"From beginning to end, our faith is indeed all about Jesus."
The Incomparable Christ
There’s only one reason to be a Christian, and His name is J-E-S-U-S.
By Harold Alomía
"From beginning to end, our faith is indeed all about Jesus."
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This text is one of the most renowned and beloved texts in Scripture. It describes in cryptic clarity the essence of our faith. In fact, the entire first chapter of John is a deep Christological treatise that captivates readers again and again.
It describes the Word in His divine and eternal state. The divine Word functioned as Creator, expressed by the simply profound fact that “without Him nothing was made that was made” (verse 3).
But John 1 dives deeper into the description of the Word. It draws us not just to contemplate a majesty of incomprehensible magnitude; it further allows us to see that the Word is not only transcendent but also immanent. The Word is eternal;
He’s not bound by nature; He’s beyond this world, but He breaks that dividing barrier and “pitches His tent” with us.1 The Word comes to His creation and is invested in the life of His creatures in such a way that He lives among us. He doesn’t enjoy an isolated and safe utopia, donning a sterile hazmat suit in order to avoid contamination, but He empties Himself of all that He could rightfully cling on to, so that He can live among those who are in rebellion against Him and thus bring about God’s revelation. In short, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; the eternal is made temporal, and divinity empties itself into humanity.
No Warm Welcome
The tragedy is that the Word’s mission was greeted by indifference or plain rejection. “He came to His own and His own did not receive Him” (verse 11). Happily, there were those who did see Him, for John exclaims, “We beheld His glory” (verse 14).
Those who saw the Word have given us, through word and time, the message that reveals what is the central component of our faith, the main reason we are called “Christians.” With our name we bear witness as to the what of our faith; better yet, whom we follow. Jesus is the central figure of Adventism. If not for Him, His resurrection, the apostle Paul asserts unequivocally, “our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14, NIV).
Christ comes to the world with a purpose, a mission described by the apostle Paul as the ministry of reconciliation. The staggering fact is that God is the One who initiates reconciliation with humanity, when it was humanity that severed its ties with God in the first place.2 Jesus is the central means by which reconciliation occurs; without Him life is just good intentions and vain imaginations. Without Jesus we have nothing.
Our Approachable High Priest
Furthermore, Jesus is not just central as God, Creator, and Reconciler; He takes the redemption of humanity even further. Christ is not so removed from us that He sits on a lofty pedestal as an unreachable celebrity of sorts. In His plan He becomes the one who empowers us in our faith.
The book of Hebrews discloses the powerful truth that Christ didn’t live a perfect life just for bragging rights, but actually to aid us in living ours.3 Christ is Creator, Redeemer, Reconciler, and Empowering Savior. It is no wonder then that the same author who sketches the picture of Christ as the empowering figure of our spiritual walk also describes Christ as the one who “finishes” our faith (Heb. 12:2).4
The idea of the Finisher, rather than pointing to a certain state of crossing a specific finish line, is a more dynamic growth concept. It highlights a maturing process in which Christ, the One who starts our faith, is the One who brings it to maturity. From beginning to end, our faith is all about Jesus.
The centrality of Christ in our message is affirmed by Ellen White’s brilliant explanation of how we should convey the message of truth to the world: “The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers.”5 What a stunning statement about the centrality of Jesus in our message and in our lives! From Genesis to Revelation, He is indeed all. And as we make this theological dictum a living, palpable reality that transcends the paper of our commentaries into the experiences of our lives, we do well to remember that Jesus is, indeed, all. n
God the eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Through Him all things were created, the character of God is revealed, the salvation of humanity is accomplished, and the world is judged. Forever truly God, He became also truly man, Jesus the Christ. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived and experienced temptation as a human being, but perfectly exemplified the righteousness and love of God. By His miracles He manifested God’s power and was attested as God’s promised Messiah. He suffered and died voluntarily on the cross for our sins and in our place, was raised from the dead, and ascended to minister in the heavenly sanctuary in our behalf. He will come again in glory for the final deliverance of His people and the restoration of all things. (John 1:1-3, 14; Col. 1:15-19; John 10:30; 14:9; Rom. 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:17-19; John 5:22; Luke 1:35; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 2:9-18; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4; Heb. 8:1, 2; John 14:1-3.)
Harold Alomía is lead pastor of the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States. He is married to Rosie, a freelance photographer.
They sit in a circle, heads bowed, praying for the task before them. After the “Amen” their eyes meet, then drop to the sheets full of empty slots before them.
An Answer for the Nominating Committee
By Daisy Hall
They sit in a circle, heads bowed, praying for the task before them. After the “Amen” their eyes meet, then drop to the sheets full of empty slots before them. Half of the Sabbath school teachers have resigned, the Adventurer Club director is burned out, and the couple previously leading outreach ministries has moved away.
Church directory in hand, the nominating committee ponders who might possibly be willing to take on one of the empty slots. Then they begin making phone calls, practically begging members of the congregation to consider one of the vacant church offices. Everyone they call agrees that someone should do these jobs; but as the nominating committee members well know, it’s incredibly hard to find those willing to actually fill the empty slots.
The New Testament provides counsel on how to fill our local church’s ministries so that the nominating committee is not left desperately looking for anyone willing to fill a slot. In fact, God gave us an amazing way to avoid this situation altogether by bestowing spiritual gifts to church members. Spiritual gifts are abilities given to God’s followers by the Holy Spirit. These gifts could be called talents, but they are really much more. People can be talented at crossword puzzles or standing on one foot, but spiritual gifts are special abilities given to each person with the intent that they will use them to support and grow God’s church and to do their part to fulfill the Great Commission.
Everyone Has a Gift
Every single member of God’s church has a spiritual gift, and we are instructed to use our gifts to bless others. First Peter 4:10 tells us that “as each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Spiritual gifts are not traits we can own. They come directly from God, chosen for each person specifically by Him. God expects us to take care of them and use them for their intended purpose.
Our gifts may not stay the same throughout our entire lives. If we are faithful stewards of one gift, God may bless us with another, as with the servants who wisely invested their talents in Jesus’ parable. At some point in our lives our gifts may completely change. Situations and the needs of our communities change, and God is always able to mold us into that which would be most useful in advancing His kingdom.
Although there are many different kinds of gifts, the same Spirit is responsible for all of them. Paul put it this way: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all. . . . But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:4-11).
Much like the fruit of the Spirit, spiritual gifts are the result of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. If we have accepted the Holy Spirit into our hearts to change us to be more like Christ and to do His work, we have also accepted the gift from the Spirit to help us accomplish that work. Some of the spiritual gifts listed in Scripture include wisdom, knowledge, healing, prophecy, teaching, administration, giving, mercy, faith, evangelism, and craftsmanship, to name only a few (1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28; Rom. 12:6-8; Eph. 4:11; Ex. 31:3). There are a wide variety of gifts, and each one is essential to bringing about the kingdom.
