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Reflections on Our Name

On Sabbath, October 2, 2010, Seventh-day Adventists worldwide will commemorate the 150th anniversary of our denomination’s name ( My guess is that most Adventists have spent little time thinking about the spiritual significance of the label our forebears chose. So let’s note just a few points.

The “Seventh-day” part of our name says we honor the biblical Sabbath, which is a celebration of identity. It tells me who I am: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20: 8-12). The fourth commandment reminds me that God made me.

The Sabbath reminds me that I’m created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1: 27) and that I’m made from the same elements as the earth—”the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7). This unusual blend—earthly substance and divine image—makes humans uniquely fitted to “rule over” the earth (Genesis 1:29). It was only after he’d created humans that God ratcheted up his assessment from “good” to “very good” (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).

The Sabbath commandment also tells us that we humans fell so far from our lofty estate that we ended up in slavery—literally for some, and figuratively for all. But fortunately, that’s not the end: God has intervened to deliver us. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). The Sabbath is a reminder that God himself takes the initiative to rescue those in bondage.

The Sabbath isn’t just about physical rest. It’s also an emotional, psychological, spiritual experience of the peace that comes from knowing we’ve been created by, and then delivered by, God. Freed from our slavery because of what he has done, we can have full confidence and certainty.

Surprisingly, this good news has been slow to sink in. It has even been resisted. So the Sabbath is also a reminder of something that still hasn’t happened in its fullness. There’s a sort of superlative Sabbath experience that we haven’t enjoyed as God would like: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest. . . . “ (Hebrews 4:9-11).

Though available now in great measure, this superlative experience comes to full fruition at the advent (coming) of Jesus. Which brings us to the second part of our name: “Adventist.”

The Sabbath and the advent are closely connected. The Old Testament depicts the Sabbath as a celebration of two completed events—creation and redemption. The New Testament says something better is yet to come. The advent part of our name actually covers the same ground as the Sabbath part.

The reality is, the first advent of Jesus wasn’t when he came to earth as a baby (though that’s when we’ve usually started counting). Rather, the first advent of Jesus was when he created us. Remember, the Jesus who died to save us, and whose return we eagerly await, is also our Creator (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16 and Hebrews 1:2.)

It was Jesus who declared his creation “very good.” It was Jesus who on the cross declared his spiritual rescue mission “finished.” And it’s Jesus who will come to usher us into the ultimate in Sabbath rest—total escape from the havoc wreaked by sin.

The Sabbath and the advents work together to put our past, our present and our future into perspective. They remind us of: (a) where we’ve come from, (b) how the dilemma caused by sin has been resolved and (c) the glorious future that now awaits us.

I think our forebears did well in naming our denomination. Our name should perpetually reinforce our identity as Jesus-dependent people—dependent on him for existence, for redemption and for our entry into paradise.

What our name implies excites me. What a truth to share! What an intimate relationship to be enjoyed with our Creator, our Redeemer, our coming King! It’s good news! What an identity! What a package of truth to celebrate!

The reality is, however, we as Adventists to great degree have packaged these beautiful truths in the negative. Instead of first and foremost highlighting the beauties and the blessings of the Sabbath, the identity it provides and the difference it can make in our lives every day, we too often provide little more than a curt declaration that Saturday, not Sunday, is the biblical Sabbath. Those who don’t accept the right day will ultimately receive the mark of the beast. And if you receive the mark of the beast, God is going to burn you to death in the final lake of fire. The choice is yours, and it’s simple: Worship on the right day, or be killed.

Similarly, in far too many of our discourses, we use the coming of Jesus as an SDA substitute for hellfire. Instead of describing the sheer jubilation of looking up to see the One who created us, the One who has forgiven us, the One who has come to introduce us to the pleasures of paradise, we too often present a message that’s almost exclusively fear-based.

Our standard question is: Are you ready for the coming of Jesus? And knowing ourselves as we do, we have little choice but to say No. Because “ready” (for most of us) connotes some level of near-perfection. And deep down inside, if we’re honest, we know better. For many Adventists, the mere mention of Jesus’ return creates deep-seated fear.

The question should be: Is Jesus your Friend and Savior? Have you acknowledged to him your great need? Have you repented? Have you accepted his promise to forgive—to bury your sins in the depths of ocean and remember them no more? If so, then, be assured that you’re going to participate in one of (what I believe are) the three greatest events in this earth’s entire history. Get ready to celebrate! The Bridegroom is near! The festivities and dancing are about to begin! Shout the good news from the housetops!

One hundred and fifty years ago our spiritual forebears chose our denomination’s name. And they did it well. But they also did it reluctantly, because they hadn’t originally wanted to create a denomination. They recognized that denominations have many downsides. Denominationalism can easily lead to stagnation. They’d hoped merely to create a movement. They wanted to ensure that our spiritual quest never slowed. They wanted to ensure that the facets of God Word that are most applicable to earth’s current needs—”present truth,” they called it—would be our prime emphasis.

I believe that our denomination’s name highlights crucial truths. But it rests with us as to whether these truths will be shared in manner that will make them “present truth” to our hearers—that will cause their hearts to burn within them, as happened when Jesus shared present truth with two spiritually hungry men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:32).


James Coffin is senior pastor of the Markham Woods Church in Longwood, Florida.

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