The Book of Revelation and its prophesies about the end times has been a favourite theme for conspiracy theorists. Particularly the Sign of the Beast. Todays podcast look at how a loto of this tradition has emerged. We particularly look at the birth of Uriah Smith and his role in Seventh Day Adventism. Emerging out of a failed prophecy of the End of the World we look at his writings about the Book of Daniel and then the Book of Revelation. We also look at how Revelation was included in the Canon of scripture
Today we go back to 1832 and travel to New Hampshire in America where today Uriah Smith a Seventh-day Adventist author and theologian was born. Smith is remembered for his commentary on the prophetic Biblical books of Daniel and the Revelation.
His early life was deeply influenced by Baptist preacher William Miller. A prosperous farmer, a Baptist lay preacher, living in North Eastern New York. Miller spent years of intensive study of symbolic meaning of the prophecies of Daniel, especially the so called 2,300-day prophecy found in Chapter 8 (Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed). This cleansing of the sanctuary became an obsession for Miller, and became a lense through which he developed his eschatological thinking. It was a time of upheaval in Protestantism in North America referred to as the Second Great Awakening. Miller predicted that Jesus Christ would return to the Earth by October 22 1844, in an event he called the Advent.
A Millerite movement gathered adherents across denominational lines, especially from Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and Campbellite churches. They were united by a belief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ—what Miller called the Second Advent -and the movement grew in numbers and expectation and when it didn’t come to pass, a period called The Great Disappointment began. In the confusion that followed, there was a splintering, Miller said that in one week he received sixteen different papers advocating different views, all claiming to be Advent papers. They would splinter again and form distinct denominations only after the Great Disappointment. This was to be expected as Millers own Rules of Biblical Interpretation outlined a method of biblical study that encouraged each person to read the Bible and to "do theology" for themselves, a logical outcome of the Protestant Reformation.
The doctrinal lines amongst the various Millerite groups began to solidify, and the ‘Adventists’ entered a period of what sociologists call ‘Sect Building’. (For a more in depth look at this process Ernst Troelstch, the German theologian describes as being the difference between a church and a sect see the podcast of April 4) One of the sects, eventually became the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They contended that what had happened on October 22 was not Jesus' return, as Miller had thought, but the start of Jesus' final work of atonement, the cleansing in the heavenly sanctuary, leading up to the Second Coming. In the atmosphere of the Great Disappointment Uriah Smith had his left leg amputated due to an infection and lost interest in religion. However, 8 years later he accepted the message taught by Sabbatarian Adventists which in 1863 became the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He began working at the offices of the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (now the Adventist Review), becoming its longest serving editor for over 50 years.
Having a creative and inventive mind, in light of his own physical trauma, he patented an artificial leg with a moveable ankle and a school desk with an improved folding seat. He was one of the most prolific authors of early Adventism. His best-known work is Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation often abbreviated simply as Daniel and the Revelation. It became the classic text on Adventist end-time beliefs, or Eschatology. What had particular power over the imagination was the description of the beast which is found in Revelation chapters thirteen and seventeen. Chapter thirteen gives the fullest description. Rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. This description drew many parallels with a vision in the Book of Daniel where four beasts symbolizing a succession of kingdoms come out of the sea in the forms of a lion, bear, leopard and a beast with ten horns. The seven heads, in Revelation, the final book of Scripture, represented both seven mountains and seven kings. Of the seven kings, five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come. The beast itself is a final king and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition. Those who dwell on the Earth are deceived into making an image of the beast as a means to worship his authority. Those who are killed for not conforming to the authority of the beast are blessed through the "first resurrection" that allows them to rule in Christ's presence as priests during the one thousand-year reign. The beast bears a name but this name is not given, and corresponds to the number 666 or 616. The mark of the beast's name or number was required of all who bought and sold. When IBM invented the first barcode in the early 1970s, there were protests at grocery stores – as an urban legend arose, that the number 666 was hidden in each bar code.
Uriah Smiths’ extensive writings and commentaries interpreted portions of the Book of Revelation and the Book of Daniel as future events in a literal, physical, apocalyptic, and global context. This tendency has become deeply rooted in American Evangelical churches. The unusual apocalyptic genre of the book, the author sees himself as a Christian prophet: Revelation uses the word in more than any of the Gospels and was among the last books accepted into the Christian biblical canon. Current scholarship Barbara Whitlock pointed out a similarity between the consistent destruction of thirds depicted in the Book of Revelation (a third of mankind by plagues of fire, smoke, and brimstone, a third of the trees and green grass, a third of the sea creatures and a third of the ships at sea, etc.) and the Iranian mythology evil character Zahhak or Dahāg, in, the earliest religious texts of Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism, was the state religion of the Roman Empire's main rival, was part of the intellectual milieu in which Christianity came into being.
To the present day some churches that derive from the Church of the East reject it. Still, it remains the only New Testament book not read in the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church, though Catholic and Protestant liturgies include it. Underlining its unique status, and the need to proceed cautiously, unusually for scripture, there is a lack of consensus" among scholars about the structure of the Book of Revelation. The Council of Laodicea (363) omitted it as a canonical book, although subsequent councils affirmed it, importantly including one of the councils of Carthage and later Trent. The more established churches, are very cautious in their use of apocolayptic language and thought. However in an age of misinformation, it is has become a popular theme of conspiracy theorists. Particularly targeting Christians in America. Far-right populist politicians have called potential digital vaccine passports, "Biden’s Mark of the Beast” The English author, D. H. Lawrence in the final book he wrote, Apocalypse saw the language which Revelation used as being bleak and destructive; a 'death-product'. Instead, he wanted to champion a public-spirited individualism (which he identified with the historical Jesus. However he acknowledged the power of Revelation, It is very nice if you are poor and not humble ... to bring your enemies down to utter destruction, while you yourself rise up to grandeur. And nowhere does this happen so splendiferously than in Revelation. The recent popularity of the Rapture and the American Baptist, Tim La Hayes ‘Left Behind series’ may attest to that.