Monthly Archives: January 2017

Fundamental Belief Number 26 (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. (Job 19:25-27; Ps. 146:3, 4; Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10; Dan. 12:2, 13; John 5:28, 29; 11:11-14; Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Tim. 6:16; Rev. 20:1-10.) (Job 19:25-27; Ps. 146:3, 4; Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10; Dan. 12:2, 13; Isa. 25:8; John 5:28, 29; 11:11-14; Rom. 6:23; 16; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 20:1-10.)

There were no changes in this fundamental other than the usual rearrangement of Bible texts. The Adventist view on the “state of the dead” actually depends on the “state of the living.” The foundation of this perspective is the unified view of human nature (see FB 7, The Nature of Humanity). In the Adventist view, which increasing numbers of scholars consider the biblical view, body and “soul” are necessarily interconnected, the one cannot live without the other. When the body dies, therefore, all consciousness ceases. There are no thoughts or plans without the body, and there is no return to life without the body, hence a bodily resurrection is needed for life to return.

In spite of its strong biblical foundation, this is one of the most controversial of Adventist doctrines in the wider world. Major figures like Rob Bell and Nancy Murphy, who have adopted positions on death similar to Adventists, have faced more opposition on this issue than any other. Many people recoil from the doctrine because it seems to take away the assurance that “mom is in heaven now.” The idea that the person is “asleep” in death does not strike them as comforting. But in fact, the Adventist teaching takes nothing away and gives much in return. If the person is completely unconscious with no sense of the passage of time, then the next thing the believer experiences after death is the face of Jesus. In their experience their “ascension to heaven” will truly have occurred in an instant. But the bonus in the biblical perspective is that the whole community is resurrected together, at the same time (1 Thess 4:15-18). So the community is preserved. Mom is not up in heaven alone for a time, but is immediately joined in resurrection by all her loved ones, living or dead, at the Second Coming of Jesus.

This fundamental mentions two resurrections, a resurrection of the righteous and a resurrection of the unrighteous, separated by a thousand years. So everyone who ever lived will be resurrected, it is their relation to Jesus that will determine the timing. But an important aspect of the biblical teaching on resurrection is missing. John 5:28-29 is mentioned in the text list because it describes the two resurrections mentioned in the statement. But John 5:24-25 is left out. There resurrection is not just a future bodily event, it becomes a metaphor for the life transformation that occurs when the gospel is received and the Holy Spirit enters the believer’s life. In the words of Paul, believers in Christ can “know the power of His resurrection” (Phil 3:10). The life-giving power of God, which raised Christ from the dead and will one day raise all others, can also bring resurrection life into our experience today. This theme is widespread in the New Testament.

I was once talking with Lyn Behrens, former president of Loma Linda University. She said something quite startling. She said, “I have come to believe that it is possible to die whole.” Death is inevitable in this life, but how one dies matters. It is possible to face death as a whole person in spite of the deterioration of the body. She felt that Loma Linda University should be the place where people can experience a “good death,” if there is such a thing. The biblical doctrine of death and resurrection should not only benefit those who remain living but also those going through the process of dying itself.

In our faculty discussion at the School of Religion, someone raised the issue of “baptism for the dead” (1 Cor 15:29). This mysterious text has baffled scholars through the years, it is a concept unique to that text in Scripture and neither the biblical context nor ancient practices illuminates what Paul was talking about. The most that can be said is that it must have been a local practice of the church at Corinth that Paul wasn’t sure he could buy into, but was willing to use as an illustration of his larger point on death and resurrection. He was meeting them where they were. The core message of 1 Corinthians, which we do understand, is that the resurrection of Christ guarantees the resurrection of those who trust Him. Faith is not for this life only, but is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with God that climaxes in a new order at the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-23).

Thoughts on the Inauguration and Bible Prophecy

I’ll do my best to be non-partisan in my remarks below. Some have wondered if the election of Trump and the threats to the inauguration would have prophetic significance. I would suggest that we tend to blow current events out of proportion, simply because they are what we know and our fears for the future magnify them. A lesson or two from history may be helpful.

