by Marvin Moore | 24 July 2020 |
I’m responding to the commentary piece by Loren Seibold on the Adventist Today website titled, “Is Probation About to Close?” I want to begin this response by saying that Loren Seibold is a very good friend of mine, but I have to take issue with much of what he said in this commentary.
For starters, the close of probation is a thoroughly biblical concept. It’s found all through the Bible. God has given the intelligent beings He created, both angels and humans, the power of choice, the freedom to make their own decisions about their relationship to Him. This is based on the Arminian concept of free will. Calvinists don’t need a doctrine of the close of probation, because they believe God decides who will be saved and who will be lost. Another point that I need to make clear at the beginning of this response is that God doesn’t close anyone’s probation. We close our own probation by the choices we make. God simply accepts our choices.
Where probation began
Probation began in heaven. We don’t know how long Lucifer and the angels who sided with him lived in heaven prior to their choice to rebel against God, but they did make that choice, and they were cast out of heaven (Revelation 12:7-9; Ezekiel 28:11-19; Isaiah 14:12-15). In the first chapter of her book Patriarchs and Prophets Ellen White describes the fall of Lucifer and his angels in considerable detail, and it becomes very clear as one reads that chapter that God did not immediately cast them out of heaven. He gave them many opportunities to repent, and Lucifer almost did (page 39), but he finally chose to continue in his rebellion, and he sealed his fate. He had “gone too far to return” (page 41). Ellen White also made it clear that the other angels had still not gone too far; they could have returned, but finally they also refused the opportunity and closed their probation. That’s when they were cast out of heaven.
The same principle applies to humans. God told Adam and Eve that the day they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die, and I believe they would have died that very day had God not stepped in with His promise of a descendant of Eve who would crush Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15). In other words, a period of time would be extended to them during which they would have the opportunity to repent of their sins, confess them, and receive grace and forgiveness. That period of time is what we call probation.
Every human’s probation closes when they die, for the simple reason that they no longer have the opportunity to make a choice whether to accept God’s grace. Those who die having accepted His grace close their probation on God’s side, and they will spend eternity with Him in His kingdom. Those who fail to accept God’s grace during the time they are alive no longer have that opportunity when they die, and they will suffer the fate of eternal death.
Probation in the New Testament
The New Testament is full of the concept of probation and its close. In Matthew 12:31 Jesus warned that “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” The reason blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven isn’t because of a lack of willingness on God’s part to forgive us our sins. It’s that the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us of our sins, and if we persist in refusing His conviction, eventually He accepts our choice as final, and He backs off and no longer convicts us. At that point our probation has closed, or perhaps more correctly, at that point we have closed our own probation.
Several of Jesus’ parables illustrate the concept of probation. In the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), the two crops are allowed to grow together until the harvest, at which time the wheat is collected and saved, and the weeds are gathered into bundles and burned. At some point along the way, both groups made their final choice about their relationship to God, and their opportunity to change that choice ended.
In the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the foolish virgins closed their probation by neglecting or refusing to make the choice to have the oil of the Holy Spirit during the time there was an opportunity to get more, and when the bridegroom showed up and they tried to enter the wedding banquet they were denied entrance because their probation had closed.
The same idea is found in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). The sheep are allowed entrance into God’s kingdom because during their time on earth they served humanity well; the goats, on the other hand, are refused entrance because during their time on earth they have been too selfish to help those in need. In each case, their probation is closed because of their relationship to people. This doesn’t mean that they were saved by their works. In each case, their relationship to people was based on their relationship to Christ. Those who were transformed by His grace treated others kindly and helpfully, and they were allowed into His kingdom; those who refused the transforming power of God’s grace remained selfish. That’s why they treated others unkindly, which is why they were refused entrance into God’s kingdom. They closed their probation by their choice to reject the transforming grace of God’s Spirit, remain selfish, and refuse to be a blessing to others.
Those who think they’re saved but aren’t
Jesus also made it very clear that some people who think they are on God’s side will discover when it’s too late that they are not. He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:23).
This text is significant because it includes both parts of a saving relationship with Jesus: grace and works. The text begins by saying that the only one who will be allowed into God’s kingdom is “he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” That’s the works part. But Jesus also said that the reason those who are lost are denied entrance into His kingdom is that He never knew them. They closed their probation on the wrong side because they were Christians in name only. They believed the doctrines; they attended church regularly; but the affairs of this life kept them so busy that they did not take the time to maintain a saving relationship with Jesus. Those who have this personal relationship with Jesus have had their minds and emotions transformed by the Holy Spirit, which is what it means to know Jesus; and because of that, they are able to produce the works that will gain them entrance into God’s kingdom. They close their probation on God’s side because of their choice to have a close relationship with Him.
