Tag Archives: ellen White and Revelatoin

Ellen White and the Time of the Seventh Trumpet (EWB 20)

Ellen White’s perspective on the seventh trumpet is problematic for exegesis at first glance. In EW 36 she alludes to Rev 11:18 as follows: “I saw that the anger of the nations, the wrath of God, and the time to judge the dead were separate and distinct, one following the other, also that Michael had not stood up, and that the time of trouble, such as never was, had not yet commenced. The nations are now getting angry, but when our High Priest has finished His work in the sanctuary, He will stand up, put on the garments of vengeance, and then the seven last plagues will be poured out.”

In this passage she “saw” that the anger of the nations is a developing process climaxing at the close of probation, which is followed by the seven last plagues (wrath of God) and the judgment of the dead. This statement appears to reject equating the “judgment of the dead” with the investigative judgment that begins in 1844. It is in harmony with her usual practice of placing the seventh trumpet in the future from her perspective (EW 85-86, 279-280). While the nations “are getting angry,” they are restrained by the four angels who hold the four winds in Rev 7:1-3 (EW 85-86, RH Jan 28, 1909, RH Nov 17, 1910, 1SM 221-222, 6T 14).

Some fifty years later, however, she seems to suggest that the “nations are angry, and the time of the dead has come, that they should be judged.” (6T 14) Since the onset of the Investigative Judgment precedes both statements, they appear to be in tension with each other. The problem can be resolved, however, by a number of considerations. 1) The language of the first statement is more directly exegetical (she is unfolding the meaning of the text), while the latter is more an echo of the language of Rev 11:18. 2) The former statement clearly harmonizes with the close of probation language of Rev 10:7. 3) The context of 6T 14 expresses her expectation of an imminent conclusion of history. She uses such statements as, “We are standing upon the threshold of great and solemn events. . . . Only a moment of time, as it were, yet remains.” Thus, an exegetical statement such as EW 36, describing events which are future in fulfillment, will naturally appear to be in tension with a statement of imminent expectation, where those events are described as “at hand.”

Conclusion to the series of blogs on Ellen White and the Seven Trumpets of Revelation:

The examination of these few occasions when Ellen White seems to engage the seven trumpets of Revelation well demonstrates the problem of ambiguity in dealing with the writings of a dead prophet. From our perspective it would have been extremely helpful had she clarified the issues regarding the timing and meaning of the trumpets which are of such interest today. But assuming that she had the kind of direct line to God that I don’t have, the Lord did not see fit to provide such information through her writings. If she had a view on the exegetical meaning of the seven trumpets, she has left no clear, unambiguous evidence of it. As has always been the case, revelation comes to a prophet within his/her time, place, circumstances, interests, and concerns. When the questions of a later period are addressed to an inspired text, the text is often silent or ambiguous regarding those matters. At such times the soundest approach is to avoid the use of ambiguous texts as “missiles” to confuse or confound the “enemy” (those holding a different view). With regard to the meaning of the seven trumpets of Revelation, most of her relevant statements are less than crystal-clear with regard to the issues that emerge from the biblical text. The meaning of the trumpets must be established on the basis of careful exegesis of the biblical text. Somehow, I get the feeling that Ellen White would have wanted it that way.

Ellen White and the Beast from the Abyss (EWB 19)

In The Great Controversy, pages 265-288 Ellen White identifies the power which opposed the two witnesses as revolutionary France. She also believed that the ideological forces which shaped the revolution would have a powerful impact again at the end of time: “. . . the world-wide dissemination of the same teachings that led to the French Revolution–all are tending to involve the whole world in a struggle similar to that which convulsed France.” Ed 228.

Since the power that opposed the two witnesses in Revelation is identified as the “beast which comes up out of the abyss” (Rev 11:7), it is intriguing to suspect that the fifth trumpet, which is concerned with the opening of the abyss and the tormenting powers that are thereby unleashed, may shed some light on the end-time manifestation of teachings that convulsed France some 200 years ago. While this pair of statements provided the intellectual stimulus for the historical application of the fifth trumpet that I currently favor, I must admit that the connections among all these are too tenuous to argue that Ellen White herself held that view.

But since a radical secularism interpretation of the fifth trumpet is plausible, based on the text of Revelation 9:1-11 in its larger context, it is very possible that the secular and post-modern developments of our time can be used by God to further His purposes. So-called post-moderism and related developments offer intriguing possibilities for rethinking how to frame ideas like gospel and church to meet the needs of a new generation. See my book Everlasting Gospel, Everchanging World for an elaboration of these ideas.

