The first funeral I attended was my grandmother’s. I was just a child, and what remained in my memory was the sadness, the cloudy emotions, and the “grayness” of it all. Later, as a medical doctor, I encountered death more frequently, but I never became accustomed to it. As author Susan Cheever wrote: “Death is terrifying because it is so ordinary. It happens all the time.”1 Death is perhaps “ordinary” in this world of sin, but it was never God’s original intention.
Death is tragic, and the questions are always the same. What happens when you die? Where do you go? Is there life after death, or is this all there is? The good news is that the Bible provides answers to these important questions.
1. God alone is immortal: The Bible teaches that only God is immortal (1 Tim. 6:16). All other life, including human life, is derived from God. We have life only because God gives us life. Immortality is not innate to humans, but is “conditional” on our connection with God (Acts 17:25, 28; James 4:14; Ps. 78:39).
2.Humans die because of sin: The Bible is clear that every person has sinned (Rom. 5:12) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23; see also Eze. 18:4).2 The first inhabitants of earth chose to disobey God by eating of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17; 3:6). In choosing disobedience, they separated themselves from the Source of life. As a consequence, death entered into this world even though it was not part of God’s original plan for His people.
3.Death is an unconscious state (a “sleep”): In order to understand what happens when we die, it is helpful to understand how God created the first inhabitants of this earth. At Creation, God breathed the “breath of life” into “the dust of the ground” (nonliving matter), and “man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). Note that there is a formula here: Dust + Breath of Life = Living Being (soul). The word “soul” (used in some translations) refers simply to a living person. Similarly, when a person dies they “return to the ground,” for as Scripture explains, “dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). The “breath of life,” also known as the “spirit,” returns to God (Eccl. 12:7; Ps. 146:3, 4). The Bible does not teach that people have a separate conscious immortal part of their being that continues to exist after death.
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.)At death, all consciousness ends. The dead person does not know anything and does not do anything (Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10). Jesus and the apostles (as well as writers in the Old Testament) frequently referred to death as sleep (e.g., Matt. 9:24; Mark 5:39; John 11:11-14; 1 Cor. 15:51, 52; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 2 Peter 3:4; Dan. 12:2; Job 14:10-12; Ps. 13:3). The image of sleep emphasizes that death is not the end, but is rather an unconscious state prior to the resurrection (note in this regard the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11:11-14, 23-25, 43).
4.The saved will be resurrected at Jesus’ second coming: At Jesus’ second coming those who have fallen asleep in Jesus will be resurrected to life. We are told: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven …, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). Then those believers who are still alive will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (verse 17). These words were written to encourage every believer.
Jesus’ resurrection is of crucial importance for the Christian. The apostle Paul tells us that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead “our preaching is useless” (1 Cor. 15:14) and our “faith is futile” (verse 17). But Jesus “has indeed been raised from the dead” (verse 20). Moreover, “by his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also” (1 Cor. 6:14). We can have confidence in our own resurrection because Jesus Himself rose from the dead.
5.God gives eternal life to the saved: God offers the gift of eternal life to all who believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Rom. 6:23). At the second coming of Jesus the saved will be transformed and will “put on” immortality. “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cor. 15:52, 53).
6.The unrepentant will be resurrected after the millennium to face judgment: The unrepentant are not resurrected at the second coming of Jesus. They remain “sleeping” in an unconscious state until the end of the millennium, at which time they are resurrected (see Rev. 20:5). This resurrection occurs before the final judgment (verses 12, 13). It seems only fitting that those who are to be judged will be present when the final verdict is given. Jesus speaks of this time: “For a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28, 29).
7.The punishment of the unrepentant is called the second death: After the final judgment the unrepentant receive their punishment. This punishment is called the second death. “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14, 15; see also 21:8). The Bible also uses words such as “perishing” and “destruction” in speaking of the ultimate fate of the unrepentant (e.g., 2 Peter 3:7, 9; John 3:16; Heb. 10:28; Mal. 4:1). These descriptions confirm that the second death refers to annihilation (or extinction) of the unrepentant, rather than a continual and eternal conscious torment.
8.Death itself will be destroyed in the end: Death is a cruel and bitter enemy. However, it will be overcome. As 1 Corinthians 15:26 clearly states: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (see also Rev. 20:14). The book of Revelation describes what eternity will be like for the saved: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
Victory Many people think that they will be defeated by death. A famous Roman epitaph fatalistically states: “I was not. I was. I am not. I don’t care.” But the wonderful news of the Word of God is that it is death itself that has been defeated by Jesus Christ. Death, the great enemy, will die. The believer has no need to fear death. Jesus Christ offers the certainty of resurrection to eternal life for all who accept His wonderful gift of salvation.
Philip Rodonioff lives on the Gold Coast in Australia. He is a medical doctor who has a master’s degree in religion from Andrews Universityand enjoys conducting seminars on evidences for the Christian faith.
When I was 18 (and a nominal Catholic), my confessor told me something surprising. He thought that it was not necessary to come to confession every week. I took things a step further and decided not to go to church at all. I would make religion a private matter.
About this time a friend gave me a Bible as a gift, and I started reading. I didn’t understand what I was reading, but the stories in Genesis made a big impression on me. I enjoyed reading and rereading them. Three years later I decided to explore my country armed with my guitar and some books, including my Bible. At a youth hostel I met a young Adventist my own age. Somehow we started a conversation about religion. This conversation grew into a three-month journey of wonderful discoveries with my new friend that changed my life forever.
A Personal Journey My friend had several books with him and lent me a book entitled Messages to Young People. This book didn’t immediately become a favorite, as it seemed to contradict my (then) current lifestyle. What did catch my attention was another book entitled Maranatha. It clearly was a favorite with my friend, and he read it every morning for something he called “morning devotions.” Intrigued, I borrowed the book and began reading it too. This little book opened not only windows but huge doors for me. I learned about Jesus’ second coming, unmerited grace, and forgiveness. I also heard the call to obey God’s commands. I learned about the remnant and made the most marvelous discovery—I met Jesus. I accepted Him as my Savior and made Him the center of my life.
I then decided to accompany my friend to a local church to see what this “keeping the Sabbath” was all about. That first Sabbath would become a way of life that would continue for the next 33 years.
As I studied further I understood that Sabbath was created differently from the other six days. I realized that on Sabbath something special had happened that differentiated it from the other six days of Creation. God stopped His creative work and rested on that first Sabbath so that He could spend quality time with our first parents. What a sublime appointment! In the beginning Godblessed the Sabbath day. He separated it and filled it with joy and a sense of festivity.
