Adventist World is a relative newcomer to Adventists around the globe. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s easily missed. Now in its eighteenth year, the world-church-funded magazine has a monthly print run of more than 1.5 million copies printed in seven languages.1 Addi- tionally, four more languages offer a digital version of the entire magazine.2 Add to that another 170,000 copies of Adventist World Digest are printed every quarter in an additional 25 languages that serve smaller language groups. Adventist World, together with its older sibling, Adventist Review, is one of the few Adventist publi- cations that reaches a large number of members—every month.

Readers in North America find Adventist World packaged with Adventist Journey, the magazine of the North American Division. In other parts of the world, it appears together with other division or union papers. Research suggests that every magazine gets touched by eight to 10 people— especially in regions where literature is not as plentiful as in North America.

Right from the beginning, Adventist World aimed to consider a global church family. We recruit authors who can write from different cultural and geographical vantage points. They represent the reality of the family of Adventists all around the world. Articles in Adventist World seek to inform, inspire, engage, and connect readers to God’s world and one another. We’re consciously working to find authors whose age bracket reflects the median age of Adventists around the world—a number trending younger and lower than in most Western countries.

Each issue focuses on one main topic, beyond the more general sections highlighting devotional material, helping readers recognize the rich his- tory of the Adventist Church (particularly also beyond North America), or seeing God at work in the world—and in His church. The magazine also includes much-loved columns about theological questions or issues related to health and wellness, as well as a section entitled Growing Faith, which engages younger Adventists.

Coming from an academic background, I joined our editorial team nearly 13 years ago because I’m passionate about the world of Adventism. I’ve lived and worked in five continents and have seen the wideness of Adventism. Adventist World is ideally situated to cover both the length and the breadth of this movement.

I am particularly proud of our team continuing to publish the magazine under difficult circum- stances during a pandemic, lasting two years now.

Here are two issues that particularly encouraged our readers in these challenging times.

1 The languages include English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Korean, Bahasa, and French.

2 The digital magazine can be read in Russian, Chinese, Kiswahili, and Papiamento.


Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as associate editor of Adventist Review Ministries with a special responsibility for Adventist World.


Seeking Balance (December 2021) helped readers to stay balanced in a world that seems to be out of control. (www.adventistworld.org/ december-2021)

Finding God in Many Places (September 2021) invited readers to look over the shoulder of a medical doctor, an artist, and a scientist—and, with them, find God in their own lives. (www.adventistworld.org/ september-2021)

Have you ever tried not to think about something? Try it. For the next minute, try not to think about your favorite food, what the weather is like—anything—but about a large hairy pink elephant. After reading this, try not to think about the large hairy pink elephant at all. Difficult? In psychology, this phenomenon is known as the ironic process theory.1 As soon as you try not to focus on something, it becomes impossible not to.

Humility is a strange animal. It doesn’t boast; it seldom shouts; it naturally avoids the spotlight; it never self-promotes—yet most of us feel mysteriously drawn to a humble person. But as soon as we try to focus on humility it seems to disappear.

Pride sits on the opposite end of the spectrum—and Scripture has nothing good to say about it. God hates pride (Prov. 8:13), for it lies at the heart of the rebellion that transformed a perfect universe into the battle zone of a cosmic controversy.

The Bible tells us that ambition and pride were the underlying motives leading to Lucifer’s fall, aptly described in Isaiah’s oracle depicting the fall of the king of Babylon (Isa. 14). The highly evocative language of the passage suggests that Isaiah’s prophetic vision went beyond historical events to metaphysical realities, pointing back to the fall of a created celestial being that coveted God’s authority and wanted to be like God.2 “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13, 14, NKJV).3 Pride and self-exaltation caused Lucifer, the son of the morning, to rebel against His Creator.

This article, however, is not about pride, but humility, even though both opposite attitudes sharpen each other’s contours. English author C. S. Lewis describes this “crossover” in his Screwtape Letters, the imaginary and eloquent advice given by a supervising devil, called Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood, guiding him in his destructive work with a human upon whom young Wormwood focuses his devilish attention: “Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, . . . ‘I’m being humble,’ and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.”4

One Moment in Time

Few events in the life of Jesus speak so eloquently to the character of our Savior as the moment when He stooped down, picked up a basin and a towel, and washed His disciples’ feet. This demeaning task was usually done by slaves. It wasn’t a symbolic wetting or a gentle rub. Following a day of walking on dusty and dirty roads, the disciples’ feet needed a proper washing. The rabbis tell us that touching feet was regarded as menial slave work and was usually assigned to Gentile slaves or women.5

Intriguingly, John’s is the only Gospel that includes this story in his account of the Passion narrative (John 13:1-17). Did John see something that escaped the attention of the other disciples? Did the enormity of Jesus’ action impress his youthful mind, leaving an inerasable mark?

Let’s try, for just a moment, to travel back about 2,000 years and join Jesus and His disciples as they shared a last supper prior to His arrest. Jesus had preached and healed and taught for more than three years. He knew (see verse 3) what awaited Him and had told His disciples repeatedly that His death and resurrection were part of the divine plan.

Now, however, He takes off His outer garments, picks up a towel, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash the feet of His disciples. Slaves washing feet could be ignored. Jesus washing feet cannot be ignored.

Simon Peter’s reaction seems to be exemplary for the larger group: “Lord, are You washing my feet?” This question requires translation, for we struggle to hear the tone in the written Word. Peter is really saying, How can You, my Rabbi, my Master, my Hero, my Messiah, kneel before me and wash my filthy feet (verse 6)? Peter is confused. Jesus, kneeling before him and scrubbing his feet, doesn’t make sense.

Jesus’ gentle answer recognizes the incongruency of the situation. In spite of His best efforts, there were many things the disciples hadn’t yet understood. But, like prophecy, they would better understand them when they saw them in the rearview mirror.

Peter still did not understand. His answer, “You shall never wash my feet” (verse 8), only considered the arguably important categories of honor and shame. Jesus changes the tone. He is now in executive mode. “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (verse 8, NKJV). It’s either all or nothing.

Following a familiar pattern, Peter finally appears to get it, for he wants to be scrubbed all over. “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head,” he says enthusiastically (verse 9, NKJV). But that’s not what Jesus means. His focus is not on cleanliness. Jesus’ response aims at changing mindsets. He knows about the one who had already sold the Master to the highest bidder (verse 11). He knows what awaits His disciples in the near future. He knows that atonement requires a sacrifice.

“Do you know what I have done to you?” asks Jesus once He has finished washing the feet of His disciples (verse 12, NKJV).

What Does It Mean?

That’s a good question. Do we know, as we participate in the service of humility? Have we made space for humility in our hearts? Are we willing to kneel, metaphorically and in real life, before the people in our lives and wash their feet—even when there is tension and strife and conflict?

Here are four possible implications for the mindset of Jesus to become more visible in our families and faith communities.

1The basin and the towel challenge us to recognize that we are part of a community of equals. Jesus (and later Paul, cf. Gal. 3:28) never made distinctions based on gender, race, educational level, or the size of our offering. Paul invites us in Philippians 2:5-8 to imitate the mindset of Jesus. He chose to serve. He chose to become one without a shining reputation. He chose to become one with us. Humble Jesus challenges us to humble our hearts and serve one another unreservedly.

2True leadership is not a matter of power. It’s also not a question of strategy or careful calculation. Biblical leadership calls us to serve—not to determine or direct. Like Jesus, we are called to lead humbly and tread carefully. Too many leaders invest themselves completely into their task. That sounds like a wonderful idea. It smells and tastes like sacrifice and commitment. While God wants clear commitment, He wants even more: full surrender. Less of me and more of Jesus reduces the potential for conflict, for hurt egos, and competing personalities. As a leader in God’s church, am I willing to trust God to get it right—even without my giving Him a helping hand by pulling strings in the background?

3What do the basin and the towel tell us about the structure and processes of our faith community? Is humility relevant when we consider administrative structures, leadership elections, or policy decisions? How can we incorporate the value of humility practically into our councils and committees? How can we go beyond words and practice the mindset of Jesus in contexts in which we may not all share the same opinion? These questions challenge all leaders to their core. Structure is seldom neutral; structure has often grown organically, and growth can be painful. Humility in our reflection about structure helps us to overcome the sometimes limiting shape of tradition.

