The main problem with the Seventh-day Adventist view of Revelation is that there is not a single verse in the book of Revelation to indicate that the prophecies contained therein have anything to do with events that transpired over thousands of years of Christian history. In fact, Revelation says just the opposite, that the events described in its pages are "near" and "soon". First century Christians were admonished to read and keep the sayings in Revelation "for the time is near" (Rev. 1:3). Why would John admonish first century readers to read a book that was describing events that were to transpire thousands of years in the future? What possible relevance or meaning could the papacy, the French Revolution, the Protestant Reformation, and the United States have to first century Christians? Why would John command them to read something so unfathomable to them?
Do the 7 churches represent 7 ages of Christian church history?4
In Rev. 1:4-6 John addresses his prophecy "to the seven churches in Asia". It is obvious from the descriptions that follow (chapters 2-3) that he definitely has these actual churches in mind. The notion propagated by Revelation Seminars, Uriah Smith and Ellen White that these represent “seven phases of the spiritual history of the church” is a mere fiction, with no objective evidence; and it is quite arbitrarily and selectively applied. There are at least three fallacious presuppositions held by those who advocate this doctrine:
- First, the “seven ages” doctrine presupposes that Revelation covers all of Church history, from beginning to end. Who says the Book of Revelation covers Church history? John certainly does not. His only claim is that the prophecy covers “the things that must shortly take place” (1:1), and that the time of which it speaks is near (1:3). Thus, the most basic presupposition of the “seven ages” view is utterly false.
- The second presupposition holds that the Church will end in defeat and apostasy: The Laodicean, lukewarm, practically apostate church, about which Christ has nothing good to say
(3:14-22), is supposed to symbolize the Church of Jesus Christ at the end of the age. (A corollary of this view is that the “Last Days” spoken of in Scripture, in which apostasy is rampant, are the actual last days of earth’s history.) We disagree with that view and submit to you that the Church ends in victory and triumph. But it is important to note that the notion of end-time apostasy is a presupposition of the “seven ages” view; and those who hold it are assuming what they purport to prove.
- The third presupposition, of course, is that we are living in the last age of the Church (again, we should note that these people are too often unable to think of themselves as living at any time other than the climax of history). This presupposition is erroneous. The prophecies of the glorious condition of the Church, to be fulfilled before the return of Christ, are far from their accomplishment. We may have many years to go before the End. We are still in the early Church! And, while it is fashionable for modern Christian intellectuals to speak of our civilization as “post-Christian,” we should turn that around and make it Biblically accurate: Our culture is not post-Christian — our culture is still largely pre-Christian !
Does Revelation Cover Thousands of Years of History?
John makes it clear from the outset this his book is a revelation, an unveiling or disclosure of God's purposes. It is not intended to be mysterious or enigmatic; it is, emphatically, a revealing of its subject. Specifically, it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him--in other words, a revelation mediated by our Lord Himself about the things that must shortly take place. The Revelation, therefore, is not concerned with either the scope of world history or the end of the world, but with events that were in the near future to John and his readers. Revelation is a "covenant lawsuit," prophesying the outpouring of God's wrath on Jerusalem. It is a prophecy of the period known in Scriptures as "the Last Days," meaning the last days of the covenantal nation of Israel, the forty-year "generation" (Matt. 24;34) between the Ascension of Christ (AD 30) and the fall of Jerusalem (AD 70). It foretells events that John expected his readers to see very soon.5
When you think about it, it makes little sense to take seven messages directed to seven literal churches and claim that these are in reality messages addressed to specific eras of Christianity. This philosphy leads to gross over-generalizations. Let us examine one example: Philadelphia. Was the only time that the Church exhibited the brotherly love of Philadelphia during the period of 1740-1844? Have there been no reformations prior to 1740 or since 1844?
The reason many people Christians are challenged by Revelation is because they have been taught to apply the prophecies and symbols of Revelation in a way that was never intended.
The book of Revelation was written for the Christians living in the apostle John's generation. We are wrong to interpret it futuristically, as if its message was primarily intended for a time 2000 years after John wrote it. Of course, the events John foretold were "in the future" to John and his readers; but as John indicates in his book, the events occurred soon after he wrote them. To interpret the book otherwise is to contradict the book itself. For us, the majority of the Revelation is history: It has already happened. There is a brief wrap-up at the end of Revelation where John transports us briefly into the future to see the reward of the righteous in the Millennium and the New Earth, but the rest of the book is exactly what John said it was: Events that were shortly to take place. Once we grasp this concept, we find that the book is easy to understand and the symbols make perfect sense in light of actual historical events that occurred in the first century.
Do the 7 trumpets represent the military history of 7 ages of Christianity?
One can read the SDA definition of the seven trumpets and rightfully ask, "How on earth do these seven trumpets correlate to the events the SDA Church says they do?" The truth is, there is NO discernable connection between the trumpets and the events Adventists claim the trumpets correspond to! Only those with a vivid imagination can match the historical events picked by Adventists with Revelation's symbolic events, and even then, the connection is at best vague, and at worst, non-existent. Seventh-day Adventism's view of the trumpets is forced upon them because they previously interpretted the "churches" and the "seals" as covering long periods of church history. Thus, to be consistent, they are must do the same with the trumpets, but their choice of events seems arbitrary. For example, the first four trumpets are said to represent attacks by four tribes (out of the twenty) that attacked Rome. Adventists do not tell us why Revelation is only concerned with four tribes out of the twenty that attacked the Roman Empire. Regardless, while these particular tribes engaged in some fierce battles against Rome, their significance is minor on the grand stage of Christian history, and does not seem to match the great significance placed upon them in Revelation 8.