John Adams was so contemptuous of Thomas Jefferson that he left the White House in the middle of the night on March 4, 1801, refusing to attend the inaugural ceremony of the man who had vanquished him.

Democrat Samuel Tilden, who won the popular vote in 1876, was urged to lead an army into Washington to stop the “corrupt” handover of power by Congress to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes; luckily, Tilden declined. Nonetheless, Tilden and his backers insisted they had been robbed. President Hayes was thereafter called “His Fraudulency.”

So bitter was the rivalry between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt that they said not a word to each other during the 1933 inaugural drive from the White House to the Capitol. Hoover and Roosevelt never reconciled, and they hurled insults at one another with regularity. The last three paragraphs are are deeply indebted to a brilliant essay posted earlier today:

As riveting as the current election and its aftermath have been, in many ways it is nothing new, so breathe out slowly everyone, relax, and enjoy the ride, wherever it leads. Prophecy is not concerned with the ins and outs of political intrigue. It is written to provide direction and hope to the people of God. No matter how out of control things appear, God is still in control.

Fundamental Belief Number 25 (The 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 near imminent. The time of that event has not been revealed, and we are therefore exhorted to be ready at all times. (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; John 14:1-3; Acts1:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-6; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:8; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; Rev. 1:7; 14:14-20; 19:11-21.) (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-6; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:8; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; Rev. 1:7; 14:14-20; 19:11-21.)

There was just one minor change in this fundamental in San Antonio, the word “imminent” was changed to “near” because the latter word is a biblical term, the former is not. As with the other FBs, the biblical reference texts have been reorganized.

We cannot overestimate the importance of the doctrine of the Second Coming to Adventist theology and experience. For many Adventists this is probably the single most important of all the fundamentals. At the very center of Adventism is the conviction that whether or not we live until the Second Coming, the first face we will see is that of Jesus.

While this fundamental speaks about heaven, there is no mention at all of what heaven is or where it is located. The Adventist fundamentals are written for Adventists and often assume things that others would not understand. Adventists have tended to take the Second Coming very literally, hence the location of heaven in the general direction of Orion has been for many an important insight. But the framers of these fundamentals were often wise in leaving out things that were not central or were held by some Adventists but not most.

The imminence of Jesus’ return has been a central theme within Adventism until very recently. Most Adventists have thought that Jesus would return within five or ten years, certainly within their lifetimes. But it is hard to maintain that kind of urgency, certainly not over several generations. This doctrine has also been infused with a lot of fear. The Second Coming is not so much a beacon of hope as a time of trouble and many other horrible things. It is the destruction of wicked people as much as the rescue of the righteous. But as time goes by Adventists are increasingly realizing that the time of trouble theme in the Bible is not nearly as pervasive as the narratives that have grown up around it.

More recently Adventists have assumed more of a New Testament approach to this doctrine, the Second Coming is about a theology of hope. It is the experience of Christ’s presence in the here and now that creates the anticipation of the “then.” The Second Coming provides the vision and incentive for Loma Linda’s mission of healing. So one of the goals of healing at Loma Linda is to provide a down payment on the glorious wholeness of God’s New Earth. While our efforts today can never equal that future, they can provide a foretaste of it. But because of this focus on healing, the how and when of the Second Coming seems less important than the meaning of the Second Coming. The Second Coming means that human suffering, as in refugee camps and Ebola clinics, is not the end of all things. Something better is coming. It is particularly when you lose someone close to you that the theology of hope that we find in the Second Coming becomes more real.

As one reads the end-time texts of the Bible it is helpful to know that the visions of the end that God gave in the Bible were always natural extensions of each prophet’s time and place. As a result, the pictures of the End were constantly shifting and it is wise not to take the details too seriously, as the Pharisees did. The Pharisees had the future so carefully charted out that they rejected the Messiah when He came, because He didn’t fit their prophetic expectations. So it is important to study the prophecies carefully, but not to take the details so seriously that we miss the real thing when it comes.

