Tag Archives: cosmic conflict

The Sabbath and Creation

Now when we read that first angel’s message to “worship the Creator of heaven and earth. The Creator of the sea and springs,” we are reminded that the first mention of the Sabbath comes in the Bible at the end of creation week. Think back in imagination to the very dramatic events of that first week of this earth’s history. The war had begun already in heaven. Satan had already leveled his charges and his accusations. One third of the angels had already agreed with him that God is not worthy of our love and our trust.

Right in the middle of that devastating crisis, God invites His family to watch Him as He creates yet another world—this time, ours. How easily He could have created our world with a snap of His fingers, in just an instant of time. But in the dramatic and significant setting of the great controversy, He chose instead to do it in six twenty-four hour days. On the first day, all He said was “Let there be light.” That’s all. And then on days two, three, four, and five, God in unhurried majesty and drama unfolded His plans for our earth. By the sixth day, what a beautiful place this was! Where now were Satan’s charges that God was selfish?

The most unselfish of God’s gifts in creation was freedom. He created us in His own image with power to think and to do. And we know from human history that He created us free to either love and trust Him, or hate Him and spit in His face, because both of them have, in fact, happened. He created us able to do it! God even allowed Satan to approach our first parents at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And He didn’t hide that tree in some dark corner of the garden; He put it right in the middle near the Tree of Life, so that Adam and Eve would see it every time they came to that other tree. “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9, NIV).

Now the God we know could be trusted not to allow our first inexperienced parents to be tested more than they were able to resist. You know He would not do that. And so Satan was only allowed to approach them at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were warned not to risk a confrontation with their wily foe. In that warning God was already demonstrating the meaning of that famous key text, 1 Corinthians 10:13: “But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm” (GNB). Paul could have said instead, “God can be trusted. . . ,” that’s what God keeping His promises is all about.

You see, that tree was not put there as an arbitrary test of obedience. That tree was put there to help them, to protect them. What is not directly stated in Genesis is that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not placed there before sin, but after sin. The war had already begun. The Enemy was already on the loose. If the tree had been placed in the garden before sin, it would have been an arbitrary test. But coming after sin, it was there to help them and protect them like every other one of God’s gracious laws. Then God stunned the universe by sharing with us some of His own marvelous creative power. God so designed it that when a man and a woman come together in love, they are able to share life with little people; to create little people in their own image.

Isn’t it interesting to watch our children and our grandchildren? They look so much like us. They behave like us, at our best points and at our worst points. Truly, they do reflect our image and God designed it to be this way. You may recall God’s words in Genesis 1:28: “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control” (GNB). That was His original plan. The Song of Solomon right in the middle of the Bible reminds us that this whole thing was God’s idea. That we should be male and female and feel the way we do about each other, and say the things we do to each other, and come together in love, and create little people in our own image. He thought that all up Himself.

He could have created us to look like E.T. or maybe little green people with antennae. And babies could have come in test tubes. But that is not the way that God designed it. That worries some people. “What kind of a God must He be to think it up this way?” And then to put a whole book in the middle of the Bible that confuses some people and delights others? Think what The Song of Solomon says about our God; reminding us of the original creation week and of the Sabbath that came at the end of it. The universe watched all this, the universe that had heard the charges against God. And when creation was over, they said “That’s very good.” Love and admiration for God must have known no bounds. Where now were Satan’s charges that God does not respect the freedom of His creatures? Or that He’s very selfish in His use of authority and power?

The climax of the creation story comes in Genesis 2:2, 3:

On the sixth day God completed all the work he had been doing, and on the seventh day he ceased. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he ceased from all the work he had set himself to do (NEB).

When the text tells us that God “rested,” it does not mean that He was tired. It was more like an attorney saying, “I have presented all my evidence. I now ‘rest’ my case.” God ceased from all His work. Can you imagine how the universe spent the next twenty-four hours as they celebrated with God the first seventh-day Sabbath?

Now this Sabbath was not Adam and Eve’s seventh day. It was their second day. And if the Sabbath were designed to give us a rest every seventh day since our creation, we should be observing Thursday. The first Sabbath was God’s day of celebration. He called on His family throughout the universe to join with Him in reflecting on the significance of what had been done; the answers He had given to Satan’s charges, the falsity of Satan’s accusations, and the truth about freedom, love, and generosity on the part of our gracious Heavenly Father.