4Finally, how do humility and the example modeled by Jesus inform our thinking about mission? Too often we consider mission as “our task”—and it surely is. Jesus’ command to “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19 is directed to His church. He challenges His followers to leave their comfort zones and engage with a world whose values are often (though not always!) diametrically opposed to God’s values.

A biblical understanding of mission, however, begins with the realization that our mission is, first and foremost, God’s mission. A wise and seasoned administrator of an Adventist institution told me some years ago that “institutions have no memory.” He wanted to tell me that while we are committed to give our best to join in God’s mission, we need to recognize that we are not the lynchpin of His mission. God doesn’t need me to make a difference in the 10/40 window, but He invites me to join Him in this effort. A sense of our “humble mission” will, in fact, offer us some new breathing space and freedom.

Rather than trying our best not to think about large hairy pink elephants, we will need to get busy with something else that will move the focus of our thoughts. Will we ever know that we are truly humble? Probably not, for we will be too busy carrying basins and towels with Jesus as we serve side by side.


  1. Jamie Dana, “Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant,” online at elevatecounselingaz.com/dont-think-of-a-pink-elephant/.
  2. The doctoral dissertation of José Maria Bertoluci, “The Son of the Morning and the Guardian Cherub in the Context of the Controversy Between Good and Evil” (Th.D. diss., Andrews University, 1985), offers strong evidence that the language used in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 transcends the earthly realm and points to a much larger context, i.e., the beginning of the cosmic conflict.
  3. Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  4. C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Collier Books, 1982), p. 63.
  5. See Gerald L. Borchert, John 12–21, New American Commentary 25B (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), p. 79, note 22, for a number of relevant references.

Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as an associate editor of Adventist Review.

As a father of a teenager and two young adults I’m concerned about the increasing number of young adults leaving our congregations. As a faith community, we’ve struggled with this issue for many decades. Data suggest that nearly half of Seventh-day Adventist teenagers in North America leave the church by their mid-20s.1 The 2012-2013 Twenty-first Century Adventist Connection Study Report engaged with 1,153 young adults who graduated between 2001 and 2012 from three major Adventist universities.2 A large majority of these graduates had gone fully or partially through the Adventist educational system. Some of the findings of this important research are encouraging; others are troubling and disturbing.

Here are some insights straight from the executive summary of the report.

The study showed that there is a large group of connected and active young adults in the Adventist Church. I’m glad to know that. There’s also a clear correlation between one’s devotional life and one’s acceptance of Adventist doctrines and lifestyle. Adventist young adults also prefer to attend medium- to large-sized churches.3

The next insight is more troubling. The authors of the study reported that a number of key Adventist doctrines (including a literal six-day creation, the heavenly sanctuary, the pre-Advent judgment, the remnant identity, and the inspiration of Ellen White) lacked strong support in this age group.

The study’s insights are helpful. But we need to remember that it did not represent the reality and perceptions of a growing majority of Adventist teenagers and young adults who never attend an Adventist secondary or tertiary educational institution. How would they respond to the questions asked in the research? Whether we like it or not, the graying of Adventism in North America (and increasingly in other parts of the world) represents a major challenge.

Looking Back

I grew up in an Adventist family in Germany. In fact, both of my grandfathers were Adventist pastors, and prior to a health challenge, my dad also served for nearly a decade as a pastor.

I spent my formative teenage years in a small town in southern Germany. The nearest Adventist church of our four-church district was located about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from home. These were small churches, ranging from 25 to 120 members—on the books. Sabbath afternoons we met as district youth in the largest church.

In the entire country of Germanythere was one Adventist boarding academy, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from home, but my parents didn’t want to send their two sons to a boarding academy at such an early age. Besides, finances were tight. Consequently, I went through the public school system. I had great teachers, but always knew that I was different, for I didn’t go to school on Sabbath on the two out of four Sabbaths when public high schools scheduled classes.

When I think back, I realize that I was a prime candidate for leaving the church during my late teen and early young adult years. Right at that crucial period, my parents separated (and later divorced). That experience shook my world, and I wondered about the God of my parents. What made me stay? What kept me coming back week after week? Here are four key elements that stand out as I look back.

First, my church cared. Two pastors served our four-church district. One was considered the “youth pastor.” I remember his weekly visits to our home and his ability to help me work through topics that challenged my faith. These were not just typical Bible studies in which we read a number of Bible texts and reached a firm theological conclusion. We talked about evolution and worldviews, world religions and ethics. We read apologetics. We prayed together. He took time and became a mentor.

But there was more. Our youth group leadership was very active. Church members knew my name and greeted me on Sabbath morning. A caring church goes a long way to help keep young adults in our congregations. And just in case you think that we had the perfect church—we didn’t. I remember sitting through boring sermons, and occasionally a member would weaponize Ellen White. But my church experience wasn’t reduced to these more negative experiences.

Second, I was a member of a small Bible study group in our home. Early in my teenage years my mother started a small-group Bible study at our home that helped me navigate the storms and tempests of those years. Intriguingly, many of its members were not Adventists, but classmates from school, mixed together with older church members who lived nearby. I played guitar or piano when we sang together, and our weekly deep dive into God’s Word offered a viable balance to other influences in my life. This was a truly priesthood-of-all-believers affair. Every member was able to contribute. I was introduced to prayer journaling during this time—and have continued that practice until today.

Third, I was engaged—and stayed engaged—in mission. Mission helped me stay connected with Jesus, especially considering the strong secular influences in my life. As a family, we were involved in a weekly café-like outreach, inviting people to sample dozens of healthy herbal tea options and enjoy an evening of conversations, music, art, or focused discussions.

Later my brother and I, together with some friends, began a music ministry geared toward the nonchurched that lasted for nearly 10 years. We wrote our own songs, created advertising packages, and spent 15 to 20 weekends each year touring and doing concerts. The German Voice of Prophecy offered us sponsorship, and we were able to record several albums (first in vinyl and cassette, later moving into the brave new world of digital media and CDs). Engagement with mission kept me in the church.

Finally, I was blessed with a number of important mentors who offered support, wisdom, at times critique, but always lots of love. These mentors continue to enrich and bless my life—even today. Mentors are real-life influencers whose commitment and concern offer a window into God’s love for us.

Wrap-Up

I am grateful for the creative, engaged, and God-fearing young adults who have found a home in our congregations. But my heart bleeds for the many who have left for one reason or another—and for their parents and families who daily plead for God’s Spirit to do the seemingly impossible.

I stayed because I was blessed with a local congregation that cared about me—warts and all—and for a mother who fed many hungry teenagers during our weekly Bible study, offering a way to connect personally and deeply with God’s Word. I also stayed because I was needed and was allowed to participate creatively in God’s mission. I was blessed with mentors who influenced me in ways my parents or family could not.

Looking back, I have one wish: I want to be part of the reason that helped someone to stay.


  1. See R. L. Dudley, Why Our Teenagers Leave the Church: Personal Stories From a 10-Year Study (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2000), p. 35.
  2. Available online at https://southern.libguides.com/ld.php?content_id=26011451.
  3. The executive summary can be found at https://southern.libguides.com/ld.php?content_id=25035776.

Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as an associate editor of Adventist Review.

I clearly remember the overpowering sense of relief and release I felt when I heard the words that meant everything in that moment: I forgive you; hey, you’re my buddy! I had messed up big-time in a relationship with a close friend. We all do sometimes. I had wished that I could, miraculously, take back my hurtful words. But words cannot be unspoken—at least not by this mortal being. I had longed for a restored relationship—and I had been given something even better.

Our friendship grew deeper than before. A new dimension had been added. Mysteriously, forgiveness helps us all to grow and reach new heights. That’s why we often struggle to grasp (and trust) the breadth, width, height, and depth of God’s grace. His compassion is beyond human imagination and calculation.

The Opposite Direction

We know Jonah’s story. He is a household name in at least three monotheistic faiths. The runaway prophet, saved by a big fish, is a mainstay of illustrators and children’s book authors. As a bona fide prophet, he had spoken on God’s behalf in the past (see 2 Kings 14:25). Jonah wasn’t one of the many false prophets hanging around the royal court in Samaria. He was the real deal.

When God spoke to him this time, however, he started to run in the opposite direction. A month-long dangerous maritime journey to Tarshish on the other side of the Mediterranean sounded more attractive than God’s impossible mission to Nineveh.

We get it now. Right from the beginning Jonah’s problem was theological.

