The Gospel and the End (19:4)

Of all the things that must happen before the conflict is over, Jesus especially emphasized one. He said that the gospel, the true picture of God, must go to the whole world before the End will come (Matt 24:14; Mark 13:10). We can trust God to wait until His children all over this planet have had a chance to make an enlightened decision. In view of the confusion and the deception to come, God would not ask anyone to pass through that period without sufficient information upon which to base an intelligent choice.

This is consistent with the way God has treated angels and men ever since the Great Controversy began. He has always waited patiently for His children to make up their own minds. Think of how many centuries He waited for Israel to respond to the information brought by the prophetic messengers that He sent one after the other. It was not until Israel went beyond even the Creator’s power to restore, that He finally and reluctantly gave them up. But after the Israelites had been taken off to Babylonian captivity, God inspired the writer of 2 Chronicles to explain why He could no longer protect them, why He had to let them go:

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people . . . but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, till the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, till there was no remedy. 2 Chr 36:15-16, RSV.

It was not an arbitrary decision. They were misbehaving so grossly (as we know from Kings and Chronicles), He simply could not do anything more for them. He had to let them go into the discipline of captivity. And that’s what the “wrath of God” means, God sadly giving Israel up. Fortunately, it was not the final awful destruction at the end of the world. But it was discipline. And though God seemed to have abandoned them, we know that He went with them, didn’t He? He blessed Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Esther, Mordecai, and Ezekiel while they were in captivity. But by and large, God could not work through His people as a nation at that time. He had to give them up into the discipline of captivity.

Reacting to His Return (19:3)

Now in the passage we read above from Matthew, Jesus speaks of all the people on earth weeping as they see the Son of Man coming back. But other passages tell us that not everyone will be weeping. Those who have learned to trust Him will be very glad to see Him come. This was clearly predicted way back in the days of Isaiah: “In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’” Isa 25:9, NIV.

While many will rejoice when Jesus returns, most of the world will have turned against God (Rev 13:8). And because they have not learned to trust Jesus, they will flee from Him in terror, even though He will come back in human form: “They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’” Rev 6:16, NIV. How could they possibly flee from gentle Jesus, meek and mild? While He does come back in majesty and power, there is still no need to be afraid. But Satan has so convinced his allies that God is arbitrary, vengeful, and severe, they will actually flee from Him as He cries after them, “Why will you die? How can I give you up? How can I let you go?” Ezekiel 18:31; Hosea 11:8. How thoroughly Satan will have convinced these people that his lies about God are the truth!

What makes the difference between the reaction of the righteous and the reaction of the rest? Peter and Judas looked at the same gentle but majestic face of Jesus during His trial. One of them was moved to repentance (Matt 26:75; Mark 14:72; Luke 22:61-62). The other one was moved to go out and take his own life (Matt 26:47-50; 27:3-5; Acts 1:15-20). Our Lord is not two-faced. The difference is in us! Those who have learned to welcome the good news, the truth about our God, have learned to trust and admire God’s wise and gracious ways. They will be ready to see Him come, even to see Him in His glory, and not be afraid. They will be awestruck, to be sure, but not scared of our God. Those who have despised and rejected this good news, on the other hand, will actually look at the one who died for them and, like Judas, be driven by that sight to suicidal action (Rev 6:15-17).

More Important Than Knowing the Time (19:2)

In John 14 Jesus indicated that there was something much more important than knowing the exact time. It was far more important that His followers trust Him enough to be willing to wait. Do you remember Chapter Three, “All God Asks Is Trust”? If we trust Him enough to be ready for His coming, we really don’t need to know the exact time. If we trust Him, all will be well. Jesus indicated this in John 14:

Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me. . . . I shall come again and receive you to myself, so that where I am you may be also. John 14:1, 3, NEB.

