Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Lesson 5: More Woes for the Prophet
What is the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church? What lessons can we learn from the prophet Jeremiah and his message to Judah that will help us know what lies ahead for Adventists? Is there any correlation between what Jeremiah was proclaiming to an unrepentant nation and what the 1888 message says to us today?
God instructs Jeremiah to observe a potter working at a wheel creating a vessel (Jer. 18:2-4). The potter wants to make the best vessel possible with the materials with which he has to work, and will work perseveringly to that end. The potter's work now and then turns out badly because of the quality of the clay.
Given the analogy that the potter is God, it can be assumed that God is not the reason for the inferior results; it is the clay/people that are corrupt. "Now and then a vessel he was making out of the clay would be spoilt in his hands, and then he would start again and mould it into another vessel to his liking" (Jer. 18:4, NEB).
The shape of Israel's future remains somewhat open. Just as the potter recreates a vessel that seems good to him in view of the possibilities inherent in the clay, so God will take corrupt Israel and work with the possibilities inherent in the human situation. Integral to that situation is the way in which Israel responds to God's continuing work; God will work with what is available, yet with God's good purposes always in mind.
Israel can respond to God's declared word in two different ways. "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them" (Jer. 18:7-10). They can repent of their evil and turn to God or they can turn away from God, not listening to God's voice. By their response the people have the God-given capacity to shape God's own response.
In Judah's case there was no repentance and the Lord permitted them to be deported in exile to Babylon. But what bearing does this have upon our own situation today as Seventh-day Adventists in view of our prophetic destiny and our failure to embrace the latter rain message of justification by faith, which is consistent with the cleansing of the sanctuary truth?
It's serious not to understand the true nature of agape. But the 1888 message teaches us to always follow His covenant agape. Critics who have given up hope cannot see how God's love could possibly be loyal to a faulty, erring church. They assume that divine love is like human love--conditioned by the value or goodness of its object and dependent on it. So they look at the enfeebled and defective condition of the church and wonder how God's love for it can be permanent.
Christ never calls us to leave the church; He calls us to repent within the church, and to "sigh and cry" positively and effectively instead of negatively. An inspired voice emphatically assures us of ultimate denominational repentance. This is implicit in statements like these: "I am instructed to say to Seventh-day Adventists the world over, God has called us as a people to be a peculiar treasure unto Himself. He has appointed that His church on earth shall stand perfectly united in the Spirit and counsel of the Lord of hosts to the end of time." 
The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out--the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place. 
Christ's message to Laodicea, in fact His very character of agape, is on trial before the heavenly universe. Will it be effective? Or will century after century go by with it never accomplishing the great work it calls for?
It is clear that the Lord's greatest concern is for the human leadership of His church. "God's ministers are symbolized by the seven stars. ... Christ's ministers are the spiritual guardians of the people entrusted to their care."  "'These things, says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand.' These words are spoken to the teachers in the church--those entrusted by God with weighty responsibilities."  If they refuse Christ's special call to repent, church organization must eventually disintegrate. But leadership can respond to Christ's call, and Revelation indicates that before the end they will.
Christ respects church organization. He intends that the "angel of the church" shall repent first, and then minister the experience to the worldwide church. When the leadership of the church "in a great measure" rejected the 1888 message,  He did not disregard them; He permitted their unbelief to arrest the finishing of His work for over a century.
However, we have an encouraging promise to lay hold of: the time will come when the Lord will override impenitent leadership. "There will be those among us who will always want to control the work of God, to dictate even what movements shall be made when the work goes forward under the direction of the angel who joins the third angel in the message to be given to the world. God will use ways and means by which it will be seen that He is taking the reins in His own hands. The workers will be surprised by the simple means that He will use to bring about and perfect His work of righteousness." 
No one knows precisely how the Lord will take "the reins in His own hands." Although His love is infinite, His patience is not. His love for a lost world will prove greater than His patient indulgence of continued Seventh-day Adventist lukewarmness. Christ died for the world. There will come a time when He can no longer tolerate persistent, willful impenitence. He is quite capable of righteous indignation. When the time comes for it to blaze forth, "Who is able to stand?"
Thus "his wife [the church] hath made herself ready" (Rev. 19:7) to be the Bride of Christ. He deserves this practical fruitage of His sacrifice. He has suffered enough, and at last His church will give him the complete surrender that a bride gives to her husband.
Can you think of any greater tragedy in the end of history than for a disappointed Christ to stand before "the door" knocking in vain (Rev. 3:20) and ultimately turning away in the humiliation of defeat? That is what the devil wants! Why should we give in to him by default? The picture we see in Scripture indicates complete success. By virtue of the infinite sacrifice on Calvary we must choose to believe that the Laodicean message will fully accomplish its objective.
That which God purposed to do for the world through Israel, the chosen nation, He will finally accomplish through His church on earth today. He has "let out His vineyard unto other husbandmen," even to His covenant-keeping people, who faithfully "render Him the fruits in their seasons." 
The Laodicean church is the new covenant church. Not for her own intrinsic goodness will the Lord remain loyal to her, but because He has to be a covenant-keeping God. "Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but ... [that] the Lord your God ... may fulfill the word which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (Deut. 9:5). That covenant aspect of Christ's character is the assurance that the message to Laodicea will not fail.
--Paul E. Penno
Endnotes (From the Writings of Ellen G. White):
 Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 397.
 Ibid, p. 380.
 Gospel Workers, pp. 13, 14.
 Acts of the Apostles, p. 586.
 Selected Messages, vol. 1, pp. 234, 235.
 Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 300.
 Prophets and Kings, pp. 713, 714.
Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at: http://1888mpm.org