Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lesson 5: "The Seen and the Unseen War"

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of Matthew

Lesson 5: "The Seen and the Unseen War"

People around the world are deeply interested in "Elijah" being sent to us. They are realizing that "he" will come as a message, just as "Elijah" came to Israel in the message of John the Baptist (Mal. 4:5, 6; Matt. 3:1-3).
They see that as John the Baptist prepared God's people of his day for the first coming of Christ, so "Elijah" in these last days will prepare a people for the second coming of Christ (Rev. 14:6-15).
John's message was a clarion call for repentance (Matt. 3:1-8). In these last days, "Elijah's" message is a call to the leadership of Christ's last days' church to "be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev. 3:14, 19). [1] In ancient Israel, Elijah zeroed in on the top, the leader of the nation, King Ahab.
Just as Elijah was "zealous" and called on king and Israel to "repent" of their Baal worship and return to the true LORD (just as Jesus calls on Laodicea), so the Elijah message today will call upon God's people to "examine [themselves] as to whether [they] are in the faith. Prove yourselves" (2 Cor. 13:5).
That must mean a close re-examination—do we understand what God's holy word says about justification by faith? Or have we repeated ancient Israel's century-long slide down the slippery slope into Baal worship—that is, counterfeit ideas of popular Christianity that Revelation says are "Babylon"? Don't be confused and bewildered by Babylon's false version.
"The faith of Jesus" will be Elijah's message. He "slays" the recalcitrant, unrepentant modern "priests of Baal." [2] Elijah proclaims the reconciling, "at-one-ment" message that heals the wounded hearts of those who appreciate Christ's cross.
The very last words of the Old Testament spell it out, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal. 4:5). The scribes and Pharisees naturally expected that this stern old man with a white robe and flowing beard must come before the Messiah could show up. Thus when Jesus appeared on the scene He couldn't possibly be the Messiah. There had been no "Elijah" first.
The grand appearance of "Elijah the prophet" went right over their heads. It was all done before they knew what was going on. The message of John the Baptist had been "Elijah"! Malachi's prophecy had been fulfilled before their eyes while they were looking the other way. How dumb can God's people be? Even Jesus' disciples "asked Him, saying, 'Why ... do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?'" His answer caught them napping: "'I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him' ... Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist." It was his message (Matt. 17:10-13). Could something great happen while wonderful—wise—"we" don't know what's going on? Could we miss our long-prayed-for "latter rain"? Elijah must come!
When the "Elijah message" comes, what will it do? How can we recognize it, so we don't treat it as the Jews treated John the Baptist?
It will not be a revival of legalism, harsh, vindictive, condemnatory. Just the opposite: "He ["Elijah"] shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers" (Mal. 4:6). A message of reconciliation! And that means "atonement"—the cosmic Day of Atonement ministry centered in the sanctuary's Most Holy Apartment.
Elijah had no patience with the "prophets of Baal," but he had enormous patience and tenderness for the people. The people were sheep who had been led astray by their shepherds who had been supported from the national treasury. Elijah's indignation was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It was the "righteous indignation" God expresses in Ezekiel 34:2 where He says, "Woe to the shepherds [the pastors] … who feed themselves." Self-worship disguised as the worship, the ministry, of Christ! That is the essence of Baal worship. God hates it.
But His heart yearns toward the people who are led astray, especially the youth and the children. "Elijah's" message will heal alienated hearts. Hardness will be melted. Through "the grace of God," not through harsh legalism, buried "roots of bitterness" will be exposed for what they are and a people will realize a precious oneness with Jesus. And, of course therefore, a precious oneness with one another! "Elijah's" message will do for God's people what it did for him—it prepared him for translation. Satan will oppose that message hell-bound. But "the grace of God" will be much more abounding. God's people will respond to their High Priest.
"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matt. 11:12). Ellen White comments:
"The violence here meant is a holy earnestness, such as Jacob manifested. We need not try to work ourselves up into an intense feeling, but calmly, persistently, we are to press our petitions at the throne of grace. Our work is to humble our souls before God, confessing our sins, and in faith drawing nigh unto God." [3]
It's probably impossible for us to imagine what happened before the days of radio or TV or any flashing electronic news that encircles the world in a moment. The news that startled people went out worldwide: when Jesus of Nazareth was being crucified, spikes driven through His wrist-bones and ankle-bones, He prayed for the men doing that, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). The news went around the world by word of mouth. Never in the history of Roman crucifixions (which were many) had a crucified victim of this unspeakable cruelty prayed for his murderers. This was news!
People talked about it everywhere. The news catalyzed humanity: there were those who despised the divine Victim; there were others whose hearts were deeply impressed and solemnized. Like the honest-hearted centurion that Luke has to tell us about, they said, "Truly this was a righteous man" (vs. 47).
In the end of time the world will again be lightened with the 1888/"Elijah" message that turns it upside down, a message that grips some hearts and reconciles them to God and to His holy law; and that goads others to enforce the "mark of the beast" against them. This will be the message of a fourth angel of Revelation 18:1-4 that brings to a triumphant conclusion the work of Christ's gospel; the message of the three angels of chapter 14 doesn't accomplish that great work; it can't.
Paul E. Penno
[1] The "angel" of the church of the Laodiceans has to be its leadership (see Gospel Workers, pp. 13, 14).
[2] This is the same as the "perishing" of those who disbelieve in John 3:16; the "should not perish" is in the middle voice of the Greek verb meaning those who disbelieve commit their own spiritual suicide.
[3] Our Father Cares, p. 136.