The three angels’ messages and world religions

Seeing the world through the eyes of others is a critical initial step in communicating biblical principles with them.

Scott Griswold, MDiv,is associate director for ASAP (Advocates for Southeast Asians and the Persecuted) Ministries, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

God sees the more than seven billion people on earth. They are not a sea of nameless faces to Him. He loves each individual better than we love our own children. Millions do not even know that God exists; there are hundreds of languages in which no prayers have ever been uttered in the name of Jesus. God will not let earth’s history end this way. He promises that “ ‘this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come’ ” (Matt. 24:14).1

The gospel that God wants to communicate has been summarized in the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14. This truth can be seen in His passionately global focus of their introduction. “I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6). Every nation, tongue, and tribe includes half a billion Buddhists, 1 billion Hindus, 14 million Jews, 1.6 billion Muslims, and many millions more in traditional and folk religions.2

Seventh-day Adventists have long considered the three angels’ messages to be at the heart of their movement. Most think about these messages as primarily a call to the now 2.2 billion Christians, Protestants, and Catholics to return to forgotten truths in the Bible. Revelation 14:6–12, however, clearly reveals that God’s intended audience includes every person, in every ethnicity and religion. In response to God’s love and with a desire to see Jesus return, we need to carefully consider what these truths mean to non-Christians and how we can best communicate them.

The message of the first angel of Revelation 14

The first angel’s message says, “ ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water’ ” (Rev. 14:7). This message con­nects closely to truths emphasized in the Jewish and the Muslim scriptures. God is portrayed in the Torah and the Quran as the Creator, Lawgiver, and Judge. Dedicated Muslims emphasize the importance of worshiping the One True God and call people to fully sur­render to the One who will judge the world. Committed Jews seek to keep the seventh-day Sabbath holy because of their belief in Creation and the Ten Commandments. In our conversations with Jews and Muslims, we should emphasize these important similari­ties. We share a deep concern that the world, including many Christians, has turned to idolatry, evolution, and the worship of nature and self instead of the Creator God.

The first angel’s message makes it clear that there is something worth fearing in the fact that God continues to judge the world. He knows every­thing, keeps track of everything, and will repay everything. Seventh-day Adventists teach that we are currently in the time of the final judgment. While no one needs to fear God’s heart, each should fear His holiness enough to turn away from every sin.3

This emphasis on judgment connects to significant parts of the Buddhist and Hindu beliefs in karma. “Do good and receive good. Do bad and receive bad,” is the most frequent phrase I have heard throughout my service in Asia. The majority believes there will be a judgment for what they have done, with consequences they will receive in this life, heaven, hell, and the next reincarnation.

Many from these Eastern reli­gions are not attracted to Christianity because it appears significantly less moral than their own religion. They see many who do not take sin seri­ously yet claim God’s forgiveness. The materialism, immorality, and violence of “Christian” countries affirm this negative perception. When Seventh-day Adventists value the various aspects of God’s law and seek purity of mind, speech, and action, thoughtful Buddhists and Hindus look on them with respect and admiration.

“ ‘Fear God, give glory to Him, and worship Him,’ ” certainly does not match all the beliefs of the world religions. I have walked along the Ganges River in India and seen the devotion, giving of glory, and worship to many gods at various shrines. I have watched in Thailand how our call to depend on a personal God for salvation completely contrasted with the Buddhists’ reliance on their own actions and meditation. I know that many people worldwide will respect Jesus as prophet, miracle worker, or enlightened teacher; but they argue against Him as the eternal God and the only source of salvation.

The reality is that every Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian has a sinful, self-centered heart that is not naturally inclined to give glory only to God. Nevertheless, our duty and privilege include leading them to both the death of self and a relationship of honor with the Creator and Redeemer.

I have seen the excitement and joy of a Buddhist taxi driver as he learned for the first time about the Creator of the world, his true Father. I have watched the tears flow down the face of a child-trafficker as he realized there was forgiveness in Christ, even for him. The everlasting gospel is definitely for every nation, tribe, tongue, and people of every world religion!

However, how we share this everlasting gospel is crucial. Words must be full of love and backed by characters of integrity. There is a reason that this first angel’s message follows the description of the 144,000. They have their Father’s name on their forehead, totally devoted, following Jesus wher­ever He goes. The Bible describes God’s glory as His goodness, gracious­ness, and compassion shining out of the hearts of His people in whatever they eat, drink, or do.4

The Seventh-day Adventist end-time lifestyle is attractive to thinking people of world religions. Jews appreciate our Sabbath keeping. Muslims are happily surprised at our stance against alcohol and eating pork. Hindus value the healthfulness of vegetarianism, along with the importance of nonvio­lence. Buddhists respect the emphasis to turn from materialism in our call to simplicity and generosity seen in our tithing practices and even in our removal of jewelry.

The true Christian who is able to forgive his or her enemy, be faithful to his or her spouse, stop drinking or smoking, and live consistently a life of unselfishness is an amazing sight to anyone of any world religion. Such a group will lead many to give glory to God for His power to change lives.

The message of the second angel of Revelation 14

The message of the second angel of Revelation 14 is a clear warning that something has fallen apart and cannot be trusted: “ ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication’ ” (Rev. 14:8). Why is this solemn message something that must be shared with not only Christians but also people of world religions? The angel who explained the mystery of Babylon made it clear when he said, “ ‘the waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues’ ” (Rev. 17:15).

John carefully describes Babylon in that same chapter. Many Bible stu­dents throughout the centuries have identified Babylon as the corrupted Christian church, specifically Roman Catholicism. The wine is described as her intoxicating doctrines that have taken the focus off of the all-sufficient Jesus. These are beliefs such as the ability of priests to forgive sins, the necessity of specific ceremonies for salvation such as mass, the infallibility of the pope as a mouthpiece for God, and the helpfulness of prayers to dead saints.

Many also see the phrase “she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath” as a description of the long years of persecution when the Roman Catholic Church put to death millions of heretics.5

What does this have to do with the world religions? When we talk about the failures of Christianity in comparison to the beauty of Jesus, it opens the eyes of our Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim friends to the failures and inad­equacy of all religions. They can easily see the mistakes of their own systems in this reflection. Many are troubled when they walk past ornately decorated religious buildings that rise high above filthy, disease-ridden slums. They are grieved by the sexual falls among their priests, monks, and other clergy. They recognize that their people’s own history is full of religious violence and hateful prejudice. And there is a growing disgust and hatred toward the mixing of religion and politics that results in intolerance and bloodshed. By talking about these things, we can help people differentiate between religion’s failures and Christ.

I have heard people say, “All reli­gions are good. They all teach people to be good.” Religions have pointed out what is good and what is bad; people know they should not kill or steal, cheat on their spouses or lie. The problem is that they do it anyway. Religion and knowledge, in general, are not enough to clean the heart from selfishness, let alone atone for past sins. Babylon and all religions are fallen in their ability to save.

In the context of a loving friendship and with a view to something better, we can give our friends in the various world religions God’s call to “come out from among them and be separate” so He can be a Father to them (2 Cor. 6:17, 18).

The message of the third angel of Revelation 14

The third angel’s message follows with an even more intense warning that is about the beast, his image, and his mark. Seventh-day Adventists have shown from Revelation 13 a clear connection between this final beast of prophecy and the United States of America (USA). The Bible pre­dicted that a new country would rise in the late 1700s and start in a fairly deserted place but grow to become a world superpower. At first it would be freedom-loving and peaceful like a lamb, but later it would speak like a dragon. According to the prediction, eventually America will swing from promoting freedom to enforcing a certain way of worship. The prophecy warns everyone to not be part of those “who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (Rev. 14:9–11, NASB).

How is this message relevant to our witness among people of the world religions? When I share this prophecy, people quickly recognize that the USA has risen to huge global influence in a short time. They see its impact around the world both politi­cally and economically. Not only that, many see the detrimental effect of the multimillion dollar movies that have translated violence, immorality, and spiritualism into so many languages. The influence from movies, games, and music is instantly available through the Internet, leading people, especially the young people of almost every city, to look and sound amazingly similar as the world is swept into a culture of rebellion and careless living.

It is important to share this part of the third angel’s message because it warns about what will come and serves to disassociate the problems of present-day Christianity from the true Jesus and His genuine followers. The message ends with a focus on a people who have truly embraced the gospel. They “are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). This is the gospel, the message of righteousness by faith, in which God gives both forgiveness of sins and a new life filled with the commandment-keeping presence of Jesus.

I have seen understanding and respect shine in the eyes of Buddhist monks as I shared how the true gospel includes both mercy and the death of self, leading to purity and compassion.

I have watched them convert under the influence of a godly, Christian family.

Steps for sharing the message

These three angels’ messages can be shared with friends of the various world religions in a variety of practi­cal ways. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has devoted significant energy, thought, and money in the Adventist Mission Global Study Centers to learn more effective ways to share God’s love with Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, the postmodern and secular, and the multitudes in the cities. Much can be gained from the handbooks, models, and resources they have produced.6

Here I simply want to share four easy steps that I have found to be a blessing to people of any religion when I reach out.7

1. Listen. You do not have to be an expert on any world religion to share Christ. What matters is knowing what the person in front of you believes and needs. Be a good friend and listen well, and you will know the next steps to care and share God’s love.

2. Affirm similarities. Talk about the values you share in common. Help each other live out those qualities in real day-to-day life. Cook healthful food with a Hindu, serve the poor with a Buddhist, keep the Sabbath with a Jew, and pray with a Muslim. Do not rush to discuss your differences. Let them see their important values in you, your Bible, and your God.

3. Share differences through stories. It is much more fun to tell stories than it is to argue. Debates close hearts. Stories open and transform them. Share your own testimony; it is the most powerful tool you have. This means not only your conversion but various answers to prayer, especially changes in your character and home. Prayerfully watch for opportunities, and plant these joyful seeds often.

Bible stories and parables are also very useful. Jesus never taught without a story. You can easily say, “That reminds me of an ancient story that I really like . . .” God will use His Word to give them understanding.

4. Lead to an experience. Everybody must test and see for themselves whether they are going to believe. You do not need to wait until they are ready to give their hearts to Jesus to ask them for a decision. Little decisions are great steps. You might say, “May I pray for your troubled teenager?” I have never had anyone refuse my offer to pray. God delights in doing miracles to lead people to have faith in Him.

You could say, “Would you like to try memorizing this scripture that helped my relationship with my wife?” God’s Word is full of counsel in every important area of life. Invite them to try out little texts frequently.

You could even invite someone to join you in worship, “Would you like to experience a Sabbath with my family this weekend? We’ll spend the afternoon in nature. This has really helped us grow close together and has helped my stress level too.” They may not know who God is, but the love and the lessons they learn may soon lead them to the Creator.

These three angels’ messages truly best sum up God’s final message of love for everybody, of every religion. Revelation 14 ends with a vivid picture of what will happen when we choose to share these truths. One group will reject His love and become ripe in evil like wine grapes. The other group will respond and receive Christ’s righteous­ness, becoming ripe in His beauty like wheat for an eternal harvest to the glory and joy of God.

 

 1 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version.

2 Pew Research Center, “The Global Religious Landscape,” December 18, 2012, www.pewforum .org/2012/12/18/global-religious-landscape-exec/ (accessed December 22, 2015).

3 See Exodus 20:20; Matthew 10:28–31; Hebrews 10:26–31.

4 See Exodus 33:17; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 10:31.

5 This is viewed in connection with a similar interpretation of Daniel 7 and 8’s little horn power.

6 To access these resources, visit www .adventistmission.org.

7 For further training in these steps and other cross-cultural mission concepts, visit www .reachtheworldnextdoor.com.

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Scott Griswold, MDiv,is associate director for ASAP (Advocates for Southeast Asians and the Persecuted) Ministries, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

February 2016

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