Jesus did not tell His disciples when, but He did give them some details by which they could tell the approximate time. As they sat together one day on the Mount of Olives, Jesus spoke of many signs by which the disciples could tell when the End was getting near. These are very familiar passages to all who believe in the Second Coming. He spoke of alarming disturbances in earth and sky. He spoke of growing distrust between the nations. He spoke of the rise of false religious leaders. He particularly warned of those who would arise and teach that His return was to be in secret. “Don’t believe it,” Jesus said:

. . . for the Son of Man will come like the lightning that flashes across the whole sky from the east to the west. . . . and all the peoples of earth will weep as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. The great trumpet will sound, and he will send out his angels to the four corners of the earth, and they will gather his chosen people from one end of the world to the other. Matthew 24:27, 30-31, GNB.

Now that is hardly the description of an invisible event. Quite to the contrary, John affirmed very clearly in the last book in the Bible that “every eye will see him” come. Rev 1:7, RSV.

Chapter Nineteen: “How Soon Will the Conflict Be Over?”

In the last three chapters we have introduced the topic of when the conflict of earth’s history will be over and Christ will return. That time will come when God’s children on this planet have fully responded (“yes” or “no”) to His final pleading. The conflict will be over when His loyal children on this planet will have become so settled into the truth that they are ready to resist Satan’s final efforts to deceive. Christ will return when His followers not only know the truth well enough to survive but, like Job, they know it well enough to speak well and truly of their heavenly Father. This chapter explores the timing of the end of human history and its relevance to how we view the character of God. The question addressed in this chapter is not so much when the conflict will be over, but rather how soon it will be over.

Many of us wonder if the conflict will end and Christ will return in our own lifetime. The disciples wondered about this already in their time, and they asked Jesus: “Tell us, when will this be and how can we tell when You’re coming back and the world will come to an end?” Matt 24:3, Beck. And Jesus replied that even the angels do not know. In fact, in His human form, even He did not know: “But about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son; only the Father.” Matt 24:36, NEB.

Questions and Answers (18:13)

Lou: What about some of these things you have referred to as “emergency measures;” like the law? Are you saying that even the law can be distorted? What is the right place for the law in a healthy, balanced view?

Graham: If we present the great controversy view, we show how God added these emergency measures when we needed them. Faith does not deny them, it thanks God for them. The law was given to lead us to Christ that we may grow up. For some, this is an essential step along the way. Misunderstood, emergency measures like the law can keep us as children, and hence vulnerable to Satan’s influences at the End.

Lou: What about the destruction of the wicked?

Graham: If that produces theophobia, it will lead to the obedience that springs from fear. Such obedience turns us into rebels and certainly keeps us children. “Love Me, or I’ll kill you” won’t produce real love, not even in a little child. So we need to see the destruction of the wicked in light of the cross.

Lou: How about the cross then?

Graham: If the cross is seen as propitiating the anger or winning the favor of an offended God, it also produces theophobia. Even the cross can make me afraid of God if presented in that way. “Thank God He’s forgiven me just now, but I better not give up or you know what He’ll do to me.”

Lou: What is the healthier view of the cross then?

Graham: The healthier view of the cross is as a demonstration that sin does indeed lead to death; it’s that serious. But the cross is not torture and execution at the hands of an angry God. He simply gave up His Son as He will give us up in the end. And when the Son died, the Father cried, as He will cry over us when we die in the end (see section “Three Questions Regarding the Character of God” in Chapter Eight). So, rightly understood, there is no need to be afraid of God when we stand at the foot of the cross. And there is no need to be afraid of God when we see the destruction of the wicked either.

Lou: How should we understand sin in the larger view of things?

Graham: If we view sin as breaking arbitrary rules, it makes sin something that God doesn’t like. It offends Him. It makes Him angry, so He punishes us. That’s a childish view. But in the Larger View, sin is something that’s really wrong in itself. It is like poison, producing its own consequences. In that case, the “punishment” for sin is not really punishment, it is a consequence inherent to the crime itself. Sin leads to consequences, all the way up to the consequence of death, and God would prefer to spare us those consequences.

Lou: What about atonement?

Graham: The Devil wants us to view atonement as reconciling God to us, assuaging His wrath, instead of God winning us back to Himself. The truth is, God never left us; we left Him.

Lou: Let’s take two more. First, intercession.

Graham: If by intercession we imply that the Father is not our friend, we’ve driven a wedge between the Father and the Son, and we’ve made the Father look very unforgiving and severe. So the intercession message could be used by the Devil to turn us against God and keep us as little children. But it can also be an encouraging message for those who need it.

Lou: What about the Judgment?

Graham: Again, if the Judgment is seen as arbitrary, or a positive outcome is seen as dependent on the pleading of Jesus, I think that’s cruel. The Devil is pleased when we assume that one member of the Godhead is more friendly than the other two. But a biblical view of judgment focuses more on what God is like and what He is doing for us.

Lou: You could say we just tried to review the first eighteen chapters of the book in the last three minutes here. Hopefully that will prepare us for Chapter Nineteen, “How Soon Will the Conflict Be Over?” And that has been a topic of conversation for God’s people ever since John said, “Come soon, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:21). I’m looking forward to it.

Questions and Answers (18:12)

Lou: Someone said the other day that there is actually a condition in the medical dictionary called theophobia– fear of God. It’s an actual ailment that a physician might need to be alert to.

Graham: That’s right. Doctors run into it now and then. It is a morbid fear of the wrath of God. Some saint preaches, “Fear God,” and doctors have to rush in to cure the theophobia. We’d better tell people the truth about God. Otherwise, we ministers will be working at odds with our clinical friends, making people ill with theophobia. We had better bring the good news that there is no need to be afraid of God. Jesus spent all His life healing the sick. It would be tragic to think about God, the One who meant to cast out fear, and have that become a theophobic experience.

Lou: You also mentioned Ephesians 4, where it suggests that the work of the church community is to help people grow up. How does a church try to do that? What can a church do to really help people grow?

Graham: As a pastor, you’ve devoted your life to thinking of ways to do this. It would be growing up for a member to go from a child-like, legal, authoritarian view to a larger understanding of freedom and truth. God does not ask us to believe anything for which He does not provide evidence. It is evidence that appeals to the reason. He urges us to inquire, to investigate. These are the things that a grown-up does.
We have to take trusting children and make them independent, but loving and trusting adults, adults who can withstand what’s coming. I think one of the first ways to do that is to invite our members to investigate every sermon that they hear. If they go home and investigate, over time they’ll grow up.

Lou: Toward the close of the previous chapter, you were suggesting some ways in which the Enemy has distorted and perverted Bible truths. Bible truths can be twisted to offer a terrible picture of God, one in which God is pictured inaccurately and unfairly. I’d like to turn that around here and have you suggest how a right understanding of those same truths can help people to grow up. For example, what is the correct understanding of faith?

Graham: The Devil would love to have saints understanding faith as believing what someone in authority tells us; that faith is a leap in the dark, it’s just believing. Because then he’ll have his way with us. The truth isn’t on his side. So what he needs is our willingness to believe without investigation. Genuine faith means trust, a well-founded trust, based on God’s demonstration of the truth.

Lou: What about the Holy Spirit?

Graham: The same way there. I think the Devil has perverted the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, offering the Holy Spirit as a shortcut. “You don’t need the truth; you just need the Spirit.” He teaches that when you have this indwelling, this feeling that comes up through your body, the Holy Spirit is taking over. And when the Spirit is in charge, God will run your life. It sounds so good, but it’s a devilish perversion.
In contrast, the Bible says, “When the Holy Spirit comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). He will help you investigate, and He will give you the gift of self-control. So all of these doctrines can be used both ways. We’ve got to present the Spirit as bringing independence (John 3:8), teaching us self-control, things like that.

Questions and Answers (18:11)

Lou: You made reference at the beginning to 1 Timothy 4:1-3. It says some interesting things about forbidding marriage and certain foods. With regard to marriage, didn’t Paul go so far as to say that we shouldn’t marry (1 Cor 7:25-28), and didn’t he write 1 Timothy too?

Graham: Well, by selecting random texts you can prove anything you like from the Bible. But if you take Paul’s comments on marriage in the full setting of 1 Corinthians, he has nothing against marriage whatsoever. In fact, at weddings, whose writings do we quote more than the writings of Paul? He said the nicest things about love and marriage. So one needs to read that part of 1 Corinthians as a description of an emergency; his advice about marriage was an emergency measure at that particular time. It’s not fair to Paul, or to the meaning of marriage, to pluck verses out of their setting.

Lou: This reference to food in 1 Timothy 4, however, makes me wonder. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has had a message about food and health. Could 1 Timothy be talking about that?

Graham: That text is sometimes used against us. We certainly do have some things to say about food. But we don’t teach people to avoid certain foods for arbitrary, ceremonial reasons. Through the centuries there have been religious organizations that have forbidden marriage and certain foods for ceremonial and religious reasons. That’s all 1 Timothy 4 is talking about.

Lou: So you are saying it’s quite a different thing to emphasize concerns about food for health reasons.

Graham: That’s right. Paul in Timothy is not discussing health at all. He is discussing arbitrary ceremonial restrictions that put God in a bad light.

Lou: Moving in another direction, you refer to Job frequently. But why would you use Job as a model, when at the end of the book he talks about repenting? That sounds like somebody who has been wrong and is saying, “I’m sorry. I’m a sinner.” How could Job be a good model when he is repenting?

Graham: A lot of folk, I think, misunderstand Job when they summarize with that statement. Job says, “I repent.” And they say, “The friends were right; they said he should repent.” You see, many people who read Job actually side with the friends. Those who take the narrow, legal view are more comfortable with the theology of Job’s friends than the theology of God in the book. But they fail to read on. After Job says, “I repent,” God says, “Don’t. You have done a beautiful job. You have said of Me what is right and those theologians have not” (Job 42:6-8).
Why then did Job say, “I repent?”
“God,” he says, “I have spoken of many things beyond my understanding. I wouldn’t say it the same way next time” (Job 42:2).
And God says back to him, “Look, We’re sympathetic up here. You’ve lost your family, lost your estate, lost your reputation and you are sitting on a dung heap with your clothes torn and your body covered with boils. We didn’t expect eloquent speeches from you. We think under the circumstances you did magnificently, Job! We couldn’t be more proud of you. You have said of Me what is right.”
Job was saying what every preacher could say at the end of every sermon, “I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job.”

Questions and Answers (18:10)

Lou: Changing the subject a little, will we know if and when we have been sealed?

Graham: Well, if we understand that we are sealed by the Spirit, we can look for the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). One of these fruits is a great concern for truth (Eph 5:9). Another fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal 5:22). And love does not insist on its own way. 1 Cor 13:5, ESV, RSV. All the fruits enter into the reckoning. The more I am perceiving and liking the truth, the more I’m willing to stake my life on this conviction about God. Then I realize the Spirit is having His way in my life. However, I must check my convictions by Scripture, where I got them from in the first place. I must continually submit my convictions to the correction of the Scriptures that were inspired by the Spirit.
The key is to be more and more settled into this picture of God, not just as an opinion but as something we would stake our lives on. Over time we will see that it is really affecting the way we behave and treat other people. Then one could say, “God, I thank You for the Spirit. He’s evidently having some success with me.”

Lou: When you talk about the seal of God, that reminds me of another phrase that you commented on. What really is the “mark of the beast?”

Graham: In Revelation the sealing is mentioned first, then the mark of the beast. If the seal is a symbol of loyalty to God, then the mark of the beast is a symbol of loyalty to the opposition. To receive the seal of God is to be so settled into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, that one cannot be moved. Conversely, to receive the mark of the beast is to be so settled into the lie, that you’ve completely substituted Satan’s lies for the truth. To receive the mark of the beast is to be so settled into Satan’s false picture of God that not even the Spirit of God could move us. So in essence, both the seal and the mark represent an inner commitment for eternity with respect to the truth about God.