You see, the Sabbath was given after sin, not before. If it was given before, we might think of it as an arbitrary test of our obedience. But it was given after sin, because we needed it. It must have seemed to the universe looking on that the great controversy had been won that Friday night. But no event of creation week had answered Satan’s most serious charge, the charge that God had lied to His children when He warned that the consequence of sin is death. Nothing during creation week, eloquent as it was, spoke to that issue.

Chapter 10: “The Reminder of the Evidence”

This blog begins chapter ten of the book in process Conversations About God. It originated as a series of lectures by Graham Maxwell in 1984. After each lecture Maxwell took written questions from the audience mediated through the pastor of the Loma Linda University Church at the time, Lou Venden. This marvelous series has never been put into book form, so I am attempting to do so and sharing the results in progress here with permission from the Maxwell family. The words that follow are Maxwell’s oral presentation, edited by me.

This is the tenth chapter in a series of conversations about God; looking at our Heavenly Father in the larger setting of the great controversy over His character and government. The subject for our conversation this time is “The Reminder of The Evidence.” The title was chosen to suggest the important meaning and purpose of yet another of God’s provisions to help us during this crisis of distrust.

Unfortunately, the Sabbath has been widely misunderstood in a way that supports Satan’s charges that God is arbitrary, exacting, and severe. Even among devout observers of the seventh day, the Sabbath has often been misrepresented, as was the case on that very sad Friday 1900 years ago. But if we put the Sabbath in the setting of all sixty-six Bible books and in the larger setting of the great controversy over the character and government of God, I believe that all arbitrariness evaporates.

The best known biblical statement about the Sabbath is in Exodus 20, right in the middle of the Ten Commandments. The commandment runs from verse 8 to verse 11, but we will emphasize two portions of the passage:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . . For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Exod 20:8, 11, RSV).

It is significant to note that in the New Testament, James called the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) the “royal law of liberty” (Jam 1:25; 2:12). Not the “royal law of subjugation, surrender, and bondage,” but the “royal law of freedom.” Yet a first reading of this particular commandment could seem somewhat arbitrary, couldn’t it? Is God laying upon His children an arbitrary requirement, just to show His authority and test their willingness to obey? But the message of all sixty-six books, and certainly of these conversations about God, is that there is no arbitrariness in our God. Rather He paid a high price to deny any trace of arbitrariness! We’ll come back to this larger theme in the later chapters entitled “God’s Law Is no Threat to Our Freedom” (Chapter Twelve) and “God’s Emergency Measures” (Chapter Eleven).

God’s laws were not given to be a burden or to restrict us. They were given to help us, to protect us in the days of our ignorance and immaturity, and to lead us back to trust and freedom. God values nothing higher than our freedom. When you go through all the sixty-six books and you come to the last one, the book of Revelation, you note that God is still asking us to remember Him as our Creator. The first angel of Revelation 14 says: “Honor God and give him glory, for his time has come to sit in judgment. Worship the Creator of heaven and earth. The Creator of the sea and the springs” (Rev 14:7, NAB). Note how this excellent Catholic translation renders the opening phrase “honor God” instead of “fear God.”

Questions and Answers (9:5)

