A Bible Doctrine
Although we receive much of our information about the close of probation from the Spirit of Prophecy writings, the Bible offers the basis for our understanding; the revelations given later through Ellen White offer additional detail. In the case of the Close of Probation, Bible passages from Revelation 7, 14, 22, Matthew 25:1-13, Jeremiah 30, and Genesis 32 especially inform us, although there are several other biblical examples of Close of Probation kinds of events (Genesis 6-8, Ezekiel 8-11, Daniel 9, 12, etc.). In this brief series we have only looked at a few of these passages in any detail.
Is This a Problem?
We have also been granted a treasure-trove of inspired insight through the writings of Ellen G. White. Shall we ignore that information because someone might have their nose bent out of shape when they see us taking it seriously? Should Jews in the time of Christ have refused to take seriously the prophesying of John the Baptist because his work was not seen by the religious authorities as being part of the recognized Scriptures in his day?
Now if you are a member here at Mentone, then you probably realize that maybe 75% of the sermons are completely based on the Bible, with Ellen White quotations neither given nor mentioned. I have on occasion been criticized for sermons that, I was told, did “not use enough Ellen White.” But God will show the preacher how much Ellen White he should use. If you are a member here at Mentone, you are probably also aware that sometimes a message is shared from the pulpit which is very largely addressed from the standpoint of the Ellen White writings. Similar principles apply.
This series on the close of probation addresses many of the very last events before the Second Coming. Consequently, our most specific information concerning these happenings comes to us through the contemporary gift of prophecy. That means that in some of the messages, much of what we will share will be from the writings of Ellen G. White, otherwise known within Adventism as the Spirit of Prophecy.
Why are many of the details about the close of probation and the vindication of God supplied by the Spirit of Prophecy? Is this a problem?
We answer, is it a problem that Moses did not have the book of Romans? Is it an issue that Isaiah lacked 2 Peter? Is it a difficulty that Samuel could not read Paul’s epistle to the Philippians? You will say No, that what Moses wrote was not defective because he did not have the book of Romans at hand. The main issues that impacted the experience of the people of God were the very ones that Moses wrote of. The main issues that concerned Isaiah involved those that he wrote of.
The things found in the book of Revelation were not necessary for the people of God to have until after the time of Jesus. Only with the unambiguous rejection of Messiach did the shape of history become more definite along a certain axis. Only then did God give to His people the book of Revelation. It is interesting that it was only after seventeen and half centuries and the rejection the first angel’s message that God gave to the remnant of His people inspired counsel again. But if Matthew, Luke, Paul, James, Mary, and Peter, did not need the book of Revelation at that time, then they did not The Great Controversy or The Desire of Ages either, did they?
Many times, it is only when His people come to the place where the inspired insight is needed that He provides it. Nor is it a bad thing for God to keep Satan guessing exactly how He plans to address the next stage of the Great Controversy War.
We have other doctrinal positions where we have a similar situation. For example, our understanding of the millennium and detailed knowledge concerning events to occur during that period are biblically limited. Most of our biblical information comes from Revelation 20, while most of our detailed information comes from the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. Most Adventists are content with that. Let’s be satisfied also with God’ providing some of our detailed knowledge concerning the close of probation via the contemporary gift that has meant so much to His church: the Spirit of Prophecy.
Indeed, one more thought on this: if counsel from heaven is often withheld until the time nears when it is especially needed, then what does this say to us about God putting fresh material on this topic into our hands less than 200 years ago? Is this not an indication that, at last, at last after thousands of years, we now approach the verge of eternity?
Experience After the Close of Probation Outlined
We will now outline 10 pages from the book Great Controversy which, perhaps more than any other single contemporary passage, especially inform us about the experience we call the Close of Probation.
The discussion of the close of probation begins with Daniel 12:1:
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
At what time? Immediately following the close of the message. The Latter rain has fallen, and been received by God’s people, the Third Angel’s Message has been given, an entire planet has been brought to decision. One group has the seal of God, one group has the mark of the beast. Character has been developed. Now, Jesus stands to deliver His people. He has been seated so to speak, that is, functioning in His office as Melchizedek high Priest. He has been interceding for men. Those of every moral stripe have been beneficiaries of His prevenient grace. He has sent His love out in search of every single man, woman, and child.
But now, Jesus’ work of intercession is ended. How does He know that it is time to cease from His work of mediation? Very simple. First, those who have refused to respond to His mercy by seeking Him have never repented of their sins. They have never sought forgiveness. They plead no forgiveness, such prayers do not ascend from earth to heaven. They offer no prayers and He has no work of intercession to do for unnoffered requests.
