"Oh yeah. Tell us about it. What can we hope for in these uncertain times? Things don't look good to me. So what's just around the corner? What are you so excited about? Is it an impossible dream?"
"Something is coming that you'll want to live through," she answered.
"You're crazy! I don't want any more trouble than I've got. I'm up to my neck in trouble! You don't make any sense to me. Do you live in some fantasy world?" He shrugged his shoulders in disgust.
"It'll be worth singing about!" she urged. "Believe me! I used to think the way you do, but my mind was changed. Would you like to know how?"
"That's impossible! I doubt it will change my mind. Anyway, it better be convincing, for it sounds loony to me. Whoever wants to sing about trouble, 'specially big troubles?" He shook his head in disbelief.
What About the Great Time of Trouble?
Most Adventists don't want to hear any more about the great time of trouble coming. Some wish Revelation 13 wasn't in the Bible.
This special time comes after probation's close (Dan. 12:1). All the world despise Sabbathkeepers. They cannot buy or sell (Rev. 13:17), and they face a death decree (verse 15). It will be tantamount to global terrorism: Sabbathkeepers being rejected as traitors.1 No wonder one of my students blurted out, "I don't want to live through that trouble. I want to die and come up in the first resurrection!"
That was at the beginning of the semester, but she changed her mind later. She wanted to live through the trouble when she understood. So what changed her mind, and what can change yours?
Context Makes the Difference
Granted that Revelation 13 is awful, so what do we do with it?
We must study it in context. Its roots are in Daniel 7, where God has a pre-Advent judgment against the beasts of Revelation 13, a judgment in defense of His people. The judgment verdict is to destroy the two beasts and deliver His saints. Now that's a different story. It tells us how Revelation 13 will end up. The judgment verdict in heaven precedes the death decree on earth. God's death decree against the two beasts of Revelation 13 trumps their death decree against Sabbathkeepers.
But there's more. Revelation 12-14 is a literary unit, with the bad chapter, so to speak, sandwiched between the other two. In other words, chapter 13, with its description of a global coalition against God's end-time people, is surrounded by the good news of the other two. In chapter 12 the woman (the church) wears a stephanos crown, a laurel wreath of victory (verse 1). So before we ever get to the "nasty" chapter 13, the church already appears triumphant. The first beast (of chapter 13) wears diadem crowns, representing temporary authority, but neither of the terrible beasts of Revelation 13 wears a stephanos crown--that is, neither wears an eternal crown. Only the church wears that.
So why be afraid of such powers when their days are numbered, while you are crowned forever?
The church didn't earn its crown. It was a gift from Christ. He laid aside His own crown and came to Calvary to die in place of the church and all who enter heaven. Revelation 12 speaks of two times when Satan was thrown out of heaven: after the battle in the beginning (verses 7, 8) and at the cross (verses 9-13). At Calvary Christ died to destroy the enemy and his followers, and to deliver His people. The pre-Advent judgment's double verdict is the unfolding of Calvary's double judgment. Because, properly understood, Calvary was the judgment day. Acceptance or rejection of the judgment at the cross is central for the pre-Advent judgment. The church that clings to Calvary wears the crown.
The authority given to the two beasts of Revelation 13 comes from Satan, the defeated foe (verses 2, 12). The authority given to the church comes from the victorious Christ (Rev. 2:27; Matt. 28:18-20). Christ endured the greatest time of trouble, far greater than the coming trouble. He submitted to a death decree (Rom. 5:8) so we won't have to (2 Cor. 5:21). He felt God forsaken (Matt. 27:46) so we won't have to (Heb. 13:5). He died the death that was ours so that we might live the life that is His. We enter the challenges of Revelation 13 with Calvary behind us, the verdict of heaven before us, and wearing the crown of victory.
We Will Sing
It's on Mount Zion that translated saints sing. They stand with Christ in heaven (Rev. 14:1; Heb. 12:22, 23) and sing a new song that no one else can learn (Rev. 14:3).
Why? Because it's a "song of their experience" during the great time of trouble.2 So the great time of trouble of Revelation 13 will cause the saints to sing. How come? The answer is in the song. And what is the song about? Some may think it's about the death decree and the agony it brought them--the suffering when they couldn't buy or sell, and the sheer horror of facing a world against them. That seems logical on the basis of Revelation 13.
But look at the song recorded in Revelation 15:3, 4. There's not a word there about trouble! Rather it's full of rejoicing! "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed."*
Notice that these saints don't mention what the enemy did to them, but rather what Christ has done for them. In other words, they're not preoccupied with the death decree against them but with the death decree of Christ against their enemies. The song has to do with the actualization of the pre-Advent judgment verdict and not with anything in Revelation 13.
