If I’m being completely honest I’d have to say that I hadn’t really given much thought to Waco or the events that happened there for a long time. Years. Outside of the occasional conversation about government extremism or tyranny it just hadn’t been something I’d contemplated. You make up your mind about something and kind of move on.
Such was the case here.
It wasn’t until a couple of Facebook posts caught my eye and drew me back in. Scrolling through posts one evening I happened to see a comment about how the Branch Davidians followed the Biblical Feasts and were trying to follow Torah. As one who has recently come into the “Torah Observant” movement or “Ephraim Awakening” or whatever one deigns to call it, this certainly piqued my interest.
As a kid or even a young adult, I had never examined what Vernon Howell a.k.a. David Koresh taught or why they believed what they believed. I never really believed a lot of the horrible claims or accusations made against them, but all I could really understand from the news media was that they were just a bunch of kooks who believed that Koresh was Jesus come again. Or something like that.
At the time I do not really remember anyone talking about how they were a sect or offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists. Heck, I didn’t even really know what a Seventh Day Adventist believed, outside of worshiping on Saturday, so even if they did mention it in passing it probably wouldn’t have meant much to me.
Even now, in more than a few TO circles, I find some of Ellen G. White’s doctrines and philosophies coming to the surface. I especially see Adventist thoughts and ideas in many of the calendar discussions and, of course, when it comes to eschatology.
It seems to be a somewhat American tradition to get “new revelation” or prophecy and build a new denomination off of it. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists and other Pentecostal branches all seem to share that common thread. The tradition seems to continue today on many online venues. And let’s face it, if we’re being honest, if there can be a “13th Apostle” by way of light in the sky and voices from the heavens, then I guess why can’t we have 14 or 15 and so on?
Let that one marinate for a minute or two.
My desire here is not to re-tread the history of the SDA church. There are volumes written upon it. What I want to hone in on is the succession of the church based on ongoing revelations from self-proclaimed prophets. This will lead us to Waco.
William Miller and his “Millerites” would serve as the prototype for the entire legacy of the Seventh Day Adventist movement. Miller proclaimed, based on his interpretation of prophecies in Daniel, that Jesus’s second coming would occur sometime in 1843 or 44. After watching late into the night on October 22nd, it became apparent that Jesus could not be seen in the skies. The Great Disappointment. Most of the Millerites abandoned the cause.
In what can only be construed as a *ahem* Pauline-like vision, Hiram Edson proclaimed that the Heavens were opened to him the very next morning and he could see that they merely misinterpreted the signs. Jesus wasn’t coming back to Earth, he was just moving to another area or room in the heavenly sanctuary. He had more work to do there, he proclaimed.
This trend would continue with the likes of men like William Foy and Hazen Foss. Ellen White, the wife of church leader James White, became the visionary focal point in time. Whereas Foy, Foss and others had kept their visions mostly private and to themselves, White proclaimed that the mission and gift had passed from them to her because she was willing to take that message to the masses.
The long and short of it is that just like Miller, many predictions and dates were made and they came and went. Rather than then outright reject anyone as a false prophet, the idea was that somehow they must have misinterpreted the message or some other understanding of an Old Testament passage was the culprit. Go back, re-interpret from a new starting date that has some perceived significance, and rinse/repeat.
Arguments arose and splinter groups formed around various other self-proclaimed prophets. Ellen White, the pre-eminent prophetess herself, would often test these other vision-seers and proclaim that she had been given “no light” about these other prophets. White’s adherents would therefore not hearken to them.
In addition to keeping the Ten Commandments, the main focus and hence the “Adventist” moniker, stems from the preoccupation concerning the second coming of the Messiah. In this milieu the Adventists continued on in general Dispensationalist avenues. The general framework tended to stay the same with only the dates, times and details needing to be tweaked based on the vision-du-jour.
One such group, the Shepherd’s Rod, would splinter off in 1930 under the teachings of Victor Houteff. Victor was accused of espousing “heretical doctrines” and was supposedly disfellowshipped by the main SDA church although it seems they still had quite a bit of contact with the main body and attended general SDA conferences and such. In the 1940s they decided to change their name to the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists and would headquarter at the Mount Carmel Center outside of Waco, Texas.
After Houteff’s death in 1955 the group would further splinter even more.