Ellen White and the Sealing of Revelation 9:4 II (EWB 18)

The reality is that, in spite of Ellen White’s overwhelming interest in the end-time concept of the sealing, in places she is quite capable of using the concept of sealing more along the lines of Paul than of Revelation 7. In CT 459 the seal is an ongoing mark of God’s approval of the message that Adventists were preaching: “Who among our teachers are awake, and as faithful stewards of the grace of God are giving the trumpet a certain sound? Who are voicing the message of the third angel, calling upon the world to make ready for the great day of God? The message we bear has the seal of the living God (compare with John 3:33; 6:27; Rom 15:28; 1 Cor 9:2.).

In relation to people, Ellen White understands the seal of God to be placed on those who possess “the sign of the cross of Calvary” and are wearing the wedding garment. Letter 126, 1898 (= 7BC 968). The seal is a “passport to the Holy City” which all must have in order to enter (TM 444-445). One is not saved without the seal (Letter 80, 1898 [= 7BC 969]). It is placed on all who love God in the practice of everyday life (RH Oct 23, 1888). The seal is placed on those who make their “calling and election sure” (cf. 2 Pet 1:10). EW 58.

This brief survey indicates that with regard to the sealing, as in so many areas, Ellen White demonstrates a sensitive awareness of the full richness of the biblical language that she so readily adopts. Her grasp of the scriptural intent is far greater than that of most who quote her writings in relation to exegetical issues (including myself). Wisdom would indicate that it is unwise to assume exactly how she would have exegeted Revelation 9:4 had she availed herself of the opportunity. Her lack of comment on Revelation 9:4 may rather indicate that it does not concern her primary interest in the concept of sealing, the end-time sealing so clearly portrayed in Revelation 7 and so often quoted by her. To understand the seal of Revelation 9:4 in terms of the general New Testament usage is not contrary to her understanding.

The implications of the above is that attempts to see the seven trumpets of Revelation as entirely in the future on the basis of the sealing of Revelation 9:4 are going beyond what the evidence will bear. Ellen White herself never references Revelation 9:4 when she talks about the end-time sealing and she never references it when using sealing in the more general New Testament way as a reference to conversion. The timing of the seven trumpets should not be grounded on Ellen White’s references to end-time sealing. As she herself would encourage us to do, the seven trumpets are best understood on the basis of careful study of the text of Revelation itself.

Ellen White and the Sealing of Revelation 9:4 (EWB 17)

A major issue in the Adventist interpretation of the seven trumpets is the significance of the sealing in Revelation 9:4. Is it the end-time sealing of Revelation 7? Or is the more general sealing process typical of the rest of the New Testament? Does Ellen White have only one view of sealing in Revelation, or does she utilize the concept in the variety of ways in which New Testament writers used it? One thing is perfectly clear, she never discusses Rev 9:4, not even in GC 334-335, the only place where she mentions the fifth trumpet at all. Therefore, her view of the matter is not explicit, it can only be inferred, if at all, from her view of the sealing in Revelation 7.

It may be helpful as we begin to briefly review the variety of meanings that pertain to the New Testament concept of sealing. When a seal is placed on a document, message, or tomb, its purpose is to conceal or to confine (Matt 27:66; Rev 5:1-2, 5, 9; 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12; 8:1; 10:4; 20:3; 22:10.). An alternative meaning is to certify that something or someone is reliable (John 3:33; 6:27; Rom 15:28; 1 Cor 9:2). But the predominant meaning of sealing in connection with God’s people is as an indication that one has been accepted by God (“God knows them that are His”: 2 Tim 2:19 cf. 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13; 4:30). In this sense, sealing was a present reality already in the time of Abraham (Rom 4:11).

Ellen White has little to say about the New Testament passages which connect sealing to acceptance with God. Her primary interest in the idea seems limited to the significance of Revelation 7, which clearly focuses on the end-time sealing. In spite of this, however, she does not limit sealing to a purely end-time setting. She repeatedly refers to her time as the time when the four angels are holding the four winds (5T 717-718, 6T 26, 61, 426, and some 18 statements in the Review and Herald from 1885-1912), and to the sealing time as a present reality (EW 43-44, Letter 270, 1907 [= 7BC 969], RH July 13, 1897, 1SM 66, and 5T 50). Therefore, while she normally refers to the sealing as a future, end-time event (See RH Sept 23, 1873 and May 28, 1889 as examples, this is in harmony with the exegesis of Revelation 7), she does not limit the process to the very end of time.

