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Second Quarter 2018 April • May • June
COMMENTARY—PREPARATION FOR THE END TIME
Week 10: June 2–8
COMMENTARY ON "America and Babylon"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson focuses on the Adventist interpretation of the two beasts of Revelation 13. Adventists claim that the first beast rising out of the sea represents Rome in its political and papal iterations, while the second beast rising out of the earth is identified as the United States. The view that the first beast is somehow linked to Rome has some precedent in the history of Christian Bible interpretation. By contrast, the claim that the second beast is America, stands out as one of the most idiosyncratic interpretations that Adventists hold to. Both views, however, are deeply problematic (exegetically and theologically), and are formed by the unbiblical Adventist Great Controversy worldview.
The author first gives this day’s reading (Revelation 13:1–10), then immediately states the following: “Although God has faithful people in all churches, Scripture does point to a specific role that this institution has played in history and will play in last-day events.”
The juxtaposition of “churches” and “this institution” is intented recall in the minds of Adventists that the first beast is none other than the Roman Catholic Church. Yet no biblical evidence (gained from a contextual reading, or even from prooftexts) is given to support the traditional Adventist view.
The author goes on to illustrate the great power that papal Rome exercised over secular kings by giving a historical illustration. The “mortal wound” is then attributed to Pope Pius VI being taken to captivity in 1798. The current dominance of the papacy (and therefore, by extension, its having been healed) is illustrated by Pope Francis’ visit to both houses of the United States congress. Yet throughout all this, even the traditional Adventist explanation for these views is not given, let alone a justification from Scripture.
The central justification for the Adventist interpretation rests upon the faulty day-year principle in which the forty-two months of Revelation 13:5 are taken to represent 1260 years. Further unfounded assumptions are the starting and ending years of this prophecy.
Quite apart from baldly promoting Adventist views (and failing to engage with other Christian interpretations), this Sabbath School lesson fails to model sound biblical study methods for people, utterly failing to connect Adventist assertions with biblical evidence.
This day’s lesson repeats the day-year principle without justifying it biblically. Without warrant, it claims that the second beast arose “[a]bout this point in history, near the close of the ‘forty-two months (1798).’ ” Yet the very timing of the rise of the second beast is critical to the author’s claim that this beast is none other than the United States of America. The first word (“then”) of many translations of Revelation 13:11 is not an indication of temporal succession of events in the prophecy but rather indicates the sequence of visions appearing to John. There is no temporal adverb in the original Greek, only a simple conjunction.
The author then gives a lengthy quotation from Ellen White which further demonstrates how the Adventist interpretation, though strongly asserted, really rests upon a house of cards. The understanding that the United States represents the second beasts requires one, minimally, to adopt faulty day-year principle, assume a continuity between pagan Rome and the Roman papacy, accept an arbitrary starting year and ending for the forty-two months, and assume without warrant that the second beast must have arisen exactly at the moment that the first beast experienced its mortal wound.
This day’s lesson focuses on the broader issue of false worship, which occurs in Revelation 13. The author claims that in the end times, “God’s people will have to make a choice about whom they will worship and serve.” The central idea in the lesson is that throughout history, Babylon has always represented false worship in some way. Behind all this lies the Adventist understanding (which is unstated here) that Sunday worship vs. true Sabbath worship is the central test of true faith that is to come in the near future.
Adventists are always careful to stress that, today, one can be a faithful God-worshipper and observe Sunday; this is supposedly a future issue which will reveal who truly belongs to the Lord. Yet if the issue of Sunday worship is so critical (the author goes into great length about the worship in Babylon of false idols), why create an arbitrary distinction between present-day Christians and the end times? How could Christians today worship on the day that is of satanic origin and represents for Adventists all counterfeit religion?
In fact, the tables ought to be turned for SDAs and every Adventist should ask himself, “Am I following the true Jesus or a distorted Jesus invented by Ellen G. White (2 Cor 11:4)? Do I believe in the true gospel, the only gospel that saves, or have I been deceived by a gospel which is ‘no gospel at all’ (Gal 1:7)?” Vastly more important than the particular day of our worship is the identity of the God that we worship, and the means by which we can approach him.
Today’s lesson further delves into the nature of Babylon (or papal Rome). The author claims that, “As ‘the mother of harlots,’ Babylon has been busy reproducing itself. The apostate mother church has many apostate daughters.” According to Adventists, Protestant churches are the “apostate daughters” of the Roman Catholic church. Here again, no evidence (biblical or otherwise) is given to substantiate this claim.
Quite apart from the many (often contradictory) doctrines of the diversity of Protestant churches, it is not demonstrated how these are to be linked to the papacy. Evangelical Christians disagree on the mode of baptism (sprinkling vs dunking), the proper understanding of biblical covenants (covenant theology vs dispensationalism), and the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility (Calvinism vs Arminianism), to name but a few issues. How is this diversity of views to be connected in any way to the Roman Catholic church?
This lesson boasts about the predictive accuracy of the Adventist claim that America is the second beast of Revelation 13. Back in the mid 19th century, it is claimed, Adventists had identified America as this beast even though it was not yet a world superpower, and was in fact still struggling to defeat Native Americans.
Nevertheless, the author adds, “still more things have to happen before we reach the end. That’s why, for instance, when discussing the ‘mark of the beast,’ it’s very important to emphasize that right now no one has it, regardless of whether or not they are keeping the fourth commandment.” This is a standard ploy by Adventists (as mentioned above) to maintain their credibility when they claim that Sunday worship is the ultimate test of loyalty. It is a tacit admission that the doctrine, on its face, is ridiculous and quite incredible.
The author later adds, “Further, God’s faithful people, the ones who haven’t learned yet what they need to know, are called out of Babylon.” This is a direct contradiction of the promise given in the New Covenant: “They [true believers] will all be taught of God.” John 6:45 records these words of Jesus: “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—.” Deception on the scale that Adventists claim is simply not a possibility for the true believer. He or she has been born again, is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and has a regenerate heart. Although to a degree, a struggle with sin remains, the believer’s heart has been illuminated with the truth of the gospel, and he or she is able to love and worship God truly, as He desires.
This day’s lesson reveals the true foundation of the Adventist understanding of Revelation 13––the Great Controversy worldview. Among its many distortions of Christianity is an inflated view of Satan and an unbiblical view of the “Law.” The author writes, “Satan’s attack on God’s law is is an attack on God Himself, both on His authority and on His government.” Satan, in the Adventist view, is seen as a match for God, instead of a created being completely under His sovereignty. The central issue of God’s law completely subsumes the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory” (2 Cor 4:6). Instead of pointing to Christ and our need for him, the law becomes almost a divine figure, divorced from its biblical context.
The author’s concluding quote from Ellen White is a classic example of her twisting of God’s Word: “To deceive men, and thus lead them to transgress God’s law, is the object which he [Satan] has steadfastly pursued. Whether this be accomplished by casting aside the law altogether, or by rejecting one of its precepts, the result will be ultimately the same. He that offends ‘in one point,’ manifests contempt for the whole law; his influence and example are on the side of transgression; he becomes ‘guilty of all.’ ” White takes James 2:10, which, in its context, refers to the “royal law” (v. 8), the “law of liberty” (v. 12), the law that is elsewhere in Scripture referred to as the “law of Christ,” and blatantly alters it to indicate the forth commandment. Adventists should not place their trust in an individual who thus mishandles the Word of God.