We will examine just one of these trumpets in detail, the 6th trumpet, because Adventists spend more time on this trumpet than on any of the others, and because they also claim it has a most dramatic fulfillment in context of SDA Church history.
Is the 6th trumpet the Ottoman Empire?
Adventists claim that Revelation 9:15 indicates the exact length of time the Ottoman Empire was to rule:
And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.
Revelation Seminars claims that the year-day principle can be applied to this passage to calculate the length of time that the Ottoman Empire ruled:
1 year =360 prophetic years
1 month = 30 prophetic years
1 day = 1 prophetic year
1 hour = 15 prophetic days (an hour being 1/24th of a prohpetic year)
Total 391 years and 15 days
Revelation Seminars claims this period began during the "final phase" of the Ottoman Empire, on July 27, 1449. They say this period ended on August 11, 1840, when the Ottomans accepted the protection of the European powers.
To begin with, the Ottoman Empire was not an anti-Christian empire. As a matter of fact, the Ottomans were surprisingly enlightened in their treatment of other religions. The Ottomans did conquer the eastern Roman Empire by 1453 AD, but they were tolerant of both Judaism and Christianity, and the Eastern Orthodox Church continued on unabated. Rather than being opposed to Christian nations, throughout its history the Ottoman Empire was allied with various European countries in various military campaigns. Furthermore, European nations were the principle trading partners with the Ottoman Empire and engaged in considerable business with the empire. After understanding all this, one could wonder if this power is the same as the one described by the sixth trumpet.
What happened to the Ottoman Empire on August 11, 1840?
Examining history books, it is difficult to pinpoint anything of significance that happened on August 11, 1840. There were no treaties and no military defeats that occurred on that day. In fact, the originator of the date, Josiah Litch, had his own doubts when the day passed without any relevant news from the Ottoman Empire. Sometime later he supposedly learned that "a diplomatic ultimatum from the major European powers, suggesting war if rejected, had been delivered to the Turkish Sultan on August 11, 1840."6 Litch's view of the 6th Trumpet was accepted by Adventists as "truth" and incorporated into many of their books and taught for years.
While doing research for the 1911 revision of Great Controversy, SDA Professor W.W. Prescott discovered the 1840 date was unsupportable:
"I had known for some time that the date, August 11, 1840, would not stand examination. Two years ago we presented full information on this at the Fall Council, but nothing has been done and in the meantime our books and publications are repeating the old unwarranted statements ... "
Other Adventist leaders attempted and failed to find any confirmation for Litch's story. Professor Spicer writes:
"About this time Professor Benson received documents showing conclusively that the ultimatum of the Powers was not delivered to the Pasha of Egypt on Aug. 11, 1840."7
Josiah Litch himself later rejected the doctrine he originated and said the "year, a month, a day, and an hour; it is not an exact period" of time.8
What happened to the Ottoman Empire on July 27, 1449?
The answer is nothing! There is no significant event in the Ottomon Empire that can be traced to July 27, 1449. So how did Adventists arrive at this date? Adventists base the starting date of the sixth trumpet on the ending date of the fifth trumpet. According to Revelation Seminars, the fifth trumpet was to rule for 150 years based upon Revelation 9:10:
...and their power [was] to hurt men five months...
According to Adventists, these "five months" are equivalent to 150 prophetic years that the fifth trumpet, the Moslems, were ruling. Subtracting 150 years from 1449 results in a date of July 27, 1299. Adventists teach that on this date that Moslem leader Othman first invaded the territory of Nicomedia.
SDA Professors Prescott and Spicer went to the Library of Congress to verify the July 27, 1299 date. While there, they discovered that the historian that earlier Adventists had gotten the 1299 date from was mistaken. The true date was actually 1301!
Finally, to top it all off, Litch forgot to account in his calculations for the shift from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1582, in which ten days were lost.
What does Rev. 9:15 really say?
Revelation 9:15, in the original Greek, is not conveying that angels would release the Ottomans for a specified length of time. Rather, the Greek is saying that the fifth trumpet would be released upon a specific date. Notice how all modern translations accurately render the passage:
NKJV - So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind.
NLT - And the four angels who had been prepared for this hour and day and month and year were turned loose to kill one-third of all the people on earth.
NIV - And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind.
ESV - So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind.
NASB - And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind.
RSV - So the four angels were released, who had been held ready for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, to kill a third of mankind.
ASV - And the four angels were loosed, that had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they should kill the third part of men.
Conclusion on the Sixth Trumpet
The SDA interpretation of the 7 trumpets reads like a science fiction novel. They picked random events out of history and tried to make the square pegs of historical events fit the round holes of Bible prophecy. They calculated time periods based upon a misunderstanding of the Greek combined with a misunderstanding of history, and portrayed this to the world as Biblical "truth". What a tragedy!
- Litch began with an erroneous date from historian Gibbon--wrong by two years
- Litch forgot about the omission of ten days in the replacement of the Julian calendar
- SDA Professors found that the Sultan had not been contacted on Aug. 11, 1840
- The Greek does not say the sixth trumpet would be released for a certain length of time, but rather at a certain point in time
- Litch later repudiated his belief