Tag Archives: the Remnant

The Biblical Concept of the Remnant (Twelve 5)

The people of God in the final conflict are called the “remnant” (Greek: loipôn) in Revelation 12:17. This end-time designation looks back on a long Old Testament tradition. The original meaning of “remnant” is a group of people who are “survivors of a disaster.” Due to flood, earthquake or conquest, a tribe or people could come in jeopardy of being totally destroyed (what we sometimes call genocide today). The survival of a remnant after any of these disasters brought hope that the tribe or people could be restored to greatness in the future (see Gen. 7:23). Within the Old Testament, a moral or spiritual meaning came to be attached to “remnant.” The remnant was a “believing minority” through whom God could ultimately save the human race from extinction in spite of the presence of sin and evil in the world.

As a result, “remnant” was used in three different theological ways in the OT. 1) Historical Remnant. Any group in the past that has experienced a mighty deliverance of God, such as the descendants of Noah and the Israel of the Exodus. Such a group is visible, nameable and countable. It is a surviving witness to God’s prior salvation, whether or not it remains faithful to God’s original purpose for the group (see 2 Chr. 30:6)

2) Faithful Remnant. This means those among a given historical remnant who remain faithful to the original message and mission of that historical movement. These are those God knows are faithful to Him (2 Tim. 2:19). They are, thus, less visible and countable to human eyes than the historical remnant (1 Kings 19:14-18).

3) Eschatological Remnant. The eschatological remnant is made up of all who will be found faithful during the apocalyptic woes of the end-time (Joel 2:31-32). There is reason to believe that this eschatological remnant will reach far beyond the borders of the historical or faithful remnants of the past (Isa. 66:19-20).

The book of Revelation contains all three type of remnant. The historical remnant in Revelation is the seed of the woman that appears at a particular point in history (Rev. 12:17). The church of Thyatira contains an example of a faithful remnant in the midst of apostasy (Rev. 2:24). And there will be a surprising, expansive end-time remnant that emerges just before the close of probation (Rev. 11:13). It is God’s purpose that the historical remnant faithfully prepare the way for the greater remnant to come.

Fundamental Belief Number 13 (Remnant and Its Mission)

The universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ, but in the last days, a time of widespread apostasy, a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. This remnant announces the arrival of the judgment hour, proclaims salvation through Christ, and heralds the approach of His second advent. This proclamation is symbolized by the three angels of Revelation 14; it coincides with the work of judgment in heaven and results in a work of repentance and reform on earth. Every believer is called to have a personal part in this worldwide witness. (Dan. 7:9-14; Isa. 1:9; 11:11; Jer. 23:3; Mic. 2:12; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Peter 1:16-19; 4:17; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Jude 3, 14; Rev. 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4.)  (Rev. 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:10; Jude 3, 14; 1 Peter 1:16-19; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Rev. 21:1-14.)

 Aside from re-arranging the texts, there were no changes in this fundamental and that was a bit of a surprise to us. There is language here that sounds awkward and exclusive in today’s world. For example, “apostasy” is a strong word for this generation; it comes across as elitist and disparaging to all who might disagree with any of the assertions in this statement. In a diverse world, language like this is hard to sell, it can come across as mean and divisive. How would we feel if other Christians applied that term to us?

On the other hand, the fundamental goes out of its way not to name the apostasy, which might be surprising to many. The traditional Adventist teaching on the Mark of the Beast is popular in evangelism, but is not actually specified at the core of Adventist belief. This is as close as any of the 28 fundamentals come to naming the Antichrist, but it refrains from doing so. In the broadest sense, this is a fundamental written by a Christian minority to warn other Christians not to accommodate to Rome.

Of all the Fundamental Beliefs, this is the most parochial. The very language of the statement would be largely meaningless to the average person on the street (next most parochial is probably number 24). One needs a certain amount of context in Adventist history and ways of thinking to understand what is being said here. In San Antonio it was voted to use more in-house language in Fundamental 6 as well, breaking the general practice of fundamental beliefs staying as close to the biblical language as possible. It will not be surprising if that trend spreads to other fundamentals in the future, but it can be questioned whether the trend is positive or negative for the future health of the church.


In a way, this fundamental comes across as self-congratulatory. Note how the language of believe/believer shifts from beginning to end. The first use is universal. All who believe in Jesus Christ are part of the universal church. But in the last sentence, the word believer clearly refers to Adventists and their unique mission. The statement would be less jarring to outsiders if it recognized that what is wrong with the world is also wrong with the church. But the statement in its present form does not go there. Instead it implies, without saying it directly, that the SDA organization is the ideal, not the real. On the other hand, the statement does not actually say that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is, in fact, the remnant church. The language chosen to express this belief is of the kind one would more likely use for a movement more than an institution.

Jack Provonsha, Professor of Christian Ethics at Loma Linda University several decades ago, wrote a book on the theme of this statement. He preferred to use the term “prophetic minority” to state what Adventists actually mean by the remnant. Although the new book on the remnant from the Biblical Research Institute clearly outlines three different types of remnants in the Bible, the language of this statement does not allow for multiple remnants. Allowing for multiple remnants takes away the sting of exclusivism, recognizing that at different times and different places God has worked with a variety of groups, like the Waldensees, the Reformers, the Methodists and others. Such a multiplex approach would probably eliminate the charge of elitism and also be more true to the biblical evidence. For more on this see http://www.thebattleofarmageddon.com/JATS_remnant.html.

It is important to see this statement in its historical and social context. It arises out of a movement made up of victims rejected by society. Under those conditions language adverse to society’s mainstream is understandable. But now Adventists themselves are mainstream in more and more countries and in such contexts this statement can sound more arrogant and self-absorbed than was originally intended. It is shocking to realize that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is now the fifth largest Christian denomination in the world! It will be interesting to see how Adventist self-perception changes as its role in the world becomes more accepted and more mainstream.