Theme: The Work of the Prophets
Leading Question: Is the work of the prophet primarily to bring good news or bad?
The work of Ellen White parallels the work of the biblical prophets in both testaments. The following headings are worth noting:
1. Acceptance, Assurance, Forgiveness. The promise of individual salvation looms much larger in the New Testament than in the Old, though the OT frequently affirms God’s gracious acts on behalf of his people. In connection with the sacrificial system (e.g. Leviticus 4:27-31), forgiveness and restoration is fully granted. But there are numerous instances when God acts graciously for his people without the benefit of any sacrificial system. The deliverance from Egypt, the return from Babylonian exile, indeed the restoration of Ninevah as the result of Jonah’s preaching, are all examples of God’s gracious acts for repentant sinners. It is the work of the prophets to announce the restoration, or, as in the case of Jonah, begrudgingly admit it! Two biblical passages that highlight the idea of substitution also became very important for Christian theology. God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and Isaiah 53 both reflect a strong element of substitution, though admittedly, more clearly seen after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In the New Testament John 3:16, Romans 3:21-16, and 1 John 1:9 are some well-known announcements of God’s gracious acts of salvation.
2. Guidance. In both Testaments, prophetic and apostolic figures provided guidance for God’s people. Some of the more notable New Testament examples include the selection of the first deacons in Acts 6:1-7; addressing notable examples of immorality, as in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; providing counsel on divorce and marriage, as in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16; calling the early believers to test the spirits, as in 1 John 4:1-3. Ellen White’s counsel includes a similar breadth of activity.
3. Reproving sin. Some of the more vivid scenes of prophetic intervention, calling sinners to account include Nathan’s confrontation of David for his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam 12), Elijah’s confrontation of Ahab over the worship of Baal (1 Kings 17-18), and Amos’ strong words against the northern kingdom of Israel (Amos 5-7). Jesus’ woes against the Pharisees in Matthew 23 is a notable New Testament example.
4. Communicating God’s will. Prophetic messengers used a variety of methods in communicating God’s will to his people. Sometimes it was a straightforward oral message as when Moses gave counsel on keeping the Passover (Numbers 9). Sometimes it was an enacted message as with Ezekiel when Israel was in captivity (Ezekiel 4). Sometimes it was simply a letter sent to a church as with Paul and the Colossian believers (Col 4:16). Much of Ellen White’s ministry involved letters, but also oral counsel, especially in public meetings.
5. Predicting the future. While prediction looms large in popular thinking about the work of the prophets, there are relatively few examples of clear-cut predictions that can be cited. The traditional ones include Isaiah’s mention of Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28), Jeremiah’s 70 weeks of Babylonian captivity (Jer 15:11), and Daniel’s 70-week prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27). But even these are amorphous enough to prevent too exuberant use of them as “proofs” of divine inspiration. When the principles of conditionality are introduced, “prediction” becomes even less important. Adventists would certainly say that the “predictions” of end-time events in Isaiah 65-66 and Zechariah 14 will not take place as “predicted,” quite a different approach from those who adopt a futurist perspective on eschatology and project animal sacrifice, childbirth, and death into the 1000 years after the second coming.