In terms of the meaning of sealing she once again is primarily interested in the meaning most appropriate to the situation of Revelation 7. The concept of the seal of God for her has special significance in the antitypical Day of Atonement. “Only those who, in their attitude before God, are filling the position of those who are repenting and confessing their sins in the great antitypical day of atonement, will be recognized and marked as worthy of God’s protection. The names of those who are steadfastly looking and waiting and watching for the appearing of their Saviour–more earnestly and wishfully than they who wait for the morning–will be numbered with those who are sealed.” TM 445.

This end-time seal provides protection in the time of trouble. EW 67, 71. It is placed upon those who prove loyal to the commandments of God (GC 613, Letter 76, 1900 [= 7BC 970], 2T 468) to the point of “perfection of character”(RH June 10, 1902 [= 6BC 1118], 5T 214, 216), “the likeness of Christ’s character”(EW 71, RH May 21, 1895 [= 7BC 970]) and genuine, conscientious Sabbath-keeping (including rejection of Sunday-worship– GC 605, Letter 76, 1900 [= 7BC 970], MS 27, 1899 [= 7BC 970], RH July 13, 1897, RH Apr 23, 1901, 5T 213, cf. 7BC 980 [= HS 213], GC 640, PP 307). Such definitions, of course, are not appropriate to the more general New Testament understanding of sealing exhibited in passages such Ephesians 1:13; 4:30 and 2 Timothy 2:19. Was she unaware of the more general meanings common to the NT? Would she have considered it inappropriate to apply them to Revelation 9:4, for instance, a passage that she never quoted or discussed? There are a few other statements of hers that I think will be of interest. Next time.

Ellen White and the Trumpets (EWB 14)

When it comes to the trumpets, unfortunately, Ellen White has very little to say. Only two statements are generally understood to offer meaningful comment on Revelation 8:7 through 9:21; they are found in Letter 109, 1890 and GC 334-335. On the surface, at least, the two statements point in opposite directions. One is often used to support an end-time scenario for the trumpets, the other to support Josiah Litch’s historicist account, which places the first six trumpets well in the past. Each of these statements will be examined briefly in turn. Four other possibilities will also be explored. Statements regarding Revelation 8:3-5, 11:7 and 11:18 may shed some light on Revelation 8:7-9:21, and statements regarding the sealing of Revelation 7 are often understood to impact on the meaning of Revelation 9:4.

Until recently, Seventh-day Adventist interpreters have rejected any futurist understanding of the first six trumpets. In the last few years, however, some have suggested that the seven trumpets have an end-time fulfillment, either in addition to or in place of the historical understandings of the past. This kind of interpretation seeks support in Ellen White’s statement in Letter 109, 1890: “Solemn events before us are yet to transpire. Trumpet after trumpet is to be sounded, vial after vial poured out one after another upon the inhabitants of the earth. Scenes of stupendous interest are right upon us.” This statement from a private letter was later published in 7BC 982, part of the Ellen White notes in the SDA Bible Commentary.

The understanding of this statement is not particularly aided by its context. The statement is very general and uses the term “trumpet” as part of a collection of statements concerning the terrors of the end. The statement was not published in Ellen White’s lifetime, and it does not offer an exegesis of Revelation 8 and 9. The only connection to Revelation 8-11 is the single word “trumpet.” There is no indication of an exegetical usage and it is the lone reference like this in all of her writings. Since the comment is confined to a personal letter and is not intentionally included in her published works, she does not appear to be attaching any great significance to it. Rather than attempting to set the groundwork for future exegesis of the trumpets, Ellen White appears to be merely echoing the language of Scripture to heighten her description of future calamity to move a person to action and commitment. There are too many uncertainties with regard to her intention for the passage, therefore, to offer any conclusive guidance to exegesis of the trumpets. If the trumpets are to be interpreted as future, it needs to be demonstrated by exegesis of the text itself.

An entirely different approach seeks support from the statement in GC 334-335. In this statement Ellen White gives apparent support to the view proposed by Josiah Litch and published by Uriah Smith in Daniel and the Revelation that the fifth and sixth trumpets portray the activities of the Saracens and Turks over a 1200-year period. While the SDA church holds the official view that doctrinal and exegetical positions should be based on the Bible and not on the writings of Ellen White, most SDAs would be uncomfortable rejecting a view that she seems to state clearly and unequivocally. Her endorsement in a major published work would have an almost overwhelming effect on interpretation of the trumpets.

