Can you recall a time someone lied to you or led you astray? How did it make you feel?
Today’s lesson is less from an exegesis (study drawing meaning from the text) of the three angels’ messages and more about a theme from Ellen White’s book Great Controversy. It deals with two main issues: the role that Sunday plays in the Christian religious world today, and the role of spiritualism in the last days and the ability of the forces of evil to play on misconceptions about life and death. This is not to say these are not Biblical issues, but they are not strictly seen in Revelation 13-14. Still, we can take on each one this week.
Sunday vs. Saturday
Adventists have for over 150 years held that the issue of God’s law would be a final test for God’s people. Critics have argued instead that to place the law in such a position would be akin to legalism. A quick perusal of scripture would reveal that God has had tests for people at different times in Jewish and Christian history, and the results of disobedience were sometimes tragic. In Genesis 2, God gives the first human pair a test in order to give them freedom of choice. They could eat from any tree in the garden except one. The command was “do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” It probably seemed arbitrary, was exceedingly specific, and required restraint on the part of Adam and Eve. We know the outcome of that story. Abraham was given a test which he passed when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah, a prefiguring of the death of Jesus Christ. For the prophets, Israel and Judah were given a test concerning how they would treat the poor, the widow, and the orphan. They failed to love their neighbor as themselves, and found themselves invaded, cast out of the land, and some exiled. For Daniel and his friends, issues like idolatry and consistency in prayer life became tests because the culture around them forced them to make a choice; they succeeded and refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image or King Darius. The early Christian church was shocked when Ananias and Saphira lied to the Holy Spirit and were removed from the congregation by the Holy Spirit.
Can the Sabbath be just such a test? Of course it can. It merely takes a religious organization pushing for state or federal law. How we respond to the world around us tells us a tremendous amount about our faith in Christ and our desire to follow Him wherever He leads. But is the Sabbath such a test now? It does not appear to be so. Yet many people are either ignorant of the day of rest which God has blessed and invites us to partake of, or they may know the Bible Sabbath but prefer to go along with the crowd of their own religious institution.
If the Sabbath becomes a test of faithfulness, how would you know you were “remembering” it and “keeping” it as God desired? More importantly now, how are you inviting people to enjoy God’s rest?
Are the Dead Really Dead?
Another belief or doctrine which Adventists tie to the last days is spiritualism. We do not mean becoming more “spiritual” or growing personal faith, but the belief that a person has an immortal soul or spirit that continues to have conscience existence after death. The belief that the dead are not really dead, but alive in spirit-form, is a theological error which Satan can use to deceive people. Imagine if an apparition of your deceased father came saying he had a message for you from God, like Jacob Marley returning to Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. How open would many people be to taking such a message quite seriously!
How can we know the truth about what happens to us when we die? Of what are people composed? Genesis 2:7 says that God made people from dirt of the ground an breathed into their nostrils the “breath of life.” The word “breath” here is ruach in the Hebrew, and its parallel in Greek is pneuma. The word can mean spirit, wind, or breath. But then Genesis says that the man became a living “soul.” People do not have a soul, we are a soul when the gift of life, God’s breath, fills a human body. The amazing, living human body requires both the spark of life from God and the human body to have conscious thought. We have a brain, but it is just a collection of cells if it has no life. Our mind, on the other hand, our conscience, is a pairing of the physical brain with God’s breath of life. When people die, the Biblical authors constantly describe death with the metaphor of sleep. Metaphors are not exact parallels, but a symbol that helps explain another reality. Sleep is a fit metaphor here because it is a state of general unconsciousness, but not a permanent separation from the world of the living. Jesus is the great alarm clock and can wake the dead just as He did Lazarus (John 11), just as He did with the graves that opened at the death of Jesus.
Why do many people believe that when a loved one dies, they go immediately to heaven? How can this be a comforting perspective, yet open the door to evil spirits? How can the Biblical view of death as sleep provide comfort in other, important ways?
In reality, the doctrine of what happens when a person dies can be called “life only in Christ.” People do not go to hell immediately upon death because that continues their life, even if it were in a place of torment. Life—conscious existence—is a gift from God and is only immortal when we place out faith and trust in Christ. The good news is that we can know we have eternal life now when we live in relationship with Him. Death no longer is something to fear; it is simply like falling to sleep at night. Jesus is the great alarm clock!