When will probation close?
From what I’ve discussed so far, it would appear that there are three times when people can close their probation. One is when they persist so long in rejecting the Holy Spirit that He accepts their choice and stops trying to draw them to Jesus. Another time when we all close our probation is when we die. I’ll begin my explanation of the third time with a short story. One day I asked a good Baptist friend when he thought the opportunity to accept Jesus would end. (I didn’t ask him when he thought probation would close, because I doubt he’d have understood my question.) He said, “At the second coming of Christ.”
However, Seventh-day Adventists differ slightly on that point. Our understanding is that all human probation will close a short time before Christ comes. This is the concept Ted Wilson referred to that has so disturbed Loren all his life. The key question is whether this Adventist concept of a pre-advent close of probation is biblical. For a long time I could not point to any evidence in the Bible to support this concept. However, when I went looking for it, I found it.
The pre-advent close of probation in the Bible
The concept of a close of probation prior to Christ’s second coming is suggested in Revelation 7, 13, and 14. In Revelation 7:1-4 God’s people receive the seal of God, while those who reject God receive the mark of the beast. Then, in chapter 16 the seven last plagues are poured out on those who receive the mark of the beast. This is especially evident in verse 2, which says that the first plague was poured out “on the people who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.” Then verses 5-9 inform us that these people have been judged worthy of receiving these plagues because they refused to repent. This suggests that their probation has closed, but it doesn’t actually say so.
However, the close of probation shortly before Christ’s second coming is clearly evident in Revelation 15. This chapter begins in verse 1 with seven angels who have the seven last plagues, “because with them God’s wrath is completed.” The wrath that is referred to here is the wrath of God against those who receive the mark of the beast in the third angel’s message of Revelation 14:9-11. This is followed in verses 2-4 with a scene of those who have gained the victory over the mark of the beast praising God. Verse 5 is a scene in heaven in which the temple of God is opened. I view this opening of the temple in heaven as an antitype of Matthew 27:51, where the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom at the moment of Christ’s death. This event, which exposed the ark of the covenant, signified the end of the Jewish ceremonial system. It brought to a close the mediatorial ministry of the priests in the earthly sanctuary. Similarly, in the heavenly sanctuary, when the temple is opened, Christ’s mediatorial ministry ends.
This especially becomes evident in Revelation 15:8, which says, “And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.” This verse is actually based on 2 Chronicles 5:13 and 7:1, 2. Both of these texts are in the context of the dedication of Solomon’s temple. Chapter 5:13 says, “Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.” Chapter 7:1, 2 says essentially the same thing: “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it.”
Notice that when the cloud and the glory of the Lord filled the temple, the priests could not enter the temple to perform their service. And this concept, which is borrowed from these two passages in 2 Chronicles, will at some point in the future take place in God’s temple in heaven. The statement in Revelation 15:8 that “no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed” means that Christ has concluded His intercessory ministry in the temple on behalf of sinners, and even He cannot (or perhaps more correctly, will not) enter it. And in the very next verse, which is Chapter 16:1, the seven angels begin to pour out their bowls of wrath, the seven last plagues.
Most of the biblical evidence for the close of human probation has it closing either at the time we die or at Christ’s second coming. However, what I have just shared with you is the biblical evidence for the idea that human probation will close a short time before Christ’s second coming, not at His second coming.
Contempt for the concept
Now I want to comment on Loren’s contempt for the Adventist concept of the close of probation. I can understand why he feels so strongly about that issue. It’s because of the way it was presented to him as a child. It’s because of the fear that this created in him. And this fear persisted for many years, until finally he resolved the problem by giving up the concept of a close of probation. If I had been introduced to the close of probation the way Loren was, I probably would share his contempt, and I might have given up the whole idea the way he has.
However, the problem is not with the concept, because the idea of one’s closing his or her probation at some point is absolutely biblical. It can happen by refusing to pay attention to the Holy Spirit’s efforts to convict us; it can happen when we die; or it will by all means end at Christ’s second coming. Either way, the close of probation is simply the time when we no longer have the opportunity to make a choice to accept Jesus as our Savior. Those who have made their choice to serve Him close their probation with the hope of eternal life in His kingdom, and those who have made their choice not to serve Him close their probation without that hope.
So for anyone who has been tormented by the Adventist teaching about the close of probation I urge you to find your peace of mind, not by rejecting the idea of the close of probation, but by seeking a complete biblical understanding of the entire concept of probation’s close. The close of probation should be very frightening for those who refuse to accept Jesus as their Savior, but not for those who have a close, daily relationship with Him. That’s where you find your peace of mind!
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.