SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISM—A UNIQUE PROPHETIC MOVEMENT
By James R. Nix
If you have your Bibles with you, I invite you to turn to Revelation 10; we will be reading from there in a minute.
Were I to ask you to define the uniqueness of Seventh-day Adventism, doubtless I would get about as many different answers as there are people here today. Some might see our uniqueness in that we worship on Saturday (Sabbath) rather than Sunday. Others might mention our understanding of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, or the prophetic ministry of Ellen White. Still others might point to lifestyle issues, such as refraining from certain kinds of foods, amusements, or styles of dress and adornment. In one sense all of these answers would be at least partially correct.
But in the interest of time today, I want to concentrate specifically on Seventh-day Adventism as a prophetic movement. When we do so, we discover that Adventism is unique because of three distinct characteristics. No other church claims these identifying characteristics, but we Adventists have seen them as defining us from even before our official founding in the early 1860s.
Here are the three defining characteristics:
1. We are the only people who find our prophetic roots, or history, predicted in Revelation 10.
2. We are the only people who find our prophetic identity defined in Revelation 12.
3. And we are the only people who find our prophetic message and mission given in Revelation 14.
In saying this, I must quickly add that we do not make these claims with any attitude of religious exclusiveness, or boasting. The issue is notthat Seventh-day Adventists are ‘better than,’ but rather, we are ‘different from’ other churches.
1. ONLY PEOPLE WHO FIND THEIR PROPHETIC ROOTS IN
Now, if you have found Revelation 10, let’s start reading with verse 1.
v, 1 And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven . . . , [To v. 2]
v. 2 And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot upon the earth,
v. 3 And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth. . . : [To v. 5]
v. 5 And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven,
v. 6 And sware by him that liveth forever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer. . . : [To v. 8]
v. 8 And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which upon the sea and upon the earth.
v. 9 And I went unto the angel, and said until him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth as sweet as honey.
Here in Revelation 10, we find depicted events that interest us as we look for the prophetic roots, or history, of Adventism. The “little book” mentioned in vs. 2, 8, 9 (and also in v. 10) is understood by Adventists to refer to the book of Daniel. Although Daniel’s prophecy was primarily a time message, when he asked the meaning of the time that had been revealed to him, he was told to “shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4). The message was not for Daniel to then comprehend, but at the time of the end, what for ages had been sealed, would be understood.
The period of time that Daniel wanted to understand was the 2300 days, at the end of which the sanctuary would be cleansed. That was the only sealed message in the book of Daniel. Many centuries later on the Isle of Patmos—in vision—the Apostle John was shown a time in the future when a mighty angel would descend to earth, having in his hand a little book—open. Not closed. Not sealed, but open.
From our vantage point of history, we can see that it was near the end of the 2300-day prophecy in 1844 that this angel with the open book of Daniel set one foot on the land and one on the sea. This happened, just as John was shown. At the precise time predicted, the angel’s prophetic message embraced the whole earth. For, as predicted in John’s vision, prophetic time had reached its climax.
Around the end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth, people began studying the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. In so doing, many came to the conclusion that the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 would end in the 1840s. Thinking that the cleansing of the sanctuary described by Daniel referred to the cleansing of the earth by fire at the second coming of Christ, they concluded that Jesus would return then. That exciting news was soon preached with wonderful power throughout the world.
For Seventh-day Adventists in particular, when thinking about 1844 and the years immediately preceding it, the name William Miller comes to mind. But he was only one of many during that time who preached the soon return of Jesus. People like Manuel Lacunza, Joseph Wolff, Henry Drummond, Edward Irving, Hugh M’Neile, and the child preachers of Sweden were also proclaiming the fact that the great time prophecies were about to meet their fulfillment, and then—as they understood it—Jesus would return.
And it wasn’t just in America or Europe where this proclamation was being made. The message was circling the globe. Wolff preached in the Middle East and North Africa (from Egypt to Afghanistan and England to India). In 1837 he even visited the United States where he also preached. Out in India, Daniel Wilson, Episcopal bishop of Calcutta, preached and wrote pamphlets specifically on the prophecies of Daniel. In Adelaide, Australia, the message of a soon-coming Saviour was preached with great power by Thomas Playford. Crowds there became so large that his followers had to build a larger church for him.
