A Brief Overview of the Unfolding Seventh-day Adventist Understanding of the Three Angels’ Messages in Connection with Revelation 13 and 18 and Ellen White’s Role.

Merlin D. Burt, Ph.D.

July 15, 2021

“Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’

And another angel followed, saying, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’

Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.’ Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:6-12 (NKJV)

The Three Angels’ Messages are an end-time gospel proclamation that begins with a world-wide preaching of the “everlasting gospel” and ends with the “faith of Jesus.” This proclamation features two key doctrines: (1) The Sabbath, as the expression of loyalty to Jesus as our Creator and Redeemer, and (2) the most holy place heavenly sanctuary ministry of Jesus to finish the work of salvation in preparation for the Second Coming.

The development of the Adventist understanding of the Sabbath as an end-time test, the interpretation of the seal of God and the mark of the beast, and the significance of the Loud Cry, were all based on biblical study which was confirmed and enriched by Ellen White’s visions. Joseph Bates initially presented the end-time emphasis on the Sabbath in connection with Christ’s most holy place ministry in January 1846.[1] A few months after this, Ellen White enriched Bates’ study when she saw that the Sabbath was to be proclaimed more fully by God’s people at the end of time (EW 33).

Similarly, in March 1850, G. W. Holt connected the “image to the beast” to a future role by American Protestantism in enforcing Sunday worship in cooperation with the Papacy.[2] Three months later (June 27, 1850), Ellen White had a confirming vision. “I realized, as never before, the importance of searching the Word of God carefully, to know how to escape the plagues which that Word declares shall come on all the ungodly who shall worship the beast and his image and receive his mark in their foreheads or in their hands. It was a great wonder for me that any could transgress the law of God and tread down His holy Sabbath, when such awful threatenings and denunciations were against them. . . . Those who would not receive the mark of the beast and his image when the decree goes forth, must have decision now to say, Nay, we will not regard the institution of the beast” (EW 64, 67).

In the following months S. W. Rhodes, H. S. Case, and Hiram Edson came to share the views presented by Holt.[3] On October 23, 1850, Ellen White received another vision confirming and enriching the role of American Protestantism in uniting with Catholicism in persecuting those who keep the Sabbath based on Revelation 13. “Then the Catholics bid the Protestants to go forward and issue a decree that all who will not observe the first day of the week instead of the seventh shall be slain, and the Catholics whose numbers are large will stand with the Protestants.”[4]

Between 1851 and 1855 J. N. Andrews provided a detailed study with biblical and historical evidence. He identified the two horns of the eschatological Protestant American lamb-like beast as the combining of civil and religious power.[5]

In 1856, Elon Everts coined the phrase “investigative judgment” and connected the “hour of God’s judgment” to the most holy place heavenly sanctuary ministry of Jesus and “worshiping God as Creator” to the Sabbath in the first angel’s message of Revelation 14:6, 7.[6] James White expanded on this idea in early 1857 by presenting a grace-oriented understanding of the end-time “investigative judgment” of those who had died in faith and a future judgment of the living.[7] The end-time judgment was quickly connected to the proclamation of the Loud Cry of Revelation 18:1ff, which was seen as the final proclamation of the three angels of Revelation 14:6-12 to the entire world. It includes a repetition and expansion of the second angel’s message.[8]

Ellen White confirmed the important role of the Loud Cry in her 1858 Spiritual Gifts. “The message of the fall of Babylon as given by the second angel, is again given, with the addition of the corruptions which have been entering the churches since 1844.The work of this angel comes in at the right time, and joins in the last great work of the third angel’s message, as it swells into a loud cry” (1SG 194). She did not make a reference to the post-1844 connection of the first angel’s message in her 1858 book.

In 1884 she gave more detailed explanation of Revelation 13 as it related to religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Ellen White even quotes Satan in his end-time strategy against God’s people which includes increasing persecution in connection with Sabbath and Sunday.[9] Volume 4 of the Spirit of Prophecy corresponded in content to what she published later in the 1888 and 1911 Great Controversy editions, though it was presented with less completeness. She connected Rev 13:11ff to the joining of papal and Protestant influences in support of Sunday worship. Her presentation was not systematic and was divided between two chapters.[10] This led to a multi-page appendix note by the publisher explaining the longstanding Adventist view on Revelation 13 that seems to have been drawn largely from what J. N. Andrews had written earlier.[11]

Ellen White’s most complete exposition on the Three Angels’ Messages, the Mark of the Beast in connection with Revelation 13, and the United States as the lamb-like beast appears in The Great Controversy (1911), published four years before the end of her life. She applied the first angel’s message to both the pre-1844 proclamation of the soon coming of Jesus and the post 1844 most holy place ministry of Jesus: “Both the prophecy of Daniel 8:14, ‘Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed,’ and the first angel’s message, ‘Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come,’ pointed to Christ’s ministration in the most holy place, to the investigative judgment, and not to the coming of Christ for the redemption of His people and the destruction of the wicked” (1911 GC 424). She connected the earlier Millerite and later Seventh-day Adventist views on all three angels in Revelation 14 with these words: “The first and second messages were given in 1843 and 1844, and we are now under the proclamation of the third; but all three of the messages are still to be proclaimed” (Ms. 32, 1896).

