was to persecute and “oppress God’s saints for a time, times and half a time.” (Dan 7:25) The only time in history that comes even close to matching this description is the Middle Ages, when the Roman Papacy dominated the Western world and drove competing views of Christianity into obscurity.

“The mouth of the serpent” (Rev 12:15) reminds the reader of the deceptive words of the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3). The flooding waters that attack the woman in the desert (the faithful church), therefore, imply deceptive and persuasive words as much as persecuting force. In the Middle Ages, unbiblical teachings were fed to the people in the name of Christ.

The woman fleeing into the desert on the two wings of a great eagle (Rev 12:14) reminds the reader of the Exodus experience, where God carried the tribes of Israel “on eagle’s wings” out of Egypt (Exod 19:4). So the experience of the woman, who represents the people of God, is built on the language of Old Testament Israel, both before and after the time of Christ. The experiences of Old Testament Israel and those of the Church are closely entwined in the book of Revelation.

In Rev 12:16 the “earth” helped the woman. This is a further allusion to the Exodus and Israel’s experience in the desert. The desert protected Israel from the “flooding waters” of both the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. If “sea” also represents the settled populations of the earth (as Rev 17:15 may suggest), “earth” here may represent more desolate places where the true people of God obtained refuge from deceptive and persecuting opponents; the Alps in Europe during the Middle Ages, and places like North America, South Africa, and Australia afterward. Toward the end of the 1260 years (the 16th through the 18th centuries) many forces came together to elevate the Bible and to end the persecution of God’s people; the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, and the beginnings of the great missionary expansion of the 19th century. During that period of calm, the dragon prepares for his final attack (Rev 12:17).

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (25): Revelation 12

A good reason to choose Revelation 12 as a sample passage for detecting apocalyptic is that it is widely seen as a center and key to the entire book. In addition, Adventists understand Revelation 12 to offer an apocalyptic prophecy of three sequential stages of Christian history. The first stage is the Christ-event back in the first century (Rev 12:1-5). The third is the final battle between the dragon and the Remnant (12:17). The second is the vast middle period of 1260 years of papal supremacy in the Middle Ages and beyond. Let’s take a careful look at the chapter in light of the previous work in this paper to see whether it best reflects the historicist sequences of apocalyptic prophecy, or whether it should be interpreted along the lines of classical prophecy.

First of all, chapter 12 does have a couple of the textual markers that indicate passage of time. In Rev 12:6 the woman is taken care of by God in the desert for 1260 days. In Rev 12:14 she is taken care of for a time, times and half a time, presumably the same period as 12:6. So Revelation 12 is not describing a single event, but a considerable period of time. This alone inclines an interpreter to see Rev 12 in apocalyptic terms rather than those of classical prophecy.

This impression is enhanced when the reader realizes that the cryptic phrase “a time, times, and half a time” (Rev 12:14) is unquestionably based on a couple of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel (Dan 7:25; 12:7). Further study leads to the discovery that Rev 12 builds on Daniel throughout. The dragon of Rev 12:3-4 has a number of the characteristics of the beasts of Daniel 7 and of the little horn (Dan 7:7,24; 8:10). Among other things, if you total up the number of heads and horns among the four beasts of Dan 7 you get seven heads and ten horns. The war in heaven of 12:7-9 makes several allusions to Daniel (Dan 2:35; 10:13,20-21; 12:1). This broad utilization of Daniel’s apocalyptic prophecies enhances the impression that Rev 12 should be interpreted along similar lines.

Finally, Revelation 12 contains a number of character identifications with their typical time sequences. First, a woman appears in heaven, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head (12:1). 12:1-2 is based on the Old Testament image of a virtuous woman as a symbol of faithful Israel (Isa 26:16-27; 54:5; 66:7-14; Hos 2:14-20), anticipating the arrival of the messianic age. So the woman of Rev 12 has a “pedigree” that carries back well into Old Testament prophecy. According to Isa 66:7, she is the faithful Israel that longed to give birth to the Lord’s salvation. But in verse 5 she acts in the context of the vision, giving birth to a male child who is generally recognized to be a symbol of Jesus. So her character and actions described in 12:1-2 are clearly prior to the actions in verses 5 and the actions of verse 5 are prior to the actions of verse 6. After she gives birth to the child (12:5) she is seen fleeing into the desert for a lengthy period (12:6). So the experience of the woman in Rev 12:1-6 is actually depicted in three stages; 1) the time of her appearance and pregnancy, 2) the time of giving birth, and 3) the time of fleeing into the desert.

The second character to be introduced in this chapter is the dragon (Rev 12:3-4), who represents the devil, or Satan (Rev 12:9). The dragon’s initial action in the context of the vision is described in 12:4, where he waits before the woman, seeking to devour her child as soon as it is born. Scholars widely recognize that the dragon’s attack on the male child in Rev 12:5 represents Herod’s attempt to destroy the Christ child by killing all the babies in Bethlehem (Matt 2:1-18). But the description of the dragon, as it was with the woman, carries back to a time before the events of the vision.