Many E. G. White scholars, however, including Arthur White (her grandson) and Robert Olson (both directors of the White Estate), do not consider her language to be an endorsement of the Islamic view. She uses such neutral terms as “according to his calculations,” and “the event exactly fulfilled the prediction.” This leads one to suspect that she herself was uncertain as to the correct understanding of Revelation 9 and reported Litch’s view because of its historical significance. She points out that as a result of the apparent fulfillment of Litch’s prediction, multitudes were convinced of the correctness of the Millerite principles of prophetic interpretation, and many men of learning and position united with Miller. Litch’s position played a critical role in the historical context she was describing.

To compound the problem with the interpretation, Litch himself later repudiated that view because of, among other things, an error in calculating the supposed time period of Revelation 9:15. He overlooked the effect of the calendar change in 1582 when he predicted that the supposed time period of Revelation 9:15 would wind up on August 11, 1840. So even if Revelation 9:15 portrays a period of time rather than a point in time (which is grammatically problematic—see my comments on Revelation 9:15 in the Facebook commentary at the Armageddon web site), the specific position described in Great Controversy is in error. Since no one since has been able to salvage Litch’s view in the form reported in GC 334-335, it is probably better to understand her account as a historical report and not a theological endorsement.

In the blog that follows this one in a few days, I will address the issue of how such a reading of Ellen White is supported by her own statements and those of her closest associates. Stay tuned.

Ellen White and Revelation 6 (EWB 13)

There is a paucity of statements by Ellen White associated with the seals of Revelation 6. Most of her scriptural allusions to the seals have to do with the souls under the altar in the fifth seal and the heavenly signs mentioned in the sixth seal. There is, however, one most interesting reference to the horsemen of Rev 6:1-8. “The same spirit is seen today that is represented in Rev 6:6-8. History is to be reenacted. That which has been will be again. This spirit works to confuse and to perplex. Dissension will be seen in every nation, kindred, tongue and people, and those who have not had a spirit to follow the light that God has given through His living oracles, through His appointed agencies, will become confused. Their judgment will reveal weakness. Disorder and strife and confusion will be seen in the church. Ellen G. White, Letter 65, 1898; Manuscript Release #667.

This statement in its context is unquestionably a citation of the biblical text of the seven seals. The first two sentences imply that the third and fourth seals (Rev 6:6-8) refer to historical realities that are past, but the spirit of which continues in Ellen White’s present and future. Her statement as a whole implies that the third and fourth seal represent spiritual confusion and perplexity in the church. In the standard Adventist view of the seals, they have their primary historical fulfillment in the corrupted church of the Middle Ages, but the principle of confusion and apostasy is not limited to that period of history. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, the text of Revelation 6-7 points to an end-time consummation of the four horsemen in the four destroying winds of Rev 7:1-3.

In Testimonies for the Church, vol.6, p. 614 she appears to allude to the third seal of Revelation 6:5-6: “In view of the infinite price paid for man’s redemption, how dare any professing the name of Christ treat with indifference one of His little ones? How carefully should brethren and sisters in the church guard every word and action lest they hurt the oil and the wine! How patiently, kindly, and affectionately should they deal with the purchase of the blood of Christ!” This echo of biblical language suggests that the oil and wine represent those who believe in Jesus. If so, the command of Rev 6:6 not to hurt the oil and the wine symbolizes God’s protecting care for His faithful ones.

Of the roughly half-dozen statements alluding to the souls under the altar in the fifth seal, one applies the cry of the martyrs to the persecutions of the Old Testament era! RH July 17, 1900. Two apply the cry of the martyrs in a general sense. “The voices of those under the altar . . . are still saying, . . .” RH May 2, 1893, see also COL 179-180. The cry represents God’s continuing awareness of the injustice in the world. Other statements clearly imply an end-time setting, although even here (with the possible exception of MS 39, 1906) the usage is primarily in a general sense rather than as a specific exegetical interpretation. See 6BC 1081 (= RH Dec 21, 1897); 7BC 968 (= MS 39, 1906); 5T 451; RH June 15, 1897.

Ellen White’s multiple focus and application is supported by exegesis of the passage itself. The souls under the altar are the product of persecution throughout history leading up to the time of their cry. That cry is prior to the pre-advent judgment (cf. Rev 6:10). The fact that the cry receives a partial response implies that the judgment has begun within the seal subsequent to the time of the cry. The last part of the seal has entered into the time of judgment and anticipates the final persecution of earth’s history. So an end-time focus is not inappropriate within a broad historical perspective, but the seal as a whole covers a broader scope than just the end-time.

It is evident, then, that Ellen White understands the fifth seal to be figurative. When she discusses the sixth seal, however, she sees it in literal terms. The earthquake of Rev 6:12 is identified with the Lisbon quake of 1755. The signs in the sun, moon, and stars are tied to those predicted by Christ (Rev 6:12,13; cf. Matt 24:29; Luke 21:25). These are identified with the Dark Day, May 19, 1780, and the meteoric shower of November 13, 1833, both occurring in North America. GC 37, 304-308, 333-334. The dramatic events of Rev 6:14, on the other hand, are associated with the return of Christ. See ST April 22, 1913; SR 411; PP 340; RH Sept 22, 1891; RH Jan 12, 1886. The despairing cry of the wicked to be hidden from the wrath of God and the Lamb is likewise understood to take place at Christ’s Second Advent. TM 444; PP 340-341; SR 411; RH Mar 18, 1880; RH Jan 12, 1886; RH April 28, 1891; RH June 18, 1901 (6BC 1070); 2T 41-42, etc.

While many statements by Ellen White that utilize language reminiscent of Revelation 6 are fairly ambiguous, her clearest, most exegetical statements are supportive of the exegesis of the text itself and also of Adventist interpretation of the text. Adventist interpreters must be careful not to twist off-hand comments about the seven seals in such a way that they undermine the clear implications of the biblical text itself.

Ellen White and the First Half of the Book of Revelation (EWB 8)

The closest thing to a major interpretive statement for the entire first half of the book of Revelation is found in the book The Great Controversy, pages 414-415. This statement is also found in Patriarchs and Prophets, 356. Both statements are also an expansion and clarification of the earlier and more ambiguous statement in The Story of Redemption, 377. A comparison of all three statements would be interesting, but will not be attempted here. I will limit myself to the statement in The Great Controversy, 414-415. There Ellen White offers a clear statement regarding the significance of the sanctuary material in Revelation, chapters 4, 8, and 11:

“The holy places of the sanctuary in heaven are represented by the two apartments in the sanctuary on earth. As in vision the apostle John was granted a view of the temple of God in heaven, he beheld there “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne.” Revelation 4:5. He saw an angel “having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.” Revelation 8:3. Here the prophet was permitted to behold the first apartment of the sanctuary in heaven; and he saw there the “seven lamps of fire” and “the golden altar,” represented by the golden candlestick and the golden altar of incense in the sanctuary on earth. Again, “the temple of God was opened” (Revelation 11:19), and he looked within the inner veil, upon the holy of holies. Here he beheld “the ark of His testament,” represented by the sacred chest constructed by Moses to contain the law of God.”

There is no question that Ellen White had these specific Bible passages in mind as she wrote. There are quotation marks and the exact references are provided. The statement also appears to be an attempt to explain the significance of the author’s original vision regarding these matters. The statement is found in chapter twenty-three of The Great Controversy (pages 409-422), which is entitled, “What is the Sanctuary?” So the passage is drawn from one of her major works and is central to the discussion of the sanctuary in its context. The purpose of the chapter is not, however, an exegesis of Revelation, so the passage may qualify more as a theological statement than an exegetical one. In any case, it is her most comprehensive statement on the meaning of Rev 4-11. Thus, it is of first importance for understanding her view of that portion of the book. It seems evident from this statement that Ellen White understood the seals and the trumpets to be taking place under the general rubric of the first apartment of the heavenly sanctuary, while the second apartment ministry comes into view only in Rev 11:19.

While this may seem a major conclusion to draw from just a few words, Ellen White clarified this statement in a Review and Herald article published on Nov 9, 1905. There she repeats the above statement with the following addition: “The announcement, ‘The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament,’ points to the opening of the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, at the end of the twenty-three hundred days,–in 1844,–as Christ entered there to perform the closing work of the atonement. Those who by faith followed their great High Priest, as he entered upon his ministry in the most holy place, beheld the ark of the testament.”

The title of her article was, “The Ark of the Covenant.” If Ellen White had considered it appropriate to indicate that the ark could be equated with the throne in Revelation 4-5, or with the activity in Revelation 8:3-4, this would have been the ideal place to do so. Instead, she makes it clear that Revelation 11:19 (the sanctuary introduction to chapters twelve through fourteen– the section that features the three angel’s messages) is the point at which the book of Revelation begins to concentrate on the end-time judgment.

These Ellen White citations call into question the assertions some make that the Ellen White writings can be used to support a Day of Atonement or end-time setting for the seals and trumpets as a whole. Such a position cannot be convincingly maintained on the basis of her writings, since there is no clear and explicit statement from her pen to that effect, and the citations we have noted imply otherwise.