Was the founding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in the middle of the nineteenth century, justifiable? Protestantism was already split into many denominations. What makes the rise of Adventism unique, defensible, and stand out from other denominations? Does the appearance of another Christian denomination create further confusion in the minds of people?
The question of identity must confront each Seventh-day Adventist. Why am I an Adventist? What is our mission? What is the difference between our mission and that of other Christian denominations? The answers to these questions depend on the understanding of our origin and history.
This article will try to probe these issues in the context of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14. We will show the significance of this message in preaching the everlasting gospel in the last days of earth’s history. We believe that the proclamation of this message before Christ’s second coming is one of the most important and exclusive features of the Adventist Church. This message directs the undertakings and is part of the mission of the church.
The Adventist Church emerged from fragments of a religious movement led by William Miller (1782–1849). The driving ideological idea of that movement was setting a definite date for Christ’s second coming to earth. The date was based on the interpretation of the prophecy of Daniel 8:14: “ ‘It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated’ ” (NIV).
Nothing extraordinary happened on the date set by Miller’s followers, and many of them experienced a great disappointment. While in a state of hopelessness and praying for guidance from above, a most important biblical truth was revealed, which determined the theological position of the future Adventist Church. This revelation and further study led to the conclusion that “the sanctuary” in Daniel 8:14 did not refer to the earth, which, according to Miller, needed cleansing by fire during the Second Coming, but rather to an event in the heavenly sanctuary.
The prophetic period of 2,300 evenings and mornings of Daniel 8:14 ended with the beginning of the final phase in Christ’s ministry as High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. Using the analogy of the earthly sanctuary, in which the second section, known as the “Holy of Holies,” was cleansed once a year (Lev. 16:29–34), Christ as the High Priest began cleansing the true sanctuary in heaven into which He entered by His own blood (Heb. 9:11, 12). This day was the antitype of the earthly “Yom Kippur,” the annual great Day of Atonement, literally meaning “day of covering.” Therefore, the pioneers of the future Adventist Church linked the first angel’s message “ ‘the hour of his judgment has come’ ” (Rev. 14:7, NIV) to the fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 8:14—namely, the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary.
The context of the three angels’ messages
A second important point that the Adventist pioneers paid attention to was the context of the three angels’ messages in the book of Revelation. Right after this message follows the description of the Second Coming with the great heavenly reaper taking His sickle to reap the greatest harvest on earth (vv. 14–16). John described the reaper “seated on the cloud” as “the son of man,” as Christ, who is ready to come in all glory to this world for the final judgment. The Adventist pioneers paid attention to the fact that the angel, flying in midair, had “the eternal gospel.” The powerful language of the three angels’ messages presents the eternal gospel—the good news directed at humanity just before the second coming of Jesus Christ.
But why do the three angels’ messages use such unusual language? Why do these messages have disturbing images? The reason is found in the fact that the period before Christ’s coming to earth was in need of this kind of language, addressing the specifics of a historic situation emerging before the Second Coming.
The main characteristics of this historic flow may be summarized as:
Rationalism. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment launched the making of the modern human, proclaiming the independence and capacity of the mind to probe and understand matters relating to ultimacy and reality, renegading, in the process, the supremacy of faith in the life of humankind. The process eventually led to the establishment of the so-called positive knowledge (science) in the place of negative knowledge (religion).
Secularism. Ever since the nineteenth century, society has become more and more secular. The role of God in human life has been increasingly questioned. Indeed, people were led to think that they have grown out of their condition of dependency on God and that they do not need Him anymore.
Materialism. With God and the call for spirituality minimized or eliminated, humanity was increasingly dominated by forces of materialism. With this swing toward materialism dominating the consciousness of humanity, and with the elimination of God’s critical role in life, society saw the development of a new era, marked by antitheistic values, a materialistic future, and class struggles, leading to a new development in social-economic forces.
Communism. The middle and second half of the nineteenth century signify the flourishing of socialistic ideas within which projects for the formation of a just society were developed through revolutionary reforms. Society in many parts of the world moved to the power of social progress leading to a communist “paradise,” without any reference to God or the spiritual dimension of life.
Liberalization of Protestantism. Leading Protestant churches were accepting liberal theology, which undermined faith in a God-inspired Bible and exposed many doctrines of the Christian faith to rational criticism. As a result, Jesus Christ has become just a historical figure with nothing in common with the Jesus Christ of the Gospels.
