Apocalyptic prophecy and the church--2

Daniel, Paul, and John the revelator all depict an anti-divine power to arise after the decline of the Roman Empire. The end-time judgment, which involves both investigative and executive phases, vindicates God's people and pronounces against this power a verdict patterned after the law of malicious witness of Deuteronomy.

Kenneth A. Strand, Ph.D., is professor of church history, SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.


Dr. Strand's previous article (October, 1983) examined two significant characteristics of apocalyptic prophecy—vertical continuity (the close connection between heaven and earth) and horizontal continuity (the sequential arrangement of the prophetic forecast in which history is viewed as a continuum). A correct interpretation of Daniel and Revelation, the two major examples of Biblical apocalyptic prophecy, will take into account these features and their literary structure, which is one of repeated sequences. In each book the prophetic sequences dealing with the historical era extend from the prophet's own time to the great eschatological consummation. Revelation exhibits a broad chiastic structure (inverse parallelism) that emphasizes the book's twofold theme—Christ's presence with His people now and His second coming, which will end sin and usher in everlasting peace. The first major division (chapters 1-14) sets forth the historical sequences, while the. second division (chapters 15-22) highlights the eschatological consummation. Thus the apocalyptic nature and literary patterns of both Daniel and Revelation indicate that the proper hermeneutic for these books is a recapitulationary historical one.

These apocalyptic prophecies have been especially comforting to called-out Christian groups through the centuries, and because of their specific emphasis on end-time, they have come to have particularly rich meaning for called-out Christians of our own day. —Editors.

Both Daniel and Revelation depict a fierce antidivine power in the last days, God's judgment upon that power, and the vindication of His saints who have been oppressed and persecuted by that power.

In Daniel this entity is symbolically portrayed in chapters 1 and 8 as a "little horn." In Daniel 7 the horn comes up out of the head of the fourth beast after ten horns had already arisen. That is to say, the little horn appears after the tenfold division of the Roman Empire, the fourth beast of the prophecy. (See verses 7, 8, 19, 20; cf. verses 23, 24; chapter 2.) In chapter 8 the little horn comes from one of the four winds after the rise and wane of the Persian and Greek empires, symbolized by the ram and goat, respectively (see verses 8, 9; cf. verses 2-7).

English translations tend to obscure the Hebrew text. According to the Hebrew original of verse 8, the little horn "comes forth [the verb indicates horizontal movement] from one [the antecedent of this word is "winds"] from them [the antecedent of this word is "heavens"]." Thus, the suggestion that the little horn comes up out of one of the four horns (the interpretation of those who identify the little horn with Antiochus Epiphanes) is an impossible one as far as the original Hebrew text is concerned, both on the basis of its verb and more particularly because of the gender of the nouns and pronouns used. To make it grammatically possible for the little horn to arise from one of the four horns, one would have to emend the Hebrew text, and there is no good reason to do so.1

Daniel 7 describes this little horn thus: "He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, two times, and half a time" (verse 25, R.S.V.). * In chapter 8 this horn "magnified himself even to the prince of the host," and it terminated "the daily," and trampled the sanctuary and host under foot (verses 1143).

Revelation 13 pictures a leopardlike sea beast whose description parallels that of the little horn in Daniel 7:25. "And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months; it opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain" (Rev. 13:5-8, R.S.V.).

A further description of the same entity is given by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2. The apostle declares that the day of the Lord will not come until "the man of lawlessness [or "man of sin" (K.J.V.)] is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God" (verses 3, 4, R.S.V.). Moreover, there was still in existence at that time a restraining power: "He who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming" (verses 7, 8, R.S.V.).

This antidivine power mentioned in Daniel 7, Revelation 13, and 2 Thessalonians 2 was still future in New Testament times. This much could already be deduced from Daniel, inasmuch as the little horn arose after the ten horns on the fourth beast came into being—that is, after the division of the Roman Empire (see chap. 7:8, 24). Paul looked to this antidivine entity as still future when he wrote to the Thessalonians. And the picture in the book of Revelation is precisely the same: the antidivine power represented by the leopardlike sea beast was to arise after John's time, as is clear from the fact that that beast has the crowns on its ten horns (chap. 13:1)—horns explained as not yet having received regal power when John wrote (chap. 17:12).

