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Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
The daily lessons in the quarterly combined with the notes in the Teachers Comments explain the traditional Adventist view of the Second Coming in the traditional ways. The arguments, however, are not successful when one actually understands the gospel. For example, Sunday’s lesson refers the reader to Jesus’ promise to return in John 14:1-3:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
Every Adventist is familiar with this promise; what most Adventists do not realize, however, is that this familiar memory verse is missing the last sentence. Jesus is saying these things to His disciples just hours before He goes to the cross, but He does not end with these words. Verse 4 is the last sentence of this teaching Jesus is giving:
“And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:4).
In fact, Jesus does not continue after verse 4, but Thomas says to Him,
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:5-7).
In other words, Jesus’ promise to come again, that there are many dwelling places in His Father’s house, is not a “stand alone” passage. It ends with Jesus declaring that they know the way to get there! The exchange with Thomas that follows reveals that the Lord Jesus Himself IS the Way. He is not the Way-shower; He is not the herald of the way. He is not an example of how to get there. He Himself IS the way. No one can come to the Father except through Jesus.
What does “I am the Way” mean?
Adventists do not actually know how to understand these statements. They tend to see them as metaphorical, as poetic language to explain that Jesus was necessary, that His death was a needed example of the lengths to which He would go to save us and to show us He loves us; He’d take our worst abuse and forgive us and die at our hands.
But these conclusions are not biblical. Jesus death was the only acceptable Sacrifice for human sin. Jesus was our Substitute. He literally became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21) and became a curse (Gal. 3:13) and fulfilled the demands of the law. He died a human death as He carried what no mere mortal could ever carry: the sin of the human race in His flesh—all without ever being tainted with personal sin. He fulfilled the curse of the law and broke the curse of death by shattering it from the inside-out as He arose from death on the first day of the week.
When Jesus promised to come again, He was not telling us something that we would then have to “get ready for”. He was telling us exactly HOW to be ready. We have to know Him.
And how do we know Him?
We have to believe that Jesus paid the price for human sin, and we have to repent of our depravity and receive the gift of His shed blood on our behalf. When we do that, we pass at that instant from death to life (John 5:24). We are born again (Jn. 3:3-6) and sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). From that time on, no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hand and Jesus’ hand (Jn 10:27-29).
When we know Jesus, we are indwelt by His Spirit, and He will NEVER leave us or forsake us, no matter what happens—including death (Rom. 8:38-39).
The question at the end of Sunday’s lesson, “HOw can you keep the fire burning in your own heart for the second coming of Jesus?” is a non-issue. When we are born again, we are already seated with Him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:4-7), and we know we will be with Him forever. We long to be fully in His presence because we are made alive by His literal presence. We want our bodies where our spirits already are.
Monday’s lesson also contains assumptions that are not biblical. At the beginning of Monday’s lesson is this sentence, “Without Christ’s return to this earth, His incarnation, death, and resurrection would have no effect for our salvation.”
This sentence is just not true. As explained above, when we are born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit—a miraculous provision not possible for the Old Testament saints before Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law and satisfied its curse of sinful man—we enter into eternal life the moment we believe. That entering is not just a promise of something eventual. We enter at that moment—just as surely as Adam and Eve actually died the moment they ate the fruit. They didn’t just begin to die, nor do we just get a promise of eternal life when we are born again. On the contrary, our spirits are transferred out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Beloved Son, and we are at that moment recipients of eternal life. Our bodies are still mortal, but our spirits are no longer dead; they are alive, and we HAVE eternal life at that moment. We know Jesus—not just about Jesus.
Monday’s lesson also says that “those who sleep in Christ will be raised to eternal life.” The paragraph continues, “As we saw earlier—because we know that the dead are asleep in the grave—the promise of the Second Coming and the resurrection to eternal life that follows is especially important to us.”
This unquestioned assumption, that the dead are asleep in the grave, is unbiblical. The spirits of the dead (a reality which Adventism denies, saying people do not have spirits except for “breath”) go to the Lord when they die. The wicked dead will be kept by God for their eventual day of judgment; the spirits of the righteous are “with Him” (Phil. 1:22-23; 2 Cor. 5:1-9). The spirits of the dead are without their bodies; they are not free to roam the universe or overhear our conversations. They are kept by God—but they are not unconscious. 2 Cor. 5:8-9 says,
Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him (2 Corinthians 5:8-9).
If the dead are unconscious, they cannot please God when they are away from their bodies. Paul is clear that we (and he is not referring to our bodies) can be away from the body and at home with the Lord. Moreover, the “we” that is absent from the body can actually aim to please God!
The Adventist understanding of death and the significance of the resurrection is badly warped because it does not reflect biblical reality. For a Christian, the resurrection is joyous because we will physically be with the Lord from then on. It is not a return to existence; it is a final rejoining of our spirits which left our bodies with our new glorified bodies. We are fully human in every sense again.
Tuesday’s lesson also presents a biblical glitch. The lesson asks, “How does 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 help us understand what the Second Coming will be like?”
Ironically, the lesson ignores (and frankly, the author and readers probably do not even see) the significant statement in verse 14:
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
This verse clearly says that “God will bring with him [Jesus] those who have fallen asleep”. The next verse states that the dead in Christ will rise first. He cannot “bring with Him” what is not WITH HIM. In other words, the spirits of the righteous dead, as explained in 2 Cor. 5:1-9, will come back to earth with Jesus, and then the dead will rise. He will reunite the dead with their new glorified bodies!
This sentence is one of the most clear and hope-filled promises about our future in all of Scripture, and Adventists actually MISS it. They look right at it and don’t see it—or else they explain it away. But the words mean what the words say!
Wednesday’s lesson contains a continuation of the lesson’s treatment of death. The author states that from the moment we close our eyes in the “deep unconscious sleep” of death, the second coming is only a moment away, whether a year or a thousand years have passed.
This statement is crazy-making. No one living thinks it’s insignificant whether a year or a thousand years passes between death and life. It’s a mental game to decide that, if we won’t be aware, the passing of time is irrelevant. We ALL know it’s not irrelevant, and we all deal with feeling despair at the thought of ceasing to exist except as data in God’s memory. This belief is not comforting; it’s nihilistic and depressing.
When we understand that we actually do have spirits that survive the body, spirits which the Lord keeps and loves without even an instant of separation, death is no longer a thing of fear and terror. While none of us wants to go through the process of death, the fact of death is no longer fearful.
Thursday’s “Watch and Be Ready” theme is part of the warp and woof of Adventism. In fact, this idea is the core of the “gospel” of all the adventist groups and splinters that sprang out of Millerism. Whether we are talking about the dominant Sunday adventists like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the dominant Saturday adventists like the Seventh-day Adventists or any of the splinter groups that have come from Millerism, the core message was and still is, “Jesus is coming; pack your bags!” (see Tim Martin’s talk at the 2014 Former Adventist Fellowship here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3Hom7MjhfU&feature=youtu.be )
Adventism sees the second coming as the culmination of the process of salvation. In this analysis they are not biblical. Salvation is accomplished in a moment, when we repent of our sin and trust Christ for forgiveness through His blood. At that moment we receive—not as a promise but as a reality—eternal life (Jn. 5:24; Jn. 3:18; Jn. 6:29; Acts 16:31). The return of Jesus is when we will receive our glorified bodies. Our spirits will be rejoined with our bodies, and we will again be complete, but our eternal life will have already been a fact. Our deaths will not put a pause in our eternal life; our spirits will continue to be with the Lord, and we will be making it our aim to please Him even in death.
Jesus has already done everything necessary to save us. His return is not the final piece of our salvation; it is, rather, the moment when our Bridegroom comes to claim His bride whom He has cleansed and whom He will present to Himself as a spotless church! (Ephesians 5:27).
The teachers comments mention three “basic theological position regarding the timing of Christ’s return.” The notes list postmillennialism, amillennialism, and premillennialism which they subdivide into two groups: dispensationalists and historicists.
The author dismisses postmillennialism by saying “diminished expectations, caused largely by extensive warfare, have nearly scuttled this belief altogether.” This view is that progress will continue until Jesus will finally come and cap off the world’s growth and improvement.
In fact, postmillennialism is alive and well. There are many groups and denominations that believe the church will work hard and spread the gospel, making more and more converts, and a revival will sweep the land and eventually the world, and the church will finally and triumphantly bring in the kingdom.
In fact, there is much Christian music currently popular that teaches this view. Groups such as Rend Collective Experiment, Jesus Culture, Hillsong, Robin Mark, and others whose music often reflects this idea, that the church’s primary purpose is to get more and more people to converts, swell their ranks with new believers, and the kingdom will follow because we’ve prepared the way.
In many ways, this idea is not dissimilar from Adventism’s idea about finishing the work so the Lord can return.
The reality, however, is that this idea is unbiblical. Jesus, not the church, brings in the kingdom, and He does it when He is ready. Our evangelism does not affect the time if Christ’s return. Moreover, our job as born again believers is to live Spirit-filled lives as per Galatians 6, speak the gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection whenever we are given the opportunity, and let God make the converts. We do not get people to come to Christ. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. We declare His gospel; the Holy Spirit achieves people’s conversions, and sometimes He grants us the privilege of participating in praying with a person.
Amillennialism says we are essentially living in the millennium, that the events in Revelation occurred in AD 70 when Titus sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and left the land in ruins. Jesus’ return, then, will be to establish His eternal kingdom on the new earth.
Premillennialism is the understanding that Jesus returns prior to the millennium. The major variations within this group, however, are those who say He returns before the tribulation, and those who say He returns at the end of the tribulation. A few even say He returns midway through the tribulation.
In a nutshell, the pre-tribulation believers say that Jesus returns at the beginning of the seven-year tribulation and catches up His church to be with Him. Contrary to what the lesson states, most people do NOT believe this catching up, or rapture, is secret. They believe Jesus will come exactly as 1 Thessalonians 4 describes: with the shout of the archangel, the trumpet of God, and His mighty angels. The church will then be with the Lord where He is for the seven years of the tribulation.
This understanding sees the rapture marking the end of the time of the gentiles, when the full number of gentiles has finally come in (Rom. 11:25). The tribulation, then, turns the world’s attention to Israel, and this period of time, as some understand Revelation, will focus on the Jews being unhardened (as Paul prophesies in Romans 11). When Jesus returns at the end of the tribulation, He will establish His millennial kingdom on earth (not the new earth) as per Revelation 20 and also as foretold in Ezekiel, Zephaniah, Isaiah, and others. We the church will reign with Him for a thousand years, and then the second resurrection will occur, and the final judgment will precede the destruction of the current creation and the establishment of the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 20, 21, 22).
Mid-tribulation believers differ in that they believe the rapture occurs midway through the tribulation, when the plagues on the earth shift from being the inhumanity of man against man and become acts of God as He pours out His wrath on the earth.
Post-tribulationists believe that Jesus returns at the end of the tribulation and catches up believers at that time, then descends to the earth to establish His millennial kingdom in Jerusalem.
All three subsets of this group see a future for Israel and a fulfillment of the earthly kingdom God promised them. Romans 9 through 11 and Revelation 20 strongly support this view.
It must be noted that no clear reading of Revelation ever hints at a millennium in heaven. That notion is entirely Ellen White; the Bible is clear that the millennium occurs on the earth (Revelation 20).
Dispensationalism is not to be confused with pre or post millennialism nor with amillennialism. Rather dispensationalists generally believe in premillennialism. A modified dispensationalism has largely replace the original dispensationalism that took shape in the 18th century. The core belief is that God deals differently with people in each of the ages of earth’s history. For example, the primordial period is little-known except for the fact that humanity had become exceedingly wicked, evil angels apparently were interacting with humans (Genesis 6), and God put an end to the corruption, thus preserving the promised Seed and the human race through His killing all life on the planet during a flood with the exception of Noah and his family.
The next dispensation was His formation of the nation of Israel—and God dealt with them differently than He did the primordial period. He gave them His covenant and put His visible glory and presence in their midst. He gave them the shadows of salvation and preserved the promised Seed through their set-apart gene pool.
Next—Jesus came. After He rose from death and ascended back to the Father, the next dispensation began: the church. Pentecost was a one-time, unrepeatable event, and it marked the first time believers in God were indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, Scripture is clear that God has not forsaken Israel, and He has promised to bring back all the tribes from the nations where they had been scattered and to be reestablished in the land of Israel. This coming time, described in Revelation 20 and in many old testament prophecies, will be a new dispensation when Jesus will sit on the throne of David and the church will reign with Him.
And then the new heaven and the new earth will come.
In short, the return of Jesus is the glorious promise for all who believe. We will be caught up to meet Him in the air, and wherever He is from that moment on, we will also be with Him!
Third Quarter 2014 (July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS
Week 13: September 20–26
COMMENTARY ON THE SECOND COMING OF JESUS
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.