In many ways, Adventist expectation of the End has been a lot like that of the Early Church. The Early Church passed through a period of intense and imminent expectation followed by a long-term settling in to the mission that Jesus left them. An important delay text is 2 Peter 3. A day with the Lord is like 1000 years. The answers to the delay in the New Testament are great ones, but they are not found in this fundamental or in the texts listed below it (although 2 Peter 3 is mentioned in Fundamental 28).

The doctrine of the Second Coming is important enough to Adventists that four different fundamentals are needed to address different aspects of it (FBs 25-28). And the story does not end with the Second Coming itself. In John 14 and 1 Thessalonians 4, the Second Coming means that we go to God. But at the end of Revelation 20, God comes to us. None of the Second Coming hymns talk about this! God is coming to us. He wants us in heaven, but then when the new earth is renewed, He comes to earth with us! He not only comes to us but He stays with us. In the larger picture of the Bible, God comes to us at least four times; in creation, in salvation, at the Second Coming and at the Third Coming (see also Fundamentals 27 and 28).

Fundamental Belief Number 24 (Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary)

There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle that which the Lord set up and not humans 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. At His ascension, He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and (at the time of his ascension, He) began His intercessory ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the holy place of the earthly sanctuary 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, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the most holy place of the earthly sanctuary. 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. (Lev. 16; Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Heb. 1:3; 2:16, 17; 4:14-16; 8:1-5; 9:11-28; 10:19-22; Rev. 8:3-5; 11:19; 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:11, 12.) (Lev. 16; Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Heb. 1:3; 2:16, 17; 4:14-16; 8:1‑5; 9:11-28; 10:19- 22; Rev. 8:3-5; 11:19; 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:11, 12.)

As you can see, there were a number of changes made in 2015 (the San Antonio General Conference session) toward the beginning of this fundamental. “That” replaces “which” to improve English usage. “Humans” replaces “man” in the service of inclusive language. “At His ascension” is a shifting of position for the idea behind “at the time of His ascension.” Then two major clauses were added to the FB. The original statement mentions Christ’s work of intercession and judgment without tying those acts to the sanctuary typology, where the High Priest ministered in both the holy and most holy places of the earthly sanctuary. These connections are provided by the two lengthy clauses added above. Note that this fundamental does not settle the issue of whether there is a heavenly building (upon which the earthly sanctuaries were modeled) or whether the earthly typifies heavenly realities without requiring a geographical component in heaven. For more on this, see the comments below on the three main views of the sanctuary within Adventism.

Sanctuary/temple language is found all through the Bible. There are sanctuary allusions in the stories of Genesis. Besides Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, references can be found throughout the Psalms, the prophets, the gospels, Hebrews and the book of Revelation. It is one of the richest threads in all of the Scriptures. But while this fundamental focuses on a number of important things, it is critical not to lose the big picture for all the details. Here is the big picture. All religions recognize the darkness of life. Everyone is looking to heaven for a word that we are not alone, that God cares. That is the heart of the sanctuary message. You are not alone. When you hit absolute bottom, it’s not over. You can begin again, God has opened the way. The sanctuary is a huge theme in the Bible and it is experientially very powerful when handled in a biblical way. Until you have fully grasped the darkness of human existence, you cannot fully appreciate the power of the atonement. The cross is not the great exception to how God works, it is the very embodiment of how God works.

In the sanctuary model, intercession is one of the more difficult concepts to understand. It expresses that God somehow sent His Son to be the one in-between even though there was no need to have anyone in between (John 16:23-27). God offers an intercessor because we need it. In reality, however, the Father Himself loves us and delights us to come to him. If the Father Himself had come down and lived among us He would have been no different than Jesus (John 14:9). But God provides what we need even if it isn’t what we think we need. Intercession is one of the ways God assures us that we don’t need to believe lies about Him. We can trust Him because we have seen the trustworthiness of Jesus.

Adventists often struggle with issues of sanctuary and investigative judgment even though these very things were given to us for our encouragement and comfort. What was designed to encourage is often perceived as frightening. But let me summarize the positive side of the Adventist view of the sanctuary. The sanctuary helps us to view reconciliation in two important ways: 1) it helps us become reconciled to God, and 2) it illustrates the reconciliation of the entire universe. Thus the sanctuary is a window into the cosmic conflict and its implications for our daily lives.

Adventists have three main views of the sanctuary. The most traditional view is that the earthly sanctuary represents a literal heavenly building, with two apartments and services much like the earthly. While this is considered an acceptable view for Adventists to hold, it does face a major challenge. There are actually four sanctuaries in the OT (Mosaic tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, Zerubbabel’s temple and Ezekiel’s temple) and each of them is different. Which of these is the true model for the heavenly building? Because of the challenges that come with a literal view, most Adventist scholars see the earthly sanctuaries as representative of heavenly realities, the things that God is doing for our salvation in heavenly places. In this view “heavenly geography” is of lesser importance. What truly counts is the actual work God is doing in our behalf in heaven. This view is also acceptable for Adventists to hold and is the view most clearly implied in FB 24, particularly the new additions, which express this perspective without ruling out the possibility of a literal building in heaven. The third view was articulated by Kellogg, that the earthly sanctuaries represent what God is doing in our hearts. While that connection is clearly taught in the NT and by Ellen White, Kellogg’s view has fallen out of favor because of its presumed association with pantheism and Kellogg’s seeming denial of a heavenly sanctuary (although historical research has questioned whether or not these accusations are fair).

One Adventist leader recently said, no doubt provocatively, “I love the sanctuary but, I hate the sanctuary doctrine.” In its traditional form it doesn’t seem to address the deepest needs of today. Intercession based on fear may encourage study and investigation, but it doesn’t often lead to the joy and celebration that the bigger biblical picture of the sanctuary supports (see Luke 15 as an example). The beauty of the sanctuary is that there are so many paths to God illustrated there. There are lots of mini-stories that all point toward the big story.

Many other religions struggle with the concept of redemption. If human need is all about law-breaking, then if God hadn’t given the Ten Commandments there would be no need of an atonement. But if the core issue addressed by the sanctuary is relationship, it changes how we look at the doctrine. The sanctuary is all about reconciliation with God (2 Cor 5), drawing us back to the One who gave the sanctuary for that very purpose.

One side note that should be mentioned here is the desire of some sincere and faithful Seventh-day Adventists to practice the feast days of the Jewish calendar (Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles, new moons). This FB makes no mention of this perspective at all, positive or negative. So the practice of the feast days is neither required nor forbidden by Adventist doctrine. How shall we relate to feast-keeping enthusiasm then? The lack of mention in this FB suggests that it is OK to practice these things and to even encourage others to follow them as a spiritual benefit. But when people seek to make these a requirement for all Adventists or all Christians, it tends to divide people and their churches. So “enthusiasts” should be cautioned to practice and share in such a way that it does not divide. Should they ignore that advice, churches and conferences may be tempted to discipline them on the grounds of schism (dividing the church) rather than theology.

The Loma Linda perspective recognizes that the sanctuary is one of the many and various ways (Heb 1:1) that God has tried to communicate with us (see also PP 364). So its significance should not be overplayed, especially since in its typical form it does not appeal to most people. At the same time, we should not be embarrassed about the sanctuary’s seeming irrelevance to most people today. This is our story. This is how the Adventist people found their way to God. It doesn’t have to be an either/or, either accept the tradition in every detail or throw it out entirely. Even if most people never figure out the depths of the sanctuary story (my own mother was an Adventist for seventy years when she confessed to me that she had no clue how to explain the doctrine to anyone else), it doesn’t have to be universal. It is one of many metaphors that Scripture provides for us to understand God and the way that He is reconciling us to Himself.

Seventh-day Adventists in FB 24, therefore, bear witness to one of the richest themes in all of Scripture. If we were to stop pointing to the sanctuary, it might be totally ignored by all readers of the Bible. So even if aspects of this doctrine don’t appeal to many or most people today, it is a witness worth preserving.