White's and Smith's Views
THE principal difference between White's and Smith's views of eschatological events centered in their identification of the king of the north. Their views on the king of the north and Armageddon were as follows:
James White believed that before probation closes there would be extreme political excitement and hostile feelings among the nations. He seems to have believed that before pagan-papal Rome (the king of the north) came to its end, it would move its seat to the United States. He believed that after Jesus left the heavenly sanctuary and probation closed, the seven last plagues would be poured out. These plagues would cause trouble among the nations that would involve war, yet White believed that even though all nations became involved in this war, it would not be the battle of Armageddon. White held that under the sixth plague Turkey (the Euphrates) would come to its end, after which the spirits of spiritism (the three unclean spirits) go forth from the dragon (paganism?), the beast (the papal church), and the false prophet (apostate Protestantism?), to gather the kingdoms of earth to attack Christ. He appears to have conceived of this gathering as a gathering of minds in opposition to Christ and His people, rather than a gathering of military forces to a specific geographical location. In the subsequent battle of Armageddon the wicked would be vanquished by Christ's dreadful burning glory. According to his view, the place Armageddon was simply the place where Christ would make His descent at His second coming.
Uriah Smith believed that before the close of probation Turkey (the king of the north) would be compelled to remove its capital from Constantinople to Jerusalem. This removal would make the Holy Land the great bone of contention between the Latin, Greek, and Mohammedan religious bodies, and would result in a war in which Turkey would speedily come to its end. Smith did not equate this war with Armageddon. Soon after Turkey's end probation would close and the plagues would begin to fall. (A few years before he died, Smith changed his position on this facet of his view and taught that Turkey's end would come at the time of the sixth plague.) Under the sixth plague everything about Turkey that constituted an obstacle to the nationalities, powers, and kingdoms lying east of Palestine would be entirely consumed and the way would be opened for the eastern nations (the kings of the east) to flow westward toward Palestine. The spirits of devils proceeding from paganism (the dragon), popery (the beast), and a dead and backslidden Protestantism (the false prophet) would now urge the nations to converge on Palestine over possession of that land and the holy sepulchers. This would be the apparent purpose of the gathering of the nations to Palestine. The hidden purpose would be that they might battle against the Lord of hosts at the Second Coming. To Smith, Armageddon was a conflict between paganism, popery, and apostate Protestantism on the one hand, and Christ on the other hand, at the time the seventh plague is poured out.
It is interesting to note that in so far as the time, the antagonists, and the outcome of the battle are concerned, Smith and White were in virtual agreement: The battle would take place at the Second Advent, the antagonists would be Christ and Satan, and as a result of the battle the wicked would be vanquished. There was some disagreement with respect to the place and purpose for the gathering of the wicked to the battle. Smith held that the gathering would take place in Palestine with the apparent purpose of taking possession of that land but with the hidden purpose of battling against Christ. White apparently held that the gathering would be a worldwide gathering of minds for the purpose of opposing Christ and culminating in the destruction of the wicked at the Second Advent. Unfortunately White did not spell out the details of his view as clearly as Smith did; hence, it is not possible to set forth his view with as much certainty as Smith's.
It was on the identification of the king of the north that Smith and White completely disagreed. As has been shown, Smith held this power to be Turkey; White held that it was the papacy.
The Smith Period
When James White died, in 1881, Smith's views on Armageddon and the king of the north, which were already ascendant, continued to be the standard Seventh-day Adventist views on these teachings. Virtually all our writers from about 1871 to the 1940's built on Smith's premises that Turkey is the king of the north and that the nations would be gathered in Palestine for the battle of Armageddon. This does not mean, however, that the Smith period extended from 1871 to the 1940's. Smith always held that the nations would simply gather in Palestine during the sixth plague and that Armageddon—a battle between Christ and the forces of evil—would not be fought until the seventh plague. Smith did not teach that Armageddon would be a great military conflict in Palestine. He did teach that Turkey would come to its end in an international war in Palestine, but this war, he believed, would be fought before the close of probation. Thus, the Smith period may be said to have lasted until the view that Armageddon would involve a great international conflict in Palestine took root, about 1903.
The Second Transition Period
During the last ten or fifteen years of the nineteenth century there was an increasing tendency for our writers on Armageddon and the king of the north to stress the war in which Turkey comes to its end. However, with rare exception, they did not equate this war with Armageddon.
In 1903, the year Uriah Smith died, W. A. Spicer, at the time one of the editors of the Review and Herald and later General Conference president, became the chief proponent of the view that Armageddon involved a great international conflict in Palestine after the close of probation. This concept was not opposed, and was gradually accepted by most Seventh-day Adventists. By 1913 it had become the denominational view.
Before proceeding to describe the third period of SDA teaching on Armageddon, it may be well to note a brief interlude.
The Jones Interlude
Alonzo T. Jones was the chief editor of the Review and Herald from 1897 to 1901. During this time he introduced the rather singular concept that the European nations and Japan, who were then endeavoring to partition China, and the United States, who was then becoming involved in the Philippines, were the kings of the east and that their way was being prepared by the partition of China for the coming battle of Armageddon. Eventually Jones identified these kings of the east as being the kings of the earth and of the whole world. This view did not endure, and made no permanent impression on our teachings. As soon as Uriah Smith resumed the chief editorship of the church paper in 1901, this view disappeared.
The Third Period
While Spicer taught that Armageddon was a great international military conflict centering in Palestine, he also taught that at its climax Christ would intervene from heaven at the Second Coming. He did not stress this latter aspect, however, and those who followed him in his view of a military Armageddon stressed it even less. During World War I and for several years after, it was almost completely forgotten.
When the first world war broke out, many statesmen and political analysts referred to it as Armageddon. Seventh-day Adventist leaders unanimously rejected this identification and said so. But when Turkey entered the war late in 1914 and Lord Asquith, British Prime Minister, declared that Turkey had rung her own death knell, we began to preach that Turkey's end was imminent and that the war then in progress would develop into Armageddon. Indeed, it looked as if the predictions we had been making for years were on the very verge of fulfillment, especially during the first part of 1917. The war was going badly for the Turks, a battle was shaping up around Jerusalem, and there was talk that the Turks planned to move their capital out of Constantinople.
But then Jerusalem was captured on December 9, 1917, after a brief struggle, and it became evident that the Turks were not going to be able to transfer their capital to that city in the foreseeable future. Less than a year later the armistice was signed by the Central Powers, but Turkey renewed the struggle, first under the sultan and then under the nationalists.
In October, 1922, the Ottoman Empire came to an end, but from its ashes emerged a vigorous and defiant Turkish Republic that fought on to victory and dictated the peace terms of the Treaty of Lausanne in the summer of 1923. Finally, early in March, 1924, Turkey abolished the caliphate, thereby disclaiming the spiritual leadership of Mohammedanism, which she had held for centuries.
The Third Transition Period
This turn of events led some of our people to re-examine the position we then held that Turkey was the king of the north, and soon among a minority there was a revival of the view that the papacy was king of the north. The majority of Seventh-day Adventists, however, continued to hold the other view, but now the emphasis in our teaching was that Armageddon was a military struggle of the East against the West in Palestine, with Christ intervening at the climax. The emphasis on the East-West struggle was doubtless engendered by the-rising militancy of Japan, the awakening and turmoil in China during the 1920's, and the threat of Russian Communism during the same period. But as the political alignments that led to World War II began to form and consolidate during the mid-1930's, it became clear that the lines of cleavage between the world's great powers were not East versus West, but Axis versus Allies. Thus, it appears that more and more stress was placed on Christ's part in Armageddon. Eventually some excluded a military conflict altogether and interpreted Armageddon as being the last great struggle between Christ and His followers and Satan and his followers. Discussions between the proponents of these views during the 1940's and early 1950's were sometimes heated, but gradually the so-called new view attracted more and more adherents, until with certain modifications it became the denomination's view about 1952.
The Fourth Period
The view that has been held by most SDA's since 1952 is that Armageddon involves both a physical battle and a battle between the followers of Christ and Satan, but that the real issue is the great controversy between good and evil. Some of our people tend to stress the physical aspects of this view while others tend to stress the struggle between the forces of good and evil.
A careful analysis of these stresses reveals that those who hold them do not mean the same thing when they speak of "physical" battle. Those who stress the physical aspects of Armageddon usually mean a great international military engagement in Palestine prior to or at the Second Advent; whereas, those who stress the conflict between the forces of good and evil usually mean the slaughter of the wicked all over the earth by mutual fighting among themselves after Christ appears in the clouds of heaven.
Because of the recent war in the Middle East there has been renewed interest among our people concerning our teachings on Armageddon and the king of the north. For this reason it is well for every Seventh-day Adventist to be aware of what We have taught on these subjects in the past, as well as what the Spirit of Prophecy has to say about them (see the Comprehensive Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White, vol. 1, "Armageddon" and "Eastern Question"). By so doing we shall gain a clearer view of the character of this struggle. This will help us to avoid some of the pitfalls that plagued our ancestors, and at the same time it will enable us to give relevance to our message.