The Song in Its Context
While reading Revelation 15 recently, I discovered that the song is written in what's called a chiasm. The word "chiasm" comes from the Greek letter chi, which looks like an X in English. The top and lower halves of an X are mirror identical, and they both point to the middle (which they share). The mid-segment of a literary chiasm is considered its focus, and usually its most important statement.
Based on this concept, then, what's the most important fact about the song? What's the heart of its celebration? Notice:
A: Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty
B: Just and true are your ways, King of the ages
C: Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name?
B: For you alone are holy
A: All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.
According to this pattern, lines A deal with the acts of God; lines B with the character of God; and standing as the most important focus of the song, line C focuses on the concept of reverencing God and bringing Him glory.
Why is this focus so important in the light of Revelation 13?
Here's why: The whole world will reverence and bring glory to Satan and the first beast (Rev. 13:3, 4, 12-15), but the saints will reverence God and bring Him glory, which is the message of the first angel: "Fear God [or reverence God] and give him glory" (Rev. 14:7).
So the chiasm points to an important connection between the song and the first angel's message. What is the connection? They both have to do with the pre-Advent judgment. The first angel's message announces the judgment: reverence and glorify Christ "because the hour of his judgment has come" (verse 7). The song rejoices over the implementation of that judgment in Christ's mighty acts of deliverance. These acts cause the saints to reverence and give glory to Christ in this great song.
Questions for Reflection
1. Do Adventists talk too much about "the time of trouble"? too little? Or just right?
2. What has been your reaction to such discussions? Why?
3. Our author tried to couch the whole issue in a positive light. Has he succeeded? What aspects of the article did you find most helpful to you personally
This song is being sung in heaven (Rev. 14:1; Heb. 12:22, 23), and the singers will follow Christ wherever He goes (Rev. 14:4). The song is the essence of the gospel--Christ doing for the redeemed that which they could never do for themselves. They cling to Him alone after probation's close, just as Christ clung to His Father throughout His whole life (John 5:30). And they will have the eternal privilege of going with Christ to sing about this experience to the inhabited universes.
Think of it: if the experience of the song is worth singing about so long after it took place, then that experience must be worth going through! Those who sing the song throughout eternity will revel in the privilege they had of living through the great time of trouble, witnessing such a great deliverance (spiritually and physically), and having such an eternal mission with Christ. Their experience disproves Satan's lie that the law cannot be kept. They demonstrated that Jesus is able to keep them from falling even during the worst time of trouble (cf. Jude 24, 25). They know that apart from Christ they can do nothing (John 15:5). It's the acts of Christ in their lives, and not their own, separate from Him, that gave the demonstration. It was Christ in them the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).
Consider It a Privilege
Satan schemes to scare saints so no one would want to live through the final trouble and provide that kind of demonstration. He hides the fact that going through the trouble is just as much a gift as is Calvary. For everything determinative about the great time of trouble has to do with God's acts, and not those of humans--whether the saints or their enemies. That's what the song is all about. It celebrates Christ's great acts of deliverance. This is no less true in the spiritual victory than in the physical. It is the song of the Lamb (Rev. 15:3).
It's also the song of Moses (verse 3). The exodus through the Red Sea is a local type of a global passage through the great time of trouble. God's ancient people "were terrified and cried out to the Lord" (Ex. 14:10). Moses said to them, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still" (verses 13, 14). The deliverance was a gift. The song of Moses (Ex. 15) rejoices over the mighty deliverance from the preincarnate Christ.
Whether in the past or in the future, it is Christ and not the crisis that matters. In either case, the saints simply cling to Christ, and He does the rest.
Just as God's people were outnumbered and trapped at the Red Sea, so it will happen again when the whole world opposes the saints. As the Egyptians closed in to massacre Israel, so the whole world moves in to implement the death decree. What will we do? Shall we look at the unprecedented crisis as Satan portrays it? Or shall we listen to the words of Moses, "Do not be afraid. . . . The Lord will fight for you"?
If we focus on the coming crisis, we become fixated on a defeated foe working through agents doomed to destruction. To focus on the coming crisis is, to some degree, to unwittingly bring glory to Satan. Our focus should rather be on the already victorious Christ--the Christ of the Red Sea, the Christ of Calvary, the Christ of the pre-Advent judgment, the Christ of the final
This is what it means to reverence Christ and bring glory to Him. Those who do this already wear the crown. The truth about Christ has set them free from the fear of the great time of trouble.
Now, isn't that worth singing about!
*All scriptural references are from the New International Version.
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 394.
2 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 649.
Norman R. Gulley is a research professor in Systematic Theology at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee.