Religious Liberty and Contemporary Trends Series, Part 4 – Religious Liberty and the Final Conflict

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Religious Liberty and Contemporary Trends Series, Part 4 – Religious Liberty and the Final Conflict

The Bible is clear, as Seventh-day Adventists have known since the start of our movement, that religious liberty lies at the heart of the final battle which will close the great controversy between Christ and Satan.  The book of Revelation depicts that conflict as a choice between the faith and practices of two women (Rev. 12,17), symbolizing respectively the true and false churches.

 

In both Old and New Testaments, those accepting and those rejecting God’s true faith are symbolically represented by women.  Through Jeremiah God declared,

 

I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely (beautiful) and delicate woman (Jer. 6:2).[1]

 

The apostle Paul used the same symbolism when speaking of the Christian church:

 

For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy; for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin in Christ (II Cor. 11:2).

 

When God’s ancient people turned from faithfulness into the path of apostasy, God represented them through His prophets as an impure, immoral woman.  Through Isaiah He declared, speaking of Israel’s apostasy: “How has the faithful city become an harlot!” (Isa. 1:21).  Through Jeremiah God said the same thing, during a later period of even worse apostasy: “Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers” (Jer. 3:1).  This tragedy was deliberately and poignantly illustrated by God through the marriage and life experience of the prophet Hosea and his prostitute-wife Gomer.

 

The Two Women of Revelation

 

When we turn to the book of Revelation and find the two women referenced earlier, we recognize the continuance of symbolism used throughout the Biblical record.  In Revelation 12, the true church is portrayed as “a woman clothed with the sun” (verse 1).  In chapter 19 she is shown wearing “fine linen, bright and pure,” which the text says “stands for the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8, NIV).

 

But in Revelation 17, we find another woman, this one described as a whore (verse 1), and dressed very differently from the woman in chapter 12 (Rev. 17:4).  The color of the clothing worn by these women is identified in Scripture, respectively, with sin and righteousness (Isa. 1:18).  But another key difference between them is the methods they employ in conveying their beliefs.  The bride of Christ invites her hearers to accept her Lord by choice, as evidenced in the following verse from Revelation:

 

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.  And let him that heareth say, Come.  And let him that is athirst come.  And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17).

 

Here the church follows the example of Christ Himself, who solicits a voluntary response from the hearts of men and women:

 

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me (Rev. 3:20).

 

The false church, identified in Revelation as Babylon, uses a contrary approach in the pursuit of its purposes.  The second angel’s message declares the religious system here noted to be spiritually fallen, “because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Rev. 14:8).  Fornication, of course, is identified elsewhere in Scripture with sexual immorality (Matt. 5:32; I Cor. 7:2), the union of elements which God forbids to unite.  In Revelation 17, the following is said regarding the entity with whom Babylon commits the fornication described in chapter 14:

 

With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication (Rev. 17:2).

 

Revelation is a book of symbols, of course, as evidenced by the two women and what they and their attire stand for.  So the fornication here described is also symbolic.  This illegitimate union is formed between the religious bodies in question and the “kings of the earth,” an obvious reference to civil government. This alliance is labeled fornication because of Jesus’ statement to Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).  When any religious community or alliance seeks to coerce the conscience to comply with beliefs and standards of a strictly consensual nature, she is guilty of the spiritual fornication described by the Revelator.

 

Just as Jesus’ bride uses her Lord’s method in conveying the gospel challenge (Rev. 3:20; 22:17), so apostate Babylon employs the methodology of her master in seeking to force the conscience.  Unlike Jesus, Satan and his demons don’t wait to be invited into the human experience.  Jesus describes in the Gospel of Matthew how the devil and his angels do their business in this regard:

 

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.

Then he saith, I will return unto my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he finideth it empty, swept, and garnished.

Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first (Matt. 12:43-45).

 

Notice how there is no mention here of standing at the door and knocking.  The devil and his demons are like those thieves in the old days (before the invention of electronic room keys) who wandered hotel hallways looking for doors left unlocked by careless guests.  They neither knocked nor waited to be invited.  They just barged in, without permission.

 

We see the contrast between choice and force—between conversion and coercion—in the manner in which God’s seal and Satan’s mark are received during the final conflict.  The seal of God is received exclusively in the forehead (Eze. 9:4; Rev. 7:3; 14:1), where free will and the power of choice are exercised.  The mark of the beast, by contrast, is received either in the forehead or the hand (Rev. 13:16; 14:9)—either by choice or temporal necessity.  The hand may at times be forced, but the mind can never be.  (One thinks of the old adage, “He who is convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”)  God only desires the service of love.  Satan, by contrast, will accept service regardless of the motive behind it.

