Tag Archives: Revelation 13

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 (7): The Forehead and the Hand

The text of Revelation 13 continues with verse 16: “And he [the land beast] controls everyone . . . so that he might place a mark upon their right hands or upon their foreheads. . . .” In the biblical world the forehead represents the mind, the will, the personality. The hand is representative of action. So these symbols represent two kinds of response to the call to worship the image of the beast. There are those who are fully committed to the agenda of Satan and his allies and there are others who don’t really care, but they go along in order to preserve their jobs and their lives (Rev 13:16-17).

The central theme of Revelation, chapters 13 and 14, is worship. Revelation 13:14 alludes to the showdown over worship at Mount Carmel. This portion of the book makes reference to worship of the dragon (Rev 13:4), the beast from the sea (Rev 13:4, 8, 12; 14:9, 11) and the image of the beast (Rev 13:15; 14:9, 11). In all, there are exactly seven occurrences of the word “worship” in the central part of Revelation. In contrast is the single call to worship “Him who made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains of water.” Rev 14:7. The call to worship the image of the beast is a universal one, it goes out to the full range of social classes. “And he [the land beast] controls everyone; the small and the great, the rich and the poor, the free and the slave; so that he might place a mark upon their right hands or upon their foreheads. . . .” Rev 13:17.

Along with a willingness to worship the image of the beast, a new element is introduced. A mark is placed on all who are willing to worship the image of the beast. The mark is defined as the name of the beast or the number of his name. These likely correspond to the forehead and the hand. Names in the Hebrew context represent character. Some are marked because of their heart and soul commitment to Satan’s agenda to mold human beings in his own image (name on forehead). Others are marked because they are willing to go along with that agenda to preserve their own lives and prosperity in this world (hand and number).

These texts reflect a sharp polarization in the world as we approach the End-time. Revelation projects three types of people in the world at the end. One group is the saints who are called by many names (the remnant, the 144,000, the great multitude, the kings of the east, the called, chosen and faithful followers of the Lamb). The second group is a worldwide alliance of religion, called Babylon, the Great City, the Great Prostitute, the woman who rides the beast, and is represented by the unholy trinity; the dragon, the beast and the false prophet (Rev 16:13). The third group are whose without a heart and soul commitment to either camp. These are the secular, political and military powers of the world, also named by many names and symbols (Euphrates River, kings of the world, many waters, kings of the earth, the beast of Rev 17, the ten horns, the cities of the nations, seven mountains and seven kings). When these secular powers agree to enforce the death decree of Revelation 13:15, they make a “hand” commitment to the beast and his image. Satan desires worship from all, but he is willing to settle for a forced worship, a self-centered worship. The contrast between his character and God’s could not be more stark. This contrast is further underlined as we explore the meaning of the mark of the beast in Revelation.

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.

Q and A on Revelation 13 (Thirteen 8)

How can we be faithful to what prophecy says about church history and yet, at the same time, be kind and cautious as we present these truths to others?

The ultimate challenge with distorted religion has to do with the picture of God that is portrayed. What kind of God tortures and burns people for eternity? What kind of God plays fast and loose with the very rules He has made? What kind of God is portrayed by a church that burns people at the stake over doctrinal differences? Distorted religion comes to the place where it thinks that in coercing and torturing others it is doing God service (John 16:2). Prophecy is one way that distorted religion is exposed for what it really is.

In confronting distorted religion, however, it is very important that we not fall into the trap of portraying a God who is angry, judgmental and severe. We are told that when Jesus confronted the Pharisees there were “tears in His voice.” With the help of the Holy Spirit we can gently invite people to consider the picture of God their religion portrays, making clear that we ourselves are capable of misrepresenting God every day. People in such faiths need to know that God is on their side, that He does not need to be bought or persuaded by ritual acts. In other words, religious criticism is only appropriate when it comes from a heart of love that can see the value God sees in other people.

As we await the end, what should be our attitude towards Christians in other denominations?