Houteff himself was styled as a prophet and made predictions in his writings which he tried to disseminate among SDA adherents. His publication, The Shepherd’s Rod, would begin to reach people and convince perhaps upwards of a hundred thousand at its height. Continued failed predictions in the main church would prove to be a boon for the Davidians. One of Houteff’s other chief concerns stemmed from the view that the mainstream SDA church was starting to get too close to the world and seek approval and accreditation from secular organizations and agencies.
After Houteff would come Benjamin and Lois Roden. They would vie for control of the group along with Houteff’s widow Florence. Roden told the congregants that he had had a vision from God and he was told that he should be the new leader of “The Rod”. In like manner Florence claimed that she had been given the knowledge that the forty two months outlined in Revelation 11 would begin in November 1955 and finish in April of 1959. A controversy arose over her prophecy as some claimed that they had heard her late husband espouse that very same thing. However, nothing of the sort could be found in Victor’s writings so some accredited to Florence and she became known as a prophetess as well.
Roden would eventually completely split and name his group the “Branch Davidians” in reference to Zechariah 3, after which he started to tell his congregants that he was that branch and heir to the Israelite king. He further led his congregation to seek the Biblical Feast Days and taught that the Holy Spirit was feminine, among other things.
Florence Houteff’s original Davidians would eventually disband after April 1959 passed and nothing had materialized according to the prophecy she laid out. A small splinter group formally rejected just the prophecy of the forty two months, but moved to California and retained Victor’s original teachings.
The Rodens would consolidate power over their little congregation and enjoy relative peace and obscurity for almost twenty years. When Ben died in 1978 the congregation once again found itself at a cross roads. Some members maintained allegiance to Lois, but some saw their son George as the legitimate leader in his father’s absence and he assumed the formal presidency of the association.
In 1981 Vernon Howell would come on the scene. He was initially attracted to Houteff’s and Roden’s teachings but soon found himself attracted to Lois Roden herself. Even though she was in her sixties and he in his twenties, they apparently thought that their love child would be The Chosen One. An affair ensued.
Vernon would ascend within the congregation and come to oppose George’s leadership. In order to prove one’s status as a prophet or anointed one they had to be able to do miracles, right? A challenge was issued by George to Vernon that he should raise someone from the dead in order to prove he was the rightful heir to the Davidian legacy.
This led George to exhume a dead body in order for Vernon to work his miracle. Vernon decided to go the secular route and get the authorities involved. He alerted the local police that George had committed a crime but they demanded evidence. In what would turn out to be quite the irony in the future, Vernon and several of his associates and confidants armed themselves and raided the Mount Carmel residence in order to get said proof. A minor conflagration ensued and Howell and his men were charged, but later let go. George would eventually be sent to a mental institution for his efforts after being convicted of murder.
With full control of Mount Carmel now his, Vernon formally changed his name to David Koresh as he proclaimed himself to be both the heir of the Biblical King David and of the Persian King Cyrus the Great. The Koresh-as-Cyrus thing is nothing new, apparently. In my previous paper on Hollow Earth theory, it turns out that there was a whole other group of “Koreshans” who worshipped around a self-styled Davidic prophet. Hitler was a hollow earthist.
There truly is nothing new under the sun and what has been will be again.
Koresh would, as far as I’m aware, never proclaim to be any manifestation or reincarnation of “Jesus Christ” himself. In fact, Koresh’s doctrine specified that the reason Jesus was crucified was because he failed to fully deliver the message that he himself was now tasked with delivering.
His foundation was that “Christ” or “Christos” meant “anointed” and was the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew “Mashiach” or Messiah. There are types of messiahs all throughout the Scriptures in the forms of prophets, judges, priests and kings. David Koresh would carry on as the rightful successor to Ellen G. White in the Adventist tradition, but also as the final anointed one leading up to the “Day of the Lord”.
Specifically his teachings revolved around the seven seals found in the book of Revelation. He mostly referred to himself as the Lamb referenced there. In addition to seeing visions of himself and his congregation as the focal point of the events of Revelation, he was also apparently given a new law by God which he called the “New Light”.
Koresh said that God told him that his children were to be the twenty four elders who would surround the throne depicted in Revelation. As such all married couples who were disciples at Mount Carmel would no longer have sexual relations and they would all be married to David. The men were to become celibate in order to more fully focus on godliness and spiritual things. David alone would take on the carnal yearnings for all the men there and would have children with many of the women there. Texas State law at the time allowed girls as young as fourteen to be married legally as long there was parental consent. Several Davidian families willingly wedded their daughters to David as they saw him as the fulfillment of scriptures. How could they not want their grandchildren to be the elders portrayed in Scripture? Allegations were later made that at least one of his wives was actually only twelve years old when their marriage was consummated.
