Relevant Passages: Revelation 14:8-12
The Bad News Angels. The first angel’s message can be seen in a positive light (whether or not it has been so presented is another question). The second and third angels, however, present messages which appear much more threatening, at least initially. Could it be God’s intention to keep the powerful negative images suggested by an initial reading of these messages, or is it possible to cast them into a positive mode? What did Ellen White mean when she referred to the message of justification by faith as being “the third angel’s message in verity” (Evangelism 190; RH, April 1, 1890)? The key elements in the second and third angels’ messages are as follows:
1. Babylon. To call someone or something “Babylon” is a rather serious matter. What does the name signify in Scripture? How did it gain such negative press? How has it been used as a label for God’s enemies? What right do ordinary people have to apply the name to those who would appear to be God’s enemies?
2. Babylon’s Fall. The announcement of Babylon’s fall suggests a certain finality of judgment. Can a person, organization, or nation which has “earned” the label have any hope for restoration to God’s favor? To what extent can the principles of conditional prophecy apply to “Babylon”? How broad is the potential application of Ellen White’s comment that “the promises and threatenings of God are alike conditional” (Evangelism 695)? To what extent could the book of Jonah and passages like Isaiah 19:18-25 provide guidelines for our day?
3. Come Out of Babylon. Early Adventists linked the message of Revelation 18:4 (“Come out of her, my people…”) with the message of the second angel, “Babylon is fallen.” Before the Great Disappointment, it was Charles Fitch who began to preach separation from the “apostate” Protestant churches. Later, William Miller expressed regret for the stridency of that message. Would the following quotes from Ellen White also suggest a gentler alternative?
Those who present the eternal principles of truth need the holy oil emptied from the two olive branches into the heart. This will flow forth in words that will reform, but not exasperate. The truth is to be spoken in love. Then the Lord Jesus by His Spirit will supply the force and the power. That is His work. (Testimonies 6:122-23)
In laboring in a new field, do not think it your duty to say at once to the people, We are Seventh-day Adventists; we believe that the seventh day is the Sabbath; we believe in the non-immortality of the soul. This would often erect a formidable barrier between you and those you wish to reach. Speak to them, as you have opportunity, upon points of doctrine on which you can agree. Dwell on the necessity of practical godliness. Give them evidence that you are a Christian, desiring peace, and that you love their souls. Let them see that you are conscientious. Thus you will gain their confidence; and there will be time enough for doctrines. Let the heart be won, the soil prepared, and then sow the seed, presenting in love the truth as it is in Jesus. (Gospel Workers, 119 120 ; Evangelism, 200)
4. The Beast and Its Image. The book of Revelation does not hesitate to use beastly language. To what extent should modern believers feel free to apply such language to non-Christians? To other Christians? to other church members? to themselves? What specific applications have Adventists and other Christians made with the “beastly” label? Are such applications appropriate? Are they final?
5. From event to application: The point of the heavenly sanctuary. If one considers the results of the Adventist focus on the heavenly sanctuary, a rather surprising conclusion becomes obvious. The sanctuary wasn’t just about ritual, but application to real life. The three-fold steps are as follows.
- Focus on the earth: Disappointment. The initial study of Daniel and Revelation led to an earth centered conclusion: Jesus was coming to cleanse the earth. That interpretation ended in disappointment.
- Focus heavenward: sanctuary. After the Disappointment, God used Daniel 8 to direct attention to the heavenly sanctuary, the place of Christ’s ministry.
- Closer focus on the sanctuary: the ark and its contents. Once the focus was on the heavenly sanctuary was established, it was natural to go to the heart of the sanctuary, namely, to the ark, as suggested by Revelation 11:19. That focus contributed to a re-discovery of the Sabbath, a command engraved on the tables of stone, and prepared the way for a more subtle interpretation, an appreciation of the fact that Jesus was the embodiment of all that the ark and the sanctuary represented. This in turn can be viewed as a two-fold focus on the needs of the individual believer, and as a two-fold focus on the larger story of the great struggle between good and evil.
6. Jesus as the focal point of the heavenly sanctuary.
- Two-fold focus on the individual believer:
- Called to account: The parallel with the annual Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) is a sobering call for humans to examine their lives in the light of eternity. (Could this be the “stick” suggested by Paul in 1 Cor. 4:21?).
- Friend in court: Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary reminds the believer that when we fall, we have an advocate (1 John 2:1) who will speak on our behalf (Could this be the “love in the spirit of gentleness” noted by Paul in 1 Cor. 4:21?).
- Two-fold focus on the larger story:
- Jesus as the embodiment of God’s character: When all that God has done through Jesus becomes clear to the universe, it becomes a convincing portrayal of the character of God. The God who walked the streets of Palestine is God of the entire universe.
- God’s people as witnesses for God: Just as Job was a living witness for God and for genuine morality, so God’s faithful people will stand in court, so to speak, not as the accused but as witnesses to the goodness of God. Thus they play a part is vindicating God and His ways before the entire universe.