Yes, at the end of prophetic time, precisely as the Apostle John had been shown would happen, and at the very time predicted by Daniel over 2300 years in advance, the message was proclaimed with a loud voice around the world. No wonder our pioneers were excited when they realized that they were fulfilling prophecy! We, too, should feel a sense of excitement because we also are part of that same great prophetic movement. But there is more.
Our text next tells us in Revelation 10:10:
v. 10 And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.
There could be no better summary of what happened next in our history than those prophetic words. The founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church had all been Millerites—that is, they were followers of William Miller, an American Baptist farmer-turned preacher who proclaimed that Christ would return around 1843 or 1844—at the end of the 2300-day prophecy, as he understood it. For us living today more than 160 years after that event, it is hard to imagine how precious was our pioneers’ experience as they approached October 22, 1844, the date that from their study they had determined was the end of Daniel’s long time prophecy. Their experience was especially sweet during the last few weeks and days prior to October 22. By reading some of their accounts, we catch a glimpse into their happy, yet sober, feelings.
Joseph Bates, describing the [Exeter, New Hampshire] camp meeting held in August, 1844, where the October 22 date was first preached [by Samuel Snow], later recalled,
“When that meeting closed, the granite hills of New Hampshire were ringing with the mighty cry, ‘Behold the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him.’ As the loaded wagons, stages, and railroad cars rolled away through the different states, cities, and villages of New England, the cry was still resounding, ‘Behold the bridegroom cometh.’ Time is short! Get ready! Get ready!”
James White, a 23-year old preacher, also attended that camp meeting. He later wrote,
“Language cannot describe the solemnity of that hour. . . . The time for shouting and display of talent in speaking, singing, and praying seemed to be past. The brethren and sisters calmly consecrated themselves and their all to the Lord and His cause, and with humble prayers and tears sought His pardon and favor.”
In truth, they were seeing Joel 2:12, 13 being fulfilled before their own eyes.
v. 12 Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.
v. 13 And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God. . . .”
This was truly a work of the heart, not just an outward display for effect. “Like a tidal wave,” Ellen White wrote, “the movement swept over the land. From city to city, from village to village, and into the remote country places it went, until the waiting people of God were fully aroused.”
No wonder Ellen White could say, “This was the happiest year of my life.” After all, Jesus was coming! What joy! What hope! What expectation! To scoff was to deny God Himself. To remain indifferent was impossible; for it seemed they were on the very brink of eternity.
The long awaited day was about here. Faithful Millerites approached it with great solemnity, mixed with anticipation. Finally, less than a week remained. The Millerite lecturers rushed home to be with their families.
The great day was finally here! That day predicted 2300 years earlier by Daniel the prophet had finally arrived! The entire universe paused, and waited. The great judgment scene depicted in Daniel 7:9, 10 was about to begin. All Heaven now waited for the Son of Man to come on the clouds to begin the judgment as described in
Daniel 7: 13, 14.
And while all Heaven waited in eager anticipation, so also here on earth. For on that day heaven and earth were united—waiting and watching to see what was going to happen next. William Miller observed, “Even the wicked scoffers stood mute” that day. But he went on to say,
“It passed. And the next day it seemed as though all the demons from the bottomless pit were let loose upon us. The same ones . . . who were crying for mercy . . . before were now . . . mocking, scoffing, and threatening in a most blasphemous manner.”
The experience that had been so sweet in their mouths, as foretold by the Apostle John, now turned nauseatingly bitter in their stomachs. Even as none of us can fully realize the experience they went through in anticipating Christ’s return on that long ago Tuesday, neither can we fully comprehend their heart-wrenching disappointment in the days and weeks that followed October 22.
Hiram Edson probably summarized their experience as graphically as anyone:
“We looked for our coming Lord until the clock tolled 12 at midnight. The day had then passed and our disappointment became a certainty. Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. . . . We wept, and wept, till the day dawn.”