Darwinism. Perhaps the most daunting challenge to biblical faith and values, undermining the very core of Christian proclamation, occurred in the mid-nineteenth century when science proclaimed the origin of species by natural selection. The biblical foundation of earth’s creation was at stake, and the theory of evolution emerged not only as a critical challenge but also as a viable alternative.
These are only a few markers of the new era, which have become a real challenge to Christian faith. Almost all of them are reflected in the backdrop against which the three angels’ messages were to be proclaimed. The eternal gospel of Revelation 14 thus calls us to return to the core values of the biblical message proclaimed from the beginning to the end of human history. The proclamation takes on a new force in these last days.
Thus, a brief analysis of the historical situation during the mid-nineteenth century helps us understand why the pioneers of the Adventist Church recognized the meaning of their earthly mission in the three angels’ messages. The preaching of these messages defined the face of future Adventism. In preaching the three angels’ messages, Adventists found the explanation of their emergence in the arena of history. Seventh-day Adventism does not live as just another confession, formed as a result of a schism in an already- existing church. The Adventist Church emerged during the prophesied historical period in order to proclaim the greatest message of all before the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The first angel’s message
Against this overview, the message of the first angel assumes special emphasis. First of all, attention is drawn to the appeal of the first angel to “fear God and give Him glory.”
Fear is one of the characteristics that defines human existence. Also interesting to note is that the so-called scientific religious studies, which developed in the nineteenth century as a main factor in the emergence of religion, emphasized fear. Fear, so argued the so-called scientists, gave rise to the religious feeling of dependence on higher powers. But when we examine the phrase “fear God” in its context in Revelation 14, the meaning becomes clearer. The phrase calling for fear is followed by the invitation, “give Him glory.” To fear God means to give Him glory. We find it interesting to note that such a parallelism appears several times in the book of Revelation. For example, “ ‘Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name?’ ” (Rev. 15:4, NIV).
Most naturally, the question arises: What does it mean to “give Him glory”? We need to implement the biblical meaning of these words to our stereotypical understanding of glorification. The prayer of Jesus Christ can help us: “ ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do’ ” (John 17:4). Here we again see an example of parallelism. To give God glory, first of all, means to fulfill His will, complete His work, and show obedience and submission to His will.
Hence, we can conclude that the first angel’s call to “fear God,” in fact, means to obey and fulfill God’s will, conveyed in His commandments. This appeal becomes current in an era of humanistic and secular values, in an era where God is excluded from the human mind and affairs. These words have special significance in the era of postmodernism and a relativistic attitude of life, making any moral standards relative.
The final words of the first angel are highly significant: “ ‘Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ ” These words were current in the mid-nineteenth century when a whole chain of discoveries in the fi eld of geology and biology challenged the idea that God created the world. These discoveries were the beginning of a serious conflict between science and Christianity.
Hence the currency of the message of the first angel: “Worship him who made. . . .” The message calls people to think about their origin and reconsider their purpose. The Bible speaks about human origin: “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him” (Gen. 1:27, NIV). Accepting that humans were created in God’s image can radically change the way men and women perceive themselves.
The second angel’s message
In the context of what was mentioned previously, the message of the second angel becomes clearer. This angel proclaims Babylon’s fall: “ ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries’ ” (Rev. 14:8, NIV).
No direct relationship exists between Babylon in the book of Revelation and the historical Babylon. When John was writing the book of Revelation, Babylon, as described in the book of Daniel, did not exist. Most likely John sees a new religious-political power in his prophetic vision. This power, which John calls Babylon, while taking into consideration the historical parallels, will confront God’s people. This power will turn into a godless system, which will integrate all the false systems of worship and all the institutions that suppress human freedom. During this time, the second angel will proclaim Babylon’s fall twice, which refers to the apostasy of religious bodies. Babylon will not overcome God’s people; in the end, victory will belong to God’s truth.
The third angel’s message
The third angel’s message proclaims the consequences for those who engage in the works of the “whore of Babylon.” The angel’s language here is strong. “ ‘He, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath’ ” (Rev. 14:10, NIV). John uses language that was familiar to his contemporaries: a person who had experienced God’s fury was pictured by prophets in the Old Testament as drinking wine from God’s cup (Job 21:20; Pss. 60:3; 75:8; Isa. 51:17–23; Jer. 25:15–28; Ezek. 23:32–34).
In the “seductive” politics of the spiritual Babylon, John draws attention to the act of receiving a “ ‘mark on the forehead or on the hand’ ” (Rev. 14:9, NIV). What does this mark mean, and how are we to understand it? John uses the Greek word charagma, which, in his time, referred to Caesar’s image on coins, the imperial seal on official documents, and the brand mark carved on animals.
