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Revelation 9 - The 391 Year Prophecy

The 391-Year, 15 Day Prophecy

Josiah Litch studied Revelation 9 in the 1830’s – the same period that William Miller was preaching about the soon return of Jesus Christ expected to happen 1844.  Litch’s interpretation of Revelation 9 was part and parcel of the Millerite Movement.  (-25-)   The Millerite Movement attracted folks who considered personal and serious Bible study of utmost important, and Litch was no exception.

Litch saw in the 150-year and the 391-year 15-day prophecies (see Figure 3) and

a successive description of the rise and dominion of the Ottoman Empire with its undoing coming at the end (see Figure 4).

Figure 3      Breakdown of the Two Time Prophecies of Revelation 9
150 Years (verses 5 and 10)  
5 months = 5 x 30 days = 150 days = 150 prophetic years (-14-)
391 Years 15 Days (verse 15)
    1 year                            =             360 days                =             360 prophetic years
    1 month                         =              30 days                 =              30 prophetic years
    1 day                                                                          =                1 prophetic year
      First subtotal of prophetic time                                    =                     391 years
     1 hour                          =              1/24 day                 =           1/24 prophetic year
         1/24 prophetic year     =      ½ prophetic month      =       ½ x 30 prophetic days
        Second subtotal of prophetic time                          =                            15 days
      First subtotal of prophetic time                         =                          391 years
      Second subtotal of prophetic time                    =                             15 days
        Total prophetic time                                   =                   391 years 15 days



After the apex of Ottoman power under the rule of Suleiman I the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire went into gradual decline.  Suleiman’s son Selim II (ruled 1566-1574 A.D.) is described as “the first of a new line of 25 Ottoman Sultans who as the centuries passed were to preside over the slow decline, with admitted periods of respite, of the Ottoman Empire.”   {Kinross.  page 260}

By the time of William Miller and Josiah Litch, the Ottoman Empire was certainly not the conquering power it once had been.  In 1838, Litch predicted that the Ottoman power would be overthrown sometime in 1840.  A few days prior to the prophecy’s fulfillment, Litch “concluded more definitely from his study that the period allotted to the Turks would come to an end on August 11, 1840.”   {Smith.  page 513}

Indeed, the Otttoman power was on the verge of falling into the hands of its insurgent vassal state of Egypt:

For several years previous to 1840, the sultan had been embroiled in war with Mehemet Ali, pasha of Egypt.  “In 1838 there was a threatening of war between the sultan and his Egyptian vassal had he not been restrained by the influence of the foreign ambassadors….  In 1839 hostilities were again commenced, and were prosecuted until, in a general battle between the armies of the sultan and Mehemet, the sultan’s army was entirely cut up and destroyed, and his fleet taken by Mehemet and carried into Egypt.  So completely had the sultan’s fleet been reduced, that, when hostilities commenced in August, he had only two first-rates and three frigates as the sad remains of the once powerful Turkish fleet.  This fleet Mehemet positively refused to give up and return to the sultan, and declared if the powers attempted to take it from him, he would burn it.  In this posture affairs stood, when, in 1840, England, Russia, Austria, and Prussia interposed, and determined on a settlement of the difficulty; for it was evident, if let alone, Mehemet would soon become master of the sultan’s throne.”   (-26-)
From the perspective of the European countries, a war between Turkey and Egypt was a dimmer situation than mitigating a settlement.  And on August 11, 1840, Sultan Abdul Mejid (ruled 1839-1861) signed a document that yielded control of the matter to the arbitrating European powers,  (-27-)  and thus the 391-year 15-day time prophecy was fulfilled:
This supremacy of the Mohammedans over the Greeks was to continue, as already noticed, 391 years and 15 days.  “Commencing when the 150 years ended in 1449, the period would end August 11, 1840.  Judging from the manner of the commencement of the Ottoman supremacy, that it was by a voluntary acknowledgment on the part of the Greek emperor that he only reigned by permission of the Turkish sultan, we should naturally conclude that the fall or departure of the Ottoman independence would be brought about the same say; that at the end of the specified period [that is, on the 11th of August, 1840] the sultan would voluntarily surrender his independence into the hands of the Christian powers.”   (-28-)   [brackets are Uriah Smith’s]
Essentially, the Ottoman Empire was no longer able to independently assert its political power:
On August 11, 1840, the period of 391 years and 15 days, allotted to the continuance of the Ottoman power, ended; and where was the sultan's independence? – GONE!  Who had the supremacy of the Ottoman empire in their hands? – The four great powers [i.e. England, Russia, Austria, and Prussia]; and that empire has existed ever since only by the sufferance of these Christian powers. {Smith. page 517}  [italics are Uriah Smith’s, brackets added for clarity] 

Islam  Recedes  Versus  Christendom

One would expect that once the prophecy is fulfilled, the judgment of the Sixth Trumpet would discontinue – in other words, Christians would no longer be killed and dominated by Ottoman Muslims.  It is interesting to note that during this period there were trends at work against the Ottoman Empire that curbed its ability to impose Islamic law on its subjects:

In the 1830s, forced by the European powers, the Ottomans adopted a series of reforms aiming at ending the oppression of the Christians. (-29-)  

Indeed, these reforms were disturbing to the Muslim population:
As for the bulk of the Muslim population, they were outraged by the emancipation of the [non-Muslims] (-30-)   which struck right at the roots of their traditional conception of the absolute superiority of Islam and the inferiority of all other religions….  [Non-Muslims] were [considered] inferiors who in their disparate beliefs could never be regarded as equals, or accepted as such.  {Kinross. page 475}

Stratford Canning, the British Ambassador at this time, played an active role in pushing for reform of how Christians were treated in the Ottoman Empire:
[Canning] protested insistently when in succession a young Armenian and a young Greek, who had embraced Islam, reverted to Christianity and were executed under Qur’anic law for their apostasy. (-31-)   He finally induced the Sultan in person to “give his royal word that henceforward neither should Christianity be insulted in his dominions, nor should Christians be in any way persecuted for their religion.”  This assurance was confirmed and spread through the provinces of the Empire in a public declaration. {Kinross.  page 477}

Fulfilled  Prophecy  Leads  to  Conversions
It is documented that many people watched these events unfold in order to see if Litch’s prediction would come true:
From the first publication of the calculation of this matter in 1838, before referred to, the time set for the fulfillment of the prophecy was watched by thousands with intense interest. The exact accomplishment of the event predicted, showing, as it did, the right application of the prophecy, gave a mighty impetus to the great advent movement then beginning to attract the attention of the world. {Smith. page 517}  [underlining added for emphasis]

Ellen White confirms that Litch’s insight into the fall of the Ottomans is an accurate interpretation and that the fulfillment of the prophecy fueled the Millerite Movement:

In the year 1840 another remarkable fulfillment of prophecy excited widespread interest.  Two years before, Josiah Litch, one of the leading ministers preaching the second advent, published an exposition of Revelation 9, predicting the fall of the Ottoman Empire.  According to his calculations, this power was to be overthrown “in A.D. 1840, sometime in the month of August;” and only a few days previous to its accomplishment he wrote:  “Allowing the first period, 150 years, to have been exactly fulfilled before Deacozes [i.e. Constantine XI Palaeologus] ascended the throne by permission of the Turks, and that the 391 years, 15 days, commenced at the close of the first period, it will end on the 11th of August, 1840, when the Ottoman power in Constantinople may be expected to be broken.  And this, I believe, will be found to be the case.” – Josiah Litch, in Signs of the Times, and Expositor of Prophecy, Aug. 1, 1840.
At the very time specified, Turkey, through her ambassadors, accepted the protection of the allied powers of Europe, and thus placed herself under the control of Christian nations.  The event exactly fulfilled the prediction.  When it became known, multitudes were convinced of the correctness of the principles of prophetic interpretation adopted by Miller and his associates, and a wonderful impetus was given to the advent movement.  Men of learning and position united with Miller, both in preaching and in publishing his views, and from 1840 to 1844 the work rapidly extended. (-32-)   [underlining added for emphasis, brackets added for clarity]
That thousands watched and multitudes were convinced by this prophetic fulfillment is substantiated by correspondence with Litch himself:
This striking fulfillment of the prophecy had a tremendous effect upon the public mind.  It intensified the interest of the people to hear upon the subject of fulfilled and fulfilling prophecy.  Dr. Litch said that within a few months after August 11, 1840, he had received letters from more than 1,000 prominent [unbelievers],65 some of them leaders of clubs [of unbelievers], 65 in which they stated that they had given up the battle against the Bible, and had accepted it as God’s revelation to man.  Some of these were fully converted to God, and a number of them became able speakers in the great second advent movement.  Some expressed themselves to Dr. Litch on this wise:  “We have said that expositors of prophecy quote from the musty pages of history to substantiate their claims of prophetic fulfillments; but in this case we have the living facts right before our eyes.” [underlining added for emphasis]

Aftermath of Litch’s Prediction
While the SDA position on the Fifth and Sixth Trumpets is essentially that of  Litch, (-33-)  there are historicist expositors who advocate for the 391 years to be situated between the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 and 1844, (-34-)  a date important to the SDA movement. (-35-)  While this is an interesting prospect, it does seem to beg the following questions:  Why would a prophecy end in a date that is significant to an unrelated topic?  Why would Jesus give a prophecy about a time period that if applied four years earlier is so impressive that unbelievers convert in droves?
If, indeed, the prophecy does not apply to the period as elucidated by Litch,  (-36-)  then would it not be a false interpretation?  And if it is a false, then it has difficulty complying with the following text:
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.  Isaiah 8:20
So if Litch’s interpretation is not speaking in accordance with the Bible, then we are in the dilemma that certain accusers of Jesus came into after one of his miracles:
And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered.
But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beel'zebub the chief of the devils.  And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven.
But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.
If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beel'zebub….But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.  – Luke 11: 14-18, 20
It seems quite obvious that the conviction received by the unbelievers who then believed after watching the event of August 11, 1840, is genuine and serves the purposes of Christ rather than Satan.  How then can it not be the real thing?  Certainly, to have conversions because of the fulfillment of prophecy fulfills the purpose of prophecy:
And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.  – John 14:29
The opportunity of thousands in 1840 to view the fulfillment of prophecy is our own today.  Evidence of the incremental fulfillment of the prophecy of Revelation 13 can be found in our newspapers, on our television sets, and in our economic behaviors.  How great will the harvest be when more and more humans perceive that the time of this contemporary prophecy is nigh?  But that is a topic for an article to be written in the very near future.
The End

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