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The chart above is a typical representation of the types of charts commonly used by Adventist preachers and teachers in the 19th century. You can view a copy of the original chart by following this link.

Over the years, the chart has changed in form, design, and graphic quality, but the information that it intends to convey hasn’t changed. Its purpose is to illustrate, in an easy and understandable format, the unfolding of human history according to the biblical outline.

But what is that outline?

For any traditional Seventh-day Adventist, the outline is succinctly summed up as “The Great Controversy” between Christ and Satan. That is, there is a conflict — a war — taking place in the heavenly realms that dates back to the deepest recesses of time. Lucifer, an archangel who at one time enjoyed direct access to the throne of God, rebelled against God and his Son thinking himself more worthy and deserving of the exaltation given to Christ and rejected God’s government, law, and authority. Like most rebels, he set up his own system of government and convinced a third of his fellow angels to join him (Revelation 12:4).

Looking to the earth, Lucifer saw potential for extending the dominion of his rebel government, and in Eden, his temptation of Eve led to the fall of the human race and the assertion of Satan’s claim to be “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). But all was not lost. God had a plan to redeem the earth and save the humans he had created in his image.

Throughout human history, God has called out and cultivated men and women who are loyal to him and his government. Because God grants free will to his creation, he has essentially become a king in exile, relying on his faithful subjects to advance his cause and intervening at the right times to bring the conflict closer to its end. Satan, in his efforts to solidify his claims, has throughout history presented alternatives to the rightful government of God. Humans have been presented with alternative false gods who the Bible exposes to be fallen angels — Lucifer’s demonic army — masquerading and drawing worship away from the creator (Deuteronomy 32:16-17; 1 Corinthians 10:20).

Identifying, avoiding, and calling out these false gods is a simple matter when armed with the truth found in God’s word. Like Elijah confronting the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:17-40) it is not controversial for a Christian to identify false, foreign gods whether it’s Aphrodite or Allah. But what happens when the false god in question is in disguise? What happens when the false god in question is claiming to be the God of the Bible?

In the Christian worldview, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the fulcrum of human history. In the grand view of history, humanity has been living in the “end times” ever since Christ walked out of his tomb. The devil knows that the resurrection squashes all doubt as to the future success of God’s government and that “he hath but a short time” (Revelation 12:12). The true story of Jesus is such a compelling and powerful testimony of God’s character that Lucifer knows, beyond any doubt, that he is defeated.

But the archrival of Christ is arrogant and suffers from the oldest and most well-developed case of hubris. He will not go down quietly or alone. The success of Christ fills him “with great wrath.” And as most of us probably know, anger can be a great motivator.

The simple truth about Jesus is so powerful that simply offering alternatives to God openly is no longer an effective method of luring people into Lucifer’s kingdom. Instead, it is necessary to impersonate and appropriate the name of Jesus himself in order to pull more souls away from God.

Enter the system of Roman Catholicism.

Serious students of the Bible have consistently and correctly identified the office of the Roman Catholic papacy as the antichrist power that Christians are warned about throughout scripture and specifically spoken of in Daniel 7, the one who would “speak great words against the most High, and think to change times and laws” (Daniel 7:25).

500 years ago, the fathers of the Protestant Reformation, led by the Holy Spirit and with divine protection, publicly and courageously informed the people that to follow and obey Roman Catholicism was to follow and obey a deception — the greatest deception — invented by Satan himself.

John Calvin:

Daniel and Paul had predicted that Antichrist would sit in the temple of God…we affirm him to be the Pope…Some persons think us too severe and censorious when we call the Roman pontiff Antichrist.

I shall briefly show that (Paul’s words in II Thess. 2) are not capable of any other interpretation than that which applies them to the Papacy.

Martin Luther:

I am practically cornered, and can hardly doubt any more, that the Pope is really the Antichrist… because everything so exactly corresponds to the way of his life, actions, words and commandments.