Significantly, the early church recognized the Roman Empire as being the restraining force that the apostle Paul had pointed out would hold back the appearance of "the lawless one." 2

Because the first beast of Revelation 13 was not to come into power until after Rome was broken into its ten divisions, the preterist interpretation of that beast as the Roman Empire contemporary with John is impossible. Even more untenable is the approach that combines futurism with preterism, as enunciated, for example, by George Eldon Ladd and Leon Morris, who see a last-day personal antichrist foreshadowed by the Roman Empire.3 This interpretation shares the weaknesses of the preterist view, but adds the further difficulty of introducing a dual focus instead of recognizing the horizontal continuity characteristic of apocalyptic prophecy.

Interpreters of prophecy during the past century or two have taken a special interest in the 1260-day time period of Daniel 7:25 (stated there as "a time, two times, and half a time" [R.S.V.]) and 12:7 (cf. Rev. 12:6, 14; 13:5), as well as the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14. Though these time periods had interested some Christian, as well as Jewish, expositors before 1800, the first half of the nineteenth century saw an upsurge of attention among Christians. Numerous interpreters in both the Old World and the New began to look upon the 1260 days as stretching either from A.D. 533 to 1793 or from 538 to 1798. The 1830s and early 1840s saw an especially strong focus on the 2300 days, with the date 1844 finally settled upon as the terminal point. These prophecies had been reckoned, of course, on the year-day principle—a principle recognized as being used by the Hebrews for certain types of numerical statements and calculations. Among the Bible texts that illustrate the principle are Genesis 29:27, 28; Numbers 14:34; and Ezekiel 4:6. 4

That the year-day principle should be applied in Daniel 8 is apparent from the context itself, inasmuch as the question in verse 13—"How long?"—applies to the vision itself, not just the work of the little horn. ("How long the vision?" is the literal reading of the text.)

What time span is covered by the vision of chapter 8? It begins with the Persian ram, moves on to the Greek goat and the goat's four horns, and then finally to the little horn. Obviously, 2300 literal days could never begin to span such a time period. But 2300 years could. From 457 B.C. , the seventh year of Persian King Artaxerxes, 2300 years reach to A.D. 1844. 5

As for the 1260 days of Daniel 7:25, this time period pertains solely to the little horn and should be reckoned at some time in the future from John. It was to begin after the rise of the ten horns, thus signifying a time subsequent to the division of the Roman Empire. Generally, a period from the 530s, when Emperor Justinian proclaimed the Roman bishop to be head over all churches, to the 1790s has become the most common interpretation of this particular time period.

In regard to these prophecies, Daniel was instructed to "shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end" (chap. 12:4), when knowledge of the book would be increased. And on the basis of a study of these very prophetic passages—the 1260 days and the 2300 days a great Second Advent movement did arise at their end. This is a well-established historical fact, and the rise of this particular movement at this particular time appears to be more than mere coincidence.

Interludes In Revelation

Revelation enlarges Daniel's focus on the end-time. Figure 1 shows an outline of the historical series in the first major division of Revelation. Notice that in each series an interlude focuses on last-day events. These hold special meaning for the last-day church. In the seven seals, for instance, the sealing of the 144,000 has relevance in depicting God's protection over His people and their special mission in the last critical time of earth's history.

The second interlude comes in chapters 10 and 11, between the sixth and seventh trumpets. Here as the vision begins, in chapter 10:1-7, an angel stands with one foot on land and one on sea, holding a little book open and proclaiming, in verse 6, "that there should be time no longer" ("that there should be no more delay" [R.S.V.]). This particular prophecy cannot help reminding us of the fact that the book of Daniel was sealed to the time of the end and that the response to the prophet's twice-asked "How long?" indicated 2300 days and 1260 days. Prophetic time, rather than absolute time, is intended in Revelation 10, as is clear from the fact that absolute historical time does not come to an end in the prophetic portrayal. After the angel's "time no longer" proclamation, the prophet is instructed to eat the book, which he does. It leaves a bitter taste in his stomach after being sweet in his mouth (verses 8-10). Following this he is commissioned to go forth prophesying again to many peoples (verse 11). Could there be a more fitting description of the events surrounding the great disappointment of 1844 and the subsequent outreach of the gospel message in world wide proclamation?

