2009 SDA Sabbath School Quarterly
Prophetic Gift
Lesson 4

An Alternative Viewpoint by Dirk Anderson

Revelation 12 and the 1260 Years

In order to support their doctrine of a prophet arising in the last days, Seventh-day Adventists take a unique position on the 1,260-day period of Revelation 12. Unlike most other churches, they interpret this period to be 1,260 years. Pfandl writes:

For these reasons and others, Seventh-day Adventists (in contrast to most other Christians today) interpret the 1,260 days as 1,260 years and see it as a reference to the period of papal supremacy from the sixth to the end of the eighteenth century.
To be more precise, Adventists claim this period began in 538 AD and ended when the pope was taken prisoner by a French general in 1798 AD. Dr. Samuelle Bachiochhi, Adventism's pre-eminent scholar, cast doubt on the veracity of these dates in his Endtime Issues newsletter:
The development of the supremacy of the papacy is a gradual process that can hardly be dated from 538. The process began already in the second century as the primacy of Bishop of Rome was widely recognized and accepted.1
Dr. Bacchoicchi goes on to point out that the papacy did not achieve temporal sovereignty until 756 when the pope acquired the territories of Central Italy. The papacy controlled these territories until 1870 when the king of Sardinia took over the papal territories.

In addition to the rise of the papacy, another reason that 538 is considered to be a fulfillment of prophecy by Adventists is because of the supposed overthrow of the "three horns" on the head of the fourth beast by the "little horn" power (Dan. 7:8). Adventists identify the three horns as the Arian tribes of the Herulis, the Vandals and the Ostrogoths, the last of which was said to be uprooted in 538. In the previous issue of Endtime Issues (#86), Dr. Bacchiochi casts doubt on this theory:

The first problem is the questionable significance of 538. We noted earlier that Justinian's triumph over the Ostrogoths in 538 was short-lived, because under their new leader, Totila, the Ostrogoths quickly captured most of their lost territories. In other words, this event did not significantly boost the power of the Papacy, which still faced constant harassment from various rulers for centuries to come.

The second problem with the traditional interpretation is its failure to account for the basic meaning of this prophetic period. The persecution and protection of the church did not begin in 538, nor did it end in 1798. These are realities that have characterized the whole history of God's church throughout the centuries. Some of the most bloody persecutions by Roman emperors occurred during the first four centuries.2

Dr. Bacchoicchi has shown convincingly that the 538 date corresponds to no significant event in history and that the supremacy of the Papacy actually began centuries earlier.

Now, what about the ending date of the 1260-day prophecy? While 1798 is a day of some significance for the papacy, it certainly does not indicate the "downfall" of the papacy. When Pope Pius VI was taken prisoner by the French General Berthier, the papacy suffered humiliation, but it would be a gross exaggeration to describe this event as the "downfall" of the papacy.

Dr. Bacchiocchi explains what happened after the pope was captured in 1798:

The imprisonment of Pope Paul VI was condemned by Russia and Austria. Both nations decided to join forces to restore the Pope to his Pontifical throne in Rome. When the French government was confronted with this new coalition and with popular uprisings, it decided to transfer the Pope to Valence, in France, where he died 40 days later, on August 29, 1799.

The death of Pius VI can hardly be seen as the 'abolishment' or 'the downfall of the Papacy.' It was simply a temporary humiliation of the prestige of the Papacy. In fact, Pius VI was able to give directives for the election of his successor. Few months after his death, the Cardinals met in Venice on December 8, 1799, and elected Barnaba Chiaramonti, who took the name of Pious VII, in deference to his predecessor.

The new Pope was able to negotiate with Napoleon the Concordat in 1801 and the Organic Articles in 1802. These treatises restored to the Pope some of the territories of the States of the Church and regulated the extent of the Papal authority in France.

The following years marked, not the downfall, but the resurgence of papal authority, especially under the Pontificate of Pius IX (1846-1878). In 1854, Pius IX promulgated the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. ...

The crowning event of Pius IX's pontificate was the convening of the First Vatican Council on December 8, 1869. It had a remarkable large attendance from all over the Roman world and on July 18, 1870, the Council promulgated the dogma of Papal Infallibility. This dogma has greatly enhanced the authority of the Pope, and discredits any attempt to attribute to 1798 the downfall of the papacy.