Lou: For many of us Seventh-day Adventists, the seal of God has been tied very closely to the Sabbath. In fact, I myself have said that the seal of God is the Sabbath. But I hear you making a distinction between the Sabbath and the seal.

Graham: One has to stop and realize that the people who crucified Christ kept the seventh-day Sabbath scrupulously. Did they have the seal of God? They certainly were not settled into the truth about God. When Jesus brought the truth about God, they said He had a devil (John 7:20; 8:48), and they killed Him to silence His witness. On the other hand, the Sabbath reminds us of the things God has done. Knowing, intelligent, thoughtful observance of the seventh day is a reminder of all these great demonstrations of the truth about God. So in that sense, the Sabbath could be an outward expression of one’s settling into this truth about our God.

Lou: So the Sabbath has something to do with very deep understanding and experience.

Graham: Yes. When the issues in the Great Controversy are clearly seen, the preference for a substitute Sabbath could suggest preference for, even faith in, the one who wants to “be like the Most High” (Satan– 2 Thess 2:4). But not until then.

Response to Randy Nim’s on Rev 10:7

Here’s my response to Randy Nim’s comments on Rev 10:7. Sorry for the length, but it seemed best to have it all in one document. I distinguish mine from his by the use of bold text. It was helpful to think the Greek through with his contrary reading in mind, I think you will enjoy the give and take as well:

Randy Nims comments: Revelation 10:6-7 reads, “There will be no more delay, but in the days when the seventh angel is [about] to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God will be fulfilled, as he announced (good news) to his servants the prophets.”

The 2300-day prophecy is coming to a close and it closed about the year 1844. When the sanctuary was restored to its rightful state [Daniel 8:14], then began the final phase of Earth’s history. This is when the investigative judgment began.

I believe Randy is right so far, on the basis of Rev 10:6, which signals the close of Daniel’s time prophecies.

Revelation 10:7 reads that “when the seventh angel is [about] to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God will be fulfilled.” The question becomes, what is the mystery of God and the good news. This is not the same event as Revelation 18:1 because in that passage coming down from heaven, having great authority, is the Holy Spirit that makes the earth bright with His splendor. This is the latter rain experience, which is not when the mystery of God is fulfilled. This is the final opportunity to make a decision to come into the boat before the door closes, but when did Noah start preaching? Noah revealed the truth years earlier! What was that truth?

Randy sees the blowing of the seventh trumpet as the same moment in history as the “no more delay” or “time no longer” of 10:6. The Adventist pioneers agreed. They were reading this text with the King James Version in mind. It says, “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished.” By this reading the finishing of the mystery could be part of the seventh trumpet. But this is based on a poor translation of the Majority text the KJV (this is not a textual issue) was based on. The NKJV corrects this: “when he is about to sound.” The finishing of the mystery of God is before the sounding of the seventh trumpet, not during it. The pioneers (and Randy) also missed the force of the “but” at the beginning of verse 7. It (Greek: alla) draws a stark contrast between verse 6 and 7: the mystery of God is not finished at the “time no more,” but just before the sounding of the seventh trumpet instead. So Rev 10:7 parallels the content of the sixth trumpet, from the “time no more” to the close of probation.

The mystery of God is described in Colossians 1:26-29 where it reads, “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.”

So Paul was preaching the mystery of God two thousand years ago. Noah was preaching it 4000+ years ago. Were the Millerites preaching the mystery of God before the end of the 2300-day prophecy? Absolutely! Even to this day, the Seventh-day Adventist Church preaches the mystery of God. We will continue to preach it until the latter rain produces the loud cry. It isn’t about a moment in time, but a process of time.

Unfortunately, the Antediluvians, those in Paul’s day, and the Millerites all dealt with a sweet message that had a bitter result. But verse 11 tells them and us to push forward and not give up.

I agree that the meaning of the “mystery of God” is the preaching of the gospel. It has gone on from the beginning and continues even after the close of Daniel’s time prophecies.

So just prior to 1844, just before the seventh angel was about to blow, just like it was preached before the flood, the mystery of God was preached. We are still preaching it today and will continue to preach it until the latter rain produces the loud cry.

Randy here assumes that Rev 10:7 talks about the continuation of the mystery of God not its completion. The ESV translation he seems to adopt above uses the ambiguous English word “fulfilled” for what happens to the mystery of God. Fulfilled can mean “finished” or it can simply mean “carried out.” In the latter case this would not be a reference to the close of probation (which presumably happens before the sounding of the seventh trumpet as noted above). But the Greek word is much clearer than the ESV. It is etelesthĕ from the Greek root teleŏ. This is the Greek word placed at the end of books (“The End”). It means “brought to and end, completed.” This is easy to see in Rev 11:7 and 20:3, 5, 7, when the 1260 days “were ended”, when the thousand years “came to an end.”

So about the year 1844 the seventh trumpet was sounded. It wasn’t a single blow, but a sound that continues to sound until the door is closed.

This last statement does not reflect the force of the Greek. The Greek of Rev 10:6-7 indicates a point in time when Daniel’s prophecies come to an end, but the preaching of the gospel does not come to an end at that time, it comes to an end when the seventh trumpet angel is “about to sound.” That means that the seventh trumpet does not begin in 1844, it begins after the close of human probation.

Questions and Answers (18:9)

Lou: It seems there is a bit of incongruity in the Scripture. It talks about us growing up (Eph 4:13-15), but then suggests we become like little children (Matt 18:3-4). If we’re not like little children, we can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus places a high priority on being like little children, yet you’re saying, “Why don’t you grow up?” What do you do with those references?

Graham: Consider the context in Matthew where Jesus makes that statement. His audience was misbehaving, so He takes a little child and says, “Unless you’re at least like this, you’ll not see the Kingdom.” And I don’t think we should ever lose that childlike trust, the curiosity, the willingness to listen, the willingness to learn. I think that is never to be lost. But Ephesians also says that we should not remain as children, requiring much protection. We should become adults who can stand on our own. I think it’s marvelous to see mature people in their seventies, eighties, and nineties who still have the curiosity, interest and trust of a little child.

Lou: That does lead to another question: “Is it possible for a person to tell that he or she is in fact growing up?”

Graham: This contrast between genuine love and the behavior of children gives us some ways to tell if we are growing up. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says, “I once thought like a child, but now I’ve given up childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11). Think of how little children boast, and how impatient and demanding they often are. The rest of the chapter, in contrast, explains how a grown-up behaves. Grown-ups love. Love is never rude, never impatient, never arrogant, never boasts, never insists on having its own way.
I think there’s an additional thing to consider. Why am I behaving the way I do? Am I doing it because somebody in authority has told me to, and He has the power to reward and destroy? Or am I sold on Paul’s message of love? In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul is describing how Jesus behaved. Not only that, ultimately he is telling us what God the Father is like (John 14:9; 1 John 4:8). In the end, maturity means to want to be like God. As I mature, God doesn’t have to tell me not to murder my mother-in-law anymore (by the way, my mother-in-law died before I met my wife, so this illustration is not personal). I no longer like the idea myself, you see. Eventually we will do what is right because it is right. We become like the God we worship. That’s all part of growing up.

Lou: Are you saying, then, that there is a certain legitimacy in evaluating the way we act, or the way we feel about other people?

Graham: I think if we see no progress at all on these matters over the past year, we should be concerned.

Lou: But there’s a certain danger in focusing on our growth, isn’t there? You don’t grow by trying to grow or by looking at yourself and hoping to grow. And how can you avoid the self-confidence of the Laodiceans, who felt very content with their spiritual situation?

Graham: One of the evidences that one is growing up is that one is becoming less and less arrogant. It’s little children that insist, “My daddy says it, and he’s bigger than your daddy, and therefore it’s true.” It would be a mark of great immaturity for an adult to talk like that. Boasting and arrogance suggest one is still a child. For someone to say, “I think I’ve almost made it now,” suggests they may not have even started. On the other hand, humility and the willingness to listen should become even greater as one gets older.