by Marvin Moore | 6 December 2020 |
Much of the Autumn 2020 issue of Adventist Today is devoted to questioning the traditional Adventist interpretation of prophecy, especially (though not exclusively) the prophecies of Revelation. I’ve spent much of my adult life seeking to understand the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, and they have great meaning for me. I believe they are especially relevant to our time, and I felt sad to see them dismissed so cavalierly.
The article that caused me the most sadness, and to which I’m responding here, was “An Apostate Like Me” by Debbie Hooper Cosier. Cosier rejects Adventist prophetic interpretation for three primary reasons.
Too hard to understand
“It troubled me,” she said, “that something so core to my Adventist identity was convoluted—practically inaccessible without a comprehensive explanation from someone in the know.” I’m aware, of course, that not everyone can take the time that I’ve spent over the years to study these things out, though I think anyone can find the time and exert the mental energy to understand the basics. Cosier has taken the position that “I can’t understand them; therefore I’m not even going to try.”
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that an understanding of Daniel, and especially of Revelation, is not an easy task. However, my initial response to Cosier’s dismissal of apocalyptic prophecy because it’s too hard to understand is that whatever field she chose for her life’s work, it was no doubt at least as complex as Daniel and Revelation, and it took time and effort to learn and understand the basics. But for some reason, she doesn’t find studying these prophetic books to be worth her time.
I’ve often said that Adventists are especially vulnerable to legalism. I say that because we have more rules than just about any other Protestant denomination. We have rules for diet, rules for dress, rules for decorating our bodies, rules for Sabbath observance, and rules for entertainment. My goodness! We’re sitting ducks for legalism! The result is that many of us succumb to legalism to one degree or another. And it’s easy to combine our legalism with our prophetic interpretation. Legalism easily leads to fanaticism, and there is fanaticism associated with prophetic interpretation in Adventist circles, both in the sense of extremism and in the sense of mindless enthusiasm.
However, this problem is not limited to Adventist prophetic interpretation. As I write these words, the world is struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, and I find a significant amount of extremism associated with the interpretation of how to deal with that problem. One morning I was listening to a man who called in to a radio talk-show host to complain that the mask requirement was impinging on his freedom. I had to wonder if he thought that laws against driving while intoxicated put a limit on his freedom. Laws that protect the rest of us from the foolishness of others are not an infringement on our constitutional liberties.
Legalism and extremism will exist as long as humans exist on planet Earth, and that’s as true of Adventism as it is of any other group of people. But the fact that some Adventists are legalistic and fanatical about apocalyptic prophecy is not a valid reason to ignore the topic.
Cosier says that her exposure to the Adventist interpretation of Daniel and Revelation has caused her a great deal of fear. This no doubt began with what she was taught in her childhood Sabbath School classes, and it continued in church school, secondary school, and she specifically mentions a class on Daniel and Revelation that she took at Avondale College in Australia that caused her much confusion and fear. I understand the fear part very well. We all understand what fear is like. Fear was the first distorted emotional result of the Fall. When God approached Adam and Eve that evening, He asked them why they ran and hid from Him, and Adam replied, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid” (Genesis 3:10). Fear, in my mind, is probably the most basic of all distorted human emotions.
In Jesus’ parable of the talents, when the master approached the one-talent man and asked him to report on the investment of his talent, the man replied, “I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground” (Matthew 25:25). The one-talent man’s response is a classic example of how not to deal with our distorted fears. He should have dealt with his fear and not allowed it to interfere with his responsibility to his master. And that, I propose, is how we should all deal with our fear of the end time. Yes, it’s frightening. I will be the first to acknowledge that I sometimes look forward to the final crisis with feelings of apprehension. But that is not a valid reason for hiding my head in the sand and refusing to investigate the issue.
For a number of years, I conducted week-end seminars in churches and camp meetings throughout North America, and I also accepted some invitations to speak in Europe, Asia, Australia, and Latin America. Now and then I would ask my audiences, “What if I knew that your house would burn down sometime in the next 12 months—would you want me to inform you?” Most people raised their hands when I asked for Yes answers, but sometimes a few people would raise a hand to my request for No answers. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would say No to that question. I would definitely want to know, because that way I could prepare for the inevitable.
And it’s the same with our fear of the end time. Yes, it can be frightening. The idea of persecution for my faith, including the possibility of limits being placed on my ability to buy and sell, perhaps imprisonment, and even execution, is not exactly something I find enjoyable to contemplate.
Granted that in Revelation the prediction of the end-time crisis is couched in symbolic language, but other parts of the Bible state it very literally. The prophet Daniel said that at the time of the end, “Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then” (Daniel 12:1).
Jesus echoed Daniel when He said that at the time of the end “there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect, those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:21, 22). Notice that Jesus said that the end-time crisis would be so severe that it would threaten the survival of the human race! That isn’t exactly dinner-table talk.
And Luke records Jesus saying that “there will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Luke 21:25, 26). Nothing like that happened in 1780 and 1833 with respect to the dark day and the falling of the stars. Luke’s application of Jesus’ words is still future. Clearly, the end time will be a time of great fear and anxiety, and this is from Jesus Himself in very literal language. However, Daniel and Jesus didn’t tell us these things just to frighten us. They told us so that we could be prepared spiritually in case these events should happen during our lifetime. If we know what’s coming, then rather than succumbing to fear, it should prompt us to maintain a consistent devotional life, which will help us to develop a deep trust in Jesus that will carry us through that perilous time successfully.
I know from personal experience that it is possible to deal successfully with fear and anxiety. A number of years ago I was struck with a severe case of anxiety. I knelt and prayed to Jesus, “I know this anxiety isn’t going to go away immediately, but I ask you to guide me out of it.” I kept saying that prayer for the next several years, and eventually the anxiety began to diminish. Today, most of the time, I am free of anxiety, but certain circumstances can still lead me to experience an attack. When that happens, I take it as an opportunity to work with God to give me even more victory over the problem. And I can testify that my anxiety over the final crisis has also diminished as I learn to trust my future with God.
The Bible doesn’t warn us about the time of trouble to frighten us, though the prophets certainly knew it would tend to do just that. They warned us about it so that we could prepare spiritually for that time. That’s why Jesus said, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day [the final crisis and the time of trouble] will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth [it will be global]. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).
It’s human and quite normal to feel apprehension about the future, especially when we know that it will be fraught with difficulty. The Bible warns us about the final crisis and the time of trouble so we can prepare for it spiritually. And that takes time, both to understand what is coming and to be spiritually prepared to meet it when it comes. My advice to all Seventh-day Adventists is to take the words of Jesus, the prophets, and Ellen White about the end time seriously, study it carefully, and prepare spiritually for what surely lies ahead in our world today. Even if the final crisis doesn’t occur in your lifetime and mine, we will be the better off for having developed the kind of relationship with Jesus that would carry us through those few difficult years.
Marvin Moore is the editor of Signs of the Times magazine, and author of numerous books about end-time events. He and his wife, Lois, live in Caldwell, Idaho.