She was clear on the meaning of the seal of God and the mark of the beast: “The Sabbath will be the great test of loyalty, for it is the point of truth especially controverted. When the final test shall be brought to bear upon men, then the line of distinction will be drawn between those who serve God and those who serve Him not. While the observance of the false sabbath in compliance with the law of the state, contrary to the fourth commandment, will be an avowal of allegiance to a power that is in opposition to God, the keeping of the true Sabbath, in obedience to God’s law, is an evidence of loyalty to the Creator. While one class, by accepting the sign of submission to earthly powers, receive the mark of the beast, the other, choosing the token of allegiance to divine authority, receive the seal of God” (1911 GC 605).[12]

There is not space here to develop the full history of the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of these important themes. But this overview does reveal that while both Adventist understanding and Ellen White’s understanding developed over the years, there is a consistent and clear continuity. Bible study took the lead and the visions confirmed correct interpretations. Her visions at times applied the biblical understanding to personal experience and the broader experience of God’s people at the end of time.

While it is necessary to refrain from being too specific about how the final events will unfold there has been consistent biblical and Ellen White clarity on the major issues regarding the role of the Sabbath and Satan’s counterfeit. We would do well to heed Jehoshaphat’s counsel from long ago, “Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (2 Chron. 20:20).


[1] Joseph Bates, The Seventh Day Sabbath a Perpetual Sign from the Beginning to the Entering into the Gates of the Holy City According to the Commandment, 2nd ed., rev. and enl. (New Bedford, MA: Press of Benjamin Lindsey, 1847).

[2] G. W. Holt to “Dear Brethren,” Present Truth, March 1850, 64.

[3] N. S. Case to J. White, Present Truth, November 1850, 85; Hiram Edson, “An Appeal to the Laodicean Church,” The Advent Review, Extra, September 1850.

[4] Ellen G. White, Ms. 15, 1850, October 23, 1850; see also Present Truth, November 1850, 86, 87.

[5] J. N. Andrews, “Thoughts on Revelation XIII and XIV,” Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 19, 1851, 81-86; “The Three Angels of Rev. XIV, 6-13,” Review and Herald, January 23, 1855, 161-163 [eight-part article continued through May 1, 1855]; Five monograph editions of Andrews study appeared between 1860 and 1886: J. N. Andrews, The Three Messages of Revelation XIV:6-12 Particularly the Third Angel’s Message and the Two-Horned Beast (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald Office, 1860); idem, The Three Messages of Revelation XIV:6-12 Particularly the Third Angel’s Message and the Two-Horned Beast (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing, 1864); idem, The Three Messages of Revelation XIV:6-12 Particularly the Third Angel’s Message and the Two-Horned Beast, 3rd ed., rev. (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing, 1872); idem, The Three Messages of Revelation XIV:6-12 Particularly the Third Angel’s Message and the Two-Horned Beast 4th ed., rev. (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing, 1877); idem, The Three Messages of Revelation XIV:6-12 Particularly the Third Angel’s Message and the Two-Horned Beast 5th ed., rev. (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing, 1886); see also Uriah Smith. The United States in the Light of Prophecy: Or an Exposition of Rev. 13:11-17 (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing, 1874); idem, Our Country’s Future: The United States in the Light of Prophecy, or an Exposition of Rev. 13:11-17 (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing, 1884).

[6] E. Everts, “Communication from Bro. Everts,” Review and Herald, January 1, 1857, 72.

[7] James White, “The Judgment,” Review and Herald, January 29, 1857, 100-101.

[8] E. Everts, “Be Zealous and Repent,” Review and Herald, January 8, 1857, 75; James White, “Rev. 12,” Review and Herald, January 8, 1857, 76; see also G. W. Holt, “From Bro. Holt,” Review and Herald, January 8, 1857, 78

[9] Ellen G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy: The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan from the Destruction of Jerusalem to the End of the Controversy, vol. 4 (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press, 1884), 338.

[10] Ibid., 276-279; 396-397; 404-410.

[11] Ibid., 501-504.

[12] See also: “When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image to the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result.” The Great Controversy (1911), 445.