Using Your Gift
There is a place within our church’s ministries for people with every kind of gift that God sees fit to bless us with. Some gifts may have more obvious applications than others. Those with the gift of healing can become health-care professionals. Those with a gift for teaching can use that gift in many different ways within and outside the Adventist Church. Such gifts as giving, mercy, and faith do not correspond to a specific ministry; rather, they affect each ministry and can be applied in many different contexts. No gift is greater than any other, and God expects all of them to be used.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 Paul compared the church to the human body. A body is made up of many different parts that all have different roles. If some parts aren’t functioning correctly, the whole body suffers. In the church, every member of the body plays a vital role in the mission entrusted by Jesus. If we joyfully anticipate Jesus’ return, we can’t leave all the work to our pastors, teachers, or leaders. “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be smelling? But now God has set the members, each of them, in the body just as He pleased” (verses 17, 18). The church body needs each of its members to be fully functioning to accomplish its God-given tasks.
Spiritual gifts are an incredibly important part of our fundamental beliefs. We Seventh-day Adventists believe that God has given us a work to do, and spiritual gifts are His way of equipping us to accomplish that work. As such, we need to discover what our spiritual gifts are, then put them to good use. By consulting with church leaders and with the Lord in prayer, every church member can discover their spiritual gifts and get started working in their ministry. The prospect of finding our unique roles within the church can be daunting. However, by giving us these gifts, God has enabled us not only to do these jobs but to excel at them. We can trust Him to choose each gift personally and appropriately. When we do, we can accomplish more for His kingdom than we ever thought possible. n
Daisy Hall is a homeschooled high school senior living with her family in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. She enjoys writing, education theory, and road trips.
God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts which each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic, and teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity, and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God’s varied grace, the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love. (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:9-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)
Spiritual gifts are not traits we can own. Spiritual gifts are His way of equipping us to accomplish that work.
The Lord’s Supper gets to the heart of our Christian walk.
By Gerald A. Klingbeil
What do you associate with the Lord’s Supper? Stained glass windows, little cups, hushed solemn sounds?
I see a beach on the Atlantic coast in France where we celebrated this important Christian rite sitting on the ground, with surf boards as tables, during a youth mission camp. I also see the little old man somewhere in the Andes in Peru, in a tiny church, who knelt before me, and whose calloused hands took my feet and carefully washed them. We did not speak the same language, but we understood each other.
The Lord’s Supper also reminds me of the thousands who throughout the centuries were killed, because neither Catholics nor Protestants (or even Protestants among themselves) could agree on its meaning and precise theological ramifications.
Together with baptism, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is an extremely important ritual in the Christian church, explicitly instituted by our Lord Jesus Himself (Matt. 26:26-28; John 13:13-17). Like any ritual, it speaks to those participating in it, reinforcing some of the most fundamental concepts of our Christian walk, namely: (a) that salvation does not come from within, but, rather, is a gift made possible only through the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ; (b) that service and humility are not just theological concepts, but are, rather, elements to be put into practice; and (c) united we stand, divided we fall.
Powerful Symbol The Lord’s Supper actually has its roots in the Old Testament, and is another good example of the unbreakable unity between God’s revelation in both Testaments in regard to the plan of salvation.
Let’s go back to the first Lord’s Supper. It’s Passover time in Jerusalem, and Jesus and His disciples are getting ready to celebrate this important yearly ritual that reminded them of God’s saving grace in the face of the overpowering might of the enemy (see Matt. 26:17-30 and parallel texts). A room is secured, and the traditional Pascal lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and different cups are prepared. Jesus kneels before His bickering disciples and washes their dirty feet (John 13:1-6), a job normally done by slaves. The roasted Passover lamb is passed around; then the unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
Suddenly Jesus speaks up: “Take, eat; this is My body” (Matt. 26:26). He also takes the cup1 and tells them to “drink, … for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:27, 28). Both the bread and the cup represent the common daily fare of the ordinary peasant living in Palestine. But Jesus uses these common elements and gives them new meaning.
Paul writes about this in his first epistle to the Corinthian church, a church with a mixed ethnic makeup, reminding us that eating and drinking together does not only create community but helps us remember the incredible sacrifice of the Son of God (1 Cor. 11:26). By looking back, by “remembering” Christ’s death on the cross, we look away from ourselves and focus on the most incredible, audacious, and transforming news imaginable. The news of a God who does not sit isolated in His corporate headquarters, so to speak, far removed from the reality of sin and pain, but who is prepared to humble Himself and die for an ungrateful creation.
The Lord’s Supper not only reminds us of Jesus’ death but gives a loud and public proclamation of Jesus’ victory over sin, and looks forward to that glorious day of His second coming (1 Cor. 11:26).
This looking forward is an important part of Christian theology and lifestyle. It reminds us that life is not just 50 or 60 or 80 years, with the grave awaiting us at the end, but that there is hope beyond the grave. We will be united with loved ones and with our risen Savior on that great day, when He will “wipe away every tear” (Rev. 7:17; 21:4; cf. Isa. 25:8).
A Factor Often Misunderstood The book of Revelation describes this reunion in terms of a great wedding feast (Rev. 19:7-9), which, again, is a reminder of the Lord’s Supper (and the earlier Passover meal). In fact, eating and drinking imagery is used often in the book of Revelation, and is connected to final victory and celebrations (Rev. 2:7; 3:20; 7:16; 12:6, 14; 19:9; 21:6; and 22:17). The imagery also introduces the idea of final judgment (Rev. 6:8; 14:10; 16:6; 17:16; 19:17, 18, 24; and 20:9).2
The Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper is a participation in the emblems of the body and blood of Jesus as an expression of faith in Him, our Lord and Saviour. In this experience of Communion Christ is present to meet and strengthen His people. As we partake, we joyfully proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again. Preparation for the Supper includes self-examination, repentance, and confession. The Master ordained the service of foot washing to signify renewed cleansing, to express a willingness to serve one another in Christlike humility, and to unite our hearts in love. The Communion service is open to all believing Christians. (1 Cor. 10:16, 17; 11:23-30; Matt. 26:17-30; Rev. 3:20; John 6:48-63; 13:1-17.)
This particular aspect of judgment and eating and drinking is also present in the Lord’s Supper. Paul reminds the church at Corinth that an individual who participates in the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” “eats and drinks judgment to himself” (1 Cor. 11:29) and is “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27). In other words, when you and I participate in the Lord’s Supper without having repented of hurtful thoughts, wrong deeds, and selfish motives, we turn down an incredible opportunity. We keep on carrying these sins with us, instead of “uploading” them to our heavenly Sin-bearer and having them wiped away from our record.