The other group, those who have sought God, who have received His help and repented of their sins, who have sinned and then pled forgiveness while manifesting in their lives changed hearts, have drawn closer and closer to Him. Their sinning grew less and less frequent as they learned the power of the gospel unto salvation. At last they were living without any rebel thoughts in any area of their lives. These finally are living without yielding to sinful desires. They still have a disordered kind of humanity, with all its clammoring and pulling in the direction of self-indulgence. But they have learned how to repulse every such thought. They are making no new choices to sin; every new choice is a choice for obedience.
The bottom line here is the same. Jesus stands to intercede but no longer are occasions of sin occurring. Their prayers ascend, yes, seeking strength and fresh supplies of grace and courage to fight the mother of all battles—the battle with self. For long years they had trained themselves to self-indulgence but now they have, by the power of God, in a cooperative effort, trained themselves and been trained themselves. Now they in God’s strength are living in fallen flesh but without sinning. They have no new sins for Jesus to intercede for. The river of sin issuing forth from them is dried up. Jesus stands to plead His blood but no new occasions offer themselves. His work is ended.
Every character trajectory is settled. The wicked sin still but make no response to the heavenly initiatives, they seek no forgiveness. The righteous have ceased from sin. Every case is decided. Every responsible human being then living on the earth has chosen good or evil.
The main insights from Daniel 12:1 are threefold: (1) there is a divine intervention, (2) the single most troublous period in the human experience now commences, and (3) there is deliverance for those found written in the book. As we are told, “Every case has been decided for life or death. Christ has made the atonement for His people and blotted out their sins” (pp. 613, 614).
Just here it is well to recognize a key idea. Jesus has, at this point, made the atonement for His people. He has not only forgiven, but blotted out their sins. The sins had been forgiven long before, but record of those sins had remained in the heavenly sanctuary. But as this stage in the course of events is attained, Jesus goes further. He now blots from the record in the books the sins that are out of date—not representative, on the basis of concrete evidence—of the current character of God’s people. Listen:
When any have sins remaining upon the books of record, unrepented of and unforgiven, their names will be blotted out of the book of life, and the record of their good deeds will be erased from the book of God’s remembrance.... All who have truly repented of sin, and by faith claimed the blood of Christ as their atoning sacrifice, have had pardon entered against their names in the books of heaven; as they have become partakers of the righteousness of Christ, and their characters are found to be in harmony with the law of God, their sins will be blotted out, and they themselves will be accounted worthy of eternal life (The Great Controversy, p. 483).
So we see that atonement has been made for these and they are in a “saved” situation. And yet, they are in peril as we shall see. There is a paradox here that we will return to, for how can it be that one is saved and yet on the point of experiencing the single most difficult trial one will ever face?
Let us proceed. “When He [Jesus] leaves the sanctuary, darkness covers the inhabitants of the earth. In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor” (p. 614). Now Satan plunges the inhabitants of the earth into “one great, final trouble” (Ibid). Those who have been faithful in following God will be accused of bringing the fearful convulsions of nature and the strife and bloodshed among men.
The experience has similarities to Jonah. Then, the wayward prophet sought to escape from God and his commission and in the midst of an ocean voyage truly was the source of God’s displeasure. The heathen crew at last, at Jonah’s urging, and pleading for mercy, cast him overboard to appease the wrath of God. But here, God’s end-time servants are faithful. They are the salt that has prevented God from unleashing His wrath against sin upon the world. But the Holy Spirit has been at last withdrawn and now, desperate to turn back God’s wrath from themselves, they blame the obedient as being disobedient.
Although already they have decided their own fate by the character they have chosen, when probation closes, "the inhabitants of the earth will know it not" (p. 615). In order to save themselves from the wrath of God (John 11:50), they plan, and gladly, to exterminate the Sabbatarians. A death decree finally issued against them (pp. 615, 616). Then comes the TIme of Jacob’s Trouble.
The Time of Jacob’s Trouble
Last week we took a look at Jeremiah 30 and Genesis 32:24-30. Here is where Ellen White tells us unambiguously, that the wrestling of Jacob “represents the experience of God’s people in the time of trouble” (p. 616). Here now Jacob intercedes with God. “The crisis in his life has come; everything is at stake” (p. 617).
As Jacob wrestles with the angel he prevails. His assailant cannot get free of him. Finally, He reveals His power to Jacob by putting his hip out of joint. Suddenly Jacob is aware that his adversary is God Himself. But instead of giving up to perish in despair, he clings to Jesus there in the cold dark night and states to Him a fact: “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me” (Genesis 32:26).
