"Years Behind"

The same sins have delayed the entrance of modern Israel into the heavenly Canaan

Alfred S. Jorgensen is the field secretary for the Australasian Division


IF WE  BELIEVE what we  affirm and claim, there is only one  conclusion that may be  drawn.We  affirm that we  are the fulfillment  the correspondence in history of the prophecy of Revelation  12:17, which re quires  the  appearance  in the  last days of a remnant church that keeps the commandments  of  God  and  has  the  testimony of Jesus Christ.

We  claim,  furthermore,  by  parity  of reasoning  and  Scripture  correlation, that God  has given us a specific task to perform.  Our commission, we maintain, is  to  proclaim  the  three  angels'  mes sages  of  Revelation  14:6-12, to prepare a people to stand in the final day of God.

It  follows,  therefore, with impeccable logic  that,  granted  the  truth  of  these statements,  the  Seventh-day  Adventist Church is the Israel of God in these last days!

Now  we  do  not  have  to  be  afraid  of this,  or  self-conscious  about  it,  or  embarrassed  by  it. Facts are  facts, and we cannot  escape  their  implications.  In deed,  in  this  present  case,  who  of  us would want to!  After all, next to the assurance that we  are the children of God in  Christ,  what  greater  source  of  joy and  satisfaction  could  we  anticipate than  the  knowledge  that  we  are  the people  of  God,  the  "remnant" in whom the  work  of  God  is  to  triumph  gloriously!

But,  by the same token, we  also  have occasion  for  great  concern.  For  all  history and experience  demonstrate  abundantly that high privilege is  always at tended  by  high  peril.  In  fact,  one  has only to look at the outworking of events in  Bible  history  to  see  how  frequently the  high  peril  to  which  God's  people were exposed deprived them of the high privilege  to  which  they  had  been  admitted.

The  Bible,  for  instance,  closes  with an  account  of  the  New  Testament church,  established  as  the  New  Israel. In  I  Peter  2:9,  10,  the  apostle  Peter credited to it the same prerogatives that had previously been conferred upon ancient  Israel  when  God  had  embraced them  within His covenant at Sinai  (Ex. 19:5,  6).  The church, moreover, is recognized by the writer to the Hebrews as a new-covenant  church  (chapter  8  and 13:20,  21).  In all its institutional essentials, therefore, the Christian church is seen  as  the  modern  counterpart  of  ancient Israel.

This  fact  is,  in itself,  deeply  significant.  For there is  a  sense  in which  the church  is,  as  the  apostle  Paul  said  of himself,  "one  born  out  of  due  time" (1  Cor.  15:8, K.J.V.).

What  do  we  mean  by  this  strange statement?  Simply  this:  all  the  blessings now enjoyed by the church, including the new covenant, were intended in the  first instance  for the restored "remnant"  of  Israel  of  the  postexilic  reconstruction.

A Nation Divided

All  of  us  are  familiar with the broad outline  of  Israel's  later history. Following  the  united  monarchy the  "all  Israel"  of  the  illustrious  reigns  of  David and  Solomon the  nation  was  divided into  two  kingdoms:  the  northern  kingdom  of  "Israel"  and the  southern  kingdom  of "Judah." "Israel" came to an end in  722  B.C.  at the  fall  of  Samaria  (see 2  Kings,  chapter  17), 1  and  "Judah"  finally  ground to  a  halt when the Babylonians  penetrated  Jerusalem,  slew large  numbers  of  those  who  had  survived the siege and  famine,  and carried the  rest  off  to  Babylon.  Although  this latter  event  occurred  in  586  B.C.,  the Babylonian  captivity  is  usually  considered  as  having  begun  in  605  B.C., when  the  puppet  king,  Jehoiakim, rebelled  against  the  Babylonians  and was duly disciplined.

What  is  entirely  relevant  for  our present  purpose  is  the  intense  prophetic  activity that marked the  declining  years  of  both Israel and Judah. For convenience,  we  generally  refer  to  the prophetic  messages  that were  received at these  times  as  "restoration" prophecies;  that is,  predictions  concerning the end  of  the Babylonian  captivity and  of the  restoration  thereafter  of  the  dispersed exiles and their descendants as a nation in the land of Palestine.

To  attempt even to  list these prophecies  would  be  beyond  the  scope  of  this present  article.  But  by  way  of  random sampling, one has only to read such pas sages  as Amos  9:14;  Hosea  1:11;  Isaiah 60-62;  Jeremiah  3:18;  16:15;  23:1-8; 29:1-15;  chapters  30-33;  50:4,  5;  and Ezekiel  37  to  appreciate  the  principal projections  of  the  divine  plan  for  the postexilic  reconstruction.  In  a  word, God's  purpose  for the  restoration envisaged:  (1)  the  gathering of  both  "Israel" and  "Judah"  out  of  "all  the  nations" where  they  had  been  dispersed;  (2)  the returning  "remnant"  to  be  "a  great company"  (Jer.  31:7,  8,  K.J.V.);  (3)  the restored  nation to  live  under the "new" or  "everlasting  covenant"  (see  Jer.  31: 31-34;  32:36-41;  50:4,  5,  K.J.V.);  (4) the  ultimate  rule  of  "a  righteous Branch,"  who  would  not  only  be  Him self,  "Jehovah  Our Righteousness"  (see Hebrew  of  Jer.  23:5,  6),  but who would also  cause  Jerusalem  to  be  known  by the  same  name  (Jer.  33:14-16).

Incidentally,  attention should also be called  to  the  obvious  parallelism  be tween  Ezekiel  37  and  Jeremiah  30-33, for  in  Ezekiel  37  distinct  movements are  indicated:  (1)  The  return of the  exiles  symbolized  by  the  resurrection  of the  dead  bones  in  the  valley  (verses 1-10);  (2)  the  reconstitution  of  the  one nation  illustrated  by  the  putting  together  of  the two  sticks  (verses  11-23); (3) the rule of the restored people by the "one  shepherd,"  "My  servant  David," under  the  terms  of  the  "everlasting covenant"  (verses  24-28, R.S.V.).

Such,  indeed,  was  the  blueprint.  But what was the issue of  events?

Heartbreaking Restoration

In  contrast  to  the  glorious  dimensions  projected  in  such passages  as  Isaiah 60-62, the actual return from Babylon  was  a  relatively  poor,  miserable business,  a heartbreak both to men and to  God,  as  even  a  cursory  reading  of Ezra,  Nehemiah,  Haggai,  Zechariah, and Malachi  shows.

It will  be  objected  that the  prophecy of  Daniel  9:24,  25  had  stated that this would be so:  "It shall be built again .  .  . in a troubled time" (R.S.V.). That Daniel did  say this is  true.  But let us not misread the intention of his prediction. For Bible  prophecy is  not a  species  of  fatalistic predetermination. Daniel was  simply  shown  how  it  would  work out not how it had to work out.

Actually,  we  might  well  reflect that the  Exile  need  never  have  occurred  at all!  It  was  certainly  not  part  of  God's original  plan,  as  even the  earlier  forty years  of  wilderness  wandering was  not part  of  it,  either.  In  fact, this is  one  of the arguments  of the writer to the He brews, in chapters 3  and 4 of that letter. God  had intended  (after the forty years wilderness  wandering  became  necessary) that Joshua should bring His people into a permanent  rest in Canaan a rest,  which,  like  the  seventh-day  Sabbath, was to have been a type of the final rest of the people  of God in the heaven- lies,  in  the  ages  to  come  (see  Deut. 12:9,  10).

Church Is "Years Behind"

Again, we  also  do  well to remind our selves  that  the  Christian  church  too, following its establishment as the New Israel,  failed  to  enter  into  God's  rest when it might have done  so. While I do not want to belabor this point dogmatically, it is  difficult to  avoid the "thrust" of  such  passages  as  Hebrews  1:2;  9:26 (cf.  Matthew  13:39  where  a  near parallel  phrase  is  referred  to  the  Second Coming);  and  1  Corinthians  10:1.

Here, once more, the objection may be raised:  Did not the prophecies of Daniel and the  Revelation,  Matthew  24  and  2 Thessalonians  require  a  long  period  to elapse  in  which  the  great  apostasy would  be  developed?  The  answer  is clearly,  No;  for  these  prophecies  would never  have  been  given in their present form if the Lord had  foreseen an immediate  and  faithful response  on the part of His church.

Finally,  we  come  down  to  the  remnant  church,  only  to  discover  that  our performance  has  not  been  any  better! For the Spirit of Prophecy writings state clearly,  explicitly,  unequivocally,  that if this church, and the great Second Ad vent  Movement  out  of  which  it  grew, had matched its  glorious  God-given opportunities, the work of God in the earth would  have  been  completed  before  the end of the nineteenth century."

If  all  who  had  labored  unitedly  in the work in 1844, had received the third angel's  message  and  proclaimed  it  in the  power  of  the  Holy  Spirit,  the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts.  A  flood  of light would have been shed upon the world.  Years  ago  the inhabitants of the earth would have been warned,  the  closing  work  completed, and Christ would have  come  for the redemption  of  His  people." The  Great Controversy,  p.  458."

The  work  is  years  behind.  While men  have  slept,  Satan  has  stolen  a march  upon  us." Testimonies,  vol.  9, p.  29.

Let  there  be  no  mistake.  Ellen  G. White  was  not  carried  away by the enthusiasm  of  some  great  concern  when she  wrote  these  words.  For  as  L.  E. Froom,  in  his  excellent  assemblage  of materials  in  Movement  of Destiny  convincingly shows, the task of warning the world  in  preparation  for the  coming  of Christ could have been more readily accomplished  in  the  1850's  than  now!  In 1844 there were 100,000 Millerites, with some  measure  of  organization  and competent  men  leading  them,  along with  twenty-eight  periodicals  publishing  their  message.  Furthermore,  in 1850  world  population was  little in excess  of  1,000  million;  today  we  have passed the 4,000 million mark! 2

What  a  mighty  force  those  100,000 Millerites  (and  remember  we  did  not reach  the  same  membership  till  1911!) would  have  been  if  they  "had  received the  third  angel's  message  and  pro claimed  it  in  the  power  of  the  Holy Spirit"! But they didn't.

Lesson for Today

Very well; what is the message for us today  of  all  these  repeated  failures? (Failures, be it noted, not of God, whose plans  and purposes  and promises never fail,  but  of  those  to  whom  great light and  opportunity  had  been  granted.) What  went  wrong  that  national  Israel was  set  aside  in  favor  of  a  predominantly  Gentile  Christian  church?  And how  has  it  come  about,  too,  that  "the gates  of  hell"  have  so  often  seemed  to prevail against the church? Why, more over, did the great Second Advent Movement  disintegrate  so  ingloriously  after the great Disappointment in 1844? Why has  not  the  Seventh-day  Adventist Church  long  before  this  completed  its task?

We  refer  to  Hebrews  4:2  where  the writer  puts  his  finger  on  the  cause  of all  the  trouble:  "The  message  which they  heard  did  not  benefit  them,  be cause  it  did  not  meet with  faith in the hearers"  (R.S.V.).  As  Ellen  G.  White comments:  "For  forty  years  did  unbelief, murmuring, and rebellion shut out ancient Israel from the land of Canaan. The  same  sins  have  delayed  the  entrance  of  modern  Israel  into  the  heavenly  Canaan.  ... In  neither  case  were the  promises  of  God  at  fault.  It  is  the unbelief,  the  worldliness,  unconsecration,  and  strife  among  the  Lord's  pro fessed  people  that have  kept  us  in this world  of  sin and sorrow so many years."Selected Messages,  book  1,  p.  69.

These  statements,  to  be  sure,  en shrine  a  profoundly  important  principle:  the  effectiveness  of  the  Word  of God is always limited by the measure of appropriating faith  (which must always be true as long as  God extends free will to His creatures).

This  is  well  illustrated  by  a  giant printing  press,  which is  inert until the power is  switched on. Now get the point in this illustration. The  machine is  not faith; the power by which it is driven is not  faith.  The  faith is  expressed  in the action  of  the  operator when he  presses the switch.  In other words, in Christian experience  faith  does  not  in  itself  con tribute  anything to the  effectiveness  of the  operation  of  the  Word  of  God,  yet without  faith its  operation  cannot proceed!

Perhaps  an  even  more  sophisticated illustration would be that of a catalyst  a  chemical  substance  that  induces changes  in  other  chemicals,  but  itself remains unchanged.

All  of  which  is  simply  to  say  that faith  is  the  catalyst  of  Christian  dynamics.  As  Hebrews  11,  verses  6  and  1 put it:  "Without faith it is impossible to please"  (R.S.V.)  God,  for  "faith  gives substance  to  our  hopes,  and  makes  us certain  of  realities  we  do  not  see" (N.E.B.).*

A Dangerous Illusion

In  1  Corinthians  10:11  the  apostle Paul  declares:  "Now  these  things  happened  to  them  as  a  warning,  but they were  written down  for  our instruction" (R.S.V.).

The  history  of  Israel  and the  church a warning  for  our  instruction!  Have we got the message? Are we aware that one  of  the  greatest  perils,  one  of  the greatest  dangers,  confronting the  remnant  church today is that it should  be come the victim of an illusion the illusion that an academic knowledge  of the Bible  possesses  a  saving  efficacy.  For that is  precisely what the writer to He brews  recognized  as  having caused the failure  of  Israel.  "The  message  which they  heard  did  not  .  .  .  meet with faith in the hearers." Thus Isaiah could write of them:  "Hear and hear, but do  not understand;  see  and  see,  but  do  not  perceive"  (Isa.  6:9, R.S.V.).

The  leaders  of  Israel its academics, as  we  would  say were  massive  students of  Scripture. But, as our Lord had many an occasion to remind them, they had  divorced  religion  from  righteousness,  they  had  dichotomized  creed  and conduct;  they  had  compartmentalized what  they  believed  and  how  they  behaved.  In a word, they failed to see the necessary  connection between the mes sage  of God and morality.

The  utter gravity of this peril for the church  today  is  powerfully  under scored  by  Dr.  A.  W.  Tozer  in  his  book Of God  and Men."

Bible  exposition  without  moral  application  raises  no  opposition.  It  is only when the hearer is made to under stand that truth is  in  conflict  with his heart that resistance sets in. As long as people  can  hear  orthodox  truth  divorced  from  life  they  will  attend  and support  churches and institutions with out  objection.  The  truth  is  a  lovely song,  become  sweet by long  and tender association;  and  since  it  asks  nothing but a few dollars, and offers good music, pleasant friendships,  and a comfortable sense  of well-being, it meets with no resistance  from  the  faithful.  Much  that passes  for  New  Testament Christianity is  little  more  than  objective  truth sweetened  with  song  and  made  palatable by religious entertainment."

Any  man  with  fair  pulpit  gifts  can get on with the average congregation if he just 'feeds' them and lets them alone. Give them plenty of objective truth and never  hint  that  they  are  wrong  and should  be  set  right,  and  they  will  be content."

On  the  other  hand,  the  man  who preaches  truth  and  applies  it  to  the lives  of  his  hearers  will  feel  the  nails and the thorns. He will lead a hard life, but  a  glorious  one.  May  God  raise  up many  such  prophets.  The  church needs them badly." 3

Tozer  was  not  writing  for  Seventh- day  Adventists,  nor  would  we  use  his words as  a  cudgel to  smite the people of God.  But,  by the same token, would we dare  to  suggest  that they  do  not  have any  relevance  for  our  contemporary situation?

 

1  The  dates  in  this  paragraph  are  those  of  the  chronology adopted by the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary.

2  L. E. Froom, Movement of Destiny (Review and Herald Publishing Association,  1971),  chaps.  37  and 38:  "Second  Advent Delayed: Divine Reasons Disclosed No.  1  and No. 2," pp. 561- 603. Re the extent of the Millerite movement in 1844, see page 567

3  Dr.  D.  A.  Tozer,  Of God  and Men  (Harrisburg, Pa.: Christian Publications, Inc.)


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Alfred S. Jorgensen is the field secretary for the Australasian Division

April 1976

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