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Our Prophetic Heritage


Scripture: Rev 10; 14:6-12

Leading Question: What is the most effective way today to direct attention to the work of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary?

Several issues present themselves in connection with the study of the three angels’ message of Revelation 14. Those are addressed below

1. Historicism and the Original Context: A Both/And Approach. While those who are deeply rooted in strict historicism may find traditional arguments convincing, increasingly it is important to develop ways of recognizing the original contextual understanding of passages that have been interpreted from within a historicist perspective. Three examples present themselves, all of which can be viewed from a both/and perspective:

A. Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). The SDA Bible Commentary on the parable of the ten virgins doesn’t even mention the “historicist” interpretation of the parable. But in the writings of Ellen White, one can find (without comment) both the historicist interpretation, where the parable provides a roadmap of the Disappointment experience, and the contextual interpretation where it focuses on the Second Coming. The historicist interpretation can be seen as a valid application of the parable, even if one recognizes that the contextual interpretation is the most valid from an exegetical perspective.

Historicist Interpretation: “The coming of Christ as our high priest to the most holy place, for the cleansing of the sanctuary, brought to view in Dan. 8:14; the coming of the Son of man to the Ancient of days, as presented in Dan. 7:13; and the coming of the Lord to His temple, foretold by Malachi, are descriptions of the same event; and this is also represented by the coming of the bridegroom to the marriage, described by Christ in the parable of the ten virgins of Matthew 25” (GC 426).

“The proclamation, ‘Behold the Bridegroom cometh,’ in the summer of 1844, led thousands to expect the immediate advent of the Lord. At the appointed time the Bridegroom came, not to the earth, as the people expected, but to the Ancient of days in heaven, to the marriage, the reception of the kingdom. “They that were ready went in with Him to the marriage, and the door was shut.” They were not to be present in person at the marriage; for it takes place in heaven, while they are upon the earth. The followers of Christ are to ‘wait for their Lord, when He will return from the wedding.’ [Luke 12:36] But they are to understand His work, and to follow Him by faith as He goes in before God. It is in this sense that they are said to go in to the marriage.” (GC 427)

Contextual Interpretation: “As Christ sat looking upon the party that waited for the bridegroom, He told His disciples the story of the ten virgins, by their experience illustrating the experience of the church that shall live just before His second coming.” (COL 406)

“The coming of the bridegroom was at midnight – the darkest hour. So the coming of the Christ will take place in the darkest period of this earth’s history.” (COL 414)

B. Seven Churches in Revelation 2-3. The “preterist” interpretation, the most natural exegetical approach, would simply see the seven churches as seven literal churches in Asia Minor in cities that one can still visit today. The historicist application views them as seven churches typifying seven eras of history, with the last church being the Laodicean church. The idealist/multiple application approach sees each church as typifying a particular type of experience that one could find in any era of the life of the church. Again, this is a good example of a passage of Scripture that can allow for a variety of applications while preserving the original contextual understanding.

C. The Little Book of Revelation 10. Revelation 10 tells the story of the little book that was sweet in the mouth but bitter in the belly, understood within the historicist framework as illustrating the Disappointment experience. Contextually, it most likely represents John’s call experience. Again, a both/and approach is quite acceptable.

2. Type and Antitype. The Adventist understanding of the sanctuary and judgment doctrines illustrates the use of type and antitype in the interpretation of Scripture. The term “antitype” is confusing because modern usage more typically things of the word “anti” as suggesting opposition (e.g. anti-biotics, anti-aircraft fire); but in the word antitype, “anti” means in place of. This antitype refers to the real thing, while type refers to the image that points forward to the real thing. Thus Jesus was the once-for-all antitypical passover lamb, while the typical passover lamb would be the lamb that was sacrificed in the yearly festival in the Old Testament. As noted in Lesson #7 (Nov. 16), the idea of seeing the dying messiah as being represented by the passover lamb was apparently not recognized in the Old Testament and only came clear in the years following the resurrection.

In Adventist history, seeing Jesus as the once-for-all antitypical lamb suggested to our forebears the possibility of seeing a once-for-all antitypical day of atonement as the ultimate fulfillment of the annual Day of Atonement. The fact that such an antitypical application was developed in the light of the Disappointment without direct exegetical “proof” from Scripture correlates with the “late” parallel development of the idea that Jesus was the once-for-all Passover lamb.

For the full development of the Adventist understanding of the sanctuary/judgment doctrine four key biblical contexts come into play: Leviticus 16, the annual Day of Atonement; Daniel 7, the development of the judgment theme; Daniel 8-9, the desecration and restoration of the earthly sanctuary; Revelation 14:6-12, the three angels’ messages representing the final preaching of the everlasting Gospel (Rev. 14:6) and the Judgment hour message (Rev.14:7). The book of Hebrews can be added to that cluster, but operates from within quite a different framework to make the point that the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus is the clearest revelation of God.

3. The Role of Jesus in the Heavenly Sanctuary. Some devout Adventists almost panic when critics argue that the Adventist understanding of the sanctuary isn’t “biblical” in the traditional exegetical understanding of the term. And if Adventists feel that this is the only unique feature of our faith, reaction to the critics can be very intense indeed.

But if we can see the Sanctuary/Judgment doctrine as simply another way of pointing to those things that are very important throughout Scripture, then the sanctuary/judgment theme can be very profitable. And we have stripped all the weapons from the hands of the critics. Paul summarized his two-pronged approach to Christian living at the end of the fourth chapter of 1 Corinthians (4:21): “What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” Some of us need more of the stick, some of us a lot of the stick; but some gentle and conscientious people need almost no stick at all. Ellen White made this application to a brother who was inclined to use more of the stick:

You need to educate yourself, that you may have wisdom to deal with minds. You should with some have compassion, making a difference, while others you may save with fear, pulling them out of the fire [Jude 22-23]. Our heavenly Father frequently leaves us in uncertainty in regard to our efforts. – Testimonies 3:420 (1875)

When making the application to the sanctuary/judgment model, we can say that those who need more threats will need more of the judgment metaphor; but those who need love in the spirit of gentleness, can envision Jesus as our high priest applying his blood on our behalf within the sanctuary and in judgment. In short, we have a model that is useful for anyone, anywhere, and it is the work of the church as a body to help each of us find what we need most. That is why Paul’s view of the church as an incarnational model of God’s temple/sanctuary is so important (see Lesson #2 for October 12): “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” – 1 Cor.3:16-17, NIV

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