Monthly Archives: September 2019

Satan and Spiritual Satisfaction (17:6)

Just as God in many and various ways has sought to reveal the truth to us (Heb 1:1), so in many and various ways Satan has sought to keep us from seeing this truth. He has tried to deceive us into turning against this truth, even as we are claiming to believe it. One of his most successful deceptions has been leading God’s people into a grateful satisfaction. They come to feel that the Lord has blessed them with so much light that they really don’t need to pursue it anymore. It can even seem an act of gratitude to God to stop learning and growing. God has favored them with so much truth that they become conservative and discourage further investigation. Revelation 3 has a most serious message for such falsely secure saints:

I know what you have done; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either one or the other! But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth! You say, “I am rich and well off; I have all I need.” But you do not know how miserable and pitiful you are! You are poor, naked, and blind (Rev 3:15-17, GNB).

The Greek word for “miserable” above means to be worn out from hard work. The Laodiceans are worn out from trying to please the Lord. At the same time they are satisfied with their efforts and what they believe they have from God. But this combination of hard work and spiritual self-satisfaction does not make God angry, it makes Him sick. The word translated “spit” above is where we get the English word “emetic.” That’s why some versions say, “I am going to vomit you out of My mouth.”

Satan and Evangelism (17:5)

At first, Saul (later Paul) shared the same picture of God. His evangelistic methods showed that he, too, had been deceived. He saw nothing wrong in using force or fear to win converts to the kind of God he worshiped. And he was not alone in this. Jesus had very serious words for hard working evangelists and soul-winners who portray a false picture of God. What a devastating thing it will be for evangelists to find out later that this is what they have been doing:

When the Judgment Day comes, many will say to me, “Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God’s message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!” Then I will say to them, “I never knew you” (Matt 7:22-23, GNB).

In other words, Jesus is saying, “We were never friends. You never really knew the kind of person I am. By the way you represented the truth to people, you actually supported Satan’s charges against Me and My Father.”

The Special Target of Satan’s Deceptions (17:4)

Naturally, those who remain loyal to God are the special target of Satan’s final effort to deceive. Revelation 12, the chapter that first mentions the war in heaven, describes God’s loyal ones as being the special objects of Satan’s wrath (12:12). He goes to make war on those called the Remnant, the ones left over. Those who are the object of Satan’s special wrath are: “All those who obey God’s commandments and are faithful to the truth revealed by Jesus” (Rev 12:17, GNB). They do not accept Satan’s lies.

If we count ourselves among God’s loyal people, we would do well to notice Satan’s successes through the centuries in deceiving the saints. He doesn’t normally tempt saints into the gross indulgences, the things which most saints would never think of doing. Rather, Satan has used insidious methods to turn saints against our heavenly Father, even while they professed to be God’s chosen people. We remember his original success among the brilliant angels in heaven. How is it possible Satan could deceive them right in the very presence of the Father? Yet he did.

We gain some insight into Satan’s deceptions as we consider how he worked against God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. After the discipline of Babylon and the great revival and reformation that took place under Ezra and Nehemiah, God’s Old Testament people never worshiped idols again. Oh, how they read their Bibles, paid their tithe, watched their diet, and were so very careful not to be contaminated by association with unbelievers! Oh, how they waited for the coming of their Messiah! You could say, in principle, they were all eager “adventists.”

Yet, when the Messiah came to live among them, they denounced His picture of the Father as heretical and unbiblical. They even said the Son of God had a devil to be talking about His Father that way: “The Jews answered Him, ‘Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?’” John 8:48, NIV. Imagine them saying that the Lord had a demon for describing God the way He did! When they said that the Lord had a devil, they seemed so devout. They were eager to be known as God’s true people, even working hard to win others to the truth. Recall Jesus’ own words as He commented on the worldwide evangelistic efforts of His people in those days:

How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You sail the seas and cross whole countries to win one convert; and when you succeed, you make him twice as deserving of going to hell as you yourselves are. . . ! You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin, but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice and mercy and honesty. . . . Blind guides! You strain a fly out of your drink, but swallow a camel (Matt 23:15, 23-24, GNB)!

They would win that convert to the Sabbath and all those other things. Yet their convert might at the same time be a son of hell, as other versions say. They had accepted Satan’s picture of God and completely overlooked what God really wanted from them.

In saying this I am not being disrespectful to Jewish people. Keep in mind, when I refer to the Jews, that Jesus was a Jew. Paul was a Jew. The apostles were Jews. The prophets of the Old Testament were Jews. Where would we be but for the Jews? Jews have always sought to be God’s obedient saints. I am simply pointing out that their failings then were similar to ours now. Notice how their passion to obey God caused a serious problem for them on crucifixion Friday:

Early in the morning Jesus was taken from Caiaphas’ house to the governor’s palace. The Jewish authorities did not go inside the palace, for they wanted to keep themselves ritually clean, in order to be able to eat the Passover meal (John 18:28, GNB).

Think of what the Passover represented. The Jews rightly and devoutly wanted to partake of the Passover. But the crucifixion threatened to interrupt their plans. Since the day of the crucifixion was not just a Passover, but a Passover Friday, there was one additional problem that faced them:

Now it was the day of Preparation [Friday], and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down (John 19:31, NIV).

After the bodies were taken down, they hurried home to keep the Sabbath holy. This is perhaps the most insane thing in the history of the universe. Having nailed their Saviour to the cross, they ran home to keep the Sabbath holy in honor of the very One they had just crucified. They had watched the way Jesus behaved as He suffered. They heard Him say, “I forgive you.” They heard Him say to John, “Please look after My mother.” They heard Him forgiving the thief. Jesus had behaved precisely as the Old Testament prophets had said He would. But they were so deceived by Satan’s lies that they were totally unmoved by this. Instead they asserted that Jesus was the One who had accepted Satan’s lies about God.

The Center of Satan’s Deceptive Activity Today (17:3)

It was insane of the adversary to begin this war over his desire to be worshiped as God. It is equally insane for him to continue this war, now that he knows that he has lost. But continue he does, in a mad desire to bring down as many as he can with him. And since no one in the wider universe is willing to listen to his charges any more, he concentrates his destructive efforts on us here on this planet. Only on earth can he find individuals willing to listen, he even finds many who agree with him. That explains the warning of Revelation 12:

Be glad, you heavens, and all you that live there! But how terrible for the earth and the sea! For the Devil has come down to you, and he is filled with rage, because he knows that he has only a little time left (Rev 12:12, GNB).

We are at the center of Satan’s deceptive activity because earth is where we live. Hence Peter offers a similar warning in 1 Peter 5:8-9, GNB: “Be alert, be on watch! Your enemy, the Devil, roams around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Be firm in your faith and resist him. . . .”

The apostle John warns that Satan’s final efforts to deceive will apparently be rewarded with complete success. For the whole world is described as worshiping him, the very thing he’s wanted all along:

The beast [Satan working through agents on earth], was allowed to make proud claims which were insulting to God. . . . It was allowed to fight against God’s people and to defeat them. . . . All people living on earth will worship it, except those whose names were written before the creation of the world in the book of the living. . . . This calls for endurance and faith on the part of God’s people [emphases supplied]. Rev 13:5, 7, 8, 10, GNB.

These words in Revelation 13 remind us of Revelation 14:12: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” [emphases supplied]. Rev 14:12, RSV. So that appeal is made more than once. The closing up of the Great Controversy and Satan’s final effort to deceive call for endurance and faith on the part of God’s people.

The Cross and Satan’s Deceptions (17:2)

How easily Jesus could have used His power to blot out His tormentors at the cross. And He knew, moreover, that if He used His power, the people would be pleased. They would follow Him, but for the wrong reason. The people were looking for a Messiah that would use His power to conquer their enemies and set up an earthly kingdom where they could rule over the world. What a temptation it must have been for Christ to demonstrate His power and His majesty, to come down off the cross and blot out the Roman soldiers, to see all the people fall at His feet and worship Him. If He had done that, a cry would have gone throughout Judea and the countries beyond. “The Messiah has come! The Messiah has come!” How rewarding that might have seemed for at least a moment.

Satan had done his best to break down Jesus’ trust in His Father and in His mission to reveal the truth about God. But the things that God desires the most; love, trust, peace and freedom; are not produced by shows of power or force. They are not produced by terrifying people until they fall on their faces in fear. So Satan watched in frustrated fury as Jesus, instead of becoming angry, said to His tormentors: “I forgive you” (Luke 23:34). Satan watched Jesus saying to John, “Please look after My mother” (John 19:25-27). Satan watched Jesus say to the repentant thief, “I would be pleased to remember you when I come into My kingdom” (based on Luke 23:42-43).

Jesus’ behavior at the cross completely refuted Satan’s charges that God is arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. All the other questions that had been raised about God’s character and government had also been clearly answered, not with claims, but in very costly and painful demonstration (see “Three Questions Regarding the Character of God” in Chapter Eight). The angels in the universe got the message. They have been celebrating ever since. How do you think Satan feels when he hears lyrics like the following?

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. . . . You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power. . . . Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear [reverence], you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed (Rev 4:8, 11; 15:3-4, NIV).

The object of this praise is God’s own righteousness. That is the crucial issue in the cosmic view that the great controversy theme provides. In the narrower view, we are more preoccupied with what God has done for you and me. But if that were the primary focus, and it is an important one (Rev 5:9-10), they would not be singing about God’s righteousness. God has been accused of being unrighteous and unworthy of the trust and worship of His children throughout the universe. That is also the theme of Romans 3:25-26. Jesus died to demonstrate the righteousness and the trustworthiness of our God. Even before the victory on the cross, as Jesus watched the disciples gradually learning the truth about His Father, He could say that He “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18, RSV).

Chapter Seventeen: “Satan’s Final Effort to Deceive” (17:1)

The book of Revelation describes not only God’s last pleading with His children (Rev 14:6-12) but also Satan’s final effort to deceive (Rev 13:12-18). Though Jesus “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18), the defeated enemy of God and man still “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8), knowing that his time is short (Rev 12:12). The one whose insane desire to be God led to the war up in heaven will at last seem to enjoy complete success (Rev 13:8). So how can we resist Satan’s last and most diabolical attempt to convince us of the truthfulness of his lies about God? How will he seek to persuade us to join his side as the great controversy over God’s character and government comes to its end? Revelation 13 describes Satan’s final effort to deceive us into accepting his lies as the truth.

When Adolph Hitler knew that he had lost the war, he announced his intention to bring the whole Third Reich down with him in destruction. The world said he was mad. Satan suffers from a similar madness. When Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), Satan knew that he had lost the war. He knew that the falsity of his charges had been exposed before the whole family of the universe. He knew that he had failed to provoke the Son of God to anger and retaliation. He had lost his case. Like Hitler, his only remaining purpose is to bring as many as possible down with him at the end (Rev 12:12).

Questions and Answers (16:11)

Lou: I’m intrigued by the Maxwell version of Romans 3:25-26 that you gave earlier. Why do so many versions translate this gospel passage as a revelation of God’s activity in salvation rather than a revelation of God’s character, or the kind of person God is? Is the gospel the truth about God’s character or the truth about how God saves us?

Graham: To understand what Paul is saying here, you need to go back to Romans 1:17-18. According to the Greek of verse seventeen, the gospel derives its power from the fact that it reveals the righteousness of God. But then in verse eighteen Paul says, “The wrath of God is revealed.” The Greek in these two phrases is almost identical. It is God’s wrath one verse below, and God’s righteousness one verse above. But many of our good Christian friends say, “Why would God’s righteousness need to be revealed? He’s the Sovereign of all things, of course He’s righteous.” You see, following Luther’s example, they don’t understand this text in light of the great controversy over the character and government of God.
In the larger, great controversy view, it’s God’s righteousness that has been challenged. If God is not proved to be righteous, there is no basis for us to trust Him. The good news, in that case, is that God is righteous. Those who are not aware of a conflict over His righteousness, choose something else, such as, “It’s God’s way of righting you and me.” What’s beautiful about this, though, is that both ideas are true. If the good news is about God’s righteousness, then the revelation of God’s righteousness is the way in which He rights you and me. And so the larger view contains the smaller view, but the narrow view denies the larger view.
That’s what I like about the larger view of Scripture. You can be much more generous when you hold it. You can say, with the beautiful Good News Bible, “God’s way of righting wrong.” That’s beautiful. But what is God’s way of setting men right with Himself? It is to reveal and demonstrate the truth about His own righteousness at infinite cost. It is our privilege to explain the larger great controversy view from all sixty-six books of the Bible. That view allows the Bible to be translated very literally in Romans 1:16-17, and even leaves room for narrower views which are more focused on what God has done for you and me. To many of our friends, the good news is primarily what God has done for you and me, the plan of salvation. The larger view, on the other hand, is the good news that God is not as His enemies have made Him out to be. And to see Him like that is to be won to repentance and faith. The plan of salvation has at its very heart the revelation and the demonstration of the truth about the righteousness of God. That’s a more inclusive view. That’s why we venture sometimes to call it the “Larger View.”

Lou: Another question: “I understand that the wrath of Satan (Rev 12:12, 17) and the wrath of God (Rev 14:10; 15:1) are based on the same word in the original language. How can we fit Satan’s wrath into the picture you are helping us to see regarding God’s wrath? Or could it be that I am misinformed regarding the original language?”

Graham: Yes, the two main words for “wrath” in the Greek are orge and thumos. Both words are used for God (in Rev 14:10) and for Satan (in Rev 12:12, 17), the same words. Similarly, the word “faith” is used for “saving faith” or “trust” (Rom 3:28) and also for the frightened kind of faith the devils have (James 2:19). The only difference is that when God expresses His wrath, He sadly gives us up. When the Devil comes down with great wrath, he comes “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet 5:8). That’s the difference between the two. Same words, different context. The context indicates the meaning.

Lou: It has to do with the kind of person the Devil is and the kind of person that God is. Because their characters are different, their expressions of wrath are also different.

Graham: That’s the difference.

Lou: All right. Another friend has raised this question. I think it’s a very important one. “Are we going to have the same freedom that Adam and Eve had when we go to heaven—free to choose, perfect freedom of choice?” What about this matter of freedom which you have stressed so much?

Graham: Well, when you think of the price God has paid to show what freedom means to Him, and to restore freedom, you could say, “Absolutely, yes.” The end of the conflict doesn’t mean that freedom is gone, to the contrary.

Lou: Let’s move very quickly to one other question: “Why wasn’t the conflict ended with Christ’s victory at the cross and His resurrection? Why has pain and suffering gone on since then?” We have covered this before, but it may help to review it here.

Graham: The fact that this issue keeps coming up suggests how important it is. We will address it again at some length in “God Waits for His Children to Grow Up” (Chapter Eighteen). In the narrower, more legal view, if it’s done at the cross, why wait any longer? In the larger, great controversy view, there are terrible events to occur at the End, and there will need to be a mature generation— not a generation of children, or even the “dear idiots” of Galatia (Gal 3:1). There needs to be a group of Jobs who are so grown up and settled into the truth, that like Paul they could say: “If even an angel from heaven should come with a different gospel,” pretending to be Christ, “he is wrong and we will not believe it” (Gal 1:8-9). So God in mercy waits.

Lou: Our next chapter is “Satan’s Final Effort to Deceive.” What more important subject could we study to be prepared for these final days?

Graham: I considered putting that chapter before this one, but I wanted to do the good news first. Having said that, it is a truly important subject for the times in which we live.

Questions and Answers (16:10)

Lou: You spoke about the last sentence in the third angel’s message (Rev 14:12). Is that really part of the message? The punctuation seems a bit ambiguous.

Graham: Most commentators believe verse twelve is included in the third angel’s message, even though in most translations the quotation marks close with verse eleven. But the message of the third angel is so fearsome, it calls for the endurance of the saints. Perhaps verse twelve is a response to all three messages, but it especially responds to that dreadful number three.

Lou: I’m concerned about the wording of verse twelve because it has been a favorite of mine for many years. In the New International Version it talks about “remaining faithful to Jesus.” The King James, which I learned many years ago, talks about “having the faith of Jesus.” How do we interpret that phrase?

Graham: Well, it’s a technical thing, but the Greek can be translated “faith in Jesus” or “the faith that Jesus had.” And that’s why some versions go one way and some go the other, and none of them are consistent in the way they translate it from one place to another.

Lou: How do you make that kind of choice as a Greek scholar?

Graham: Well, the context will sometimes indicate. At other times, the context makes no difference either way. In this case, Revelation 13 talks of those who are loyal to the adversary, and Revelation 14 talks of those who are loyal to the true Christ. So in Revelation 14:12 I like the translation “faithful to Jesus.” But suppose it’s the other way. “The saints are those who have a faith in God such as Jesus did” or, “The saints are those who trust in Jesus.” Either way we come to exactly the same conclusion. So it really makes no difference. If I were to create my own version, though, I’d put it, “Remain loyal to, or trust in, Jesus.”

Lou: There’s another word in there: “Here is the patience of the saints” (KJV). Other translations say: “Here is the endurance of the saints” (RSV, ESV). And still others have “patient endurance” (NIV).

Graham: That last phrase is an interesting combination of patience and endurance. One possible translation is “patience,” as in “I am patiently waiting for the Lord to come; don’t disturb me.” The underlying Greek word means “remaining under,” as if you were pushing something or carrying a heavy burden. You put your shoulder to the wheel, you stay under, and you shove with all your might. That’s the root word here. “Endurance” is a better English translation. But the New International is even better, “This calls for patient endurance.” That’s really bridging both ideas. Patient endurance isn’t easy.

Lou: It strikes me that this phrase is comparable to our colloquial expression today, “hanging in there.”

Graham: That’s true.

Lou: The third angel’s message refers to a “mark of the beast” (Rev 14:9, see also 13:15-17). Many Christians put a lot of emphasis upon the mark of the beast. It seems to be very important to the message. So what is it?

Graham: Well, since dreadful things happen to those who have the mark, we had better know something about it. There are many, many different answers to your question. We will go into this in more detail in the next chapter, when we talk about Satan’s final effort to deceive. In a nutshell, earlier in the book of Revelation it talks about God’s loyal people having a seal (Rev 7:1-4). It seems they have some mark of loyalty and trust. The mark of the beast seems to be comparable to this seal. Those who have the mark prefer Satan’s lies to the truth. They have accepted him, the false Christ, as their redeemer. So we need to identify something that would be an appropriate mark. I’m very impressed with the fact that if you research Vicarius Filii Dei, a historic papal title, the literal meaning is “substitute for the Son of God,” which is exactly what Satan has wanted to be. But I’m more intrigued with the fact that, through the centuries, you can find the very number 666 connected with devil worship and other misrepresentations of the truth. Whatever it is, the mark of the beast is connected with rejection of the truth, a preference for Satan’s lies, and loyalty to him.
We will focus more on these issues in the next chapter. The issues are more important than the identity of the mark. You won’t get the mark unless you prefer Satan’s side, so I’m more concerned about being on the right side, than about what the mark itself might be. Because if I’m on the right side, I won’t get it.

Questions and Answers (16:9)

Lou: Now in light of this book’s theme that there is no need to be afraid of God, I have to ask; how can you preach the three angels’ messages without inspiring fear? Even the first angel’s message sounds a note of judgment (Rev 14:7). That makes one feel a bit uneasy. And after that comes the second and the third. How can you preach judgment, even in the first, without producing fear?

Graham: This is a very good illustration of the points we made before. We need to interpret texts like these. We did some of this in Chapter Nine, the one entitled “There Is No Need to Be Afraid of God.” We talked about judgment there. People interpret the concept of judgment in various ways. Those who prefer a more legal model of atonement will say, “There is no need to be afraid in the judgment, because we have a Friend up there. But they don’t mean the Father, they mean the Son. Or they may say, “We have no need to be afraid, because the legal penalty has been paid. The Father is fearsome, but if you’re paid up you don’t have to worry.”
I believe the good news that we don’t have to be afraid is based on the fact that our Friend up there is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three are our friends. That’s the best reason for facing the judgment unafraid.

Lou: You’ve challenged us to the hard work of thinking, yet you’ve still said the message is simple enough that a child can understand. If that’s true, then how is it that people have so many different versions of the gospel, even within our own fellowship? Why is there so much disagreement, often generating more heat than light, over the gospel? Why isn’t it so simple that everyone can say, “Oh yes, fine, that’s it, I agree.”

Graham: Well, Paul seemed to think it was simple. He says: “Since the death of Christ was explained so clearly to you, how could you be such dear idiots as to go back to the other view?” He even goes so far as to say: “Who has been casting a spell over you?” or as some versions say: “Who has bewitched you?” Galatians 3:1. Actually, Paul was right about that. We cannot leave out the adversary when talking about the gospel. The gospel is what defeats him. And he is determined to pervert it, not so much by contradicting it as by twisting it. There are many “twistings” of the good news and the adversary is involved in that. But we also need to allow for some honest differences. It’s hard to give up our prejudices, so we should be patient with each other. But the day is coming when we all need to have it clearly worked out, so we can stake our lives on it and survive the troubles of the End-time. We will have more to say about that in Chapter Eighteen.

Lou: Is there a sense, though, in which the gospel is such a gem that we will never fully encompass all of its beauty?

Graham: Oh, I like that. That was good to add. There are always different facets, but the different facets will not contradict each other. It’s only worrisome when there’s a contradiction. But no one person will see it all, nor speak of it in exactly the same way. Yes, that’s very well said.

Lou: Matthew 24:14 speaks of Jesus’ promise that the gospel will be preached in all the world. Now if the three angels’ messages are that gospel and they are to be proclaimed before the End comes, how widely are these messages being proclaimed and how close are we to that day?

Graham: An even more important question would be: Suppose we could document that the three angels’ messages were being broadcast to the entire world, how sure could we be that we’re giving them correctly? To me that would be the more worrisome thing, because there are different versions of how people understand them. But even if we knew they were being given correctly, would we ever be able to tell the day when Jesus will come? I don’t think we’ll ever know. We just need to give the message and go on giving it, and the Lord will know when the work is done.

Lou: And when He comes, we will know that it was completed.

Graham: Paul was much less concerned to know when it would be finished; than that it would be finished. He said, “I want to get to you in Rome and beyond; I’d like to get everywhere with this good news” (based on Romans 15). That should be our preoccupation as well, I think.

Questions and Answers (16:8)

Lou: Graham, you and I know that the Seventh-day Adventist denomination is strongly connected with this third angel’s message. How was it that our church came to identify with the third angel’s message?

Graham: It’s actually something of a historical accident. The Adventist pioneers saw the three angels happening in a historical order. The first angel’s message was given, and then the second, and then the third. We do feel that we’re the people with the final message, which includes number three. But the Adventist pioneers always referred to “the three angels’ messages.” They realized it’s a barren message to preach number three alone. We should always preach all three.

Lou: Would you go so far as to say that there’s something especially unique about this third angel’s message? Is it appropriate to identify myself as a Christian who believes in the third angel’s message?

Graham: Well, if one took the third angel’s message just the way it reads without understanding what the rest of the Bible has said about it, then a Seventh-day Adventist is a Christian who believes in eternal torment.

Lou: Uh, oh! That’s not what I had in mind!

Graham: I’m sure it wasn’t, but by calling people’s attention to the meaning of the cross in the larger setting of the Great Controversy, we can offer a truly biblical explanation of the third angel. At first glance, the third angel’s message is fearsome. But to explain it in the light of how and why Jesus died is to bring very heartening news to people. The message is serious, yes, but it is no reason to be afraid of God.

Lou: So the Seventh-day Adventist Church has chosen to strongly identify itself with all of the three angels’ messages (Rev 14:6-12). How did that choice come about? Do you think it was a good one?

Graham: I think it was a very good choice, because the position that these three messages have in the Bible suggests they are the final messages of invitation and warning. They also provide us with a wonderful opportunity to summarize all the rest of Scripture. If you read these three messages apart from the rest of the Bible, they’re fearsome. But if you read them in the light of all sixty-six Bible books, it is an opportunity to demonstrate our conviction that the whole Bible is the word of God. The Bible should be read as a whole, and these three messages must be understood in the light of all that’s gone before.

Lou: But that raises another question. Why not just take the third angel’s message (Rev 14:9-11) as it reads? Why not read it and just believe it the way it reads, that people are going to be burned forever, that the smoke of their burning goes up forever and ever (14:11)?

Graham: Well, if you were reading the whole Bible you would just have read in Jude that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with eternal fire (Jude 1:7), but that fire went out a long time ago. So the book of Jude prepares you for these words in Revelation. And then there is the slave who doesn’t want to be set free, so they punch a hole through the lobe of his ear and he serves his master “forever” (Exod 21:2-6). The rest of the Bible prepares you to understand this fire and smoke that goes up forever and ever. See also the section in Chapter Nine on “How Sinners Die the Second Death.”

Lou: So you’re saying that I have to interpret the Bible to find its real meaning. I can’t just take the surface meaning of texts. Each text has a context and a history, so I have to work at understanding Scripture.

Graham: When people say, “We must take that text just the way it reads,” I often say, “Well, let’s turn over here to Deuteronomy where it says, `Take the tithe and buy strong drink with it and rejoice before the Lord’” (Deut 14:22-26).
And they’ll say, “Oh no, don’t take that text just the way it reads; let’s interpret that with care.”
And then we turn to the text where it says, “Give wine to the poor, that they may forget their misery” (based on Proverbs 31:6-7).
And they will say, “No, let’s interpret that.”
Then we go to, “It would be better not to marry; but it’s all right if you can’t control yourself” (based on 1 Cor 7:36-37).
“Oh, let’s interpret that.”
“Women shouldn’t speak in church” (based on 1 Cor 14:34-35).
“Let’s interpret that.”
Then we come to the third angel’s message and they say, “Let’s take it just how it reads.”
When it comes to the Bible, we need to be consistent all the way through. We want to find the true meaning, we don’t want to cheat. We want to know exactly what it means. And it takes the whole of the Bible to do that.