If Adventists were asked to define the uniqueness of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, doubtless the answers would be quite varied. Some might see the church’s uniqueness in the way members worship on Saturday (Sabbath) rather than Sunday. Others might mention the understanding of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary or the prophetic ministry of Ellen White. Still others might point to lifestyle issues, such as refraining from certain kinds of foods, amusements, or styles of dress and adornment. In one sense all these answers would be at least partially correct.
But there is another way to define Adventism,
and that is as a prophetic movement. When one does
so, Adventism is seen to be unique because of three
distinct characteristics. No other church claims these
identifying characteristics, but Adventists saw them
as defining the church even before its official founding
Those three defining characteristics describe Adventists
as the only people who find their:
1. Prophetic roots, or history, predicted in Revelation 10.
2. Prophetic identity defined in Revelation 12.
3. Prophetic message and mission given in Revelation
Adventists do not make these claims with any attitude
of religious exclusiveness or boasting. The issue
is not that Seventh-day Adventists are “better than,”
but rather “different from” other churches.
PROPHETIC ROOTS IN REVELATION 10
The apostle John in Revelation 10:1-10 depicts
events that interest Adventists as they look for the
prophetic roots, or history, of Adventism. Adventists
understand the “little book” mentioned in verses 2, 8,
9, and 10 to refer to the book of Daniel. Although Daniel’s
prophecy was primarily a time message, when he
asked the meaning of the time that had been revealed
to him, he was told to “shut up the words, and seal the
book until the time of the end” (Dan. 12:4). The message
was not for Daniel to comprehend then, but at the
time of the end, what for ages had been sealed, would
The period of time that Daniel wanted to understand
was the 2300 days, at the end of which the sanctuary
would be cleansed. That was the only sealed message
in the book of Daniel. Many centuries later on
the Isle of Patmos—in vision—John
was shown a time in the future
when a mighty angel would descend to earth, having in his hand a little book—open. Not
closed. Not sealed. But open.
From our vantage point of history, we can see that it was
near the end of the 2300-day prophecy in 1844 that this angel
with the open book of Daniel did just as John was shown.
At the precise time predicted, the angel’s prophetic message
embraced the whole earth. As predicted in John’s vision, prophetic
time had reached its climax.
Around the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning
of the nineteenth, people began studying the prophecies
of Daniel and Revelation. In so doing, many came to the conclusion
that the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 would end in the
1840s. Thinking that the cleansing of the sanctuary described
by Daniel referred to the cleansing of the earth by fire at the
second coming of Christ, they concluded that Jesus would
return then. That exciting news was soon preached throughout
For Seventh-day Adventists in particular, 1844 and the
years immediately preceding it evoke the name William Miller.
But he was only one of many during that time who preached the
soon return of Jesus. People such as Manuel Lacunza, Joseph
Wolff, Henry Drummond, Edward Irving, Hugh M’Neile, and the
child preachers of Sweden were also proclaiming the fact that
the great time prophecies were about to meet their fulfillment,
and then—as they understood it—Jesus would return.
And it wasn’t just in America or Europe that people were
making this proclamation. The message was circling the globe.
Wolff preached in the Middle East and North Africa (from Egypt
to Afghanistan and England to India). In 1837 he even visited
the United States, where he also preached. Out in India, Daniel
Wilson, Episcopal bishop of Calcutta, preached and wrote
pamphlets specifically on the prophecies of Daniel.1
Australia, the message of a soon-coming Savior was preached
by Thomas Playford.2
Crowds there became so immense that
his followers had to build a larger church for him.
At the end of prophetic time, precisely as the apostle John
had been shown, and at the very time predicted by Daniel more
than 2300 years in advance, the message was proclaimed
with a loud voice around the world. No wonder the Adventist
pioneers were excited when they realized that they were fulfilling
Revelation 10:10 reads: “Then I took the little book out of
the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my
mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.”
