The Close of Probation, Part 2
Presenter: Larry Kirkpatrick
Location: Mentone SDA Church, CA, USA
Delivery: 2007-11-25 04:08Z
Publication: GreatControversy.org 2007-11-25 04:08Z
In our last meeting we looked at the origin of the Close of Probation doctrine. We pointed out Revelation 22:11, 12, a text speaking unambiguously of a time when Jesus’ intercession ceases, when all the choices people have made are verified, locked-in, confirmed by Christ.
The righteous have persistently chosen to follow in God’s pathway and by their character formation have been sealed and will, so long as they remain, remain righteous; the wicked have persistently chosen to follow in their own pathway, indulging the clammers of their disordered humanity and by their character deformation have been marked and will, so long as they remain, remain unrighteous. (In the underlying Greek, “unjust” is actually “unrighteous” and “righteous” actually means “just.” The root word in both cases is dikaioo.)
But there are two other major texts that underlie the doctrine: (1) The parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13, and (2) the prophetic oracle of Jeremiah 30. Most Adventists are probably familiar with the Ten Virgins. But most are probably unfamiliar with Jeremiah. In hopes of changing this, we today turn our attention to the oracle of Jeremiah.
Method of Study
First, however, an important point. The way in which we study has much to do with what conclusions we finally arrive at. We have three main sources of information concerning spiritual matters: (a) the Bible, (b) the Spirit of Prophecy, i.e. Ellen G. White writings, and (c) the writings of uninspired authors, such as Bible Commentaries, preachers, editors, historians, etc.
A great methodological error that some from the so-called liberal trajectory in Adventism have is that as they study they begin with the ideas of uninspired men (group c) and then move to the inspired writings. A variation of this is the practice of starting with the Bible and then going to the Commentaries and then going (lastly) to the Spirit of Prophecy writings.
The mistake often made by Adventists of the conservative trajectory is to start with the Spirit of Prophecy, i.e. Ellen G. White writings, when they study. In both cases, the sounder position is to start with the Bible. Start there and don’t be too quick to feel you’ve exhausted what’s there. Labor prayerfully over the Bible and you will be rewarded. If the Holy Spirit is leading you then you will see things both old and new. And when you are reading Mrs. White or a Bible Commentary and you do see some new line to explore, then go straight back to the Bible and invest your energies there. You will be rewarded.
In this case of the Close of Probation probably both you and I know of several quite fascinating, illuminating places in the Spirit of Prophecy to go in our study. I am quite looking forward to sharing some of that with you. But I am restraining myself. We have more to do in the Bible first, and that we shall.
You see, when someone begins with human ideas and then tries to find them in inspired writings, things are going wrong. Were the concerns inspired, then we would expect to find them in inspiration first. We want to be careful when we see new emphases arising in Christendom. What is the source? Why do the issues arise first in contemporary social questions and only later in the church? (This is not to say that all issues neglected by the church are unimportant.) But there is something to be said for trying to understand what are the roots of an idea when considering what may be motivating its adherents. The driving force behind the concern may not be intrinsic to the gospel.
It is also dangerous to go first to Ellen White. She has told us that her work was not predominantly to bring out new light but rather to illuminate the old. It has been my observation that those who begin their study with her writings have often in their studies neglected the Bible, which they ought not to do. She would have been appalled. Remember, there are things she was shown and things she was not.
(For example, she offers us many chapters in her book The Great Controversy, on Luther and says next to nothing about the legitimate line of Radical Reformation Protestants. But in her day information on Luther was widely available and information the Radical Reformation was not. In God’s providence He may have chosen to say very little about the doctrinal understandings found in the Radical Reformation or in the Eastern Orthodox churches that helpfully parallel our own positions. The teachings of those religious groups were not widely known or accessible in North America in her era. It’s OK. God knows what He is doing.)
It so happens that the oracle in Jeremiah is mentioned in The Great Controversy (pp. 616-621). Mrs. White pursues the connection at length. We will look at that. But today, we will look at the biblical oracle itself.
As already noted, we have clear evidence for the Close of Probation in Revelation. The parable of Matthew 25 helps us too. But it always makes sense to go back to the fountainhead of a doctrine. And so, we turn to Jeremiah 30.
The Oracle of Jeremiah, Part 1
Jeremiah 30 actually has three sections and all three interest us. The first portion of the oracle is found in verses 1-9:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, thus speaketh the Lord God of Israel, saying, Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book. For, lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it. And these are the words that the Lord spake concerning Israel and concerning Judah. For thus saith the Lord; we have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness? Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: But they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them.
The key portion that concerns our study begins with the fifth verse. God describes His people as fearing, trembling. The faces of men and women pale with fear. Verse seven describes the occasion: “ Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble.” Now we know that the immediate context of Jeremiah’s world and his writings is that the Hebrew nation is under duress; many have gone into exile as captives.
Excursis: Jacob’s Night of Wrestling
Jeremiah here links us—abruptly—to the experience of Jacob in Gen 31:3; 32-33 (32:24-29). Eventually God told Jacob directly to get up and return to the land He had promised. He promised He would be with him; only faithfulness was required.
After a tumultuous adventure with Laban, Jacob continues toward home. But news comes from his advance party: Esau is marching on Jacob with an army of 400. Jacob’s steps altogether are these:
You might notice there are seven steps of preparation here. Three were the application of tact and generosity and common sense and strategem, four involved drawing close to God. I do not see here any way in which we would expect to apply exactly seven identical measures in our experience. But there is insight for us nonetheless. For Jacob, it truly was a day like no other; everything was at stake.
The patriarch now discerned the character of his antagonist... It was Christ, ‘the angel of the covenant,’ who had revealed himself to Jacob (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 197).
The greatest victories to the church of christ or to the individual christian are not those that are gained by talent or education, by wealth or the favor of men. They are those victories that are gained in the audience chamber with God, when earnest, agonizing faith lays hold upon the mighty arm of power (Patriachs and Prophets, p. 203).
It was no mere matter of whether he or others would live or die temporally; it was an event that would complete the reshaping of his character. He would wrestle with God and prevail or he would be defeated by himself. Remember:
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (1 Cor 10:13).
Jesus would not allow Jacob to be tested beyond what he was able to endure. There was a way of escape; there was a way for Jacob to bear the test that was like no other. Rather than drawing away from Christ he must cling to Him like he never had before. Though He wound him, He must keep His grip and refuse to let Him go without His blessing.
So you see, to the final generation comes this ultimate test. Probation closes. The fence with the big chair in the middle falls down. No longer are men left with yes, no, and maybe for options. Maybe is gone. At this point the rules really do change. I never used to like it when I heard that said, but it is absolutely right and there is no way around it. It is biblical and I will not argue with what God has revealed in His Word. This is the end. At last, all that is left is yes or no, because Jesus’ ministry draws to its close.
Some want to complain about these Adventist themes. They say that they lead to legalism, despair, a non-gospel approach, a man-centered gospel.
Far from it. Rather, these Adventist themes draw us closer to Christ if we will only follow them out. There is nothing here about trusting in oneself and everything about drawing close to Jesus—real close.
What would have happened to Jacob had he not wrestled with God? His faith would have failed. He would have faced Jacob apart from God’s blessing. He would have been in the ultimate emergency and no intercessor. I believe he would have died that morning out of faith. He would have been lost.
Now pause here for a moment and think on this. When Jacob wrestled with God and prevailed with God, it was God who brought up the name question. Name stood for character. And because Jacob had prevailed with God, God saw he was no more the supplanter, the liar and deceiver. Long years, familial responsibilities and trusting in God, had made him into a different person. In the night of wrestling that different character was manifest. That is how he prevailed with God.
If you will, Jacob was already sealed. His probation was already closed. His character had been developed; all that was left was the ultimate demonstration of what he had through the help of God become.
Probably he was not thinking of these things as he struggled. I do not think that he considered himself as demonstrating what his character was. He pleaded his unworthiness, not arrival at character perfection. He pleaded God’s mercy, not any theoretical umbrella shielding him from unavoidable deficiencies. But Jacob was a changed man nonetheless.
Returning to the Oracle of Jeremiah...
Yes, it is a day like no other, the time of Jacob’s trouble, a time when the faithful of the nation, the faithful mind you, turn pale and tremble. But we did not finish Jeremiah 30:7. The last bit of the verse assures us, “but he shall be saved out of it.”
Remember, Jeremiah prophesies from the standpoint of the Jewish exile. So in the eighth verse he says that God will break the yoke, the captives will go free, others will no more oppress the children of God. The deliverance is the return from Babylonian exile. So what is this time of trouble, this day like no other, for the children of Israel?
Remember the return from exile? The whole nation did not return. Many remained in Babylon. Some, (a remnant within the remnant?) did return. There was a struggle but Jerusalem was restored. God’s hand had been moving. The great test they faced was a contentedness they had developed in Babylon, a fatal Laodicean slumber. Some returned; some did not. Some died in Babylon, some died in Jerusalem. The struggle was very subtle. But everything was at stake. Remember, character is not formed in a moment. A long series of very small decisions determines our destiny—decisions that we make. Let us pray that God will lead in all our decisions. Only thus will we choose drawing close instead of separation and self destruction.
The Oracle of Jeremiah, Part 2
And now, the second part of Jeremiah’s oracle. It stretches from Jeremiah 30:10-17. We hear of the first portion, but not the second. That changes now.
Each of these three sections of Jeremiah’s oracle begins with a reference to the captivity (Jeremiah 30:3, 10, 18). The second segment is also bracketed by this issue of fear again. In the first portion of the oracle, fear and trembling and great trial were emphasized (30:5-7). But now, something very interesting, especially as we recognize that this is all offered in illumination of our discussion concerning the Close of Probation. Notice with me verse 10:
Therefore fear thou not, O My servant Jacob, saith the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid.
The first portion had emphasized the fearfulness of the time of Jacob’s Trouble. Now, God is not through speaking through His prophet. And His message here is no peace and safety message, no, not at all. But it is a face-things-in-faith message, it is a “Fear thou not” message.
Whatever God would ask His people to face, they would not face it alone. God would deliver, protect, gather His people again. They would go through the time of Jacob’s trouble and return to the land. No matter how far afield, His eye is on His people. No matter how strong our trials seem, God has not departed us. We may not sense His presence, but He is ready to deliver His own.
In verse 11 He promises to be with His people. Those who persecute will be destroyed.
But there is more here in 11-16. First, there is the recognition that God’s people are bruised, wounded, damaged and impacted from his sins. There is, it seems, an experience that the sinner must endure in order to be able to receive all that God wants to give him. There is an impact that sin has upon one, that wounds, damages, deranges a person. There is a suffering which helps us to grow spiritually.
We are not here speaking of suffering to atone for one’s sin, or to redeem oneself. There is no meritorious benefit that accrues for enduring affliction. We do not become our own co-redeemers in any way. But we have to agree with James, who tells us that
The trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (James 1:3, 4).
We need to learn that God’s chastening is not about ascetism or will worship. That is when we make up duties on our own and do them, even if subconsciously, for salvation credit. No. This is about letting God chasten us, and learning how to trust Him and to go through that chastening.
The other point of interest in these verses is the “alone” factor. Just as we will after Probation Closes be “without an intercessor,” here Jacob, Israel is told that He is utterly alone. None of his earthly allies can offer any solace or help. Verse 13 says
There is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines.
There is no help for Jacob in himself. There is none from his old worldly allies. It seems even that God has left him utterly alone. There are no solutions here except trusting in God and enduring in darkness. Jesus had Gethsemane; we will have the time of Jacob&rdsquo;s trouble.
We will have more to say about the “without an intercessor” issue in another message in this series, so we will not go further here except to alert you to the parallel. And to point out the third and hopeful portion of Jeremiah’s three-section oracle. You see it in the 17th verse:
For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after.
God promises to restore to health. He will heal our wounds. They called His people outcasts, they laughed at their “quaint” beliefs, their primitive trust, their uncouth, out of step notions. But what mattered was being in steps with God’s notions. In fact, trusting in Him is the only way through the time that comes when Probation Closes.
The third portion of Jeremiah’s oracle is found in verses 18-24. It is a promise of restoration and rest for God’s people and punishment for His enemies. It is a reminder of His covenant faithfulness. Would that we had opportunity to develop verse 21. But we must conclude.
We have paused to look at more of the biblical material that sustains this doctrine of the Close of Probation. Jeremiah looks back to Genesis for insight and the Holy Spirit guides him to Jacob’s wrestling with the angel. This becomes the central image in the oracle of Jeremiah 30.
Jeremiah offers a glimpse of future trial and triumph for his countrymen in exile. But the Hebrew nation ended with mixed results. Israel still exists, but now, after the cross, the journey is toward the events revealed to us in the Apocalypse. There we find a sealing and intensity in the closing trials. There we find place for an experience like that of Jacob, like that mentioned by Jeremiah, and there we find the close of human probation (Rev 22:11, 12).
There are powerful lessons to glean from Jacob and Jeremiah. Wrestling with the angel will take a perseverance, but what drawing close to Jesus, what privilege! Someone must live at time’s end. Someone must live when the gospel has been fully revealed to man and man is through Jesus made all that the gospel can make him. Someone had to be first. Adam. Someone has to be last. Us.
Not fair, you say? Perhaps you are right. Maybe it is not fair that other generations have not had the privileges for drawing close to Jesus that our generation does. GCO
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