The Sealed People of God

This article was originally presented at the Andrews University Campus Dialogue Sabbath School Class on February 9, 2019. It is reprinted here with permission.


My theme thought this morning is this: “Deciphering Bible prophecy is like touching the third rail: it can be electrifying in the short run, but fatal to one’s career in the long run!” I’m sure Des Ford would agree with me! And when it comes to predictive prophecies in particular, our founders often disagreed vehemently with one another. I will briefly cite seven examples:

A. The 2,300 Days/Years Prophecy (Daniel 8:14)

William Miller, Charles Fitch, Josiah Litch, and the other Millerites were convinced that in fulfillment of this 2,300 day/year prophecy, Jesus would return to this earth sometime between March/April of 1843 and March/April of 1844, but He didn’t. So in the summer of 1844 Samuel Sheffield Snow predicted His return on October 22, 1844 based on the Karaite Jewish calendar reckoning for the Passover. But He didn’t come on that date either. So James White (without authorization from his wife) began preaching Christ’s Second Advent in 1845. Then John Bywater focused on 1850. Joseph Bates, taking an obscure text from Leviticus about seven drops of blood, added seven years (one year for each drop of blood!) to 1844 and said Christ would come in 1851!. Others made predictions for 1854, 1858, 1866, 1877, 1884, and 1885. They all failed — but that has not stopped Adventists from spinning time-oriented predictions even today.

B. The Ten Toes (Daniel 2:41-43) and Ten Horns (Revelation 13:1-10)

Relying largely on others’ research and Millerite writings, Uriah Smith concluded that the Huns fit one of the ten toes (Hungary was named for them). But in the 1880s, A. T. Jones loudly disagreed, stating that the Huns were a nomadic people and did not establish a kingdom; instead, the Alemanni constituted that tenth toe and tenth horn because they founded the kingdom of Germany (the French term for Germany is allemagne). In press and pulpit (especially during the 1888 General Conference Session), Smith and Jones opposed each other so acrimoniously that Ellen White rebuked them both. When Jones publicly accused Smith of not knowing anything about this matter while he himself was fully informed, White jumped up and shouted, “Not so sharp, Brother Jones, not so sharp!” But the matter of which little prophetic piggy went to market sharply divided the GC delegates, who buttonholed one another in the hallways asking, “Are you a Hun, or are you an Alemanni?”

C. The King of the North vs. the King of the South (Daniel 11:5ff)

This debate first occurred against the background of the Crimean War (1854-56) and then against wider developments in the Middle East in the 1880s which Adventists called “the Eastern Question.” As Britain, France, and Russia battled the Turks in the Crimea, Adventists saw these unfolding events as fulfillment of the great end-time conflict between good and evil represented by the King of the North (Uriah Smith said that was the Seleucid rulers of Syria) and the King of the South (Smith chose the Ptolemies of Egypt). But others disagreed, saying that the two kings in verses 5 and 6 were not the same as the two kings mentioned at the end of the chapter. Some chose Turkey for the King of the North; other opted for the Papacy. When I taught at Southern Missionary College in the early 1980s, some theology students were convinced that Richard Hammill was the King of the North while Frank Knittel was the King of the South! (I’m not making that up!)

D. The “Daily Sacrifice” (Daniel 8:11-14)

This “tempest in a teapot” pitted Uriah Smith, Stephen Haskell, George I. Butler, and J. N. Loughborough against W. W. Prescott, L. R. Conradi, and A. G. Daniells from 1907 to 1910. In the 1,335-day prophecy of Daniel 8, some said it was pagan Rome that prohibited the daily sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple; others said it was the Papacy that created a substitute (the Mass) for Christ’s work in the heavenly sanctuary. Tempers flared over this, especially when Review Editor Prescott refused to publish any articles that Loughborough wrote on the subject — so Haskell published Loughborough’s articles in The Bible Training School instead. When both sides tried to get Ellen White’s support for their views, she rebuked them for their harsh attitudes, for misusing her writings, and for ignoring more important issues such as mission outreach. “This is not a subject of vital importance,” she cried. But some pioneers feared that compromise could lead to a “slippery slope” into apostasy!

