The subject of Armageddon and the king of the north has always been one of special interest to Bible students. This has been particularly true among Seventh-day Adventists. Recent events in the Middle East have again brought the subject to the front. It is interesting and helpful to trace the various beliefs that have been held on this subject through the history of our movement. A study of the denomination's literature reveals sharp differences of opinion. These differences go back to the early days of our church and before.
The history of the development of this teaching has been traced in considerable detail in a work entitled "Development of Seventh-day Adventist Teaching on Armageddon." * In this article the material has been reduced to present a general sweep of the development of this teaching without submitting documented proof for the conclusions arrived at.
The development of our teaching on Armageddon and the king of the north, which has usually been associated with it, may be considered as being divided roughly into four periods with three transition periods between.
During the first period, which extended from about 1846 to about 1871, Seventh-day Adventists understood the Papacy to be the king of the north, and Armageddon was the climactic struggle between the forces of Christ and those of Satan at the Second Advent.
The second period began about 1871 and ended about 1903. In 1871 the interpretation was introduced that Turkey, not the Papacy, was the king of the north, and Armageddon, which was now linked with it, was held to be a struggle of the nations gathered in Palestine against Christ under the seventh plague. The years between 1871 and 1881 were transition years.
The third period began about 1903 and ended about 1952. The main difference between this period and the one that preceded it was that Armageddon was held to be a gigantic military engagement among the nations of the world gathered in Palestine. Christ's part in this view of Armageddon was largely minimized. The years from about 1886 to about 1912 were transition years.
The fourth period began about 1952 and continues to the present. During this period there has been a partial return to many of the basic positions of the first period. The Papacy is generally held to be the king of the north, and Armageddon is understood to be primarily the climactic struggle between the forces of Christ and those of Satan at the end of time. The years between about 1924 and 1952 were transition years.
Seventh-day Adventists trace their origin back to the Millerite movement of the 1830's and early 1840's. As every Adventist knows, the special point of emphasis of the Millerite movement in its later phases was the literal, visible coming of the Lord on October 22, 1844. This belief was based on the prophecy of the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14.
Millerism was composed largely of American Protestants; hence, it is not surprising that on matters of lesser importance the Millerites simply adopted the prevailing Protestant view of the matter. Armageddon was a subject of lesser importance. Only as it was believed to have some bearing on the Second Advent was it considered at all.
The prevailing Protestant view of the seven last plagues of Revelation 16 was that five of them had already fallen, the sixth was in the process of fulfillment, and only the seventh was still in the future. As for the symbols of Revelation 16:12-16, the great majority of Protestant expositors held that the Euphrates represented Turkey or Mohammedanism. There was little unanimity of opinion on the interpretation of the other symbols of this passage.
In harmony with the prevailing Protestant view of Revelation 16, William Miller, leader of the movement that bore his name, taught prior to 1840 that five of the plagues had fallen, the sixth was in the process of being poured out, and the seventh would be poured out about 1840.
Miller had little to say about the kings of the East. As for the remaining symbols of Revelation 16:12-16, Miller taught that when the Euphrates (the Turkish power) was dried up (ceased to exist) three wicked political principles (the three unclean spirits) would go forth from the kings of the earth (the dragon), the Papacy (the beast), and Mohammedanism (the false prophet) to gather all nations and all people (the kings of the earth and of the whole world) to Armageddon. Armageddon would involve both political and religious strife and would be fought mainly in the United States. Miller appears to have believed that while it was going on, Christ would come, vanquish His enemies, and separate the wicked from the just.
Miller did not relate the prophecy of Revelation 16:12-16 to the prophecy of Daniel 11:45 about the end of the king of the north, because he understood the king of the north to be the Papacy; whereas, the Euphrates of Revelation 16 was the Turkish power.
Miller changed his view of Armageddon at least twice: once in 1840 and again in 1844. However, most of Miller's followers seem to have held his original view. The reason for this appears to have been that it received more publicity than his later views.
However, not all of the Millerites followed Miller on his interpretation of Revelation 16. Chief among those who differed with him was Josiah Litch. Litch held that all of the seven last plagues would be poured out after the Second Advent. He believed that at the Second Coming the saints would be taken to the sea of glass where Christ would organize His kingdom. While this was going on, the seven last plagues would be falling on the wicked. Under the sixth plague the Euphrates would be literally dried up to prepare the way for the kings of the Eastern world (the kings of the East). Following this the devil's armies (the kings of the earth and of the whole world) would be gathered in Jerusalem and Palestine by the three unclean spirits—proceding from Mohammedanism (the dragon), popery (the beast), and infidelity (the false prophet)—for the purpose of battling against the King of kings and Lord of lords. At this point Christ would come with all His saints to drive out the wicked from Jerusalem.
When October 22, 1844, passed and Christ did not return as the Millerites expected, the movement broke up into several fragments. One of the smaller fragments later developed into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The question of Armageddon was not one of prime concern to the emerging Seventh-day Adventist leaders; however, the timing of the plagues was. Early in 1846, probably as a result of the visions of Ellen Harmon, James White adopted the view that all of the seven last plagues were in the future but before the Second Advent. This view differed markedly from the views held by Miller and Litch. Seventh-day Adventists have held to this view through the years regardless of what their particular views on Armageddon and the king of the north have been.