 

“Let the Principle Once be Established . . .”

 

The spirit of Satan described above is that of which professed Christians and other religionists partake when they seek civil power to force the human conscience.  And according to Ellen White, once this principle is established and endorsed by the American government, the final apostasy predicted in Revelation 13 is made certain.  In her words:

 

Let the principle once be established in the United States that the church may employ or control the power of the state, that religious observances may be enforced by secular laws; in short, that the authority of church and state is to dominate the conscience, and the triumph of Rome in this country is assured.[2]

 

Three significant points stand out in the above statement.  First, Ellen White states that in the final triumph of the papacy and its Protestant allies in America, the principle will be first established that the church may employ or control the state for the purpose of enforcing religious decrees.  She doesn’t say, in other words, that one day the United States will suddenly get the bright idea of passing a Sunday law.  Rather, she says that the principle—legal precedents, most likely—will be put in place to smooth the way for Sunday enforcement.

 

Second, Ellen White is clear—in contrast to the fears of many religious conservatives in contemporary America—that the final crisis will be precipitated by the church controlling the government, not by the government controlling the church.  Here is where classic Adventist eschatology differs sharply from the end-time expectations of most other conservative Protestants.  The latter anticipate avowedly secular forces working through government to control and restrict Christianity, forces they see coming primarily from the cultural and political Left.  The Bible and Spirit of Prophecy, by contrast, envision the final crisis as one in which professedly Christian forces take control of the secular state, using its power to force society to embrace their agenda.

 

Third, we note once again that Ellen White speaks in general of “religious observances” being “enforced by secular law”[3], and that once this principle is established, the way will be prepared for the enforcement of the image to the beast.[4]  This means that whenever conservative Christians seek civil power as a method of regulating beliefs and practices of a consensual nature they are supporting the principle which eventually will make possible the events described in Revelation 13.

 

Miracles and Secularism

 

Many fail to consider, when pondering the perceived threat of secularism and its relation to end-time events, that the Bible’s and Ellen White’s description of the final crisis present a scenario in which the secular mind—what there is of it—will be well-nigh extinguished.  The book of Revelation speaks of “the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Rev. 16:14).  Ellen White speaks of how miracles will be performed on both sides of the great controversy as it draws to a close.  Describing the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the giving of the Loud Cry message, she writes:

 

By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given.  Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers.  Satan also works with lying wonders, even bringing down fire from heaven in the sight of men.  Revelation 13:13. Thus the inhabitants of the earth will be brought to take their stand.[5]

 

For persons like myself who have lived in largely secular communities—like Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where I spent seven years as a pastor/evangelist—it isn’t hard to guess how those with a secular worldview are likely to respond to incidents like the above.  Imagine an Ivy League-trained physician in my old neighborhood, who has never believed in anything beyond what he can touch, see, and measure, confronting clinically proven cases of obviously miraculous healing from both sides of the global controversy then in progress.  The issue for such a one will no longer be whether supernatural forces exist in the universe, but rather, which supernatural force will such a one choose to serve.

 

Conclusion: “And the Government Shall Be Upon His Shoulder”

 

When Jesus declared to Pontius Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), He qualified His statement by saying, “Now is My kingdom not from thence.”  In other words, He said that while He was not presently planning to rule the kingdoms of this world, one day He would.  It was to this ultimate restoration of divine rule on earth which Isaiah predicted in one of the great Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, in which he stated that “the government shall be upon His shoulder” (Isa. 9:6).

 

This will happen when Jesus appears the second time.  The awesome glory and terror of this scene is described by the apostle John, in what is likely the most graphic depiction of Christ’s second coming in all of Scripture:

 

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse, and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war.

His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself.

And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God

And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.

And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and He shall rule them with a rod of iron, and He treadeth the winepress if the fierceness and the wrath of Almighty God.

And He had on His vesture and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Rev, 19:11-16).

From that moment into eternity, the government of this earth will rest in the infinitely just hands of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Church and state will blend at last in the perfect harmony possible only in a perfect society.  No more corruption.  No more high crimes and misdemeanors.  No more Twitter tantrums or partisan gridlock.  Only a kingdom of loving and sinless subjects, willing rather die than choose another master, whose divinely-empowered conquest of evil in time’s darkest hour will secure the peace of the universe as long as God shall live.

Click here to read the rest of this series on Religious Liberty.

____

Notes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Bible texts are from the King James Version.

[2] Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 581.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, p. 612.

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About the author

Kevin Paulson

Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and serves as a script writer for the It Is Written television ministry and other media ministries within the church. He also serves as the leading webmaster of ADvindicate.com, where many articles by him and others can be found which address a variety of denominational issues. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan.