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Editor’s Note: This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Waco Siege that occurred from February 28 to April 19, 1993. Throughout the weeks, we have been sharing on the website the articles that appeared in the May 1993 edition (vol. 23, no. 1) of Spectrum concerning this tragedy.
How seriously should Adventists take apocalyptic books like Daniel, Revelation, and The Great Controversy? Apocalyptists, after all, are embarrassing to have around. David Koresh tried to precipitate Armageddon by his confrontation with the U.S. Government. David Mould mounts a billboard campaign against the pope, charging the Vatican with trying to change the U.S. Constitution. John Osborne chastises official Adventism for its ecumenical stance toward other Christians. Date-setters become increasingly active as the year 2000 approaches. Survivalists buy homes in the wilderness for the time of trouble.
These developments embarrass the main-line church. We may even wish to revise our apocalyptic stance. Aren't we triumphalistic in seeing ourselves as the one true church? Hasn't the Sabbath/Sunday issue, so relevant when The Great Controversy was written, become obsolete in today's secular society? Haven't Adventists erred in focusing on the pope while neglecting to take a stand against oppressive dictators of the 20th century? Shouldn't we concentrate on the modem "beasts" of ethnic hatred, oppression of minorities, and abuse of the eco-system? Perhaps apocalyptic, with its sensationalism, represents an immature stage of Christianity. Perhaps we should replace it with the gospel of love, acceptance, and forgiveness.
I suggest that we look to Jesus for enlightenment on these issues. He is central not only to the gospel, but also to the apocalyptic. As an apocalyptic figure, he ushered in the end time by setting up his kingdom. He stood under a death decree and felt the persecuting wrath of a "union of church and state." In Gethsemane, he endured the time of trouble, and on the cross, he drew to himself the plagues of scorching sun, darkness, and earthquake. He experienced death, resurrection, and translation. He stands in the tension between the gospel and apocalyptic. What might Jesus say to enthusiasts?
Should we precipitate the final crisis? Jesus tried to win his enemies by love. He did not precipitate the crisis—it was forced on him. Jesus would have told David Koresh to lay down his sword.
Should we fraternize or confront? Should Adventists fraternize with Christians of other faiths? Or should we denounce them as Babylon? Jesus feasted and fraternized with Pharisees such as Simon and Nicodemus. He was frank, but spoke the truth in love. Ecumenism is not a sin if the truth is not compromised. Jesus did not denounce the religious leaders of his day before his arrest. Bashing the pope at the present time is premature. The pope is not currently trying to change the U.S. Constitution. The encyclical to which David Mould refers merely asserts the right of workers to observe their day of rest. (Adventists fought for the same right.) The document has nothing to do with enforcing Sunday-worship upon non-believers.
Should we set dates? For 2,000 years, every date set for the end of the world has failed. Apocalyptists have supplied hundreds of rationales for the Lord to come by a certain date (the end of a millennium, the 120 years of Noah, a generation from the Falling of the Stars or the establishment of Israel), but God has ignored them all. "History overwhelms apocalyptic"—time keeps marching on in spite of efforts to stop it. Jesus not only refused to supply a date, but forbade others to do so (Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:6, 7).
Should we flee to the mountains? (An Adventist paper advertised, "three-bedroom ranch, excellent for the time of trouble; all modem conveniences." But is a home that receives mail, telephone, and other services hidden?) Now is not the time to be isolated from the world, but to penetrate the world with the gospel. Now is the time of Global Mission (Matthew 24:14).
But apocalyptic should not be rejected because enthusiasts have abused it. Abuse does not cancel use. And detractors can distort as well.
Aren't we naive to see ourselves in prophecy? Sects often see themselves as the fulcrum of history—the stone that strikes the image, the 144,000 on Mount Zion. Are Adventists naive to see themselves as "the remnant," the one true church? Though we are a small subdivision on the Christian landscape, we do have the remnant message and proclaim the last warning to the world—the three angels' messages.
Shouldn't our concept of "antichrist" be relativized? Though history has seen many oppressors, the sequence of powers listed in Daniel 7 still holds. Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin are gone; communism is crumbling; but the Papacy still grows in power.
Isn't Sabbath/Sunday an antiquated issue? Whether one agrees with The Great Controversy scenario or not, the biblical picture of the final conflict has to do with worshiping God or an anti-God power (Revelation 14:6-12). Also, in a violent world, the pressure for a religious solution is increasing. The Religious Right is eager to legislate such a solution. Furthermore, the three angels' messages are exceedingly relevant to a world that has forgotten its Creator.
Isn't the gospel enough? Some theologians would like to center all theology on the cross. But Christian theology must have two foci—both the first and second advents of Christ. If we have only the cross, we are of all people the most miserable (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). God gave apocalyptic to dramatize the struggle between good and evil, to arouse the world to its danger, and to inspire the hope of ultimate victory. In his apocalyptic discourse, Jesus told the signs of his coming—signs that in every age have produced a sense of urgency to prepare for his coming.
How then shall we live? The purpose of apocalyptic, as with all scripture, is to inspire a life oriented toward Christ and his coming (Matthew 24:42). At the end of his apocalyptic discourse (Matthew 25) Jesus spelled out just what this life is like. Surprisingly, it is not something heroic. It consists of being filled with the oil of the Spirit, developing one's talents in service to God, and caring for the needy and oppressed. Apocalyptic demands nothing more—nothing less.
Further reading on the Waco tragedy:
Fundamentalism Is a Disease, a Demonic Perversion, April 8, 2018
Futuristic Highs at Mt. Carmel, April 4, 2018
One of David’s Mighty Men, March 28, 2018
The British Connection, March 14, 2018
Apocalypse at Diamond Head, March 7, 2018
God, Guns, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, February 14, 2018
The Making of David Koresh, February 7, 2018
Paradise Lost in Waco, February 5, 2018
We Didn't Start the Fire but the Tinder was Ours, January 31, 2018
New TV Series Premieres for 25th Anniversary of the Waco Tragedy, January 24, 2018
Beware of Wolves Disguised as Sheep, June 8, 2017
Death of a Branch Davidian Friend and Other Memories, April 19, 2014
Branch Davidians (and Adventists) Revisited in The New Yorker, March 30, 2014
My Trip to Waco, December 27, 2012
This article was written by Beatrice Neall for the May 1993 issue of Spectrum.
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