Lou: All right, another question. “You mentioned that Jesus’ death was the results of sin. Was His death not also the wages of sin? If Jesus died the second death (the wages of sin) how was it that He could be raised from the second death from which there is no resurrection?”
Graham: In this one question are represented two understandings of what went wrong in the universe. Are we in legal trouble, or are we in real trouble? The “results” suggest real trouble. That calls for healing more than just an adjustment of our legal standing. But we could use “wages” either way and “results” either way. So we need to keep going back to our understanding of what went wrong in God’s universe. Our understanding of what went wrong helps us understand what it takes to set it right and keep it right.
Now if Jesus had died the second death legally, and if the second death meant you never rise again, He should still be in the tomb. When He returned to heaven and asked, “Was it enough? Have I answered your questions?” The angels should have said, “You get right back down. You’ve got to pay this penalty for eternity.” Since that didn’t happen, the angels must not have been looking for a legal payment. They were looking for answers, and when they got them, they were satisfied.
Lou: This question ties right into that. “Did Jesus die the first death or the second death for us?”
Graham: The first death is the death from which there is a resurrection. Thousands of people have been crucified. If Jesus had only been crucified, it would have been the first death. But He died the awful death of being given up. God’s wrath was poured out on Him, God giving Him up like He will give up rebels in the end. He was made to be sin though He knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21). But everything that happened on the cross was answering the questions. “Does sin result in death?” Yes. Is it torture at the hand of God? No. Who did torture Him? Those who served God from fear did it. And once these questions were answered, why stay in the tomb? He did stay over Sabbath to add still more significance to the Seventh Day, but He didn’t even wait for the sun to rise on Sunday morning. He went right up to Heaven to hear the universe tell Him that they understood.
Lou: So the problem of the resurrection really only comes when a person is locked into a legal model. “It couldn’t be the second death because then He couldn’t have come back from the dead.” But that is not a problem in the larger view.
Graham: That’s right.
Lou: All right, I think you’ve really clarified that. The same person also wanted to ask, “How does God forgive sins, and what is involved in receiving the remission of our sins?”
Graham: The word for “remission” really means forgiveness. It does not mean suppressing a problem for a little while, like the medical term. What’s involved in God forgiving? I believe God is forgiveness personified. Think of the prodigal son story. What had to be done for the father to receive his son back—dirty, and diseased and malnourished as he was? When the boy came home he found his father had forgiven him long before. In fact, it was only when he found out that his father had forgiven him that he really repented. With God it’s not, “If I repent, He’ll forgive me.” Rather, it’s when I find how forgiving He is, that leads me to repentance.
Lou: Here’s a question related to the previous chapter: “Are you suggesting that God has angels who go against the law and kill, such as His angel of death? Does God have a ‘death squad?’”
Graham: It comes back to the meaning of the word, “Thou shalt not kill.” In both the Hebrew and the Greek, that’s not the general word for killing, it is “murder.” “Thou shall not commit murder.” And that’s why Jesus could say, “If you hate your brother, you’ve broken that command. He who hates his brother is a murderer.” There is no commandment that simply says, “You should not kill.” There is a commandment, “You shalt not murder.” The same angels that put many of God’s children asleep will also raise them in the resurrection.
Lou: But they’re not “breaking God’s law. . .”
Graham: They’re not breaking the sixth commandment. And in the end, when the wicked die, it’s not a violation of God’s commandment either.
Lou: Couldn’t God have forgiven us without Jesus having to die?
Graham: He could have forgiven us to be sure; in fact, He did. But the questions were out there. And those questions were so potentially destructive that until the questions were answered the seeds of distrust and sin and rebellion would remain in the universe. I believe that even if Lucifer had repented and come back, Jesus would have needed to answer the questions. Once the questions were asked, you could count on God to answer them, no matter what it cost, and He did it.
Lou: Someone wrote: “There’s a lot of meaning in why we should keep the Sabbath, but it’s the specifying of the day that seems arbitrary, why should we keep the seventh day when most of the Christian world keeps the first? Why couldn’t we keep the first day the same way we keep the seventh? What difference does it make?”
Graham: That is the topic of the next chapter. The reason for bringing the Sabbath in at this point is that nothing has been misrepresented as more arbitrary about God than the Sabbath command. So I bring it in as a test case. I believe the Sabbath is actually a remedy for this misunderstanding. It is a reminder of the evidence that God is not arbitrary.

Questions and Answers (9:4)

