Let’s face it. Some people are interested in God’s truth, and some aren’t. Some are satisfied with what they have, no matter its poverty. Some want to understand what is coming and how God would like to bless them. Some prefer to wait and see. Perhaps their trust in God is on the thin side. We don’t want to fault them. We want to increase in our understanding, and to see others blessed in growing.
There are those who would like you to think are very broad-minded but who themselves are a bit narrow. They take certain aspects of our faith and discover things to complain about. They take it upon themselves to portray certain of us as holding to a strange set of beliefs. One Adventist teaching which for many years has received little positive attention is what we call the “Close of Probation.”
God’s mercy, as His justice, is unending. His goodness is always expressed in permitting us the freedom of our choices. Mercifully He draws us to Himself and desires us to consider repenting. He even grants to us the gift of repentance if we are willing to desire it. He grants a man also the freedom to choose rebellion; He forces none to “be saved.” If one is willing to be renewed and transformed, God facilitates that. If he is not willing, He abides by that sovereign decision.
There is no end of God’s mercy when probation closes. By that time the Deity has shepherded His creation to where everyone has made a free and clear-cut decision. The sanctuary, which was never more than a temporary system, is then obsoleted. God recognizes that and discontinues its operation.
There is another issue. Suffering has continued for thousands of years. When the universe reaches that point where no purpose is gained by permitting suffering to continue, then to permit it to last even one moment longer than necessary would be out of character for Him. So He doesn’t permit that. Sin and suffering are not granted continuance longer than necessary for the Great Controversy War to achieve God's purposes. He is securing the creation for time and eternity against the continuation of sin.
Thus, while His mercy does not end with the Close of Probation, and even sin and suffering continue a short while longer, the close will only come when we are very near to the end of all suffering. If we could know the moment of probation’s close, we would understand how that moment signals the imminent discontinuation of suffering. The Close of Probation is an enormously hopeful event.
Origins of the Doctrine
Adventists have almost no original doctrines. This holds true for the close of probation. This concept comes to us courtesy a Baptist minister named William Miller.
Miller drifted from a religious childhood to become a Deist. After an unanticipated Christian conversion experience, Miller’s Deist associates pressed him about his change of viewpoints, and he set out to see either if what he had before understood to be Bible contradictions could be reconciled, or, to abandon his Chrsitian adventure for Deism again. As he worked through this process Miller developed a strong interest in Bible prophecy. After extended study and relentless pestering by others that he share his views, Miller began to give lectures on rightly understanding the prophecies. It was thus that Miller began to teach the close of probation.
Miller’s study led him to the view that on the basis of Bible chronology, the literal Second Coming of Jesus was but a few years away. A holy life, a very serious spiritual preparation, was understood as necessary in order to be ready for the event. When, in the Fall of 1844 Jesus did not return to the earth in flaming fire as anticipated, some for a time held that the “door of mercy” had been closed and that the work of Christians for the conversion of others was ended and that in a very short space Jesus would return. This came to be known as the “shut-door” theory.
in due course, further study revealed the true position of God’s people and the hshut-door idea was abandoned. Jesus had, in 1844 entered the Most Holy Place in the heavenly sanctuary, there to cleanse it, there to conduct what we call the Investigative Judgment. Only when the judgment is concluded will probation close. Then soon afterward Jesus returns in the Second Coming.
Kooky Like Everyone Else
Since the close of probation teaching is one which some include in the Adventist “kook” factor, ponder for a moment how many ways our view is the same as that of others. Maybe Christians are all kooks—and not just Seventh-day Adventists.
But few others may use the term “probation” but their understanding of God’s salvation system includes the same concept. Namely, the fate of every individual remains open until their choices are manifest in rebellion or submission to the divine will. An individual chooses either the way of God or the way of man during an “open” period. Other groups may have a lower expectation for what can happen in fallen man and thus expect character development to only a lower behavioral threshold. They might lay their emphasis on a moment of decision, an intellectual assent to the idea that one is a sinner and Jesus is God come in human flesh who lived and died and rose again. Such assent may be viewed as the making of a binding and irrevocable contract with God. Differences in expectation aside, the root idea is the same.
Another shared concept, is closure. Virtually all groups include in their system a point beyond which one’s salvation is not jeopardized. There is a time when your case is closed.
When you add these concepts (free will/choice, limited opportunity/closure), you have most of the essential ideas of the Seventh-day Adventist concept of the close of probation. At the bottom all Christians are drawing the same lines. So is there a double-standard in operation? The idea of a close of probation for Lutherans, or Baptists, is socially acceptable, but for Adventists it is a sign of strangeness?
I would like to have someone volunteer. _______, would you come up here? Please stand directly behind me. There are some very sharp knives here. Help yourself.
What are the basics of the concepts we call the close of probation?
The word “probation” itself begins as a Latin word, probare. It simply means to “test.” Here is the idea of probation as used by a certain University here in California:
In criminal courts, probation usually follows, or may be required instead of, jail time. At Cal Poly Pomona, it serves as an official warning that something you have done has required the University to pay special attention to your behavior lest that behavior be repeated. In effect, you are being ‘tested’ to show that you have learned from your prior experience and will not repeat it. Your time at the University is conditional on your good behavior; pass the test and you’re welcome as a member of the community. If you fail the test, you will not be allowed to remain here (http://www.dsa.csupomona.edu/judicialaffairs/probation.asp, accessed 2007-11-07 23:29Z).
So the basic idea is “to test.” Pass the test, be welcomed as a member of the community; fail the test, be removed from the community. Free will is a big part of the question.
If you create beings and give them free will, reasoning powers, and a conscience, they can be accountable, responsible people. Now that you have given them these god-like faculties and powers, are you going to take those powers away for eternity? Is being “saved” being reduced to something less than the man God made in the beginning? How strange that the God many Christians worship is one who refuses to maintain their free will after they exercise their free will to choose Him.
Testing benefits the community as well as the individual. What about Jesus’ followers in the gospels? He tested them over and over again. When others failed, He asked His core group, “Will you leave me also?” There is nothing wrong with testing, evaluation. Would you want to live in a world where you buy a car that explodes, or a microwave oven that irradiates you, or a house that immediately burns to the ground? These things still happen, but very rarely today, because people are kept accountable and so there is testing.
We have all seen the television commercials where an automobile manufacturer wrecks its expensive car by running it into a wall. What impression (pardon the pun) are they trying to make on you? “At ________ Motors, we put a lot of energy into quality. Our cars are safe.” One company says that the quality goes in before the name goes on. And that is the way it is with Christianity too. God says He can save fallen humans, that is, change them. The universe watchs for proof of this. They are fairly certain that God is right, but they would like to see Him demonstrate that it is right.
For several minutes now, ________ has been standing behind me. I could not see what he was doing. He could have knifed me in the back, shot me in the back, rabbit-punched me, possibly stolen my wallet, put a kick-me sign there. Did he do any of these things? No. He was tested. You are witnesses. [To volunteer], Thank you, you can be seated.
Examples of Close of Probation
The idea of a close of probation is thoroughly biblical. Examples abound.
- Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:17).
- Noah’s flood (Genesis 6:13; 17:1, 7, 10).
- Belshazzar’s feast (Daniel 5:17-31).
- Israel’s 490 years (Daniel 9:24-27).
- Apostasy of the ancient leaders (Ezekiel 8-11).
- Ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).
- End-time sealing and mark (Revelation 13, 14).
Five Basic Parts of the Close of Probation Sequence
The periods involved in the close of probation are (1) the sealing time, (2) the moment when probation closes, (3) the first phase of closed probation, (4) the second phase, or “Time of Jacob’s Trouble” phase, and (5) the Second Coming of Jesus.
The sealing time is the present. Inspiration tells us that the sealing is “a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved” (Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 1161). There are changes to be made in a person, intellectually and spiritually. These occur through the ideas and doctrines we adopt. These modify our faith and practice. Truth sanctifies, error corrupts. Sound doctrine is important.
Our business right now is to cooperate with God so that we can be sealed. Here is another description of being sealed, although it does not use this exact phrase. Pay special attention to the first and last sentences:
Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to become perfect in Christ. Not even by a thought could our Saviour be brought to yield to the power of temptation. Satan finds in human hearts some point where he can gain a foothold; some sinful desire is cherished, by means of which his temptations assert their power. But Christ declared of Himself: ‘The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.’ John 14:30. Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable Him to gain the victory. He had kept His Father’s commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to his advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble (The Great Controversy, p. 623).
When? “Now.” Seek what? “to become perfect in Christ.” What does it mean to become perfect in Christ? “Not even by a thought could our Saviour be brought to yield to the power of temptation.” What is Satan looking for in us? “Satan finds in human hearts some point where he can gain a foothold; some sinful desire is cherished, by means of which his temptations assert their power.” When Satan came to Jesus did he find any place for a foothold? Any cherished sinful desire? “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.” When we read that Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable Him to gain the victory, what are we reading? That There was no place in Jesus’ mind or heart where Satan could gain leverage. He had kept His Father’s commandments. There was no object Jesus desired more than to do right. What condition must we be found in if we would stand in the time of trouble? “This [the condition of Jesus] is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble.”
Sealing is, again, settling into the truth intellectually and spiritually so that you cannot be moved. The paragraph from The Great Controversy p. 623 is a description of that. Jesus provides the ultimate Example. It is interesting that this, one of the best descriptions of what the sealing entails, is found right in the midst of the chapter of the book that describes most closely the experience of living without a Mediator.
We call ourselves Christians. But many who call themselves that today are more interesting in watching Jesus be righteous than embracing His example for themselves. He does righteousness for them so that they don’t have to. Or so they think. While our doing righteousness does not carry merit to save us, it does show who has the heart. It shows whether we are truly Christians or pretenders. Bad theology produces a crop of pretenders. When the testing time comes, the pretenders will be evident.
Here are some short answers, teasers actually. They will be discussied in a bit more detail in the remaining portions of this series when presented.
- Is every case decided before probation closes? Yes.
- Does that mean that after probation’s close everything will be easy for us? No.
- Will we be tempted after the close of probation? Yes.
- Could we sin after the close of probation? Yes.
- Will we face our greatest spiritual test before or after probation closes? After.
- Will the faithful sin after the close of probation? No.
- Will some who have been sealed before probation closes sin after it closes? No.
We have settled some background today, outlined the basic sequence, offered other bibical examples of probation in operation, and discussed the sealing. There is more, and we will address the topic carefully in the next few presentations before finishing.
How imperative that we seek now to bring under our God-given control the way we think, the things we do, the patterns of behavior we copy, and a familiarity with the fluid exercise of faith. Character is not formed in a moment. To become like Jesus we must be intentional. He stands ready to help but too often we do not stand ready to receive His help. God wants to make us into Christians. Do we give our consent?
Times of intensity are coming. It is amazing that some are today dropping out of the church, turning from Bible-confirmed Present Truth to fables. Jeremiah warns us:
If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?
The topic of the close of probation is a call to action, a spur to faith. Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement, is the time for us to prepare. If we are faithful, Jesus will receive all the honor. What a privilege! Onward fellow soldiers! Make ready.
Mentone CA SDA 2007-11-03