The very next chapter in Revelation calls attention to a concurrent work going on in the heavenly temple, where symbolically the sanctuary, the altar, and the worshipers are measured (verse 1)—a work of judgment. The outer court, where the Gentiles gather, is left out (verse 2). Indeed, the "two witnesses" continue to testify—making it clear, once more, that absolute time has not come to an end, even though a great prophetic fulfillment has occurred (see verses 3-12).

Another temple scene in chapter 11 deserves mention, although it occurs within the next series rather than the spotlight-on-last-events interlude. In verse 19 John states: "Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple" (R.S.V.). In the Old Testament Temple the ark was kept in the inner apartment and contained the ten-commandment law, covered with the mercy seat. This "victorious vision" of Revelation 11:19, with its focus on the ark of the covenant in the heavenly temple, has special relevance, therefore, for the end-time, the time when the dragon goes forth against "the remnant," or "off spring" (R.S.V.), of the woman's seed, who "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (chap. 12:17).

The third interlude spotlighting final events occurs in Revelation 14. Here three angels proclaim a warning mes sage. The first proclaims the everlasting gospel, calling attention to the Creator of heaven and earth and to the fact that the hour of His judgment is come. The second angel announces that Babylon has fallen. And the third angel calls out the last warning—an appeal not to worship the beast and receive his mark. A called-out church of the last days would obviously see this threefold mes sage of Revelation 14 as the essence of its proclamation to the world.

The Judgment that vindicates

In Revelation 12:17 the last-day church is called the "remnant." It is the group of faithful ones depicted in Revelation 13:15-17 as being victims of adverse laws the death decree and denial of the right to buy and sell. The issue revolves about "the commandments of God, and ... the testimony of Jesus Christ" (chap. 12:17). These called-out Christians of the last days recognize that here is a special twofold mark of identification, and they must know precisely what is entailed in these expressions.

The judgment scene in Daniel 7, forming the climax of the prophecy and occurring toward the end of history, has been a particularly meaningful portrayal for God's people. So often oppressed and persecuted, they can find comfort in the judgment of the heavenly court, which renders its verdict against-the little-horn oppressor and vindicates them. " 'Thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat. . . . The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened'" (verses 9, 10, R.S.V.). "' "But the court shall sit in judgment, and his [the little horn's] dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them"'" (verses 26, 27, R.S.V.).

The book of Revelation also depicts this last-day judgment. We have already noted some references to it: the measuring mentioned in chapter 11:1 and the judgment-hour messages of chapter 14:6-12. But in Revelation 18 both the investigative phase and the executive phase of the judgment are put into bold relief. This chapter has a chiastic structure, with five main parts, as indicated in figure 2. 6

The introduction and conclusion both describe the condition of Babylon. The introduction describes her as she appears when indicted for judgment, and the conclusion portrays her after^ the execution of the judgment. B and B are interludes: B is a call to come out of Babylon in view of the verdict against her, and Bis a call to rejoice because of that verdict. The central section, C, is a litany over the execution of Babylon, wherein earth's kings, merchants, and seafarers weep and lament as they see the symbolic city in flames.

The central litany of verses 9-19 portrays the execution of judgment on Babylon and consists of several hymns or hymn groups, each concluding with a climactic refrain: " 'In one hour has thy judgment come'" (verse 10, R.S.V.). "'In one hour all this wealth has been laid waste'" (verse 17, R.S.V.). "'In one hour she has been laid waste'" (verse 19, R.S.V.). The execution of judgment pictured here is different from the judgment on Babylon alluded to in the introductory section (A) and in the interludes (B and B) because it comes subsequent to and as a result of that judgment.

The basic reference to the earlier judgment of Babylon comes within interlude B, whose primary function is to provide an appeal for God's people to come out of her " 'lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues'" (verse 4, R.S.V.). Her plagues are still future at this time, for she claims, "' "A queen I sit, I am no widow, mourning I shall never see"'" (verse 7, R.S.V.). But God's answer is that her plagues shall " 'come in a single day, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she shall be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her'" (verse 8, R.S.V.). The verdict statement itself, patterned after the law of malicious witness in Deuteronomy 19:16-19, is given in Revelation 18:6: " 'Render to her as she herself has rendered, and repay her double for her deeds'" (R.S.V.).

Like the adversary who accused Joshua in the vision of Zechariah 3, and like Haman, who prepared gallows for Mordecai in the book of Esther, Babylon has been a malicious witness. Christ's true followers have been condemned, as was our Lord Himself, by a kangaroo court. The assurance of Revelation 18 is that a higher court has now come into session, has made diligent inquiry regarding the accuser Babylon, and has found her to be a malicious witness. Consequently that heavenly court reverses the decisions of the earthly courts, rendering upon Babylon's own head her verdicts against God's children, who are now fully cleared and vindicated.

In short, we have in Revelation a portrayal parallel to that in Daniel 7:22-27, wherein judgment is rendered in favor of the saints of the Most High and against the little horn. But Revelation enlarges the picture to reveal that although the antichrist power (Babylon, in the terminology of Revelation) has the verdict rendered against her at the beginning of the pre-Advent investigative judgment, individuals still have a time of probation while the judgment is in session. They may still choose where to place their loyalty—with God or with Babylon.

The length of this investigative judgment does not relate to the amount of time it takes God to go through records; obviously that could be done in a moment! It relates rather to a soteriological concern: "The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, R.S.V.). The three angels' messages of Revelation 14:6-12 reveal the same soteriological concern: God does not stop with but one warning message; He adds appeal to appeal during the judgment hour, while probation still lingers.

God's faithful children can indeed rejoice because of the verdict rendered against Babylon by God's investigation of this malicious witness. Revelation 18:20, the second interlude in this chapter (B), comes into focus here as a call to rejoice because (as the Greek literally says) "God has judged your judgment on her [Babylon]." Here again, the reflection of the law of malicious witness is obvious, especially so when the parallel with verse 6 is kept in mind.

What a cause for rejoicing! The judgment that Babylon has maliciously passed upon God's children has now reverted to her, and they stand fully vindicated!


* The Scripture quotations marked R.S.V. in this article are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946, 195Z 1971, 1973.

* All Scripture quotations in this figure are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952 1971, 1973.

1 William H. Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation (Washington, D.C.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1982), pp. 41-43.

2 Irenaeus of Gaul (c. A.D. 185) equated Paul's "man of sin" with Daniel's little horn (referring to Dan. 7:8 and 8:12) and John's leopardlike beast. He also pointed to the fact that the ten kingdoms would precede the rise of this Antichrist (see Against Heresies, book 5, chaps. 25-27, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pp. 553-557). A few years later Tertullian wrote in his Apology (c. A.D. 197): "For we know that a mighty shock impending over the whole earth in fact, the very end of all things threatening dreadful woes is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman empire." Chapter 32, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, pp. 42, 43. In the fifth century Jerome was among interpreters who could see the beginning of the dissolution of the Roman Empire through the barbarian invasions. In A.D. 409, referring to 2 Thessalonians 2:7, 8, he wrote: "He that letteth is taken out of the way, and yet we do not realize that Antichrist is near. Yes, Antichrist is near whom the Lord Jesus Christ 'shall consume with the spirit of his mouth." Letter 123, to Ageruchia, section 16, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,
second series, vol. 6, p. 236.


3 George Eldon Ladd, Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972), p. 13; see also his article "Apocalyptic, Apocalypse" in Baker's Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1960), p. 53: "The beast is Rome and at the same time an eschatological Antichrist which cannot be fully
equated with historical Rome." Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John: An Introduction and Commentary (GrandRapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1969).

4 Shea, op. cit., pp. 56-93.

5 S. H. Horn and Lynn H. Wood, The Chronology of Ezra 7 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1953); cf. Julia Neuffer, "The Accession of Artaxerxes I," Andrews University Seminary Studies, 6:1 (1968), pp. 60-87.

6 The diagram is from Kenneth A. Strand, "Two Aspects of Babylon's Judgment Portrayed in Revelation 18," Andrews University Seminary Studies, 20:1 (1982), p. 54. The complete article (pp. 53-60) treats certain aspects of the subject in more detail than can be given in the present article.


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Kenneth A. Strand, Ph.D., is professor of church history, SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

December 1983

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