E. The Number 666 and Vicarious Filii Dei (Revelation 13:18)

Employing gematria (by which numerical values are assigned to particular letters of an alphabet), Uriah Smith, in his 1867 book Thoughts on Revelation, declared that the Pope’s title, “Vicarius Filii Dei” (“Vicar of the Son of God”), added up to 666, the number of the beast of Revelation 13. Citing the testimony of a Miss Emmons to an unnamed Mrs. A (quoted in an earlier article titled “The Reformation” in 1832), Smith assured readers that the words “Vicarius Filii Dei” were spelled out in jeweled letters on the Pope’s “miter or crown.” This is problematic because Latin was not used in Revelation; no such miter or crown (they are not the same headgear) has ever been found; that title is NOT the official title of the Pope; and 666 applies exclusively to the time of the end, NOT before. Furthermore, Ellen White never refers to that title to interpret 666. Ranko Stefanovic in Plain Revelation sees 666 as “Babylon’s number” applicable to all rebellious human systems.

F. The 144,000 Sealed Saints (Revelation 7:4-10)

In 1923 Loughborough wrote a 44-page sleeper entitled Questions on the Sealing Message to prove that the 144,000 would include both dead and living saints at the Second Coming and that Ellen White would “surely” be among the 144,000. Yet many Adventists a century ago believed that only those who lived long enough to see Christ return could join the 144,000. This number became problematic, however, when Church membership passed 144,000 in the early 20th Century. Over the decades, some suggested that only tithe-paying vegetarians would qualify; others felt that only sexually abstemious vegans would make the cut; while still others limited that group to those who ate raw fruits and veggies. Stefanovic argues that the 144,000 are God’s last-generation sealed remnant, but they are no holier than any previous generation of faithful, persecuted martyrs (so much for last-generation theology!).

G. The 1,260 Days/Years or 42 Months or Time, Times and Half a Time (Daniel 12:7 & Revelation 10:5-7)

Once again, Uriah Smith nailed this time prophecy down way back in the 1860s as beginning in 538 A.D., when, as the Ostrogoth siege of Rome ended, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian relegated political power over Western Europe to the popes; he said it ended in 1798 A.D. when Napoleon’s General Berthier removed the pope from the Vatican and brought him to Avignon, France where he died in captivity. However, other pioneers opted for a 533 A.D. beginning and a 1793 ending. But this prophecy, like the 2,300-day prophecy, is based on day-for-a-year reckoning (Ezekiel 4:6, Numbers 14:34), something Des Ford repudiated in a 1,000-page dissertation. This brought him into conflict with Church scholars and a confrontation at Glacier View, Colorado, in the 1980s. Subsequently, he was stripped of his ministerial credentials. He had touched “the third rail” of Adventist predictive prophecy and doing so ended his career within the Church.

H. (Pogo) “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us”

In an article entitled “Adventism’s Shocking Fulfillment of Prophecy” in the Fall 2018 issue of Spectrum, George Knight asserts that the Adventist Church is rapidly becoming the Beast of Revelation 13 for several reasons. First, because the General Conference president and ADCOM are using force to insure compliance with their wishes just as the popes have done through the centuries. Second, because ADCOM has taken on the role of the papal Curia. Third, because the next step will be to establish an inquisition to punish those conferences and institutions who disobey. Fourth, because the checks and balances on centralized authority are gradually being removed. Fifth, because book banning (in the case of the Michigan ABC’s in Lansing and Berrien Springs) mirrors Catholic book burnings in the past. Sixth, because such General Conference practices as manipulating voting, removing disagreeable subordinates, using financial threats, and monitoring in-house emails are undemocratic and unchristian.


I will close with a quote from James White himself, who learned his lesson about speculating in prophecy in 1845:

In exposition of unfulfilled prophecy, where the history is not written, the student should put forth his propositions with not too much positiveness, lest he find himself straying in the field of fancy. There are those who think more of future truth than of present truth. They see but little light in the path in which they walk, but think they see great light ahead of them. Positions taken upon the Eastern question are based upon prophecies which have not yet met their fulfillment. Here we should tread lightly, and take positions carefully, lest we be found removing the landmarks fully established in the advent movement. —James White, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Nov. 29, 1877.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Why do you think our 19th century founders and pioneers got so stirred up over prophetic interpretation?

