Monday, January 6, 2014

Lesson 2: "Discipling Through Metaphor"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Lesson 2: "Discipling Through Metaphor"
Discipleship is growing up into Christ so that we may be fitted for companionship with Him both now and throughout eternity. How do the parables and word pictures of the Bible help us in understanding this union with Christ? How does the 1888 message help us to see these stories from a new perspective?
The only reason why the second coming has been delayed is because God's people are not ready to face His personal presence. Sin still in the heart would result in their destruction. The Lord loves them too much to subject them to such a test unless they are ready. Thus, as Peter says, Christ delays, "not willing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9).
Jesus Christ is a disappointed Bridegroom. Rightly understood, the entire Bible becomes a love story, with the climax near the end in Revelation 19. A wedding takes place because at last the bride "has made herself ready" (Rev. 19:7). Christ has long desired that day to come, because His love for His church is likened to that of a bridegroom for his bride (Eph. 5:22-32). He placed the Song of Solomon in the Bible for a purpose--to arouse our hearts to sense the full meaning of His love for His church. The second coming will be to take His bride to Himself.
The Father therefore has not predetermined the time for Christ's second coming. In His infinite foreknowledge He knows the time, but for Him to know is not the same as to predetermine. For example, He knows who will eventually be saved and who will be lost, but He does not predetermine salvation or damnation for anyone. And Jesus expressly says He Himself does not know the time of His coming (Mark 13:32).
The timing of the second coming is different than for the first. To confuse the two is to repeat the mistake of the ancient Jews who assumed that the prophecies of the two advents were the same. Daniel indeed foretold exactly when Christ should first appear as Messiah, and "like the stars in the vast circuit of their appointed path, God's purposes know no haste and no delay." [1] But the love of God requires that the timing for the second coming is different; it must be dependent on a people getting ready.
Jesus explained this in His parable of the farmer who plants seed. When the crop is ripe, "immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:29). An angel finally tells Christ when that time has come: "thrust in Thy sickle and reap, for the time has come for Thee to reap" Why? Because the timeclock of heaven has triggered its predetermined alarm peg? No, "for the harvest of the earth is ripe" (Rev. 14:14, 15).
God's people are not like ants on a log floating down the river, with no involvement in where they are going or when. They "sit with [Christ] on [His] throne," sharing with Him the administration of the climax of world history. He has left in their care the "ministry of reconciliation;" because in the time of the end they share His throne with Him (see Rev. 3:21; 2 Cor. 5:18, 19). They are intimately involved in His final work in the Most Holy Apartment.
More than this, "the ministry of reconciliation" assigned to them has a deep influence on world events. If they will faithfully proclaim the sealing message of Revelation 7:1-4, He promises to say "Hold!" to the "four angels ... holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow." It must follow that it was not necessary that world wars and global terrorism should wreak their havoc and agony. But our failure for many decades to proclaim the sealing message made it impossible for the "four angels" to "hold" the winds.
The second coming of Christ becomes a rescue mission. Led by the two-horned "beast" of Revelation 13, the people of the world will demonstrate a final rebellion against the Lamb by trying to rid the earth of His people (Rev. 13:11-17; 14:9, 10). This will be a planned re-crucifixion of Christ, this time in the person of His saints. "The wrath of the Lamb" is a natural outcome. What bridegroom in his right mind would stand idly by while thugs seek to kill his bride?
In fact, the second coming of Christ is as "soon" as we truly want it to be. That doesn't mean that a few individuals' selfish desire to "go home to glory" will bring it. The heavenly Bridegroom will marry no "child-bride:" She must grow up "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ," into maturity (Eph. 4:13). This means a concern for Him that transcends our natural-born concern for our own personal security.
Such maturity is intelligently, empathetically, entering into, identifying with, Christ's yearnings, as a bride enters into her husband's. This is Bible "perfection." But we have a Bridegroom whose "disappointment .. [at the delay] is beyond description," [2] and a bride-to-be who so far seems content to remain a child at the wedding.
No individual or group of individuals can be the "bride" in this wedding. As the soon-to-be population of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, "the church is the bride" says Ellen White. [3] The church is a corporate body intricately fashioned cohesively of its many "members," as the cells and organs of one's body constitute a person. No one cell of the human body, or even organ or limb, matures on its own, apart from its corporate oneness with the body as a whole. "So also is Christ," says Paul, "for the body is not one member but many" (1 Cor. 12:12, 14).
An individual preparation for the second coming is proper; but there has to be also a corporate preparation, or each individual will have to go into the grave as have countless others throughout the ages. If a body is sick, the whole must be healed. God's people do not go to heaven individually at death, as other churches teach; they await a corporate resurrection, which in turn must await a corporate repentance on the part of the living saints.
The 1888 truth is forever linked with the "doctrine" of the second coming. It is impossible otherwise to understand the "delay." Said Ellen White almost a century ago: "The great outpouring of the Spirit of God, which lightens the whole earth with his glory, will not come until we have an enlightened people." [4] It was in the 1888 message that our Lord sent the "enlightenment," and appealed to His bride-to-be to "grow up." This message was divinely intended to assuage forever the pain of our Great Disappointment of 1844. The message was specifically sent of heaven to prepare a people for the second coming. 1844 was our Great Disappointment, but 1888 was His.
But there is good news. Christ's grand sacrifice on His cross and His high priestly ministry will not in the end prove fruitless, because "an enlightened people" will surely understand how and why they have delayed His return, and will respond to His appeal for repentance.
Is it not vanity to talk about the second coming and not give heed to the message that was intended to prepare us for it?
--Paul E. Penno
[1] Daniel 9:24-27; The Desire of Ages, p. 32.
[2] Ellen G. White, "A Call to Repentance," Review and Herald, Dec. 15, 1904.
[3] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 986.
[4] Ellen G. White, "Why the Lord Waits," Review and Herald, July 21, 1896.
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