In March, 1848, an event occurred that was destined to influence our teaching on Armageddon. This was the rise of modern Spiritualism in Hydesville, New York. About a year after Spiritualism made its modern debut, Ellen White was shown in vision that the mysterious rappings in New York were of Satanic origin and that they would become more and more common Not long after this, George W. Holt, a former Millerite minister from Connecticut who had become a Seventh-day Adventist, identified the spirits of Spiritualism as being the spirits of devils of Revelation 16: 13-16.
But then the question arose: If the spirits of Spiritualism are now fulfilling the events of the sixth plague, how can the plagues be said to be all in the future? Uriah Smith, then a young man associated with the publication of the Review and Herald, gave the answer that was to become our standard answer to this question. He declared that the present work of Spiritualism is a preparatory work, that before the spirits of devils can have such absolute power over the wicked as to induce them to fight against God, they must first win their way among the nations.
The Early Period
In the earliest years of our movement most Seventh-day Adventists apparently held that the Euphrates of Revelation 16: 12 referred to the literal river by that name. They apparently believed that that river would be literally dried up at the time of the sixth plague. This, of course, was Litch's view. In 1857 Uriah Smith set forth the view that the Euphrates represents the country through which it flows, at that time the Turkish Empire. This view seems soon to have been accepted by most, if not all, Seventh-day Adventists. He also introduced at this time the view that the nations would assemble in Palestine under the sixth plague over possession of the Holy Land, but he does not seem to have been followed in this particular view by all Seventh-day Adventists at this time.
As for the other teachings related to Armageddon and the king of the north, there seems to have been a general unanimity of opinion during the early period. Thus, virtually all Seventh-day Adventists were agreed that the dragon represented paganism; the beast, Catholicism; the false prophet, apostate Protestantism. The battle of that great day of God Almighty, or Armageddon, was held to be the culminating clash between the forces of good and evil, or Christ and Satan, at the Second Coming. With regard to the identity of the king of the north, there was general agreement that it represented the Papacy.
The First Transition
In 1867 Uriah Smith's book, Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Revelation, was published. This book popularized among Seventh-day Adventists the view of Armageddon Smith had first set forth in 1857. Early in 1869 Smith began a series of articles in the Review and Herald that eventually became the book Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Daniel. Late in 1870 and early in 1871, while Smith was evidently studying and preparing his articles on the eleventh chapter of Daniel, he began to show a certain ambivalence respecting his identification of the last power of that chapter, the king of the north. His writings reveal uncertainty as to whether this power is the Papacy, as he had formerly held, or Turkey. From this time on Smith began, as he says, to "look for significant events in that quarter," and to make predictions to the effect that Turkey's end was imminent. Along with this he taught that when Turkey came to its end Michael would stand up; that is, probation would close, and soon after this Christ would come.
These predictions disturbed James White. It appears that having gone through the disappointment in 1844, he was cautious on the matter of making detailed predictions of coming events based on unfulfilled prophecy, and urged others to be cautious also. When Smith continued to make predictions concerning Turkey's imminent end, a clash between the two leaders became inevitable.
Clash Over the King of the North
In 1877 war broke out between Turkey and Russia. Late that summer Smith preached on the Eastern question at a camp meeting which James and Ellen White attended. Perhaps as a result of this sermon James White wrote an editorial in the November 15, 1877, issue of the Signs of the Times (reprinted in the Review and Herald of November 27, 1877), in which he again urged caution on the part of those who were showing such positiveness regarding the Eastern question. But Smith continued to make predictions concerning the nearness of Turkey's end, and in June, 1878, went so far as to express the opinion that "we have reached the preliminary movements of the great battle of Armageddon" (Review and Herald, June 6, 1878, p. 180). The inevitable clash between the two leaders came during the camp meeting that preceded the 1878 General Conference held in Battle Creek, Michigan.
According to witnesses present at the camp meeting, Uriah Smith spoke at one of the early meetings on the Eastern question and again expressed the opinion that the Russo-Turkish war then in progress might develop into Armageddon. When Smith finished his discourse, James White spoke for seventy minutes, during which time he publicly rebutted Smith's view.
The essence of White's argument was as follows: If Daniel 2, 7, and 8 end with the destruction of pagan-papal Rome, and the first part of Daniel 11 recapitulates chapters 2, 7, and 8, then the last power of Daniel 11 must be pagan-papal Rome, not Turkey.
The first part of White's rebuttal appeared in the Review and Herald of October 3, 1878, and was to have been continued, but it stopped right there. Why? William C. White, son of James and Ellen White, relates that a day or two after the meeting at which Smith and White spoke, Ellen White was given a vision showing that her husband erred in publicly disagreeing with Smith. After coming out of vision, she related to her husband what she had been shown. James White accepted the rebuke and discontinued his series of articles. In rebuking her husband, Mrs. White did not attempt to resolve the question of the identity of the king of the north. Indeed, the question is not settled in any way in her writings.
(To be continued)
* Those interested in the fuller presentation of this subject may contact the writer, D. E. Mansell, 4617 Blackwood Road, Beltsville, Md. 20705