2. Why do you think Adventists in the 21st century are so blasé when it comes to prophetic interpretation and apocalyptic events?

3. Do you think evangelists should emphasize the image of Daniel 2 and the beasts of Daniel 7 and Revelation 13? Why or why not?

4. What are the perils of focusing too much on current events as fulfillments of Bible prophecies?

5. Do you think some evangelists have twisted history in order to make it “fit” or “support” their prophetic views?

6. How does the old maxim “You are entitled to your own interpretation, but not to your own facts” apply to Adventist apocalyptic prophecy?

7. To what extent do you think 21st century evangelists, theologians, and the Adventist laity view Daniel and Revelation through a “Uriah Smith lens”? What should be done to correct this?

8. Does Pogo’s famous quip, “We have met the enemy and he is us,” apply in some ways to the current power plays among top church leaders to control other Church entities?

9. George Knight in Spectrum, vol. 46, no. 4 (Fall 2018), compares ADCOM with the papal Curia, the Adventist form of organization with the Catholic hierarchy, and Ted Wilson’s recent actions with those of past popes in the light of Revelation 13:3. How do you react to this view?

10. How can Adventists live sanctified lives in preparation for eternity and yet avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism advanced by those who espouse last-generation theology?

Brian E. Strayer is Professor Emeritus of History at Andrews University.

Photo by David Siglin on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

When the ship is listing to port and taking on water fast, one is compelled to lean starboard to try to save the battered ship.

It backfired on George Knight, but I suspect history will judge him to have made a valid point.

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It was an inevitable temporal groundswell of the Spirit they were responding to, in my opinion.

The surf was up in the noosphere!

The Trancendentalist Movement was perhaps another reaction to this stimulus, as was the Second Great Awakening.

(“The same sun melts wax but hardens clay” idea.)

...they longed for a more intense spiritual experience.

Light is Light. Different types of people respond to the same stimulus differently.

How we unpack Light is totally dependent on the clarity of our lens, which is totally dependent on the condition of our hearts, it seems to me.


At its best Adventism was, is and will be ego centric. Thus I find my nurture and hope in the Gospels, and the writings of Paul and the author of Hebrews. Daniel and Revelation are used like the pope’s nose. I do find Rev 4 and 5 assuring.




Yes. Many of those were dead and others are still twisting history as of this moment in the SDA church ( an effort to correct a mistake that resulted to numerous mistakes). History has already judged the dead ones.

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We love dates and timelines! Why? Because it gives certainty. Perhaps even more, it puts pegs in the ground, boundaries. We love the lineal, finite measures of time - second, minute, hour etc for the same reason.
We hate uncertainty or undefined measures - “awhile”, “soon”. Non-defined time measures are flexible and could mean one thing in one place and something different elsewhere.
Putting fixed dates against prophecy, particularly unfulfilled prophecy is a way to try to bring “certainty” to the position of the Adventist Church. Fulfilled prophecy is “irrelevant” in that once it is fulfilled it ceases to be prophecy, it becomes history. This can add to confidence levels but doesn’t add anything from a prophecy perspective.
Having dates associated with unfulfilled prophecy adds an expectation, combined with a non-defined time period is a “lethal” combination. Because Christ said He is coming shortly, the expectation is He is delaying because He is not here yet. It also leads to a sense that we “should be doing more” so He can come.
No dates allows us to be happy and comfortable with non-defined time periods, freeing us to focus on our mission, rather than our LGT status.


I don’t believe that it is possible for SDA’s to ever avoid the “pitfalls of perfection” in regard to receiving the seal of God and being among the 144,000. Why? Because victory over all sin–inherited and cultivated–was a keynote of EGW beliefs. To avoid the perfection pitfall, we have to remove “the Spirit of Prophecy” title from EGW and replace it with “an inspiring author” and a “founding leader” of our church.

“Not one of us will ever receive the seal of God while our characters have one spot or stain upon them. It is left with us to remedy the defects in our characters, to cleanse the soul temple of every defilement. Then the latter rain will fall upon us as the early rain fell upon the disciples…” EGW

A reason why most SDA’s have refocused attention away from prophecy is that that the date 1844 carries little significance to our society. Would this date convince our neighbor to become and Adventist? If this fulfilled the great 2300 day prophecy which predicted the baptism of Christ and ended in 1844–it seem anticlimactic. Then when we add the 1833 stars falling from heaven and the Lisbon earthquake as a God-send signs of the end–most are left “shrugging our shoulders.”
It doesn’t seem relevant to our life today. Or does it?


