How did Jesus seek to counter religious misunderstandings of God’s law? He set out to tell the truth about His Father and the kind of obedience that is really pleasing to Him. He often did so at great risk on the Sabbath. You would think it was all innocent and good. He simply healed people and helped them on the Sabbath. But those gloomy legalists were shocked and they denounced Him for disobeying the law. Think of it! The Lawgiver was being denounced as a lawbreaker! “No,” Jesus responded, “I am not come to destroy the law and the prophets” (which meant not just the Ten Commandments, but the whole Old Testament), “I have not come to destroy them, I have come to fulfill them” (based on Matthew 5:17). In other words, He had come to explain their deeper meaning in both word and action.
By teaching and example, especially on the Sabbath, Jesus set out to correct these misunderstandings of God’s law and to explain what it was all about. He said the law was given for you. Especially was the Sabbath given for you, to be an advantage, not a restriction. He said this as He defended the right of the disciples to pluck some ears of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them (Mark 2:23): “The Sabbath was made for you—you weren’t made for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Jesus was telling them, in essence, “The Sabbath that you work so hard to keep and which has become such a burden to you, was given to help you, not to be a restriction and certainly not to be a mere test of obedience. If only you knew the truth about God and His laws, you would find that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.” Look at those famous words in Matthew:
Come to me, all of you who toil and are burdened, and I will let you rest. Let my yoke be put upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble-minded, and your hearts will find rest, for the yoke I offer you is a kindly one, and the load I ask you to bear is light (Matt 11:28-30, Goodspeed).
Jesus came gently and humbly to them, even though He was God Himself. You would think the people would be relieved to hear all this right from headquarters. But instead, they accused the Son of God of blasphemously misrepresenting His Father. They even said that it was the Devil who made Him talk about God and His laws like this (John 8:48)! And so they condemned Him as lawless and crucified Him as a heretic.
Some have explained John 8:32-36 to mean that we are free so long as we do exactly what we are told. Have you parents ever tried that with your children? “Now children, we want freedom in our home. We can have freedom so long as you do exactly what you are told. Do I make myself clear?” If your children are afraid of you enough, they will say, “You have made yourself clear.” But inside they may have serious reservations. It seems such a contradiction. Of course, everything depends upon how we understand what it is that God has actually asked us to do, and how we understand the reason why He had to ask us in the first place. I believe that all of God’s laws, particularly the Ten Commandments, were given for our best good. They were actually given to preserve freedom rather than to infringe upon it.
Law, and the use of law, however, have been seriously misunderstood throughout the Great Controversy. The most notable example of such misunderstanding occurred about 1500 years after Sinai, when the Son of God lived among a people to whom He had entrusted the Ten Commandments. Of all people, they should have understood that the Ten Commandments were an emergency measure. After all, when the Ten Commandments were originally given, Moses was there to explain that there was no need to be afraid of God or of His commandments (Exod 20:20). But when Jesus came, He found a group of people who were totally preoccupied with God’s laws and with obedience to their every detail.
Jesus never had to forbid the making of graven images when He came. The Jews had learned their lesson in the discipline of Babylonian captivity, and they never sank into ordinary idolatry again. He never had to tell them which day was the Sabbath. They regarded it as their highest duty to obey every one of the Ten Commandments. He never had to urge them to pay tithe. Matthew records that they used to tithe even the tiniest things: the seeds of mint, anise, and cumin (Matt 23:23). Nor did Jesus have to tell them they should obey the laws of hygiene. He commented on the fact that they would even strain gnats out of their goat’s milk lest they should eat a forbidden insect (Matt 23:24). Nor did He ever have to tell them to search the Scriptures. They did it all the time—though they did it for the wrong reason (John 5:39). Nor did He ever have to tell them to be careful in their association with unbelievers. In fact, when they came in from the marketplace, they used to wash themselves in certain special, ceremonial ways, lest they be contaminated by association with the Gentiles. You see, they all could say, like the rich young ruler, “All these things we have obeyed from our youth up” (Matt 19:20; Luke 18:21).
You would think that Jesus would be pleased in the face of such rigorous obedience and willingness to do precisely what they were told. You would also think they would recognize and welcome Him when He came. But all heaven watched the incredible scene of those who claimed to love God’s law denouncing the Lawgiver as a lawbreaker. It must have puzzled the angels a great deal. Jesus told them that while they were working hard to obey, they were obeying for the wrong reason (Matt 5:20 and 23:28 in context). Because they were obeying for the wrong reason, they were really not obeying at all. You can imagine how offensive this idea was to them. In fact, He went even further. He suggested that if they had truly known the God who had given the law, they would have kept the law for an entirely different reason. That would have made it possible for them to be both obedient and free at the same time (John 5:39-40; 8:32, 36).
The Old Testament prophets had dealt with this centuries before. Just to mention two, Amos and Isaiah had chided the people for their very reluctant Sabbath keeping. Amos recorded their words, “Oh, when will the Sabbath be past that we may buy and sell and get gain?” (Amos 8:5). Isaiah deplores their mechanical, unthinking obedience, particularly on the Sabbath:
The Lord said, “These people claim to worship Me, but their words are meaningless and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and traditions, which they have simply memorized” (Isa 29:13, GNB).
Or, as one translation has it: “Their worship of Me is but the commandments of men learned by rote” (Isa 29:13, RSV). And rote, unthinking worship is an insult to our intelligent God.
Conversations About God
By A. Graham Maxwell (edited by Jon Paulien)
Chapter Twelve: “God’s Law No Threat to Freedom” (12:1)
Is there anything more precious to intelligent human beings than freedom? Freedom from tyranny, freedom from fear, freedom to do the things we want to do? The good news is that God values nothing higher than our freedom. But not all His children have believed this. In fact, Satan persuaded one-third of the brilliant angels that this is not true about our God; that He is instead arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. And how God has had to work in Scripture and history to make it clear that He is not the kind of Person His enemies have made Him out to be!
We have seen that war broke out in heaven, the war that we call the Great Controversy. This war has continued and extended to this planet. This is not primarily a war in the military sense, it is a “war of words,” between Satan’s lies and the truth about God. For thousands of years now, God has sought to reveal the truth about this matter; not in claims, but with the evidence of demonstration. Yet many people in this world still believe Satan’s lies. Even among very devout religious people–even among Christians, who of all people should know better–many still believe Satan’s lies. And so the war continues.
Jesus, Paul and Moses all agree that love is the fulfillment of God’s law. But love and trust, the things that God desires the most, cannot be commanded or produced by force. Nor can they be made an obligation, something that we owe to God because He’s been so good to us. God wants more than this, and so should we! Our heavenly Father values nothing higher than the freedom of His family, and Jesus suffered and died to prove it. But if real freedom requires mutual love and trust based on evidence, why does God seem to command our love in the Decalogue?
In the previous chapter we considered some of the emergency measures God has used to hold the family together while He continues demonstrating the truth. Perhaps the most notable of these emergency measures has been His use of law. And most notable among God’s laws have been the Ten Commandments. But to many, God’s extensive use of law seems opposed to freedom. It has indeed been seriously misunderstood. Confusion arises even from Jesus’ words to His disciples on this subject. For example, in the Gospel of John Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15, RSV). And He also said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14, RSV). What kind of friendship is it that demands obedience? How do you combine “keep my commandments,” with “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free?” (John 8:32, 36).
Lou: Questions arise in regard to the second part of this chapter, your presentation on intercession. You’ve talked about intercession and a mediator as an emergency measure. Does that mean that we don’t need an advocate? First John says, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1, KJV). Are you saying that we don’t need an advocate?
Graham: As I mentioned, if one is still afraid of God, the Bible says we have an advocate with the Father. However, once we know we don’t need someone to intercede with the Father, do we still need an advocate? What counts is who is really against us. We need an advocate standing beside the Father because Satan is against us. He is the accuser of the brethren day and night before God (Rev 12:10). In Zechariah 3 who is accusing Joshua the High Priest? Who is defending? In Job 1 and 2, who is accusing? Who is defending? Since we have an enemy, we need an advocate. We need someone to represent us. To God? No. He’s our Friend as much as the Son and the Holy Spirit.
A further reason we need an advocate is that our future neighbors and friends, the inhabitants of the universe, might not be too sure about us. And God doesn’t ask them to accept His list of candidates blindly. He doesn’t run His universe that way. So He allows Satan to accuse, and He has Jesus explain. If Jesus can defend them, He does. If He can’t, He won’t. In this role of advocate and intercessor Jesus is defending His loyal children, some of whom are just babes in the truth. If they trust Him like the thief on the cross, Jesus can say, “Yes, he has a terrible record as the Devil has pointed out, but he has a new heart and a right spirit. I commend him as safe to save, even to live next door to.” And his guardian angel heaves a big sigh of relief.
Lou: So this advocate is not protecting us from God’s wrath.
Graham: No. So often, we’ve got the wrong enemy. The Father’s not our foe. “If God can be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31).
Lou: Speaking of Romans 8, in verse 26 it says that the Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered and sighs too deep for words. What about this text? How are both Jesus and the Spirit intercessors?
Graham: Well, we know the Spirit isn’t interceding with the Father. Jesus said there is no need. And the Spirit certainly isn’t interceding with the Son. So in the context of Romans 8 it says, “We do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit helps us to pray” (Rom 8:26-27). I also believe His intercession is exercised in teaching us the truth about ourselves (see texts like John 3:20-21 and Rom 2:15), and about our God (John 16:13)—that God is our friend. He helps us approach the Father in prayer. The intercession of the Spirit is helping us to see the truth and to tell the truth about ourselves. In a later chapter (Chapter Fifteen– “Talking to God As a Friend”) we will discuss the work of the Spirit in helping us talk to God.
Lou: You have talked about John 16:26 as a misunderstood or ignored text: “I say not unto you that I will pray the Father for you.” But there are so many texts about intercession and there’s this one that seems clear the other way, we don’t need an intercessor. You talked about the principle of understanding texts in the light of the whole Bible. But what if I said, “Look, let’s take all of these texts that talk about intercession and understand this one in the light of all the other texts?”
Graham: Yes. We so often say that if it’s a difficult verse, it should be understood in the light of all the clear ones. What makes this different is that Jesus labeled John 16:26 “plain and clear.” He didn’t say it was difficult. So we shouldn’t need the others to explain it.
I will accept the Son of God’s evaluation of His own statement. It is one of the only ones in the whole Bible designated as “plain and clear.” And I will understand all the other verses in the Bible in the light of this one. However, one should never leave the others out. We must build a model of understanding based on everything in the Bible. We must be able to put that precious verse in, and all the others, too.
Lou: Why does it tell us to pray in Jesus’ name? Does that mean God is too holy to approach and we need Jesus to kind of run interference, perhaps not against His anger, but in relationship to His holiness?
Graham: You said two things there of consequence. Sometimes we hear, “the Father is too holy to look on sin, so the Son came.” Are we implying the Son is not as holy as the Father? Forbid the thought! The Son is just as holy as the Father. I believe that to pray in Jesus’ name is a grateful recognition that if the Son had not come to reveal the truth, we wouldn’t know the Father. We wouldn’t know He is just as approachable as the Son. We wouldn’t be “bold to approach the throne of grace with confidence,” as Hebrews 4:16 says. We would be afraid to do it. So we pray in Jesus’ name, saying, “Thank You for the whole costly revelation and demonstration.” By the way, “Amen” is not simply a signal that the prayer is over. It implies: “I mean everything I’ve said, dear God. I really mean it!”
Lou: In Hebrews there are statements about how Jesus “was made like unto His brethren” (Heb 2:17), and He Himself has suffered being tempted (4:15), and that we can “come boldly” (4:16) because He has been tempted. Are you saying that these really aren’t important statements?
Graham: I think they are very important, but they certainly don’t mean that God had to come to this earth to learn how to be sympathetic. He came to show how sympathetic He already is. I do believe that Jesus learned as He was growing up (Heb 5:6). He learned from Scripture as we do, and He became convinced of the truth about His Father. And in this way He did grow up and became the marvelous person that He was. But He was no more friendly and understanding than His Father. He came to say, “This is what My Father is like” (John 14:9). But He also came to reveal that you can get all this from the Old Testament. That was the Bible He grew up with. How could He go out and say, “This is what My Father is like?” He got it from reading Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and Hosea, and Amos, and all those other places. The Old Testament is that clear.
The next chapter is an extension of this one, “God’s Law Is No Threat To Our Freedom.” The law has often been seen, by Christians of all denominations, as barring freedom in some way. So we will need to take some time on that topic.
Lou: One of our questioners writes, “God sent she-bears against the children who ridiculed Elisha (2 Kings 2:24). Just how does God come out looking good in that strange incident?”
Graham: Superficially He certainly doesn’t. He ran the risk of not looking very good in that situation. And the Devil would certainly like us to misunderstand. But if one reads the whole setting, in those days even the king of Israel was consulting Baalzebub, the god of flies (2 Kgs 1:16). There was very little reverence toward God. Elijah had just been translated to heaven. And these irreverent youths, following the example of their king, were mocking Elisha, “Hey Baldy, why don’t you go up too?” 2 Kings 2:23. When people are that irreverent, God has virtually lost communication with them. It’s that serious. But if we need she-bears, we’ll get she-bears.
Lou: Here’s a question along a little different line: “In reading about the sacrificial system, I get the impression that it was very messy, throwing blood on the Mercy Seat, throwing blood on Aaron and the other priests. Who cleaned the Mercy Seat off? Who cleaned the garments of Aaron and the other priests?”
Graham: Regarding how it was cleaned, there are many references to cleansing, water, scouring of pots, washing of garments. During the reign of Hezekiah there was even a complete housecleaning of the whole temple (2 Chr 29:15-19). But the most important implication of the question is the observation that the sacrificial system was messy. But if the system looks messy to us, how do you suppose it looked to God? The One who sees the little sparrow fall asked them to kill lambs. So yes, it was messy. It was painful. But God knew they needed it. It had to be that dramatic.
I think God hoped that they would always feel as sick as Adam must have felt when he killed that first lamb. He must have turned to God and said, “I can’t do it. It’s making me sick.” And I imagine God replying, “I hope it always makes you sick.” But it came to the place where people could kill God’s animals with hardly a thought. It was almost like a circus as they cut them up and burned them. The more, the better. Then God would bless them. So like other emergency measures, the sacrificial system was also misunderstood.
Lou: Could you comment on the role of the family and marriage in God’s overall plan for us? Also, is there special significance to our planet in having male and female, the two sexes?
Graham: Yes, I think God deliberately designed things this way; the sexes, the family, sharing with us the power to create little people in our own image. This whole process teaches us how difficult it is to bring children up safely and yet set them free. How can we keep them from hurting themselves when they’re little? Anyone who has had children, anyone who has been a teacher of little children, ought to be able to read the Bible very sympathetically. I think God gave marriage and the family as a very eloquent demonstration. Right there in Eden the family, the sexes, and the Sabbath became emergency measures. Some emergency measures can be very pleasant, you know.
Lou: Here’s another question: “Why would God choose circumcision as an emergency measure?”
Graham: I think it’s somewhat related to the previous question. If you don’t acknowledge that God is the Creator, then the mystery of life and reproduction may become the object of your worship. And that’s what happened with the fertility cults. One of the prevailing weaknesses of the Israelites was the temptation to go up into the mountains, and participate with the cult prostitutes. So an explanation that appeals to me is that God gave them circumcision to hold them back from such participation.
Suppose a young Israelite has followed his eyes up into the mountains and he’s there with a cult prostitute. At the last moment she looks down and says, “I see you are a Jew.” And the young man says, “I can’t do this,” and hurries home. I could see God doing something like that. Because that part of their bodies was very much involved in their greatest sins (Num 25:1-18), I think God chose something that would remind them of their identity.
Lou: Someone has asked a practical question: “I want to know how to keep the Sabbath. Several people go out to eat after church is over with. I understand that they may be going out to eat because they don’t want their wives to cook. Is that wrong because they are making people work for them on the Sabbath, or does that just mean that we are judging them? I’m confused.”
Graham: That question reminds me of what Paul said, “Let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind,” and “Who are you to judge another? Each one of us shall give account of himself to God” (based on Rom 14:5, 10). This day is ours, you know. It was given to us. Sure, it’s the Lord’s Day, it’s a day to remember the Lord, but it’s His gift to us for our best good. If I don’t observe it in the best way possible, I just lose, that’s all. So that I must decide for myself. We have no business deciding for other people. We’ve no business criticizing. Before the Damascus road, Paul would have said, “Shame on you for doing something like that. I’ll haul you into prison and maybe have you stoned.” But after the Damascus road he said, “Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5).
I also think, though, that Sabbath-keeping not only says something to ourselves and to God; it also says something to the community, the people looking on. The way we keep Sabbath can speak well or otherwise of our God, and I think we need to weigh that. What do people think about when they watch us Sabbath keepers try to keep the seventh day holy? The last two hours before sundown the saints are all trying to get home on time, so in the grocery store everybody’s pressing to the front with their baskets full. On any other day in the week a Sabbath-keeper might courteously let somebody with less in the basket go ahead, but you can’t afford to be courteous on a Friday afternoon. You’re going to keep Sabbath, even if you’ve got to break the other nine commandments to do so!
A store clerk in Loma Linda once told my wife, “We are very puzzled. Just as it begins to get dark on Friday afternoon, there is a tremendous increase in business here. In the parking lot people are rushing to and fro. We even have to put on extra clerks for a while. And then just as we’re settling into the rush, all of a sudden most of them disappear.” And the store can’t plan on the rush each Friday because it seems to come at a different time. She knows the people are religious and wonders why. If we gave her an explanation, would we say, “You know why we hurry like that? Because if we don’t get home before the sun goes down, you can’t imagine what our God would do to us.” If some of us said what we were thinking, we would not be speaking very well of God. And by the way, if we do see somebody hurrying on Friday afternoon, we have no business judging their reasons. The beauty of this whole thing is, in the larger view, you do not feel moved to condemn other people. God doesn’t condemn. He just says, “I’m so sorry; you lose.”
Lou: You mentioned in the previous chapter how important motive is. For example, with health care work, one person might do Sabbath work in a hospital because they can “get away with it,” another might see it as following in the steps of Christ.
Graham: You can’t read other people’s motives on this.
Lou: Someone raised this question: “Was there no Sabbath before Creation Week? If the commandments are a transcript of God’s character, there must have been a Sabbath before the creation of our world. And is not the Sabbath going to be carried into the new earth and eternity (Isa 66:22-23)? Will not all creation keep the same day, the seventh day, the Sabbath day?” We’ve already touched on that—but please say a word more about it.
Graham: Well, I’m not an astronomer, but I do know that it would be a great difficulty even within our own solar system for this to happen. Our planets are different sizes and rotate at different speeds. Doesn’t Venus rotate about once every year? On Venus we would be keeping Sabbath every seventh year!
Lou: So it wouldn’t be very practical to get them all coordinated.
Graham: I am impressed that the Sabbath was made for humankind. And it serves particularly well for us in the emergency. What God has for His children elsewhere in the universe, we are not told. But Jesus Himself said, “It was made for you” (Mark 2:27). So it was particularly tailored to this planet of ours.
Lou: That in a way answers the next question: “Do you think the Sabbath is observed on the other planets, or did God create it for this earth because He knew that man would not be able to speak to Him face to face after sin?” Didn’t you mention that the Sabbath was intended to help us during the emergency?
Graham: Oh, very much so. I really see the Sabbath as an emergency measure that will turn into a great celebration. So it really is a foretaste of the hereafter (Heb 4:9). The beauty would be to begin the celebration now. The Sabbath, rightly understood, is not only a reminder of the truth about God, but a foretaste of the Sabbath-like security and trust that we will have in knowing Him throughout eternity.
Lou: You emphasized that the Sabbath was a matter of celebration, not just an arbitrary test that God imposed. So someone asked this question: “If it’s not a test, then why in Revelation does it mean so much to be a commandment-keeper? If you can’t command enjoyment of the Sabbath, why is it made clear that if you don’t enjoy it, you’re going to die?”
Graham: If you have a legal approach to the Sabbath you would be worried every sundown Saturday evening, “Did I enjoy Sabbath? What if the sermon was really heavy?” No, you’ve got to sit there and say, “I’m enjoying myself. I’m enjoying myself, if I don’t I’m breaking this day.” That kind of response doesn’t make sense. It just destroys human reason. No. In the next chapter we will explore what it means to keep the commandments. I believe the Ten Commandments describe the way trustworthy people will live together. And if I don’t want to be that kind of a person, it will be a serious thing, and God will have to let me go. So it’s not arbitrary. It’s no more arbitrary, really, than breathing and eating. In a way, eating is a test of obedience. But He won’t punish you if you don’t eat. You’ll just get in very bad shape, and if you abstain from food forever, you will die. So I don’t have to follow these rules, but if I don’t, I’ll be a different kind of a person, and eventually I will just ruin myself, and I would not be safe to save.
Lou: That’s a good way to put it. That means the commandments are a statement of the way God made things to work.
Graham: And the commandments express the best way to run the universe and keep it free. I hope He’ll never run it any other way. Mutual love and trust, as described in the Ten Commandments, is the only way to have a really secure, safe, and free universe.
Lou: I want to go back to this matter of the law as an emergency measure. If I heard you correctly, you were saying that both the ceremonial law and the Ten Commandments were emergency measures. Now I can hear some Seventh-day Adventists saying, “Is that really the Adventist position? Haven’t we made a distinction in Galatians 3 and said `well, the ceremonial law was added, but the Ten Commandment Law is a transcript of God’s character; therefore, it’s eternal?’” How would you respond to that?
Graham: I’m including them all in the context of Galatians 3. But when one raises the question, “Is this the Seventh-day Adventist view?” then one has a right to say, “Who is authorized to say what the Adventist view is?” I would nominate the most influential person who ever helped shape this movement, and that would be Ellen White. When she was asked, “What law was added?” She responded, “Both the ceremonial law and the moral code of Ten Commandments” (based on Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, page 233). So I feel secure and in very good company when I take the same position.
Lou: It seems to me that you illustrated that very well when you spoke about the home and dealing with children and so on. It’s hard to imagine God having to say to the angels, “Now, angels, please don’t murder!” A commandment like that was an emergency measure in a sadly broken world.
Graham: While that is true, there is an aspect of the commandments which is universal. In the next chapter, where we talk about what the law requires, there will be an opportunity to show how the principles in the law are eternal. And I certainly hope they are, or this won’t be a safe universe to live in. While the giving of the law on Mount Sinai was an emergency measure, the principles of the law are also a transcript of God’s character.
Lou: Are there any other emergency measures that are still in use?
Graham: Yes, I think the fire and brimstone of the third angel’s message (Rev 14:9-11) is an emergency measure! That’s hardly “still, small voice” language. And then there is the Sabbath. We need this still. It speaks eloquently to us and reminds us of the truth.
Lou: That ties in with another question I wanted to ask. If the Ten Commandments were added, as you have suggested, then will there come a day when the fourth commandment, the Sabbath, won’t need to be kept anymore?
Graham: If it were merely a legal requirement or a test of obedience, that could be true. But I can see Isaiah’s point that for eternity we will keep Sabbath to celebrate the end of the emergency. We will keep it as a perpetual reminder of the price that was paid and the evidence that was demonstrated to establish peace and freedom in the family. Because the Sabbath is so eloquent with meaning rather than arbitrary, that’s the reason why it would be so widely observed for all eternity.
Lou: This matter of emergency measures is a very interesting idea, and it sparked a really good question: “Why does an omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent God allow Himself to get into a situation where emergency measures are needed? Why didn’t God plan better?” The impression this question leaves is that something happened that God wasn’t counting on. How would you answer that?
Graham: I think that’s why several times in the Bible we have to have things like the wheels within the wheels in Ezekiel. That picture suggests that God is calmly in control amidst all the complexities of human affairs. Books like Daniel and Revelation suggest that God foresaw all these complexities. He was not surprised, but in human terms an emergency has developed for which God has made adequate provision. That He would allow the emergency to occur, when He has the power to run the universe any way He wants, speaks very well of Him and speaks volumes about the value of freedom to our God. That He would allow the emergency says that an even higher value was at stake in the way God responded to rebellion in the universe.
Lou: But with the phrase “emergency measures,” are we saying that God is meeting a difficult situation in a way that runs the risk that we might misunderstand Him? Or that the Devil might use it to confuse us about God’s character?
Graham: Satan has very much used these things against God. That’s why Jesus said, “I haven’t come to destroy the law and the prophets” [the Old Testament], “I have come to explain” (Matt 5:17). For example, He set out to explain the Old Testament rule about “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Matt 5:38, cf. Lev 24:20). That’s an emergency measure. I suspect they didn’t like Jesus’ explanation very much (Matt 5:39-48). He also gave an explanation of the divorce rule in Deuteronomy 24:1-3 (Matt 19:3-10), and they didn’t like that explanation either. Remember even His own disciples said, “You’re taking away our only escape clause in the marriage ceremony! If that’s the case, it would be better not to marry” (Matt 19:10). And He responded to them, “Not everybody can take this” (Matt 19:11-12). So Jesus did come to explain—because these things could be misunderstood. On the other hand, there were Old Testament prophets that didn’t misunderstand. That’s what’s so impressive.
Lou: You’ve been speaking about an emergency and a time period of emergency. The question is this: “Has the emergency ended yet? When will it end? Are we still living in the emergency?”
Graham: If one thinks of the emergency as a legal problem, maybe it all ended at the cross. But look around us, we’re still in the emergency. I would say the emergency is not over until God’s last emergency measure is no longer needed. I would think of the last emergency measure as the veiling of His life-giving glory, lest we be consumed. That’s what Christ did when He came. “He veiled the dazzling splendor of His divinity that human beings might come to know God without being consumed” (Ellen G. White, Ministry of Healing, page 419). That’s an emergency measure. So not until the end of the millennium, when everything is done and no one will misunderstand, will God unveil His life-giving glory. Then the last emergency measure will be over, and everything will come to a natural conclusion. So we’re still looking forward to the end of these measures. That doesn’t mean the cross is somehow inadequate. You can’t add to the cross. The provision is totally adequate. But we’re still in the emergency period.
There is a second emergency measure that has been seriously misunderstood. If God really is so gracious, and if He is love personified, why does the Bible picture the need for mediation and intercession–for someone to stand between us and the anger of an offended God? I believe that Satan would love to have us misunderstand this. For nothing can really distort the picture of God more than a misunderstanding of this most gracious of His provisions. Satan would love for us to believe that were it not for Christ’s constant intercession on our behalf, the Father could never find it in His own heart to forgive and to heal.
Is God, after all, unforgiving and severe? We know that isn’t true, yet priestly intercession runs all through the Scriptures, especially the intercession and mediation of our Lord. Could priestly intercession also be an emergency measure tailored to meet our needs until we come to know God better, until we realize there is no need for anyone to stand between us and our God? We have had an enemy between, no question, the damage has been devastating. But do we need a friend between? And if so, why?
God came down onto Mount Sinai to speak to His people, remember? There was such irreverence that God had to show His might and power, and the people were terrified. They turned to Moses and said, “Don’t let God speak to us lest we die. You speak to Him first and then you speak to us” (based on Exodus 20:19). They begged for an intercessor, for someone in between, though God wanted to speak directly to them. “They said to Moses, ‘If you speak to us, we will listen; but we are afraid that if God speaks to us, we will die.’ Moses replied, ‘Don’t be afraid’” (Exod 20:19-20, GNB).
Now actually, God had already been speaking to them and they had not died. They had noticed this, but they just didn’t want to run the risk any further. Look at what the people said in Deuteronomy:
And [Israel] said, “Today we have seen that it is possible for a man to continue to live, even though God has spoken to him. But why should we risk death again? That terrible fire will destroy us. We are sure to die if we hear the Lord our God speak again. . . . Go back, Moses, and listen to everything that the Lord our God says. Then return and tell us what He said to you. We will listen and obey” (Deut 5:24, 25, and 27, GNB).
You see, the people pled for a mediator. They pled for a friend between them and God. They needed him. God didn’t need someone in between. But Moses was such a friend. Was there anyone between Moses and God? Look at Numbers 12:
If any man among you is a prophet I make myself known to him in a vision, I speak to him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses; he is at home in my house; I speak with him face to face, plainly and not in riddles (Num 12:6-8, Jerusalem).
Compare that with Exodus 33: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod 33:11, RSV). There was no one between. Years later, Jesus tried to encourage the disciples to believe that He wanted to speak to them as friends, the way He used to talk to Moses:
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 (John 15:15, RSV).
When friends speak together, they speak plainly, face to face. Among friends there is explanation. There is understanding desired and achieved. It is quite apparent that Jesus didn’t want blind, do as you’re told, obedience. He wanted the understanding cooperation of friends. He wanted His disciples to obey because they agreed. He wanted them to admire God for His wise and gracious ways. That is the obedience of a free person. That is intelligent obedience, as the Bible describes it.
When we are friends, no one needs to come in between. When friends are talking together, no one needs to intervene, intercede or protect one friend from another. The disciples could see no need at all for anyone to come between them and Christ. On that they were clear. They weren’t afraid of Him. But they were not so sure about the Father. That is what led them to say, “Tell us more about the Father.” That is, tell us more about the One who requires all the sacrifices and the priestly intercession. “Jesus, could that God, the Father, be like You?” And you remember Christ’s stunning reply: “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (based on John 14:9).
As to this whole matter of intercession, Jesus is the one who gave us that whole system because we needed it. But the time came, in the upper room, for Jesus to plainly tell them that there really is no need for this:
I have been speaking to you in parables— but the time is coming to give up parables and tell you plainly about the Father. When that day comes, you will make your requests to him (my emphasis) in my name, for I need make no promise to plead to the Father for you, for the Father himself loves you (John 16:25-26, Phillips).
Goodspeed translated the last part, “There is no need for Me to intercede with the Father for you, for the Father loves you Himself.”
Think of the implications of this passage! There was no one standing between God and His friend Abraham. There was no one between God and His friend Moses. And for three and a half years there was no one between God and the disciples. And no one stood between God and Judas as the Creator knelt and washed His betrayer’s dirty feet. Even though Judas had passed the point of no return, there still was no need for anyone to stand between him and his God.
For those who are still afraid of God, it is good to know we have a Friend between. God has made provision for your forgiveness, and He has provided a friend to stand between you and our just and holy God. And who is that friend anyway? “Thomas answered him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!’” John 20:28 (RSV). So I say the following with all deference; if you still need a friend other than the Father, it means you still need emergency measures.
But in the larger, great controversy view of all sixty-six books, there is far better news for us than intercession from a mediator. There is no need to be afraid of God the Father. The Father is forgiveness personified. There is no need for anyone to stand between Him and His most wayward child. And, in any case, the Friend who came to win us back to God is none other than God Himself. This reality says so much about the quality of life in the hereafter. We are truly free to be friends with God now, and we will truly be friends of God in eternity.