This caused more than a few congregants to leave Mount Carmel and abandon the Branch Davidians altogether. In fact some of the disciples who were hurt by this new commandment would become bitter enemies in the ensuing siege. There were also family members who were not Davidians but knew of Koresh’s practice of marrying currently-married women and young girls who also came to bitterly oppose him.
In general the Seven Seals doctrine seems to be the culmination of a long line of eisegesis made in the tradition of the Adventists. Some of it either borders on or outright crosses the line into Gnostic territory. Revelations from God can be progressive and somewhat malleable.
In that vein, try to keep up.
When a prophet or anointed one fails in their message, or if the people fail to grasp the message, then God must come up with new plans, according to Koresh. Since Jesus failed to fully preach the meaning of the Seven Seals to the people of his day that meant that God must try again.
The spirit that Jesus commended into the hands of the Father at his death was not just his personal spirit but the actual Spirit or “Mind of God” as Davidians are fond of calling it. Since Jesus was rejected, the Spirit went back to the Father and a new gospel must be preached in order for the Spirit to be manifest among flesh again. See Luke 23:46. This would be akin to “Christ Consciousness” as taught by various New Age teachers, just slightly repackaged in the Adventist guise.
In Revelation 5:1 we see a scroll or book sealed with seven seals in the Father’s right hand. To the Davidians this is the Mind of God that was commended back to the Father’s hand at Jesus’ death.
Koresh said that God revealed to him that he was the Lamb that was worthy to open the seals of the scroll. As such everything pertaining to the opening of the seals would be accomplished by him and his flock of congregants at Mount Carmel. Further, since he was the Lamb/anointed one or“Christ” if you will – again not Jesus but another anointed one as a title – then he further surmised that if he took Hebrews 8 and 9 as being the mediator of a new covenant this meant a future covenant that he – David – would establish. A new plan of salvation that would be administered by him that would lead people to the Mind of God. Each seal had a key to understanding them and David alone held those keys to unlock their secret meanings.
Picking up where Houteff and Roden left off, Koresh taught that the rider on the white horse depicted in Revelation 6:2 was actually Adam, the first man. Christ, as the second Adam, was destined to marry Eve who is the “bride of Christ” talked about and the reason for the Marriage of the Lamb. Further, Eve is associated with actually being a manifestation of the feminine Holy Spirit so in essence the Lamb will marry the Holy Spirit.
This seems to be treading awfully close to Osiris/Isis/Horus if you ask me.
The key to the first seal, according to Koresh, is Psalm 45. David marrying the Holy Spirit would mean that he would become a part of the Godhead and achieve unity. Those who adhere to his teaching are those pictured Revelation 19:14 as also riding on white horses and wearing wedding garments. In a bit of circular reasoning then, the first seal is completed by those believing that David Koresh is the anointed one and that they can obtain the “Mind of God” and unity with the Godhead.
Things get kind of dark when it comes to the second seal. The key – or perhaps keys plural in this case – are found in various scriptures such as Zechariah 1 and 6, Ezekiel 9 and Revelation 7 and 19. Essentially God will destroy all those who do not accept the seven seals message or reject Koresh as the anointed one.
Yeah. Like I said, dark.
The third seal hearkens back to the first two seals. According to Davidian theology there is something offered in Hosea 3 to pay for a marriage. The key is further found in Hosea 12:7. The price is found to be high and the merchant is thought to have “deceitful scales”, but this is only according to man’s perspective. This also alludes to Revelation 6: 5-6 and also to the Pearl of Great Price parable found in Matthew 13. The first seal is what is offered but if it is rejected then the second seal is the penalty for not accepting the offer. The price is yourself, essentially, and either accepting the seven seals message or rejecting it.
The fourth seal is all about death. Ezekiel 4, 5 and 6 are used as references or the key for the seal. Much of the language about Babylon and Jerusalem are transposed to belong to the Branch Davidians and their plight. In their eschatology, when the New Jerusalem comes down, they expect a similar battle to take place but the returning Lamb – David Koresh – will help them to overcome.
Revelation 6: 9-11, or the fifth seal, deals with the souls under the altar and the 144,000. For Davidians these are those who died during the battle of the fourth seal. The 144,000 who represent the first fruits offering are divided into two groups. Based on Passover and Pentecost the groups are meant to represent the “wave sheaf” and the “wave loaf”. The key to this seal is found in Psalm 74.