Jonah knew about the Assyrians. They were a cruel and merciless bunch. Historical and archaeological records document the brutality of the Neo-Assyrian overlords who dominated the ancient Near East during the eighth century B.C., the time that Jonah ministered in Israel. Why would God send me to Nineveh? Why would He have a special message for these brutes? I imagine Jonah asking himself.

Jonah started running and kept going until he finally rested in the belly of a ship bound for Tarshish. Did he say goodbye to friends and family? Sea journeys were extremely dangerous in his time. Would he ever see them again? Did he pack an adequate supply of clothing and food for such a journey? The biblical text is silent about such mundane questions and just communicates the staccato of running feet, desperately trying to get away from God.

Pursued by God

A mighty storm disrupts Jonah’s plans. After the lot cast by the ship’s crew has fallen on the silent passenger, questions hit him like the rain and winds that mercilessly pelt the ship. “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” (Jonah 1:8).

What an opportunity to share about the Creator God who controls wind and weather, and tell of His concern for people, cities, and even animals. Jonah’s reply, however, sounds rather memorized and monotonous: “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (verse 9). Jonah got his theological facts right, but had the facts really penetrated his heart?

Jonah’s problem wasn’t fear. Following the sailors’ question “What have you done?” (verse 10), he offers a radical solution: Just throw me overboard if you want to survive (see verse 12).

The sailors hesitate; they try harder; they pray; then they throw Jonah into a roaring caldron of foaming water. Suddenly, everything becomes quiet. Exhausted men, water dripping from their ragged clothing, fall on their knees and pray.

Nineveh—Take Two

God intervenes miraculously and uses a great fish to save Jonah, who finds himself in a forced three-day rest in the stomach of the big fish. His heartfelt prayer documents his recognition that “salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).

Jonah gets it, it seems. Jonah has finally experienced God’s grace. When he hears God’s word again, he is ready to get up and travel to Nineveh. We know nothing about the journey—weeks filled with searching for appropriate sermon illustrations and fitting ways to make relevant calls. We are in for a bit of a surprise, though, as we listen to his proclamation while he crosses the city: “Forty more days, and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). No illustrations, no stories to tug on the heartstrings of his audience—instead, an unambiguous judgment message. God is on the move, he is saying, and I am looking forward to watching Him do His thing.22 1 4 5

Nineveh, that evil city full of abusers, murderers, and idol worshippers, surprises even Jonah. The message falls on receptive ears, and the people of Nineveh, collectively, believe Jonah’s message of impending destruction. In typical Near Eastern style, a decree is issued by Nineveh’s king to demonstrate a change of heart. Communal fasting and mourning and a king stepping down from his throne and sitting in the dust of the ground all speak a clear language. “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (verse 9 9).

I Told You So

God does—and Jonah’s unhappiness is palpable and offensively loud. This is wrong. This is not right. This is too much. “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That’s what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish,” Jonah prays. “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

As readers, we suddenly witness a window opening in the storyline that we haven’t yet seen. I told you so! is Jonah’s way of dealing with God’s compassion and grace. He partially prays back to God Exodus 34:6, 7—describing one of the key moments of God’s self-revelation to humanity when Moses hid in the cleft of the rock and God passed before him.

We get it now. Right from the beginning Jonah’s problem was theological. He had not been afraid of the Ninevites or scared for his life. Jonah had been worried that God would show—again—too much grace and that His compassion would win the day.

Jonah’s complaint has been echoed through the ages. Today we meet people who feel the need to highlight God’s wrath and judgment over against His compassion. They speak of “cheap grace”—and we wonder if there ever was a time in history where God’s grace was really cheap? They struggle, as we often do too, in finding the balance between God’s compassion and grace and His righteousness and holiness. Theologians have wrestled with this issue for centuries.

Jonah’s story may offer some help as we struggle to answer our question: “How much compassion is too much?”

First, God takes Jonah’s concern seriously and engages His prophet in a frank conversation. Instead of a well-argued presentation rooted in the Torah, however, God begins by asking questions. “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). Questions open the way for more conversation even when we begin to talk past each other.

Second, God offers an object lesson to His struggling prophet. By now we understand that Nineveh has long stopped being the focus of the conversation. A shade-giving plant grows overnight and enhances Jonah’s well-being as he waits for God to punish Nineveh. Jonah is delighted. Then God commands a worm to damage the plant, which withers away in hours. A hot east wind (also organized by God) does the rest. Jonah is ready (for the third time in this short book) to die (verse 8). God follows up with another question. “Is it right for you to be angr
y about the plant?” (verse 9).

Then He begins to unpack His view of reality leading us to our third point. God has compassion on Nineveh—and this world—because He is the Creator God. All human beings, and animals, are His by creation. He knows them intimately, and, like a Father or Mother, He loves them uncompromisingly. That’s why He’s pursuing not only the Ninevites in Jonah’s narrative, but more so His own prophet. And because all humanity is His by creation, He’s committed to also make them His by salvation (see John 3:16).

God saved Jonah as he was sinking into the depth of the ocean. He’s now saving Nineveh in response to their turning toward Him. What He really wants, however, is to save Jonah from his misconceptions and warped concepts about God’s character.

The Perfect Mix

Understanding the balance between God’s compassion and grace and His justice and holiness can be difficult: the Fall has made us all unbalanced. Bible readers have long understood that the book of Jonah needs to be read with the later book of Nahum, which describes Nineveh’s ultimate fall more than a century later. The reach of God’s compassion and grace is ultimately limited by human choice. When we accept His compassionate grace, we become part of His kingdom and begin to live according to His values. When we reject His compassionate grace, we join the ranks of the accuser and emulate his pride and selfishness.

God’s final appeal to Jonah is not expressed in a summary statement or an authoritative pronouncement. The final question, left unanswered, must have lingered long in Jonah’s mind and ultimately reached his heart, for he left us a book describing his foolishness and impertinence as he sought to flee from the presence of the living God: “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:9, 10).


Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as an associate editor of Adventist Review.

For millennia the rich and powerful could use and abuse others without consequences—or so it seemed. Then something changed. During the past three years we have witnessed growing movements around the globe speaking out against discrimination or any type of abuse, especially gender-based abuse. #MeToo or #TimesUp started a revolution in boardrooms, human resource departments, and the public square. Previously untouchable and unchallenged leaders suddenly found themselves in deep waters. Just ask Harvey Weinstein after the recent guilty verdict.

Timing is important in many of the things we do. The Protestant Reformation did not just happen. The invention of the printing press and the Renaissance’s call ad fontes (“back to the sources”) both played a crucial role in setting the stage and creating the conditions needed for major religious, social, and even political disruptions. The time was right to rediscover sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”), sola gratia (“by grace alone”), and sola fide (“by faith alone”).

God’s timing has always been impeccable. Paul tells us that Jesus, the world’s Saviour, came right on time (Gal. 4:4). Daniel’s prophetic vision had anticipated His arrival at the beginning of the last week of the 70 weeks cut off from the larger prophetic period of 2,300 days (see Dan. 8:14; 9:24-27).

Similarly, Christ’s death in the “middle of the week” (Dan. 9:27, NKJV)1 surely brought an end to sacrifice and offerings. Type met the antitype when Jesus died on the cross as the Jewish world prepared for Passover.

Satan knows that his time is up. The abuser will not get away from justice.

His resurrection wasn’t hurried or delayed. The Saviour rose for the final leg of the salvation journey after resting in the grave on Sabbath. Time was up for the antagonist—even though we don’t see the outcome quite yet. We still experience death, abuse, suffering, health epidemics, and war all around us. For two millennia God’s children have yearned for the ultimate comeback. The “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), awaiting the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, has fueled the courage of uncounted generations.

Peter experienced something of this urgency in his own time when he wrote: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

God is waiting, eager to save even more. But as He waits, He is neither sleeping nor slumbering. Prophetic time has ended. God’s heavenly clock marks the countdown until that final day.

Time’s up for death and dying. Time’s up for abuse and pain. Time’s up for disease and suffering. Time’s up for war and destruction.

Time’s up.

Satan knows that his time is up. The abuser will not get away from justice. He who specialized in destroying marriages and families will soon be called before the Judge of the universe. Resurrection morning reminds us that justice will prevail. Not in a limited way, barely visible among the mountains of injustice—but publicly, live-streamed before a universe counting down the minutes.

Time’s up—and that’s good news enough for me today.


  1. Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of Adventist Review.