The beneficent Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts. (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Luke 4:16; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Matt. 12:1-12; Ex. 31:13-17; Eze. 20:12, 20; Deut. 5:12-15; Heb. 4:1-11; Lev. 23:32; Mark 1:32.)The first Sabbath was a day of praise to the Creator and a commemoration of the creation of our world. In this sense the Sabbath has something that the other days don’t have. It is not only what we don’t do on this day that makes it special, but also what God can do with us on this day that makes it a day of delight.
Sabbath Rest No other of the six days of the week can function as a Sabbath, because only the seventh day is a memorial of Creation established by the Creator as a pact with the people He had created. He sanctified and blessed this relationship with the first humans by means of this special time.
The seventh day is the only day of the week that has a name in Scripture. The other days are named in relation to the Sabbath. There is the first day after the Sabbath or the day of preparation for the Sabbath (Luke 23:54; 24:1). It is only the seventh day that God calls His day. Jesus identifies Himself as Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27, 28). Jesus does not specifically claim Lordship of all the days of the week or just any day of the week. In this sense human beings are masters of the six days of the week (Gen. 1:28), but on Sabbath human beings recognize the Lordship of God—as the Lord of all.
The Sabbath is a true gift of God to humanity (Mark 2:27). It was the first complete day that Adam and Eve spent as children of God and their first day as a married couple (Gen. 2:1-3). On Sabbath we stop worrying about our daily struggles (Ex. 20:8-11). We do not just rest: any day of the week would do as a day of rest. The difference between this day and any other day is that the Sabbath offers a rest not for inactivity but rather to undertake different activities similar to the first Sabbath in Eden. Sabbath is the moment to catch our breath (Ex. 31:17) as we change activities.
Interestingly, Jesus criticizes the inactivity that the religious leaders of His time tried to impose on the Sabbath and affirmed: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:17). He, of course, refers to Sabbath work as being redemptive and not the type of daily labor we normally engage in during the week (Matt. 12:7). God’s idea of rest for us frees us from ourselves and our worries so that we can have time and space for different activities. According to Jesus, Sabbath is the ideal day for blessing others (verses 9-14). It’s a day of a change in activities centered on God meeting humanity—those He formed out of dust. It is a celebration of the relationship between God and humanity, the members of the family and our ties to all of creation. Sabbath is an echo back to Eden. Sabbath is God’s way of telling us that He wants to have an intimate relationship with us; that we are more important to Him than all the other things He made.
Sabbath Joys Sabbath is a necessity, not only an obligation. Just as we need air, light, water, and food in order to survive, we need the Sabbath to truly live. It is also a day of worship when we kneel before God and recognize that He is Lord. “It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves” (Ps. 100:3). Sabbath puts us back in our proper place. In the six other days of the week there is time for personal goals. As we manage our time and activities, there is always the danger that we could begin to consider ourselves equal or even superior to God. We need the Sabbath for this weekly reminder that everything we do, can do, and even all our ability to plan comes from our Creator.
Sabbath is also a day of re-creation. When everything in life seems to be disintegrating, Sabbath calls us back to Eden. And once again the Lord turns and creates everything from nothing. Where we are weak, we can become strong. Chaos turns into order; fear becomes joy; uncertainty is replaced by certainty and trust; God’s justice puts injustice and oppression into their corner; guilt is transformed into pardon.
This moment of redemption is reflected in Israel’s experience when God’s strong arm brought them out of Egypt (Deut. 5:12-15), and we recognize the Sabbath as our delight (Isa. 58:13). We not only receive the blessings of this special day, but every Sabbath we renew our covenant with Him and publicly confirm that we want to be God’s children.
Truly understanding the Sabbath changed my life many decades ago—and millions all around the world experience this delight every Sabbath. Can you imagine the incredible Sabbath celebrations in our new heavenly home—face to face with our Creator and Savior?
NUMBER 23 Born to Connect God’s perfect design for families is based on close relationships
By Cintia Paseggi
Iwill never forget that moment. Three hours earlier I had given birth to my firstborn, and now the nurse was walking into the room for the first time with my baby. He was crying, but on hearing my voice, he immediately stopped even though I had not touched him yet.
I had just experienced one of the most sublime moments of my life—the beginning of a new relationship with a human being whose safety, security, and protection depended entirely on another human being, his mother. Without realizing it, I was stepping into a new dimension of marriage and the family.
A Belief Like No Other Families are not typically remembered as a fundamental belief because it is something we live out daily, we are in it—we do not usually pause to ponder it as an essential doctrine. However, Seventh-day Adventists acknowledge that “marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus.” We also affirm that “God blesses the family and intends that its members shall assist each other toward complete maturity.” Furthermore, we believe that “increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message.”1 As we approach the final stages of the great controversy, it is this closeness we should strive for, foster, and emphasize. The obvious question, of course, is how to do it.
A Resource Like No Other Marriage and the Family
Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship. For the Christian a marriage commitment is to God as well as to the spouse, and should be entered into only between partners who share a common faith. Mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility are the fabric of this relationship, which is to reflect the love, sanctity, closeness, and permanence of the relationship between Christ and His church. Regarding divorce, Jesus taught that the person who divorces a spouse, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery. Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, marriage partners who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ may achieve loving unity through the guidance of the Spirit and the nurture of the church. God blesses the family and intends that its members shall assist each other toward complete maturity. Parents are to bring up their children to love and obey the Lord. By their example and their words they are to teach them that Christ is a loving disciplinarian, ever tender and caring, who wants them to become members of His body, the family of God. Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message. (Gen. 2:18-25; Matt. 19:3-9; John 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:21-33; Matt. 5:31, 32; Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor. 7:10, 11; Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-4; Deut. 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6.)In 1950 the World Health Organization asked English psychiatrist John Bowlby to study the mental health of homeless children in postwar Europe. In his report he noted that in order to be mentally healthy, it is essential for an “infant or young child [to] experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.”2 Over time Bowlby named this bond “parent-child attachment.”3 Every single human being in the world was designed by God to seek a secure base in their caregiver, especially when feeling distressed, and it is thanks to this secure base that a person can develop the confidence to go out and explore the world. The parent-child bond is affectional and social; it takes time to build, and lasts a lifetime.4
When a baby is born, he or she has certain needs, mostly physical. However, these needs are interpreted by the baby as also psychological. When mom and dad feed, warm, and protect their child, he or she will feel safe and secure. If those needs are met consistently, babies learn over time—usually the first few years of their life—to trust others. Likewise, they learn to trust themselves, realizing that the cues they are giving to make their needs known are the appropriate ones.
As mom and dad care for and love their baby adequately, their child begins to understand his or her worth. Somebody takes the time to care for me, so I must be worth it, the child begins to comprehend, and thus self-esteem starts to develop. At the same time, babies begin to esteem or value the person who is taking care of them. When children experience these significant situations of intimacy in which care is given, they learn how to connect appropriately with their caregiver, as well as future intimate relationships.
