Cliff's Edge

My First Public Evangelism

My friends were less than thrilled

Clifford Goldstein
My First Public Evangelism

The year was 1979. Yours truly had just been born again, though so clueless that, had you told me I was a sinner, I would have uttered, “What are you taking about?” The next day I walked into a health food store run by Christians whom I had just met. I didn’t know that they were Seventh-day Adventists but, had I, it would have meant nothing to me. (The only Adventist that I had ever known used to sell me drugs, anyway.)

I did want to study the Bible, and when they asked, “What do you want to study?” I (for some reason) responded, “About America. Is America in the Bible?” Not knowing they were Adventists—and had I known it wouldn’t have meant anything to me—and the first thing I ask is to study about America in prophecy?

So we did. They took me first to Daniel 2: Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, Rome, the breakup of Rome into the nations of modern Europe, and then God’s eternal kingdom. They took me next to Daniel 7: Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, Rome (both pagan and papal), and then God’s eternal kingdom. Then to Daniel 8: Media-Persia, named (Daniel 8:21), Greece, also named (Daniel 8:22), and to the last power, Rome (pagan and papal), which, as in Daniel 2 and 7, is supernaturally destroyed at the end of time. (And though this didn’t mean much to me then, it means much to me now: in all three chapters, Daniel 2, 7, and 8, the one power that arises after ancient Greece and exists until the end of the world is Rome—solely, totally, and only Rome.)

Next, they took me to Revelation 13 and 14, where imagery from those Daniel chapters reappeared, especially dealing with Rome, the papal phase, but  now in the context of end-time persecution over worship: worship of the beast and its image (Revelation 13: 12, 15; 14:9); or worship of the Creator, “Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Rev. 14:7), language reflecting the fourth commandment, the Sabbath. Given that the depiction, twice, of God’s people was, among other things, as those who “keep the commandments of God” (Rev. 12:17; 14: 12); and that papal Rome, the “first beast” (Rev. 13:12), has openly bragged (and, justly, taunted Sunday-keeping Protestants) about institutionalizing the change of the seventh-day Sabbath to Sunday—the Sabbath-Sunday issue in last day events made sense. (Now, I can’t see how issues over the mark of the beast, as opposed to worship of the Creator, will be over anything but the fourth commandment.)

Imbedded in the study, of course, was the lamb-like beast of Revelation 13:11—”Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon,” identified as the United States, the goon who will, ultimately, provide the muscle for enforcing the mark of the beast. If it weren’t astonishing enough that the first thing I ask Seventh-day Adventists to study with me is America in prophecy, it was even more astonishing that, not long after they studied this with me, maybe a week or two—Pope John Paul II made his historic visit to the United States, where, for first time ever, a Pope met with a president in the White House. The optics—President Jimmy Carter, then a Southern Baptist, shaking the pope’s hand—were stunning, as was TIME magazine’s cover article for October 15, 1979, with its picture of the Pope over the headline, “John Paul, Superstar.”

No wonder I believed it.

In fact, as we in the health food store were studying the Rome-America connection, Teddy Kennedy, a Roman Catholic (of sorts) was trying to steal the Democratic nomination from Jimmy Carter for the 1980 presidential run. So, it seemed so obvious to me, from prophecy, what would happen, which is why, days later, in my first ever public evangelism, I was standing on the lawn of the University of Florida, where people were talking about the upcoming election. Yours truly, now privileged with special, inside-track knowledge direct from heaven itself, blurted out, “Ted Kennedy is going to win!”

 “How do you know?” someone asked.

“Because,” I responded, waving a KJV over my head, “the Bible says so!”

(After excitedly telling my SDA contacts in the health food about my first public evangelism, they were, to put it mildly, less than thrilled, even if I didn’t understand why.)

Notice something, though, about this story: using Daniel and Revelation, the Adventists took me to Rome and to America, including Sabbath-Sunday in the context of end-time persecution—from just the Bible. They taught me what I needed to know from the Word, and the Word alone.

This is important because, for years, some among us have been screaming: We need to discard our understanding of end-time prophecy because Ellen White wrote for her era, not ours. We live in a different world now from Ellen White, so we have to change it. Yada, yada, yada . . ..

These people are so far removed from the biblical text (no doubt having long imbibed in higher criticism) that they think our understanding of last-day events is built around her, and not around the Bible. Whatever revealed truth given her, she wrote what she did because that is what prophecies, anchored in Daniel and Revelation, teach. Our position is based on the Bible, not on Ellen White, a fact that too many of our people, and not the just cavaliers, don’t understand. My first bit of public evangelism, however naive (cut me some slack, folks: two weeks earlier I wasn’t even sure God existed), shows that our interpretation of Daniel and Revelation regarding Rome, America, and the mark of the beast can be derived from Scripture alone. Our position doesn’t need to be discarded, or even revised, and it is only ignorance of the texts themselves that impels those who say that it does.

Clifford Goldstein

Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide. He most recent book is Risen: Finding Hope in the Empty Tomb.