These sentiments from Paul may be the reason that some of us do not participate in the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps we feel unworthy—feel that our messed-up lives cannot be put into balance again. Perhaps we cannot forgive what has been done to us.
Actually, these are not the things that make us unworthy. The only time we partake of the Supper in an unworthy manner is when we no longer hear the voice of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit who lovingly speaks to us, who unmistakably convicts us, and who wants to transform us. Those who participated in that first Supper were not flawless or perfect. Indeed, all the participants that night denounced their faith, betrayed their Master, or just simply ran away.
But through the Lord’s Supper God has provided us with a wonderful way of physically rejoining the fellowship of the believers. By washing one another’s feet, by eating and drinking the emblems of the death of Jesus Christ, by joining in the joyful song of victory and salvation that follows each Communion service, we become part of the (invisible) body of Christ—the bride getting ready to meet her Bridegroom.
New Memories, New Songs I still remember all these wonderful Communion services—sometimes held in strange places, often bringing me together with people I did not know before, but always drawing me closer to my Savior. Every time I participate in the Supper, forgiveness becomes a reality, new memories of victories are added, new songs are written, and lives are changed.
I love to come to the table. Don’t you?
1 The three Gospels that recount the story of the Last Supper all include the term “cup” (Matt. 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17; also 1 Cor. 11:25-27), which does not actually specify what kind of drink was in the cup. The indication of the cup’s contents comes only in Jesus’ (later) statement that He would not partake “of this fruit of the vine” until the final eschatological banquet (Matt. 26:29). For a more in-depth discussion, see Gerald A. Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible (Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplements 1; Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2007), pp. 178-181. 2 For more details, see Gerald A. Klingbeil, “‘Eating’ and ‘Drinking’ in the Book of Revelation: A Study of New Testament Thought and Theology,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society16.1-2 (2005): pp. 75–92.
Gerald A. Klingbeil is dean of the School of Theology at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines.
Reflecting on what to do about rules and restrictions
By Ray Roennfeldt
What a flood of memories those words bring to my mind. Sometimes they were offered as the last piece of advice given on leaving home for summer camp. They seemed to imply that the family reputation was riding somewhat precariously on junior’s shoulders during this short foray into independence. At other times “Behave yourself!” represented a sharp warning offered right in the midst of perceived misbehavior.
Christian Behavior? Is a certain standard of behavior expected of Christians as well? Are Christians meant to keep the law? Isn’t an emphasis on behavior and standards nothing more than legalism? This subject has always aroused controversy among believers.
Jesus’ heavy criticism of the Pharisees appears to complicate the picture. They seemed to have been obsessed with behavior. They had rules for everything: the allowable conditions for a marriage to be terminated; the requirements necessary for the washing of hands before eating; the necessity of tithing even the garden herbs; and activities restricted on the Sabbath.* In Matthew 23 Jesus pronounces seven “woes” against the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He charges them with, among other things, shutting up heaven to people (verse 11); making their converts into children of “hell” (verse 15); using trickery to evade promises (verse 18); being overly scrupulous in tithing while ignoring justice, mercy, and faithfulness (verse 23).
This frontal attack must have surprised the Pharisees and their admirers, but Jesus was unequivocal in His opinion that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).†
Jesus’ attitude toward the Pharisees (along with His “You have heard that it was said … But I tell you …” statements of Matthew 5) has been construed by some as evidence that He has abolished the law. However, such a conclusion is unwarranted in view of His direct remark: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17).
In addition, at least from a cursory glance, Paul also appears to be opposed to “works.” He affirms that “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Rom. 3:28; see also 3:20, 21; 8:3; and Gal. 2:16).
So if salvation is not by works—as clearly taught by both Jesus and Paul—why the constant stress on behavior, at least by Seventh-day Adventist Christians?
The Basis of Christian Behavior First, it should be observed that salvation is based on a divine gift, not on human performance. Paul, in writing to the Ephesian believers, is emphatic on this point: “… it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9). And it is probably at this point that Christianity differs most widely from the other world religions. Salvation is offered as a gift, period! Nothing that I do, give up, or become can earn favor with God. Instead, in Jesus Christ, God guarantees that He will treat me with favor (grace) and give eternal life freely. All I need to “do” is accept or believe (John 3:16).
Second, it should be recognized that the giving of a gift will often elicit a response. Immediately following his affirmation in Ephesians chapter 2 in regard to salvation by grace, Paul says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Jesus, of course, used the vine/branches metaphor to say the same thing: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
What kind of fruit does Jesus expect in the Christian’s life? In John 15 it is expressed in terms of love and care for others (verses 9-17; cf. Gal. 5:22, 23). It seems obvious that Jesus’ gift of life will impact every nook and cranny of our lives. For instance, in his discussion of sexual immorality, Paul argues that we have been “bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20; cf. 1 Thess. 5:23).
We are called to be a godly people who think, feel, and act in harmony with the principles of heaven. For the Spirit to re-create in us the character of our Lord we involve ourselves only in those things which will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives. This means that our amusement and entertainment should meet the highest standards of Christian taste and beauty. While recognizing cultural differences, our dress is to be simple, modest, and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit. It also means that because our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, we are to care for them intelligently. Along with adequate exercise and rest, we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures. Since alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics are harmful to our bodies, we are to abstain from them as well. Instead, we are to engage in whatever brings our thoughts and bodies into the discipline of Christ, who desires our wholesomeness, joy, and goodness. (Rom. 12:1, 2; 1 John 2:6; Eph. 5:1-21; Phil. 4:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 6:14-7:1; 1 Peter 3:1-4; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 10:31; Lev. 11:1-47; 3 John 2.)
You might say, “But, that’s too intrusive. Why should Christianity influence every aspect of my life?” But then again, relationships tend to be like that, don’t they? My marriage to my wife, Carmel, has affected every area of my life. Here’s a short list: how tidy I keep my clothing; where I go for recreation; what time I eat my meals; what I eat; how often I use the phone; what kind of friends I make; and how I drive the car. These are just a few examples, but some of them are quite major items. However, I haven’t noticed that I’m particularly restricted, except perhaps when I want to “hang” my trousers on the floor overnight! It is natural for me to want to “behave myself” because I am in a relationship.
Then how will Christians behave? The following suggestions are not exhaustive because Scripture itself is not exhaustive on this matter. Rather, the Bible offers principles of behavior that are to be applied in the situations and cultures in which we find ourselves.
It is not surprising that Christians will behave as good citizens. They will pay their taxes and follow the laws of their country (Matt. 22:21). The exception to this is when the legal requirements of the nation infringe on one’s primary responsibility to God (Acts 5:29). Christians will also behave in a quite distinctive way toward others. They will care for and even forgive their enemies (Matt. 5:44-48). Paul indicated that the common barriers of status, race, and gender were not to divide the early Christians (Gal. 3:28). Perhaps contemporary Christians need the same reminder.
Christians should be obedient to God’s law. In fact, obedience will be the natural outgrowth of a covenant relationship with God. The relationship factor changes one’s whole perspective toward law. Instead of “thou shalt not,” it is now a matter of “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt [or wherever], out of the land of slavery [to whatever]” and therefore “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:2, 3).
There is much more that could be said, but in reality Christians should be careful in every area of their lives so that they properly represent their Savior (see 1 Cor. 10:31). That means carefulness in what I eat, what I say, how I dress, what movies I watch, what I drink; in fact, in everything! However, that carefulness is not of the obsessive kind that absolutely demands exactly the same kind of behavior in every other Christian. God calls on us to live for Him personally and in the context of a church family. The strength of a family is shown by how well it copes with the differences between its members—differences of maturity, temperament, gender, etc.—and what happens when one of its members does not “behave” himself or herself as the family expects.
†All Scripture citations are from the NIV.
*See “Shabbath,” in Herbert Danby (ed.), The Mishnah: Translated From the Hebrew With Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), pp. 100-121.
Ray Roennfeldt is dean and senior lecturer in systematic theology atAvondale College in Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia.
Lift up the trumpet!” “Rejoice and sing!” “Jesus is coming again!”
I grew up singing these lyrics with a congregation of believers belting out these classic melodies with passion. When I was younger, I didn’t think much about what I was singing. But recently, I’ve begun to ponder the significance of the words behind those tunes.
The soon return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a hope to not only sing about. It’s a hope to live for!
I find it amusing when, in an effort to console distraught souls, people say, “Relax! It’s not the end of the world!” Such advice makes me wonder what they’ll say when the end of the world actually does occur—because it will.
We live in a culture where movies encourage every fantasy humans have. Many of them focus on one universal fascination—the end of the world. Movies convey all sorts of end-of-the-world story lines with plots ranging from natural disasters wiping out humanity, to alien invaders taking over the world, to giant meteorites on a fatal collision course with earth.
It was rumored in 1999 that the end of the world as we know it was fast approaching with the turn of the century. People were concerned about computers crashing and businesses malfunctioning; leaving people with no electricity, essential services, or social structures. I remember watching people on television talk shows proudly boasting about how they’d bought a year’s worth of survival supplies, including power generators, as insurance against the crisis they thought was coming.
Fortunately, we were spared from having to face such worldwide misfortune. Computers and technology in general continued to function after midnight on December 31, 1999—and into the new century.
However, there will, indeed, come a time when life as we know it will cease to be and those who stand strong in faith will witness the final events of earth’s history. Are we ready for the true end of the world? More to the point, are we ready for the end of the world as the movies fantasize about it, or are we ready for what Bible prophecy says will happen? There’s a difference.
The Bible’s Story Line The Bible tells us not to be afraid, to believe in God as we believe in Jesus. Said Jesus, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). The end times will be filled with tribulation—tribulation more than we’ve ever seen. However, He gave us a hope to live for when He revealed that the second coming of Jesus Christ will terminate sin and give us an eternity to live with Him.
The issue before us is, Which story line will we accept? And what will we do about it? Will we bank on what Hollywood so vividly and artfully portrays, or will we trust in God’s Holy Word? If we trust in God’s promises, we’ll not be led astray.
What’s Your Response? How do we approach the final chapters of earth’s history? The Revelation of Jesus Christ describes those who await Jesus’ return with these words: “Here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). The last generation doesn’t wait with fear, apprehension, or uncertainty, but with hope, faith, love, and action.
To trust God’s promises and stand firm in faith is to spread the good news of Christ’s soon return. We can witness for God in hundreds of small, practical ways right where we live. Witnessing doesn’t mean being odd or extreme. It simply means standing on principle and doing what’s right in God’s sight; always being ready, by word or action, to share the good news of a God who loves us and will soon return to take us to be with Him.
Living lives of readiness means more than being ready, personally, for the Lord’s return; it means being ready to share with anyone the hope we have. We never know whether someone is dying to hear the good news for the first time, or which person needs to return to Christ. People sometimes become disillusioned with their faith, and they have to be reminded that Jesus offers a quality of life now that is just a prelude to our life to come. Witnessing doesn’t always have to be done with words. Sometimes it can be done with a smile, a quick note, sharing a magazine article or a book, or through music and the arts. All that matters is that it comes from our hearts, so others may see Jesus in us.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” says Jesus. “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). He wants to live in us. Answering Jesus’ knock has eternal benefits as we learn more about Him, grow as Christians, mature as witnesses, and rest assured that we’ll be ready when He comes again.
Jesus knocks at our hearts’ door to improve our quality of life now. Will we answer? Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Second Coming of Christ The second coming of Christ is the blessed hope of the church, the grand climax of the gospel. The Saviour’s coming will be literal, personal, visible, and worldwide. When He returns, the righteous dead will be resurrected, and together with the righteous living will be glorified and taken to heaven, but the unrighteous will die. The almost complete fulfillment of most lines of prophecy, together with the present condition of the world, indicates that Christ’s coming is imminent. The time of that event has not been revealed, and we are therefore exhorted to be ready at all times. (Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; Matt. 24:14; Rev. 1:7; Matt. 24:43, 44; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:8; Rev. 14:14-20; 19:11-21; Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; 1 Thess. 5:1-6.)
Alexis A. Goring is a recent graduate of Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Maryland (USA). She holds a degree in print journalism.
Until then our “stories” can be left safely with Jesus.
Iclearly remember the day when the news of my father’s sudden and accidental death reached me. During the early hours of the morning I was downloading e-mails in my office inBolivia, where we were working as missionaries. Thousands of kilometers separated me from my father’s apartment in a small village in southern Germany where he had died as the result of a domestic accident no one noticed. We had been trying for weeks to contact him without success, and now the impact of the tragic news sent me into a spin of tears, feelings of guilt, and unanswered questions. Why couldn’t I have been at his side during his last moments? I wondered. Why did God allow him to die under such circumstances while I was serving His church on the other side of the world?
The tears have subsided since then and the feelings of guilt have been rationalized, but the unanswered questions still remain. I have shelved them for now, however, until Somebody takes the time needed to explain that which does not make sense this side of eternity. This Somebody will actually take 1,000 years—a whole millennium—to patiently and lovingly walk with me through the answers.
Taking His Children Home When that small cloud finally appears on the horizon and Christ returns to this earth, He will not yet restore this planet to a sinless state. He will first destroy the ungodly (see 2 Thess. 2:8) and then take with Him His living and resurrected children—you and me, I pray—to a safe haven of peace, a New Jerusalem, to watch the final sad unfolding of earth’s history (see Rev. 20:4-6).
This actually will be a story of “de-creation,” or a reversal of Creation. After the planet has been depopulated by Christ’s second coming, it will regress to its original desolate state, formless and void, as Jeremiah describes it in an eschatological vision during Old Testament times (see Jer. 4:23-25; cf. Gen. 1:2). But the most desolate scenario is drawn up for Satan, the master tempter, bound for 1,000 years to a place in which no one is alive to tempt, which almost must be the ultimate penalty (see Rev. 20:2, 3). One thousand years is a long time to bear the sins of this world, which are being placed at this moment on Satan. This was symbolically portrayed in the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement, during which the sins of God’s people were placed on Azazel, the scapegoat, before it was sent out into the desert to die (see Lev. 16:8, 21, 22).
At the end of this period of time—the millennium—the final showdown between good and evil will take place. As the New Jerusalem descends from heaven, you and I might be watching from above as Satan tries to once more mobilize all his dark powers to lead them into a futile battle that, because of Calvary, is doomed to utter failure. No real war will occur; instead, merciful fire from God will consume the remainder of sin in this universe and cleanse it for eternity (see Rev. 20:7-9).
The In-Between Years While the Bible focuses more on the events at the beginning and at the end of the millennium, I’m also interested in what actually happens in between, because 1,000 years is a long time, even by eternal standards. It is interesting to note that God will wipe away all tears after the millennium, when this planet is re-created into a new earth (see Rev. 21:4). The 1,000-year period, therefore, actually represents a time for reflection on God’s judgment. There even may be sadness as we, together with Christ, shed bitter tears about the people He tried to call throughout their lives but who never returned His call of love. But tears of joy might also flow as we recognize one another. A few humbling surprises could also be waiting for us as we meet some unexpected citizens of the eternal city.
Millennium and the End of Sin:
The millennium is the thousand-year reign of Christ with His saints in heaven between the first and second resurrections. During this time the wicked dead will be judged; the earth will be utterly desolate, without living human inhabitants, but occupied by Satan and his angels. At its close Christ with His saints and the Holy City will descend from heaven to earth. The unrighteous dead will then be resurrected, and with Satan and his angels will surround the city; but fire from God will consume them and cleanse the earth. The universe will thus be freed of sin and sinners forever. (Rev. 20; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3; Jer. 4:23-26; Rev. 21:1-5; Mal. 4:1; Eze. 28:18, 19.)
Manasseh, one of the worst kings of Judah during Old Testament times who repented and returned to God toward the end of his life, would probably be a good candidate for a surprise as he runs into the prophet Isaiah, whom he most probably put to death before his own conversion. And be prepared for some surprises yourself! This is an important part of judgment in which the Creator once more makes Himself accountable to His creatures and gives a transparent explanation for every sentence He has passed. All the unanswered questions will finally find answers. In this way God’s children are involved in the judgment process (see Rev. 20:4), and we’ll come to the realization that the Lord’s sentences are based wholly on His eternal principles of love and justice.
Sometimes it is necessary to take a step back and look at an issue from a distance in order to get the right perspective. The millennium is such a step back, away from Planet Earth, but the issues are viewed from within the safe walls of the heavenly Jerusalem in order to understand truly what damage sin has done to the world and to the lives of humankind. Understanding in the biblical sense is limited not just to a cognitive process; it involves a relationship experience that can be found only in close proximity to Christ. My longing for answers can be satisfied only in the One who says He is the truth Himself.
Safely in Jesus’ Hands When I finally arrived in the small village where my father had lived and died, I had about only three hours that I could spend in his apartment before the funeral took place. I went through his belongings in order to be able to find something that would remind me of him, something I would be able to take back with me on the plane to Bolivia—photos, a wristwatch, a jacket, a couple of other small items, and, of course, his favorite hat, which we used to tease him about endlessly. All these items fit into a small box.
So little remains when we lose a loved one, and even our knowledge of that person will always remain a fragmented one. But Jesus knows the whole story, the unknown as well as the known parts, and this story will be told during the millennium. Until then, I can trust that my father’s story rests safely in the arms of our Savior. It will be a story of love and suffering, but most of all, a story of grace.
Martin G. Klingbeil is vice president for Academic Administration ofHelderberg College in Somerset West, South Africa.
Seventh-day Adventists speak about a pre-Advent judgment (some prefer the term “investigative judgment”) taking place right now in the heavenly sanctuary. This judgment, as we understand it, represents the second and final phase of Christ’s priestly ministry for us. It includes the examination of the individual lives of God’s professed people, dead and alive.
The reaction of non-Adventist theologians to this teaching has been almost totally negative. Some see it as a face-saving move on our part to explain away the failure of 1844. Others see it as hostile to righteousness by faith and Christian assurance. Are they correct? How sound is this teaching?
Idea of Judgment in the New Testament The notion of judgment permeates the New Testament. From a plethora of passages on this theme, here are a few:
In Romans 2:5, 6, Paul warns those who, because of their “hardness” and “impenitent” hearts, were storing up for themselves “wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds.’”
The book of Hebrews says: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment…. For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ … And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people’” (Heb. 10:26, 27, 30).
And Peter says: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).
Think of the countless innocent men, women, and children taken away from their families in the dead of night by cold-blooded assassins and never heard from again. Think about the heinous crimes committed daily against innocent children and other helpless people in society. Is there to be no accounting? Are the wicked miscreants of the world to go free, laughing decency and morality in the face?
What the above passages suggest is that we live in a moral universe, and every rational person will have to give account of themself before the divine tribunal. Indeed, elementary human justice, quite apart from Scripture, cries out for judgment. Righteousness by faith and Christian assurance are indeed fundamental New Testament teachings. But so also is judgment.
Case for a Pre-Advent Judgment In Daniel 12:1 we hear about a final time of crisis from which only those “found written in the book” will be rescued. And in Jesus’ pivotal statement about the end in Matthew 24, we learn that at the time of the Second Coming a loud trumpet call will gather together the “elect from the four winds” (verse 31). The contexts of those two passages clearly imply a prior determination of the spiritual standing of the individuals involved.
In Revelation 16 the seven last plagues, like guided missiles, pursue only those who have “the mark of the beast.” Obviously there had to be a prior assessment in order legally to affix the mark to some and not to others.
In Daniel 7 the prophet observes in vision the evil activities of the “little horn” on earth and simultaneously views a judgment scene in heaven. The writer switches back and forth from earth to heaven, studying these two engaging scenes, until the notorious “little horn” is destroyed and judgment given in favor of the saints (Dan. 7:22). In a 1979 dissertation Australian scholar Arthur Ferch successfully demonstrated that these two activities take place within historical time and that, therefore, the judgment of Daniel 7 occurs prior to the Advent—in other words, is pre-Advent.2
It’s not wise to argue, as some do, that since God knows everything, a pre-Advent judgment is pointless. Such an approach, carried to its logical conclusion, repudiates the whole biblical notion of judgment—and not simply the idea of a pre-Advent judgment. There are intelligences beyond our own planet—created beings who, if the universe is to be secure, must be satisfied with the integrity of the divine process through which some people are saved and others lost.
So the pre-Advent judgment concerns much more than our personal standing before God, a point that becomes evident from a consideration of Daniel 7. In this chapter the “little horn” is clearly a major target, which immediately gives this pre-Advent activity a broad frame of reference.
A Broader Perspective Revelation 12 and 13 unmask the power behind the beast (the “little horn” of Daniel 7), portraying that power as the dragon, the “ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev. 12:7-9, RSV; Rev. 13:1-3). Through his operatives this evil genius utters blasphemies against God, God’s name, God’s sanctuary, and the inhabitants of heaven (Rev. 13:6). In other words, God Himself stands accused!
This pre-Advent judgment separates God’s true saints from the multitudes who falsely claim His name. In this solemn proceeding “books” are opened, suggesting the idea of evaluation, of scrutiny—of investigation, if you please. It was this evaluation/in-vestigative aspect of the pre-Advent judgment that particularly impressed Adventist pioneers, reminding them of the afflicting of the soul during the ancient Day of Atonement (see Lev. 23:26-32).
But the scope of this judgment is broader than they perceived it. Its wider concern is with vindication—vindication of God, of God’s sanctuary, of God’s name, of God’s people.
The full meaning of all this is far beyond us, of course. But certainly the focus is the heavenly sanctuary—the seat of God’s law and government, the nerve center of human salvation. Upon its vindication hangs the security of the universe. Hence the awesome theological significance of that cryptic statement in Daniel 8:14: “For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.”
The judgment now in session will settle the question of God’s love and justice prior to the Second Advent. It will confirm the validity and legality of the plan of salvation. And it will carry in its verdict the final vindication of God’s people.
As believers in Jesus, we view the pre-Advent judgment from two perspectives. Seeing it, on the one hand, as the antitype of the ancient Day of Atonement in Israel, we “afflict our souls,” realizing the solemn times in which we live. On the other hand, however, with our faith firmly planted in Jesus Christ, our great High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary, we have absolutely nothing to fear. And understanding the whole activity from the perspective of vindication, as revealed in the books of Daniel and Revelation, we not only have nothing to fearbut, indeed, have the deepest cause for rejoicing and exceeding joy.
1This article is a condensation and modification of chapter 8 of Roy Adams, The Sanctuary: Understanding the Heart of Adventist Theology (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 1993).
2Arthur Ferch, The Son of Man in Daniel 7 (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1979). For a summary of Ferch’s findings, see “the Pre-Advent Judgment,” Adventist Review, Oct. 30, 1980, pp. 4-6.
_____________________________ Roy Adams is an associate editor of Adventist World.
Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary
There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a work of investigative judgment, which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement.
In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The investigative judgment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom.
This judgment vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom. The completion of this ministry of Christ will mark the close of human probation before the Second Advent. (Heb. 8:1-5; 4:14-16; 9:11-28; 10:19-22; 1:3; 2:16, 17; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Num. 14:34; Eze. 4:6; Lev. 16; Rev. 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:12.)
Ifirst met Bill 17 years ago, in 1991. Through the years since then, we talked often about his favorite themes—vision, optimism, defeating the odds, faith in God, and making a difference in this world. Those of us who knew Bill well knew that he had a passion for life and a passion to make other lives better because of his own.
In the last few months of his life Bill and I talked regularly, often weekly. In one of our conversations, I sensed Bill’s illness was terminal and that he probably did not have long to live. That final conversation is etched in my mind forever. We talked about the fact that, ultimately, Jesus would triumph over all the powers of hell, and death would finally be defeated.
I would like to mention here some of the thoughts I shared with Bill that day as well as some further reflections.
His tears speak of a Savior who understands our tears.
Death is not some unsolved mystery. It’s not a dark hole in the ground. It’s not a long night without a morning. Jesus met the Grim Reaper head on 2,000 years ago and conquered.
In the life of Jesus there are three episodes in which He confronts death. And although the lessons are old, they speak with increasing relevance to us in the twenty-first century. They are ever new, ever fresh, ever speaking hope and comfort to new generations.
Episode #1—The Death of Lazarus
Jesus’ friend Lazarus developed a sudden illness and died unexpectedly. The shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), is found in this story. Why did Jesus weep? One reason is simply this: He identified with the pain in the heart of Lazarus’s two sisters, Mary and Martha. His tears speak of a Savior who understands our tears.
Jesus identifies with our pain. He understands our grief. He experiences our sorrow. He is one with us in our suffering. He is our companion in tribulation. When our hearts are broken, His heart is broken too. When we hurt, He hurts too. When Mary and Martha wept, Jesus wept too.
He shares our tears!
Jesus not only weeps, but He has the divine power to do something about Lazarus’s death. Jesus declares to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40, NASB).* Those words echo down the centuries to our times: Believe, and you will see the glory of God.
We have not seen our friend Bill for the last time. In the catacombs under Rome, chiseled in the pagan graves are these sorrowful words, “Goodbye, my love, forever.” By contrast, Christian graves ring with words of hope. For us, it’s: “Goodbye, until the morning.”
Believe, and you too will see the glory of God. You have not seen your loved one for the last time. In some of the most powerful words of the entire Bible, Jesus cried “with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’” (John 11:43).
Death flees at the words of Jesus; the tomb gives up its dead at the words of Jesus; Satan trembles at the words of Jesus; Lazarus arises at the words of Jesus; and death is vanquished at the words of Jesus!
Here is something we can be certain of: Jesus has never lost a battle with death. And He is not going to lose the battle with death in regards to Bill. The resurrection of Lazarus is a type of the resurrection of all believers at the coming of our Lord.
Episode #2—The Testimony of Jesus
The resurrection of Jesus Christ speaks of a Savior who has power over death, even His own. “‘I am He who lives, and was dead’” he says, “‘and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades [hell] and of Death” (Rev.1:18). We need not fear death because Jesus has the keys to the grave.
Death and Resurrection
The wages of sin is death. But God, who alone is immortal, will grant eternal life to His redeemed. Until that day death is an unconscious state for all people. When Christ, who is our life, appears, the resurrected righteous and the living righteous will be glorified and caught up to meet their Lord. The second resurrection, the resurrection of the unrighteous, will take place a thousand years later. (Rom. 6:23; 1 Tim. 6:15, 16; Eccl. 9:5, 6; Ps. 146:3, 4; John 11:11-14; Col. 3:4; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:1-10.)Come with me to a place called Calvary and a hill called Golgotha one Friday afternoon 2,000 years ago. It was a dark, dark Friday. The sun refused to shine. Thunder crashed. Lightning flashed. That dark Friday, Peter denied the Savior. Judas betrayed Him. The Jews forsook Him. The disciples abandoned Him, and the Romans crucified Him.
