Whether in their economic, political, social, or religious aspects, the structures of society are reeling from the severe impact of threats: political conflict, social unrest, wars, economic issues, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change. Accordingly, in his address to the seventy-sixth session of the UN General Assembly on September 21, 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “I am here to sound the alarm. The world must wake up. We are on the edge of an abyss—and moving in the wrong direction. Our world has never been more threatened. Or more divided. We face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes.”1
If the world is seeing a “cascade of crises” that must be solved, Adventists have tended to see them as building up to the “time of trouble.” Indeed, scrutinizing the Vatican and scanning American politics for events or pronouncements that point to the fulfillment of her prophecies has become the preoccupation of many believers. There is a dissonance between the world’s anguished alarm and the church’s prophetic preoccupation. The assertion that the “cascade of crises” will metastasize into the demonic events foretold in The Great Controversy and the book of Revelation is not self-evident.
Indeed, the reason the book of Revelation is a revelation (Greek apocalypse) is that it “reveals” or “unveils” a spiritual reality that is invisible or not self-evident. The spiritual meaning of how the great cosmic war between Christ and Satan entwines with human history or events is retrospectively ascertained when prophecy is correlated with history. Again, because Scripture gives apocalyptic prophecy in symbols, they can only be understood when the event (events) represented by the symbol actually occurs. We must strictly observe the a posteriori hermeneutical rule set by Jesus: “I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe” (John 14:29, KJV).
As for the events themselves, we must remember that we are enmeshed in them as part of the historical process. That robs us of perspective. We are prone to attribute great significance to events that are closest to us or that affect us the most, but which may actually possess minor relevance in the cosmic scheme of things.
Not too long ago, the global war on terror loomed large in our collective consciousness but has since been eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic and other recent events. This may be a lesson for us. Pandemics, wars, or any other “cascades of crises” are still working out their many implications. We must wait for them to fully unfold their political, economic, and social ramifications before we can correlate them with prophecy. Indeed, if Daniel, who saw the visions, did not understand them because they pertained to “the time of the end,” what makes us think we can fully grasp them before the predicted events actually take place?
On this point, a passage from Ellen White is very pertinent. “The light we have received upon the third angel’s message is the true light. The mark of the beast is exactly what it has been proclaimed to be. Not all in regard to this matter is yet understood, nor will it be understood until the unrolling of the scroll; but a most solemn work is to be accomplished in our world.”2 We unequivocally proclaim the three angels’ messages, acknowledging that much is understood and much remains a mystery. This is often called dissonance.
While the world is focused on the “cascade of crises” shaking the very foundations of human existence, church members may be preoccupied with the “Sunday law” and what will befall “the remnant” during the “time of trouble.” Some members speak as if world leaders are knowingly working to fulfill the end-time script in The Great Controversy. Our concerns are, at best, amiss and, at worst, when not centered on Christ, narcissistic and conspiratorial. White emphasized, “The great center of attraction, Jesus Christ, must not be left out of the third angel’s message.”3 But as it is, “the truths of the third angel’s message have been presented by some as a dry theory; but in this message is to be presented Christ the Living One. He is to be revealed as the first and last, as the I AM.”4
The eternal gospel is all about Jesus Christ, who “loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Rev. 1:5, KJV), whose death “brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10, KJV), whose sacrifice, as Hebrews 7 tells us, was all-sufficient and His high priestly ministry completely meets our needs. “And all this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ. . . . And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:18–20, NIV). But in a world of mutually hostile tribalism, or identity politics, we recognize that we have too often failed to represent Christ.
Our concerns are, at best, amiss and, at worst, when not centered on Christ, narcissistic and conspiratorial.
Sadly, too often we have found little difference between the church and the world in terms of identity. Unfortunately, we still share with those outside the church their pride, prejudice, hatred, and myths. At worst, we are accomplices in their self-centeredness, hate, and violence. We are curiously blind to the contradiction of Jesus’ call to treat everyone, including our enemies, as He would and our message summons us to minister to “every nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev. 14:6, NIV). We too often still pay homage to the gods of nationalism, race, money, and celebrity.
The statement “They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations” (2 Kings 17:33, NIV) could fittingly describe many churchgoers today. As White put it, “The present age is one of idolatry. . . . No outward shrine may be visible; there may be no image for the eye to rest upon; yet thousands are following the gods of this world. . . . Multitudes have a wrong conception of God and His attributes, and are as truly serving a false god as were the worshipers of Baal. Many even of those who claim to be Christians have allied themselves with influences that are unalterably opposed to God and His truth.”5 We are warned to avoid being like those of the world around us.
To avert that danger, we desperately need a revival. Only that can prevent us from being like the world. “A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work.”6 Because God is love (1 John 4:8), true godliness is imitating His self-sacrificing love. “As God is, so must His people be. The life of Christ is to be revealed in the lives of His followers.”7 Such a revelation will address one of the central problems of our time—the alienation and identity crisis behind the rise of tribalism, or identity politics, and the resulting political polarization, societal hatred, conflicts, and social fragmentation.
As it is, modern ideologies are bankrupt. They do not answer the questions of identity, social unity, and harmony. But Christ is the answer. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17, NIV). Through the Cross, He reconciled us to God and one another, giving us a “new birth,” or identity. “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity,” not by obliterating racial, ethnic, and national differences, but by destroying “the dividing wall of hostility.” In His body, the church, we “are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people” (Eph. 2:14,15,19, NIV).
As Paul explained, the creation of a new humanity is “the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations. . . . This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body” (Eph. 3:4–6, NIV). Paul’s special divine commission was “to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery” (v. 9). But its full “administration” was in the future. “The mystery . . . [was] to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:9, 10, NIV).
Revelation 10 majestically presents Christ Himself coming down from heaven to proclaim when “the mystery of God will be accomplished” (v. 7, NIV) and personally commissioning John to “prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (v. 11, NIV). He reveals the full, universal scope of the gospel—namely, God’s promise to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:8).
God’s promise of universal blessing, fulfilled at the cross and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit, is the content of the eternal gospel to be proclaimed “to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6). As symbolically done by John in Revelation 10:9, our Adventist pioneers ingested the prophetic message. They saw in John’s bittersweet experience after he ate “the little scroll” the symbol, and even the prophecy, of their own experience following the Great Disappointment.8
We, however, are far removed from the pioneers and have a prophetic message not animated by personal experience. It has become primarily a matter of the head and not of the heart, all because we have not “eaten” the eternal gospel and assimilated it into our very being. Indeed, the patient endurance, God’s commandments, and the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12) that are supposed to distinguish us as a remnant people are not always visible in our lives, all because we are often devoid of the animating presence and agency of the Holy Spirit.
Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot bear a living witness that makes the eternal gospel present and relevant to our crisis-riddled world. Only the Holy Spirit can “prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8, NET) and thus “guide [us] into all truth” (v. 13, KJV). Again, only the Holy Spirit can enable us to “worship . . . in the Spirit and in truth” (John 3:23, NIV). And worship is at the heart of the three angels’ messages. But thankfully, “a special bestowal of spiritual grace is promised to prepare the church for the coming of the Son of man. This outpouring of the Spirit is likened to the falling of the latter rain; and it is for this added power that Christians are to send their petitions to the Lord of the harvest.”9
In other words, our task is to pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus, present the message of the Second Coming, and fulfill our mission and call. Our challenge lies in ensuring that a deeply spiritual revelation is embraced as the prelude to a deeply practical reformation.
- Edith M. Lederer, “ ‘The World Must Wake Up’: Tasks Daunting as UN Meeting Opens,” Yahoo!News, September 21, 2021, https://news.yahoo.com/world-leaders-return-un-face-051126665.html; United Nations Secretary-General, “Solidarity ‘Missing in Action’, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly, Decrying ‘Malady of Mistrust’ While Stressing: ‘We Must Get Serious,’ ” press release, September 21, 2021, https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sgsm20918.doc.htm.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 17.
- Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, bk. 1 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), 383.
- White, Testimonies, vol. 6, 20.
- Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1943), 177.
- White, Selected Messages, bk. 1, 121.
- White, 198.
- Ranko Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ: Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2009), 340.
- Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 55.