Philadelphia, the 144,000 and the Second Coming
In our study of Revelation to date, we have discovered that the pioneers of the Advent Movement believed and taught, that they were the Philadelphia Church. Following on from this, they logically concluded, that if they were not actually the 144,000, at least they were the incubator for the 144,000. This of course resulted in much speculation, as to who would constitute the 144,000 and when the 144,000 would be revealed. Ellen White addressed these speculative questions with the following statement:
Who is to compose the hundred and forty-thousand? This those who are the elect of God will in a short time know without question. 1SM 174.
Ellen White wrote this statement in 1901. For those of us living today, the question naturally arises, what does a “short time” mean? Are we to believe, that Ellen White thought, a short time would be more than one hundred years? And after more than one hundred years, are we still expecting the revelation of the 144,000 within a short time? Or has something happened, that has resulted in changes in the prophetic picture? Or to phrase it another way, has something happened to cause a delay in the fulfillment of the prophetic picture?
The Early Adventists and the Second Coming
There is no disputing, that Ellen White and the early Adventists, believed that the Second Coming would occur in their lifetime. Ellen White had very good reasons, for believing, that she would live to see, ‘The Desire of Ages’ coming in the clouds of Heaven. The most compelling of these reasons, is because Heaven told her so. Whilst attending a church conference in 1856, an angel revealed to her, that some attending the meeting, would still be living when Jesus returned:
I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel: “Some food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus. 1T 131, 132.
Ellen White continued to affirm this view throughout the rest of the 19th century. Other statements arranged chronologically include:
Because time is short, we should work with diligence and double energy. Our children may never enter college. 3T 159 (1872).
It is really not wise to have children now. Time is short, the perils of the last days are upon us, and the little children will be largely swept off before this. Letter 48, (1876).
In this age of the world, as the scenes of earth’s history are soon to close and we are about to enter upon the time of trouble such as never was, the fewer the marriages contracted the better for all, both men and women. 5T 366 (1885).
The hour will come; it is not far distant, and some of us who now believe will be alive upon the earth, and shall see the prediction verified, and hear the voice of the archangel and the trump of God echo from mountain and plain and sea to the uttermost parts of the earth. RH July 31, (1888).
The time of test is just upon us, for the loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer. 1SM 363 (1892).
Is Ellen White a False Prophet?
Since these predictions have not happened, are we therefore, obliged to regard Ellen White as a false prophet? Some, would undoubtedly consider Ellen White’s predictions sufficient evidence to condemn her as a false prophet. However, there are at least three compelling reasons as to why this is a false conclusion:
1. Ellen White’s Imminent Return Belief is Scriptural.
Ellen White’s view of the imminent return of Christ, was the same as Paul’s and John’s and shared by the early church as a whole. The reason that this was Scriptural and entirely reasonable was because Jesus Himself said: “Behold, I come quickly” (Rev. 3:11). And what is it that Jesus wants us to keep uppermost in our minds, as He signs off on all the words contained in the Bible? He emphasizes this message twice more, with the words: “Surely I come quickly” (Rev. 22:12, 20).
The Apostle Paul told his converts in Thessalonica, that the antichrist must first appear, before Christ would come (see 2 Thess. chapter 2). And the apostle John, told the whole church, that the antichrist was already in existence (see 1 Jn. 2:18; 4:3, 2 Jn. 7). And John, obviously being aware of the prophecy about the coming of antichrist by Paul, concludes that the existence of this antichrist power is evidence that “… we know that it is the last time” (1 Jn. 2:18). In other words, John also believed, in the imminent second coming of Christ.
Therefore, it is safe to conclude, that Ellen White’s convictions about the imminent arrival of Christ, were heavenly ordained. Just as it was God’s will, for the early church, to expect the Second Advent in their own lifetime, so too, it was God’s will, that the same expectation was prominent in the early Advent Movement. Furthermore, this expectation was not just an ardent desire, or based on some whimsical interpretation of Scripture. The Adventists were looking forward to Christ’s return, because Jesus Himself said, that He would return at the time of “this generation.”
2. Jesus Prophesied His Return during the Lifetime of Ellen White.
If Ellen White is a false prophet, for prophesying the second coming of Christ, in her lifetime, then so too, is Jesus Himself a false prophet, because He also prophesied, that He would return, at the time of the early Advent Movement.
The Advent Movement was born of prophet parentage. It was ushered into existence through the fulfillment of prophetic signs. It is these signs that define and authenticate the Advent Movement. Jesus Himself gave us these signs, in His Olivet Discourse:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. Matt. 24:29.