They took His broken, bloody body down from the cross. And the disciples’ hopes were crushed.
But that dark Friday was followed by one bright Sunday morning. Jesus is resurrected from the dead. Death is defeated. The enemy is conquered. And the grave no longer holds its victim.
And because Jesus lives, our loved ones will live again.
Episode #3—Jesus Conquers Death Forever
The victory of Jesus speaks of a conqueror with a lasting and final power over death.
The apostle Paul speaks of our final hope in these words, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).
Jesus will return. The last enemy will be defeated. Death will be gone forever. “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O [Grave], where is your victory?’ …But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
In my last conversation with Bill, we talked about eternity. We talked about heaven. We talked about forever. And my last words as a pastor and a friend went something like this. “Bill, you are not alone. Christ is with you, and one day soon, my friend, you will see Him face to face.”
Bill’s Final Moments
As Bill faced the last few moments of his life, his wife, Bonnie, and his sons, Bart and Brad, gathered around his bed. Bonnie asked that they play the CD of religious hymns by Wintley Phipps. She wanted the message of a familiar old hymn to be in Bill’s mind as he lingered between life and death. Soon the words of the familiar song flowed into the room: “When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the dark.”
The message of the song is that regardless of what faces us, we never walk alone.
During life and in death, in Jesus and through Jesus and because of Jesus we never walk alone. One day we will see Him come. Our hope is built on the certainty that the Jesus who rose from the dead and conquered the grave is coming again to take us home.
The Law of God is the best thing that can happen to us.
By Gabriel E. Maurer
“If parents do not educate, children have no chance in life.”
While visiting one of my favorite bookstores in Berne, that title attracted my attention. In order to experience more freedom in life, children need clear limits, says author Peter Angst, a family specialist. The best way to help children meet the challenges of a postmodern society in search of values and orientation is to give them norms, clear rules for their lives. Freedom derives from personally adopted limits.
The principle also applies to the Christian experience. In His grace God has determined that freedom and growing perspectives are important for human beings. And to ensure this, He has set some clear limits through the Ten Commandments.
It’s fascinating to see how God has met this very human need. While libraries are overloaded with volumes on public law, God manages to govern the entire world by ten commandments. And Jesus, the Savior-Creator, condenses them even further—to two principles: love God above all and your fellow human as yourself.
With His law God opens for us a window to freedom—a controversial point, indeed. For how can a system that establishes limits to our life and behavior be considered a framework for freedom?
The Bible speaks against lying, thereby setting up very clear limitations to our life and behavior. This means that our strategy for reaching a certain goal can never include falsehood, dishonesty, cheating, or any such methods. In certain situations this can create the feeling that there is a disadvantage in being honest. But God intends such limits as “windows to freedom.”
A Case in Point
I remember one day entering a classroom to find the students unusually quiet. Soon I discovered why. It was winter and a window had been broken. Students looked at each other with suspicion, the tension grew high, until suddenly one of the students stood up and confessed: “I was the one who did it. Sorry.”
All of a sudden the atmosphere completely changed. Faces relaxed, creativity started to work, and it took only seconds to develop a strategic plan: we will all contribute to the replacement of the window. Tears overwhelmed the honest student and he learned an important lesson of life: being honest generates trust, creates solidarity, and gives one the feeling of inner liberation.
This principle applies to all the commandments. Being respectful to parents develops in believers the ability to deal meaningfully with authority. Being faithful to one’s spouse develops social and emotional abilities that significantly contribute to one’s happiness. And respecting others’ emotional and social property (the last five commandments) creates the atmosphere needed for healthy human interrelations.
For Our Protection
In a society searching for orientation, biblical values and norms offer significant help. God Himself has determined the values that should govern our relationships, both with Him and our fellow humans—values of love, respect, and humble self-confidence.
And love is the foundation. Love for God and love for our fellow beings, recognizing the fact that we as well as all others are each unique masterpieces of the Creator. Like every other piece of art, the Ten Commandments bear the footprints of its Author. They are an expression of God’s character, designed to bring us to a life of joy, happiness, and meaning. Like the rules of the road (against which we sometimes rebel), they were designed for our protection and safety.
The commandments are for all people, but it’s instructive to notice their value to the people of Israel, to whom (as a people) they were first audibly spoken. As they left Egypt, the Israelites had not yet developed a unified, corporate identity. But their common roots in Abraham, the common goal of reaching Canaan, and, most significantly, the common system of norms provided by the Ten Commandments contributed to their development into a viable community. For a people on the move, that common system of values and norms proved decisive in preserving their identity and preventing their dissolution. Respecting God, worshipping God, giving God exclusive rights over their lives, and celebrating the Creator’s day of rest—all these experiences tied a bundle of individualists together into a nation, highly admired, respected, and feared.
Law of God
The great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ. They express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age. These precepts are the basis of God’s covenant with His people and the standard in God’s judgment. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit they point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Saviour. Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but its fruitage is obedience to the Commandments. This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being. It is an evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow men. The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness. (Ex. 20:1-17; Ps. 40:7, 8; Matt. 22:36-40; Deut. 28:1-14; Matt. 5:17-20; Heb. 8:8-10; John 15:7-10; Eph. 2:8-10; 1 John 5:3; Rom. 8:3 4; Ps. 19:7-14.)These are important considerations in today’s context of international and intercontinental migration. Important considerations also for those on the journey to God’s coming kingdom. The commandments provide a moral compass in an age of relativism. Through God’s law the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and brings us to a sense of utter helplessness. In the words of one Adventist statement, “The law of God is the instrument by which the Spirit calls us to repentance.”
A Positive Twist From Jesus
As if reacting to the human tendency to suspect everything that starts with “You shall not,” Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount frames the law of God in a positive context. Two elements become evident:
1. Everything comes from the heart. It is not the words of the law that matter more, He said. Rather, it’s the spirit of the law. Going even further, He emphasized that even our thoughts—the state of our mind and spirit—can contribute to a life that either confirms or confronts the law of God. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,’ and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matt. 5:21, 22, NKJV). Thus He sought to turn the 10 “prohibitions” into 10 meaningful life options.
2. Positive action for life. Jesus shows us in the Sermon on the Mount how the law of God can bring immediate improvement to our lives. Do not expect others to treat you kindly, He said. Do not expect others to be respectful. Rather, determine this quality of relationship by your own initiative: “All you wish people would do to you, start doing this by yourself to others.”
Thus, the 10 “prohibitions” become the 10 infinite perspectives. You do not need to despise your parents, your spouse, your fellow human beings. God gives you a better condition for regulating such relationships. We are the ones to create a context of mutual respect, honesty, and faithfulness when it comes to dealing with the people surrounding us.
The law of God is the best thing that can happen to us, so to speak. In an advanced religion high school class, we were speaking about the seventh commandment, when suddenly a young woman, with an appearance that gave little evidence of any interest for the “rules of God,” challenged us: “Do you really think you can come with such antiquated stuff today?” Immediately an interesting discussion started, the end of which surprised even me.
After almost an hour of arguments among the students, the young woman concluded, as follows: “I think I have discovered the point: I have a friend, and sometimes I fear that another girl could just take him away. Thinking ahead to the time I will be married, it would be a world catastrophe to lose the husband I love. God has given us a rule that, seriously accepted, could take fear away, give confidence in the future of our relationships, and protect ourselves and our beloved from the threat of an unrealistic no-rule life. I think it is good enough to take this as a rule for my own life. In fact, God’s law is the best that could happen to us.”
The sanctuary lay at the center of Israelite worship—in the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. But the New Testament makes abundantly clear, both symbolically and explicitly, that that ancient system has now been replaced by a heavenly reality.
The major symbolic evidence came as Jesus died. “At that moment,” Matthew says, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51).1 And the meaning was clear: the old order had just been changed by the One who ripped that massive veil from top to bottom, exposing to full view a place once deadly sacred, but now no longer so. Henceforth, the focus would shift from earth to heaven. The One proclaimed by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) had just been slain, Himself both priest and victim. And now, through His death, He had gained the right to enter “the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man” (Heb. 8:2).
Before he was stoned to death, Stephen in vision saw Jesus in that sacred place, and expressed the sublime revelation in words that made his accusers wild with anger. Stephen said: “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (see Acts 7:56).
The present work of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary does not detract from His finished work on the cross. When He died on Calvary, Jesus made a full atonement for us. When Adventists speak of Christ’s present work, “they imply no belittling of the centrality of the cross. Rather, they mean to suggest that the cross reaches beyond Calvary, beyond A.D. 31—into the heavenly sanctuary itself, the seat of God’s government, the nerve center of human salvation, where Jesus Christ has entered for us within the veil, having been made High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”2
These two concepts run parallel to each other, and are not in conflict.
Two Common Questions
1.As High Priest, what does Jesus actually do?
We cannot answer this question in a way that makes logical sense to the scientific mind. Ultimately, we simply have to let the Bible provide its own response. In chapters 1-7 of Hebrews, the writer weaves together an elaborate argument to emphasize the uniqueness of Jesus. Then coming to chapter 8, he summarizes the point he’d been making all along.
Christ's Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary
There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The investigative judgment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom. This judgment vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom. The completion of this ministry of Christ will mark the close of human probation before the Second Advent. (Heb. 8:1-5; 4:14-16; 9:11-28; 10:19-22; 1:3; 2:16, 17; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Num. 14:34; Eze. 4:6; Lev. 16; Rev. 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:12.)He says: “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Heb. 8:1, 2, NKJV).
In the rest of Hebrews 8 and in chapter 9, he argues that the ancient tabernacle system has been succeeded by a “better” (a superior) heavenly sanctuary ministry. Then in Hebrews 9:12 he clinches the argument: Christ “did not enter [the heavenly sanctuary] by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered … once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”
Two things the author wants his readers to grasp here. One is the theological meaning of these realities and the other is their practical dimension.
The theological meaning, already summarized in Hebrews 8:1, 2, is that we now have a superior high priest, the Son of the Living God. Like the ancient high priests, He is human; but unlike them, He is divine and faultless. On the basis of His humanity, He is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15); and on the basis of His divinity, He is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (Heb. 7:25, NKJV).
The apostle’s practical point has to do with access. In the old system, the ordinary Israelite worshipper stood several barriers removed from the sanctuary’s innermost sanctum, barriers they could never cross. Only the high priest had full access—and even so, just once a year (on the Day of Atonement). But now, through Christ our heavenly Mediator, a door of unlimited access has been opened up for us, whoever we are—a door to the heavenly sanctuary itself, the throne room of the living God. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,” says the sacred writer, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
So in answer to the question of what Jesus is doing now, we may say that in His capacity as High Priest He is constantly providing help for “those who are being tempted,” having known from personal experience the peril of temptation (Heb. 2:17, 18). In addition, He intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25); works to solidify our loyalty by inscribing His laws in our minds and hearts (Heb. 8:3-10); cleanses our “consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Heb. 9:13, 14); and works to bring an end to (what Adventists call) the great controversy (see Heb. 10:11-13).
We cannot know, of course, the exact form of Jesus’ intercession. But Scripture offers us several examples of the general idea—e.g., in the experience of Moses (Ex. 32:9-14, 30-32) and in the supplication of Daniel (Dan. 9). We see it also in Jesus’ great prayer before His passion (John 17). (As a way of understanding what Christ is doing now for us, John 17 is priceless.)
2. A second question: What’s the advantage of knowing Jesus as both Savior and High Priest?
Ultimately, it centers around the question of loyalty and faithfulness. As we follow Jesus by faith into the heavenly sanctuary, we experience His cleansing grace. But we also experience a new appreciation for the everlasting covenant, symbolized by God’s immutable Law nestled, so to speak, under the mercy seat. That holy law becomes an indelible part of our spiritual consciousness (see Heb. 8:10).
This defines part of the difference the sanctuary teaching makes for us. By faith we enter that sacred place where Jesus ministers. And there, against all odds, we cling to the One whose unchangeable promise is symbolized in the ark of the covenant. It was his respect for the sanctuary and what it represented that created and preserved Daniel’s unswerving loyalty and faithfulness to God in the face of deadly peril (see Dan. 6). And Daniel stands today as a symbol of a final remnant that will choose to honor God at the cost of life itself.
Unlike the rest of Christendom ready to jettison any portion of God’s Law they find inconvenient or uncomfortable, that remnant will remain firm in their loyalty to God, at whatever cost. Anchored to a hope that enters “within the veil,” they stand secure against every concept or philosophy (be it evolution, atheism, materialism, or whatever) that seeks to wrest the eternal God from His throne or belittle or downgrade the validity of His eternal law enshrined beneath the mercy seat.
The doctrine of the sanctuary thus becomes a protection for us against rebellion, and secures for God a faithful remnant in a revolted world.
1Unless otherwise indicated, Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version.
2Roy Adams, The Sanctuary: Understanding the Heart of Adventist Theology (Review and Herald, 1993), p. 142.
This article is adapted from chapter 12 of the author’s The Wonder of Jesus (Review and Herald, 2007).