Although the inspired record focuses almost exclusively on the struggle between Jacob and the angel (actually, the eternal, pre-incarnate Christ), here was a third party actively participating in the struggle. Satan was present and laboring to bring Jacob’s demise.
During the patriarch’s long night of wrestling, Satan endeavored to force upon him a sense of his guilt in order to discourage him and break his hold upon God (p. 618).
Satan takes a truth, the fact of Jacob’s past guilt, and distorts it. He tries to discourage Jacob. He will use the same tactic on us in the not very distant future:
As Satan accuses the people of God on account of their sins, the Lord permits him to try them to the uttermost. Their confidence in God, their faith and firmness, will be severely tested. As they review the past, their hopes sink; for in their whole lives they can see little good. They are fully conscious of their weakness and unworthiness (pp. 618, 619).
Why does God permit Satan to play mind-games with believers? First, there is no &lduo;playing” about it. This is deadly serious, life and death. This is no different than Job 1 and 2. Then God permitted Satan to tempt God’s servant to the uttermost. Now, here, at time’s end, it happens again, only here it is on the ultimate scale. Everything is at stake, not only for God’s people, but for God.
Satan has made a claim: no one can truly obey; God is unjust. God has made a claim: obedience, even in fallen flesh, is just and reasonable and possible. Here then is the final demonstration. Will they turn from their trust in God’s goodness and mercy to trusting in their own faulty, limited, self-perceptions? In the time of ultimate testing, will they as Jacob demonstrate that they have learned to cling even closer to the hand that was nailed to the cross for them, or will they revert to their cheap, pre-conversion ways and lose their grip and focus on self? In silent attention the onlooking universe watches.
Mrs. White continues:
If they could have the assurance of pardon they would not shrink from torture or death; but should they prove unworthy, and lose their lives because of their own defects of character, then God’s holy name would be reproached (p. 619).
This is a key statement in helping us to understand the experience that lies before us. Of course we during such a time would appreciate the assurance of pardon. But Satan and his imps are pressing upon us everything they have. We are bombarded by thoughts of our past unfaithfulness—thoughts originating in demonic minds. The key point here is that the motivation in us has changed.
Many are motivated by a deep overriding concern. Let’s face it; we want to be in the kingdom. We want to “be saved.” But there are larger issues at stake than whether you or I are or are not in the kingdom. The motivation for self-preservation can be tainted by selfishness. But there is a new motivation here, one not found in the unconverted heart. We do not want to be lost now because we recognize that if we fail, “then God’s holy name would be reproached.” What has now become the primary motivation for overcoming is the honor of God rather than our own salvation. We have become aware and determined that God’s self-chosen plan to vindicate His character by a demonstration offered in the lives of His people shall come off according to His will. A concern for His honor drives us away from sin and to His side.
Next, a comment on our experience:
In the time of trouble, if the people of God had unconfessed sins to appear before them while tortured with fear and anguish, they would be overwhelmed; despair would cut off their faith, and they could not have confidence to plead with God for deliverance. But while they have a deep sense of their unworthiness, they have no concealed wrongs to reveal. Their sins have gone beforehand to judgment and have been blotted out, and they cannot bring them to remembrance (p. 620).
Yes, the description of our experience in the time of trouble uses the words torture, fear, and anguish. Those feelings were familiar to Job too. That is what we are facing. And, if we came under the intensity of duress here described, and if we had unconfessed sins that we could be challenged with at this time, inspiration says “they would be overwhelmed; despair would cut off their faith, and they could not have confidence to plead with God for deliverance.” So you see that it is of crucial importance to repent in God’s strength, and take our sins to Jesus, and confess them and forsake them utterly now.
The next sentences are supremely important. “But while they have a deep sense of their unworthiness, they have no concealed wrongs to reveal. Their sins have gone beforehand to judgment and have been blotted out, and they cannot bring them to remembrance.” Oh yes, we have even in this supremely trying time, not just a sense of our unworthiness but a deep sense of our unworthiness. Nevertheless, we have no concealed wrongs to reveal. Our sins were forgiven, were blotted out by Christ, and as a result we are unable to bring them to mind. The bucket is empty. Every sin has been revealed, repented of, confessed, forsaken, and here we see, not forgotten, but wiped from our memories. When the sin is blotted out by Christ in the sanctuary above, it is also blotted from our mind.
Do we truly face—after probation closes—our “severest trial”?
God’s love for His children during the period of their severest trial is as strong and tender as in the days of their sunniest prosperity; but it is needful for them to be placed in the furnace of fire; their earthliness must be consumed, that the image of Christ may be perfectly reflected (p. 621).