Lou: Now here’s a challenging question for you. “You know of course, Dr. Maxwell that you are labeled a proponent of the ‘Moral Influence’ theory of the atonement.” I don’t know whether they mean that as a compliment or as a criticism. Would you please distinguish for everyone the difference between the Moral Influence Theory and the Larger Moral View that you are sharing in this book?
Graham: Now that’s very thoughtfully asked, and the answer may not be what is expected. What is the difference between the Moral Influence Theory, as it is called, and the Larger Moral View? Well, a lot depends on what people mean by the “Moral Influence Theory.” As I have asked people through the years, I don’t often get the same answer twice, so I’m not entirely sure what the questioner is asking. But I can still say something about it. The classic view of the Moral Influence Theory goes back to a man by the name of Peter Abelard in the Eleventh Century. He taught the point of view that Christ lived and died, not to make to make it possible for God to forgive us, but to demonstrate His love and so to win us back. The whole emphasis was on love. Now there are some who feel that this great controversy view that we represent is also simply to emphasize God’s love. But it’s actually so much more than that. So I would suggest that to call this larger, great controversy view the Moral Influence Theory is utterly erroneous and inadequate. Because in the larger, great controversy view, we recognize the issues before the universe, the questions about our God: Is it true that sin results in death? Is it torture and execution at the hands of a gracious God? Is it true that the obedience that springs from fear produces the character of a rebel? Theologians like Peter Abelard never, ever dealt with those issues. The great controversy view is far larger than any other. But there are those who sometimes caricature, perhaps, our understanding of the plan of salvation as the Moral Influence Theory.
Critics of the Larger Moral View generally do not acknowledge a great controversy over the character and government of God. And more than that, they do understand that what went wrong in the universe is a legal problem. In their view, we’re in legal trouble with God and He is legally bound to destroy us in His righteous justice. Fortunately for us, in that view, Jesus died to make it legally possible for God to forgive.
I believe that what went wrong in the universe was instead a breakdown of trust and trustworthiness. That meant trust and trustworthiness needed to be restored. Christ had to come to answer all these questions, not with words only, but with painful, costly demonstration. This is a far larger view and should not rightfully be called the Moral Influence Theory.
There is another aspect of this that is very significant. Is sin only a legal problem, or does sin affect you morally? Do you not only need to be forgiven, but also have a new heart and a right spirit? There is a moral aspect in the great controversy view.

Lou: I am hearing you say that the larger view includes aspects of the Moral Influence Theory, but that it takes in so much more.
Graham: It takes in so much more. That’s why I prefer “the larger view.”
Lou: I have heard the expression, “The demonstrative theory,” or “The demonstrative view of the atonement.” How do you feel about that label?
Graham: Well, I’m worried about any single label. Things are too readily and easily classified, so I’m always looking for synonyms. That’s why we have used “the larger view” quite a little in this book. There’s truth in the language of “demonstrative theory.” When a person has been accused of being untrustworthy, denials will not take care of it. Only by demonstration of trustworthiness can trust be restored. The fact that demonstration implies evidence—I like that. But I’d rather not simply call it “the demonstrative view” because some folk who use that term also have a rather narrow understanding of the issues at stake in the great controversy.

Questions and Answers (9:3)

Lou: Jesus is love personified. In Luke 11:37-52 He was invited to dine in the home of a Pharisee. He seemed to be right at home in accepting the invitation. No doubt It seemed like a good opportunity to show His love for the Pharisees. But was it still love when He pronounced woes on the Pharisees and the lawyers just before dinner?
Graham: I wish we had a video of the look on His face and the sound of His voice. I am sure there were tears in His voice when He said what He did, because He was addressing His own children. And it’s very clear in Scripture that God does not want anyone to be lost. But when people’s behavior was gross and unacceptable, He was honest with them, like a good physician. You would like the doctor to tell you the truth and to do whatever needs to be done. And so He gave them the unvarnished truth for their own sakes. This is the One who gave His life for them a little while later. So there’s a time for denunciation, but it had better be done with tears in the voice.
Lou: What if Jesus suddenly appeared at your home? Would you be afraid?
Graham: I’ve often wondered about that. I think the blood pressure would rise and the pulse would quicken and I’d hope my vascular system could handle it. But I would be saying to myself, “There is no need to be afraid.” But to have such an awesome Person come in, you’d be bound to react, wouldn’t you? I love the way that John “fell at His feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17). But Jesus immediately says to him, “Get up, and don’t be scared.” Over and over in the Bible when Ezekiel and others have fallen at His feet, He says, “Get up, don’t be scared” (Gen 15:1; 21:17; Exod 20:20; Jdg 6:22-23; Ezek 2:1; Dan 10:5-19; Luke 1:11-13; 26-30; 5:8-10). He doesn’t want us on the ground, and He doesn’t want us to be scared.
Lou: Well now Graham, what if the Father, God the Father, appeared at your home instead? Would you feel any different?
Graham: That would be a beautiful test case! If I should be more afraid of the Father than the Son, then I’m not living up to what I’ve been saying tonight. I guess I’d be saying to myself, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” and “God is just as loving as His Son.” I hope when that day comes, that my conviction will be lived to the core, that there is no need to be more afraid of the Father than of the Son.
I love to picture arriving in the hereafter and meeting Jesus first, the Son. And He says to me, “Would you like to meet the Father?”
Would I say, “Well, if You go with me, I’d be willing to go?”
Would He say in response, “You can go by yourself?”
I think it’s much more likely that Jesus would say, “Are you still a little scared?”
“Well, I’m embarrassed to say so, but yes.”
“Then I’ll go with you.” And then I’ll go in with the Son to see the Father, and the Father’s face will be just as kind as that of the Son.
You see, some folk have died a friend of the Son but still a little afraid of the Father. But they’re safe to save nevertheless. They’re willing to listen. I think there will be many happy surprises in the hereafter, when people discover that the Father is just as gentle as the Son. So we will have a lot of happy surprises in eternity.

