Seventh-day Adventists have always been people of prophecy.
The first half of the nineteenth century saw modern rationalism intensifying its attacks against the Christian faith. While winds from the French Revolution deified human reason, evolutionary biology regarded nature as its own creator. Deists portrayed God as someone who does not intervene in human affairs.
For historical critics, the Bible was full of religious myths and inaccuracies; its prophecies merely a literary style without any bearing on the present. Postmillennialists suggested that the reign of God would be established on earth through social reforms. God and His Word were utterly questioned.
Into that challenging context, biblical archaeology began a journey that has repeatedly confirmed the historicity of the Bible. The three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12 garnered attention, warning the world of God’s impending judgments and His offer of salvation. This article will provide a brief overview of the early Adventist understanding of those messages and later refinements of that understanding.
EARLY ADVENTIST VIEWS
Protestant expositors of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries tended to view the three angels of Revelation 14 as “emblematical heralds of the progressive reformation from popery.”¹ While some authors regarded the mission of those angels as already fulfilled, others saw it as still being carried on.
William Miller and his followers became increasingly convinced that the great Second Advent movement was proclaiming the first angel’s message by warning the world of “the hour of His judgment” (Rev. 14:7). Some Millerites believed that the preaching of the second angel began in the summer of 1843 with Charles Fitch’s famous sermon titled, “Come Out of Her, My People” (Rev. 18:4; cf. Rev. 14:8). Millerites paid little attention to the message of the third angel.
After the October 1844 disappointment, Sabbathkeeping Adventists assumed that the messages of the first two angels were already fulfilled by the Millerite movement, and that their own emerging movement had to preach only the third angel’s message (Rev. 14:9-12).
In his pamphlet Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps (1847), Joseph Bates demonstrated how the sequential preaching of those messages unfolded the basic doctrinal components of the Adventist message.² In the years that followed, Sabbathkeeping Adventists further revised and strengthened their doctrinal system as integrated by the foundational themes of both the sanctuary of Daniel 8:14 and the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12.³
In 1858, Ellen White portrayed those messages as the three steps of access to the solid platform of present truth, with two distinctive groups climbing stairs. The first group were those who went through the Millerite period and early Sabbathkeeping Adventist experiences and accepted the messages as originally preached. The second group was formed by people who later climbed the stairs without being part of the original proclamation of the messages.⁴ This illustration helped consolidate the notion that although the three angels’ messages started to be preached in sequential order, all three should be preached simultaneously.
LATER ADVENTIST REFINEMENTS
Sabbathkeeping Adventists saw the proclamation of the three angels’ messages as unfolding the whole system of present truth. In the early days of the movement two expressions of these messages received special attention. One was “the hour of his judgment is come” (Rev. 14:7), which was considered an allusion to the post-1844 phase of Christ’s priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary (cf. Dan. 7:9-14; 8:14).
The other expression was “the commandments of God” (Rev. 14:12), with its emphasis on the abiding nature of the Decalogue and the seventh-day Sabbath. This view was grounded on the conviction that justifying faith does not make void God’s law (Rom. 3:31).
Over the years Seventh-day Adventists have considered themselves as the obedient “saints” who “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). They even relate several of their beliefs to these two doctrinal subjects.
For example, after Ellen White’s 1863 health reform vision, basic health principles were regarded as expressions of those commandments. After the 1888 General Conference Session in Minneapolis, the doctrine of righteousness by faith was seen as a crucial part of the “the faith of Jesus.” This perception fostered a more Christ-centered approach to preaching “the everlasting gospel” in the context of “the hour of his judgment” (Rev. 14:6, 7).
At the 1952 Bible Conference in Takoma Park, Maryland, F. D. Nichol presented an insightful paper: “The Increasing Timeliness of the Threefold Message,” providing a helpful list of doctrines and prophetic forecasts set forth in those messages.⁵ More recently, Adventist authors and preachers have placed a renewed emphasis on the creationist emphasis of the first angel’s message (Rev. 14:7).
Adventist scholars have recognized that the expression “worship Him who made heaven, and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Rev. 14:7) doesn’t reflect primarily the Genesis creation account but rather the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, which reads, “the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Ex. 20:11).
The three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 are probably the richest, most encompassing cluster of doctrinal glimpses in the Apocalypse of John, and even in the whole Bible. No wonder that in 1903 Ellen White spoke of these messages as “the most solemn truths ever entrusted to mortals” and of their proclamation as “a work of the most solemn import.”⁶
The mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ who live as His loving witnesses and proclaim to all people the everlasting gospel of the three angels’ messages in preparation for His soon return (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Rev. 14:6-12).”⁷ If the messages of Revelation 14 were so relevant to early sabbathkeeping Adventists and succeeding Adventist generations, should not those messages be even more relevant to us, who are much closer to the second coming of Christ? Let’s believe and boldly proclaim those important messages to the whole world.
¹ Thomas Scott, The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: Translated From the Original Greek, With Original Notes, and Practical Observations (London: Bellamy and Robarts, 1791), on Revelation 14:6, 7.
² Joseph Bates, Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps, or a Connected View, of the Fulfilment of Prophecy, by God’s Peculiar People, From the Year 1840 to 1847 (New Bedford, Mass.: Benjamin Lindsey, 1847).
³ Alberto R. Timm, The Sanctuary and the Three Angels’ Messages: Integrating Factors in the Development of Seventh-day Adventist Doctrines (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Adventist Theological Society Publications, 1995).
⁴ Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, Mich.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1858), vol. 1, pp. 168, 169.
⁵ F. D. Nichol, “The Increasing Timeliness of the Threefold Message,” in Our Firm Foundation (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1953), vol. 1, pp. 543-622.
⁶ Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 9, p. 19.
⁷ www.adventist.org/articles/mission-statement-of-the-seventh-day-adventist-church/ (posted Oct. 15, 2018).