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SYSTEMS OF RELIGION

 

 

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Revelation 12:1

 

We come to a section of the Revelation that is quite familiar among the Church of God Reformation Movement. It seems that chapters 12 through 13 have been the most familiar parts of the Book of Revelation taught among the various groups descended from the original Movement of the late 1800s.

Andrew Byers in his book Birth of a Reformation; Life and Labors of D. S. Warner addresses the beginning of this understanding in chapter 13, A Prophetic Time. He does not give an exhaustive exposition of this part of the Revelation but rather gives us a glimpse of how the understanding developed in the mind of Warner. He traces the terrible beast of Daniel chapter 7 to the red dragon of Revelation 13 as symbolizing the Roman Empire. The ten horns and the little horn from this beast were said to be the various elements of Roman Catholicism that developed into Papalism.[1] Dates are given that are suggested by the time symbols in these chapters that conveniently lead up to 1880, which was believed to be the opening of the sixth seal and the restoration of the biblical church. The teaching was developed and was promulgated through The Gospel Trumpet paper.

F. G. Smith established and developed this view of the Revelation as the official teaching of the Movement in his book The Revelation Explained. Other teachers came to prominence over time and in various groups of the Movement that enlarged upon the teaching with what they termed to be “new light,” but whatever new light they had, the teaching on these chapters remained virtually unchanged. While the Movement was basking in the light of these chapters, Uriah Smith, the Adventist writer, had already written almost verbatim by 1875 essentially the same things the Movement was teaching. The significant difference between Uriah Smith and F. G. Smith is that Uriah saw the Lamb on Mt. Zion of chapter 14 as the restored biblical church in general whereas the Movement saw itself as the restored biblical church.

In entering into the study of these chapters we will come to many of the same conclusions already acknowledged by the Movement but our study will not be just a rehashing of what has been taught to the degree of boredom. We will apply what we have learned in our study of the Letters to the Churches of Asia, the seven seals, and the seven trumpets so that we stay consistent with what we have already learned. In doing this, some things held sacred by the Movement will be violated, but violated for the sake of accuracy and consistency and not for the sake of novelty.

 

A Brief Revue

 

What have we learned from the Book of Revelation up to this point? In chapter 1 we learned that the Revelation concerns the work of Jesus Christ through His church from its inception to the end of time. We learned some things about the nature and person of the Glorified Christ. And from what Jesus told John in verse 19, the correct interpretation of the Revelation is effectively the church-historic interpretation. Jesus said to John, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” To be honest, there are several different church-historic interpretations, some of which attempt to justify the existence of certain church or religious movements. My opinion is that the correct methodology is to follow actual verified church history without the prejudice of any church, denomination, association, or group. Let the chips fall where they may.

We studied the Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in chapters 2 and 3. Some interpretations hold that these churches represent seven church ages from Pentecost to the end of time. To some degree, the conditions depicted in each church appear replicated in like sequences of the seals and trumpets. But we learned that the Letters to the Churches depicted spiritual conditions that can affect any church, denomination, movement or individual congregation at any time in history. I suggested that applying the conditions only to past ages is dangerous because it could cause people not to understand a condition working in their own church in the present.

The seven seals depict the general history of the Christian church through identifiable periods of history. The seven trumpets look back on the history of the church to answer the WHY behind the success or the failure of the church in those periods of history. This brings us now to chapters 12 through 14.

 

Systems of Religion

 

I call this section of the Revelation Systems of Religion; I call it that for lack of a better title. Prominent in these chapters are certain symbols from the animal kingdom: the dragon, the beast of the sea, the lamb-like creature, and the Lamb on Mount Zion. I thought of calling this section The Four Beasts but that denotes a negative nature to the symbols, which is especially inappropriate to the Lamb on Mount Zion of chapter 14. Also, in chapter 12 is a woman symbol that is obviously a religious system and is not a beast.

Up to this point in the Revelation, the series we studied each had seven parts. It has always seemed odd to me that with the different series of seven we are suddenly confronted with a series of four. At first glance this appears to be inconsistent. Why, if church history is divided into seven eras do we now have four eras that cover the same history? Jesus cannot be inconsistent so there must be some way to conform the Systems of Religion series to the seven eras of church history we have already seen.

 

Series of Seven

 

The continuing series of seven is in fact seen in the Systems of Religion. The very first thing we encounter in chapter 12 is “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.” Most of the Revelation charts used among the Movement have the fiery red dragon prominently displayed on them as if it were the main character in this period of church history. The main character is actually the woman. The dragon is the villain. It is not so obvious at first glance but the woman appears in two conditions during the duration of this part of the vision. In verse 1 she is clothed with the sun, and so forth. If you will think back to chapter 11 the first verse concerning the measuring of the temple is equivalent to verse 1 of chapter 12, the woman clothed with the sun. What is seen here is the early church in its pristine glory from the Day of Pentecost.

In verse 14 of chapter 12 the woman is given two wings of a great eagle to fly into the wilderness. This corresponds to the holy city being trodden underfoot as stated in chapter 11, verse 2. This accounts for 2 of the seven church ages.

In chapter 13 we see a beast rising up out of the sea. This corresponds to the witnesses prophesying in sackcloth in chapter 11. We learned this was Catholicism in both its Roman and Greek forms. This is the third church age.

In veerse 11 of chapter 13 we encounter a beast coming up out of the earth having two horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon. This corresponds to the killing of the two witnesses during the Protestant Reformation. We see that this creature has two horns, which symbolizes the two phases of the Reformation. The first horn was centered in mid-Europe with Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. The second horn was centered in England with John Wesley. This account for two more church eras bring us up to 5.

In chapter 14 we see the Lamb on Mount Zion. This corresponds to the introduction of the Primitive Church Movement or we might call it the restoration of the concept of the Early Church. One might say, “There are no more creatures after the Lamb. That accounts for only 6 and we have seen 7 eras in our other series.” In verse 15 we see the reaping of a harvest. In verse 18 we see the gathering of clusters of grapes. These two separate gatherings account for the remaining 2 eras to complete the seven eras we have previously seen.

 

A brief overview of the Religious Systems

 

First we see a woman, which is the church built by Jesus Christ. We see her opposed by the red dragon which is a system of religion with no Jesus. We then see the beast of the sea where Jesus is replaced by a man as the head of the church. Next we see a lamb-like beast that divides Jesus. And then we see the Lamb on Mount Zion, which is the restoration of Jesus to the practical headship of His church.

The theme of these chapters is the devil’s attempt to destroy or impede the gospel but against all his attempts, the gospel always prevails. With that in mind, we who live in this time can look back through history and see that Jesus has always prevailed in every battle even though on the surface it looks as if His church has failed. We are given the privilege to have a clearer vision than any people before our time. Remember, the seventh trumpet says of our time: “Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.” (11:19)

Let us go out into our world and our age and let God work through us to bring His church together to meet Christ at His second coming.



[1] Byers, Andrew,  Birth of a Reformation, Life and Labors of D. S. Warner,  Gospel Trumpet Company: Anderson, IN,  1921,  ppg 229–230.