Another important dimension of attachment is that of control and how to exert it adequately. When babies’ complaints are met adequately, they learn to exert control in their immediate surroundings in a healthy way, controlling both themselves and others.5
A Design Like No Other This is God’s perfect design for young children to develop secure attachment with their caregiver, originally designed by Him to be mom or dad. As a child grows older, he starts to expand his attachment, or deep affectional bonds, toward others, be it relatives, peers, or teachers. As adolescence or young adulthood is reached, this attachment bond is increasingly directed toward the opposite sex. When as parents we follow God’s plan to care and love our children, we prepare them to be responsible, self-reliant adults who can choose with sound criteria. They will be secure individuals who trust and value themselves and others, who know how to interact with appropriate intimacy and how to adequately control themselves and their surroundings.
It is very likely that young people with a secure attachment will choose their life partners wisely because they have the tools to do so. When you have a good, sound marriage, chances are that you will have a healthy family, raising securely attached children. And so the circle comes to a close. Following His design God’s perfect design for families to thrive is based on relating and connecting to each other, because He is a relational God who seeks connection with His children. He says: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” (Isa. 66:13); “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). Time after time, biblical authors remind us that the secret for a successful relationship with God is based on closeness and attachment (see, for instance, James 4:8; Heb. 4:16). We were created in God’s own image (Gen. 1:26), which includes the essential need to bond, to connect, first with our caregivers and then with our peers, relatives, and friends.
These bonds cannot always be explained: “The link is a mysterious one which binds human hearts together,” wrote Ellen White.6 But even as we struggle to single out and name every component of God’s model, we are asked to follow His ideal. And within that context a secure attachment bond is the best legacy that parents can leave their children: a legacy threaded throughout a person’s life, knowing no boundaries or cultures.
The design is perfect. It depends on you and me to ask God’s help to carry it out as He first intended it (Ps. 25:4).
1 See wording of fundamental belief in sidebar. (Italics supplied.) 2 John Bowlby, Maternal Care and Mental Health (Geneva: World Health Organization, 1951), p. 11. 3 See John Bowlby, A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development (London: Routledge, 1988). 4 See Graham Music, Nurturing Natures: Attachment and Children’s Emotional, Sociocultural and Brain Development (Hove, Eng.: Psychology Press, 2011). 5 See Laurie Anne Pearlman, Trauma and Attachment Belief Scale Manual (Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services, 2003). 6Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 587.
Cintia Paseggi worked as a counselor for college students and as a psychologist in Argentina before she moved to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where she is the proud mom of two young boys.
Forever and Ever The final judgment in the light of God’s character
By Paul Wright
She said it during a seminar on the book of Revelation. I had been talking about Revelation 20 and the fate of unbelievers. We had just read about the final judgment in Revelation 20:10 and 15: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (NIV).
“Surely there can be no more solemn verses in the whole of the Bible,” I said. “But please don’t misunderstand the words for ever. In the Bible, forever does not always mean eternal. It can also mean that the consequences of an action last through eternity.”
“Do you mean to say that Satan, his angels, and unbelievers will not burn forever?” Linda asked.
“That’s right,” I replied. “Just look at the way the word eternal is used in verse 7 of the letter of Jude. Jude writes that the people of Sodom suffered the punishment of “eternal fire.” The fires of Sodom are not still burning, however, nor are its inhabitants. Obviously eternal does not necessarily mean for ever. Besides, why would God want to see sinners in eternal torment?”
“Because that’s justice,” replied Linda, who was keen to remain faithful to the Word of God. “God is just, and the Bible says that a just God will punish sinners for ever. Just read Revelation 20:10 again.”
Hell and Hermeneutics That evening Linda started a discussion, which turned the seminar into an in-depth Bible study about eternal “hell.” She knew her Bible well and told us that the expression for ever as used in Revelation 20:10 is the same expression that Peter used to describe the eternal character of God:1 “To him be the glory . . . for ever and ever,” exclaimed Peter (1 Peter 4:11, NIV). “It is not consistent to understand the phrase as used by Peter in a literal sense and as used by John in a figurative sense,” Linda said. She had a point.
We looked at our Bibles again and noted that the word aion, “eternal,” and expressions using this word were often used by Jesus and the apostles in a nonliteral sense.2
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.)But this was not good enough for Linda. She reminded us that in writing about the final judgment, John did not use merely the word “eternal”—he used the emphatic “unto eternities of eternity.” Why did he emphasize the idea of eternity if he didn’t mean it to be taken literally?
In order to answer this question, we need to remember that John used a number of Old Testament expressions when he wrote Revelation. In talking about the final judgment, John seems to refer back to Isaiah 34:10, where the prophet described the destruction of Edom. Isaiah wrote that the smoke of Edom’s blazing punishment “will rise forever” (NIV). The problem with taking this expression literally is obvious. The land of Edom isn’t still burning or smoldering. Isaiah’s wording, however, was designed to underline to the Hebrew mind the complete and utter destruction of Edom. John, who had been brought up reading the Hebrew Scriptures, seemed to have used the destruction of Edom as an example for the final judgment. He loosely translated the idea of Isaiah into Greek to convey the concept that the final judgment will be as thorough and complete as that of Edom.3 Like Isaiah, he used the idea of eternity to convey permanence rather than to describe the literal amount of time the judgment will encompass.
God’s Character Enters the Mix Linda was still sceptical but began to see the point. “So the word eternity means that the judgment will be thorough rather than lasting forever,” she said.
“That’s the bottom line,” I replied and asked her to think about something else as well: “Would a God who tormented sinners eternally be a loving God? What would you say if a court decided to torture a criminal for all eternity instead of ‘merely’ pronouncing the death sentence? What would you think of the people who could come up with such a punishment?”4
Then she said it. “If you are right,” she replied, “then the second death is not so bad. I think that I would actually like to know nothing through all eternity. Being nonexistent means that I would have no more worries, no more problems—I would be at rest.”
There was a noticeable silence in the seminar room as the participants thought about what Linda had said. Linda had evidently accepted Christ because of her fear of eternal punishment. Now that she had heard that “hell” was not eternal, she had been forced to rethink her motives for wanting to go to heaven.
The discussion had taken up most of the seminar time, so I brought the meeting to an end by offering Linda a copy of The Great Controversy,5 and suggesting that she read the final chapter. In this chapter Ellen White presents a wonderful picture of a loving God and suggests that the greatest punishment human beings will suffer will not be eternal fire, but to realize that we have missed our chance to be with Him forever. Eternal life with Him will certainly be much better than the alternative.
1eis tous aionas ton aionon, “unto eternities of eternity.” 2 See Philemon 15; Luke 1:70; and Acts 3:21, where in each case the word aion has been correctly translated in a nonliteral sense. 3 See The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1957), vol. 7, p. 832. For a very similar explanation, written from the point of view of evangelical commentators, see A. Pohl, Offenbarung des Johannes, Wuppertaler Studienbibel (Wuppertal: R. Brockhaus Verlag, 1989), p. 506. 4 Compare also the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:28. 5 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911).
Paul Wright, originally from England, serves as senior pastor of the Wolfswinkel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Zürich, Switzerland.
NUMBER 11 Facing the Roaring Lion How to daily grow in Christ
By Stefan Höschele
Hunting a lion is an adventure I would not choose! But among the Masai of East Africa, formerly a warriorlike people group, young men have long taken pride in tracking the king of beasts. Because of their seminomadic lifestyle, their cattle are always threatened by this archenemy. A Masai friend once explained to me how such a hunt works: with their spears, a group of youthful warriors surround the lion; the challenge is to strike at the right time, for the first to strike will be celebrated as the bravest. Once the warrior’s spear is gone, the lion, even if wounded, will seek revenge! If no one strikes, the lion will look for the most fearful boy and attack him.
The Christian Battle Sometimes life as a Christian feels like being a Masai on such a lion hunt. We have decided to follow Jesus, who said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Yet, after traveling some distance with Him, we remember that the “adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And if we have not realized it from the beginning, we now begin to understand what Jesus meant when He declared, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24).
There are three options for dealing with the roaring lions in our lives. First, we can ignore them. We can pretend there is no problem, that the evil cannot harm us. We can even profess that God’s adversary does not exist. But such a head-in-the-sand approach will not rescue us from the beast, nor will option two: running away—letting fear reign. Have you ever tried escaping a lion? With its 35 mph (about 50 kph) speed, running won’t save you! Option three, however, will decide the fight. It is based on the good old adage “Attack is the best form of defense,” and it’s God who starts the offensive.
Jesus’ Example Growing in Christ
By His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love. Now the Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us. Continually committed to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we are set free from the burden of our past deeds. No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance, and meaninglessness of our former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the Church. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience. (Ps. 1:1, 2; 23:4; 77:11, 12; Col. 1:13, 14; 2:6, 14, 15; Luke 10:17-20; Eph. 5:19, 20; 6:12-18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Phil. 3:7-14; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Matt. 20:25-28; John 20:21; Gal. 5:22-25; Rom. 8:38, 39; 1 John 4:4; Heb. 10:25.)How does such a divine attack look? A good illustration is demonic “possession.” As a missionary in Africa, I experienced a number of cases in which possessed people were freed from evil spirits. We can either brush aside the phenomena by attributing them to some other disease, or tremble before the seemingly powerful chief of darkness. Yet Jesus shows us another way. He did not discount the existence of supernatural malevolent beings, but commanded them in a straightforward manner to leave.* And leave they must, for they have already been overcome, and shake at the mere mention of the name of Jesus. Thus the driving out of demons, rather than being a spectacular and strange occurrence, demonstrates in a simple yet forceful manner how God deals with the enemy of salvation. Those on God’s side have all the weapons necessary to overcome him.
Of course this does not mean that the fight is painless. Yes, Jesus’ yoke is easy (Matt. 11:30), but assaults can come in various ways—from outside and even from inside. I still have to meet the person who never faces temptation. Yet, if our Lord encountered them, it is not embarrassing when we also stumble upon such trouble. The really dangerous thing is to think that we can manage on our own. A temptation confessed to God is half overcome. Telling a brother or sister is not as shameful as it might feel, but could mean a temptation is almost defeated.
The Secret Weapon Fortunately, life as a Christian is not a permanent struggle. Even the best soldiers need enough preparation and times of rest to restore their strength. They cannot constantly engage in warfare. They have to care for their health, learn about supporting each other, get training for their particular responsibilities, and develop their stamina by learning from the experience of others. As followers of Jesus, we also need enough “growing time.” We do not have to seek confrontations with powers opposing God until we have matured to do so. This process of growth may feel slow; or we might not see any signs of growth at all. In reality, though, a crucial development is taking place. This is why the Bible uses several images for discipleship that express a close relationship (“knowing God,” “imitating” Christ, “belonging” to Him) or even a semblance of a pregnancy (“being in Christ,” “remaining in Jesus,” “abiding in His word”).
As with a developing embryo or child, growing in Christ does not depend so much on what the little one does but who feeds him. This is why drinking God’s Word and breathing His Spirit in prayer is so important. I have never seen a baby refusing her mother’s milk for days. Likewise, we need consistent nourishment to grow spiritually.
There are so many methods of devotions and manners of prayer—let me encourage you to choose one that helps you best. To those who have been struggling with, what they consider, an insufficient spiritual life, perhaps this simple recommendation will help: start small, be consistent. Better a few minutes regularly than high-flying but unrealistic plans. In due time more appetite will develop naturally as the young “soldier of Christ” grows.
Personally, I have used about 10 different devotional approaches. In addition to meditation and prayer, I have been paraphrasing the Gospels for some time now, and on weekends I like writing a diary. But “spirituality” is not only praying, reading, and singing. It is our whole life. I am very glad that one quarter of our fundamental beliefs deal with the Christian life (check it out—here are the numbers: 11, 17, and 19 to 23). Following Jesus is something very practical. Being a disciple and growing in Christ is not a set of do’s and don’ts, but a process in which we learn to conquer challenges with the best support we can imagine. We can face the roaring lion as we stick to the Master and hold on to His Word.
* In all cases except one, in which He demonstrated that God’s power is strong enough even to cast out a legion, Jesus did not even dialogue with evil spirits.
Stefan Höschele, Ph.D., a former missionary to Algeria and Tanzania, teaches mission studies and systematic theology at Theologische Hochschule Friedensau, Germany.
Number 25 The Dream to End All Dreams How will I react to the grandest event in earth’s history?
By Joseph Olstad
Looking through my sliding-glass doors, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Out in the distance Jesus and His angels were returning. Instantly I turned my gaze from the glass and became paralyzed with the question of whether I had made it—whether I was saved or lost. I then remembered reading that those who are saved will be joyful at His coming, while those who are lost will be terrified. I immediately asked myself, How do I feel in this very moment—am I happy or scared?
As I reflected on my thinking about the second coming of Christ, I realized that our response to His appearing tells us something about God, ourselves, and how Christ’s future return influences how we live in the present.
Same Event—Two Responses At Christ’s return the lost will plead for the mountains and rocks to “fall . . . and hide [them] from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” (Rev. 6:16). Jesus and John express that many will “mourn” and “wail.” In contrast, the saved will say, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. . . . We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isa. 25:9).
What strikingly different responses these two groups have to the same event. Something interesting takes place. It appears that the earth’s entire population divides itself into two groups in God’s presence.
God doesn’t have to look at one group and say, “OK, you’re the saved ones, so look happy and raise your arms. I’m taking you to heaven,” and to the other, “You didn’t make it, so start trying to get away and cry out to the rocks.” It seems that the very presence of Jesus Himself will compel opposite responses. No one will follow a script. In other words, it will be people themselves who choose or refuse to join Jesus in the air (see 1 Thess. 4:17).
"Whether I run to or away from Christ in the future is simply dependent on the kind of relationship I am building with Him now." Looking at the Second Coming from this angle (and there are others) means that for God to determine whose are His, He is not compelled to refer to our past performances, whether we have said the sinner’s prayer, our church affiliation, our good works, our bad works, His books of remembrance, or even the Lamb’s book of life. All He has to do is show up and watch—everyone either runs to or from Him.
How to Know So the question arises: What will determine our response to seeing Jesus in the clouds? The answer is surprisingly obvious. So much so that we have probably already experienced the answer in small ways in our own families.
As I’ve thought of my children over the years, there have been times I’ve walked through the door and a wind of tension and strain hit me before I could take my shoes off—no greetings, no expressions of love, just stares and avoidance. Other times (thankfully, most of the time) I have been almost bowled over with hugs, laughter, and more love than I could take in. Same event—two responses. What made the difference?
Basically, what made the difference was the state of the relationship between me and my children. Was there unresolved conflict (think issues of submission and humility)? Was there rebellion in the air (think repentance and conversion)? Was there disobedience and shame (think sin and forgiveness)? Was there misunderstanding and brokenness (think revelation and renewal)? I could go on, because it turns out that the technical theological terms of religious life are just a coded language for ordinary relational life.
So whether I run to or away from Christ in the future is simply dependent on the kind of relationship I am building with Him now. Of course, that relationship is informed and influenced by understanding what classical theology teaches us; however, when it comes to checking in with myself to know if I am ready for His return, relational experience trumps knowledge (see James 2:19, 20). Understanding auto mechanics doesn’t necessarily make one a better driver. Only driving can do that.
Bliss or Torture 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.)Many have read the discerning insight of Ellen White in which she writes of the unrenewed sinner as being completely incapable of enjoying God or heaven. This concept has direct bearing on the dynamics present at the Second Coming and supports those in-the-moment responses we are considering. In terms of actually being in God’s presence, she says there would be no “joy” for them, “heaven would be . . . a place of torture,” and they would all “welcome destruction” rather than endure beholding His face.1
C. S. Lewis expands this point in an entire book-length allegory that depicts people taking bus rides from hell to heaven (remember, this is an allegory). Instead of making heaven their home, many hop right back on the first bus back to hell.2 They simply cannot endure the God-based economy of heaven.
There is a remarkable correspondence between the authenticity of our relationship with God and all the other grand themes of Christian theology. If you have one, you have the others, and vice versa. What is often overlooked is that the relationship itself is so crucial it can determine our attraction or revulsion to Christ when He comes. If my Christian experience is genuine, I will desire to be with Jesus at His coming. If it is anything less, then I will wish to be anywhere except with Him. God will grant me my wish either way. This is the kind of God we serve. This is freedom. This is love. Thankfully, we can know now rather than later (see 2 Cor. 13:5).
By the way, my dream did not end as a nightmare. I was happy the Lord had returned, and for a brief moment I felt what it will be like when the dream to end all dreams comes true.
1 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), pp. 17, 18. 2 C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Macmillan, 1946).
NUMBER 6 In the Beginning God Created Exploring the intersection of faith and science
By Ronny Nalin
Few concepts in the Bible are so consistently asserted throughout its pages as the claim that God is the Creator of the universe and life. From the very first verse (“In the beginning God created . . .” [Gen. 1:1] to the last chapter (“I am . . . the Beginning and the End” [Rev. 22:13]) Scripture repeatedly affirms that what brought all things into existence was the creative activity of God. Such unequivocal clarity conflicts with the naturalistic models of origins predominant in secular academic thought, which do not accept the idea of the Creator God or the possibility of His interaction with nature.
The Bible not only identifies God as the author of creation, but also depicts Him as actively and intentionally engaged in the process. This is clearly conveyed by the account of Creation in Genesis 1, where the verbs describing God’s role (created, said, saw, divided, called, made, set, blessed) are in the active form and associated with a direct object.
What Can We Know and What Can We Not Know? If the Bible is explicit in indicating God’s agency in creation, what can be said about the mechanisms of creation? Does Scripture provide insights about the processes God used in His endeavor? The book of Job seems to make a case for a limited ability for humans to attain knowledge of how God unfolded His creative powers. In talking to Job, Elihu stresses how “God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things which we cannot comprehend” (Job 37:5). Later in the book God Himself presents Job with an extensive review of the wonders of creation (Job 38-41), finally leading to Job’s famous recognition: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). This inability to comprehend the creative power of God is a fundamental aspect of the human condition and is not because of a lack of willingness or application. This view is clearly expressed in the following statement by Ellen White: “Just how God accomplished the work of creation in six literal days He has never revealed to mortals. His creative works are just as incomprehensible as His existence.”1 Creation
God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic account of His creative activity. In six days the Lord made “the heavens and the earth” and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was “very good,” declaring the glory of God. (Gen. 1; 2; Ex. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Heb. 11:3.) It is also true, however, that the Bible contains countless invitations to ponder aspects of the natural world as a way to become more acquainted with the character of God and His ideal for His creatures. David, for example, explains how his thoughts take form when considering “Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained” (Ps. 8:3). Therefore, even if the process of creation may be inaccessible to us, what results from it (the “creation”) invites investigation and appears intelligible. We can note this ambivalence even in the passage where God humbles Job through His challenging questions. God asking Job penetrating questions directs Job’s attention to observable aspects of the marvels of creation. This function of science, as a way to connect with God, is beautifully affirmed in another statement by Ellen White: “Under the direction of the Omniscient One shall we, in the study of His works, be enabled to think His thoughts after Him.”2
Balancing Two Extremes Considering what the Bible says about probing the beginnings of our world, scientific investigation of origins should maintain a balance between two extremes. On the one side lies the risk of leaving God out of the picture. Scientific methods help us understand, often in minute details, the operations of some physical phenomena. Unfortunately, rather than eliciting wonder and gratitude to the Creator, this knowledge may lead to a false sense of domination and self-reliance. When we miss that knowing how something works does not mean we know how it was created, we get trapped by the temptation first heard in Eden: “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5).
At the opposite end of the spectrum lies a vision of science as a dangerous taboo. Scientific research is suspicious. This attitude makes religion look like an attempt to control humanity by keeping it ignorant. Satan tried to portray God in a similar way when he asked Eve in Eden: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1). Through this insinuating question, the serpent suggested that God did not want humans to experience creation, when in fact God had planted those very trees so that humans could eat from their fruit.
When we engage in discussing some aspects of God’s creative acts, therefore, we need to avoid these two potential extremes. In this spirit the following reflections are offered as explorative suggestions from a limited human perspective.
Did God Create Me? One of the first questions about the mode of divine creation is the issue of fiat creation. The Latin word fiat implies the appearance of fully functional systems in immediate response to God’s command. The Genesis account of creation is quite clear that God spoke things into existence. This concept is reinforced in several other biblical texts, such as Psalm 33:6: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.”
On the other hand, we also experience the formation of new things, which are not made instantaneously by the voice of God, such as the coming to the world of a new baby. This reality, however, is not in conflict with the original fiat creation. God is still the author of everything, by working through the laws He ordained to govern physical systems in time.
Created Entities: Static or Dynamic? A second area of potential confusion is the idea that what God creates cannot change because it is perfect. Many things we see in the universe today are part of a dynamic system, full of processes, change, and, therefore, history. Is this the result of sin?
In His original plan, God did not intend for His creatures to remain static. This is implied by the injunctions “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas,” “multiply on the earth,” “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:22, 28) directed at the fish, flying creatures, and humans, respectively. The verbs used suggest that God endowed His creation with the potential for growth and expansion. It is clear, therefore, that God envisioned this world as a dynamic system from the beginning. At the same time, the account of Genesis does indicate that some changes in nature were introduced by the entrance of sin (Gen. 3:14-19).
If you would like to dig deeper into some of the issues discussed in the article check the following resources.
1. On the role of faith and scientific investigation of the topic of origins: Ellen G. White, Education, chapter 14, pages 128-134. Available online atwww.whiteestate.org/books/ed/ ed14.html
2. On the concept of creation ex nihilo: Paul Copan and William L. Craig,Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004).
4. Additional resources: www.grisda.org http://grisda.wordpress.com/ www.facebook.com/ GeoscienceresearchinstituteRegardless of the reasons for change, many things observed today, such as impact craters on the surface of the moon, seem to point to the occurrence of processes in the past. Accepting that things may have been subject to change after their creation helps us understand that not everything we see faithfully reflects the original condition of created entities.
Out of Nothing or From Preexisting Material? Another important question about creation asks if God works from preexisting material or if He does not need any starting ingredients but can really make things ex nihilo (a Latin expression that means “out of nothing”).
The Bible clearly asserts that God has the capability to create ex nihilo and that indeed He did so. “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things” (Col. 1:16, 17; cf. Heb. 11:3). Nevertheless, the Genesis account does show God can also create things using preexisting materials, the prime example being the creation of man from “the dust of the ground” (Gen. 2:7).
Determinism and Free Will A final question about God’s creative activity concerns the amount of control He exerts in governing the mechanics of the systems He created. Does God purposely determine the occurrence of every phenomenon, from the specific trajectory of a grain of sand transported by a river to the exact recombination of genetic material from the chromosomes of parental cells? This issue is very important, especially in discussions about free will and the manifestation of evil in nature.
The New Testament portrays Jesus as the Sustainer of the universe—after all, “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17, NIV). This means that there is no reality without God. However, sustaining is different from determining. God may provide a setting for things to exist, where multiple outcomes of a certain phenomenon have the opportunity to occur. From the perspective of humans, laws may regulate some of these outcomes, whereas others cannot be predicted beforehand. These two ways for things to happen are commonly referred to as “necessity” and “chance.” These impersonal words convey the impression of a mechanical world functioning without God. However, what we experience as “necessity” and “chance” could in fact be intentional ways in which God allows free will to become possible.
A Matter of Faith In conclusion, scientific investigation may help elucidate some aspects of the processes God chooses to interact with nature. At the same time, although science may give us a deeper appreciation for the greatness of the Creator, understanding how God made the world remains a matter of faith. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3, NIV). It was no different for Adam and Eve, who woke up in a marvelous world whose creation they had not witnessed. As they were, so are we privileged to explore that marvelous world and grow in appreciation for its wonderful Creator.
1 Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, Mich.: Seventh-day Adventist Pub. Assn., 1864), vol. 3, p. 93. 2 Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903), p. 134.
The Cosmic Conflict Finding our place in God’s scheme of things
By Aleta Bainbridge
Story is heart language. We never grow too old to enjoy a good story. We can learn important lessons and find answers to the big questions of life in a story. Most of the world’s grandest stories show the tension between good and evil, appearing as two powerful forces in continual opposition to each other. Whenever good triumphs over evil, the knots in our stomach relax and we stop biting our fingernails.
The Bible takes us to the origins of this great conflict between good and evil and introduces the personalities responsible for them. It opens a window through which we can view the struggle in the context of cosmic reality. It deepens our understanding of the issues involved. It does not set out to explain evil any more than it sets out to prove God. It simply tells the story of how evil began, how it operates, and how it will end.
Goodness, on the other hand, has no beginning and no end because it emanates from God, who simply is (Ex. 3:14). He is the Sovereign Creator of the universe and the very essence of love (Jer. 32:17; 1 John 4:7, 8).
The Bible story of evil begins in heaven, the home of God and the angels. It begins in a universe devoid of evil, inhabited by noble beings created in the image of God, each one functioning fully and freely in perfect harmony with love’s laws. The lead angel of this dynamic and efficient universe is Lucifer, a being of flawless perfection.
Free Will There is something we need to grasp before we can proceed with the story. God endows each intelligent being He creates with the ability to reason and make choices. It is only in this way that they are able to develop their full potential as individuals and have unique relationships both with their Creator and their fellow beings.
God knew that this highly prized gift of free will carries a fearsome risk: the possibility that one day someone would make the wrong choice and plunge the universe into the chaos of lawlessness. However, God, in being true to Himself, cannot permit outcomes to dictate His actions. Rather, He acts according to His honest intentions. If He adjusted His actions to bring about the outcome He desired, this would make Him a dictator manipulating events to suit His own ends.
The Mystery of Iniquity Great Controversy
All humanity is now involved in a great controversy between Christ and Satan regarding the character of God, His law, and His sovereignty over the universe. This conflict originated in heaven when a created being, endowed with freedom of choice, in self-exaltation became Satan, God’s adversary, and led into rebellion a portion of the angels. He introduced the spirit of rebellion into this world when he led Adam and Eve into sin. This human sin resulted in the distortion of the image of God in humanity, the disordering of the created world, and its eventual devastation at the time of the worldwide flood. Observed by the whole creation, this world became the arena of the universal conflict, out of which the God of love will ultimately be vindicated. To assist His people in this controversy, Christ sends the Holy Spirit and the loyal angels to guide, protect, and sustain them in the way of salvation. (Rev. 12:4-9; Isa. 14:12-14; Eze. 28:12-18; Gen. 3; Rom. 1:19-32; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; Gen. 6-8; 2 Peter 3:6; 1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 1:14.)Listen to God’s heartrending lament of Lucifer’s defection. “How!” He wails, “How did you come to do it? How did you find it in your heart to make that dreadful choice, O morning star, my son of the dawn? I anointed you, I ordained you to stand at my throne, to work at my side. You were my beloved, the model of perfection. How did you allow your heart to be filled with violence? How did you sink so low?” (paraphrased from Isa. 14:12-15; Eze. 28:14, 15)
The birth of evil is totally unreasonable; it is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable.