The mark on the forehead and hand perhaps also connects to the ancient practice among Israelites during prayer time when the tefillin or a phylactery, a small leather box with passages from the Torah (Exod. 13:1–10; Deut. 6:4–9; 11:13–21), is bound to the forehead and hand. This ritual depicts the conscious acceptance of God’s will reflected through His commandments (binding on the forehead), and the readiness to fulfill this will in one’s life (binding on the hand).
The beast’s mark on the forehead and the hand represents the mark of authority of the apostate church, the replacement of God’s righteous standards with human standards. That is why one of the most important characteristics of God’s faithful people centers in keeping His commandments (Rev. 14:12; 12:17).
To draw attention to one of the Ten Commandments is very important, just as keeping it has a special significance in the struggle between good and evil. In the first angel’s message (Rev. 14:7, NIV) that speaks about true worship, John emphasized: “ ‘who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ ” A clear allusion to the fourth commandment of God’s law exists here: “ ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. . . . For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day’ ” (Exod. 20:8, 11, NIV).
The Sabbath played a very important role in the worship of God’s chosen people. In Old Testament times, Sabbath keeping sustained the people’s hopes of future deliverance, Messianic peace, and well-being. Sabbath, as the Israelites understood it, was connected not only to Creation, but to deliverance, liberation, and redemption too. Sabbath served as a sign of the covenant between God and His people (Exod. 31:13, 17).
This leads us to understand why the pioneers of our church placed the “seventh day” in the church’s title. The name “Seventh-day Adventist” carries a significant meaning. It reflects two positions that underscore a forceful identity. The “seventh day” indicates the church membership’s commitment to God, the Creator of all life, and Provider of true meaning to human existence and hope.
No less important is the accent on the second position in the church’s title. The word Adventist points to the second coming of Jesus Christ. We must emphasize that this position is biblical (John 14:1–3; Acts 1:10, 11; 1 Thess. 4:13–18). According to the Bible, God will put an end to the presence of sin one day and bring back harmony to this world (Rev. 21:1–5).
So, the name of the Seventh-day Adventist Church testifies of two great events in world history—the creation of the cosmos in the beginning and the launching of the new heavens and the new earth at the second coming of Jesus Christ. These two events—the beginning and the end—are the alpha and omega of earth’s history. Indeed these two events, centered in Christ, make Him declare, “ ‘I am the Alpha and Omega, ... who is, and who was, and who is to come’ ” (Rev. 1:8, NIV).
Summarizing the content of the three angels’ messages in Revelation 14, we must note the importance of this message in the formation of the church’s mission. The pioneers of our church did not accidentally emphasize that the three angels’ messages in the book of Revelation are placed in the context of the Second Coming. The sermon of the “eternal gospel” through the three angels’ messages became the essence of the church’s mission. This sermon became the action program of the young Adventist Church. The Seventh-day Adventist Church was not formed as a result of a schism of an already existing denomination. Rather it was formed through consolidation of representatives of different denominations around the majestic message to be proclaimed before and until the Second Coming. This message reflects the tendencies that are characteristics of the historical era that began in the nineteenth century. Adventists recognized the actuality of this message in today’s historical situation. The preaching of this message defined the character and face of the church.
We must note that the core of the three angels’ messages, proclaimed before the Second Coming, is worship. So, the author of the book of Revelation mentions two groups of worshipers. One group worships Him “ ‘who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water,’ ” and the other worships the beast and his image. One shows obedience to God and fulfills His commandments (Rev. 12:17; 14:12), the other participates in adultery with spiritual Babylon (Rev. 17:2). One will finally rest in God (Rev. 14:13), while the other will not rest “ ‘day or night’ ” (Rev. 14:11). The three angels’ messages call every believer to choose his or her position in this great controversy between good and evil, between truth and lie.
Let us draw our attention one more time to the phrase “the hour of his judgment has come.” The word “judgment” is translated from the Greek word krisis. This word means “process of judgment” (see Rev. 16:7; 18:10; 19:2), while a different Greek word krima means “verdict” or “sentence.” We indeed live in a time of crisis—economic crisis, financial crisis, energy crisis, food crisis, ecological crisis, moral crisis, spiritual crisis, and so on; all of them are part of life today. The time of the Second Coming is near, bringing with it the krima, the time for the verdict. For this reason, we consider it of great importance that we participate in the preaching of the greatest message of the Holy Scriptures. It is our duty and privilege—the essence of our mission.