I wish life would be as easy as the marketeers make it appear. You feel worthless and unloved? Get this . . . product and be transformed. You are overweight and crave sweets all the time? Do this diet using these special protein shakes and see the pounds drop like dead flies. You are afraid of the unknown? Don’t worry about tomorrow—just be happy and seize the day.

We get, we do, we buy, we try. We love simple answers to complex questions, yet we wonder if we are on the right track.

That’s why we pay attention when we hear Jesus speaking about abundant life.

Setting the Stage

John 10:10 is one of my favorite Bible texts. I especially love quoting its second half. “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (NKJV).1 I automatically apply this to myself. We all do. Jesus wants to give us life—abundant life. Yet in order to grasp the enormity of what He was saying, we need to look carefully at the larger context. Jesus’ voice reverberates loud and clear throughout John 10:1-18. If you use a red-letter edition of the Bible, you will see most of this section is in red. Red means we need to pay special attention, for these are the words of Jesus.

Twice in the chapter Jesus uses the phrase “most assuredly” (or “truly, truly” [ESV] or “very truly” [NIV]). These translations represent the twofold repetition of the Greek term amen. We use “amen” to express strong affirmation during a sermon or at the end of a prayer. That’s exactly what it meant in both Hebrew and Greek. The use of amen tells us that we should pay attention. Both in John 10:1 and in verse 7, Jesus describes access to a sheepfold. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” And again, six verses later: “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”

These are emphatic statements. So what does the larger context contribute to grasping the meaning of Jesus’ words? Most ancient manuscripts did not include chapter divisions, or even verse divisions. Chapter 9 offers the real background to the many important statements (including the one about abundant life) Jesus makes in chapter 10.

From Blindness to Vision

Jesus passes by a blind man sitting by the roadside. John offers us more background and tells us that he “was blind from birth” (John 9:1). Jesus sees him. He truly sees him. The disciples, noticing the Master’s look, ask a pointed question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (verse 2).

I imagine Jesus cringing. I do that when I hear an inappropriate question. “It was a common belief among Jews that physical infirmity was often a result of sinful behavior,” writes New Testament scholar Urban von Wahlde. “Blindness, as was the case with all physical imperfection, was often looked upon as a result of sin. Physical ‘perfection’ was a prerequisite in a number of Jewish religious rites.”2

The disciples simply expressed what most people believed. Jesus’ reaction is right to the point: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (verse 3). He then declares Himself “the light of the world” (verse 5). The true Light of the world is about to give eyesight to the man who has been blind from birth.

God’s abundance is expressed in His surprising grace.

It’s a ground-shaking miracle. Jesus directs the focus of His audience away from speculating about the causes of sin and suffering to the power of the divine Light-giver. We can see an echo of creation at work. The Creator is right among His people—yet few recognize Him. The remainder of the chapter describes the reaction of the Jewish leaders. Readers are only now informed that Jesus performed this “eye-popping” miracle on a Sabbath (verse 14). By mixing a paste out of the clay of the ground and His saliva (verse 6), Jesus had, according to rabbinical rules,3 worked on the Sabbath. Someone “working” on the Sabbath could not be from God (see verse 16). We get the Pharisees’ logic, even though it’s built on wrong presuppositions.

The Right Question

The formerly blind man finds himself facing Jerusalem’s best scholars and lawyers. Their interrogation circles back to Jesus. They hate this upstart Galilean whose words and deeds they cannot understand—or control.

The man has but one line. “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (verse 25). Translation: judge for yourself—and pay attention to the results of His work.

Finally, after insisting that Jesus cannot be from God and that the miracle is impossible, the rulers throw the man out of the synagogue. He has suddenly become persona non grata, an outcast, a nobody. As a blind man he already knew what it meant to be an outsider. Now he has been demoted even lower to being a nobody.

Jesus finds him right then and asks him the crucial question: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” (verse 35). The question connects faith to the issue of authority and origin—and it’s one of John’s most important theological concepts. Believing in Jesus means accepting Him as the Son of God (cf. John 3:36; 6:69; 11:27; 20:31). It’s the question that determines our eternal destiny.

“Lord, I believe!” (John 9:38) is a good answer.

True spiritual vision recognizes one’s own blindness. And it’s evidence of divine help, anointing our eyes with eyesalve (Rev. 3:18), so we can begin to “see” our need.

This important concept is not lost on some of the Pharisees, who ask Jesus directly: “Are we blind also?” (verse 40).

Jesus’ answer is telling: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains” (verse 41). Spiritual blindness is evenly spread among the seeing and the orthodox and the faithful.

The Real Deal

At this point Jesus continues His discourse with two amens. He signals to His audience that what follows is important. Jesus uses two familiar figures (or illustrations) that help His audience distinguish the Good Shepherd from the thieves and robbers whose sole, self-centered purpose is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). Twice Jesus uses the recognizable “I am” formula, echoing the well-known “I AM WHO I AM” of Exodus 3:14. Jesus is the door to the sheepfold (John 10:7, 9), and He is also the Good Shepherd (verse 11). Above all, He claims to be God.

Between the many sayings of Jesus in John 10, verse 6 functions as a disclaimer. Jesus uses “figures” (or “illustrations,” as translated by the NKJV) to communicate complex ideas—“but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them” (verse 6).

We need to understand the identity of “they” and “them” in this verse. The larger context suggests that Jesus was referring to Jewish leaders who were bent on destroying Him.4 We find Pharisees, scribes, and other members of the Sanhedrin carefully listening to Jesus throughout the Gospel. They listen—but they don’t believe. In fact, the entire interrogation of the formerly blind man found in John 9:13-34 seeks to find evidence that Jesus—a sinner in their eyes (cf. verse 24)—is guilty of breaking the Sabbath and thus should be dealt with appropriately.

Jesus uses familiar imagery in John 10:1-18. Shepherds were associated with kings and leaders in the Old Testament (2 Chron. 18:16; Isa. 44:28; Eze. 34:1-10). God often challenged these leaders through His prophets: “‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!’ says the Lord” (Jer. 23:1; cf. Zech. 10:3; 11:4; etc.). Good shepherds, or leaders, were a rare commodity in Israel. Like a thief or a robber, they would not put the safety and care of their flock first.

That’s why Jesus claims to be “the door of the sheep” (John 10:7). Entrance into His kingdom goes only through Him (verse 9). Jesus’ use of the verb “to save” (sōzō), a term used constantly to describe Jesus as the Saviour in the New Testament, makes it very clear that salvation safety is to be found only in the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd.

Jewish leaders in the time of Jesus highlighted the exclusivity of being “God’s people.” Abraham was their father and David their champion. Gentiles had no part in this and were excluded from God’s kingdom. Yet Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was gathering a flock with a distinct mind-set and values (John 10:16; cf. Matt. 5-7). Those who hear His voice and accept His grace follow Him wherever He leads—wherever they come from.

The Abundant Life

So what does it mean practically that Jesus offers His followers more abundant life? Here are four suggestions.

First, God’s abundance is accessible to anyone who hears and follows the voice of the Good Shepherd. Exclusivity is not its trademark. Separation is not its battle cry. When we commit to follow the divine Shepherd wherever He goes, we commit to a global community of believers not segregated by ethnicity, race, economic status, or gender.

Second, God’s abundance is expressed in His surprising grace. John wants us to know that we are given life that goes beyond our wildest dreams. The Greek term perissos indicates profusion, abundance in quality and amount, “that which goes way beyond necessity.”5 The coming of Jesus marks the beginning of abundant life—it’s not just an inspirational concept reserved for a future kingdom of God.6

Third, those who experience God’s abundant life will also extend this overflowing life to people around them. “By his death and resurrection Jesus has become the door to an open community and the door of an open community,” writes New Testament scholar James Martin.7 We walk through the “door-made-flesh” and excitedly share it with people surrounding us. Exclusivity has been replaced by profusion and inclusivity.

Fourth, Jesus as the life-giver is a major theme in John’s Gospel. The Greek word for “life” appears 36 times and it is mostly connected with Jesus, the life-giver. Life, real life, is possible only by accepting Jesus, the Christ, and His sacrifice for humanity. John 10:10 describes more closely the quality of this life. God-given life is not a limited quantity that needs to be carefully preserved. It’s profuse, overflowing, extraordinary, and remarkable. It’s not an experience of constant exhilaration or superficial happiness, for bad things also happen to good people; sheep following the Good Shepherd are still pursued and hunted by the wolves and thieves who seek to destroy them.