Jesus not only provided as with the signs of His second coming; He also told us when these signs would appear. He said they would occur, “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” This period of tribulation is the 1260 years of persecution, mentioned seven times in prophecy. This period ended in 1798, when the forces of the French Republic overthrew the persecuting power.
The first of these signs occurred on May 19, 1780, recorded in history as ‘the dark day’ – the sun did not shine and the moon was blood red. Ellen white tells us that the last of these Jesus prophesied signs ended in 1833,
In 1833, two years after Miller began to present in public the evidences of Christ’s soon coming. The last of the signs appeared which were promised by the Saviour as tokens of His second coming. Said Jesus: “The stars shall fall from heaven.” Matthew 24:29. And John in the Revelation declared, as he beheld in vision the scenes that should herald the day of God: “The stars of heaven fell upon the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.” Revelation 6:13. This prophecy received a striking and impressive fulfillment in the great meteoric shower of November 13, 1833. GC 333.
Immediately after providing us with these signs, Jesus said, that the next thing to occur in the prophetic picture, was His return to earth:
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and glory. Matt. 24:30.
Jesus then tells us something quite remarkable. He said, that the people who saw these signs would also witness His second coming:
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Matt. 24:34.
What does “this generation” mean? One possible answer is, Jesus is referring to the generation in existence at that time – the generation standing there listening to His words. The reason some prefer this explanation is because Jesus, in His Olivet Discourse, blends the destruction of Jerusalem, with the destruction of the world. And therefore, He is referring to the generation that will witness the destruction of Jerusalem. This understanding has its merits, due to the obvious difficulty applying it to the generation that lived, between the signs, that occurred between 1780 and 1833 (because that generation are all dead and therefore cannot witness the Second Coming). Therefore, human logic would tend to support any interpretation that pointed away from people living from 1780 to 1833. However, Ellen White is not one, who holds to the generation, that witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem view. She, contrary to human logic, wrote that the words of Christ applied to the generation existing from 1780 onwards. In other words, Ellen White fully believed that Christ would come back sometime soon after 1833:
At the close of the great papal persecution, Christ declared, the sun should be darkened, and the moon should not give her light. Next, the stars should fall from heaven. And He says, “Learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that He is near even at the doors” (Matt. 24:32,33, margin).
Christ has given signs of His coming. He declares that we know when He is near, even at the doors. He says of those who see these signs, “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” These signs have appeared. Now we know of a surety that that the Lord’s coming is at hand. DA 632 (1898).
The Saviour Himself has given signs of His coming, and He says, “When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand…” We have reached the period foretold in these scriptures. The time of the end is come… DA 234, 235 (1898).
3. The Conditional Nature of Prophecy.
Parents do not reward children for disobedience. Neither does God. Parents withdraw promises for bad behavior. So does God. God has always reserved the right, to withhold promised blessings, when His people willfully disobey Him [see Appendix 4 – ‘The Conditional Nature of God’s Promises and Prophecies’]. Just as the Israelites/Jews ultimately failed in their God appointed task, of preparing the world for the first coming, so too, did the Advent Movement, fail in its God appointed task of preparing the world for the Second Coming:
Had Adventists, after the great disappointment in 1844, held fast their faith and followed on unitedly in the opening providence of God, receiving the message of the third angel and in the power of the Holy Spirit proclaiming it to the world, they would have seen the salvation of God, the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts, the work would have been completed, and Christ would have come ere this to receive His people to their reward. But in the period of doubt and uncertainty that followed the disappointment, many of the advent believers yielded their faith… Thus the work was hindered, and the world was left in darkness. Had the whole Adventist body united upon the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, how different would have been our history! It was not the will of God that the coming of Christ should be thus delayed. Ev. 695, 696 (1883).
Is there somewhere in Scripture that tells us about this delay? The delay spoken about by Ellen White. Yes, there is:
And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. Rev. 7:1-3.
Clearly, these verses portray a delay, in the schedule of events, at the end of time. And the delay is, because the process, that has been employed to prepare God’s people, for the end time events is not completed.