Questions and Answers (9:2)

Lou: Someone has raised a question about hell. “Where did the idea of hell come from? It seems to be so prevalent throughout Christianity.”
Graham: One of the first Christian documents that describes hell is the Revelation of St. Peter which is in the New Christian Apocrypha. It’s a very detailed description that precedes Dante’s Inferno by many centuries. If your prevailing sin was lying, you might be hung by your tongue over a hot flame. If some other organ of the body was your instrument in sin, you might be similarly tortured, it’s very detailed.
The real origin of the belief in hell, however, is Satan’s lie in the Garden of Eden: You will not surely die” (Gen 3:4, NIV, ESV). You see, if human beings are all immortal but not all are going to be saved, then some are going to be immortally lost. That would mean they have to go somewhere else. Everyone either goes to heaven or to some other place, such as a place of sulfurous flames. In that scenario God would have no choice, since the soul is immortal anyway. I believe that a combination of the immortality of the soul, and Satan’s caricature of a vengeful God, has produced the doctrine of hell. And there is no teaching that has turned more people against God than the doctrine of eternal torment in hell.

Lou: “Could the word `wrath’ have been translated differently in the Bible? Could there have been a better word than ‘wrath’ used?”
Graham: That’s an interesting question. It brings up the limitations of human language. The Greek word for wrath is orge, which did mean wrath, even fury. In revealing Himself to us, God is limited to our human language with all the hazards that pertain to that. So we have to study the Bible in its entire context to fully understand. But that raises the question, “Why would God use the word ‘wrath’ at all, if He does not wish to be understood as angry?” It would seem that He has been willing to leave the impression that He is angry with us.
I would explain that in terms of a father’s conversation with his little girl. He has tried everything under the sun to persuade her not to help herself to cookies at three in the afternoon, and none of it has worked. So he finally puts this little youngster in front of him. And she is looking completely cute and innocent, even in the midst of iniquity. And he says, “Look, if you do that one more time, Daddy’s going to be very, very cross with you.” She’s too young to know what “cross” means. She can’t look it up in the dictionary. But she knows what “cross” means by the look on his face and the tone of his voice. It makes the father feel like a bully. Here’s this little, tiny child with pigtails, and he’s saying, “Daddy will be very, very cross with you.”
A little later, when he thinks he has impressed her adequately; he finds her tiptoeing around the corner, reaching up, and taking another cookie. And it’s so cute, he wishes he had his camera ready. But then he realizes this is the time for some stern discipline. So he puts this helpless little girl in front of him. She puts her hands behind her and assumes that cute little posture that little girls can. And the big brute says, “Daddy told you that if you did that one more time, he’d be very, very cross.” For that to work you have to look cross and sound cross. You’ve got to go through with this thing for her sake.
When it comes to the Bible, I think it’s a matter of communication. God is dealing with children. The whole human race has acted like immature children. So He has to say, “Do that one more time and I will be furious with you! And how I wish I didn’t have to say that.” So our own human experience helps us to understand the Scriptures. Parents and teachers are in the best position to read the Bible sympathetically, it seems to me.
Lou: You remind me of a friend of mine who asked his little girl as he took off his belt; “You know what’s going to happen now?” And she chuckled and said, “Your trousers are going to fall down.” He couldn’t keep a straight face, so he had to leave the room for a bit because he was trying make the message stick.
Another question. “Why don’t Bible translators use “reverence” instead of “fear.” It seems like that would help some.”
Graham: Well, that would involve interpretation, and this enters into the whole philosophy of translation. Should a version render the original literally? None of them does all the time. Such a version would be quite unreadable. So the question is, how much shall we interpret? And there’s always a certain amount of hesitation about that. When a man like Dr. Taylor (author of The Living Bible) does a sincere job of paraphrase, he gets into trouble for doing it. People feel he has interpreted too much. There is always a tension between precisely representing the original and making it clear in the English. So the Revised Standard Version, which is very conservative, simply reads “fear” and leaves it up to the reader to determine from the context whether it’s terror or reverence. That’s why I like using more than one version.

Questions and Answers (9:1)

In the original lecture series done in 1984 at the Loma Linda University Church, Graham Maxwell spoke for about a half hour each Friday night followed by written questions and answers from Lou Venden and also from the audience. The next several posts contain questions and answers from the ninth presentation, “There Is No Need to be Afraid of God.”

Lou: I love the way you put that, to imagine our Heavenly Father sitting down and talking with us. It certainly is beautiful.
Graham: If we believe that Jesus is God, He did exactly that all those years He was on earth. And if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father. Do we really believe the implications of that? Or do we think that when we get to Heaven, even Jesus will be different? No more quiet chats by the river of life?
Lou: Why is it so hard for us to really grasp this and to experience it?
Graham: Well, I can think of at least two reasons. One is our own natural limitations. It seems almost unbelievable. The other reason is that there is an adversary who is determined that we not recognize this. He wants us to have a different picture of God. That’s been his whole campaign, and he’s won so many believers that it doesn’t seem fair. His evangelism, “bad news-ism,” has been so very successful.

Lou: I have a number of questions that relate to the previous chapter, but also tie in to this one. The first is concerned with wrath and punishment. “Do you think the concept of wrath and punishment has a useful purpose? Can it help us to remember the importance of remaining in harmony with God’s truthfulness and trustworthiness?”
Graham: God has obviously used such language many, many times. Wrath and punishment have been useful to Him. But it’s sad that he had to settle for that. When Israel was noisy and irreverent, God had to strike a little fear into their hearts. And in the midst of their terror was a measure of reverence and respect. But when our reverence is based on fear only, the moment the thunder dies away the reverence evaporates. Jesus really demonstrated this in His lament over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44; Matt 23:37). There was no thunder, no lightning, and no earthquake. He simply wept quietly over the city. And many despised Him for it. I do love it, though, that the children were never afraid of Him. They would sit in His lap and according to one description they would “reach up and kiss that pensive face” (Ellen White, Steps to Christ, page 11).

Lou: Is it wrath and punishment what you are speaking about when you talk about emergency measures? Or is it the picture of a teacher standing on the desk throwing the chalk and the erasers to get our attention?
Graham: Both would be emergency measures; they are not God’s regular way of doing things. There is a whole chapter on God’s emergency measures coming (Chapter Eleven).

Lou: This same questioner went on to ask, “Do you feel comfortable so extensively re-reading passages like Revelation 14:10 in the third angel’s message?”
Graham: It’s significant that the last great message from the angels to this earth is about the destruction of the wicked. That’s very strong language. It’s God’s last message of warning just before the end. Things must be really desperate for Him to raise His voice that loud. It would be like a father walking with his son up in the mountains, and the son is getting closer and closer to the cliff. At first the father says, “Son, stop right where you are.” But he doesn’t hear. He raises his voice, but the wind is blowing it away. So finally the father at the top of his lungs shouts to the boy, “Stop where you are!!” A nearby group may say to themselves, “Listen to that heartless Father, bellowing at his poor little boy.” When they get closer and learn the whole situation they say, “Forgive us; we misunderstood.” I think many of us may owe God an apology. I’m glad He’s raised His voice. We needed it.
Lou: So Revelation 14:10 is warning us how dangerous the cliff is.
Graham: This is the strongest language in all of Scripture. But I like the fact that the one who wrote that is the same person who wrote, “There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). So we can understand that God is love and still understand the need for earthquake, wind and fire.

How Sinners Die the Second Death

Having said this, doesn’t the Bible warn us that sinners will experience God’s wrath and be burned forever? How about Revelation 14:10? “Yes, he also shall drink of the wine of God’s wrath . . . and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone . . . for ever and ever” (RSV). At first glance, that sounds like the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar all over again. Fortunately, the preceding sixty-five books of Scripture have prepared us to understand this awesome language. As we saw in the last chapter (based on Rom 1:24-28; Hos 11:7-8), God’s wrath is simply His turning away in loving disappointment from those who do not want Him anyway. This turning away leaves them to the inevitable and awful consequence of their own rebellious choice. And as He lets them go, He cries, “How can I give you up? How can I let you go?”