In the few moments of our lives when it becomes quiet all around us, when we can reflect rather than react, it’s a good exercise to remind ourselves of this abundant life and the Life-giver (and Shepherd) whose sacrifice alone made it possible. “In Jesus, as shown in types, as shadowed in symbols, as manifested in the revelation of the prophets, as unveiled in the lessons given to His disciples, and in the miracles wrought for the sons of men, [people] have beheld ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29), and through Him they are brought within the fold of His grace.”8

We are called to be people who affirm life in Him!


  1. All Bible quotations have been taken from the New King James Version. Copyright© 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  2. Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John. Volume 2: Commentary on the Gospel of John, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), p. 424.
  3. Scholars have suggested four possible Sabbath violations, including kneading, washing off an eye ointment, anointing an eye, and putting fasting spittle on eyes. For details, see ibid., p. 427.
  4. James P. Martin, “John 10:1-10,” Interpretation 32 (April 1978): 171.
  5. Gerald L Borchert, John 1–11, New American Commentary 25A (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1996), p. 333.
  6. Craig Keener, “The Thief May Not Be Who You Think He Is,” Christianity Today, April 2017, p. 51.
  7. Martin, “John: 10:1-10,” p. 173.
  8. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 477.

Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as associate editor of Adventist Review.

Perspective is critical for most things in life.

Perspective can order chaos and offers a framework that enables us to see the big picture.

Two people, looking at the same situation but coming from distinct backgrounds and contexts, may reach surprisingly different conclusions.

In one of my classes on biblical history, I used to show my university students a black-and-white line drawing,1 asking them for a detailed description of what they saw. Inevitably some would describe the profile of an old woman with dominant nose and chin and a light cloth covering most of her hair. Others would protest that description and tell me, emphatically, that they clearly saw a young petite woman, looking to her right, with dark curly hair and a veil covering part of her hair.

Don’t ask me how the artist did it, but once one has heard both descriptions, it’s possible to see both images in the drawing.

The point of the exercise was this: regardless of media and content, most things can be interpreted in more than one way. What we see is not always what is there. Psychologists may offer us a rationale as to why different groups see two completely distinct figures in the same picture. Perhaps it is a question of age, gender, or cultural background. What is clear, however, is that our perception of reality is always limited and subject to other influences.

The Report

A huge crowd pressed forward trying to catch every single word of the report. Forty days earlier 12 men, representing Israel’s 12 tribes, had left the wilderness camp to scout out the land that God had promised to Israel. Canaan! The Promised Land! It sounded right. It felt grand and auspicious. Two of the scouts carried a large cluster of grapes between them hanging over some poles. They also brought plenty of tasty pomegranates and figs. This is the real deal, they said. The land flows with milk and honey (cf. Num. 13:27).

This phrase is the standard description of Canaan in the Exodus and conquest narratives (Ex. 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:3; Lev. 20:24; Deut. 6:3; Joshua 5:6; etc.). The land is fertile enough to produce milk (from animal husbandry) and honey (produced by bees, though some have thought this a reference to highly concentrated fruit nectar). Intriguingly, recent archaeological discoveries at Tel Rehov, an important 26-acre Late Bronze Age site in the Beth Shean Valley, suggest a robust honey industry in Canaan during the time of the conquest.2

The phrase is also used in later prophetic texts metaphorically as a shorthand for God’s goodness and His gracious covenant dealings with His people (e.g., Jer. 11:5; 32:22; Eze. 20:6, 15).

Somehow, during the period of 40 years, Israel had morphed from a tiny grasshopper to a mighty and fierce locust plague that was covering the face of the earth.

The next word, however, quenches all enthusiasm and excitement. “Nevertheless” translates the New King James Version in Numbers 13:28. The English Standard Version prefers “however,” while the New Revised Standard Version uses “yet.” All versions try to communicate a strong contrast following the description of the goodness of the land. Then it pours out: the people are strong, the cities are fortified and very large, the descendants of Anak live in them.3 The land is good but the general consensus is clear: We can’t attack those people; “they are stronger than we are” (verse 31, NKJV). Verse 33 reiterates this bad report. “There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (NKJV).4

We can sense a little of the fear of the 10 scouts. We feel like grasshoppers. The metaphor communicates insignificance and helplessness (cf. Isa. 40:22). We cannot take the land, for we feel too small and inconsequential compared to the people we will face in Canaan.

This sounds familiar. We, too, often look at reality and anticipate defeat and disappointment where God sees possibilities and potential. We, too, often feel like grasshoppers as we face the giants in our lives: a devastating medical diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, the pain of separation and divorce, the terror of being alone, the trauma of financial insecurity. That list could be continued endlessly, for fear and loss and pain are nauseating realities.

The Result

What happens next is well known. Israel follows the majority report and chooses to ignore the minority report of Caleb and Joshua. They shout out their anger and fears. They agitate to return to Egypt. They pick up stones—ready to silence once and for all the echo of God’s gentle voice in their midst.

Moses’ intercession saves most of them from immediate annihilation (Num. 14:13-25). God forgives, and they live—except that they will spend another 40 years in the wilderness (verse 34). God, the gracious, the long-suffering, the merciful, the forgiving, holy, and righteous God—He will bring their children into the Promised Land, the little ones and teenagers who don’t have too many memories of Egypt. The very ones they were so afraid to lose (verse 3) will cross the Jordan by faith and take the land.

The Reversal

Nearly 40 years later we find a new generation encamped on the plains of Moab across from Jericho at the border of the Promised Land (Num. 22:1). This time, however, Israel’s enemies tremble with fear as they look over the seemingly endless rows of tents of the Israelite camp.

We need to pay careful attention to the words of the Moabite King Balak as he describes what he sees below him through his messengers urging Balaam, the well-known prophet for hire, to come and curse this wretched people. “Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me” (Num. 22:5, 6, NKJV; cf. verse 11, NKJV).

The verse contains a reference that connects directly to the grasshopper imagery found in the bad report of the 10 scouts. In Hebrew the phrase to “cover the face of the whole earth” is a shortcut for a locust plague. The phrase appears in Exodus 10:15 in the context of the eighth plague hitting Egypt. Both Egyptians and Israelites knew that this was not just another localized locust plague. The biblical author recognized this as something entirely unnatural. While most people living in the ancient Near East were familiar with regional locust plagues, this one felt different. It exceeded normal bounds (i.e., it rested on every square inch of Egyptian soil); it is described as unprecedented, something never to be replicated again (Ex. 10:14).5

Balak and his people describe Israel in terms of a locust plague covering the face of the earth. What an ironic intertextual link and reversal! Israel’s perception of its smallness and insignificance (“we are like grasshoppers”) following the disturbing and discouraging report of the scouts is now replicated by Balak’s fearful description of Israel’s (imagined) power to “cover all the earth.”6 Somehow, during the period of 40 years, Israel had morphed from a tiny grasshopper to a mighty and fierce locust plague covering the face of the earth. Perspective truly is key as we look at life and face seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

What Do You See?

The beginning of a new year is often filled with good intentions and ambitious resolutions. We promise to exercise more, eat less, love more, and fear less. The grasshopper-locust stories of unprecedented reversal found in Numbers 13 and 14 and 22-24 contain a number of relevant applications for people living in the wilderness and ready to step by grace into the Promised Land that our Saviour has prepared for those He calls His own.

  1. Our perspectives and angles are always limited. We cannot peek around the corner. We cannot always fathom God’s final schedule. A limited perspective should lead to tentative suggestions—not definite conclusions.
  2. Fear is a bad counselor and clouds our judgment. I know some Adventists already living in fear of the final persecution. Others fear that this movement has lost its way and passion to proclaim our soon-returning Saviour. Fears may vary, but when our judgment is informed by fear, we are prone to make bad decisions.
  3. When God says “yes” He truly means “yes.” God had acted again and again on Israel’s behalf during their wilderness journey—yet it appears as if Israel lived in a constant state of doubt and distrust. They struggled to take God at His word. Perhaps His promises just felt too good to be true.
  4. God’s grace covers even our worst decisions. Israel’s doubt led that generation to die in the wilderness, but God did not abandon them. For 40 years He guided them and dwelt in their midst in the tabernacle. He fed them, He protected them, He revealed Himself to them. The fact that we know very little about these 40 years does not diminish their importance in the lives of the first generation and the new generation getting ready to conquer the land.