But Revelation, chapter 10, still has one more verse:
v. 11 And he said until me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
Admittedly, in their disappointment our Adventist pioneers did not fully comprehend this verse, especially the part about prophesying “again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” The worldwide work being assigned them to do would only gradually dawn upon their minds. And so also the expanded message that they were to preach—including the Sabbath, sanctuary, state of the dead, health, etc.
However, even this brief overview reminds us why Seventh-day Adventists see our prophetic history foretold in Revelation 10. But this is only the first of our three prophetically identified characteristics. Let’s now review why we find our prophetic identity forecast in Revelation 12.
II. ONLY PEOPLE WHO FIND THEIR PROPHETIC INDENTITY IN REVELATION 12.
The 12th chapter of Revelation covers more historical time than does any other single chapter in the Bible: from the fall of Lucifer, to 1798 A.D. In the chapter’s final verse: 17, we find God’s true church emerging from its “wilderness” experience; and there comes to view a “remnant” people identified by two characteristics:
1. They keep the commandments of God—all ten of them, including the fourth, or Sabbath commandment, and
2. They possess the “testimony of Jesus” which in Revelation 19:10 in the KJV is defined as the “Spirit of prophecy”—a renewed bestowal of the divinely-inspired gift of prophetic utterance.
While several other churches keep the seventh-day Sabbath [i.e. Seventh Day Baptists, Church of God (Seventh Day), etc.], not one of them fits both identifying characteristics given here: that of keeping the commandments—all ten of them; and of having a renewal of the genuine gift of prophecy in their midst. On the other hand, there are some churches who claim to have the gift of prophecy in their midst, but they do not keep all ten of the commandments.
I know that most Bible translations in English, other than the King James Version, translates verse 17 as “Bearing witness to Jesus,” rather than ”Have the testimony of Jesus.” But according to the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, the phrase in English, as in Greek, can mean either the “testimony about Christ,” or the “testimony from Christ.” Since all Christian groups talk about Christ, that could hardly be a distinguishing feature of God’s true church in the last days. However, to have divine communication from Christ—a renewal of the prophetic gift—would quite easily identify the true remnant from other church groups.
Consequently, we Seventh-day Adventists find our prophetic identity in the two characteristics given in Revelation 12:17.
For it was upon a now unknown day in the month of December, in 1844, that a 17-year old teenager, Ellen Harmon, while praying with four other women experienced the Holy Spirit resting upon her as she never had before.
God had done it again—another prophetic messenger had been commissioned! Just as He had done at so many other crucial junctions in salvation history (i.e. Noah before the flood; Moses before the Exodus; several prophets, including Jeremiah, before the Babylonian captivity; John the Baptist before the ministry of Christ; etc.) God now sent another prophetic messenger. Another crucial beacon light in prophetic history had arrived—the great time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation were coming to their end; and just as predicted, the gift of prophecy was restored to God’s remnant people.
In 1846, Ellen Harmon became the wife of Elder James White. So from then on, she was known as Ellen G. White.
Her ministry would:
1. Extend for a period of 70 years—from 1844 until her death in 1915.
2. During that time she had a estimated 2,000 visions, and
3. She authored more than 5,000 periodical articles, in addition to 24 books (plus two unpublished manuscripts) before her death.
Now, after more than 150 years to observe the fruit of her work, it can be demonstrated without question that the counsels God gave us through Ellen White are sound—they have stood the test of time. Any candid appraisal of our denomination’s history forces us to admit that we have prospered when we have followed God’s leading through the Spirit of prophecy, and we have faltered on those occasions when we have not.
But we still have one last prophetic characteristic to consider. Not only do we Seventh-day Adventists find our history forecast in Revelation 10, and our unique identifying characteristics depicted in Revelation 12, but our prophetic assignment is given to us in Revelation 14.
III. ONLY PEOPLE WHO FIND THEIR PROPHETIC MESSAGE IN REVELATION 14.
Seventh-day Adventists believe that we have a message for the world found in Revelation 14:6-12. To the best of my knowledge, no other church today is proclaiming the “Three Angels’ Messages.”