Revelation 14:10, however, uses the word “forever.” How long is forever? Jude 7 may be helpful. “Sodom and Gomorrah . . . serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (RSV). That sounds like “forever fire” to me, but that fire went out millennia ago. So “forever” in biblical terms need not last forever in today’s terms. Also in Exodus 21:6, there is a reference to the servant who would serve his master “forever,” but that “forever” might only last until the next jubilee or, at most, as long as this life shall last. So we need to understand the biblical meaning of forever. It offers no support for the eternally burning fires of hell.

What about the fire itself? Many times in the Bible God’s glory, the brilliance that surrounds His divine person, is described as having the appearance of fire. Look at Exodus 24:17: “Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain” (RSV). It wasn’t devouring fire. It looked like it. There are many other places in Scripture where we find the glory that surrounds God is life-giving glory. Adam and Eve could live in its presence. Lucifer used to, as he walked among the stones of fire (Isa 14:15). It is energizing, life-giving glory. It is only because we are, by our own choice, out of harmony with God that what should be life-giving is destructive. God longs to heal us and doesn’t want to lose a single one.

Someday, every one of us will come face-to-face with God, whether we are saved or lost, at either the second coming or at the third coming. Do you think we will be afraid? What if we should be among the lost? We would look up and see Christ there in His human form. Will He be angry with us? Or will He be crying, “Why will you die? How can I give you up? How can I let you go?” Like a physician, God is there, eager and ready to heal. But He cannot force us to be well. If we do not trust Him, if we are not willing to listen, He cannot heal the damage done. What else can God do if we have come to the place where we have persistently refused to listen or even rejected His offers? If we have refused to trust, we have refused to let Him help us. What else can He do but sadly give us up, the same way that He gave up His Son on the cross, and we will die? Even in the death of the wicked there is no need to be afraid of God. The choice is still ours.

One reason many people are afraid to die is because they are afraid of God. They know that when they die they will come face-to-face with some great Power. It is an awesome thing to meet this Person called God. Is it really possible to die unafraid of God? According to the Bible, yes. Hebrews 2:15 tells us that the mission of Jesus is to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (NIV). I believe that the fear of death is actually the fear of God, the fear of the judgment. Is it possible to know God well enough that one can die unafraid? Look at John 8:32: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (GNB). It is the truth about God that makes it possible to die unafraid. And every dying patient deserves to know that. People who know the truth about God can die unafraid, knowing that in their next moment of consciousness they will be in the presence of the kind of God we so much admire.

Just before Jesus Himself went out to die, He tried to sum up the ideal quality of the relationship God desires to have with His children. He said, “God wishes to deal with you as His friends.” Look at John 15:15.

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (RSV).

Jesus here contrasts servants with friends. The servant does not know what his master is doing. The master gives orders and the servant accepts and follows them without understanding why. But Jesus and His Father want us to know and to understand them as friends. God has had a few such friends through the years. One of the most notable was Moses: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face-to-face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod 33:11, RSV).

God welcomes just the kind of conversations about Him that we are having in this book. In fact, He would welcome us to have the same kind of conversation directly with Him! And in my imagination, I can see Him seated in a chair across from me. We know that He is the Infinite One whose words hung the whole vast universe in space. We know that He is the One who is worshiped with awe by all the brilliant angels. Yet as He sits there across from us, He values nothing higher than our freedom. He invites our inquiries. He does not want us to be afraid. Surely such a God deserves our deepest reverence, awe, wonder, and worship. Surely He deserves to be believed when He says, “There is no need to be afraid.”

How God Judges at the End

The Bible makes it plain that there is nothing arbitrary about the judgment. There is no arbitrary standard by which we are measured. There are no arbitrary decisions made. The choice is actually ours. Look at John 3:19: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light” (RSV). You see, if we have turned down the truth, we have not been won to trust and we don’t have a willingness to listen. Because of this, God has not been able to help us and to heal us. We don’t have a new heart and a right spirit (Ezek 36:26). We are not the kind of people who would be safe to admit to the hereafter. There is absolutely nothing arbitrary about that.

If any one hears my sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him. He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day (John 12:47, 48, RSV).

The sayings of Jesus are the truth and light that He brought to this earth. While all judgment has been given to Him (John 5:22), there is another sense in which He does not judge at all (John 8:15). You see, in the end we are not judged by Jesus or God, we are judged by the truth. It is a matter of them simply diagnosing our condition. It is a consequence. It is a result. There is nothing arbitrary about it at all. And then what God does to those who have turned down the truth (which means He has not been able to heal them) is not arbitrary either. For what does God do to those who reject the priceless truth about Him? What else can He do in a free universe but sadly give them up? As we noticed in the previous chapter: “Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie . . . God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Rom 1:25, 28, RSV). God sadly gives people up to what they chose to do anyway. In the end-time judgment, God simply recognizes the choices we have made, diagnoses our condition, and announces the results.

In those awesome words of Revelation 22:11, one day God will look at his people, some who have rejoiced in the truth and some who have turned it down. On that day He will say, “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy” (NIV). Just go on doing what you are doing. Go on being what you are. There is nothing arbitrary about that. There is no need to fear God for that reason. We have made our choice and we are reaping the results, both good and bad.

Facing the Judgment

The first angel of Revelation 14 suggests a most serious reason why we might become afraid. He says that the hour of God’s judgment has come (Rev 14:7). Those are awesome words that strike many people with fear. How thoroughly will we be judged? How much does God know about us? Hebrews 4:13 suggests that He knows a lot: “There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves” (GNB). Put that together with the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:14: “God is going to judge everything we do, whether good or bad, even things done in secret” (GNB).

How can you face a judgment at the hands of someone so well informed and be unafraid? Well, unafraid of what and unafraid of whom? The same John who warned us in Revelation 14:7 that the hour of God’s judgment has come, is the one who explains how it is possible to face the judgment without fear. In one of his letters, John uses the word “fear” with the meaning of “terror” in the face of the judgment. But notice what he does with that terror:

God is love, and whoever lives in love, lives in union with God, and God lives in union with him. Love is made perfect in us in order that we may have courage on the Judgment Day. . . There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment (1 John 4:16-18, GNB).

John’s point is surely crystal clear. If we really know the truth about God, there is no need to be afraid, even of the final judgment. And why is that? Is it only because God has given all judgment to the Son? John 5:22 says: “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (RSV). Many find that comforting, because they feel they are much more likely to receive merciful treatment at the hand of the Son than of the Father. But is that true? I’ve heard some say with real gratitude, “I have no fear of the judgment because I know I have a Friend in court.”
And I ask, “Who is that Friend?”
Then comes the warm response, “Why, Jesus, of course.”
“You mean the Father is no Friend of yours?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean that.”
“Then what did you mean when you said that you were happy to have a Friend in court and Jesus is your Friend? Is the Father no Friend? What of the Holy Spirit?”

Some derive comfort from the thought, as they consider the final judgment at the hands of One who knows us in such detail, that Jesus will be there interceding with the Father in our behalf. Does that mean that the more Jesus pleads with the Father, the more likely we are to receive merciful treatment? Think what that implies about the Father! Is the Father less loving and less forgiving than the Son? Do we think that He is exacting, unforgiving, and severe? Are we even willing, in expressing our doctrines, to support Satan’s charges against our God?

Remember Jesus’ words to Philip in John 14:7, 9: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. . . . He who has seen me has seen the Father” (RSV). If you really knew this to be true, you would never say, “I am grateful that I have a Friend in court, and I mean Jesus not the Father.” You couldn’t say that, could you? Remember Jesus’s words in John 16:26: “I need make no promise to plead to the Father for you. For the Father himself loves you” (Phillips). Or as Goodspeed’s translation put the same text: “There is no need for me to intercede with the Father for you.” According to Jesus Himself, the Son does not love us more than the Father, or understand us better than the Father. Neither is the Son more sympathetic than the Father. If we have seen the Son we have seen the Father.

According to Romans 8, all three members of the Godhead are for us; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If all of them are for us, then who is the one who is against us? Against whose charges do we need to be defended (Rom 8:26-39)? You see, whether we are judged by Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, we have no need to be afraid of God. But that is not the only reason to be unafraid. When we understand how the judgment is conducted and what determines whether we are saved or lost, we will have even further evidence that we don’t need to be afraid.