Most people are not afraid of a single grasshopper or locust, for it’s a rather small creature. Millions of grasshoppers, however, suddenly become a reality causing fear and trepidation.

Perspective is critical for most things in life.


  1. See the image: www.frontiersin.org/files/Articles/103880/fnhum-08-00566-HTML/image_m/fnhum-08-00566-g003.jpg. Since I don’t know the copyright information we will not be able to print it in the magazine.
  2. The 2005 and 2007 excavations of Tel Rehov have revealed the remains of at least 100 ceramic beehives that were arranged in orderly rows, suggesting that “the apiary was a specialized industrial enterprise whose goal was to recover large amounts of bee honey and wax.” Cf. Leslie J. Hoppe, “‘A Land Flowing With Milk and Honey,’” The Bible Today 51 (2013): 174-179, esp. 175.
  3. Most Old Testament references to Anak refer to a person of large stature (Deut. 2:10, 21; 9:2; cf. Num. 13:33, which links the Anakim to the infamous Nephilim).
  4. Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Bible texts credited to New Revised Standard Version are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
  5. Robert C. Stallman, “’arbeh, locust,” in New International Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), vol. 1, p. 493.
  6. See for more details, Berel Dov Lerner, “Timid Grasshoppers and Fierce Locusts: An Ironic Pair of Biblical Metaphors,” Vetus Testamentum 49 (1999), pp. 545-548.

Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as an associate editor of Adventist Review and yearns to catch God’s perspective.

Packaging is key to sales. Major technology brands such as Apple or Samsung invest millions developing sophisticated boxes that promise high-end content. There are seemingly endless unboxing videos on YouTube—and people watch them.

I remember the first Christmas with our oldest daughter, Hannah. She couldn’t yet walk but enjoyed rolling around on the carpeted living room floor. She loved the wrapping paper—any wrapping paper. She had no interest in the actual gifts, but was fascinated by the crinkling, crackling sound and feel of the glittering packaging.

She had no interest in the actual gifts, but was fascinated by the crinkling, crackling sound and feel of the glittering packaging.

When Jesus came the first time the packaging didn’t look very promising. Rumors about the acceptability of Mary and Joseph’s marriage swirled around. They had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem and couldn’t find any respectable place with family or rent a decent place in an inn. Mary finally gave birth in a dirty hovel used as a barn. There were no gloating grandparents or joyful family celebrations. Instead, a bunch of smelly shepherds came to welcome the Messiah and became ambassadors of the news of His arrival (Luke 2:8-20). No one would have made an unboxing video of that moment. Instead of a hearty official welcome appropriate for a king, Jesus and His family had to flee to Egypt for safety following Herod’s death decree (Matt. 2:16-18).

John captures this moment poignantly: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). The wrapping didn’t look promising; expectations weren’t met; the outward appearance didn’t coincide with the content.

We often wonder why most people steeped in the Torah and living in first-century Palestine could get it so wrong. We sigh at their unrealistic expectations; yet we too can suffer a similar fate. Adventists love to talk about the second coming of Jesus. That’s part of our theological DNA and enshrined in our name. We carefully study Scripture to discern God’s timetable. We dig deep into Ellen White’s writings to understand the sequence of final events. We know what should happen. The special outpouring of the Spirit, the shaking, the mark of the beast, a time of trouble, or the seven last plagues figure prominently when we talk about the Second Coming. But could it be that in our search for the signs of the times and our yearning for the blessed hope we look for the wrong packaging and forget to keep first things first?

Jesus talked quite a bit about His second coming. Beyond signs and final events, however, He talked about unity (John 17:20-23) and our ability to stay focused and awake (Matt. 25:1-13). In Matthew’s Gospel the last story He tells, the one Jesus doesn’t want us to forget, is about the final judgment. It’s a simple scene: there are two groups, sheep and goats. We definitely want to belong to the sheep, for they follow the Good Shepherd. What makes the difference between these two groups in Jesus’ story? You were engaged in this world, Jesus declares. You took care of Me when I was hungry, when I was thirsty, when I was alone, when I was naked, when I was sick, even when I was in prison.

The sheep (now called “the righteous” in Matthew 25:37) don’t get it: We never saw you like this, Lord, they announce. Yes, you did, Jesus responds. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).

We don’t want to be sidetracked by the packaging.

Go to YouTube, type in the name of any sport equipment manufacturer, and watch one of the thousands of ads associated with that brand. Every ad tells a story, and every story has a hero—usually well-known sports stars who signed multimillion-dollar advertising contracts to promote the brand. These spokespersons tell us of “victory” or “endurance” or “success.” When they look into the camera, sweat dripping and exhaustion palpable, they suggest that, we too, may be able to succeed.

Prophets in Scripture were spokespersons too. They did not speak on their own behalf. They spoke on God’s behalf and communicated His words. They did not have office hours. Their personal lives were often intricately entwined with their ministry.

They did not sign multimillion-dollar advertising contracts for their troubles.

When God Speaks

The most common Hebrew term used to describe a prophet is nabi’. The word can be used as a noun (“prophet”) or as a verb (“to prophesy”). Abraham is described as a nabi’ in Genesis 20:7. We don’t know if Abraham ever made any public pronouncements about the future—though he was privy to God’s perspective when YHWH told him about the sojourn of his descendants and their servitude that would last 400 years (Gen. 15:13). He communicated God’s blessings to people surrounding him and interceded on their behalf (Gen. 18:16-33; 20:17). Scholars have repeatedly debated the exact meaning of the term underlying nabi’ and have concluded that it has both an active as well as a passive meaning.

The active meaning describes the task of a prophet: one who calls out on behalf of someone else. The passive meaning emphasizes the specific calling of a prophet: one who has been called or appointed. Both elements are key to understanding the ministry of biblical prophets. Isaiah’s awe-inspiring call experience offers a good example of this latter aspect of prophetic ministry (cf. Isa. 6). One could not study to be a prophet and speak on God’s behalf.1 No one became a prophet because their father had been a prophet. God called—and the prophet responded.

Often God’s call caused trepidation, consternation, and a strong sense of incompetence. Jeremiah hears God’s call, but feels inadequate, too young, and out of his depth (Jer. 1:6). God insists, as He had insisted again and again for others—and then He empowers (verses 7-10). God’s call always comes with His empowerment.

The passive meaning emphasizes the prophetic message: prophets speak on God’s behalf—not in their own name (Ex. 7:1; Num. 12:1-8). They don’t follow their own agendas—even though some biblical prophets seemed to forget this now and again. Balaam’s attraction to cash and honors led to his engagement by the Moabite king Balak. The prophet for hire was called to curse the people of Israel on their way to the Promised Land (Num. 22-24). Jonah’s warped attitude to divine grace and compassion relating to non-Israelites (see Jonah 4:2) led him to try to flee “from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3, NKJV). We wonder about the logic behind this. How can one flee from the Creator of the world, who holds everything in His hands? Clearly prophets, like most of us, suffered now and again from a lack of logic and a distorted sense of reality.

Biblical prophets received God’s revelation in many ways. Sometimes God spoke directly to them (Num. 12:6-8; Deut. 18:18); sometimes He revealed His will through a vision (Isa. 1:1; Jer. 1:11-19) or a dream (Dan. 1:17; 2:19; Zech. 1:8). An Egyptian pharaoh (Gen. 41:1-8) and a Babylonian king (Dan. 2, 4) both were recipients of prophetic dreams. God can use anyone (including an abused donkey, cf. Num. 22:28) to reveal His will to a world urgently needing to hear from Him. In all cases, prophets communicated God’s will to those listening (the original audience) and those reading (later generations of readers, including us today).

On All Channels

Not all prophets wrote down their messages, though most seem to have preached. Some wrote books (or, better, scrolls [cf. Jer. 36:1, 2]), while others did not. We know very little about the prophet Ahijah, who ministered during the reign of Jeroboam I in Israel (1 Kings 11:29). He appears several times at crucial moments, but then disappears from sight.

God’s prophets spoke clearly and pointedly to the larger world in Old Testament times. The public square was a familiar place them.

Some prophets wrote books, even though those books were never included in the biblical canon. The books of Nathan the prophet or Gad the seer are not part of our Bible (1 Chron. 29:29). Both Nathan and Gad were bona fide prophets during the reign of King David. God obviously knew that their writings would not be needed later on to communicate concisely and comprehensively His plan of salvation.

