A song in the night

Triumphing in the throes of end-time turmoil

Norman R. Gulley, Ph.D., is research professor of systematic theology, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee.

As time runs out and the planet rushes toward its ultimate rendezvous with destiny, we wonder if we will make it to the third millennium. One thing is certain: there is a sense that something momentous is about to happen. Never before have people around the world reported so many angel encounters or described such a variety of encounters with apparitions of Mary. Never before have psychics been so widely accepted, or spiritualism had such a worldwide impact, or phenomena such as the New Age movement been so influential. Christians in America have an unprecedented opportunity to dominate American politics through such auspices as the Christian Coalition. Something must be going on behind the scenes (see Rev. 16:12-16).

The earth flies through its history toward a final terminus like a plane on a transoceanic flight. It has been a long time since takeoff, and the trip is becoming tiring and more turbulent. Looking ahead, a dark sky threatens, dense with apprehension. Surly clouds dominate the horizon. As the planet flies through them, they swirl and shift, socking in a shuddering world. There used to be ways of flying above or around such storms, but these ways can no longer be found so easily. It is the earth's destiny to fly right into this ultimate bad weather front.

The stupendous crisis of all time is unfolding. It will never again be business as usual. The early time of trouble, the great time of trouble, and Jacob's time of trouble dominate the prophetic horizon of a shaken planet.

The good news

There's deserved concern about these things. We don't like the idea of a Sunday law with its ultimate enforcement with a death decree (see Rev. 13:15). Nor are we comfortable with the thought that all the world will follow a dominating and oppressive world power, actually worshiping this authority called the beast (see verses 3, 4), while nations, with America in the forefront, force the issue (see verse 12). It is troubling to know that freedoms as basic as buying and selling will be severely curtailed unless homage is paid to this dominator (see verse 17). And no one likes the prospect of being the object of universal hatred.

In a recent survey of college students, 56 percent were afraid of last-day events. In fact, 41 percent said they would rather die than live through the last days. One student said, "I would rather go to heaven through resurrection! "Yet paradoxically, 88 percent claimed they knew Christ as a personal friend. But so many are overwhelmed with the cares of everyday life or with the prospect of coming circumstances that they cannot see the Christ who is coming.

It is past time for Adventists to know deep down that final events have more to do with who is coming than with what is coming. These disturbing events have to do with Christ rather than just crisis. He makes all the difference. He comes as a light stronger than the sun. His glory dissolves the black clouds. With Him no night on a hurting planet is dark or empty. His light beams from the future into the center of our trouble, and we who look for the Advent should know that. Though darkness shrouds the globe, it is powerless to stop the entrance of this quality of light. With Him the blackness is never terminal and cannot last long. With Him we have a future, not the night. He is light, and He is our future. His track record is this way, and so it will be to the end of time. Adventists need to know this deeply and certainly.

It is worth singing about

If I have a bad day, it's not worth thinking about, let alone singing about. Yet the end-time saints will sing the song of their experience following the most horrendous period of trouble ever known (Dan. 12:1). Scripture says, "They sang a new song before the throne.... No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth" (Rev. 14:3)." These are the ones who live through it all. It is "the song of their experience."1

When do they sing it? The context says they stand on Mount Zion with Christ (see Rev. 14:1). Mount Zion is "the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God" (Heb. 12:22). This city is in heaven now and will come to the new earth after the millennium (see Rev. 21:1-3). The context also says the 144,000 will follow Christ wherever He goes (see Rev. 14:4). "This seems to point to some special privilege the 144,000 will have."2 This privilege, I believe, has everything to do with the reason they live through the ultimate post-probationary crisis. In this respect they are like Christ, who lived through His time of trouble without the assurance of His Father's comforting presence. Jesus had no mediator in heaven. So it will be for the 144,000. They will demonstrate in a comparative way what He demonstrated in an absolute way that a human being dependent upon God can live a victorious life under the most challenging of circumstances. In this way the 144,000 join Christ in answering the great controversy issue. They will follow Christ wherever He goes (Rev. 14:4) and live forever to tell the story to the unnumbered worlds flung throughout the universe.

This is the point. These people sing about their greatest trouble long after it happens simply because they know that all they have gone through has been worth going through, especially in the light of the Lamb they have been following! That puts final events in a totally different light. Suddenly one is confronted with the fact that even in the midst of unprecedented trouble there is far more than darkness and ominous horror.

The words of the song

So it is the 144,000 who sing the song, and the song they sing is called the "song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb" (Rev. 15:3). Here are the words: "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed" (see verses 3,4).

Notice the focus of the song. There is not one word about the trouble they went through, nor is there anything about their victorious living. From beginning to end the song is about the marvelous deeds of God! It is the work of Christ that counts in every step of our salvation, and so when all is said and done, it is still the work of Christ that will count.

But why is this song called the Song of Moses? Because it calls our minds back to God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt at the Red Sea as a type of the final deliverance. When the great army of Pharaoh came after the unarmed Israelites, "they were terrified and cried out to the Lord" (Ex. 14:10). From a natural point of view there was no hope for them. Terrible fear gripped them. But "Moses answered the people, 'Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still'" (verses 13, 14). In other words God says, Rest in Me, trust Me, I am able to take you through.

Resting in Jesus

This is how it will be for the final "Israel." When everything seems hopeless, we will look to Christ, rest in Him, and trust Him to take us through to the other side. This resting and trusting in Jesus has everything to do with the Sabbath test that comes when a threatening civil power is descending on us. Sunday legislation will not only involve the question of which day is holy; in a far deeper sense it has to do with the Sabbath experience. It is this Sabbath-like experience of resting in Christ and following Him even when doing so seems to place all the odds against us that is the very essence of the experience of the 144,000 and is the heart of their song.

At the Red Sea it was not the Israelites who rolled the waters back. Christ did. Moses didn't keep the waters back. Christ did. Their scantily armed men didn't destroy the Egyptian army. Christ did. "The mighty hand of Christ rolled back the waters of the Red Sea, so that they stood up like a wall. Thus He made a dry passage through the sea, and Israel passed over dryshod."3

Look at the Song of Moses. "I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation" (Ex. 15:1, 2). "In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling" (verse 13). And so the song goes on for 18 verses. There's not one word about the time of trouble they passed through. The entire song is about God and the awesome power He manifested on behalf of His people. The Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb is about Christ, not about times of trouble. It is about Christ, not the crisis. It is now that we must learn to look at every straggle of our lives and at the ultimate crisis in the same way seeing past the crisis to the Christ!

Just as Christ was with His people at the Red Sea, so He will be with the 144,000 in the great time of trouble. He is the God who stands with His people in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:25). He is the Christ who stands in the midst of His churches (Rev. 1:12, 20). He promised, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Heb. 13:5), for "I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). Christ makes the same decisive difference to final events as He did at the Red Sea rescue. Without Him there is no good news. But because of Him there is always the very best news indeed! Going through last-day events has much more to do with what He is going to do for us than with what we are going to do for Him.

When the final moments come, Christ will provide latter rain power to comfort and sustain us (see Joel 2:28). He will send the plagues against a world confederated against His people (see Rev. 16). He will destroy the enemy and deliver His people (see Rev. 18). No wonder the 144,000 have something to sing about forever! The focus of this song is always to be our focus. Thus it will not be God's children who will feel fear in the final throes of history, but it will be those who enact a death decree who in the end will experience ultimate fear (see Rev. 6:12-17).

Two Second Advent scenes

But the game isn't over until it's over. In the first quarter of the end-time game there's a Sunday law. In the second quarter there's a death decree, and then the plagues will be pounding the planet. The fourth quarter is the climax Armageddon and the Second Advent. We know that as the game ends, Christ will manifest His power by obliterating the opposition. And the saints will be homeward bound and forever safe. Thus we need to look at coming events from the end of the game forward. It makes all the difference.

There is a dramatic comparison in Revelation 14 and 19 that is important. In chapter 14 we see Christ riding on a white cloud with a crown on His head. He comes to deliver His people. The crown is a Stephanas, a laurel wreath of victory, worn by the winner of an Olympic-type game. It is the same Stephanas that the redeemed wear (see Rev. 4:4). Chapter 14 pictures Jesus as one of us. He has been through the worst time of trouble, far greater than ours, in Gethsemane and at Golgotha. In Revelation 14 He comes as the compassionate Deliverer, the Son of man, the Redeemer wearing the crown of the redeemed.

In Revelation 19 He comes on a white horse to make war, to judge, and to throw the enemy into the fiery lake. He comes with multiple crowns, each one a diadem worn exclusively by royalty. He comes as King of kings and conquering God. At the sight of such a Christ the saints rejoice, for "God has judged her [Babylon] for the way she treated you" (Rev. 18:20). Now in Babylon there is no song to sing. It is destitute of music (see verses 21, 22) and filled with fear.

What does God say to His children in these two pictures of the Second Advent? He says, "I understand; I know what you will go through. I'll go through it with you." "The precious Saviour will send help just when we need it. The way to heaven is consecrated by His footprints."4 He also says, "I am the King of kings. Do not be afraid when all the civil powers of the world are in union with all the apostate religious powers to oppose you. They are a wisp of smoke to Me, the eternal King. Do not be afraid of what they might do against you. I will have the last word. I am coming to destroy them. When languishing in prisons, My angels will come to you, 'bringing light and peace from heaven.'"5 "You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you make the Most High your dwelling even the Lord, who is my refuge then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways" (Ps. 91:8-11).

Sudden deliverance (see Rev. 18:8, 10,17) brings joy to the saints. "Their faces, so lately pale, anxious, and haggard, are now aglow with wonder, faith, and love. Their voices rise in triumphant song: 'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof' (Ps. 46:1-3).6

When their enemies have no song, the saints will sing their new song. That song is about triumph and not tragedy, about faith and not fear, about Christ and not the crisis. This is our destiny to sing that song. What is coming will be tough but thrilling.7 It will find us in the final exodus, facing the final Red Sea, and crossing over with Christ our only help.

* Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version.

1. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1950), p. 649.

2. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1957), vol. 7, p. 826.

3. Ibid., Ellen G. White Comments, vol. 1, p. 1101.

4. White, The Great Controversy, p. 633.

5. Ibid., p. 627.

6. Ibid., p. 639.

7. This article is about the 144,000. There are others who become martyrs (Rev. 20:4). For them see 1 Corinthians 10:13.

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Norman R. Gulley, Ph.D., is research professor of systematic theology, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee.

December 1996

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