Sabbath school commentary for discussion alongside the Adult Bible Study Guide for May 13, 2023.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/sabbath-school/2023/first-angels-message-part-3
Sabbath school commentary for discussion alongside the Adult Bible Study Guide for May 13, 2023.
If Emerson is correct, and consistency is the hobgoblin of simple mind, one would never ask or hope for constancy from a judge.
Fortunately, the god of the Bible does not exhibit only this one characteristic. Instead, the portrait of god, or gods painted by the Bible is multifaceted and simply too Picasso-esque to be taken literally or considered a “true to life” representation of our creator.
So if the final judgement is a singular event rather than an ongoing process, perhaps we’ll get lucky and won’t need a good lawyer because we’ll have a good and wise judge whose only desire is to distance himself from the static, supposedly unchanging god, or gods, of the Bible.
On the other hand, if we’re unlucky and are evaluated by a fair rather than kind judge, or one who only wants to look at the facts of our lives instead of considering our potential, I’m thinking John’s “revealed if decidedly cryptic” estimate of 144,000 people who are worthy of sainthood is a probably a little optimistic.
There are some who argue (brilliantly at times) that the only true and complete victory over sin and evil requires a “universal” redemption enabled by the irresistible love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus. This would be the ultimate victory of “restorative” justice, the only kind commensurate with the nature of God as love. The other alternative, based on the view that moral autonomy is definitive of human decision-making, insists that there must be “accountability” for horrendous crimes (at least) such as the Holocaust. Accountability points toward “retributive” justice; i.e. punishment of some kind. Biblical texts can point both ways, depending on a variety of considerations. Fundamentalists (Billy Sunday and Graham) preaching to millions made it clear that it’s heaven or hell depending on whether you accepted Jesus as your personal savior and repented of your sins. Interestingly, Philippians 2 points to an event in which every knee “shall bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the father.” A “confession” is presumably not coerced, but voluntary. Does it include the “goats” ala Matthew 25? Those raised to eternal damnation in John 5, or Satan and the hosts of Revelation?
In legal philosophy, a “voluntary” confession (non-coerced in every sense) is considered the ultimate “proof” of one’s guilt, but not necesarily one’s innocence. Even in parole hearings for “convicted” yet innocent prisoners, the board wants to hear you say you are “truly sorry” for the crime you committed, if you want to be granted parole. Perversely, some innocent prisoners refuse to admit (and lie) that they are sorry, since they did not commit the crime. The truly guilty within the “confession” in Philippians are exercising their moral autonomy by admitting their guilt and responsibility, But there is no parole without universalism, no accountability without exclusion from the presence of God.
Perhaps the only way out of this dilemma is to assume that in the final judgment, the full “revelation” of the truth about God and the forces of evil is undeniable, even to the most rebellious and mendacious creatures who have ever lived. If they are excluded and God’s justice is completely and ultimately “restorative,” it suggests they confessed but changed not, that exclusion is not “retributive” or punishing, but respectful; one cannot know any joy in the presence of God and the saints. They self-judge, like the criminals who cannot function in a society based on laws, truth and love. (Obviously, the variety of individuals in any judgment like this is too varied and complex to be lumped together, but the issue of retributive (accountability) and restorative (anti-retributuve for the divine) needs some resolution it seems to me.
This article makes the best sense of any I have ever read in Adventism over many decades on this topic. Many thanks for sharing!
Within our compartmentalized thinking, we miss the big picture. Because we are made in God’s image, we give God our human identity (characteristics) - instead of us, having been imbued with the ability of cognition (like God), even some intelligence, and the ability to reflect love, which other forms of creation don’t have. Even so, even we have come to understand that punishing our children only makes sense if there is something for them to learn from the process. Punishment for the sake of punishing can’t be a Godly characteristic if we are to believe in a God of love and justice. Every reprobate was once an innocent babe (or at least, a “blank slate”), and was molded by the sin inherited from culture and genetics gone haywire.
All “men” are not created equal despite what we have said. They are as equal as we give them permission to be - which is also tainted. With that in mind, there can’t be an individual who has had complete freedom to decide for or against God. The idea that there is actually an entity that once, long ago, decided to rebel against God, is also a conundrum. That said, we have to conclude that we can’t know the ways of God with such confidence, that we can know who gets “punished” or if anyone gets punished.
This third installment is just magnificent. And actually, it’s much more dynamic and emphatic of the confirmation of God as preeminent among all the “principalities and powers” poised to demand our allegiance. “The critical moment!”— what’s not thoroughly Adventist about that?
For many years I’ve heard our pastors in the pulpit shift to emphasizing the point that the judgment is a confirmation and defense of God’s character, rather than specifically an interrogation of each human’s minute life history. Clearly the essence of this reading of “critical moment” plays more into that concept. So despite the less precise use of “judgment” in the traditional translation, the truth of the concept of “God’s critical moment” was ultimately sifting through to impact their teaching and preaching.
It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I realised the key moment of God’s action in history had already happened. Rather than waiting for the second coming and the judgement for God to reveal himself, God is abundantly revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Everything else is consequential on what Jesus has already done. Thanks for explaining this from Revelation, Dr Tonstad.
Interpreting Revelation through the lens of John’s gospel and letters makes so much sense. The same can be done with the concept of commandment. John’s other writings strongly align ‘commandment’ with Jesus’ command to love. This works in Revelation too - and saves us from reversing Paul’s comments about the law.
Yes…and made so much easier by not being saddled to a date (1844), rather, to an event.
Sigve, thank you for sharing with us another of your beautifully inspired interpretations that help us better understand and appreciate not only the Biblical record, but also what Jesus did in order to reveal to us the truth about our incredibly loving God!
…or misunderstanding Paul’s message
so far in this series, we’ve been told that Revelation is the climax of prophetic revelation, that it is a retrospective of the bible as a whole, and that its themes reveal themselves to a symphonic, rather than linear, perception…
is it plausible that a fisherman could have written this masterpiece…if he did, is it possible that we’re examining his book through tools and methods he didn’t anticipate or intend, and that our conclusions are our own imports…
perhaps it’s regrettable that “John” doesn’t seem to have written a companion volume, outlining his understanding of and intentions for Revelation, assuming he had them…
Dear Dr Tonstad,
Regarding your points below.
“My translation assumes a different storyline and logic. First, Revelation is the climax of prophecy , as Bauckham puts it, and the three angels’ messages are the climax of the “prophecy” in the book. That climax is best seen not as a judicial event but as “the critical moment” in a process.” and 2. “The Adventist interpretation requires an immersion in complicated passages in Daniel and a detour into Adventist denominational history.”
Thank you I consider it is not only logical, it also confirms the crisis in Adventist understanding of the closely associated verses of Daniel 8:9-14.
In regard to the second statement may I suggest the reason these passages are considered to be complicated is due to the climax of the book of Daniel and especially Dan. 8:9-14, regarding the identity and application of the daily. The traditional understanding applies these verses to the actions of the Papacy and a papal host, i.e. a “prior action,” whereas I propose Daniel applies these verses to Christ and His holy covenant people, i.e. the “re-action.” Here we see the “crisis” in Daniel revolves around the daily, that is, does it apply to the actions of the Papacy and a papal host, or to the actions of Christ and His holy covenant people?
It is proposed there is a way forward that addresses the issue surrounding the LH of Dan. 8., as well as dealing with the BRI’s concern regarding multiple fulfilments that have been applied to it. However, this proposal goes in the opposite direction to the teachings that apply Daniel 8:9-11 to the actions of Rome, pagan and papal, or the current church position, to the Papacy alone.
In this view, the little horn’s magnification of itself “even to the prince of the host” (8:11 cf. 9:27) applies to Rome’s attack on the earthly Jesus. This application is consistent with the prepositional phrase, ûmimmēnû, later in the verse translated, “but by him” (i.e., “by the ‘prince of the host’”), the waw conjunction being read as adversative and the preposition min being read as indicating a causal agent. In other words, the Roman little horn attacks “the prince of the host,” but this little horn power, Rome, does not take away “the daily,” (the continues). Paradoxically it is the Prince himself, who, by His death at the hand of Rome and the Jews, established, or ratified, the daily, (min), God’s new covenant promise for a fallen world.
May I propose just as there is a logical difference regarding judgment and crisis in Revelation 14:7, so there is a logical difference regarding Christ and the Papacy in Daniel 8:11-13. When the “continual” is applied to Christ and His faithful people, the crisis associated with the complicated passages is largely, if not entirely, resolved.
Your thoughts appreciated.
While it is the critical hour in Rev. 14, can’t we draw meaning not just from linguistic connections outside the book, but from the immediate passage and its context? And that context reveals God passing judgement on the earthly powers arrayed against his people, as per the messages up to v.12. These are portrayed as monsters who have the dragon power behind them. They are identified in the ensuing context in Revelation 14 as Babylon. While this was shorthand for Rome, it also draws in the other persecuting power against the early Christians, and that was Jerusalem. The prostitute (almost always used in the OT to describe unfaithful Israel) riding the scarlet colored beast later in the book reveals Jerusalem’s (particularly its religious and political leadership’s) dependence on Rome to carry out its designs against the messiah and his people. It is portrayed as an unholy union of religious and political power conspiring against the people of God who follow the lamb wherever he goes.
That God’s judgement on this union of powers is central to the passage can be seen in the pronounced judgement of the second angel against Babylon, and the warning about drinking from the cup of God’s wrath in the third message along with the coming grape harvest, all symbolic of judgement. That it also points to God actually restoring things back to rights is also implicit in the messages themselves, the oppressive, seductive, and persecuting powers will be judged and God’s faithful people will be vindicated, and set free to live in safety and peace with God himself and the lamb, hence the image later on of a New Jerusalem. This is an appropriation of Daniel 7…judgement is made in favor of the saints of the Most High God. And, as the Psalms announced the good news of God as the true king coming to judge the earth in justice and equity, so does Revelation.
The IJ of individuals and their individual character perfection is nowhere to be found in this passage other than in Adventist eisegesis that has been championed by Adventist scholars of the past and present who didn’t and don’t seem to have the gumption to go against what has been given the stamp of truth by the denominational powers that be and EGW herself. Neither is the centrality of Sabbath vs. Sunday worship, unless one is reading modern Adventist concerns through a historicist lens into the passage.The idea of having to achieve an Adventist perspective on the book just seems to fix in place a lens that can actually get in the way of clearly reading the text as it seemed to speak in its own context and world, whether an ultra cloudy one as in the past of the denomination, or less opaque ones as are advanced today.
Whether this article is part of that problem or the solution is for readers of the text in its context to decide.
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