All prophets, however, communicated with everything they had. Hosea is told by God to marry “a wife of harlotry . . . , for the land has committed great harlotry” (Hosea 1:2, NKJV). Scholars have wondered what exactly that means. It is clear that God used Hosea’s love life and family relations as visible object lessons to communicate His love and care for His people.

Media savviness and dramatic enactments are not something that is unique to the twenty-first century. When the prophet Ahijah meets Jeroboam, the future king of the northern kingdom, he tears a perfectly good garment into 12 pieces and hands Jeroboam 10 of them (1 Kings 11:29-40). That’s quite an entrance. Translation: God is giving you the 10 northern tribes as a kingdom. Walk in God’s ways; keep His statutes and His commandments. Consider this a sermon illustration that cannot easily be forgotten.

The prophet Elisha commands King Joash of Israel to shoot arrows out of a window, and connects this with a message promising Israel’s victory over the Arameans (2 Kings 13:14-19). Isaiah walks three years barefoot and without outer garments through Jerusalem because God told him to do so. It was an object lesson of judgment against Egypt and Ethiopia (Isa. 20:1-6). Imagine seeing that half-naked prophet making his way through the capital city, day after day!

Following God’s explicit command, Jeremiah wore a yoke, pointing to Judah’s coming captivity (Jer. 27:1, 2). He also bought the field of a relative in his hometown of Anathoth during the final siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 32:1-12). At that moment Anathoth had already been occupied by Babylonian forces. Who would buy property that they could not possess? God wanted to send a powerful message of hope: “Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land” (verse 15, NKJV) was His message to those willing to listen. Exile would not be the last word.

Many more examples could be added here. Consider Ezekiel’s miniature clay city portraying Jerusalem surrounded by siege ramps and battering rams—used as a sign for God’s people to live in God’s reality (Eze. 4:1-3). All these signs and activities were meant to communicate in ways that were meaningful and relevant to an audience that needed to hear a word from the Lord but were not always ready to actually listen. Prophets were a crucial part of God’s media strategy.

The Prophetic Voice

Old Testament prophets were not crazy women,³ and men, who walking around half naked, and playing with miniature siege models, or carrying yokes around town. Unlike other ancient Near Eastern prophets of the surrounding cultures, they also were not financed (and controlled) by the monarchs of Israel or Judah. While some addressed kings and courts, they spoke first and foremost to God’s people—and the larger world surrounding them. Let’s examine five aspects of their message.

1. Old Testament Prophets Engaged the World

Scholars have noted that about 15 percent of the content of Old Testament prophetic books was directed to the nations surrounding Judah and Israel.4 Amos’ strong denunciation of Edom’s pitiless persecution of “his brother” (i.e., Israel) in Amos 1:11, 12 serves as a good illustration that God’s justice was not limited to Israel. God takes note of abuse—any abuse, for as the Creator of the universe, His principles of justice are always valid and don’t depend on a particular cultural context. God takes note when a child cries in pain. God remembers physical or moral atrocities. God’s prophets spoke clearly and pointedly to the larger world in Old Testament times. The public square was a familiar place for them.

2. Old Testament Prophets Engaged God’s Covenant People About Their Ethical Conduct

God called prophets to remind His people that justice and mercy are central parts of His law. “Proclaim in the palaces at Ashdod,” says Amos, “and in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say: ‘Assemble on the mountains of Samaria; see great tumults in her midst, and the oppressed within her. For they do not know to do right,’ says the Lord, ‘who store up violence and robbery in their palaces’” (Amos 3:9, 10, NKJV).

Nations neighboring Israel are called to witness the social abuse and oppression that can be seen in God’s people. “They do not know to do right” is God’s verdict. It’s not an intellectual problem. It’s a problem of action and right-doing.

Prophets, often at great risk to their own lives, spoke uncomfortable truths.

Hosea offers a resounding indictment of God’s people: “Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel, for the Lord brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: ‘There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed’” (Hosea 4:1, 2, NKJV). This is public courtroom language. God brings a charge against His people, based on His covenant law, i.e., the Ten Commandments. The list of infractions can be checked off (“swearing, lying, killing, stealing, committing adultery”), resulting in the final summary: “They break all restraint.” Prophets, often at great risk to their own lives, spoke uncomfortable truths.

3. Old Testament Prophets Unmasked Religious Formalism

Prophets consistently critiqued the senseless performance of sanctuary ritual. Religious activity without heart transformation is useless and counter to God’s purpose for His people. Here are two well-known examples.

“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, NKJV). Hosea puts sacrifices, ordained by God in His law, in juxtaposition to covenant mercy (or khesed, a key term of biblical theology). Outward piety involving costly sacrifices can never replace the internalization of the underlying principles and concepts expressed by the sacrifices.

Amos offers a second example: “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:21-24, NKJV). Religious forms without justice and righteousness will not do. In fact, God “hates” them, for they ultimately function as innoculations against heart transformation.

4. Old Testament Prophets Stood in the Breach

Moses, the prototype of Old Testament prophets, interceded again and again for Israel (Ex. 32:11-14; Num. 11:2; 12:13; 14:11-19). Likewise, Amos interceded twice when confronted with God’s judgment against Israel (Amos 7:1-6). Intercession shows the heart of a person. Intercession points beyond us and covers the world in grace. Intercession echoes divine care. When Israel’s prophets interceded on behalf of others, they anticipated the great Intercessor who prayed for His disciples in His darkest hour (John 17:6-26).

5. Old Testament Prophets Shared Hope

While judgment figures prominently in most Old Testament prophetic books, hope is never far away. “On that day,” writes Amos at the end of his book, “I [God] will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old. . . . I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them” (Amos 9:11-14, NKJV).

Beyond judgment there is a future. God’s future is bigger and better than can be imagined. Isaiah 65 and 66 offer more details of this hope-filled messianic kingdom: an earth made new; a people restored; a hope revived. “It shall come to pass,” says the Lord, “that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isa. 65:24, NKJV).

Old Testament prophets were called to speak on God’s behalf—to the world surrounding them, to God’s people and their leadership. They spoke on God’s behalf, using imagery and words that could be understood by their audiences. They reminded God’s people that pious religious forms without heart transformation were empty and useless. They unabashedly spoke about ethical living and the close connection between God’s law and the way we live. Often they became intercessors, pleading to God on behalf of the people. They always pointed to the great hope that has driven generations of God’s children to move forward by faith.


  1. The schools of the prophets seem to have been communities surrounding prophets who received education and spiritual orientation, perhaps similar to the disciples in the New Testament (cf. 2 Kings 4:1-6; 6:1-4). Ellen G. White (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1913], pp. 281, 282) emphasizes the idea that these schools focused on education “to impart knowledge of a high order.”
  2. Bible texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  3. The prophetic gift was not exclusively given to men. Consider Miriam [Ex. 15:20]; Deborah [Judges 4, 5]; Huldah [2 Kings 22:14], etc.
  4. Paul R. Raabe, “Why Prophetic Oracles Against the Nations?” in Fortunate the Eyes That See: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman in Celebration of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. Astrid B. Beck et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 236-257.

Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as associate editor of Adventist Review.

It happened during prayer time in church. The preacher started his prayer like most prayers begin. “Our dear heavenly Father,” he prayed, “thank you for being our Father.”

That’s when everything around her stopped. She sat there, suddenly being transported back into a dark, aching past. Unsolicited memories flooded her mind. She remembered the bruises. She heard again the irrational shouting. She felt the uncontrollable fear. She smelled his alcohol-infused breath as he was closing in on her. She tasted her tears. She remembered the horrible shameful things that happened in the dark.

Father? A wave of nausea swept over her. She knew instinctively that she didn’t want to have anything to do with a heavenly Father. Silently she got to her feet and walked out of the church, tears covering her face.

Getting Used to Toxicants

I recently learned a new word. “Toxicity,” according to Merriam-Webster, refers to “the quality or state of being toxic.”1 It’s the degree to which any substance (or mix of substances) can damage an organism.2 Most of us are aware of such classic toxicants as asbestos, formaldehyde, arsenic, or lead. We may have even heard of the poisoning effects of mercury, BPA in plastic, or chlorine.3 Many of these toxicants appear naturally in our environment, and in small enough amounts do not represent a health hazard. But even good things that we need for our daily survival can become poisonous when consumed in the wrong dose. Human beings die if they do not receive enough hydration. Too much water, however, can also lead to death because of electrolyte imbalance, causing brain cells to swell and block the regular flow of blood.4

Some people have a higher threshold relating to toxicants in their environment, while others have a lower threshold. Chronic toxicity is the development of adverse effects as the result of long-term exposure to a toxicant or other stressor.5 Slowly but surely the toxicant affects our bodies negatively, ultimately leading to death.