Anyone who has studied Christian history can verify that the dates of 538 and 1798 do not accurately mark the beginning and ending dates of the period of papal supremacy. The Bishop of Rome was consolidating power centuries before 538, and the papacy continued to grow and thrive even after the temporary setback of 1798. These dates were picked by Uriah Smith and others because they were convenient. These dates fit nicely into the prophetic jigsaw puzzle they were building to enable them to identity their own church as the special remnant of Revelation 12. The dates were picked because they fit into the puzzle, not because they actually delineated the years of papal supremacy.

1260 Years of Persecution?

The SDA scenario of Revelation 12 has the "true church" being persecuted for 1,260 years. Who was the "true church" during the 1,260 years? Good question! Supposedly, through much of this period, the Waldenses were the "true church". Regarding the Waldenses, Ellen White wrote:

For hundreds of years the church of Christ found refuge in seclusion and obscurity. Thus says the prophet: 'The woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and three-score days.' [Revelation 12:16.] ... But of those who resisted the encroachments of the papal power, the Waldenses stood foremost.3
Pfandl explains how the "earth" saved God's true church during the 1,260 years of persecution:
In these verses, a flood of water is sent against God’s people, a symbol of persecuting armies (Jer. 46:7, 8; 47:2; Dan. 9:26). In contrast, in Revelation 12:16 the earth is described as helping the persecuted church. In 1620, the first pilgrims, fleeing the religious persecution in Europe, arrived on the American continent. On this newly discovered continent, they found a safe haven where the persecuting armies of the European powers could not reach them. Thus, symbolically, the new continent America swallowed up the persecuting armies.
Actually, Adventists have offered up several meanings for the "earth" that helped the persecuted church. An older Bible Readings for the Home tells us the "earth" refers first to the "mountain fastnesses" of Europe, and secondly to the Protestant Reformation, and thirdly to North America. The 1907 version of Uriah Smith's Daniel & Revelation talks about the "true" church being nourished for 1260 years in the "valleys of the Piedmont", a reference to the mountain sanctuary of the Waldenses. According to Smith, the "earth" that helped the woman was the Protestant Reformation, which opened up the lands of Germany and Scandanavia.

So, according to SDA teaching, the "truth" was kept alive for 1260 years, first by the Waldenses, and later by the Protestant Reformers. Interestingly enough, the Waldenses were Sunday-keepers, the Pilgrims were Sunday-keepers, and nearly all Protestant Reformers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were Sunday-keepers. So in essence, we have Sunday-keepers carrying "God's torch of truth" during the 1,260 years!

Furthermore, the Waldenses were not established until 1176 AD. So who was the "true church" from 538 to 1176? The Catholic Church? What other church was there? Apparently the Catholic Church was the "true church" for the first 640 years of the 1,260 years. The Waldenses were not persecuted until 1184 AD, so the "true church" was not even in the "wilderness" for over half of the 1260 years! This teaching doesn't even begin to make sense! It certainly is difficult to make the square pegs of SDA prophetic understanding fit into the round holes of Bible prophecy!

Remnant Identified as Sabbath Keepers?

In commenting on Revelation 12:17 Pfandl tells us the "remnant" are noted for their obedience to the Old Covenant Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath law:

How much simpler could God have made it? This end-time remnant will be distinguished, first of all, by the fact that it keeps the commandments of God, all of them, which, of course, includes the seventh-day Sabbath.
There are some serious problems with this reasoning. The best way to intepret the meaning of John's writings is to compare them with the other writings of John. The Greek word for "commandments" in Rev. 12:17 is entole which means "an order, command, charge, precept, injunction."4 The same word is used repeatedly in the writings of John to refer to the instructions of Christ. John uses an entirely different Greek word in his writings when he refers to the Ten Commandments: nomas. For example:
Did not Moses give you the law {nomos}, and [yet] none of you keepeth the law {nomos}? Why go ye about to kill me? (John 7:19; Jesus is referring to the 6th commandment "Thou shalt not kill"--Ex. 20:13)

According to John, the number one commandment {entolae} of Jesus to the Apostles was not Sabbath-worship, but for them to love one another:

A new commandment {entolae} I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. (John 13:34)
This is my commandment {entolae}, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. (John 15:12)
Notice how John refers to the "commandments" of God in his letter:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments {entolas}. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments {entolas}; and His commandments {entolae} are not burdensome. (1 John 5:2-3)
Earlier in the same letter John tells us exactly what the "commandments" of God are:
Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, [then] have we confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His [God's] commandments {entolas} and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. This is His [God's] commandment {entolae}, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He [God] commanded {entolaen} us. The one who keeps His [God's] commandments {entolas} abides in Him,... (1 John 3:21-24)
From this we can see that in John's writings the "commandments" of God are:
  1. To believe in Jesus Christ
  2. To love one another
Finally, if you still choose to believe "commandments" is a reference to the Law of Sinai, and if you still choose to believe the 1,260 years ended in 1798, the SDA Church was certainly not the only Sabbath-keeping group to arise during this time period. A number of Sabbath-keeping groups sprung up in the 1500s - 1700s (Anabaptists, Seventh Day Baptists, Seventh Day Dunkers). The Church of God (seventh day) also arose at the "right time" (1858 versus 1863 for SDA Church). Why should not these churches also get the title "remant"? In addition to keeping the Sabbath, all of these churches have the "Testimony of Jesus" as the Bible identifies to be the writings of the Apostle John. Furthermore, these churches have the "Spirit of Prophecy" as found in the writings of all the 24 prophets which appear in the Bible.

What is the "Testimony of Jesus"?

Elder Pfandl instructs us that the "Testimony of Jesus" (martyia Iesou)5 should not be understood as the believer's testimony about Jesus, but should instead be understood as Jesus' own testimony about Himself:

Two grammatically possible explanations concerning its meaning have been put forward. The first view interprets “the testimony of Jesus” as man’s witness for Christ (NEB, RSV). The second view understands “the testimony of Jesus” as the self-revelation of Jesus— His own testimony (NIV, NKJV).
A study of the word testimony in John’s writings indicates that each time it appears in the same grammatical construction as in Revelation, it always refers to Jesus’ own testimony (John 1:19; 3:11, 32, 33; 5:31). In contrast, the idea of witnessing about somebody in John’s writings consistently is expressed by a different grammatical construction.
In the book of Revelation, therefore, the expression “testimony of Jesus” also should be understood as Jesus’ testimony about Himself and not the remnant’s testimony about Him.
This is an important point for Pfandl to make, because if Revelation 12:17 were understood to mean the believer's testimony about Jesus, then Seventh-day Adventists no longer have any way to identify themselves as the special remnant!

The truth is, Pfandl is completely mistaken when he claims the Greek grammar "always refers to Jesus' own testimony." While it is certainly true that at times martyria refer's to the testimony of Jesus Himself, there are certainly other times when it directly refers to testimony about Jesus. For example:

This evidence demonstrates that the phrase "testimony of Jesus" could, and most likely should, be understood as the believer's testimony about Jesus. This conclusion casts doubt upon the whole process Adventists use to identify themselves as the special remnant of Rev. 12:17.

Usurping God's Role?

Elder Pfandl makes a very interesting statement about the purpose of the SDA Church:

God has called this church into existence for a very specific purpose—to proclaim the three angels’ messages to a dying world.
I would challenge anyone to pick up their Bible, and turn to Revelation 14, and show me where God says He is going to have a church of human beings proclaim his three messages. The Bible is very explicit that the three messages are delivered by angelic beings flying through the midst of heaven. Adventists have taken license of the symbolic language of Revelation, claiming their teachings regarding Revelation 14, when sent out via TV, Radio, or shortwave, are somehow a fulfillment of the mission of the three angels described in Revelation 14. If this is true, then God need not send out any real angels to do the work foretold in Revelation 14, for Adventists have already taken this work upon themselves. God can tell His three angels to just sit back and relax in their easy chairs, because their job has already been done.


1. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph.D., Endtime Issues number 87, "A Reply to Criticisms Part I 'The Use of Ellen White's Writings in Interpreting Scripture' (August 1, 2002).

2. Ibid. On this point Dr. Bacchiocchi agrees with the best of historical scholarship regarding this time period. The Ostrogoths did suffer military setbacks during the period beginning with a Byzantine invasion of Italy in 535 and ending in 540 with the fall of the Ostrogoth capital of Ravenna. However, during the period of 541 through 548 the Ostrogoths regained the upper hand, went on the offensive and recaptured a good part of their former territory including Rome. The war continued until 561 when the last Ostrogoth leader was captured and put to death. "With that final defeat, the Ostrogothic name wholly died." (Wikipedia) So, to be accurate, the Ostrogoths were not fully uprooted until the early 560s.

3. Ellen White, Great Controversy, p. 54.

4. Strong's Greek Concordance.

5. Strong's Greek Concordance, G3141, has the following definitions: 1) a testifying. a) the office committed to the prophets of testifying concerning future events. 2) what one testifies, testimony, i.e. before a judge.

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