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Fourth Quarter 2014 (October–December)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF JAMES
Week 11: December 6–12
COMMENTARY ON GETTING READY FOR THE HARVEST
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.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Day One, Sabbath Afternoon, Dec. 6: Introduction
The memory text sets the overall theme for this week:
You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:8)
Keep in mind that James was expressly addressing suffering Jewish Christians who were living outside of their homeland. While Gentiles have been grafted into the New Covenant Jesus made with Israel, it is the Jews who were first given ‘the faith of Abraham’ and who are the ones that have long waited for the time when the promised Messiah would come and set up his final righteous kingdom here on earth. Before we move onward in our study of the Epistle of James we need to keep in mind that the New Covenant, like the Old Covenant given at Mt. Sinai was given explicitly to the Jews. Gentiles have been graphed into this covenant which is an irrevocable covenant God made with Israel. Therefore, the Jewish rejection of Jesus as their Messiah does not and cannot nullify their inclusion in this covenant.
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. (Romans 11:1-2)
Continuing on through this chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul, who himself was a Jew, has this to say:
As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.·For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:28-29)
Within the framework of Adventist teaching the key phrase of James 5:7 is ‘the early and the late rains’ with a unique application of the ‘late rains’ being a special work of evangelists who have adopted the Adventist ‘end times’ message by assuming God’s promises to Israel no longer apply to ethnic Jews. However the ‘Replacement Theology’ where Adventism applies the promises God made with Israel to themselves is a false teaching not supported from Scripture. Initially, the so called ‘proof’ of their version of replacement theology was that is there would never be a rebuilding of ethnic modern Israel within the land of Israel. Ellen White made this statement, which has been proven false, in support of replacement theology:
“I also saw that Old Jerusalem never would be built up; and that Satan was doing his utmost to lead the minds of the children of the Lord into these things now, in the gathering time, to keep them from throwing their whole interest into the present work of the Lord, and to cause them to neglect the necessary preparation for the day of the Lord.” (Early Writings, Pages 75-76.)
In Rev. 7:1-8 where it says; “I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” Adventism ignores the context and clear wording of Scripture by applying this prophecy to themselves.
Modern ethnic Israel does exist within their homeland. Jerusalem has been ‘rebuilt’ and it is the center and capital city of their nation. Furthermore, this passage in Revelation very specifically lists the 144,000 as being 12,000 each that come from the twelve tribes of Israel, with these tribes being listed by name. If the language of the book of Revelation is to have any meaning then the understanding of the very clear expressions used must first be given a literal understanding especially when the context does not suggest a figurative or symbolic meaning.
James was originally addressing his epistle to ethnic Jews who have by faith accepted Jesus as their promised Messiah. When James’ makes use of the expression “the early and the late rains” it is language that they would have understood to mean they were to have the very same patience as the farmer back in their homeland, the land of Israel, who waits patiently in faith for the nourishing rain that will water his crops as ordained by God.
Day Two, Sunday, Dec. 7: Waiting for “Rain”
Today’s lesson is centered upon the words of Ellen White concerning the working of the Holy Spirit during the times of ‘early rain’ and ‘latter rain’, James 5:7. When we consider what Scripture actually teaches it becomes evident that there are important problems with Adventist theology that need to be addressed concerning the perceived working of the Holy Spirit and ‘End Time Events’ as mentioned in James 5:8.
In today’s commentary we will return to the theme of ‘the early and later rain’ covered yesterday.
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.·You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.·Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.·As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.·Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.·But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (James 5:7-12)
Here is what we can know through the study of this passage:
In James 5:7 the word ‘therefore’ tells us that this passage is an instruction built upon the verses that preceded it. The righteous person is beseeched to be patient under the persecution of those who are rich and powerful for their persecutors are the ones who will end up howling as a result of the miseries that are going to come upon them.
Although James may have been making an indirect reference to the working of the Holy Spirit through the use of the expression ‘the early and the later rains’, this isn’t clearly stated. However the lesson references to Joel 2:23 & 28-29 do compare the special working of the Holy Spirit to ‘the early and the latter rain’. If we rightfully conclude this being about the working of the Holy Spirit then the ‘early rain’ would most likely have been fulfilled at Pentecost, Acts 2:1-41. Note well that this ‘early rain’ occurred in the Jewish homeland and certainly had nothing to with Adventism. If the ‘the early and the later rains’ prefigures the working of the Holy Spirit, then it would seem that the ‘later rain’ follows upon the early rain. In other words, the later rain would prefigure an ‘end time’ working of the Holy Spirit who empowers Jewish evangelist from the homeland of Israel which is exactly what is recorded by the Apostle John:
Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea,·saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”·And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:·12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,·12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,·12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed. (Rev. 7:2-8)
This passage in Revelation, recorded by the Jewish Apostle John, is the most likely ‘later rain’ prophesied in Joel and apparently alluded to in the Epistle of James. Once again we are examining a passage that has nothing to do with Adventism. The use of the expression ‘the early and the later rains’ has been high jacked out of its intended meaning and context by Adventist theology without biblical support for having done so. There is no justification for not accepting the literal understanding that the 144,000 ‘sealed servants of our God’ are historic ethnic Jews who have accepted Jesus as their Savior, the promised Messiah.
Day Three, Monday, Dec. 8: How Near Is “Near”?
The key question raised in today’s lesson is: How near is the return of our Savior? We are also asked; how zealous would the original Christians have been
“in sharing the gospel with the world had they known that the work would not be finished for almost two thousand years—and counting”?
Notice the phrase “the work would not be finished” that is quoted from the lesson introduction. For a non-Adventist this probably wouldn’t mean anything other than there is still work to be done. However, in Adventist theology and preaching the unstated implication is obvious. The Adventist belief is that what has delayed the ‘second coming of Christ’ is the failure of the ‘Remnant church’, meaning Adventist Believers, to complete the work of delivering their unique gospel message to the world.
Here are several of Ellen White’s statements where she contends is the reason why Jesus hasn’t returned yet:
“Had the purpose of God been carried out by His people in giving to the world the message of mercy, Christ would, ere this, have come to the earth, and the saints would have received their welcome into the city of God” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 449).
“Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69).
“If all who had labored unitedly in the work of 1844 had received the third angel's message and proclaimed it in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts. A flood of light would have been shed upon the world. Years ago the inhabitants of the earth would have been warned, the closing work would have been completed, and Christ would have come for the redemption of His people” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 115)
However Scripture says nothing about Christians needing to ‘complete the work’ of spreading the gospel message or that ‘Christ’s character needs to be perfectly reproduced in his people’ before he can return.
When asked by Jesus disciples in Matthew chapter twenty four; “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus responds by teaching many things but is absolutely silent about the need to complete the spread of the gospel or for his followers to be able to reproduce his own righteous character perfectly within their lives before he can return. Instead, he says that only the Father knows the actual time of his return. We are to stay awake and watching and to be ‘feeding the flock’ when he does return. Jesus isn’t waiting us to complete the ‘work’ in ‘the end times’. Instead, it is complete because he does return.
The return of our Savior is totally within the prerogative of God the Father. It is not contingent upon what anyone here on this earth does or fails to do.
Day Four, Tuesday, Dec. 9: Grumbling, Groaning, and Growing
Yesterday’s lesson was about why hasn’t Christ yet returned to claim his true saints and set up his kingdom hear on earth. Today’s lesson is really asking the same question as yesterday but introduces the Ellen White claim that activities of Satanic forces set loose through the “grumbling, groaning and growing’ of the Seventh-day Adventist church have delayed his return:
“Likewise, as the coming of the Lord approaches, “we have far more to fear from within than from without. . . . The unbelief indulged, the doubts expressed, the darkness cherished, encourage the presence of evil angels, and open the way for the accomplishment of Satan’s devices.”—Ellen G. White, Last Day Events, p. 156.”
For those who believe or otherwise understand Adventist theology, today’s lesson theme which is supported by this Ellen White quote, is a clear reference to her message and book called The Great Controversy.
According to this Ellen White quote Christ’s return has been delayed by the activities of Satan and his evil angels. In the Old Testament we find in the book of Job that there are none who can challenge or in any way affect the intent and activity of God. When you study of the book of Job be sure to focus on and understand God’s message to Job beginning at chapter 38 concerning God’s absolute sovereignty.
In the New Testament we have the inspired word of God recorded by the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter eight to consider. The general theme of this chapter is the relationship and working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians who have been sealed by the indwelling Holy Spirit into the kingdom of God. In response to the question of our eternal security these Scripture verses have this to say about the infinite power of God:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?·Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.·Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?·As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”·No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.·For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,·nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:31-39)
The promises contained in the above quote are true because the power of God is infinitely above any of his creations. This would certainly include Satan and his evil angels. It is both nonsense and heresy to say and suppose that Satanic Forces are holding up the return of our Savior. Nor does the character or activities of his righteous saints have any affect in the timing and will of our sovereign God. The Father of our Savior, based solely on his own authority, knows and determines the ‘day and time’ of the Second Coming of Christ.
The theme of ‘The Great Controversy’ is a fraud. There is no cosmic battle that must be won before Christ can return. The failure of Christians ‘to complete the work’ is not the supposed cause for our Savior having not yet returned. God need not and does not justify his character to those he has created. In the perfect sovereign will and intent of the Father Jesus Christ will return.
Day Five, Wednesday, Dec. 10: Models of Patient Endurance
Today we consider James’ admonition to patiently await the coming of the Lord with this as the theme text:
As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.·Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-11)
The lesson makes some very good points about the importance for Christians to patiently endure the struggles we face living in this sin filled world as this produces “the steadfastness of Job” as we rest upon the promise of our Savior that he will return again without fail.
By incorporating the name ‘Adventist’ into their denominational name Adventist seem to ignore the fact that all Christians are eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus Christ by patiently anticipating the Lord’s return while keeping in mind that no one can know when this will happen. In our patience, in the words of Jesus, we are commanded to stay awake:
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—·lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.·And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13:32-37)
The roots of the existence of Seventh-day Adventism is founded on impatience by ignoring the very words of Jesus, in defiance of what he said, by setting the date of Oct. 22, 1844 for his return. Instead of confessing their sin of impatience, the founders of Adventism compound their sin by giving importance to this date through the introduction of the unbiblical Investigative Judgment doctrine.
True saints of God will steadfastly remain patient knowing the return of our Savior will occur at a time we least expect. Stay awake! This was just as true in 1844 as it is now.
Day Six, Thursday, Dec. 11: Transparent as the Sunlight
Today we turn our attention to James’ admonition recorded in James 5:12.
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (James 5:12)
Verses 1 through 6 of this chapter outlines how and why Jewish Believers are suffering at the hands of the rich and powerful. Verses 7 through 11 compares their need for patience to that of Job’s suffering. Now, in verse 12 the text begins with the phrase; “but above all”.
The one thing ‘above all else’ is that suffering Christians are encouraged to not “swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath”. While this verse might seem unrelated to their suffering, keep in mind that James is compares their suffering to that of Job’s. Since James uses the example of Job to teach patience it is appropriate to consider what is said of Job for an understanding of verse twelve:
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:22)
In all that Job was suffering, including the many false charges of his friends that he must be guilty of a secret unconfessed unrepented sin, Job never turned against God and curse either his friends or God. His yes was yes and his no was no in response to the charges his friends made against him.
Our conduct as a Christian, including the words that come out of our mouth, should reflect the same trust in God Job had during his time of suffering. Except for the ultimate suffering of Jesus Christ at Calvary for the remission of our sins, most of us have ever suffered in the way Job did. Even while Job was experiencing severe suffering he kept the words of his mouth and heart truthful and simple. He never lost trust and faith in God or charge him with doing wrong.
Day Seven, Friday, Dec. 12: Further Study
Today’s lesson includes several Ellen White statements concerning “testing” and “trials will come” in “the last days” that summarize the theme of ‘patience’.
The first of the discussion questions for today however raises the question of church discipline with a supporting reference to the parable of ‘The Wheat and the Tares’ as is recorded in Matthew chapter thirteen.
Concerning the reference to the parable of ‘The Wheat and the Tares’ given to us through the very words of Jesus, we need to study what is actually said in Scripture. What, if anything, does the parable of ‘The Wheat and the Tares’ teach us concerning church discipline?
Jesus begins teaching the people in Matthew 13 with the parable of ‘The Sower’, verses 1 through 9 where upon the disciples ask him why he is speaking in parables, verse 10. Jesus explains that to them (the disciples) that they have been given “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” but to the others he says “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand”, verses 11 through 15. In verses 14 and 15 Jesus quotes from Isaiah:
And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)
The parable of ‘The Sower’ is explained in verses 18 through 23. The sower is the one who preaches ‘the word of the kingdom’. This can be none other than the gospel message of salvation to a world of lost sinners (which is the field the seed was sown in), the ‘seed’ being the message of salvation that falls upon various ‘soils’ (in the field) which would be the hearts of those who hear the message of the ‘Sower’. Only on good soil does the seed grow to maturity.
With this understanding we now turn to the parable of ‘The Wheat and the Tares’:
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,·but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.·So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.·And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’·He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’·But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.·Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matt. 13:24-30)
The evangelist preaches (the owner of the field) the gospel message (the good seed found only in Scripture) to the lost in the world (the farmer’s field). The enemy (Satan) scatters bad seed (the same lie he gave to Adam and Eve) in the field. Clearly, the field in these parables is ‘all the world’ the original disciples and all other Christians are to take and preach the biblical gospel message of salvation, 1 Cor. 15 & Matt. 28:16-20. The tares are not separated and bound for burning until the time of the harvest.
Therefore none of these interconnecting parables have anything to do with present day church discipline. They are all about preaching the pure simple gospel message to a lost and dying world of sinners knowing that the message will be rejected by many if not most who hear this message. The seed that gives life where there was no life is the gospel message of Jesus Christ, 1 Cor. 15:1-19. Only God, not the farmer who scatters the seed, brings the sun and the water that nourishes the good soil so that the seed will sprout into life. We’re not even to be concerned with the weeds that spring up amongst the healthy wheat. Removing them at the time of harvest is another work of God.
Concerning “The Seed” Jesus explains why he must die at Calvary by comparing his coming death, burial and resurrection to that of a grain of wheat planted in a farmer’s field:
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.·Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:23-24)
You, if you are a good farmer, will only scatter good seed in your field as this ‘seed’ (the gospel message of the blood of Jesus shed at Calvary for the remission of the sins of the world) is the only ‘seed’ that can bring life where there is no life.
It is interesting, considering that the title for this week is; "Getting Ready for the Harvest", that the parables recorded in Matthew chapter thirteen would have been an appropriate way to end the lesson studies for this week. This would have at least been in keeping with the Adventist understanding of the “later rain” mentioned in the Epistle of James and would have been a summary of this week’s theme. What a pity to focus on Ellen White quotes instead of the contextual meaning of Scripture.
The question of church discipline has nothing to do with the parable of ‘The Wheat and the Tares’, nor the lesson theme of ‘patience’ because: The tares that spring up from the seed of Satan that is bound for burning has nothing to do with discipline within the church which is the wheat that springs up from the good seed, the gospel of Jesus Christ.