The Bible gives us a hint of its root cause: “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor” (Eze. 28:17, NIV).* Satan replaced God with self on the throne of his heart. He became jealous of God’s Son and eventually coveted God’s throne. He deceived one third of the angels and, now known as Satan, the adversary, brought false accusations against God before the entire universe. Rebellion ripened into war, and he and his angels were expelled from heaven (Rev. 12:7-9).
He brought the spirit of rebellion to this newly created earth, and when he succeeded in causing Adam and Eve to disobey God, he claimed the earth as his (see Job 1:6, 7). God permitted him to style himself “prince of this world” (John 14:30, NIV). This was the beginning of evil’s reign of terror on our beautiful blue planet, which became the virtual reality show for the entire universe (1 Cor. 4:9).
While we know about the origins of this conflict, we sense its presence each day in our hearts. In fact, the whole meaning of human life revolves around this battle.
In the mid-nineteenth century God opened to a new generation a window that shed clear light onto the truths of His Word and the issues of the great cosmic war that in its final phases would become terrifyingly fierce. The people who were called to proclaim this special end-time message to “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6) adopted a name that crystallizes the main issues of the controversy between God and Satan in two words.
Seventh-day Adventist The accusations Satan made against God revolved around God’s character, His law and governance, and His sovereignty. By worshipping God on the seventh-day Sabbath, His people proclaim their allegiance to God as the rightful ruler of the universe, their Creator and Redeemer.
At the end of Creation week God celebrated His complete and perfect work of creation by instituting a holy monument in time, the seventh-day Sabbath (Gen. 2:1-3). It was a reminder to all people of all times that He alone, as our Creator, is worthy of worship. Then, at the hinge of time, on a Friday afternoon, God’s Son died for the sins of the world. We see the mighty opposing forces standing side by side at the cross—love and selfishness. Their intentions are quite clear. Selfishness will go to any lengths to destroy us. Love will go to any lengths to save us. God’s life is the full ransom price for all people (1 Tim. 2:6). And again God rested on the Sabbath to remind us that, as our Redeemer, He alone deserves our allegiance.
Adventist is a word that trumpets hope for a doomed world. The God we worship is a God who “comes” to us. He does not remain at a safe distance while we suffer in this land of the enemy. We are told that at the perfect moment in time (Gal. 4:4-6) “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and came to earth to share the lot of mortal human beings.
He will come a second time as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:11-16). He will snatch us from the grave and from a mortal, sinful existence and take us to His heavenly home so that we can be healed of our war wounds and battle scars.
His return means the eradication of every trace of sin, a new creation (Rev. 22:1), and an eternal reign as undisputed Sovereign of the universe. The redeemed will live with Him in peace and harmony eternally. The story of Good and evil begins with perfection and ends with perfection. It’s absolutely the best story of all times.
Aleta Bainbridge is Partners in Ministry coordinator for the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia, and works closely with her husband, Garth, who is ministerial secretary. She is wife of one, mother of four, and grandmother of eight.
We value most highly those teachers and professors who did not only know their subject, but were able to communicate effectively. In my case I remember those who were great storytellers. I may have forgotten most of the dates, formulas, or theories, but their stories linger on.
Jesus knew about the power of stories, often using parables to make a point. After all, He was not really interested in innovative sowing techniques or the best methods of crop care. Jesus wanted to communicate spiritual truths that often contained mind-boggling and surprising concepts, so He talked in spoken images. As Ellen White put it: “The unknown was illustrated by the known; divine truths by earthly things with which the people were most familiar.”*
Context Three of the best-known parables of Jesus are found in Luke 15. In Luke 14:25-35 we find Jesus surrounded by large crowds. The Master talks about the cost of discipleship using different images. Family, even parents, have to take second place (verses 26, 27); a builder has to make a long-term financial plan (verse 28); a king should weigh the costs of waging war (verses 31-33); salt has to remain salty (verses 34, 35). At the end of this string of images Jesus cries out: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (verse 35).
The Experience of Salvation
In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute and Example. This faith which receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God’s grace. Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God’s sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin. Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God’s law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life. Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment. (2 Cor. 5:17-21; John 3:16; Gal. 1:4; 4:4-7; Titus 3:3-7; John 16:8; Gal. 3:13, 14; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; Rom. 10:17; Luke 17:5; Mark 9:23, 24; Eph. 2:5-10; Rom. 3:21-26; Col. 1:13, 14; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 8:7-12; Eze. 36:25-27; 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Rom. 8:1-4; 5:6-10.)The next scene is significant: Luke tells us that tax collectors and sinners (!) were pressing around Jesus to hear Him. They had understood the invitation, while the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered disapprovingly (Luke 15:1, 2).
Knowing all this, Jesus tells a story—actually three stories, all dealing with the same topic. They all follow a similar pattern: somebody loses something, searches desperately, finds it, and celebrates—end of story.
Of Sheep, Coins, and Prodigals First, there is the shepherd who, noticing that one sheep has wandered away during the heat of the day, leaves the remaining 99 sheep to look for the lost. Have you ever wondered about the viability of the shepherd’s decision to seemingly ignore the 99 and focus on the one that was lost? Friends with business sense tell me that losing only 1 percent in production actually represents a great batting average. Why would the shepherd leave the 99 to find the one missing? Jesus’ explanation in verse 7 provides a hint: Heaven rejoices over every single sinner who repents, while the other 99 might not feel the need to turn around. Can you imagine the look on the faces of the Pharisees at that moment?
The lost coin story makes a different point. This time Jesus raises the loss factor to 10 percent. Counting her silver coin treasure—most likely part of her dowry—a woman discovers that one coin is missing. This was for a rainy day—the equivalent of 10 wages of a day laborer. The woman still had 90 percent, but begins to search frantically. In full daylight she lights a lamp in order to see into every nook and cranny of her home. When she finally finds the coin, she calls friends and neighbors to share the good news (verse 9). The woman invests heavily (remember, with no electricity lamp oil was costly!) in order to reclaim her treasure; then she shares her joy with her community. Again Jesus reminds His audience that a sinner who repents causes joy in heavenly courts.
The last story is even more surprising. This time the audience must have gasped when they understood that a younger son of two (not the firstborn) went to his father to demand his inheritance. That was something that just was not done. It showed lack of respect and was shameful. You know the cadence of the story. The young man escapes from home, lives fast and furious, and finally finds himself broke and humiliated, looking after swine and yearning for their menu. At his wits’ end he decides to return home—not as a son, but as a servant.
Meanwhile, the father had been on the lookout every day. One day he sees a run-down figure slowly making his way toward the house. The figure looks vaguely familiar—yes, it is his son. The next scene blows away everything. The father starts running toward his smelly, stinking son. The father’s embrace seems to last for eternity—finally the lost has come home. A party is quickly organized, and the entire household celebrates—that is, nearly the entire household. The older brother, bitter and forlorn, is not ready to join the feast. Jesus dedicates eight verses to tell us about the dialogue between the father and his older son. Verses 31 and 32 provide the highlight: “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”
Salvation Paradox Many lessons can be learned from these three stories. All three remind us graphically that salvation requires outside help. Whether it’s a shepherd, a woman frantically searching for a coin, or a father waiting for his son: when we are lost, it is God who takes the initiative to save us (John 6:44). Once we recognize our helpless state we have to make the decision to “come home” and allow God’s Spirit to transform us into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). In God’s math, 1 percent + 10 percent + 50 percent = 1—the one who is lost. God’s saving grace looks beyond numbers and probabilities for individuals. The entire universe is observing the great struggle for humanity’s destiny. Every found person causes another roar of celebration in the heavenly courts. Every decision against Christ causes tears and pain in the celestial family.
As Jesus looked around the crowd listening to these key stories of the kingdom, He looked for those who would hear—and embrace God’s saving and transforming grace. He is still looking today.
* Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), p. 17.
Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of Adventist World who loves running into the arms of Jesus.
In January 1997 I went to River Plate Adventist University, Argentina, to teach a class for its Doctor of Theology program. From the plane, I saw for the first time the huge delta of the Paraná River, with its many canals and islands, extending itself for about 185 miles (300 kilometers). On Sabbath afternoon the director of the program drove me to the banks of the river. He told me that when a foreign ship has to sail across the delta, a local pilot who knows the delta well needs to guide the ship safely through the specific canal that is deep enough for navigation.
Just imagine our planet’s history as a turbulent river, passing through rapids and dangerous falls, and forming a huge delta before flowing into the ocean of eternity. At the most critical points in the river journey God sent special “pilots” to forewarn His people of the dangers they would face during their journey. We call these “pilots” prophets.1 For instance, He sent Noah to warn the antediluvians of the coming Flood; Moses to liberate the Israelites from their Egyptian captivity; Elijah and Elisha to lead the Israelites away from contemporary idolatry; and John the Baptist to announce Christ’s first coming. When God’s people came to the great religious and ideological delta—the spiritual challenges—of the last days, God sent another special pilot to help guide His people safely to the harbor of everlasting life.
Need for a Modern Prophet Seventh-day Adventists accept “the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms.”2 If this is so, why do Adventists also accept Ellen White (1827-1915) as a true prophet? Do we actually need the modern manifestation of the prophetic gift? In answering these questions we must recognize, first of all, that even in biblical times there were several true prophets whose writings were not included in the Bible (cf. 1 Chron. 29:29). For Adventists, Ellen White is another true noncanonical prophet called by God for a very crucial moment of history—the time of the end.
The Gift of Prophecy
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen. G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. (Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:14-21; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 12:17; 19:10.)If modern Christianity were a homogeneous religious body, solidly grounded on the authority of God’s Word, there would be no need for a manifestation of the prophetic gift in these last days. But in a world in which Christianity is more divided about the understanding of the Bible than ever before,3 such a gift is needed to scrub clean the misinterpretations of Scripture caused by the vast amount of antibiblical assumptions derived from human traditions, human reason, personal experience, and modern culture. So instead of replacing the Bible, the modern gift of prophecy helps readers to allow the Bible to interpret itself without being distorted by human biases.
Function of a Modern Prophet Adventists believe that at the end of the 2300 prophetic days (see Dan. 8:9-14) truth would be restored by the preaching of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12. As in other crucial moments described in Scripture, this end-time restoration also took place with special prophetic assistance, helping “(1) to direct attention to the Bible, (2) to aid in understanding the Bible, and (3) to help in applying Bible principles in our lives.”4 These functions of the prophetic gift are not limited to the early days of the Adventist movement: they should continue assisting us until the end of human history.
Jesus described it well in His parable of the great supper (Luke 14:15-24). Many people today are extremely distracted by their material possessions (verse 18), work (verse 19), and social activities (verse 20). In addition, modern communication devices and the entertainment industry are absorbing much of the time that we should be spending with God’s Word. As important as these potential distractions might be, nothing should ever replace our spiritual priorities. As I once read on a bumper sticker: “Not to have time for God means to live a time-wasted life.” Undoubtedly, we need to be reminded constantly of our spiritual priorities (see Matt. 6:33). A modern manifestation of the gift of prophecy was given to direct our attention back to the Bible.
Even those who spend time with the Bible are tempted to distort its true meaning. As already mentioned, God gave us in Ellen White a modern prophet to help free us from the human traditions that tend to distort our understanding of God’s Word. Her writings are “a divine prophetic filter that helps us to remove all the human rubble that tradition has artificially imposed on the Bible, so that the divine message of the Scriptures can flow pure and clean into our hearts.”5
It’s a scary thought that even Satan can understand God’s Word without allowing it to transform his life (James 2:19). Ellen White warns that “many accept an intellectual religion, a form of godliness, when the heart is not cleansed.”6 And she adds, “A man may hear and acknowledge the whole truth, and yet know nothing of personal piety and true experimental religion. He may explain the way of salvation to others, and yet himself be a castaway.”7 The modern manifestation of the spirit of prophecy was provided to help us submit to the sanctifying influence of God’s Word (see John 17:17; Matt. 5:13-16).
1 In 1863 Uriah Smith used the analogy of an additional “pilot” promised to the last part of a voyage in reference to the prophetic gift of Ellen G. White. See U. Smith, “Do We Discard the Bible by Endorsing the Visions?” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Jan. 13, 1863, p. 52. 2 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 595. 3 Already in 2001 a reliable source referred to the existence of 34,000 different “Christian denominations” in the world. See David B. Barrett et al., World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World,2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), vol. 1, p. vi. 4 T. Housel Jemison, A Prophet Among You (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1955), p. 371. 5 Alberto R. Timm, “Ellen G. White: Prophetic Voice for the Last Days,” Ministry, February 2004, p. 20. 6 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 35. 7 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 682.
Alberto R. Timm, Ph.D., is a native of Brazil and recently joined the Ellen G. White Estate as an associate director. He is married to Marly, and they have three children.