Toxicity, the quality or state of being toxic, is not limited to the physical realm. Ideas, values, relationships, or emotions can become part of a “toxic” mix, leading to bad decisions or destructive behavior. Jonestown and Waco have illustrated that toxicity can involve twisted and distorted religious ideas. The way we think about God (theologians call this our Gottesbild, or “image of God”) is another arena where wrong ideas and notions can lead to toxic behavior affecting others. Unfortunately, there is no easily accessible device that can measure “mind toxicity.” We can really see it only in the way we relate to ourselves and others.

A Toxic Mindset

The book of Jonah tells us that God called Jonah to deliver a specific message to the people of Nineveh (Jonah 1:2; 3:2). Jonah’s actual sermon was a no-frills, no-mercy message of judgment: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4).6 Jonah was one of God’s bona fide card-carrying ninth century B.C. prophets whose ministry in Israel was well known and highly recognized (2 Kings 14:23-25). God had used him in the past; and He was intent on using him again on this special assignment.

Jonah, however, didn’t want to go. His attempt to flee “from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3; the Hebrew literally reads “from before the face of the Lord”) was ill-fated from the beginning and ended in a dramatic deep sea dive (verses 4-15). Jonah just didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He was not ready to share God’s grace (even in the form of a warning about an impending judgment) with the brutal Assyrians who lived in Nineveh.

After God does not destroy the city at the end of the 40 days thanks to Nineveh’s repentance, we witness a heated discussion between Jonah and his Lord. “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, One who relents from doing harm” (Jonah 4:2). Translation: God, I knew Your soft heart and that You wouldn’t follow through. That’s why I wanted to go in the opposite direction in the first place. It’s Your fault.

Jonah’s understanding of God’s goodness was limited to Israel. He could not fathom the possibility of grace for even the enemies of God’s people.

What toxic mind-set does it take that a “man of God” (one of the official titles of prophets in the Old Testament, cf. 1 Sam. 2:27; 9:6) argues with God about His grace being applied to the enemy, the foreigner, and, perhaps, even the neighbor? What hatred needs to bubble maliciously in our hearts so that we cannot even fathom God’s grace for those who have hurt us? We know from the historical records of that period that the Assyrians were cruel overlords. They were no softies. They were abusive and brutal and vicious—all that God is not. Yet they were also the object of God’s love and grace.

Jonah’s story offers a perfect window into a toxic mind-set that retributes evil with evil. God, however, never gives up on His prophet. His dialogical engagement contains rebuke, but it’s a gentle rebuke. His questions are meant to start a conversation, plant a seed, and begin a transformation. The fact that we can read all about Jonah’s misguided attempts to run away from God, and his successful mission to evangelize Nineveh, suggests that Jonah finally got it—and decided to write down his foolishness as a lesson for future generations of God’s children.

Caught in the Past

Another Old Testament narrative offers an even more in-depth look at toxic mind-sets. Moses had been gone for a long time. People kept looking at Mount Sinai, then at each other, and wondering if and when their leader would return to them. So one day they gathered around Aaron and asked him to make them something more visible. “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Ex. 32:1).

Aaron was quick to comply—perhaps out of concern for his own life. This was not one of Aaron’s most glorious moments. After receiving jewelry from the people, he fashioned a golden calf and declared: “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt” (verse 4).

We wonder why Aaron was so easily swayed. We also wonder why Israel was so transfixed on a visual representation of a god that fit their needs and their expectations. “Only a few days had passed since the Hebrews had made a solemn covenant with God to obey His voice,” writes Ellen White. “They had stood trembling with terror before the mount, listening to the words of the Lord. . . . The glory of God still hovered above Sinai in the sight of the congregation; but they turned away, and asked for other gods.”7

We wonder about depth of convictions in this story. What we see is not faith-based trust in divine leadership, but deep-seated underlying doubt leading ultimately to blatant idolatry. Israel was intellectually and emotionally still in Egypt. They had known the myriads of Egyptian deities. They had experienced the intoxicating emotions of Egyptian worship and rituals. A golden calf meant a mental and a physical shortcut back to Egypt. Worship could become a vehicle to the familiar. Instead of the radical worldview change implied in God’s covenant with His people, they opted to “stay put.”

Most of us cherish the familiar. We enjoy walking on known paths. We feel safe when we can order and understand our world. Israel experienced that as well, and again and again they yearned to return to Egypt (cf. Num. 14:4). But the call to follow God out of Egypt, the invitation to follow Jesus spoken directly by Him to His disciples, is not only a call to move geographically, it’s an invitation to radical change and radical discipleship. Our toxic self-centered mindset and values need to disappear because they are diametrically opposed to God’s values and world-view. We grab—God gives. We crave power—God offers humility. We demand authority—God emphasizes servanthood.

Toxicity Reaching Beyond Our Hearts

Both stories share a common denominator. Israel and Jonah struggled with their understanding of who God really was. Israel had seen God’s mighty signs and wonders. They had witnessed the theophany at Mount Sinai—and shrunk back in fear (Ex. 19:18, 19). For them Yahweh was just the Israelite version of another powerful Egyptian deity that was to be feared. They seemed to have never understood that He was not only their Creator and Redeemer, but also their Sustainer, their Healer (Ex. 15:26), their Father—and their Friend (John 15:15). Intriguingly, it is right after the golden calf episode that God reveals Himself to Moses as “the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the father upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Ex. 34:6, 7).

Jonah’s understanding of God’s goodness was limited to Israel. He could not fathom the possibility of grace for even the enemies of God’s people. He would rather die than offer forgiveness to a hated enemy. His theology informed his relationships and his actions. That’s why the idea that we are God’s “ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:20) can be thoroughly disconcerting. How can I represent Him in a way that will draw others toward Him—instead of repelling them? Paul gives us a clue: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (verse 20). Reconciliation stands right at the beginning of healing.

The Path to Healing

I don’t like snakes. I have lived in parts of the world where snakes were plentiful. Many of these snakes were venomous. When a snake with neurotoxins bites there is only a limited window of opportunity to administer antivenomous serum. If not applied in time, the victim will die as a result of heart failure or breathing failure.

When our notion of God is full of toxins, we will espouse toxic waste that will affect people around us. We will represent Him in ways that may be distracting, discouraging, or even disturbing. In fact, toxic theological waste has been one of Satan’s favorite tools in history. What does the idea of an eternal purgatory say about God? What did the emphasis on the wrath of God with little reference to His grace do for the way people related to God?

Ellen White offers some intriguing insights on this: “It is the work of Satan to represent the Lord as lacking in compassion and pity. He misstates the truth in regard to Him. He fills the imagination with false ideas concerning God; and instead of dwelling upon the truth in regard to our heavenly Father, we too often fix our minds upon the misrepresentations of Satan and dishonor God by distrusting Him and murmuring against Him.”8

On another occasion she wrote: “The inhumanity of man toward man is our greatest sin. Many think that they are representing the justice of God while they wholly fail of representing His tenderness and His great love. Often the ones whom they meet with sternness and severity are under the stress of temptation. Satan is wrestling with these souls, and harsh, unsympathetic words discourage them and cause them to fall a prey to the tempter’s power.”9

When we recognize our great responsibility as we represent Christ to those around us, we fall at the feet of Jesus. We grasp His grace personally; we become reconciled with God, then are transformed into reconcilers. We focus on God’s goodness and let God do the transforming and healing in His time—in us and in those with whom we rub shoulders day to day.

Then, perhaps, instead of revulsion, perplexity, or heartache, our words, our touch, even the mention of our names, will offer a winning glimpse of Him who is invisible.


  1. www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/toxicity
  2. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxicity
  3. A good resource for understanding the effects of a specific chemical substance can be found in the ATSTR Toxic Substances Portal at www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/index.asp.
  4. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_intoxication
  5. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronic_toxicity
  6. Bible texts are from the New King James Version of the Bible Copyright (c) 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  7. Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890, 1908), p. 317.
  8. Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 116.
  9. Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 163.

Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of Adventist Review who yearns for the deep cleansing power of the Spirit scrubbing all toxicity from his life.