Basking in the warmth
By Ted N. C. Wilson
According to a well-known anecdote, if you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. But if you place the frog into a kettle of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog’s body will adapt to the changes in its surroundings by adjusting its body temperature. Not until the frog is nearly boiled to death will it realize it’s in very hot water.
Though often used now in the context of business, politics, the environment, and other arenas, this story has for a long time been applied to the church, where it has a special significance for how believers relate to end-time events.
If you are a lifelong Adventist, as I am, you have no doubt heard about the “time of trouble, such as never was” (Dan. 12:1) that is to take place just before the coming of Jesus. Perhaps as a child you had nightmares about this time, and as an adult, you’ve wondered how you will survive.
But it seems that as a church, and as individuals, we find it easy to push thoughts of end-time persecution aside as we keep busy doing the things we do every day, every week, every year. As the seasons come and go, we, along with the rest of the world, go through the stages of life until it is our time to rest in the grave until Jesus comes to awaken us.
Time to Wake Up
But I believe Jesus wants to awaken us from our spiritual sleep. He realizes that now is the time to prepare for what lies just before us. There has to be an enormous resurgence in Adventist preaching about eschatology and last-day events; and without sensationalism, without looking for a conspiracy under every rock.
Do we still believe that “the ‘time of trouble, such as never was’ is soon to open upon us; and we shall need an experience which we do not now possess and which many are too indolent to obtain” (The Great Controversy, p. 622)?
We Seventh-day Adventists have no choice but to look to the culmination of this movement. If we are tempted to think of this church as simply a “faith community,” one of many, then we will almost certainly downplay any cataclysmic future. On the other hand, if we understand that this movement is a fulfillment of Revelation 12, 14, and 18, we will have a much clearer picture regarding our mandate to return to the true worship of God. We will also understand more clearly the persecution that happens when the true worship of God clashes with the false understanding of truth.
We Cannot Ignore It
Some believe we shouldn’t talk about such end-time topics as the “time of trouble” and other events leading up to the Second Coming because they can generate fear among believers and may bring on a time of trouble prematurely. But these very events emphasize why it is so important that we have the blessed hope of Jesus’ soon return.
While it is not healthy to fixate on the time of the end so much that we become anxious or paralyzed with fear, we cannot afford to ignore it. Scripture confirms that end-time persecutions are inevitable, but we don’t have to be fearful, because the God who protected and walked by the side of millions of Christians who have been persecuted for their faith will also walk beside us. We cannot now know what kind of supernatural power we will be given at that time, but we do know that God has promised always to be with us. He will not give us more than we can bear (see Heb. 13:5; 1 Cor. 10:13).
End-time believers have to know what the Scriptures say about the end-times, and we need to prepare ourselves daily, knowing that one day we’re going to face real persecution. Each day is an opportunity to build our faith in God. And if we allow Him to, God will train us to trust Him more deeply.
We are told, “Those who exercise but little faith now are in the greatest danger of falling under the power of satanic delusions and the decree to compel the conscience. And even if they endure the test they will be plunged into deeper distress and anguish in the time of trouble, because they have never made it a habit to trust in God. . . .
“We should now acquaint ourselves with God by proving His promises” (ibid.).
Secure in God’s Hands
I believe that a major focus of the great controversy is learning to place our security in God’s hands; recognizing that whatever we face, we will not be asked to face more than we can experience through His power (see Phil. 4:13). Don’t worry about anything (verse 6), but be happy that we are living in a time during which we are going to see the conclusion of the great scenario shown to us in the books of Daniel and Revelation.
It’s going to be exciting! Pray for long-range vision, the ability to see beyond just the here and now; and focus on true, eternal values.
We know the devil is not going to stop his work while any believer stays loyal to Jesus. He will do everything he possibly can to keep us distracted by the here and now, focusing only on the temporary honors of this world. He will try to lull us into a false sense of security, determined to demolish any awareness of present truth, any indications that his proposed government is ultimately going to lose. His game is confusion—Babel, if you will—and he excels at it. If Satan can confuse Seventh-day Adventists into believing that there will be no persecution, then he will have destroyed the need to prepare for it.
Those who dismiss the validity of the Spirit of Prophecy because they cannot see its scenario being fulfilled will yet discover that the vision of the future it presents is absolutely accurate. We shouldn’t be confused by a brief lull in the active persecution of the faithful: even a hurricane has a peaceful “eye”!
Instant Life Changes
Life can change in a moment. We recognize that natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, fires, and earthquakes affect lives instantaneously. But so can human powers.
I think of our brothers in Togo who have been falsely imprisoned for a year now. On March 15, 2012, Pastor Antonio Monteiro came home from giving a Bible study, and was met at the door by police officers waiting to take him to prison. The pastor was stripped naked and thrown into solitary confinement for two weeks before he was given anything to wear. Bruno Amah, an active church member, was also falsely accused and imprisoned.
There is no evidence against them, and almost everyone acknowledges that they should be freed. They were arrested on completely false charges that have nothing to do with them. When I met with them last November, they gave heartwarming testimonies about the work and witness God has allowed them to share with other prisoners.
God has His timetable for when they are released, and they believe that God has a work for them to do while they are in prison. They are reading their Bibles, praying, singing, counseling, and studying with others; witnessing for the Lord, bringing peace into the prison, and standing like “modern-day Josephs” in jail, in very difficult conditions. They told me that prisoners have said that since our brothers entered the prison, the prisoners don’t fight as much. We prayed with them in prison, as well as for the other prisoners.
As I flew home in freedom, I could not forget these precious brothers, their wives, and their families. We know from Christ Himself that believers in truth will be falsely accused (see Matt. 5:11, 12; also 1 Peter 4:12, 13). We will be placed in most unusual circumstances in order to bring truth to those who have never heard it. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (see Rom. 14:8).
It’s easy during times of relative peace and prosperity to become like that proverbial frog in the kettle, enjoying the warmth of our surroundings, without noticing that the heat is slowly but steadily being turned up.
Although we see many natural and human atrocities, life continues to move on, giving the illusion that “all things continue as they were from the beginning” (2 Peter 3:4).
Bible Prophecy Tells Us the Truth
But we Seventh-day Adventists know better. Prophecy opens our eyes and tells us the truth, with the books of Daniel and Revelation pulling back the curtain, revealing what has happened in the past and what is soon to happen in the future. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29).
We have to know who we are, and where we are in the spectrum of end-time events. In the metaphor of the great dream of Daniel 2, we are just at the end of the toes of the image! I encourage you, if you haven’t already done so, to return to biblical prophetic belief and understanding. The freedoms we now enjoy will not last indefinitely: the devil and those who do his bidding will see to that. Only those who are well grounded in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy and having a faith relationship with Christ will clearly understand the times in which we live.
The Good News
If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to develop that strong, personal connection with the Lord beginning today. Only through this relationship with Jesus will you be able to face the challenges of the future. Not everyone will have the same experience, but all will be called to testify for their faith.
We don’t have to wait until the time of trouble to share our faith. Now is the time to develop friendships with our neighbors, our work colleagues, and other people in our lives who are not yet aware of what the future holds. Share with them a copy of The Great Controversy, or the smaller edition, The Great Hope. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s leading. Share with them how much the book has meant to you. Your witness now will prepare both you and them for the challenging days that Scripture tells us are on the near horizon.
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.