Unlocking the sixth seal requires stringing together a bunch of texts such as Isaiah 13, Joel 2, Psalm 139 and Habakkuk 3, along with the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. Koresh taught that the sun would be darkened at this time because the Merkabah or throne described in Ezekiel 1 would descend in front of it.
Obtaining the seventh seal found in Revelation 8 has proved to be challenging. The “new song” described is said to be the Song of Moses from Deuteronomy 32. The coming Kingdom is in view here. I say it’s challenging to obtain because Koresh taught that nobody would fully understand this seal until he comes back again as the Lamb. So some of it is still shrouded in mystery. And perhaps that was always the plan.
When the siege against the Davidians initially began, they believed the fourth seal had been broken or unlocked in real time. One of the surviving members recounted that Koresh taught them in one of their very last studies together that anyone who survived the ordeal would be the ones who go into captivity as Zechariah 14:2 describes. He further proclaimed the tanks outside their doors were the chariots with flaming torches of fire described in Nahum 2.
After the death of Koresh and the destruction of Mount Carmel, surviving members surmised that they were now in the fifth seal. Three and a half years from April 19, 1993 put the coming of the Lamb at October 1996. A sad capstone in the history of failed Adventist prophecies if there ever was one.
Amazingly, or maybe not so, members of the Branch Davidians still “practice” today and still proselytize new converts. I suppose there is some new reasoning or interpretation that has taken hold to somehow justify pushing the date of Koresh’s return back. Since David was the one with the “Mind of God” and he was the one to unlock the seven seals, devotees will typically not entertain any other interpretation of the scriptures that were assigned to Koresh via his theology.
In retrospect, and in looking deeply at what Koresh and Davidians taught and believed, their theology and expectations played into the hands of the preying ATF and FBI that merely wanted them for feathers in their respective caps. It sure seems by some accounts, and based on the teachings of the seals, that the Lamb would have to be slain in order to unlock further seals and fulfill the prophecies.
Even though Koresh supposedly asked for theologians and pastors to prove him wrong, I don’t think he could be persuaded from his beliefs if he truly believed he had received visions from the Most High. According to some of his members, they said that he could make even very knowledgeable Bible scholars’ heads spin with his scripture memorization and ability to link verses together.
Unfortunately most Christian denominations do not understand or utilize the Deuteronomy 13 or 18 tests for prophets. Much pain, suffering and heartache would be spared if we would just listen to our Elohim and refrain from listening to men.
“Suppose a prophet or a dreamer of dreams rises up among you and gives you a sign or wonder, and the sign or wonder he spoke to you comes true, while saying, ‘Let’s follow other gods’—that you have not known, and—‘Let’s serve them!’ You must not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams—for Yahuah your Elohim is testing you, to find out whether you love Yahuah your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul. Yahuah your Elohim you will follow and Him you will fear. His mitzvot you will keep, to His voice you will listen, Him you will serve and to Him you will cling. That prophet or dreamer of dreams must be put to death! For he has spoken falsehood against Yahuah your Elohim, who brought you out from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to entice you from the way Yahuah your Elohim commanded you to walk. So you will purge the evil from your midst.”
Even though observing Sabbath and practicing the Feasts of the Most High are indeed commanded, we must not also turn around and deviate to the right or to the left from the other commands of the Torah. Clearly the “New Light” teaching is not of the Torah. Nowhere is it commanded that men must not marry or be celibate. This is the same trap that Catholicism sets for itself that leads to a whole host of other sin. Koresh claiming married women as his wives also breaks Torah as it is the definition of adultery and covetousness.
Further, while people are eager to hear a “word from the Lord” they forget what the true Messiah, Yahusha, told us as recorded in Matthew 24 that many would come proclaiming to be the Messiah and that they would lead many astray. Rather than just reading the Word and listening plainly to what it says and obeying the commands contained therein, many like to do “newspaper eschatology” and try to play “pin the tail on the Antichrist”.
Reading the history of Christianity would show even a casual observer that every generation since Messiah ascended has proclaimed, in some fashion or another, to be the last generation. With Dispensationalism still being the main flavor of eschatology, even in many Torah circles, the “this is that” cross referencing and speculation has only increased today.
In the midst of the many cult-of-personality battles still being fought on social media today, my prayer is that we would all heed and truly take to heart our King and High Priest’s words:
“But you are not to be called rabbi; for one is your teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man on earth your father; for one is your father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called teachers; for one is your teacher, the Messiah. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”