We here are of the conviction that the papacy is the seat of the true and real Antichrist…personally I declare that I owe the Pope no other obedience than that to Antichrist.

Already I feel greater liberty in my heart; for at last I know that the pope is antichrist, and that his throne is that of Satan himself. 

We are not the first who interpret the Papacy as the kingdom of Antichrist…He (John Purvey in 1390 AD) rightly and truly pronounces the Pope “Antichrist” as he is…a witness indeed, foreordained by God to confirm our doctrine.

Thomas Cranmer:

Whereof it followeth Rome to be the seat of antichrist, and the pope to be very antichrist himself. I could prove the same by many other scriptures, old writers, and strong reasons.

John Knox:

Hitherto the pope has been antichrist.

John Wesley:

He is in an emphatical sense, the Man of Sin, as he increases all manner of sin above measure. And he is, too, properly styled the Son of Perdition, as he has caused the death of numberless multitudes, both of his opposers and followers. 

But by the 19th Century in America, these truths about the true identity of the Pope and the purpose of Catholicism had been forgotten. This forgetfulness prompted Ellen White to write, in Chapter 35 of The Great Controversy: 

Romanism is now regarded by Protestants with far greater favor than in former years. In those countries where Catholicism is not in the ascendancy, and the papists are taking a conciliatory course to gain influence, there is an increasing indifference concerning the doctrines that separate the reformed churches from the papal hierarchy; the opinion is gaining ground that, after all, we do not differ so widely upon vital points as has been supposed, and that a little concession on our part will bring us into a better understanding with Rome. The time was when Protestants placed a high value upon the liberty of conscience which had been so dearly purchased. They taught their children to abhor popery and held that to seek harmony with Rome would be disloyalty to God. But how widely different are the sentiments now expressed!

And that is why the early Adventist preachers used charts like the one at the beginning of this article — to remind Protestants of the truth: The papacy of Rome is the great antichrist power of the last days and that to reach their hands across the gulf was to shake hands with their persecutor and to deny the truth and mission of Protestantism.

After writing my last post, I still didn’t want to believe that Adventism generally had apostatized from its Protestant mission. I wanted evidence that Protestantism was still alive in the church, even though anecdotal evidence suggests it’s defeated. I typed the search term “Why don’t Adventists preach the Three Angels Message anymore?” into Google. The first result was titled, “Are We Still Preaching the Three Angels Message?” and linked to an article at ssnet.org. In that article, I read this:

When people ask why we are no longer preaching the Three Angels’ message, I am baffled because we are preaching the Three Angels message of Revelation 14:6-12. I just preached it as a guest speaker last Sabbath. The first angel has the everlasting gospel. According to 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 the gospel is the cross. So whenever we preach the cross, we preach the message of the first angel. The second angel tells us Babylon is falling. The king of Babylon thought he had earned his dominion while Daniel 4:32 tells us it was given to him. Babylon represents trusting ourselves and our own system of worship to save us, instead of keeping our eyes on Jesus who will save us. So when we preach salvation by grace instead of works we are preaching the message of the second angel. The third angel warns us against trusting in our own works to save us, and gives us the Sabbath as a sign that we rest our faith in Jesus and not in man or the works of man. Ellen White says this about the third angel,

Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, “It is the third angel’s message in verity.” –Ellen White, Review and Herald, 1890.

So when we preach justification by faith we are preaching the message of the third angel.

There are a few problems with this brief exposition of the Three Angels’ Messages.

Yes, the first angel does bring “the everlasting gospel to preach” and, yes, the everlasting gospel is summed up in the cross. But saying that preaching the cross is to preach the first angel’s message is obfuscation. The first angel puts the gospel in context: “Fear God and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Revelation 14:7). The gospel must be preached in the context of judgment against those who refuse or neglect to worship the one, true God who created us and everything else in existence. That is to say that acceptance of the gospel is rejection of a false god and that judgment will be based on who one decides to give worship to. But who or what god is the alternative? The second angel answers that question.

