Introduction to the Quarter’s Lessons.
The lessons this quarter take us into potentially contentious territory. We could easily fall to arguing, quarreling, or worse. But we could also take this as an opportunity to understand each other better. I’d like to set the tone by citing a couple of “diversity” quotes from Ellen White that have been very helpful to me. Under the heading of “The Bible Teacher,” she argues that just as there are diverse voices in Scripture, so students should have more than one Bible Teacher. “Why do we need a Matthew, a Mark, a Luke, a John, a Paul,” she asks, “and all the writers who have borne testimony in regard to the life and ministry of the Saviour?” Simply because “the minds of men differ.” Given that diversity, here is her counsel:
So today the Lord does not impress all minds in the same way. Often through unusual experiences, under special circumstances, He gives to some Bible students views of truth that others do not grasp. It is possible for the most learned teacher to fall far short of teaching all that should be taught.
It would greatly benefit our schools if regular meetings were held frequently in which all the teachers could unite in the study of the word of God. They should search the Scriptures as did the noble Bereans. They should subordinate all preconceived opinions, and taking the Bible as their lesson Book, comparing Scripture with Scripture, they should learn what to teach their students, and how to train them for acceptable service.
The teachers’ success will depend largely upon the spirit which is brought into the work. . . . Let not the spirit of controversy come in, but let each seek earnestly for the light and knowledge that he needs. (Counsels to Parents and Teachers, 432-433)
A similar theme is struck in the opening lines of Ministry of Healing, p. 483:
Every association of life calls for the exercise of self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary. We judge differently. Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experience is alike in every particular. The trials of one are not the trials of another. The duties that one finds light are to another most difficult and perplexing.
So frail, so ignorant, so liable to misconception is human nature, that each should be careful in the estimate he places upon another. We little know the bearing of our acts upon the experience of others. What we do or say may seem to us of little moment, when, could our eyes be opened, we should see that upon it depended the most important results for good or for evil.
The potentially divisive issues touch on history, biblical interpretation, Christian experience, and Adventist claims for uniqueness. One of the areas where the author of the official study guide holds a perspective differing from mine is on the question of “multiple applications” for apocalyptic prophecy. Note that I use the word “applications,” not fulfillments. And there is a difference. After recording the lessons, it occurred to me that perhaps we could coin a new phrase to represent the Adventist position: “applied historicism.” That would leave the historical identifications in place, but allow the principles illustrated by the prophecy to be applied to different times and places, as the writers of Scripture were so adept at doing. The book of Revelation, for example, speaks of Babylon, not the real Babylon, but the one representing the final persecuting power. In the same way, the classical Protestant interpretation of the fourth beast, Rome, illustrates ways of thinking and acting that find parallels elsewhere in our world. The primary identification (Rome) remains in place, but other applications are possible. In 1896 Ellen White herself wrote: “We may have less to say in some lines, in regard to the Roman power and the papacy….” (Testimonies to Ministers, 112). She was not denying the application to Rome, but was suggesting a shift of emphasis.
For those interested in more detailed discussions revolving around such names as Clifford Goldstein, Desmond Ford, and Dale Ratzlaff, I have included four appendixes at the end of this study guide. A brief summary and analysis of each of the four follows here. Then we will turn to the normal lesson-by-lesson plan, referring as appropriate to the items in the Appendixes.
PROBE Study Guide Appendixes, 2006.3
“The Gospel, 1844, and Judgment”
July, August, September 2006
This appendix is a reprint of the first lesson of the PROBE Study Guide for the second quarter of 2002. It consists of three parts:
- A fairly lengthy introductory comment by the author of the study guide (Alden Thompson) that seeks to explain why the Sabbath School lessons have been so repetitive in nature. Nine times in eight years, for example, the Sabbath School lessons have covered all or part of Revelation 12-14. And the content of this quarter’s lessons parallels, in part, the lessons from the second quarter of 2002 on “Great Apocalyptic Prophecies.”
