Sabbath School Reflections: The Great Controversy and Revelation 11

Reflections on The Great Controversy chapters 12–17

Gerhard Pfandl
Sabbath School Reflections: The Great Controversy and Revelation 11
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The book of Revelation can be divided into two parts, chapters 1-11 and 12-22. Both begin in the time of the early church and end with the Second Coming. Between the sixth and seventh trumpet is an interlude beginning in Revelation 10:1. Revelation 11:1-13 is part of this interlude and contains two scenes, the first one focuses on an act of measuring the temple and the second one deals with the two witnesses who testify during the 1,260 days of prophetic history. The seventh trumpet in verses 15-19 proclaims the consummation of all things.

In Revelation 11:1 John is given a reed like a measuring rod and told, “Rise and measure the temple of God [in heaven], the altar, and those who worship there.” This is a reference to the antitypical Day of Atonement, i.e., the pre-advent judgment that began in 1844. In verse 2, John is told, “but leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.” The temple in Jerusalem had a court for the Gentiles. In this text the court represents the earth which is given to the Gentiles, who represent those who are opposed to God. They are contrasted with spiritual Israel, the true believers who direct their worship to God in the heavenly temple. The two witnesses of verse 3 represent the Old and New Testaments.

The time frame for treading the holy city underfoot is forty-two months or 1,260 days, which is the same time span in which the woman of Revelation 12 is in the wilderness (12:6, 14). It is also the same forty-two months of the activity of the sea beast in Revelation 13:1-10. All these texts indicate that God’s true church will be persecuted for forty-two months in its history. According to the year-day principle the forty-two months are 1,260 years. This article will focus on the events during the 1,260 years.

The 1,260 Year Time Span

In the early centuries of the Christian era, the bishop of Rome, because he was bishop of the church in the capital of the empire, became generally recognized as the chief bishop in the Western Roman Empire. After its fall in 476 to the Germanic tribes, Justinian, emperor of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, who resided in Constantinople, recognized, in 533, the bishop of Rome rather than the patriarch of Constantinople (who perhaps was too near to him for comfort) as head of all the churches both West and East.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire was caused by the Germanic tribes which descended upon the Roman Empire from the north. In 476 the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by Odoacer, the general, who became the first Germanic king of Italy. Most of the Germanic tribes were converted by Arian Christian missionaries, who taught that Jesus was a created being, in contrast to the pope in Rome who rejected this view. One of these Arian tribes was the tribe of the Ostrogoths, who ruled large parts of Italy, and who kept the pope shut up in Rome. The pope appealed for help to Emperor Justinian, who sent his general Belisarius to Italy. In 538, Belisarius delivered Rome from the siege of the Ostrogoths. Thus, the formal recognition of the bishop of Rome as “the head of all the Holy Churches,”[i] in practical terms only became effective in 538. Accordingly, the year 538 is seen as the beginning date of the 1,260 years of papal dominance in Europe.

The end of the 1,260-year period came during the French Revolution in 1798, when on February 10 of that year Napoleon’s general Berthier entered Rome and took Pope Pius VI prisoner. Although during the French Revolution the pope lost the Papal States in Italy, the Congress of Vienna (1815) restored his temporal power over the city of Rome. In 1870, however, the forces of Victor Emmanuel II, originally the king of Sardinia, entered Rome and a year later Rome became the capital of the United Kingdom of Italy. The temporal power the papacy had formally exercised for more than one thousand years came to an end, and the pope became “the prisoner of the Vatican” until his temporal power was restored over the Vatican in 1929 by Mussolini. Thus, was fulfilled the prophecy in Revelation 13:3 that the deadly wound of the papacy in 1798 was to heal again. The twentieth century saw a steady increase of the pope’s political and spiritual influence.

The Church in the Wilderness

By the end of the first century AD, Christianity had spread to Samaria, Ethiopia, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and India. In the second century, Christians were found in all the countries around the Mediterranean, and in succeeding centuries the European countries were all evangelized and became Christian nations.

In Revelation 12:13, the dragon persecuted the woman who gave birth to Jesus. “But the

woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Rev. 12:13, 14). The 3 ½ times are the same as the forty-two months or 1,260 years of papal supremacy and persecution of God’s true church from 538–1798. This was predicted by the prophet Daniel, who prophesied that out of the Roman Empire would come a little horn that would persecute God’s people for 3 ½times or 1,260 years (Dan. 7:24, 25.) This does not mean that the church was continually persecuted during the 1,260 years, but it was during that period that some of the most terrible persecutions of Christians took place.

The apostolic church flourished for about five hundred years. During that period it was persecuted sporadically and usually locally, throughout the Roman Empire, beginning in the first century AD and ending in 313 when Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan that established religious toleration for Christians within the Roman Empire. Then in 380, Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the state. The persecuted church suddenly found herself favored with prosperity and prestige. During the next two centuries pagan practices entered the church, e.g. Sunday worship, veneration of Mary and the saints, the mass, and purgatory, etc. The church lost its purity and developed into the Roman Catholic Church, which seized political power and eventually drove the true church into the wilderness. Among these followers of Christ in the wilderness were the Waldensians, the Huguenots, and a host of other dissenters.

The Waldensians

Founded by Peter Waldo (c. 1140 – c. 1205), the Waldensians sought to follow Christ in poverty and simplicity. It was not long before the Waldensians began to feel the wrath of the papacy, and by 1215 the Waldensians were declared heretics. When the church began to persecute them, many fled to the mountainous Piedmont region in northern Italy, where Torre Pellici became the historical and spiritual home of the Waldensians. The Waldensians were a people of the Bible. They copied the biblical texts by hand and committed many portions of the Bible to memory. Their obedience to the biblical teaching was the cause of their success in spreading the word, but it was also the reason why they were persecuted by their enemies.

The Catholic Church viewed the Waldensians as unorthodox, and in 1184 at the Synod of Verona, they were excommunicated. In 1211 more than 80 Waldensians were burned as heretics at Strasbourg. They were persecuted, thrown into damp prisons, and “their houses and lands were taken from them; their children were stolen to be indoctrinated with the religion they abhorred.” [ii] Thousands were hung, quartered, or burned alive until they were nearly exterminated.

The Waldensians rejected the use of indulgencesBaptism was by full immersion in water and was not administered to infants. The elements of the Eucharist (bread and wine) were understood as symbols only, denying the church’s doctrine of transubstantiation. They also rejected the notion of purgatory and prayers offered for the dead. In the sixteenth century, the Waldensians were absorbed into the Protestant movement.

The Inquisition  

The inquisition began in the twelfth century in France combating religious heresies, particularly the Cathars and the Waldensians. During the Late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the scope of the Inquisition grew significantly in response to the Protestant Reformation. How many people were killed by the inquisition? The figure of 50 million has been quoted repeatedly,[iii] including in Adventist books.[iv] This would mean about 40,000 people were killed every year during the 1,260 years. This seems greatly exaggerated, considering that “according to modern estimates, around 150,000 people were prosecuted for various offences during the three-century duration of the Spanish Inquisition, of whom between 3,000 and 5,000 were executed.”[v]  Other estimates for the Spanish Inquisition range “from 30,000 to as many as 300,000.”[vi] The total of all the people killed by the inquisition may be in the low millions.

The Reformation

Generally, the beginning of the Reformation is dated to 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg. Among the forerunners of the Reformation, apart from the Waldensians, were John Wycliffe (1328-1384), Jan Hus (1370-1415), and Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498).

John Wycliffe was a Catholic priest in England. He and his associates completed a translation from the Latin Vulgate into English. He was condemned by Pope Gregory XI, and after his death, his body was exhumed, burned, and the ashes were thrown into the River Swift. 

Jan Hus after being ordained as a Catholic priest began to preach in Prague. He opposed many aspects of the Catholic Church in Bohemia. The Council of Constance (1414-1418) condemned him to death, and in 1415 he was burned at the stake for heresy

Girolamo Savonarola was a Dominican monk, who denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule, and the exploitation of the poor. Pope Alexander excommunicated Savonarola in 1497, and in 1498, he and two supporting friars were hanged and their bodies burned.  

Of the three Magisterial Reformers, Martin Luther (1483-1546), Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), and John Calvin (1509-1564), only Zwingli died prematurely. In the armed conflict in 1531 between the Catholic and Protestant cantons in Switzerland, Zwingli died on the battlefield of Kappel.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries several violent episodes occurred in connection with the Reformation.

The German Peasant War of 1525—Martin Luther’s doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, stressing the spiritual equality of all men in the eyes of God, led to the largest popular rebellion of peasants in Germany against the oppression by nobles and landlords. Luther condemned it and the authorities killed thousands of peasants.

The Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster in 1536—In the German city of Münster, a group of radical Anabaptists took control of the city and established a spiritual government. Rebaptism was made compulsory, goods were held in common, and polygamy was legalized. Catholic authorities restored order and executed the leading Anabaptists.

The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre—The climax of the persecution during the early period of the Reformation was the story of the Huguenots. The origin of the name Huguenot is unknown. French Calvinists adopted the Huguenot name around 1560. In January 1562, the Edict of St. Germain recognized the right of Huguenots to practice their religion. Just three months later, on March 1, 1562, 300 Huguenots holding religious services in a barn outside the town wall of Vassy, were attacked by Catholic troops, led by the Duke of Guise. More than 60 Huguenots were killed and over 100 wounded. The Massacre of Vassy sparked off decades of violence known as the French Wars of Religion.

Between 1562 and 1598, the most horrific incident during this time was the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre in August 1572. A few days after the marriage of the Protestant Henry of Navarre (Henry IV) to the Catholic Marguerite of Valois, sister of King Charles IX, the king and his mother, Catherine de Medici, ordered the murder of some of the Huguenot leaders, who had come to Paris for the wedding. These murders were followed by a general massacre of thousands of Huguenots by a mob of fanatic Catholics. Thousands more fled the country to England, Germany, and Switzerland.

After the death of Henry III in 1598, Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes, which guaranteed, among other things, freedom of conscience, and opened all public offices to the Huguenots. In 1685, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, and ordered the destruction of Huguenot churches as well as the closing of Protestant schools. Between 300,000 and 400,000 Huguenots left the country and found refuge in Holland, Germany, Switzerland, England, and America.

The Thirty Years War (1618–1648)

The Thirty Years War was a religious war, fought between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Germany and Austria. The primary reason was that the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand (1503-1564), who was educated by Jesuits, wanted to eradicate Protestantism in Germany and Austria. An estimated five million soldiers and civilians died as a result of battle, famine, and disease.  After both sides were exhausted from the fighting, they concluded the Peace of Westphalia, in which each party pledged to “observe and cultivate sincerely and seriously this peace and friendship.”[vii] The war had taught Protestants and Catholics alike, that nothing could be gained by violent efforts to exterminate each other.

Conclusion The history of the 1,260 years is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel 7:25 (cf. Rev. 13:5-7), where the prophet is told that the little horn “shall persecute the saints of the Most High” for “a time and times and half a time.”  Ellen White explains, “During the greater part of this period, God’s witnesses remained in a state of obscurity. The papal power sought to hide from the people the word of truth . . . those who dared proclaim its sacred truths were hunted, betrayed, tortured, buried in dungeon cells, martyred for their faith, or compelled to flee to mountain fastnesses, and to dens and caves of the earth.” [viii] Nevertheless, the two witnesses, the Old and New Testament, continued to prophecy in sackcloth (Rev. 11:3) throughout the entire period of 1,260 years.

[i] S. P. Scott, trans., ed. The Civil Law (Union, NJ: Lawbook Exchange, 2001), Codex I. 1.4, 12:12.

[ii] Benjamin G. Wilkinson, Truth Triumphant (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1944), p. 251.

[iii] John Dowling, The History of Romanism (New York: Edward Walker, 1871), pp. 541-542. 

[iv] Taylor Bunch, Manuscript “Studies in the Book of Revelation,” 1933, p. 242.

[v] Spanish Inquisition – Wikipedia. Accessed 4/10/24

[vi] https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/what-was-spanish-inquisition-facts-heretic-heresy-trial/. Accessed 4/10/24.

[vii] Albert H. Newman, A Manual of Church History, Vol. 2 (Philadelphia: The American Baptist Publication society,1903), p. 409.

[viii] Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1950), p. 267.

Gerhard Pfandl

Gerhard Pfandl is a retired associate director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.