There could be no better summary of what happened next
in Adventist Church history than those prophetic words. The
church founders had all been Millerites—that is, followers
of William Miller, an American Baptist farmer-turned-preacher
who proclaimed that Christ would return about 1843 or
1844—at the end of the 2300-day prophecy, as he understood it. For Adventists living today some 165 years after that event,
it is hard to imagine how precious was the experience of those
Millerites as they approached October 22, 1844, the date they
determined from their study was the end of Daniel’s long-time
prophecy. Their experience was especially sweet during the
last few weeks and days prior to October 22. By reading some
of their accounts, we catch a glimpse into their happy, yet sober,
Joseph Bates, describing the Exeter, New Hampshire,
Camp Meeting held in August 1844, when the October date
was first preached, later recalled:
“When that meeting closed, the granite hills of New Hampshire
were ringing with the mighty cry, ‘Behold the bridegroom
cometh; go ye out to meet Him.’ As the loaded wagons, stages,
and railroad cars rolled away through the different states,
cities, and villages of New England, the cry was still resounding,
‘Behold the bridegroom cometh.’ Time is short! Get ready!
“Like a tidal wave,” Ellen White wrote, “the movement
swept over the land. From city to city, from village to village,
and into the remote country places it went, until the waiting
people of God were fully aroused.”4
The great day finally arrived. William Miller observed that,
“even the wicked scoffers stood mute”5
that day. But he went
on to say, “It passed. And the next day it seemed as though
all the demons from the bottomless pit were let loose upon
us. The same ones . . . who were crying for mercy . . . before
were now . . . mocking, scoffing, and threatening in a most
The experience that had been so sweet in their mouths,
as foretold by the apostle John, now turned nauseatingly bitter
in their stomachs. Even as none of us can fully realize the
experience they went through in anticipating Christ’s return on
that long-ago Tuesday, neither can we fully comprehend their
heart-wrenching disappointment in the days and weeks that
followed October 22.
Hiram Edson probably summarized their experience as
graphically as anyone: “We looked for our coming Lord until
the clock tolled 12 at midnight. The day had then passed and
our disappointment became a certainty. Our fondest hopes
and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping
came over us as I never experienced before…. We wept, and
wept, till the day dawn.”7
But Revelation, chapter 10, still has one more verse: “And
he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples,
and nations, and tongues, and kings” (Rev. 10:11, KJV).
Admittedly, in their disappointment the Adventist pioneers
did not fully comprehend this verse, especially the part about
prophesying “again before many peoples, and nations, and
tongues, and kings.” The worldwide work being assigned them would only gradually dawn upon their minds. And so also
the expanded message that they were to preach—including
the Sabbath, the sanctuary, the state of the dead, the health
message, and so forth.
Even this brief overview, however, reminds us why Adventists
see their prophetic history foretold in Revelation 10. But
this is only the first of the three prophetically identified characteristics.
PROPHETIC IDENTITY IN REVELATION 12
Revelation 12 covers more historical time than does any
other single chapter in the Bible: from the fall of Lucifer to
A.D. 1798. In the chapter’s final verse, 17, we find God’s true
church emerging from its “wilderness” experience; and there
comes to view a “remnant” (KJV) people identified by two
1. They “keep the commandments of God”—all 10 of them, including the fourth, or Sabbath, commandment.
2. They possess the “testimony of Jesus,” which in Revelation
19:10 in the King James Version is defined as the “spirit
of prophecy”—a renewed bestowal of the divinely inspired gift
While a few other churches keep the seventh-day Sabbath,
and others claim the prophetic gift in their midst, not one of
them fits both identifying characteristics given here. Consequently,
Seventh-day Adventists find their prophetic identity in
the two characteristics given in Revelation 12:17.
It was upon a now unknown day in the month of December
in 1844 that a 17-year-old, Ellen Harmon, while praying with
four other women, experienced the Holy Spirit resting upon
her as she never had before. God had done it again—another
prophetic messenger had been commissioned! Just as He had
done at so many other crucial junctions in salvation history,
such as Noah before the flood and John the Baptist before the ministry of Christ, God now sent another prophetic messenger.
Another crucial beacon light in prophetic history had arrived—
the great time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation were coming
to their end; and just as predicted, the gift of prophecy was
restored to God’s remnant people.
In 1846, Ellen Harmon married James White. Her ministry
1.Extend for a period of 70 years—from 1844 until her death in 1915;
2.Include an estimated 2,000 visions; and
3.Incorporate her authoring more than 5,000 periodical
articles and 24 books (plus two unpublished manuscripts)
before her death.
Now, after more than 150 years to observe the fruit of her
work, it can be demonstrated that the counsels God gave the
church through Ellen White are sound—they have stood the
test of time. Any candid appraisal of the denomination’s history
reveals that the church has prospered when it has followed
God’s leading through the Spirit of Prophecy, and faltered on
those occasions when it has not.
This brings us to the third characteristic.
PROPHETIC MESSAGE AND MISSION IN REVELATION 14
Seventh-day Adventists believe they have a message
for the world found in Revelation 14:6-12. To the best of my
knowledge, no other church today is proclaiming the “three
angels’ messages” in its totality.
It is worth noting that when translating the Bible into contemporary
English for Roman Catholics, Monsignor Ronald
Knox included an interesting footnote quoted below for Revelation
14:6 in his Knox translation.8
1. In Revelation 14:6, the King James Version in English
identifies the three angels’ messages as the “everlasting
2. In his translation, Knox translates it as “a final gospel.”
He then adds the following footnote: “‘Final’; literally ‘eternal.’
It is not clear,” Knox says, “why the ‘gospel’ preached by the
angel is so described; but the context suggests that it is the
last call to repentance which will be offered to men this side
Regarding this very point, many years earlier Ellen White
wrote: “In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been
set in the world as watchmen and light bearers. To them has
been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them
is shining wonderful light from the word of God. They have
been given a work of the most solemn import—the proclamation
of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is
no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing
else to absorb their attention” (Testimonies for the Church,
vol. 9, p. 19).
For more than 160 years Adventists have been proclaiming
the three angels’ messages. The first two—the preaching
of the “everlasting,” or “final,” gospel in the setting of the
judgment-hour message, and the call to come out of Babylon—were
both first sounded by the Millerites. It would take
those disappointed Millerites who eventually founded our
church some time before they determined the significance of
the third angel’s message. But after discovering the obligation
and privilege of keeping the seventh-day Sabbath, they soon
also came to realize its theological and prophetic significance
in relation to the third angel’s message.
Ellen White wrote: “Every feature of the third angel’s message
is to be proclaimed in all parts of the world. This is a much
greater work than many realize” (The Upward Look, p. 277).
A UNIQUE PROPHETIC PEOPLE
Yes, at the end of time there will be a faithful, commandment-keeping
group of individuals here on earth who are distinguished from all other religious bodies in three unique ways.
Only Seventh-day Adventists fit this description exactly. The
fact that Adventists have been called to say something unique
just before Christ’s second coming is nothing to boast about.
After all, the message is not the church’s message, but God’s.
That being so, Adventist Church members need to be living
differently, acting differently, and preaching differently. Many
other churches are doing a good work, but none is preaching
the “everlasting,” or “final,” gospel in the setting of the final
judgment-hour message. This should give Adventists a sense
of urgency about their preaching.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a special end-time
work to do. God forbid that Adventists ever lose their sense of
prophetic focus and mission, but rather again experience the excitement
and commitment of the church pioneers who realized
that God wanted to work through them to finish His work here
on earth. May that same sense of wonder and dedication be the
experience of each member of the Adventist Church today.
1 L. E. Froom, Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 3, pp. 617-622.
2 M. E. Olsen, Origin and Progress of Seventh-day Adventists, p. 103.
3 Joseph Bates, Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps, 1847, pp. 30, 31.
4 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, 1911 ed., p. 400.
5 William Miller manuscript letter to J. O. Orr, M.D., December 13, 1844, cited in F. D. Nichol, The Midnight Cry, p. 250 (CHL ed., p. 266).
7 Hiram Edson, undated autobiographical manuscript fragment located in the Andrews University Library, pp. 8a, 9.
8 Msgr. Ronald A. Knox, The Holy Bible, 1944, 1948, 1950.
Msgr. Ronald A. Knox, The Holy Bible, Sheed & Ward, Inc., New York, 1956,
p. 270, footnote on Revelation 14:6.
Special thanks to Roger Coon for concepts used in this article.
James R. Nix is director of the White Estate at the General
Conference world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.