I am deeply concerned.
There is a trend in Christianity in general, as well as in Adventism, to reinterpret and reapply a variety of prophecies from the Bible. This is particularly troubling, as the emphasis of much of this reinterpretation is human-centered rather than Christ-centered. It is with an almost eerily prophetic prediction that the Daniel and Revelation Committee warned the Adventist Church 32 years ago: “Today Seventh-day Adventists stand virtually alone as exponents of the historicist principles of prophetic interpretation. Recent events suggest that the Counter-Reformation—though delayed—is now knocking on the Adventist door. The historicist system of interpretation, as well as the positions derived thereby, is being challenged. Both futurist and preterist perspectives are being urged upon the church. It is crucial in these times for Seventh-day Adventist Christians to understand the principles—and the sound rationale for them—by which we as a people have interpreted the important prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation.”1
Encompassed in the reinterpretation and reapplication of biblical prophecy in the Christian world are those interpretations that emphasize the restoration of America as the “New Israel.” This perspective focuses its attention on the legislation of religion. While there is no doubt that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, one of the most important principles is God’s gift of free will. In order for His love to truly be love, it must give the right to say yes or no. There is danger in the reinterpretation of prophecy that emphasizes the necessity of legislation and power to bring about God’s kingdom and its establishment on the earth. This idea is merely a reconstituted and baptized version of postmillennial utopianism. Christianity is letting go of the foundational historical-biblical interpretations of prophecy and replacing them with humancentric interpretations that focus on political and temporal power. Unfortunately, we are becoming no different than Israel of old: “We will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:19, 20). What can we do?
We must return to our roots of an historical-biblical understanding of prophecy. This understanding is actually one of the foundations for who we are as Seventh-day Adventists. As indicated by the Daniel and Revelation Committee, a Seventh-day Adventist is not just “a Christian who observes the seventh-day Sabbath and who is preparing for the Saviour’s second coming.”2 There is more to it than that.
It is in the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation that Adventists have found “their times, their identity, and their task.”3 Conclusions that were reached “by employing the principles of the historical ‘school’ of prophetic interpretation.” The historicist view is the same view that was used by the Millerites and the sixteenth-century Reformers.
It is time for a new reformation. A reformation that returns to the historicist principles that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was founded on. A reformation that reignites personal excitement for prophecy and sharing it with others. Unfortunately, for too many of us we have taken our prophetic roots for granted and lost a grasp on the biblical reality that it fosters. How can we appreciate and return to those roots?
Read It Again
I wasn’t brought up with the privilege of a knowledge of the truth about prophecy. I was raised Catholic, and as I entered my teenage and then collegiate years, I had many questions. This led me to explore other religious options. I considered other Christian denominations as well as Eastern religions. Confused spiritually, I felt as if I were trying to put together a puzzle that was beyond impossible to figure out because it contained so many unmatched pieces. However, in 1995 I encountered the message of the Bible in a powerful way. Specifically, I encountered prophecy.
Do you remember the first time you heard and studied Daniel 2? I remember how I was amazed and excited by God giving to Nebuchadnezzar a dream (and then that same dream to Daniel) that outlined world history in advance. It is so important to return to our prophetic roots. Let us take a moment to revisit the prophecy of Daniel 2, given some 2,600 years ago.
Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon. Babylon had just conquered Judah and captured Jerusalem. As spoils of Babylon’s victory, they took the best young men from Jerusalem back to Babylon to be trained in Babylonian ways and then placed over the conquered people to rule them. This was a normal practice, to give the conquered people the illusion that “one of their own” was ruling . . . yet their rule was in accordance with the conquering nation.
In 605 B.C. one of Jewish nobility that was taken to Babylon was the prophet Daniel. He, along with three of his friends, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael, stayed faithful to God and His ways throughout their time in Babylon. Not only were they faithful, but they excelled in all that they were asked to do by the king. This detail is important for what transpired in Daniel 2.
In Daniel 2 Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. The Bible says that he was disturbed by the dream; had forgotten some, if not all, of the dream; and didn’t know what any of it meant, even what he could remember. He initially sought out an answer to his disturbing experience through his own advisors, wise men, magicians, and soothsayers. He was sorely disappointed, however, by their inability to help him know the dream and understand it. So frustrated was he at their incompetence that in a rage of fury he commanded that all wise men in the land should be killed. When the soldiers came to the home of Daniel and his three friends, who were considered part of the wise men, Daniel asked why the urgency and asked for time. We don’t know why Daniel and his three friends weren’t a part of the original group that went to help the king, but now Daniel was given the opportunity to contribute.
Daniel knew God, and God knew Daniel. Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael sought the mercies of God through prayer, and God helped Daniel to know the dream and its interpretation. Daniel went before the mightiest king of his time and shared with the king what God had shared with him. The king had seen a multimetallic image in his dream—a dream that Daniel recounts, and then proceeds to interpret as representing a prophecy of the succession of powerful kingdoms throughout history and culminating in the establishment of a divine kingdom (Dan. 2:31-45).
The most important piece of this prophecy is the great promise of hope that all of those human kingdoms would be destroyed by a “stone . . . cut out . . . without hands” (verse 45). Luke 20:18 says, “Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” This promise is given in the context of Psalm 118:22: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” What a remarkable promise! It is Jesus Christ who will intervene in human history and bring all of those kingdoms and any current political powers to an end. That ending will occur when Jesus comes again and finally fulfills the establishment of His kingdom and a new heaven and a new earth. Are you looking forward to that day? Only Jesus’ intervention into human history will bring about an end of all things evil. I want to urge each of you to join me in embracing the historical-biblical interpretation of God’s prophecies and placing our full faith and trust in Him.
1 William H. Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation, ed. Frank B. Holbrook, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, rev. ed. (Silver Spring, Md.: Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1992).