- An introductory lesson on “apocalyptic prophecies” that presents additional perspectives beyond those found in the official Study Guide.
- A brief listing of additional sources discussing the study of apocalyptic and eschatology. These are available at the author’s web page:
This appendix consists of an article published in the Adventist Review of 24 September 1992. It draws parallels between the “Great Disappointment” when Jesus died on the cross, and the “Great Disappointment” of 1844 when, in the words of Hiram Edson, “Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. . . . We wept, and wept, till the day dawn.” A similar sobering truth is captured in the words of C. S. Lewis as he wrestled his way through the aftermath of his wife’s death: “My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself…. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.” A Grief Observed, 4:15
Originally published in Ministry in February 2004, this article includes an explanatory note and an edited version of a 2001 letter sent to Dale Ratzlaff, a former Adventist minister who now leads an active ministry to former Adventists through the journal Proclamation. The article addresses key issues raised by those who have rejected Adventism, the 1844 judgment-hour message, and the prophetic ministry of Ellen White.
Published in Spectrum (Winter, 2005) under the title “Fireworks in the Holy of Holies,” this article reviews Clifford Goldstein’s 2003 Pacific Press book Graffiti in the Holy of Holies. The review compares and contrasts not only the perspectives of Goldstein and Dale Ratzlaff, but also those of Desmond Ford, whose long shadow has haunted all Adventist discussions of 1844 since his famous presentation at PUC in 1979. Ratzlaff, the stated focus of Goldstein’s book, rejects not only the 1844 judgment-hour message, but also the Sabbath and Ellen White. By contrast, Ford continues to revere the Sabbath and the ministry of Ellen White, while rejecting the 1844 judgment-hour message. The article notes two remarkable features of Goldstein’s defense of Adventism:
- A wholehearted acceptance of the doctrine of forensic justification as argued by Ford, while attributing the lack of assurance among SDA to “folk Adventism.” In short, Goldstein never addresses the implications of Ellen White’s statement that God’s people “are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator” (GC 425).
- A firm rejection of the idea of “multiple applications” for apocalpytic prophecy. Thus, when the angel declares that “the vision is for the time of the end” (Dan. 8:13), Rome must always and forever be the only correct interpretation. Instead of shifting the focus from Babylon (586 BC), to Antiochus Epiphanes (168 BC), to Rome (AD 70) Ð all earthly enemies who polluted the sanctuary Ð and finally to the cosmic sanctuary and the great cosmic Polluter, Goldstein insists on Rome as the only valid application. Such a position not only makes it more difficult to use Daniel to address the sins of other “beasts” on earth, it also moves remarkably close to the futurist (“Left Behind”) approach to Scripture which argues that the prophecy can only be fulfilled when a another sanctuary is built in Jerusalem and another Roman prince arises who will again pollute the sanctuary.
Of particular interest in this quarter’s lesson is the question of multiple applications. Since the current Study Guide was written by Goldstein, the arguments presented in this article will be pertinent to the material discussed throughout this quarter. Years before Ford took exception to the 1844 judgment-hour message, the author of the PROBE Study Guide (Thompson) was using multiple applications in defense of the 1844 movement. For experiential reasons, Ford turned against his consistent methodology and denied the validity of the 1844 application. With reference to the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, Goldstein does not accept the possibility of multiple applications. For those interested in the Adventist roots for the idea of multiple applications Ð roots grounded in Scripture itself, see the article, “The Role of Israel in Old Testament Prophecy”in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary 4:25-38.
Lesson #1: “Principalities and Powers.” John the Revelator, John Milton, Ellen White, and C. S. Lewis all used the idea of a cosmic conflict to interpret the puzzling complexities evident in our sinful world. But even among Christians, convictions are mixed. In this first lesson we will explore some of the possible reasons for these mixed feelings.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Tantalizing Old Testament Evidence. Satan as a supernatural opponent of God is specifically named in only three Old Testament contexts: Job 1-2; 1 Chronicles 21; and Zechariah 3. In Adventist theology, four additional passages have been interpreted as applying to Satan: Genesis 3:1 (serpent/Satan); Leviticus 16 (scapegoat/Azazel); Isaiah 14 (King of Babylon/Lucifer); Ezekiel 28 (Prince/King of Tyre/anointed Cherub). All four of these passages have been identified with Satan in later traditions, but most of them much later than the original Old Testament context: the Serpent of Genesis 3 is first linked with Satan in Revelation 12; Azazel of Leviticus 16 is a fallen angel in the intertestamental books of Enoch; Lucifer of Isaiah 14 is first identified as Satan by the Christian Tertullian (160-225 CE), and the Cherub of Ezekiel 28 also in the early Christian centuries.
Question: Is it possible for a Satanic figure to be active and present even if the inspired writers do not mention him explicitly?
Question: Does it seem Òreasonable” to assert that God assumed full responsibility for evil in much of the Old Testament so that Israel would not worship Satan as an evil deity as was/is the case in polytheistic cultures?
Questions: If Scripture gives two different interpretations for a particular event, can believers allow other believers to accept either interpretation? In the story of DavidÕs census, for example, 2 Samuel 24 declares the God caused David to number Israel, but in 1 Chronicles 21, it is Satan who makes him do it. In the events of real life, can one easily distinguish whether an act is the result of providence or the demonic? Do all the good things come from God and all the evil things from Satan? If such a distinction were to be seen as valid, what would be the relationship between GodÕs goodness and his power? Note the following quotation from Ellen White:
There is not an impulse of our nature, not a faculty of the mind or an inclination of the heart, but needs to be, moment by moment, under the control of the Spirit of God. There is not a blessing which God bestows upon man, nor a trial which He permits to befall him, but Satan both can and will seize upon it to tempt, to harass and destroy the soul, if we give him the least advantage (Patriarchs and Prophets, 421).
A similar sentiment is expressed by C. S. Lewis: “…our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan” (“Christianity and Culture,” in Christian Reflections, 33).
If one does not operate within the interpretive framework of a cosmic conflict, then the book of Job (for example) can seem morally offensive: “This wager of God with Satan at Job’s expense is probably one of the morally most offensive texts in the Bible. How can the all-bountiful and omniscient God, merely to satisfy a malicious doubt of Satan’s, drive his most loyal servant to despair, almost to suicide?” (Gray Temple, citing Aloys von Orelli, MD, a “Basel psychoanalyst, and thoughtful Christian,” in The Molten Soul, 183).
[For further discussion of the Old Testament perspective, see “Whatever happened to Satan in the Old Testament?” chapter 3 in Alden Thompson, WhoÕs Afraid of the Old Testament God? (Paternoster, 1988; Zondervan, 1989; Pacesetters, 2000, 2003).]
Question: If one accepts the idea of a cosmic conflict, does it make sense to argue that the true Christian may receive less help rather than more? Philip Yancey moves in that direction in his Disappointment with God (Zondervan, 1997). And these two quotes from C. S. Lewis point in the same direction:
He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. (The Screwtape Letters, 8:4)
And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.”
Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, be-[10-11] yond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle. (“The Efficacy of Prayer,” in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays,10-11)
2. Clarity in the New Testament. Ephesians 6:12 speaks of humans locked in battle with “principalities and powers. Revelation 12:7-17 uses vivid imagery to describe the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan. Once a Satanic figure comes clear, it is seen everywhere. If one reads the “war in heaven” narrative carefully, when does it indicate that Satan was finally thrown out of heaven? What was the climactic event?
3. Satan as Accuser. Why is it that devout believers sometimes feel that God, rather than Satan, is the one who is accusing them? Revelation 12:10 refers to Satan as the “accuser” of the believers. In one of the rare OT passages where Satan is mentioned specifically, Zechariah 3:1-4, it is not the Lord rebuking Joshua, but the Lord rebuking Satan on JoshuaÕs behalf.