It is helpful to recognize that many Catholics, Muslims and others love God deeply and seek to please Him in every way possible. We need to approach such people with the understanding that the line between good and evil is NOT between “us” and “them,” it runs right down the middle of all of our hearts (1 Tim. 1:15). When we take on an attitude of moral superiority, we may unwittingly convince the very people we are trying to persuade that God is not with us. On the other hand, people are drawn to those who are authentically aware of their own failings and shortcomings. It is from a position of love and humility that confrontation can most often succeed in winning another.

The Identity of the Land Beast (Thirteen 6)

In the past, Adventists have consistently identified the land beast as the United States of America, which rose up as a benevolent power, emphasizing religious liberty, but would in the end-time speak like a dragon. Some suggest this America-centered reading is no longer appropriate when more than 90% of the Adventist Church is outside of North America. Let’s, therefore, review the textual evidence regarding the land beast.

First, the history of the land beast in the text (Rev. 13:11) is much shorter than the history of the sea beast (13:1-7), suggesting a relatively new arrival on the scene of history. 2) Coming out of the earth (13:11) recalls the positive actions of the “earth” in 12:16. Something related to the earth provided shelter to God’s oppressed people during the period of the 1260 days. 3) The land beast appears in the context of the captivity of the sea beast (13:10), which Adventists understand to have occurred in 1798 AD. The USA’s rise to world-power status began in that context, its lamb-like period. 4) Unlike the sea beast, whose pedigree recalls the empires of Daniel 7, the land beast’s pedigree has no ancient roots. There is no earlier prophetic power alluded to in the brief description of Revelation 13:11.

5) The land beast arises from a different part of the world than the sea beast (Eurasian landmass). The sea is often associated with the most civilized and populated parts of the earth. 6) In ancient non-biblical mythology, the land beast (behemoth) lives in an arid, desert space far from people. Certainly the New World was relatively unpopulated and uncivilized in comparison to the Old World. 7) The land beast wears no crowns, suggesting it has no king and no pope. Its government is of a different kind than those well-known in the biblical world. As a result, the United States was a place featuring political and religious liberty.

8) The land beast speaks like a lamb, at first, it wields a gentler, more Christ-like authority at first. But that gentleness does not last. In the end it operates in a similar way as the dragon and the sea beast. 9) The land beast eventually becomes dragon like, tyrannical like the power that attempted to kill the baby Jesus (Rev. 12:5). 10) The land beast is described more in religious terms than political ones (13:13-15). If the United States is in view in this text, it is the religious side of the USA that may be more in focus than the political side. For at least a century now, North America has been the center of gravity of world Christianity, replacing Europe.

While the reference to the United States in this prophecy is not airtight, it is hard to see what other power in history so completely fulfills the specifications of this prophecy.

The Symbolic Meaning of “Earth” (Thirteen 5)

While the concept of “sea” is always negative in the book of Revelation, the concept of “earth” is more ambiguous (1:5; 5:6; 6:4; 11:6, 18; 13:12; 14:15-19; 18:1-3; 19:2). In Revelation 12:16 it is the “earth” that helps the woman by swallowing up the flood of water the serpent/dragon spews out of its mouth after her. In Revelation 11:4 it speaks about the “Lord of the earth.” In these contexts “earth” functions in a positive way. When contrasted with “sea” earth is a positive concept. On the other hand, when contrasted with heaven, it is almost always negative (9:1; 14:3, except 21:1 of course). “Those who live in heaven” are always positive in Revelation (13:6; 19:1, 14), whereas “those who live on earth” refer to opponents of God and His people (6:10; 8:13; 13:8; 17:8). So the meaning of “earth,” whether positive or negative from the perspective of Revelation’s author, needs to be determined from the context.

When earth is contrasted with sea or flooding waters, then, the earth is positive rather than negative as a symbol. The earth helps the woman, who represents the faithful people of God (Rev. 12:16). The beast from the land or earth is contrasted with the beast from the sea. Compared to the sea beast’s history (Rev. 13:1-7), the history of the beast from the earth is relatively positive (Rev 13:11). So 12:16 and perhaps 11:4 provide a positive setting for the reference to earth in 13:11. In the next blog, I will spin off from these observations to consider the historical identity of the land beast.

The Sea Beast as a Counterfeit of Christ (Thirteen 4)

The sea beast is the second member of a satanic trinity made up of the dragon, the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth. The sea beast is a counterfeit of Jesus Christ. This is confirmed by the text of Revelation 13. First of all, the sea beast looks just like the dragon. Both beasts have seven heads and ten horns, which would be an unusual species if one located them in the wild. Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Likewise, if you have seen the sea beast, you have seen the dragon. The parallel between the sea beast and the dragon recalls Jesus’ statement in the Upper Room just before the cross.

Second, the sea beast receives its power, throne and great authority from the dragon. It does not operate on its own. Likewise Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Just as the Father delegated Jesus’ role on earth, so the dragon has delegated the role of the sea beast in history. Third, the sea beast experiences a “wound unto death” in Revelation 13:3. The Greek word for “wound” (esphagmenên) is the same word used for the death of Christ in verse 8 (esphagmenou). When a wound that kills is healed we call that resurrection. In other words, the beast from the sea has a death and resurrection like that of Christ (Rev. 13:3, compare 13:8 and 13:14). That a counterfeit of Christ is intended in this passage could not be clearer.

Fourth, the cry, “Who is like the beast,” recalls to the Hebrew mind the name of Christ in the previous chapter, Michael. The name Michael is actually a question in the Hebrew, “who is like God?” (Rev. 12:7). When the inhabitants of the earth ask the question, “Who is like the beast?” they are echoing language that appropriately applies only to Christ in the book of Revelation. So this question is further support for a counterfeit Christ motif in the first part of chapter thirteen.

Finally, the beast’s operation before it rises out of the sea for the final conflict lasts 42 prophetic months (Rev. 13:5). This period is, of course, the same as three and a half years. echoes the three and a half years of Jesus’ earthly ministry. While the length of Jesus’ ministry is not spelled out anywhere in the New Testament, the time indicators in the Gospel of John are compatible with a ministry of three and a half years. So the duration of the beast’s history is built prophetically on the ministry of Jesus Christ. This, combined with the evidences listed above, indicate that the beast from the sea is a counterfeit of Jesus Christ. This in no way contradicts the traditional Adventist understanding that the medieval church is particularly in view in the activities and history of the sea beast.

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.

The Connection Between Chapters 12 and 13 (Thirteen 2)

The thirteenth chapter of Revelation introduces two new characters into the story of Revelation 12, a beast from the sea (13:1-7) and a beast from the earth (13:11). After their introductions, both beasts play a major role in the final crisis of earth’s history. Together with the dragon, the opponents of God and His people number three. The number three is associated with the godhead in chapter one and with Babylon in chapter 16 (verse 19). So this grouping of three functions as a “counterfeit trinity” in chapter 13.

The relationship between chapters 12 and 13 is clarified when one takes the time to look at a textual issue at the intersection between the chapters. The King James Version opens the chapter with John standing on the sands of the sea (Greek: estathên—“I stood”), while most newer versions tell us that the dragon, the subject of Rev, 12:17, stood (Greek: estathê—“he stood”: ESV, NASB, NIV, RSV, NRSV) there. The Greek manuscripts of Revelation are divided on this reading, but the earliest and most reliable manuscripts and the early translations read “he stood,” referring to the dragon.

This reading better connects Rev. 12:17 with the story of Rev. 13, where the dragon calls up allies from the sea and the land to assist him in the final conflict. That means that the calling up of the two beasts in chapter 13 is the way that the dragon wages war against the remnant of 12:17. Chapter 14, then, elaborates on the remnant’s response to the dragon’s attacks. Read in this way, Revelation 12:17 offers the final battle in a summary nutshell, followed by elaboration on the two key characters in the nutshell summary, the dragon (elaborated in chapter 13) and the remnant (elaborated in chapter 14). The final battle is further elaborated in chapters 15-19.