Mark you, by this point sin has been forgiven, blotted out, and is gone. Also, we are at this point still a very short space before the Second Coming of Jesus and the moment when we will receive glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52; The Great Controversy, p. 645), so we are still in our old human flesh with its clammers for self-indulgence. There remains in us, not sin, and not with reference to our disordered human nature itself, something inspiration calls “earthliness,” which must be consumed. It is interesting that Mrs. White does not say that it must be removed but that it must be consumed, in order that the image of Jesus may be perfectly reflected. We’ll address this next week in our last presentation.
Now there is a turning to urgent counsel for our preparation.
The ‘time of trouble, such as never was,’ is soon to open upon us; and we shall need an experience which we do not now possess and which many are too indolent to obtain. It is often the case that trouble is greater in anticipation than in reality; but this is not true of the crisis before us. The most vivid presentation cannot reach the magnitude of the ordeal (p. 622).
Here is a warning that what we face is a trial of unparalleled intensity. We need an experience that very few of us possess. But fortunately there is much help. The experience we must gain now, is lucidly described:
In that time of trial, every soul must stand for himself before God. ‘Though Noah, Daniel, and Job’ were in the land, ‘as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.’ Ezekiel 14:20.
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 (p. 623).
It is clear that our personal spiritual estate is what will count after the Close of Probation. We will be individually accountable and individually face the reality of our own situation. Ezekiel even words this that souls are delivered by their own righteousness. I think Mrs. White has offered some lines that explain this well here:
The honor of Christ must stand complete in the perfection of the character of His chosen people. He desires that they shall represent His character to the world. In the work of redemption, in the sufferings which Christ was called upon to endure, you are to co-operate with Him, that you may be complete in Him. In being united to Him by faith, believing and receiving Him, you become part of Himself. Your character is His glory revealed in you (Signs of the Times, November 25, 1897).
If your character, in the end, is His glory revealed in you, then your righteousness, in the end, is His righteousness revealed in you. The question becomes, am I united with Christ?
But it is the next paragraph that offers the richest help. It describes what it means to become perfect in Christ. This is especially helpful because what Elder Dennis Priebe says is true: “Most of the objections to the doctrine of perfection are based upon misconceptions of what it is” (Dennis Priebe, Face-to-Face With the Real Gospel, p. 87). Fortunately, inspiration helps us here.
Consider now the Great Controversy, p. 623 quote. There is something for us to do now, while Jesus, not has made, but is making the atonement for us. We should seek to become perfect in Christ. Here, then, comes an inspired definition of what it means to become perfect in Christ.
Not even by a thought could Jesus be brought to yield to the power of temptation. What is the power of temptation? It is “the drawing of desire that leads to indulgence.” This Jesus had, and this Jesus resisted. Experiencing such a drawing is no sin, but following its leading is. Hear this from White’s book, The Ministry of Healing, p. 175):
Feeling the terrible power of temptation, the drawing of desire that leads to indulgence, many a man cries in despair, ‘I cannot resist evil.’ Tell him that he can, that he must resist. He may have been overcome again and again, but it need not be always thus. He is weak in moral power, controlled by the habits of a life of sin. His promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand. The knowledge of his broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens his confidence in his own sincerity and causes him to feel that God cannot accept him or work with his efforts. But he need not despair.
Those who put their trust in Christ are not to be enslaved by any hereditary or cultivated habit or tendency. Instead of being held in bondage to the lower nature, they are to rule every appetite and passion. God has not left us to battle with evil in our own finite strength. Whatever may be our inherited or cultivated tendencies to wrong, we can overcome through the power that He is ready to impart (Ministry of Healing, p. 175).
Not even by one thought could Jesus be led astray by the drawing of desire that leads to indulgence. This is going to involve the mind then. In the Christian person, rationality is trained, restored to superiority over the emotional. Emotion is not removed or reduced; it is part of our being. But it is brought into a right relationship to intellect.
What is the demonic method? They search for weakness in the character, they look for something where our desire for the object of pursuit is greater than our desire for the righteous. When they find it, they rejoice, for we strongly tend to follow in the direction that our desire leads us. We need to better understand the working of our desire. Now we understand why one sin, persistently cherished, can blockade all the power of the gospel. One sin provides Satan one foothold, and one foothold may be all that he needs. If you would win through to victory, you must deny him his perch.
When Satan came to Jesus, he found no character flaws, no object which our Lord wanted more than righteousness. He found no leverage-point that he could use so that Jesus’ own desire would be the means of drawing Him into sin. This, then, is the condition (that is, in full control of our own thoughts, and cherishing no sinful desires) in which we must be found who shall endure in the time of trouble.
Some who are close readers of inspired writings will be aware of a similar sentence found in the classic The Desire of Ages, p. 123. Here is that very similar and yet different quotation:
‘The prince of this world cometh,’ said Jesus, ‘land hath nothing in Me.’ John 14:30. There was in Him nothing that responded to Satan’s sophistry. He did not consent to sin. Not even by a thought did He yield to temptation. So it may be with us. Christ’s humanity was united with divinity; He was fitted for the conflict by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And He came to make us partakers of the divine nature. So long as we are united to Him by faith, sin has no more dominion over us. God reaches for the hand of faith in us to direct it to lay fast hold upon the divinity of Christ, that we may attain to perfection of character (p. 123).
You see here many of the very same points as already addressed in The Great Controversy. Here though, she calls is endeavors to manipulate our actions sophistry. She also points to the necessity for Christ and for us of uniting our humanity with God&rsqui;s divinity. Jesus was divine but had laid aside His powers of deity in order to be a eievable exampel for us. All His mighty works were actually the Father’s mighty works done in response to His request (John 14:10). But how was Jesus’ humanity united with divinity? “He was fitted for the conflict by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” Is that something that we can do? Yes.
If He was going to be an actual example for us, then His method of overcoming had be be one actually available to us as well. He Himself was God and had the rights of God, the prerogatives of God. But in coming to earth He had emptied Himself (Philippians 2:6, 7). When the storm descended on the boat in the Sea of Galillee, Jesus “rested not in the possession of almighty power... that power He had laid down.. He trusted in the Father’s might” (The Desire of Ages, p. 336). All this underlines the necessity of our seeking and receiving the help and power of the Holy Spirit. It is how Jesus was united with divinity; it is how we are to be united with divinity.
The other point she makes in the Desire of Ages, passage is to discuss the operation of faith. So long as we are united to Him by faith, sin has no more dominion over us. How do we maintain this union by faith? It all starts with God. God reaches for the hand of faith in us. He initiates a connection with our faculty of faith. He then directs the hand of faith in us. Notice here that He finds the hand of faith. That is, He finds the handle, the sticky part of our faith, the part that can lay hold of something and clasp tightly to it. Then He directs the hand to Jesus.
However, it is not merely directed to Jesus, but to “the divinity of Christ.” Now I believe as much as anyone, that having a right understanding of the humanity of Jesus is very important. But I have never been interested in placing my faith in Jesus’ humanity. I need to understand it, but there is no particular power in His humanity itself. Rather, God directs us to grip with the hand of faith onto Jesus’ divinity.
We should not forget that Jesus is God. He has in Himself life that is “original, unborrowed, underived” (The Desire of Ages, p. 530). Jesus did not remain in the tomb!
When the voice of the mighty angel was heard at Christ’s tomb, saying, Thy Father calls Thee, the Saviour came forth from the grave by the life that was in Himself.... All created beings live by the will and power of God. They are dependent recipients of the life of God. From the highest seraph to the humblest animate being, all are replenished from the Source of life. Only He who is one with God could say, I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again. In His divinity, Christ possessed the power to break the bonds of death (The Desire of Ages, p. 785).
Our Lord is no mere glorified human such as we will be. He is the Infinite, all-powerful God. He is one of three distinct persons united in one Godhead. He has power to remake planets and remake hearts. This power is not found in His humanity but in His divinity.
Even when probation has closed and we are standing in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor for sin, we are not without access to Jesus’ divine power. We can only overcome as we are united with the Vine. He promised never to leave us or forsake us, and to be with us always. We must lay hold of those promises and make sure that they continue to be true for us. We shall hold the hand of Jesus all the way through The Time of Trouble.
Had Jesus not overcome in our humanity, we would not have had an Example. Had Jesus not restored His divine power to Himself He would not have for us the power by which we live His example. Acknowledging the vitally important truth of how His humanity was like our own, it is to His divinity that we must look for power to overcome.
All of this brings us at last to the final line in the quotation. Through this power from God “we may attain to perfection of character.” There; I said it. But I only repeated what God told us through the Spirit of Prophecy. The goal here is nothing less than perfection of character. Not to be saved, but to contribute to the vindication of God’s character. Not because we thought we would help God out, but because in His infinite wisdom, God determined that it was in this way that He would vindicate it.
Our part is to understand and acquiesce to God’s plan, whatever it is, no matter how it seems to cut against the grain of our expectations. This we have been slow to do. This we must do nonetheless. And God will help us.
Mentone CA SDA 2007-11-24