Gospel Issues in Adventism
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
When Jesus finished His earthly mission in redeeming mankind, He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father to begin His heavenly ministry as our Great High priest. When this ministry is finished, He will stand up and, according to the prophet Daniel, the Christian church will be plunged into a time of trouble that has never been experienced by any previous generation [read Daniel 12:1].
According to Scripture, this time of distress is the last event to take place on earth before Christ comes the second time to take His people to heaven. It is referred to in Christian theology as The Great Tribulation. I would like to turn our attention now to this major event which the last generation of Christians will be plunged into, as there is much confusion and misunderstanding regarding this subject.
In the first place, we must not confuse this time of trouble or great tribulation with the seven last plagues mentioned in the book of Revelation and which applies only to the unbelievers. I say this because there are many Christians today, especially those who believe in the secret rapture, who teach that believers will be exempt from the great tribulation. This is true of the seven last plagues but not the time of trouble [read Jer. 30:4-7.]
Israel, Judah, Jacob are terms, all of which refer to Gods people. The same idea was presented to Daniel in the text we read, chapter 12 and verse 1:
But at that time your people everyone whose name is found written in the book will be delivered.
The phrase your people is referring to the saints; and the book is referring to the book of life.
Secondly, this great time of trouble will take place only after the three angels of Revelation 14 have fulfilled their mission and the everlasting gospel has been proclaimed into the entire world: to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In other words, the great tribulation will take place only after every human being who has reached the age of accountability will have made his or her ultimate choice either for Christ or against Him. This means that the entire human race will be polarized into only two camps [read Jn. 5:19].
But why must Gods people be plunged into such a time of trouble after probation has closed and their eternal destiny has already been sealed? The answer is that this event is the final show-down in the great controversy between Christ, the Saviour of mankind, and Satan, the enemy of souls. The issue is: can the gospel of Jesus Christ, which God claims is His power unto salvation, produce a people who will manifest total victory over the principle of self, the core of our sin problem?
In other words, can the everlasting gospel produce a people who can reproduce the faith of Jesus which He manifested on the cross? Keep in mind that, to the Jews of Christs day, hanging on a cross was synonymous to hanging on a tree, which represented the curse of God. And that is exactly what Christ experienced for us on the cross [read Gal. 3:13].
When Jesus cried out in agony, as He hung on the cross, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani [Matt. 27:46], i.e., Father, Father, why have you forsaken me, He was experiencing the curse of the law: good-bye to life forever, for our sins. At that time, He could not see through the portals of the tomb; He felt sin was so offensive to God that this separation was to be eternal. Yet, by faith, He held to the promise of His Father that He would be raised the third day and by faith He was victorious: Into thy hands, He said, I commit by spirit.
The big question is: can such a faith be reproduced in the body of Christ, the church? The three angels message claims it will and the time of trouble will prove it. Thus the power of the gospel will be vindicated and the end can come [read Rev. 14:12-16].
This brings us to the big issue that is often discussed among Adventists. How do we prepare our people for this great event, especially in view of the fact that we do believe we are living in the last days? The answer depends on what we believe will be the issue in the great tribulation.
Some Adventists believe the issue will be physical (i.e., food, human hardship, deprivation, etc.). But the fact is, there is a limit to how much one can suffer physically and, let us be honest, there are many generations of Christians in the past that have already suffered these things to the limit (for example, the early Christians who were persecuted under Nero, the emperor of Rome; or modern Christians living under the rule of Communism, etc.).
Yet both the texts we read, in Daniel and Jeremiah, clearly indicate that this time of trouble or distress will be so terrible that no previous generation has ever experienced such a thing. Therefore, we must rule out physical hardships as the real issue. Yes, the time of trouble will involve much physical hardship, but this will not be the real issue, just as the physical torture of the cross was not the real issue for Christ as He hung on the cross.
Then there are others who say that the issue in the time of trouble will be sinless living. They base this view on a misunderstanding of the statement made by Ellen G. White that during the time of trouble we will have to live without a mediator or intercessor. However, we must not confuse the role Christ plays as our mediator or intercessor with the fact He is also our Saviour. The two are related but not synonymous.
As the believers High Priest, Christ is our mediator, but this ministry will cease when probation closes, since the saints will have already been vindicated in the investigative judgment. But Christ will never cease being our Saviour, especially in the time of trouble. Yes, I believe the power of God is greater than all the power Satan can master through sinful flesh, so that the Holy Spirit can give us total victory over sin. But nowhere in the Bible do we find that the issue in the time of trouble will be sinless living.
What then will be the issue? There are two texts that give us a clue as to what will be the real issue. The first is found in Luke 18. Here, Jesus is relating a parable that has one purpose in mind, to develop a faith in His disciples that is unshakable, no matter what [read Luke 18:1]. But, having told the parable of the persistent widow, note how He applies this parable to the last generation of believers [read Luke 18:8]. Clearly, the issue is faith.
The second text I would like to bring to your attention is even more specific: Isa. 54:4-8. Just as Christ was robbed of the hope of resurrection when He hung on the cross and felt forsaken of God, so likewise, in the time of trouble, the saints will feel forsaken of God and, therefore, be robbed of the hope of salvation. The real issue, therefore, will be between faith and feelings: our faith in Christ or the feelings of our sinful nature that is a slave to self. Under such conditions, to pass the test, our love for God and our fellow man must be greater than our love for self [for examples, read Ex. 32:31,32; Rom. 9:1-3].
Just as Satan tempted Christ to come down from the cross and save Himself, rather than depend on His Father [read Lk. 23:35-39], so also in the time of trouble Satan will tempt us to forsake our faith in Christ and save ourselves from impending death by joining the world under him. In our next study, the Remnant, we will consider how such a faith can be developed.