A few years ago, a prominent Adventist scholar (now deceased) made news in the denomination with a new theory about the little horn prophecy of Daniel 7 and 8. In his newly crafted view, the power symbolized by the little horn in Daniel’s prophecy includes Islam as well as the Roman papacy, and indeed—from his perspective—more accurately reflects Islam than the papacy (1). While claiming to still adhere to the classic Adventist understanding of the papacy fulfilling this prophecy (2), he went on to raise doubts regarding classic Adventist views on the starting date of the 1,260-year period of papal supremacy (3).
Most seriously of all, this same scholar refused to bend his perspective to the clear endorsement by Ellen White of classic Adventism’s view of this particular time prophecy, claiming at one point that Sister White was “committed to search for truth and recognized her limitations” (4).
And what was the reason for the new view promoted by this particular scholar? He was quite frank in admitting that it was contemporary events. He stated frankly, "In good conscience I cannot ignore the Biblical implications of the current war on terrorism" (5). Regarding the Adventist pioneers and their understanding of the Antichrist prophecies, he claims:
It is unfortunate that our Adventist pioneers did not consider the prophetic role of Islam, as the counterpart of the papal Antichrist. Let us not blame them for this shortsightedness. After all, they lived before September 11 at a time when the Muslim power (Ottoman Empire) was declining (6).
It can easily be demonstrated, of course, that the classic Adventist dates for the 1,260-year prophecy dovetail very neatly with the historical record (7). But the principal focus of this essay is the peril of permitting momentary challenges and issues, particularly those perceived in society or even the church at a given time, to force a reconsideration or even a marginalizing of classic Adventist prophetic interpretation as founded on Scripture and articulated further in the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy.
First of all, it should be noted that differences between Biblical Christianity and the other major world religions, such as Islam, need no reinterpretation of Bible prophecy in order to be articulated. The same holds true with challenges relative to gender roles, sexuality, agnosticism, atheism, and other issues or ideologies which may for a time seem to pose a threat to the Christin cause in general and that of Seventh-day Adventism in particular. The written counsel of God is all that is needed to define the difference between truth and error regarding any of these or other questions. It is not necessary to create substitute or multiple applications of the end-time Antichrist prophecies as a means of combating errors arising from any of the above belief systems or controversies.
In a few recent online discussions, I have been saddened to observe certain allegedly conservative Adventists offer indirect, perhaps unintended criticism of the prophetic gift as manifested through the writings of Ellen White, on account of the fact that her writings seem to say comparatively little regarding controversies over gender and sexuality as occurring in the final moments of sacred history. But certainly no Adventist who takes the inspired writings as the supreme spiritual authority needs any warning against disputing God’s wisdom relative to how He chooses to lead His people. Whenever the children of Israel did this, they got into big trouble. God’s Word is sufficiently clear with regard to the present issues of gender roles and sexuality without God’s end-time prophet needing to predict these disputes in advance and proceed to give answers additional to the ones Scripture has given already. The extent to which the Lord predicts future challenges through prophetic revelation is for Him alone to determine, and is often calculated as a means of testing the spiritual diligence and seriousness of God’s people so far as the comparison of issues with inspired counsel is concerned.
The Secular Threat
Many in evangelical and fundamentalist Christian circles, and those Adventists under their influence, dwell disproportionately just now on what they perceive to be the secular threat to cultural and religious conservatism. None can deny, of course, that this threat is real. But when we look at Bible prophecy and the predicted events of the last days, it becomes quite clear that secularism isn’t likely to have much of a constituency when the final crisis breaks over the world. This is for the simple reason that according to both Scripture and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy, miracles and supernatural signs—the reality of which most secular people deny—will be ubiquitous during the final moments of human history.
The man of sin in Second Thessalonians 2:2-9, identified by the inspired pen as the papal Antichrist (8), is predicted to work “with all power and signs and lying wonders” (verse 9). Miraculous signs will be the most conspicuous trademark of the papacy and its apostate Protestant allies at the end of time. In Ellen White’s words:
Church members love what the world loves and are ready to join with them, and Satan determines to unite them in one body and thus strengthen his cause by sweeping all into the ranks of spiritualism. Papists, who boast of miracles as a certain sign of the true church, will be readily deceived by this wonder-working power; and Protestants, having cast away the shield of truth, will also be deluded. Papists, Protestants, and worldlings will alike accept the form of godliness without the power, and they will see in this union a grand movement for the conversion of the world and the ushering in of the long-expected millennium (9).
In the above context, there will be little or no room for higher-critical skepticism and the discounting of miracle stories. Consider the likely outcome when Satan impersonates Christ as foretold in the writings of Ellen White, healing the diseases of the people and taking millions captive as a result (10). Imagine persons afflicted with terminal illnesses going to these massive rallies where this Christ-pretender lays hands on them, perhaps sending them back to their Ivy League-trained physicians who have never believed in anything beyond what they can touch, see, and measure. Such erstwhile skeptics could find themselves on their knees before the ultimate false messiah more quickly than many Southern Baptist preachers!
The issue then will no longer be whether or not supernatural forces exist in the universe. Rather, the issue will be: With which supernatural power does one choose to stand? Both God’s people and His enemies will work miracles at that time (11). The existence and reality of such dramatic interruptions of natural processes will no longer be disputed. The only dilemma that will confront humanity will be, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve” (Josh. 24:15)
Changing Challenges, Changing Trends
A recurrent fact in human history is the extent to which trends, challenges, and ideas which may seem dominant at a given moment can slip into dotage and eclipse in a very short time. Political graveyards in particular are notorious for resurrections. (One recalls, following the 1962 California gubernatorial race, the ill-fated ABC News television special titled, “The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon.”) In his chronicle of the 1964 presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater and its impact on American history, Rick Perlstein writes, “Here is one time, at least, in which history was written by the losers” (12).
Actually this has been a repetitive phenomenon in modern American history. In the wake of the Watergate scandal which toppled the Nixon administration, while the presidential nomination feud between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan approached its crescendo, pundits wondered aloud whether the Republican Party would survive (13). But a scant four years later, with President Jimmy Carter and Senator Edward Kennedy embroiled in a similar fight amid a country convulsed in crisis, similar thoughts were voiced about the Democrats (14).
Following the Gingrich revolution in the midterm elections of 1994, such dire predictions would be heard again about political liberalism and the Democratic Party (15). But fourteen years later, as President Obama began his first term, much was forecast regarding the receding—possibly even the demise—of the conservative wing of American politics (16).
In retrospect, each of these forecasts seem frivolous to the point of embarrassment. Americans are, very simply, pragmatic to a fault, and have thus gravitated throughout much of their history between reform and reaction, change and continuity, depending on what ideology or policy seems workable at a given moment.
Here we have a glimpse into the perils of charting in advance the course of history based on present cultural and political trends and intellectual fashions. However, when the written counsel of God makes forecasts, those predictions and expectations can be taken to the bank. Neither the political pundit class nor anyone else possesses such awareness of the future. It is thus always best to hold fast to what the inspired pen teaches regarding history’s final controversies, and to meet present controversies—whether predicted by Inspiration or not—based on the consensus of inspired counsel.
One of the best examples of the peril in letting present headlines drive our understanding of end-time prophecy can be seen in the wonderment with which many conservative Christians wrestled during the Cold War era, so far as the role of global Communism in last-day events was concerned. Many Seventh-day Adventists also wondered about this, often speculating or even doubting as to how the Soviet Union and other professedly atheistic powers would end up wondering after the papal beast (Rev. 13:3). But today the Berlin Wall is a million souvenirs, while the papacy continues to bestride the earth with increasing power and prominence.
One way or the other, the various religious and political powers of earth will come together. And thanks to inspired predictions, we know already who the key players will be.
Destructive belief systems and thought patterns will abound in our world till the end comes. All of these will have to be met and opposed on the basis of God's Word. But our prophetic scenario need not—indeed, cannot—be changed to accomplish this. Our study of prophecy cannot be stampeded by circumstances or events. Rather, the Bible's predictive segments must remain that "more sure word," to which we must ever "take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place" (II Peter 1:19).
To those who wonder why the Lord wasn’t more precise in predicting some of the issues the church is addressing just now, the following inspired assurances still stand astride the shifting trends and headlines of our present context, whether in the world or the church:
Not one cloud has fallen upon the church that God has not prepared for; not one opposing force has risen to counterwork the work of God but He has foreseen. All has taken place as He has predicted through His prophets (17).
Men may get up scheme after scheme, and the enemy will seek to seduce souls from the truth; but all who believe that the Lord has spoken through Sister White, and has given her a message, will be safe from the many delusions that will come in these last days (18).
1. Samuele Bacchiocchi, “Islam and the Papacy in Prophecy,” Endtime Issues No. 86, July 6, 2002, pp. 22-23,25-27.
4. Bacchiocchi, letter to Kevin Mortensen (via e-mail), July 11, 2002.
5. ----“Islam and the Papacy in Prophecy,” p. 1.
6. Ibid, p. 27.
7. See Kevin D. Paulson, “The Prophecy Standeth Sure,” Our Firm Foundation, February 1998, pp. 4-7 https://hopeint.webs.com//OFF%201998/Feb%201998.pdf
8. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 49,53,571.
9. Ibid, pp. 588-589.
10. Ibid, pp. 624-625.
11. Ibid, p. 612.
12. Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001), p. xii.
13. “The Plight of the G.O.P” (cover story), Time, Aug. 23, 1976, pp. 10-20.
14. “End of the Democratic Era?” Newsweek, Aug. 19, 1980, pp. 21-25.
15. Steven V. Roberts, “The Democrats: Is the Party Over?” U.S. News & World Report, Nov. 6, 1995, pp. 28-38.
16. See Sam Tanenhaus, “Conservatism is Dead,” The New Republic, Feb. 18, 2009, pp. 12-17.
17. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 108.
18. Ibid, vol. 3, pp. 83-84.
Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and does script writing for various evangelistic ministries within the denomination. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan.