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Eschatology spells victory1

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Eschatology spells victory1

Leslie N. Pollard

Leslie Pollard, PhD, DMin, serves as president of Oakwood University. He is a New Testament theologian, specializing in apocalyptic literature.

 

Our home in Alabama sits near a nature reserve, an area of wilderness or swamp that, because it is the habitat of some endangered animal or plant species, the government believes should be preserved.

One sunny Sunday morning I decided that I would like to plant watermelons and cantaloupes. That way my then two-year-old grand-daughter, Genesis, could pick fruit with Granddad—and have lasting memories. I drove to the hardware store and bought everything I needed to release my inner farmer, including four planter boxes. Because I had to catch a plane that afternoon for Annual Council, my wife suggested what I might do about the weeds that would have to be removed from the future garden site. “Take some of the extra wardrobe boxes we have and put them on top of the weeds,” she said. “Then when you come back in a week or so, the weeds will have died and will be easier to remove.” She had done exactly that for her own exquisitely manicured garden, and it had seemed to work well. So, I grabbed four large, cardboard wardrobes, flattened them, and hauled them to the garden. There I laid them flat over the grass, placed a brick on each corner to hold them in place, and then rushed to the airport.

Returning a week later, I decided to see what had happened to the weeds. Removing the bricks, I lifted the first layer of cardboard and saw a snake that was about two and a half feet long and an inch in diameter, very dark in color. At first, I assumed it was a king snake, a nonvenomous member of the local rodent patrol. As I began to put the cardboard back down, something told me that I had better check out the snake more carefully. Picking up a board belonging to one of the planter boxes— about four inches wide, a half inch thick, and four feet long—I positioned myself a safe distance from the snake. When I placed the board in front of its face, the snake struck it. Extending the board a second time caused the snake to throw itself at it again. But this time I noticed the almost snow-white mouth and recognized it as a cottonmouth from the nature preserve. Naturally, I wanted to run away as far as I could from the dangerous creature, but I could not just leave it there.

Suddenly, the strangest thing happened. It was as close as I have ever come to having a vision. As I was about to walk away, I saw, in my mind’s eye, Genesis playing barefooted in the back-yard, toddling through the grass, while the poisonous animal, believing that our backyard garden was its personal territory, defended it by attacking my innocent granddaughter.

At that moment I made a quick decision. Taking one of those planter box boards, I measured it over the serpent’s head. Then, raising it over my head as if it were a sledgehammer, with one swift swing the snake became history from a blow to its head.

The strike of the old serpent

Six thousand years ago, in another garden called Eden, where God planted His children, a serpent took up residence. He, too, had no right to be there. But in this case, he presented himself as a friend. He struck nonetheless. The strike of the “old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan” (Rev. 12:9, KJV), landed in the hearts and minds of our first parents, envenomating the universe with sin in lethal doses—a neurotoxic venom that paralyzed our brains, a necroptotic venom that has destroyed our bodies. That is what sin did to our first parents in the garden that day, and that is what it still does to us. Sin kills marriages and families. It kills external relationships, and it destroys internal peace.

But many in the human family did not believe sin kills. For four thousand years we tried to save ourselves from its power. We prayed, erected altars, offered human sacrifices—all to no avail. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son” (Gal. 4:4, ESV) to redeem us. He came as the Great Physician. In His blood was the antivenom, released on a cross. At the cross, our victorious Christ, with a shout of triumph, smashed the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).

His victory, not ours

Now, the devil is defeated, the power of evil broken, the title deed to planet Earth reclaimed. If our Seventh-day Adventist eschatology fails to announce His victory, it fails the test of Scripture. For eschatology is not so much about matching daily headlines with Bible texts or placing current events alongside the prophetic chart rule of history, though each of these at certain times will have their appropriate place. Nor is eschatology about scaring audiences with the roars of apocalyptic creatures or birthing wild speculation about deep conspiracies or attacking other denominations. Adventist eschatology spells victory—His victory, not ours! He and His victory must stand at the center of our eschatological message. “Now is come salvation, and strength, . . . for the accuser of our brethren is cast down,” Revelation 12:10 declares (KJV). Our duty is to announce the victory of Christ and the defeat of our enemy.

Notice that wherever Satan appears in the Apocalypse, he does so as a loser. In Revelation 12:7, 8 he launches war— war in heaven—but he loses. He attacks the sun woman with persecution—but “the earth helped the woman” (v. 16, KJV), and Satan loses. In verse 13 he attacks the Man-Child of the woman— but the divine offspring is caught up to heaven. Again, Satan loses.

Then, along with his two allies, the beast and the false prophet, he launches a three-pronged war against the remnant in Revelation 13. Against so mighty a triumvirate, the saints face an overwhelming force. But the next time we see the remnant, in Revelation 14:1–3, they stand victorious atop Mount Zion. Once more, Satan loses.

Do the remnant saints stand there because they are perfect? No, they are the beneficiaries of the Lamb’s victory. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11, NKJV). The Lamb wins and the adversary loses. And when Satan appears to triumph in Revelation 11:7 and 13:7, it is only a temporary setback for the two witnesses and the saints, just as Satan’s apparent win at the cross collapsed beneath the power of the crucified Lamb’s resurrection. Can you not see why Adventist eschatology spells victory!

Here is God

My wife, Prudence, and I visited the British Museum a few years ago. There we saw an old mariner’s chart, drawn in 1525, illustrating what people then imagined to be the North American coastline. The cartographer made some intriguing notations on areas of the map not yet explored. He wrote in some of those unknown spaces, “Here be giants,” and “Here be fiery scorpions,” and “Here be dragons.” But the British explorer Sir John Franklin scribbled across those fearful scratchings, “Here is God!”

Our eschatology must declare to our members, our administrators, every patient in our hospitals, every student in our schools, and everyone else, in the words of the famous hymn, “This is my Father’s world.”2 God is in control.

Many, like the early map drawers, have faced the unknown days ahead with fear. Understandably so, for the end times do contain much that can inspire terror. Consider John’s experience in Revelation 5: when sworn in and summoned to take the witness stand of history, he collapsed into tears when the angel asked, “Who is worthy, John?” And, indeed, no one was found worthy! Crushing despair washed over him because if no one was worthy, human salvation was a lost cause. If no one is worthy, then all our innate religious yearnings are for naught. And if no one is worthy, we are hopeless, helpless, and hapless.

Then comes one of the elders. “Stop weeping, John. There is Someone who is worthy.” He is worthy because He stood where Adam stumbled. Let the Advent message forever proclaim that “Christ is worthy.”

A crimson Warrior

Take a look at another vision of victory in Revelation 19:11–16. Christ gallops out of heaven riding on a white horse, wearing a garment dipped in blood. But this victory image becomes even more powerful when we recognize that it alludes to Isaiah 63:1–3 (NKJV). “Who is this who comes from Edom, with dyed garments,” cries the prophet Isaiah. He continues, “Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?” The answer comes: “ ‘I have trodden the winepress alone.’ ” Gethsemane and Calvary brought the bloodletting required to purchase a fallen world!

But, in this vision in Revelation 19, He is no longer the bruised and bloodied Lamb of Calvary. He comes as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. No longer does He tread the winepress alone. No longer does He labor under the weight of a lost world. And no longer is He prostrate on His hands and knees, sobbing over our salvation.

Revelation 19:11 presents the last and perhaps greatest depiction of Isaiah’s crimson Soldier. It reminds us that our story is not only one of blood but one of victory. “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse” (Rev. 19:11, NKJV). Horses gallop across the length and breadth of the Apocalypse—red horses, pale horses, black horses, horses with scorpion tails, horses breathing smoke, and locust-shaped horses. But in this final glimpse of equine imagery, John views a white horse—a victory steed ridden by Roman generals after a successful military campaign. The first horse of Revelation is white, as is the last. This majestic passage tells us that the gospel that began in victory will end in victory. Seated atop that white steed is the Man of Calvary, riding in a victory pose, galloping out of heaven. The theme of Revelation is victory—His victory over all the forces that seek to defeat Him. And He is our champion because He did what nobody else could do. He stood where Adam stumbled. He paid what we could not pay, the price for our redemption. At Calvary, He came as the Lamb, but in the eschaton, He arrives as a roaring Lion.

John continues to expand on Isaiah’s vision of a crimson Warrior. This time, the bloody smatterings of victory are all over Him. “And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood” (Rev. 19:13, KJV). We have often preached about His white robe of righteousness, but I rejoice over the significance of His red robe of victory. He comes in this final vision to establish justice. The world slays the innocent, excludes the worthy, and elects the debased. Economic exploitation, human sex trafficking, gender oppression, religious persecution, and class warfare seem to reign supreme. And even in the Apocalypse, promised deliverers can be deceivers (compare Daniel 2 and 7). World kingdoms may be glorious on the outside but predatory and corrupt on the inside. Is it any wonder that the land beast of Revelation 13 has two horns—it looks like a lamb and speaks like a dragon? The land beast is both violent and hypocritical. The white horse rider reminds us that every corrupt enemy power will be destroyed—but a remnant will be saved. Justice will be forever established.

Christ’s red robe of victory

Let me conclude with the following observations about Christ’s red robe of victory. First, that robe dipped in blood points to the transparency of His victory. In Revelation 19 intertextuality and allusion come into play. The only other garment in Scripture dipped in blood was Joseph’s coat in Genesis 37, which his brothers used to deceive their father. By contrast, Jesus’ robe dipped in blood unleashes liberation for His Father. Jesus fought in total transparency. No guile or deceit was found in Him. His victory has integrity. He went chest to chest with evil and won in total transparency. Because of His victory, that blood-red robe declares that we can trust Him.

Second, that blood-red robe points to the singularity of His victory. Catch the power of the image. We witness a ruby-red warrior atop a snow-white steed, escorted by an army of glistening glory clad in “linen, white and clean.” Heaven’s crimson Commander, draped in a blood-red robe, leads an army dressed “in linen white and clean” (Rev. 19:14, KJV) with not a drop of battle blood on them. Why does the heavenly cavalry wear “linen white and clean”? No backsplash of blood is on them because it is His battle, not yours or mine. Let’s stop trying to help God. Heaven posts no position for an assistant redeemer. His robe is blood-red and their robes are bleached white for one reason and one reason only—the battle is the Lord’s.

So, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. He is God all by Himself, and He is big enough and strong enough to protect and guide His church. I invite all Adventist vege-saviors to find a new mission, stop getting on websites, and pointing fingers, and making anonymous accusations, as if no one is Adventist enough except them, saying, “They are not preaching the straight testimony.” Is the straight testimony a laundry list of dos and don’ts, or in Revelation is the straight testimony of the True Witness, “Buy of me gold tried in the fire”? Rather than point our fingers at each other, why not turn our own eyes upon Jesus and look full in His wonderful face? As a leader for 40 years now, I find that the more I interact with our church, the more I see that it is far from perfect. Leaders walk on feet of clay. I learned that there are as many definitions of effective leadership as there are writers on the subject. But here is what else I learned: if we follow Him and His Word, He will always lead us correctly.

Finally, that robe dipped in blood points to the totality of His victory. His blood-red robe is a Designer original from the Father’s signature collection, a one-of-a-kind, monogrammed, King of kings and Lord of lords. He wears “many crowns,” so that red robe of victory signifies His right to universal rulership. That is why, one day, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. Therefore, that blood-red robe says, “Praise Him.”

Praise Him, because the world can-not contain Him, universities cannot explain Him, philosophers cannot shame Him, and poets cannot rename Him.

Praise Him, because parliaments will not unseat Him, armies will not defeat Him, beggars will not deplete Him, and computers will not delete Him.

Praise Him, because prosecutors cannot convict Him, traditions cannot constrict Him, preachers cannot predict Him, and presidents cannot restrict Him.

Praise Him, because historians cannot erase Him, critics cannot deface Him, Islam cannot displace Him, and the pope can never replace Him.

So, let us go forth to our various fields and invite our members, institutions, churches, and communities to praise Him—because, for every Seventh-day Adventist believer, eschatology spells victory.

1  Adapted from a devotional by the author delivered at the Fourth International Bible Conference, Rome, Italy, June 11–21, 2018.

2  Maltbie D. Babcock, “This Is My Father’s World,” 1901.

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