It is worth noting that when translating the Bible into contemporary English for Roman Catholics, Monsignor Ronald Knox included an interesting footnote for Revelation 14:6 in his Knox translation.
1. In Revelation 14:6, the King James Version in English identifies the Three Angels’ Messages as the “everlasting gospel.”
2. In his translation, Msgr. Knox translates it “a final gospel.” He then adds the following footnote: “‘Final’; literally ‘eternal’, It is not clear,” Knox says, “why the ‘gospel’ preached by the angel is so described; but the context suggests that it is the last call to repentance which will be offered to men this side of eternity.” And that by a Roman Catholic theologian!
Regarding this very point, many years earlier Ellen White wrote:
“In a very special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining the wonderful light from the word of God. They have been given a work of the most solemn import—the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 19.
For more than 160 years, Adventists have been proclaiming the Three Angels’ Messages. The first two: The preaching of the “everlasting”—or “final”—gospel in the setting of the judgment hour message, and the call to come out of Babylon, were both first sounded by the Millerites. It would take those disappointed Millerites who eventually founded our church some time before they discovered the significance of the third angel’s message. But after discovering the obligation and privilege of keeping the seventh-day Sabbath, they soon also came to realize its theological and prophetic significance in relation to the third angel’s message.
As we have seen, Msgr. Knox, while stating that the three angels’ messages are the final messages of warning to the world, admitted that he did not understand the reason why. Adventists do—or at least we should. Ellen White told us,
“Every feature of the third angel’s message is to be proclaimed in all parts of the world. This is a much greater work than many realize”—Upward Look,
p. 277 (Manuscript 75, 1906; September 19, 1906).
Tragically, some Seventh-day Adventists today have lost their prophetic focus. May I humbly suggest that if that ever happens to you—if ever you lose your Adventist bearings, then focus again on this unique message that God has given us to proclaim to the world.
Yes, at the end of time there will be a faithful, commandment-keeping group of individuals here on earth. In addition, as we have seen, Christ also told John on Patmos—1800 years I advance—that these faithful people will be distinguished from all others religious bodies in three unique ways:
1. Their history would follow an unusual, but fore-ordained pattern.
2. They would be identified by two precise characteristics, and
3. They would have a special, unique message to proclaim to the world.
Only Seventh-day Adventists fit this entire description exactly. The fact that we have been called to say something unique just before Christ’s second coming is nothing for us to boast about. After all, the message we have been given to proclaim is not our message, but God’s.
That being so, some changes are called for on our part. . . . We need to be living differently. . . . We need to be acting differently. . . . And we need to be preaching differently. Many other churches are doing a good work—some more so than others. But none of them are preaching the “everlasting” (or “final”) gospel in the setting of the final judgment hour message. That gives us an urgency about our preaching that they do not have—or at least it should give us a sense of urgency.
As I have already mentioned, tragically some Seventh-day Adventists today have no idea what they believe any more. Consequently, sometimes they follow one group’s teachings, and at other times they follow someone else’s. In all candor, the Internet is making it increasingly easy for disoriented Adventists to do just that. My friends, Satan uses the very same tactics on us today as he did when tempting Christ in the wilderness 2,000 years ago. Satan’s objective then—and now—is to try to confuse and sow doubts through the use of subtle questions. He wants to undermine our sense of prophetic identity and mission. Satan did not interrogate Christ out there in the wilderness because he really wanted any information from Him, and the same is true today of those self-avowed critics who raise question after question in their relentless attacks upon this church. All Satan wanted back then from Christ, and all Satan wants today from us, is any demonstration that will signify a loss of faith in our divine assignment. Such a compromise back then would have ruined Christ, and such a compromise today will ruin us—collectively as a church, as well as individually as members.
Brothers and sisters, God is counting on us! Our prophetic movement has a special end-time work to do. God forbid that we Seventh-day Adventists ever lose our sense of prophetic focus and mission. Rather, may we once again experience the excitement and commitment of our pioneers who realized that God wanted to work through them to finish His work here on earth. May that same sense of wonder and dedication be the experience of each one of us here today is my prayer.