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?
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.)