The dragon’s pedigree is seen in the heads and the horns of Daniel 7 (Rev 12:3), it is the embodiment of the kingdoms of the world in service of Satan. His pedigree, in fact, goes all the way back to Eden (“the old serpent”– Rev 12:9,15). And prior to his attack on the woman, his tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to earth (Rev 12:4), an allusion to Daniel 8:10.

But the dragon isn’t finished when the male child gets away in verse 5. The dragon pursues the woman into the desert (12:13-16) and eventually makes war with the remnant of her seed. So the dragon in chapter 12 is actually described in terms of four successive stages, 1) his attack on a third of the stars (12:4), 2) his attack on the male child (12:4-5), 3) his attack against the woman herself (12:13-16), and finally 4) his war against the remnant. The character and actions of both the woman and the dragon suggest the successive periods of a historical apocalypse.

The third character to be introduced in this chapter is the male child, the woman’s son. The scene is reminiscent of Gen 3:15, where the seed of the woman is the one who will crush the serpent’s head. This character introduction is unique in the sense that instead of describing a pedigree or prior action on the part of this male child, the introduction focuses instead on action beyond the time of the vision. Using the future tense, He is described as the one who “will rule (me,llei poimai,nein) all the nations with an iron scepter” (Rev 12:5). This allusion to Psalm 2:9 describes Jesus’ judgment role at the end of time. The very next phrase reverts to the visionary past, “her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.” In 12:5 reference is made, then, to the birth, the ascension, and the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ. The death of Christ on the cross is only brought into play in verses 10-12.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (24): Detecting Apocalyptic Sequences II

Old Testament Roots
When reading the Book of Revelation one is plunged fully into the atmosphere of the Old Testament. No book of the New Testament is as saturated with the Old as this one is. But while it is not difficult to recognize the central place of the Old Testament in the Book of Revelation, it is difficult to determine exactly how it is being used there. A reader acquainted with the Old Testament quickly notices that Revelation never directly quotes the Old Testament, rather it alludes to it with a word here, a phrase there, or a concept in another place. Careful and consistent application of method is essential to recognizing the Old Testament subtext to the apocalyptic prophecies of Revelation. Such a method is laid out in the report from the Daniel and Revelation Committee in the early 90s.

The importance of the Old Testament in Revelation can be seen by a second look at the character introduction passages examined above. The vision in which Jesus is physically introduced to the reader (Rev 1:12-16) is based on a variety of Old Testament texts. The golden lampstands are a reminder of the lampstand in the Old Testament sanctuary (Exod 25:31-40) and the vision of Zechariah (Zech 4:2,10). Jesus’ dress recalls the dress of the High Priest in the same sanctuary (Exod 28:4,31). The voice like rushing waters reminds the reader of the appearance of Almighty God in the book of Ezekiel (Ezek 1:24; 43:2). The two-edged sword coming from Jesus’ mouth is reminiscent of Yahweh’s judgments through His messianic Servant in Isaiah (Isa 11:4; 49:2). The reader’s appreciation and understanding of Revelation’s apocalyptic-style symbolism is greatly enhanced by following up a veritable mosaic of Old Testament allusions.

But what ties all these Old Testament allusions together is a comprehensive utilization of the descriptions of two characters in the book of Daniel, the Son of Man of Dan 7:13-14 and Daniel’s mysterious visitor in 10:5-6. Virtually every detail of the description in 1:12-16 is found in those two passages. The same Jesus who walked and talked with ordinary people here on earth is described in terms of the mighty acts of Yahweh and of His heavenly and earthly messengers in the Old Testament. The parallels to the Old Testament lend much meaning to what otherwise would be a bewildering and incomprehensible description. So Jesus is depicted in this introduction as a heavenly priest, cosmic ruler, and divine judge. In 1:17-18 he exercises his priesthood in his merciful gentleness to John, 1:19-20 makes clear that his royal rule will be exercised in judgment, both positive and negative, toward the churches. And this marvelous passage right at the beginning of the book of Revelation emphasizes its strong ties to the apocalyptic book of Daniel.

The description of the two witnesses (Rev 11:3-6), on the other hand, is based on the lampstand passage of Zechariah (Zech 4:2-3,11-14), and also the exploits of Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament (cf. Exod 7:17-21; 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 1:10-12). The two witnesses are prophets like the great prophets of the Old Testament; Moses, Elijah and Zechariah. But the prophets in Revelation all bear witness to Jesus (Rev 1:9; 2:13; 12:11,17; 17:6). The richness of these background narratives is crucial to understanding what John was trying to say in writing the visions out as he did. So careful attention to the Old Testament becomes a crucial part of the process by which apocalyptic prophecies need to be understood.