“And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (verse 8). Babylon is, of course, a false religion. I am running out of space to go into a full exegesis of why Babylon is Roman Catholicism and the apostate Protestant church, but the reader can start here if they wish to study further. The author of the article above says, “Babylon represents trusting ourselves and our own system of worship to save us, instead of keeping our eyes on Jesus who will save us.” But that is not what Babylon is according to scripture. I hate to say it, but the writer of that article is flat-out lying to his readers. The second angel’s purpose, from a historical Adventist perspective, is to call those apostate Protestant churches to repentance. The consequences of not repenting is what occupies the third angel.

“And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wrath of God . . .” (verses 9-10). Failure to repent and reject the Babylonian system is to choose ultimate destruction along with the false Babylonian religion and the devil it ultimately worships.

The mission statement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is this: “to call all people to become disciples of Jesus Christ, to proclaim the everlasting gospel embraced by the three angels’ messages (Revelation 14:6-12), and to prepare the world for Christ’s soon return.” My question to the church, generally, and to anyone who agrees with the watered down Three Angel’s Messages cited above is this: Are we fulfilling our mission — essentially the final, closing chapter of a continuing Protestantism — if we are too afraid or politically correct to preach the Three Angel’s Messages in their complete context?

Should we preach the cross, complete surrender to Christ, and salvation by grace? Of course! We wouldn’t be fit for the label of Christians if we didn’t. But should we neglect to preach those foundational Protestant truths in the proper context commanded by the Bible? Or better asked, are we truly preaching the gospel, surrender, and salvation by grace if we do not preach it with a warning and in its full end-time context?

So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Ezekiel 33:7-8

Protestantism was set as a watchman. Most of the churches that claim the title Protestant have failed in their task. Seventh-day Adventists, in the era when the prophecy chart above was created, claimed the sacred mission of Protestantism and for many decades faithfully carried that mission forward. But I fear that we, too, corporately are failing in our task of having been set as watchmen and I fear that much blood may be required at our hands.

Jesus Christ saves. He died that we might live. To accept that free gift of salvation is to accept the kingship of Christ over and against the claimed dominion of false gods and their false religions. As uncomfortable and as politically incorrect as it may be to point it out, the religion of Rome is one of those false religions. The Bible says that before Christ’s return — the advent in Adventism — Rome will lead people in a great delusion that will cause the apostasy and ultimately the death of all those who believe in the delusion. Again I repeat that if we do not do it, then God will call upon someone else. We should be ashamed.

I offer one final critique of the poor exegesis of Revelation 14 in the article linked above and that is the quotation of Ellen White that is offered in support of the author’s assertion that justification by faith is the entirety of the third angel’s message.

Prior to her death, Mrs. White warned that her writings would be both misused and neglected as the apostasy that Adventism would creep into came upon it. The quote given above is taken out of context to support an assertion that I’m sure the writer knows Ellen White would reject. The full context of that quote can be found at this link. I leave it to the reader to make his or her own determination as to what Ellen White was really saying when the whole context is considered. In closing, I offer another quote from that context:

Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, “It is the third angel’s message in verity.” The prophet declares, “And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.” Brightness, glory, and power are to be connected with the third angel’s message, and conviction will follow wherever it is preached in demonstration of the Spirit. How will any of our brethren know when this light shall come to the people of God? As yet, we certainly have not seen the light that answers to this description. God has light for his people, and all who will accept it will see the sinfulness of remaining in a lukewarm condition; they will heed the counsel of the True Witness when he says, “Be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

The Church is presented as standing in a self-satisfied, pleased, proud, independent position, ignorant of her destitution and wretchedness. By her attitude she says, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” How many who claim to be keeping the commandments of God are in this position today! The charge against the Church is, “Thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot.” But while many may be satisfied with their lukewarm condition, the Lord is far from pleased, and declares that unless you are zealous and repent, he will spue you out of his mouth. But he warns you, he entreats you. He says, “Thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.”

 

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