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Relevant Passages: Revelation 12:17

The Last of the Last. Scripture can depict God’s people as a mighty throng, then turn right around and call them a threatened remnant. A great crowd left Egypt in the Exodus, yet on the threshold of the entry into Canaan, Moses described them as “the fewest of all peoples” (Deut. 7:7). The New Testament does the same: Rev. 12:17 describes God’s people as the “remnant”; but Rev. 7:9 speaks of them as “a great multitude that no one could count.” To be called a “remnant” by God, by others, or by ourselves raises several questions worth pondering:

1. The danger of arrogance. How can a community claim to be the “remnant” without falling into one of the traps noted rather bluntly in the New Testament. Matthew 6:1, for example, warns against practicing our piety before others. Jesus pronounced judgment against those who claimed to be healers and miracle workers in His name: “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers” (Matt. 7:23). In Revelation 3:17, the self-claim of the “remnant” Laodicean church comes in for harsh judgment: “You say `I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” If one wishes to be identified as part of the remnant, how can one avoid such condemnation?

2. OT precedents. In the Old Testament, “remnant” would often be the right word to describe God’s people: after the flood (Gen. 7:23); Jacob’s family in Canaan (Gen. 34:30); Israel at the borders of Canaan (Deut. 7:7); Elijah on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 19:10); the exiles who returned from Babylon (cf. Ezra 4). Did God’s people in the OT claim to be a special remnant in ways that led others to think of them at arrogant? When Jesus cleansed the temple, Mark has him quoting two OT passages: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (Isa. 56:7), “But you have made it a den of robbers” (Jer. 7:11). The Isaiah passage suggests an open remnant, the Jeremiah text a closed and arrogant one. How can a church be open without risking its identity? When (if ever) should a remnant be more isolated and closed?

3. Hollow claims. Early in the Advent movement, those who continued to believe in God’s guidance during the 1844 event claimed the Philadelphian label while calling those who had rejected the 1844 message Laodicean. By the mid 1850s, however, Adventist leaders began to realize that Adventists themselves were more Laodicean than Philadelphian. Is it ever safe to claim to be Philadelphia? Should one simply be on the safe side and claim to be Laodicean from the start?

4. Called to be a remnant. It is quite clear in Scripture that we are called to be a remnant for God. Would such a way of describing our relationship to remnant status protect us from the spiritual dangers of claiming to be the remnant?

5. External marks. On the basis of Revelation 12, Adventists have cited three external marks of the remnant: a) time: the remnant arose after the 1260 days; b) the remnant keeps the commandments of God; c) the remnant has the testimony of Jesus (i.e. spirit of prophecy, Rev. 19:10). If such external marks do not guarantee our standing with God, of what value are they?

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