Monthly Archives: November 2019

Biblical Examples of Maturity (18:6)

When Saul of Tarsus (Paul) was a grown-up man and the religious leader of his people, he came to realize that in his legalistic theology he was still a little child. He had assumed he was doing God a favor when he helped stone Stephen to death (Acts 7:58 – 8:1). But when he learned the truth about God, he began to grow up and put away childish things. He wrote: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11, RSV). In the context of 1 Corinthians 13, maturity is defined as love. We’ll come back to that in the Question and Answer section at the end of this chapter.

Now there is a time in life when it’s appropriate to be a child, to believe what we are told, and even to do what we are told. But while we are still children, since the enemy of God and man is abroad in the land, we need much protection. We need God’s emergency measures to help us believe and do what is right (see Chapter Eleven). God has been willing to give them to us and we thank Him for them. But in the last days, there will be no protection. Satan will twist all of God’s emergency measures to support his own position, and to put God in a very bad light. In those days, we will really need to be grown-up.

Job was grown-up. But consider the ways in which Satan sought to break him down and undermine his trust in God. God said in Job 1 and 2, for important great controversy reasons, “Satan, you may do anything you like to this man, except take his life. He will not let Me down.” Satan set out to destroy Job. He destroyed his family. He destroyed his estate. He destroyed his reputation. He destroyed his health. Then he set out to undermine Job’s theology, his picture of God. Three or four friends came to help him. But those friends did not know God very well, although they thought they did. In fact, the God they worshiped was arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. If only those friends had known the Larger View, the Great Controversy, what we now know from Job, chapters 1 and 2. Think how they could have helped and blessed poor Job. Instead, Job said, “Miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:2). They were only making things worse. Perhaps the greatest distress that came to Job came from the bad theology of his well-meaning, but mistaken friends. Caring theologians, who did not know God but had a very legal view of things, caused Job great distress. But he would not be deceived, even by them.

Mature Obedience (18:5)

Let me ask it another way. Which moves you more, the thunders of Sinai (Exodus 19:16-19) or the still small voice of truth (1 Kings 19:11-12)? Satan is going to bring great thunder and fire from heaven in the sight of men; miracles and wonders (2 Thess 2:8-10; Rev 13:13-14). If that is what moves us, then we are very vulnerable. We’re still babes in the truth. God has used those methods with babes, but He waits for us to grow up. The one thing that the Devil cannot produce is the still small voice of truth, for the truth is not with him. We must be ready to recognize truth as the supreme authority.

Do you obey because God has told you to, and He has the power to reward and destroy? That’s the obedience of a little child. Do you obey because God has told you to, and you love Him and want to please Him? Is that the only reason why you don’t murder your enemies? Because it upsets Him and you’d rather please Him? That’s sweet, but still the faith of a little child. Or do you do what is right, because it is right? Do we offer God the intelligent, agreeing obedience of free, grown-up children? That is what pleases Him the most. With mature obedience like that, we are ready for the days to come.

Are we still preoccupied with our own salvation, with what God has done for us? Or do we see the plan of salvation in its larger perspective, a plan that involves the whole universe? In the great controversy view, Jesus Christ died on the cross to demonstrate the truth about our heavenly Father that will establish this universe safe and free for all eternity. It is that truth which also saves us, but there was a far larger purpose in the plan of salvation than just to save you and me.

Do you still demand vengeance on your enemies–tit for tat, an eye for an eye? Of course, you wouldn’t call it that. You would call it justice. But is that really what it is? Do you demand that your enemies suffer all that they deserve in the final fires of the End, or you will not be satisfied? Would you lose respect for a God who would do anything less? Do you demand that wicked people get precisely what they deserve, or you will not be satisfied?

Or are you ready to join our heavenly Father as He cries, watching His rebellious children reap the consequences of their own rebellious choices? God does not turn His back on His sinful children. He watches them as they die. He is not torturing them to death. He leaves them to reap the consequences of their own choices. I would dare suggest that if you still desire vengeance at the End, though you may call it justice, you are acting like a little child.

Settled Into the Truth (18:4)

What truth can we be so settled into that despite the Devil’s most convincing efforts to the contrary, we cannot be moved? Is it the truth that God exists and that He is infinitely powerful? Well, the devils believe that and it scares them (James 2:19). Is it the truth that the end is coming soon? Satan agrees that it is coming soon (Revelation 12:12), and he works all the harder. He is settled into those two things. Is it the truth that the seventh-day is the Sabbath? Is it the truth that we should keep all ten of the commandments, that we should read our Bibles faithfully as God’s word? Is it the truth that we should pay a careful tithe, be very careful about what we eat, and be very careful how we associate with sinners who might lead us astray?

I don’t want to minimize those matters, but they are not enough in themselves. All of the above were believed and practiced by the very ones who put Jesus on the cross. After Jesus died, they rushed home to keep the seventh-day Sabbath holy, with their tithe paid up and no forbidden food in their stomachs. Evidently the truth into which we must be sealed is far more than just the list of beliefs I mentioned above, important as they are.

Throughout the Bible, the all-important truth, the saving truth, is above all else the truth about our God. Jesus came to bring us this truth about His Father, so that we might be won back to God in love and trust. It is the truth that God can heal and save all who trust Him. When the Spirit comes, He will bring to our remembrance the things that Jesus has said about the Father (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit comes so that we may know God better (Eph 1:17). That’s the consistent picture of the truth that runs all through Scripture.

Do we really accept Jesus’ picture of the Father? Jesus is very specific. In John 16 He makes a statement about His Father that has no symbols, figures of speech or parables in it. He says, “The time has come for Me to tell you plainly and clearly about My Father. There is no need for Me to pray to the Father for you. For the Father Himself loves you” (John 16:25-27). Do you accept that? Do you accept it to the extent that it’s an integral part of your whole theology and understanding of the plan of salvation? Or are you still unable to accept what Jesus described as a plain, clear statement of the truth about His Father? There is no need for the Son to plead with the Father in our behalf, because the Father loves us just as much as the Son does.

Let’s recall other things that Jesus said. The Spirit brings these sayings back to our remembrance (John 14:26). “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9). “If you know Me, you know the Father” (John 14:7). Do we really believe that the Father is just as gracious as the Son? Is that an integral part of our Christian theology? Did anyone need to reconcile Christ Jesus to us as sinners? Did anything need to be done to assuage and appease the wrath of Jesus and win Him to our side? Then if we believe Jesus’ testimony about the Father, nothing had to be done to reconcile the Father to us either. He loves us just as much as the Son does. Are we so settled into this truth about our God that we cannot be moved? Or are we still easily swayed to and fro by every wind of doctrine? Back to Ephesians:

We are no longer to be children, tossed by the waves and whirled about by every fresh gust of teaching, dupes of crafty rogues and their deceitful schemes. No, let us speak the truth in love; so shall we fully grow up into Christ (Eph 4:14-15, NEB).

We should ask ourselves: Are we still such children in the faith that we need emergency measures in order to be reverent toward God and to do what is right? If we still need those emergency measures, we are still babes in the truth. That’s why Paul, in the book of Hebrews, wrote:

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity. . . . Heb 5:13-14; 6:1, NIV.

What are the elementary teachings about Christ? Well, let us ask ourselves. Do we still need the law in order to love God and love each other? Do we need it to keep us from hating and murdering our enemies? Would we murder them if there was no law to say we must not do it? If it’s the law that keeps you from murdering your mother-in-law, then you are still very much a child and not ready for the awful “time of trouble” that is coming (Dan 12:1; Rev 7:14).

What God Is Waiting For (18:3)

The people who survive this period of extreme deception and confusion are certainly not babes in the truth. Rather, they are grown-up, adult believers. They are models of perfection and Christian maturity. They have had their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. Though their faith is severely tried, they do not let God down. Their faith is deeper than that of a little child. Little children need a lot of protection. But these saints, like Job, can stand alone.

I understand that God is waiting for the development of such firm believers. He waits in mercy because He loves His children. He is not willing that any of them should be lost. God knows that if these final, awesome, closing events are allowed to come too soon, His children would not be ready. They would be confused, and some would be deceived. He would never allow anyone to be tested more than they are able to bear. So He waits.

The last book of the Bible pictures angels mercifully holding back the final winds of strife until God’s children have been sealed and settled into the truth. It makes sense that He should do so. It is consistent with what we know to be true about our God:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels. . . . “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads” (Rev 7:1-3, RSV).

The closing events of human history are being held back because we have not yet been sealed. But what would sealing have meant to the early Christians who heard this section of Revelation being read out loud to them? Let’s imagine a congregation in Ephesus. After all, that is where the scroll would have arrived from the island of Patmos. Someone arose and read it out loud to the congregation. No doubt they were familiar with Paul’s letter that eventually became known as the letter to the Ephesians. And in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul has quite a lot to say about the sealing and how this is the work of the Holy Spirit. For example: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30, NIV). How is the Holy Spirit involved in our being sealed?

In Him [Christ] you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel [good news] of your salvation, and have believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. . . . (Eph 1:13, RSV).

Note the combination of truth, the gospel, salvation, faith and the sealing work of the Holy Spirit. What is this truth? What is this good news? That is the subject of all twenty chapters of this book. The truth, the good news, is that God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be. See how Paul clarifies that: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better” (Eph 1:17, NIV). Notice the last phrase, “know Him better.” That is the truth. That is the good news. That is the work of the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit comes to lead us into truth so that we might know the Father better. This is also a theme in the Gospel of John:

The Holy Spirit . . . will be your teacher and will bring to your minds all that I have said to you. . . . But when the Helper comes, that is, the Spirit of truth, . . . he will speak plainly about Me. And you yourselves will also speak plainly about me. . . . [The Spirit] will guide you into everything that is true (John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13, Phillips).

John, who wrote about sealing in Revelation 7, also wrote the Gospel which includes much information about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was coming to guide us into the truth, to convince us of the truth, to settle us into the truth. John likely also knew about Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. John knew that the believers would have some background for understanding what it would mean to be sealed. It means, in the words of Ellen White, “to be so settled into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, that one cannot be moved.” Ellen G. White, Last Day Events, 219; SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, 1161.

The Seriousness of the End-Time (18:2)

God does not want us to underestimate the seriousness of these final times of confusion and deception. He does not want us to underestimate Satan’s cunning and persuasive power. So there are vivid descriptions of this time to come, both in the Old Testament and the New, even beyond the ones we have examined earlier. One of these texts is near the end of the book of Daniel:

There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. . . . Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever (Dan 12:1, 3, NIV).

The time of distress mentioned here reminds us of Revelation 13, where the whole world will worship the adversary except those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 13:8). But notice that the saints not only survive this time of deception and confusion, they are described as leading others to righteousness (Dan 12:3). Our concern toward the End is not only to survive, but to bear an encouraging witness to the truth about our God. Compare Daniel with Paul’s picture of the End in 1 Timothy:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth (1 Tim 4:1-3, NIV).

The last sentence in this passage offers examples of the kinds of things that will misrepresent God in the last days. Satan has accused our God of being arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. So in the name of God, religious leaders order people to abstain from certain foods for arbitrary ceremonial and spiritual reasons. They also forbid people to marry. Wouldn’t the Devil love to have us forget how and why God gave us marriage in the Garden of Eden? Marriage is such an eloquent representation of God’s willingness to share His creative power with us, enabling us to create little people in our own image. What an answer to Satan’s charge that a selfish God refuses to share His creative power! Satan would love for us to forget the evidence of God’s character that marriage provides.

Compare these texts with Paul’s very dramatic description of Satan’s purposes and methods in the last days (2 Thessalonians 2). It’s a shame to leave out anything in that whole chapter, but let’s focus on just the heart of it:

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed. . . . He opposes and exalts himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, and even sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. . . . And now you know what is holding him back. . . . For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. . . . The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved (2 Thess 2:1, 3-4, 6-7, 9-10, NIV).

Notice that the consequences of rebellion are lawlessness (compare 1 John 3:4) and false worship (Matt 4:8-10; Rev 13:8). In all these passages there is deceit on Satan’s side and truth on God’s side. Because truth and evidence are not on the adversary’s side, Satan cannot use evidence. He does not dare invite inquiry and investigation, the way God can with perfect safety and freedom. In order to win his case, the Devil always has to use things like counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders to persuade.

Chapter Eighteen: “God Waits for His Children to Grow Up” (18:1)

Almost two thousand years have passed since God won His case on Calvary. Satan’s lies and accusations have long ago been met. The freedom of the universe has been eternally secured. So why do you think God still tolerates this one rebellious spot in His loyal universe? All the rest of its inhabitants have been convinced. We know that He longs to recreate our world, as described in Isaiah, Revelation, and elsewhere, and give it to His trusting saints. Why, then, does God still wait?

When Jesus returns, He will come to a generation of believers who have experienced Satan’s final desperate attempt to deceive and destroy God’s loyal children on this planet. This generation of believers will have accomplished something that one-third of the brilliant angels failed to do. They will have refused to be turned against God by Satan’s lies. They will have been able to say with Paul, “If anyone, if even an angel from heaven, should come with a different version of the everlasting good news, a different picture of God, he is wrong and we will not believe it” (based on Galatians 1:8-9).