Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
1 and 2 Thessalonians
Lesson 8: "The Dead in Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-18)"
All the vast hosts who have died believing in Jesus through the centuries have been accorded a special status that you and I who are living have not been given. They have been "accounted worthy" of the resurrection in the Investigative Judgment (Luke 20:35). There is a special place in God's heart for those who "sleep in Jesus" (1 Thess. 4:14). He has a deeper longing to bring our loved ones from their musty old graves than we who want to be reunited with them. His love is Infinite. Just as thousands of people benefit individually receiving all the illumination in a well-lit stadium, so God's love is as infinite as the universe and thus each "sleeping" saint is the special beneficiary of it.
But they must remain in the grave as prisoners until the first resurrection. The Bible does not teach natural immortality; saints do not go to heaven at death. But that in turn cannot take place until the second coming of Jesus (no angel can resurrect the dead). But He dares not come so long as there is cherished or unknown sin still in the characters of His people, else His coming should "consume" them (Heb. 12:29).
Hence God's love for "the dead in Christ" requires that a living last generation overcome totally, for otherwise He is stymied. Popular "Reformationism" denies this, but it does not understand the Day of Atonement cleansing of the sanctuary.
"The grave" was never God's ideal for those whom He has created. The Bible holds out what it calls "the blessed hope," not merely of a resurrection for all who believe, but for translation without seeing death, for those who prepare to meet the Life-Giver when He returns. There comes "the voice of the archangel, ... with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then [and here's the message for us now] we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).
You don't hear much about it, but it's clearly a part of Bible teaching: God's people who are ready will be translated without seeing death at the second coming of Jesus.
To some, that Bible doctrine sounds too close to fanaticism for comfortable discussion. Actually, it's no more difficult for God to translate His people without their dying than it will be for Him to resurrect the dead ones from their graves--at the second coming. This is the essence of "the blessed hope" that is cherished by those who believe in the second coming (Titus 2:13).
Why must the last generation become totally surrendered in order to be translated? Satan's charge for 6000 years has been that it is impossible for human beings with a fallen, sinful nature to overcome sin truly (see The Desire of Ages, p. 24). He claims he has invented something (sin) that proves that God is wrong. Judged by the dismal record of Laodicea, it appears that he has won the argument. The fact that the Son of God overcame and "condemned sin in the flesh" is not the final issue, although popular "Reformationism" would love to consider it so--thus excusing "us" from overcoming truly
But something else is needed. Christ's victory was indeed a set-back for Satan, and proved him wrong to the heavenly universe; but Satan's charge still stands so far as the human race is concerned: "It is impossible for us to obey ..." (ibid.). The reason the 1888 message is so vigorously opposed is because of its teaching of the certainty, that God will have a people who overcome fully. There will be a demonstration of Christ's righteousness in sinful flesh.
"The honor of God" is involved in the character-perfection of His people. If they at last support Satan's charge, He will be forever embarrassed.
Why can previous generations in the first resurrection enter heaven without the experience of total victory over sin required of those who will be translated? (Luther can malign the Jews, drink his beer on his death-bed, and still be in God's kingdom).
"Required" implies something that requires further balance in the thought of preparation. A bridegroom doesn't require the surrender of his bride; he wins it. The marriage of the Lamb does not take place because God rigidly demands a self-sacrificial devotion that is finally forced; overcoming "even as [Christ] overcame" is a joyous character development that takes place as faith grows to a heart-union with the divine Bridegroom. It's not a point-of-the-gun "requirement." It is the fruit of justification by faith at last clearly understood.
Why is the last generation the "firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb" (Rev 14:4)? Sounds backward! It is a generation, a corporate body, not merely a handful of individuals, the some few of every age (e.g., Enoch and Elijah). Christ must have a Bride, a corporate body of believers, the first to demonstrate that the overcoming that Christ accomplished in His life, human beings who have a mature faith can "copy" (though never equal). They will "reflect" His character, like so many broken scraps of worthless mirror not shining on their own, but each perfectly reflecting another facet of His righteous character like a huge diamond. This corporate body judges all previous generations.
"He that is dead is freed from sin" (Rom. 6:7), and no saint will come up in the resurrection still in captivity to it. All such slavery to sin is left in the grave. But apparently the 144,000, the last generation, so appreciate "the blood of the Lamb," so clearly comprehend the length, breadth, depth, and height of agape, that self is truly "crucified with Christ." They have died to sin, and as a corporate body are thefirstfruits to demonstrate it.
The truest fellowship with Christ is heart sympathy with Him in His concerns, as a bride who truly loves her husband is caught up with his concerns. Now she lives for him, one with him because she loves him. Is it possible that a world church can grow up to be so mature in relationship with the Son of God? All around the world there are those who hear the insistent call from Heaven. May He give us grace to respond!
--Paul E. Penno with Robert J. Wieland.
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