There is another parallel from Old Testament history, that serves as a type, that is repeated at the beginning of the Advent Movement. This type occurred when the Lord was leading His people from Egypt to the Promised Land. On this occasion, did God intend, that the Israelites should go directly into the Promised Land, after leaving Egypt? Yes, He did! But the people of God, failed on the border, because of unbelief and lack of faith. In like manner, in the antitype, the Advent people also failed on the border of the Promised Land. The Adventists failed to advance on in faith, to finish the work God had appointed them to do. Both parties failed to fulfill God’s will. Therefore, both parties suffered the same consequences. The Israelites had to wander in the wilderness for forty years, until that generation, that lacked faith passed away. In like manner, the Advent Movement has to ‘wander in the wilderness’ for the same reason:
We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel, but for Christ’s sake His people should not add sin to sin by charging God with the consequence of their own wrong course of action. Ev 695, 696.
It was not the will of God that the coming of Christ should be thus delayed. God did not design that His people, Israel, should wander forty years in the wilderness. He promised to lead them directly to the land of Canaan, and establish them there a holy, healthy, happy people. But those to whom it was first preached, went not in “because of unbelief.” Their hearts were filled with murmuring, rebellion, and hatred, and He could not fulfill His covenant with them. EV 696.
For forty years did unbelief, murmuring, and rebellion shut out ancient Israel from the land of Canaan. The same sins have delayed the entrance of modern Israel into the heavenly Canaan. In neither case were the promises of God at fault. It is the unbelief, the worldliness, unconsecration, and strife among the Lord’s professed people that have kept us in this world of sin and sorrow so many years. Manuscript 4, 1883.
God is gracious. Just because His people fail, He does not discard them. He tries again. The second generation of the Israelites, that left Israel eventually succeeded. In like manner, the Advent Movement will eventually succeed, and they too, will enter the ‘Promised Land.’ However, in both cases there was a delay because in both cases the promises and prophecies of God are conditional:
The angels of God in their messages to men represent time as being very short. Thus it has always been presented to me. It is true that time has continued longer than we expected in the early days of this message. Our Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped. But has the Word of the Lord failed? Never! It should be remembered that the promises and threatenings of God are alike conditional… Ev. 695 (1883).
Just as Joshua and Caleb, stood faithful and true on the border of the Promised Land, so too, do the Philadelphians/144,000 stand faithful and true on the border between this world and the heavenly Promised Land. Just as Joshua and Caleb represent the wheat, the sheep, the wise virgins etc. so too, do the Philadelphians/144,000 represent the same, in the last days.
When we identify the Philadelphia Church and the 144,000 as being identical, we are confronted with an apparent contradiction. There is an apparent contradiction, because it is the sealing work, that produces the 144,000. The problem can be stated thus:
- The Philadelphia Church and the Advent Movement are identical.
- The Philadelphia Church and the 144,000 are also identical.
- The Advent Movement is historically located in the 1840’s.
- Therefore, the 144,000 are historically located in the 1840’s.
- Therefore, the sealing work that produces the 144,000 also must have begun in the 1840’s.
- Therefore, either some of the 144,000 have already died, or it is not correct that the sealing work began in the 1840’s.
Scripture and Ellen White clearly teach that the 144,000 are “the living saints” – they are taken from that generation that is alive on the earth at the second coming of Christ. Scripture and Ellen White also teach that the sealing work began with the arrival of the Philadelphia Church in the 1840’s. This is an apparent contradiction.
The solution is found in understanding and applying the conditional nature of prophecy principle. Jesus said, that the generation, that made up the early Advent movement would see Him coming. Therefore, the original plan was, that the Advent Movement, would usher in the era of the Philadelphia Church, which would begin the sealing work, which would produce the 144,000 and Jesus would have come – all to have occurred within one generation – the generation that saw the signs of His soon return – as prophesied by Jesus.
However, God’s people once again, stalled at the border and did not have sufficient faith to cross over. Therefore, the prophecies were not fulfilled, as they should have been. The history of God’s people, is littered with similar instances where God’s people failed to receive the promised blessings, because of disobedience and lack of faith. And the Advent Movement has suffered the same fate. Currently the Philadelphian element in God’s Church, is overshadowed by the Laodicean element in God’s Church (in keeping with the extensively taught biblical principle of two groups, wheat and tares, sheep and goats etc.). Just as Joshua and Caleb were the faithful minority at the time of the Exodus, so too, the Philadelphians are the faithful minority in the Church, in the last days. Therefore, just as the original Israelites had to wander in the wilderness, for an appointed time – the last day Israelites also have to do the same for an appointed time. When will the ‘wandering’ come to an end? Ellen White provides the answer to this question:
“When the fruit is brought forth (the 144,000), immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people (the 144,000), then He will come to claim them as His own. COL 69. (Italicized parenthesis not in original text).