Whatever, the religious/social atmosphere was that produced the “Advent movement”, it’s not that today. The most difficult task we have is for self correction. The longer we’ve been going one way, the more difficult it is to make a correction based on changes in information. Physics has a law that covers this in the physical world; but it applies to all human constructs. Gallelio found that out; but some still think the earth is flat. Add to this “truth,” a lifetime of dedicated effort in one direction, it’s impossible to admit “the emperor has no clothes”.

All theology degrees need to include a mandatory second major that can be a source of income. No one who has climbed the institutional ladder in any denomination can be trusted to make theological evaluations. That’s what makes Des Ford stand out in the sea of theologians. He, pretty much, shot himself in the foot when he stood up and declared what he had learned. I’m sure he knew what he was in for, but speak out, he did. Many others told themselves they were more useful in the church (change from within) than to make such declarations, and kept their jobs.

The biggest threat to any institution is “freedom” and “education” - and particularly, freedom IN education. This is why any insular social group secures itself behind institutional prohibitions - what to read; what to to teach; what to wear; what to eat… A built-in system of uniformity is the best assurance for longevity.

To be brutally honest, it can’t work any other way. We can’t just leave each individual to form their own ideas about what to believe and how to relate to the world and to each other. Humanity is too messed up to leave that up to individuals. So, we must decide which institution is the least restrictive to our world-view, and our theological development - and so, here we all are, waiting for redemption.


By ignoring & invalidating bible verses like:

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,” Jude 24

Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; 1 Pet 4:100:

Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God 2 Cor 7:1

That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Eph 5:27

And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. 1 JN 3:3

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 1 JN 3:9

Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; 2 Cor 10:clock5:

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Heb 12:14

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. PS 119:11

Thank you for listing the Bible quotes. Now, could you give us your personal account of what being faultless, ceasing from sin, perfection holiness, purifying ourselves, cease committing sin, pure thinking, being holy looks like.


Looks like …Jesus.



That’s a safe answer, but you haven’t helped us to break it down within the nine specific points in your answer. Do you mean we are to personalize them according to our own understanding?

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That usually means what a person accepts from some defeatist, oriented teacher instead of what their conscience whispers.

Look, it’s too easy to spew generalities; it’s another, to translate them into specifics.


Gideon, you missed a few.(NASB)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. Romans 3 21-25.

Therefore my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another. to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. Romans 7;4-6.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1.

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 2 Cor 5:18,19

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Cor 5:21.

…and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Ephesians 4:23,24.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall now be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Romans 5:8-10.

There’s more , but we begin to recognise the enormity of Christ’s finished work on the cross through which our sins were forgiven and our lives are cleansed, and in His resurrection in which we rise to walk in newness of life.

It’s a work of pure grace in our own hearts. We are dead to sin is Paul’s message in Romans 6:2. That’s why we hate it in our flesh but forgiveness and cleansing is ours by grace because we are the righteousness of God in Christ.


That is one of my chief rants against preachers & bible teachers.

On my post…those who are led by the Spirit know exactly what I am talking about.

That is an ambiguous phrase begging for interpretation/elaboration.
Your choice of verses are the typical kind that antinomian contaminated teachers use and fail to explain or corrupt the meaning of.

As to the verses I quoted, your argument is with the Apostles Paul and John, not with me. Seems to me that Paul was constantly being accused of antinomianism. It’s a mark of preaching the gospel, apparently. Paul got beat up and hounded for it by the sticklers for the law.

I’m really at a loss to know how else to read Paul here, for example. “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” Romans 7:6.

There’s a choice. Live by obedience to the law for righteousness, or live by the indwelling Spirit of life for the righteousness of God in Christ. It’s one or the other. They don’t mix. I know what works in my life.

The new birth, forgiveness, cleansing, justification, God’s righteousness, God’s love, grace are what we experience on a personal level as the Spirit does His work. If you see it differently to me, that’s OK too.


Bob Brinsmead finally reached his answer to that question: “Those people were crazy!”:wink: