Tag Archives: cosmic conflict

The Basis for Genuine Peace (20:2)

Paul explained to early Christians that sinners can be restored to genuine peace with God: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace [emphasis supplied] with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Rom 5:1, RSV. According to this translation, peace is a present and ongoing reality for those who have been set right by God. But other versions translate the key phrase, “Let us have peace,” or something similar. According to that reading, we have justification first and then seek for peace afterwards as an additional blessing. Is that how things work or does justification in and of itself bring peace?

I like it when translators combine the best of both options, as in “let us go on having peace.” Justification brings us peace. So let’s go on having it. Such a reading is supported by Moffatt: “Let us enjoy the peace we have.” And Montgomery renders it, “Let us continue to enjoy the peace we have.” And Phillips translates it, “Let us grasp the fact that we have peace.” That really combines the two, doesn’t it? Justification does indeed bring peace, which indicates that it must be more than mere pardon or the adjustment of our legal standing.

Have you ever wronged someone, been very generously forgiven, and then been embarrassed to meet that person again? Would God want us to avoid Him in the hereafter because He has been so forgiving? Would we be uncomfortable in His presence, fearing that He might bring up the subject of our sinful past? Mere pardon is no guarantee that He won’t do that. But God not only forgives, He treats us as if we had never sinned. He treats us as if we had always been His loyal children.

How do we know that to be true? Because of God’s promise (Jer 31:34)? But a promise is only a claim. Is there direct evidence in Scripture that God not only forgives us, but treats us as if we had always been His loyal children? Look how God spoke to Solomon about his father David: “. . . walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did” (1 Kings 9:3-4, NIV). Integrity of heart? Uprightness? Think of all the things that David did! And yet, because David had been set right with God, and had been won back to trust, and had received a new heart and a right spirit, God describes sinful David as if he had always been His loyal son! He did it for David, and He is willing to do it for every one of us. Now that is the experience of justification!

Since that Latin term, justification, has come to have such a narrow, legal connotation in theological circles, I suggest we use different English terms such as “set right” or “put right” with God. Jesus came to bring peace with God. Not by paying some legal penalty so God would not have to kill us. Jesus brought peace with God by showing us the truth about God; that there is no need to be afraid. God will indeed give up those who refuse to trust Him, who turn down the truth, who are unwilling to listen and unwilling to let Him heal them. And they will die, not as a penalty, but as a consequence. God will not torture His dying children to death.

Chapter Twenty: “At Peace with our Heavenly Father” (20-1)

We began this book by remembering that there once was peace throughout the universe. There was peace because all the members of God’s vast family trusted each other. They trusted their heavenly Father, and He, in turn, could safely trust in them. But then a war began in heaven, a conflict of distrust. An adversary leveled false charges against God, and God began His long and patient demonstration of the truth. This conflict was not over mere obedience to the rules, but over the very character and government of God Himself. In this last chapter we explore the outcome of that great conflict, what it means to be truly at peace with God. The resolution of that conflict was and is costly, but the ultimate outcome will be worth the cost.

Victory for God is more than the destruction of His enemies. He could have won that kind of victory very easily, by the exhibition of almighty power. But such a victory would be sad, since God’s enemies have been His own beloved and misbehaving children. What victory would it be for God to destroy them, easy as it might have been for Him to do? There will be no victory for God unless what went wrong has been set right, and peace in His family has been made eternally secure. God will not settle for a false peace based on force or fear, He desires a real peace based on freely given love and trust. How could He be satisfied with anything less from His children?

There could certainly be no peace if God were the kind of person Satan has made Him out to be–arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. And yet there are explanations of salvation that seem based on the assumption that Satan’s false picture of God is the truth. For example, “God is arbitrary,” some will say, “but as Sovereign He has the right to be.” “God takes vengeance,” others will say, “but for Him we should call it justice.”

Few would dare say that God is unforgiving and severe, yet they imply the same by urging the necessity of a friend up there to plead with God to forgive and heal. If God is like that, the mere adjustment of our legal standing would be like a presidential pardon. It would hardly bring peace between God and His misbehaving children. While He might choose to forgive under certain circumstances, peace with a God who is arbitrary, vengeful, and severe would be little more than a ceasefire, a temporary truce.

Questions and Answers (19:13)

Lou: What do you think is the greatest cause for the delay? Are we contributing to this? You have spoken about God’s patience and how the delay really makes God look good. Where might we fit into this?

Graham: We might be candidates for the Kingdom but are not giving the message that must be heard. I think the greatest cause of the delay is that we are giving a beginning message all the time and not a finishing message. We are giving a narrower view, a somewhat self-centered view. We are leading people to be gratefully preoccupied with their own salvation. We are grateful for what God has done for us, yet we are preoccupied with ourselves at another level. The finishing message, the great announcement to the world that will prepare the world for the deception, is about God. We’ve got to talk about the bigger picture, the issues in the Great Controversy. We’ve got to help people understand the whole picture in Scripture. That’s the finishing message. But meanwhile, we’re still using emergency measures to get people to be reverent and to behave. So long as we have to depend on rules and regulations and authority and pomp to keep people reverent, we’re keeping them in a child-like condition. Until we can truly turn people free, we are not giving a finishing message.

Lou: What kind of circumstances will eventually move people to embrace a bigger picture of God? Do you think it will take some fear-producing event, a world catastrophe, or something like that?

Graham: That is often suggested as a catalyst, but fear is more the experience at the foot of Sinai. Fear gets one started. Fear is no way to finish. How the Lord will bring this about, I don’t know. Insurance policies sometimes mention “acts of God.” But when the opportunity comes, will we be ready to take advantage of it? When people want to hear the truth about God, will we be ready to help them find it?

Lou: What’s the best way to prepare for this, to take advantage of these opportunities?

Graham: I think it is understanding the importance of this larger, great controversy view—the truth about our God. Since that is to be found in all sixty-six books of the Bible, there is nothing more practical and essential than learning to read the Bible as a whole. We need a tremendous revival of studying the entire Bible, all of it, every story. We need to take the Bible and read it through and through to get this larger view and decide whether we like it or not. And if we’re proud of it, it will show through in the way we speak. We will not talk so much about ourselves, but about our God. Then when the opportunity comes, we will be ready.

Lou: At a recent funeral service, you shared your conviction about the nearness of Jesus’ return. He is coming soon. Won’t you review that for us here? What do you mean when you say that? You used to preach the same years ago, so, “How near is near?”

Graham: Actually, I used that title about forty years ago up at Pacific Union College: “How Near is Near?” I think historically the great event that is coming is just around the corner, because what needs to be done could be done. And I think the increase of knowledge, which Daniel 12:4 foretold, is occurring. Look at the technology now for communicating with the whole world, incredible technology.
It may be possible to communicate with the whole world and give them this picture. On the other hand, the Second Coming is as near as our last moment of breath. And that’s why I think of it at funerals. When a loved one dies, the next moment of consciousness will put that person face to face with the Lord at the Second Coming. And I love the passage in Thessalonians which says that if someone dies before the Lord comes, they will not have missed anything, they will arise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4:15-17).
More important than knowing when the End is coming is to trust God. If I should die tonight, I want to die His trusting child, because then I will arise His trusting child. I’ll have no complaints, lots of questions, but no complaints. We might even say, “I kind of wanted to live through the final events.” I think Paul did. He felt torn between staying to help the Corinthians and his desire be with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8-9). He didn’t believe in the immortality of the soul. He knew that as a Roman citizen, when his head was cut off with that sharp sword, in the next instant of consciousness he’d be face to face with the One he’d been preaching about with such pride. He had no complaints.
One way or the other, the End is really very near. Especially in a medical center, as many people face the end of their lives, we have good news for them: “If you should fall asleep tonight; you will wake up the next moment from a dreamless sleep face to face with the Lord.” That’s how near it is for us personally. But I believe the big event is also near in the global perspective.

Lou: We’re almost at the end of the book, the last chapter explores the final outcome of the conflict.

Questions and Answers (19:12)

Lou: Let me ask you this. Did you expect things would take as long as they have?

Graham: Well, we thought it was almost a lack of faith to suggest things could take longer than five or ten years.

Lou: When you and I were young, it didn’t seem possible we’d still be here. What leads you now to think of the End as near and the Lord’s coming as something that may happen soon?

Graham: One way would be to go through the biblical description of the events to occur and look for evidence of those. Another way would be thinking of the larger, great controversy view. God is consistent with Himself, His government, and the way He handles things. He is consistent in the way He treats His family, the way He treats the opposition, and the way He wants to make things crystal clear. He will end things in a certain way. So I’m looking for things to end that way. For example, the gospel is going to all the world. But it’s hard to measure that in some ways.
Here is a more measurable evidence of His soon return. The Good News is based on the Bible. People have to be able to get hold of the Scriptures. And never has the Bible been so readily available or so readable as it is now. A key condition of the End is the Bible getting out to the world. The opportunity to know the truth about God is increasing.
Another evidence would be that God will not release the four winds of calamity until His people are settled in the truth (Rev 7:1-3). If I should see Him apparently releasing them, it would suggest His friends are settling into the truth. Some of the things going on in the world today make one wonder if the four angels are releasing their hold.
There’s another important indicator. People in the world need to realize their freedom to ask questions, to make up their own minds. They cannot accept dictated truth about God. They need to think for themselves. And I sense a great longing for freedom all over the world. Often people don’t know how to handle it at first, but the desire for freedom around the world is an important indication. There are also increasing attempts to stifle freedom in certain parts of the world. Freedom is the essence of this thing. People must recognize their right to weigh the evidence for themselves.
But maybe most of all, I would look for the counterfeit. Satan’s final effort to deceive will be a brilliant counterfeit. I think seeing the counterfeit developing would be the most troubling thing.

Lou: In terms of counterfeits today, which do you see as the most serious threat?

Graham: I don’t see the counterfeit as open opposition or a black and white issue. The counterfeit is going to be something very, very close to the truth. The Bible speaks of a counterfeit gospel going to all the world, the Holy Spirit being poured out, and people seeing wondrous things (Rev 13:13-14; 16:13-14). And I think, without indicting anyone in particular, there is a vast counterfeit spiritual revival sweeping the world. There are many innocent people caught up in it, and they’re looking for the truth.
The emphasis in this counterfeit revival, however, is not on the truth. It’s not on weighing the evidence in Scripture. It isn’t even about God. It’s all about ourselves. It’s all about our feelings. And there is great emphasis in this kind of religion on “getting in touch with your feelings.” We think about ourselves too much as it is. There’s such an emphasis on feeling in this kind of religion, feeling the power coming up through you, from your feet on up to your head.
The gospel, to the contrary, is best apprehended the other way around. It should come through the head first. The truth is apprehended by the mind, a mind that is sanctified by the Spirit of Truth. There will be great feeling in true faith, but to start out focused on feeling is very hazardous. The good news is “get in touch with God,” not with your feelings. A religion of feelings is winsome, there’s lots of love, and tears are shed, with miracles of healing and apparent conversion. The deception will be very close to the truth. But as a friend of ours once said, “I am afraid of anything that would have a tendency to turn the mind away from the solid evidences of the truth as revealed in God’s Word. I am afraid of it. I am afraid of it. We must bring our minds within the bounds of reason, lest the enemy so come in as to set everything in a disorderly way.” Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, volume two, 43.

Questions and Answers (19:11)

Lou: Talking about fulfilled prophecies reminds me of a question one of our listeners wrote out very nicely for us. He says, “What answer might I give my neighbor who believes that Israel will once again become a great nation? There are many unfulfilled promises to Israel. He believes that these promises have yet to be fulfilled, and he bases his beliefs on Jeremiah 31:35-36; Isaiah 2:2-5; Romans 11, and Isaiah 31. And this neighbor does not accept these promises in the Old Testament as conditional, ending when Christ died. He says, ‘God will keep His promises to Abraham.’” Here’s someone who thinks that the things that are happening to the country of Israel must be tied in with the events we are talking about.

Graham: Well, what I like is his selection of verses. They are all excellent verses. And if one were to lay those side by side, all of them express some qualifications. For example, in Romans Paul says, “Not all the physical descendants of Abraham are real Israelites; only the children of the promise” (Rom 9:6-8). And Isaiah says that though the children be “as the sand of the sea for multitude, only a remnant will be saved” (Isa 10:22), because only a remnant will respond. And Jeremiah says; “Only those who have My law written in the heart will be My loyal children” (Jer 31:33).
Every one of those biblical writers suggests that many of Abraham’s physical children will not be among God’s loyal people. Paul, for example, says that only those whose hearts are circumcised, will be regarded as true Israelites (Rom 2:26-29). So I think if one were to look carefully at the passages listed there, one would have the answer. I would not look to what’s happening in Israel today as a fulfillment of prophecy. God is looking at the state of Israel today as He looks at all the other people in the world; if they trust Him, all will be well.

Lou: You mentioned that the coming of Christ, in one sense, has been near for centuries. Do you think this delay of His coming has caught God by surprise?

Graham: Your comment makes me remember the statement, “My Lord delayeth His coming” (Matt 24:48; Luke 12:45). It’s thought to be a bad thing to say. But in the story, the Lord did delay His coming. What was bad was not the delay itself, but that the servant in the story began misbehaving as the Lord delayed His coming. The Lord has in mercy delayed His coming. The Bible foresees this many, many times. One of these is Jesus’ story of the ten girls waiting for a wedding (Matt 25:1-13). The bridegroom delayed, and they all slept, even the saintly five. Another example is the text about the four winds being held back (Rev 7:1-3). They are held until an angel stands and says, “There shall be no more delay” (Rev 10:6). Second Peter 3 not only predicts a delay, but explains the delay. The Bible very clearly prepares us for delay, but we must not misunderstand it. God hasn’t been caught by surprise.

Lou: As I mentioned earlier, I have noticed that you sometimes speak about “early adventist believers,” with a small “a.” I guess I’m so used to seeing it with a large “A” I was wondering what you meant.

Graham: I deliberately use a little “a” because there are many other “adventists” besides Seventh-day Adventists. We’ve been rather possessive about that name. But there are many “adventists” in other denominations, adventists in the sense that they are anticipating the Advent. So “adventist” with a little “a” is not referring to a denomination.

Lou: You and I are both Adventists with a big “A.” That is, we belong to a church that wants to emphasize the return of Christ by including that truth in its name. You grew up, as I did, with our dads talking about the End being near. I can remember as a small boy reading that magazine your father edited so capably for many years, Signs of the Times. And I just can’t help but ask you this question. With all of that background, do you still believe that the End is near? Do you really think Jesus is coming soon?

Graham: I asked my father that. I heard him preach the nearness of the End for fifty-five years. When I was a small boy, I used to go around England with my father, and I would sing and read the Scriptures. He would preach on the nearness of the End. He always preached on the nearness of the End. So just before he died, I asked him, “Do you still believe it after all these years?” He said, “had I seen and known all the things we’ve seen and learned these last few years, I would have preached it with much greater vigor.” So Dad was absolutely convinced. But it is also true that God is waiting, as we could count on Him to do. God’s waiting is even evidence of the Good News; He is willing to wait even though He’s so eager to terminate things.

Lou: I had the privilege of being your father’s pastor for a couple of years up there in Mountain View, and I was always blessed by his vigorous conviction and confidence in the soon coming of Christ. And I came to the conclusion that your father and my father were looking for the return of Someone they loved deeply and trusted most profoundly.

Graham: Even my grandfather was the same. He died at ninety-five, still confident in Jesus’ soon return. So I’ve grown up hearing about the nearness of the End all my life.

Lou: They were not just looking for something to happen; they were looking for Someone they wanted to come.

Graham: You can tell that the Uncle Arthur who wrote Bedtime Stories obviously liked God.

Questions and Answers (19:10)

Lou: As Jesus was talking to His disciples on the Mount of Olives, He said He didn’t know the time, the day, nor the hour (Matt 24:36) of His Coming. That statement was true then. Is it still true? Does Jesus not know now?

Graham: I would understand that He’s taken back all His kingly power, and so He knows now. According to Philippians 2:6, when He was here He truly “emptied Himself.” He lived as a human to show that humans, by the power of God, can lead good lives. He used no power that we cannot use. So I accept what He said then. He really didn’t know at that time, but He does know now.
I’m impressed, though, that He says the Father knows. Some wonder how much the Father can know about the future. After all, if the conflict is in our minds, if the conflict is over trust, then the conflict is about moral choices. So Jesus would actually be saying, “The Father knows when the world will have made up its mind and will have made these moral choices.” This is my basis for believing that God can foreknow our moral choices. If He did not know them, how could He know the day or the hour when the conflict will be over?

Lou: You talked about the signs in the sun, moon (1780 A.D.) and stars (1833 A.D.), and these events seem rather long ago now. Didn’t Jesus also talk about “this generation?” Matt 24:34. Wouldn’t the generation that saw some of these signs be the one that wouldn’t pass away? If you’re right about the dates of these signs, was Jesus wrong about “this generation?”

Graham: I think I know about twelve different explanations of “this generation.” And they’re all an attempt to extend it longer and longer. I remember when some thought it was good news to read in the paper that somebody living in Outer Mongolia had made it to his 167th birthday. And people said, “Oh good, that generation is still alive!” I believe that generation is long since gone. I would have to put this with similar expressions in the Bible. It means we could have completed the work back in those days. God has always held out these kinds of possibilities to us. We could have done it, but we didn’t. I believe that the generation that saw those signs should have seen the End.

Lou: Is it possible that there are still more signs that we should be looking for? For example, you didn’t mention Daniel 12:4: “Knowledge shall be increased, and men and women shall run to and fro.”

Graham: Yes, the beauty of that one is that it can be constantly updated as knowledge and travel continue to increase. It is very interesting to look at the pictures on the old Signs of the Times magazine that Dad edited for so long. You see in the earlier covers men running to and fro in antiquated Model-T automobiles and even before that in antiquated locomotives. But periodically they had to send the word out to the Art Department, “Update this, because people are now running a little faster to and fro, and knowledge keeps increasing.” And you can see the evolution of the airplane as well as the automobile. And then, of course, when the first rocket went up and Sputnik was going around, the word had to go out to the Art Department, “Update Daniel 12:4 again.” Anything that can be updated for hundreds of years isn’t much use as a sign, even if an increase of knowledge and transportation is supposed to tell us that the End is near.
So I have to go back and read Daniel 12:4 again. The text is saying that knowledge of the prophecies of the book of Daniel will increase as a result of people urgently searching. The words used in Daniel are the same as those used in Amos 8:11-12: “There will be a famine for the Word. People will be running to and fro looking for it but they will not find it.” So in the context of Daniel 12 in the Hebrew, I believe this means that those prophecies in Daniel, which were sealed up until the Time of the End, would then be studied afresh. And as a result of that study, people would come to an understanding of the predictions in Daniel, and a great second-advent movement would begin. And this is exactly what happened. So I would date the fulfillment of Daniel 12:4 around 1798, when the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation were receiving new attention. This prophecy belongs at the same time as the heavenly signs we were talking about.

Questions and Answers (19:9)

Lou: Our question in this chapter has been, “How Soon Will the Conflict Be Over?” From what you have said, the close of the conflict seems to be tied in very closely with the Second Coming of Christ. But is that really the end of the conflict? Aren’t there some other very important events, such as the Millennium and the destruction of the wicked, that are part of what we might call “the conflict?”

Graham: That’s true. There are major events that come after the Second Coming. But there is a sense in which the Second Coming really does mark the end of the conflict, because the key to the conflict is not a physical war in which the powers of heaven are arrayed against the powers of earth. Rather, the essential conflict is in the minds of God’s children throughout the universe. And the Second Coming means it’s all over in that sense. The loyal are committed forever to loyalty, and the disloyal are committed forever to their rebellious rejection of God. The important conflict is the one that takes place in our minds.
We’ve talked about how the most essential aspect of the conflict is for God to demonstrate the truth about Himself. Some will object, “That doesn’t make us very important.” But if His demonstration does not lead some of us to inner conviction, He’s failed. So we are not just pawns. He is trying to win us. We are very much involved in this conflict. It is not just heavenly, this war is being fought in the minds of God’s own children.

Lou: This takes us all the way back to the first chapter, the one about the nature of the conflict. If it were a struggle about power or armies, God could have settled such a conflict in one minute. Instead, it is a struggle for decisions related to trust.

Graham: So we are not just spectators of the conflict. We are very much involved, and we are coming to understand some of the most important questions about Him.

Lou: Since we’re talking about the End, it reminds me of the first letter of John: “Children, it is the last hour. We know that it is the last hour” (based on 1 John 2:18). Was John wrong?

Graham: All the Bible writers who deal with the subject describe the End as very near. I’m thinking of Joel and of Jesus Himself, who both said the End was very near. One could also point to the statement in Peter, “With the Lord a thousand years are as a day, and a day is as a thousand years” (based on 2 Peter 3:8). Then John saw signs of antichrist in the apostasy of some key people in the Church, and that led him to believe that the End was near (1 John 2:18-19). And the impending death of John (he was in his nineties) also suggested it could have been near (John 21:20-23).
One night, perhaps soon after writing his letters, John fell asleep in death. When he wakes up, from the most refreshing sleep ever, it will be the Second Coming! Now, he might have some questions about the timing of the End at that point, but I doubt he will have any complaints. And while he didn’t see the great closing events before the Second Coming, he will get to witness everything from then on: the Millennium, the Third Coming, the re-creation of the world. John won’t miss any of that. All he will really miss are the troubles of the End-time (Dan 12:1; Rev 7:14). As we have discussed before, the saints who fall asleep before the Lord comes will arise in time for everything that really matters. They will even rise first.

Lou: John talks about the Antichrist in his letters (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7). What is the Antichrist? What do we mean by that term?

Graham: “Anti” suggests opposition, and that opposition is expressed in many ways. The most destructive way is not open opposition but subtle misrepresentation. If anyone misrepresents Christ, he is an “anti-Christ.”

Lou: So it’s not just one person in all the history of the world.

Graham: There are many, many antichrists. Already in John’s day many antichrists had appeared (1 John 2:18). The spirit of antichrist has been working all these hundreds and thousands of years. I believe the End has always been very, very near. If the conditions had been met, everything would have ended much sooner.

How Long Will God Have to Wait? (19:8)

How much longer do you think God will have to wait? Well, we can trust God to wait just as long as there is hope for anyone. We can also trust God not to wait a moment longer than makes sense. After all, who longs more than God to bring everything to an end, recreate this world, and give it to His trusting saints? When, then, will it end? Only God, the One who reads our every thought, will know when all final decisions have been made. That’s why Jesus gave this advice in Matthew: “So then, you also must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him” (Matt 24:44, GNB).

We are not entirely in the dark about this, however. Paul counsels us in 1 Thessalonians 5: “But you, brothers, are not living in darkness, and so the day will not like a thief take you by surprise.” 1 Thess 5:4, Kleist and Lilly. You see, like the angels, we do not know the exact day or hour. But we do know what will take place before the End comes. We can count on it. After all these years and after paying such a price, God is not about to change His way of leading the family. Nor is He about to fail. Consistent with the way God has always handled this conflict in the family, He never asks us to believe without evidence. He does not offer claims, but rather demonstration, and this takes time. We know that God will not come until the world has been warned. And He will not come until His children are ready. But when they are ready, He will waste no time. He will come.

So how soon do you think the conflict will be over?

The Great Advent Movement (19:7)

About a century and a half ago there arose, in various parts of the world, the growing conviction that the coming of Christ was very near. Bible students in many different churches began to see in certain remarkable events the fulfillment of some of the signs that Jesus had given to His disciples in Matthew, signs like: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky. . . .” Matt 24:29, NIV.

They saw the fulfillment of this verse in the darkening of the sun and moon on May 19, 1780 and the remarkable falling of the stars on November 13, 1833. They combined these observations with their study of prophecies in Daniel and Revelation that pointed to important events that would occur in 1798 and 1844. They saw in all these things an accumulation of evidence that the long-looked-for advent was very near. Though some are now puzzled about these signs and dates, that was when the great second-advent movement did begin. It was precipitated when all those remarkable signs and prophetic periods seemed to come together. It was not just one date, one event, or one piece of evidence. It was all that evidence combined. That’s the way God has always sought to convince us throughout the history of the conflict. Not just a little here and a little there, but an accumulation of evidence.

Some of those eager “adventists” were led by their study of the prophetic times and the heavenly evidences to begin giving special attention to the three angels’ messages in Revelation 14. They came to the conclusion that the time had arrived for these three messages of warning and invitation to be given to the whole world. They undertook a very bold venture. The excitement and the disappointment of those days are all part of religious history. There are millions of Christians in the world today who agree that those early adventists had indeed seen God’s signal that the Second Coming was near. They didn’t read it correctly at first. It was not a signal to pack for the trip up to heaven. Rather, it was a call from God to prepare the whole world for His coming. That’s why we are still here, because we haven’t completed the task.

Time has continued much longer than the early adventists expected. The signs that so stirred them occurred hundreds of years ago. But are we surprised or even ashamed that our God would be willing to wait this long? Are we more concerned about our reputation or His? The good news, the gospel, is not about us.

Sometimes I think we make that mistake. We act as if the good news were about us, but it’s not. The good news is about our God. Now if our failure to complete the task has contributed to the long delay, then we deserve to be ashamed. But the longer God waits, the more gracious He looks. His delay only confirms the good news. The delay should lead us to speak with pride about our God and not to make the awful mistake that Jonah made.

You see, God needs better witnesses than Jonah proved to be. Reluctant teachers of the truth, moved only by fear or obligation, are themselves a very sad denial of the Good News. God is waiting for people who, in the words of Peter: “Look eagerly for the coming of the Day of God and work to hasten it on” (2 Pet 3:12, NEB).

The Embarrassing Patience of God (19:6)

God’s incredible graciousness has even been an embarrassment to some of His people. Do you remember when the prophet Jonah was asked by God to go and give a serious message of warning to Nineveh? At first he ran away. Later, under considerable pressure, he went and delivered his message. He was hardly a “missionary volunteer.” Think of the pressure the Lord had to put on Jonah to get him to go to Nineveh and deliver a very serious message to a very dangerous people. Jonah walked the streets and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed” (based on Jonah 3:4).

Then he went out and sat down on a hillside nearby to watch the city come to its end (Jon 4:5). But it didn’t. The people of Nineveh repented, and the city was not destroyed (Jon 3:10). And Jonah complained angrily to God. He said, “God, that’s why I ran away. I knew You were far too kind to go through with that threat. You’ve made me look like a false prophet. I’m humiliated enough to die.” Imagine saying such words to God! Here’s how the biblical text puts it:

Lord, didn’t I say before I left home that this is just what you would do? That’s why I did my best to run away to Spain! I knew that you are a loving and merciful God, always patient, always kind, and always ready to change your mind and not punish. Now then, Lord, let me die. I am better off dead than alive. Jonah 4:2-3, GNB.

Think how well this man knew God way back in Old Testament times! Those are words Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, or Abraham would have been proud to speak. In fact, none of them used better words than that to talk about our God. But Jonah was ashamed. God’s kindness had embarrassed him. He was so humiliated, his reputation as a reliable prophet was so destroyed, that he was prepared to die!

God reasoned with frustrated Jonah. “Have you no pity for these people? Aren’t you glad that they have chosen to repent?” Jonah 4:4, 11. God even mentioned the cattle in the city at the end of the book (4:11). But Jonah was much more concerned about his own reputation. Moses, Abraham, Jeremiah, and Paul all announced themselves proud to know God as they did. They were proud of Him and proud of the good news. Jonah also knew God, but he was ashamed.