Sabbath School Reflections: The Foundation of God’s Government

Reflections on The Great Controversy chapters 25–27

Matthew L. Tinkham
Sabbath School Reflections: The Foundation of God’s Government
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash
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On April 15, 1965, American singer and songwriter, Jackie DeShannon, first recorded and made popular a song that resonated with many. Written and composed by Hal David (lyrics) and Burt Bacharach (music), “What the World Needs Now Is Love” peaked on the music charts in the United States at number seven for the Billboard Hot 100 and in Canada at number one for the RPM Top Singles. Since then, it has been recorded by many other artists and made appearances in major blockbuster films. The yearning prayer expressed in the song’s lyrics is, perhaps, more relevant now than for any previous generation. The words of the refrain are as follows.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love;
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.[i]

Undoubtedly, our contemporary world is in desperate need of love that produces a relational morality among its inhabitants. The post-Fall history of humanity is permeated with horrific scenes of violence and oppression, criminality and corruption, that result in all kinds of poverty and privation, prejudice and polarization, exploitation and enslavement, and military action and massacre. The Holocaust of World War II is only one such well-known scene that reveals how far fallen humanity has sunken. While there are certainly internal and individual factors to consider for the perpetuation of such atrocities that should not be ignored, there is also a larger picture to be seen and understood. Many external and systemic factors that, more often than not, flow from a foundation of moral corrosion—the abuse of money, power, position, and influence by unethical leadership and immoral governance—likewise contribute to the problems. If there is one thing we have learned from the clash of kingdoms in the story of humankind, it is the underrated importance of having moral leaders who are committed to the best interests of the people they serve, leaders who will govern in accordance with sound ethical principles. As the old adage states, “character counts!” Particularly, a moral character of love. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”

Love: The Central Dispute of the Cosmic Conflict

The aforementioned corruption of human systems that we witness in the world is merely the fruit that stems from the root of macro-systemic factors at play behind the scenes of post-Fall history. Unseen to the physical eye is an ongoing cosmic conflict between good and evil, Christ and Satan, and angels and demons that is being revealed in the real, every-day struggles of human life at all levels of society. This great controversy is not your typical war by any means. It extends beyond a struggle “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” of the unseen realm manifest in our visible world (Eph. 6:12, ESV). Furthermore, it is not a contest to determine who is stronger and more powerful or who possesses heavier military weaponry and technology. If such were the case, the victor would be known before the war even started; the almighty God who is omnipotent and sovereign over all things as Creator is indisputably the winner of such a competition. Rather, this cosmic quarrel is a dispute over claims regarding character and centers on the principle of love.

In the primordial Fall of the angelic cherub now known as Satan (cf. Isa. 14:12–14; Eze. 28:12–19), the devil essentially challenged the notion that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). On the one hand, God maintains that His intrinsic nature, essential attributes, and personal character are verily love in substance. As such, the principles of His moral law by which He governs the universe are fundamentally a transcript of His loving character and reflect His essence of love. All His relational interactions with and treatment of His creatures are the organic outworking of His moral law of love.

All His relational interactions with and treatment of His creatures are the organic outworking of His moral law of love.

On the other hand, Satan, since his Fall, accuses God of lying about His true self. He claims that God is essentially unjust, asserting that He governs the cósmos as a self-centered despot and coerces creation to obey a law that is arbitrary, unfair, and unnecessarily restrictive. So, who is telling the truth?

The only way to settle this kind of conflict is, again, not by a display of power but rather through a demonstration of the opposing parties’ claims regarding God’s character. Accordingly, at the beginning of the cosmic controversy, rules of engagement were divinely established (e.g., Job 1–2), and God provided Satan with sufficient time and space (i.e., jurisdiction) to attempt to prove the truthfulness of his claims against God.[ii] Likewise, God immediately went to work to reveal the true substance of His nature and character to the world—“God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). He “never slumbers or sleeps” in His labor to manifest His love to the world (Ps. 121:4, NLT). Since only God can know the interior or essence of a person because of His exhaustive omniscience (1 Sam. 16:7), this demonstration of character needed to be centered upon something visible to creatures throughout the universe that would allow them to weigh the evidence and determine for themselves the accuracy of the contradicting claims. Therefore, the foundation of God’s cosmic government, the moral law of love and its tangible expressions, became the focal point of the great controversy. What does the Bible have to say about God and His moral law? Are they truly love in their essence?

“God Is Love”          

When we take a close look at Scripture, we realize that the revelation that “God is love” pervades all of what it has to say about Him. The patriarch and prophet Moses received a powerful revelation of God, when he saw, with his own eyes, the glorious Lord pass before him, and he heard it proclaimed that the Lord is the unique God who is “abounding in steadfast love . . . ,  keeping steadfast love for thousands” (Ex. 34:6, 7, ESV; cf. Ps. 103:8). Ellen G. White wrote a five-volume series of commentaries on the Bible known as The Conflict of the Ages series, that covers the entire period of biblical history from the Fall of Satan in heaven and the creation of the earth to the end-time and the recreation of the earth. The first three words that begin the first volume of this series, Patriarchs and Prophets, and the final three words of the last volume in this series, The Great Controversy, are the same: God is love.[iii] Thus, White framed her commentary on Scripture with the very simple but incredibly profound truth that God is love.[iv] She rightly understood that everything the Bible has to say about who God is and how He acts is about the simple yet incomprehensible truth that God is love. Love is what best depicts and sums up all of who God is; love is what preeminently defines him.[v]

“Law and Love Combining”[vi]

White wrote in The Great Controversy, “The law of God, from its very nature, is unchangeable. It is a revelation of the will and the character of its Author” (The Great Controversy, pp. 466, 467; emphasis supplied). As “a transcript of His character,” (p. 434) the moral law of God is centered on the relational principle of His love. “God is love, and His law is love” (p. 467).[vii] Her linking of the law of God with the principle of love is merely a reflection of Jesus’ own teaching on the moral law.

On one occasion, Jesus was approached by some Pharisees and scribes of the Mosaic law who were disputing with one another. To secure Jesus’ thoughts on the matter being argued, “one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’” (Matt. 22:35, 36, ESV). Jesus’ first response includes a quotation of the šəmaʿ Yiśrāʾēl (meaning “Hear, O Israel”) or the Jewish confession of faith in Deuteronomy 6:4–9: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment’” (Matt. 22:37, 38, ESV; cf. Deut. 6:5). In other words, the first and greatest commandment of God’s moral law is “love God.” Then Jesus followed this commandment with a second, quoting from Leviticus 19:18 “‘And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:39, ESV). Thus, the second most important commandment of God’s moral law is summarily “love others.” White points out this reality of the law when she comments that “[i]ts two great principles are love to God and love to [humanity]” (p. 467). In this way, the whole moral law of God can be concisely summarized in one word, “love.” Along these lines, the apostle Paul similarly commanded the Christians in Corinth, “Pursue love” (1 Cor. 14:1, ESV), above all things because “the greatest” of all virtues “is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). In fact, Jesus concluded His response to the lawyer, “‘On these two commandments [to love] depend allthe Law and the Prophets’” (Matt. 22:40, ESV). God is love, and His moral law transcribes His love into practical principles of relational morality.

God is love, and His moral law transcribes His love into practical principles of relational morality.

This is beautifully manifest in how our heavenly Father organized the Decalogue, His moral law of Ten Commandments. Two tablets of stone were hewn from Mount Sinai upon which the law was written (Ex. 31:18; 34:1, 4). The purpose of the material used was to indicate the immutable (i.e., unchangeable)[viii] and perpetual[ix] (i.e., eternal) nature of the moral law. On the first tablet God wrote, with His own finger (Ex. 31:18), the first four commandments concerning the first greatest commandment to “love God” (Ex. 20:3–11; cf. Deut. 5:6–15), and, on the second, He inscribed the final six commandments concerning the second greatest commandment to “love others” (Ex. 20:12–17; cf. Deut. 5:16–21). Thus, the law is composed just as Jesus said: “‘On these two commandments [to love] depend allthe Law and the Prophets’” (Matt. 22:40, ESV). In this way, the foundation of God’s government, His moral law, reflects His perfect, eternal love and testifies of it to humanity in such a way that they may understand and experience divine love in their own lives. When we love truly, we are fulfilling God’s moral law and vice versa, because, as the apostle Paul stated, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10; cf. 8, 9; Gal. 5:13, 14).[x] Similarly, James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” (James 2:8, ESV).

Furthermore, because God is eternal (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:2; 103:15–17), having neither beginning nor end (Isa. 40:28; 57:15; Deut. 32:40; Ps. 102:27; Rom. 16:26; Heb. 1:12; Rev. 4:9),[xi] He loves “with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3, ESV; cf. Isa. 54:8) that “shall not depart” (Isa. 54:10, ESV) and “never ceases” (Lam. 3:21, 22 ESV). In short, God’s “love is eternal,” as sang the psalmist, a total of twenty-six times throughout the entirety of Psalm 136 (HCSB).[xii] Unsurprisingly, the moral law is likewise eternal. “[A]ll his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever” (Ps. 111:7b, 8a, ESV). Just as “God is love” is an eternal reality of God’s being, so too “‘not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law’” (Matt. 5:18, ESV).[xiii]

Satan’s Rebellion Against the Moral Law of Love

Because God’s moral character and philosophy of governance is revealed to the universe through the principles of His moral law of love, Satan has specifically targeted his ruthless accusations and attacks against God’s law in his cosmic rebellion. His goal is to obscure so thoroughly this self-revelation of God by lies and deception that no one will be able to perceive the true loving nature and character of God. The deceit of his original temptations resulted in (1) the fall of “a third” of the angels with him from heaven (Rev. 12:3, 4b) and (2) the fall of the entire race of humanity into sin, degradation, and death (Rom. 3:9–19, 23) through their covenantal representative Adam (Gen. 3:1–6; Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:22). Now, after thousands of years of the devil and demons holding humanity in bondage (Rom. 7:14–24; Eph. 2:1–3), we find ourselves in a seemingly never-ending spiral of growing degrees of sin and evil (Gen. 5:5, 6; Judges 21:25b; 2 Tim. 3:1–5). As the apostle John wrote, “[s]in is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4, ESV) or “the transgression of the law” of love (KJV). But for God’s grace (Gen. 3:15), our entire being is  “hostile to God” as a result of the Fall and “does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7, ESV). Through sin, we became God’s “enemies” (Rom. 5:10) and have caused all kinds of atrocities and evil under the satanic “law of sin and death” to which we are enslaved (Rom. 8:2). Humanity desperately needs a clear revelation of God’s love and a heavenly miracle to change our fatal course. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” And God abundantly supplied!

God’s Greatest Demonstration of Love in the Cosmic Conflict

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV). God shows His love for us in an unimaginable way: “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, ESV). In the person of the Son, God became human (Matt. 1:22, 23; John 1:1, 14; Phil. 2:5–8), lived a perfect life of love (Heb. 5:8–9) “without sin” (Heb. 4:15; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5), died as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice for our sin at Golgotha (Rom. 3:25), and defeated death (Hosea 13:14; Rev. 1:18) and the devil (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14, 15; 1 John 3:8) through His glorious resurrection from the dead. The cross and the empty tomb reveal God’s unfathomable, even scandalous, love! Jesus made complete provision of redemption for the world so that as many as will can be reconciled eternally to Himself (Rom. 5:10, 11) and to one another (2 Cor. 5:18–20). The events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus give the clearest and greatest revelation of the eternal truthfulness that God is love and the immutability and perpetuity of His moral law of love.

The Proper Response to God’s Eternal Love in Christ

God longs for each member of the human family to respond positively to this profound sacrificial act of love, that is, He longs for humanity to reciprocate His love. This response requires us to properly encounter God’s moral law and understand it in such a way that we come to the realization of how far we fall short of its articulation of love (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10, 19, 23; 1 Cor. 3:3; Eph. 2:2, 3). This confrontation is not unlike looking into a mirror to see the dirt that needs to be cleaned from our faces after a hard day of work in the garden (James 1:23–25). God’s moral law pointedly reveals our sin (Rom. 3:20) and our need for a Savior from sin (Gal. 3:24). The Holy Spirit through the inspired words of the moral law calls out to us through His prevenient grace, inviting us to embrace God’s loving solution for our sin in Jesus. Of course, the sinner “may resist this love, may refuse to be drawn to Christ; but if he [or she] does not resist he [or she] will be drawn to Jesus.”[xiv] Thus, the only appropriate response to this revelation of truth of who we are as sinners is to submit to the Spirit’s efforts of persuasion and experience authentic conversion to Christ that produces true revival and reformation of the human heart and mind.

The only appropriate response to this revelation of truth of who we are as sinners is to submit to the Spirit’s efforts of persuasion and experience authentic conversion to Christ that produces true revival and reformation of the human heart and mind.

The concept of conversion comes from the Greek term epistrophē in the New Testament, whose verbal cognate epistréphō means “to turn,” “to change direction,” or “to return” and thus, “describes an act of turning, turning around, back, changing direction, [or] returning.”[xv] As such, conversion entails two simultaneous experiences—repentance and faith—that compose a single turning movement. This might be visualized as a soldier in military formation performing a single smooth 180° about-face pivot from facing one direction to facing the completely opposite direction. Repentance and faith constitute “two sides of the same coin” in regard to conversion. Both experiences are indispensable for a true and lasting conversion. As White states, the sinner “must exercise repentance toward God, whose law has been transgressed; and faith in Christ, his [or her] atoning sacrifice” (p. 468).

Repentance (the negative aspect of conversion) is the turning away from a life of sin, guilt, shame, condemnation, and death (Hosea 14:1, 2; Eze. 14:6; 18:21, 30; 33:11; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30).[xvi] It is a gift given to the sinner at the initiative of God (e.g., Acts 5:31; 11:18; Rom. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25). The experience of repentance involves four important aspects: conviction, contrition, confession, and consecration.

(1) Conviction, “the first step in reconciliation to God,” is the honest acknowledgement and realization of our totally depraved and rebellious hearts and minds and that we have transgressed God’s moral law, which resulted in our guilt and shame (John 16:8–11).[xvii]

(2) Contrition is a profound and sincere “sorrow for sin” and how it breaks the heart of God and our relationship with others that results in genuine regret and an authentic abhorrence of our sin (Jer. 31:9; Joel 2:12, 13).[xviii]

(3) Confession is the admission of our sin before God and those who were injured by our sin (Lev. 5:5; Num. 5:5–7; Prov. 28:13; 1 John 1:9).

(4) Consecration is the reformational and transformational commitment to (a) give one’s self wholly over to Jesus in the power of His Spirit; (b) renounce, forsake, and abandon sin; and (c) seek reconciliation and make appropriate restitution for it (Isa. 45:22; 55:7; Eze. 14:6; 18:21, 30; 33:11; Matt. 3:8; Luke 19:8; Acts 19:19).

In order for it to be genuine and life-transforming, true repentance must involve all four of these aspects. Only then has one really turned away from a life of sin.

Faith (the positive aspect of conversion) is the second part of conversion. It is the turning toward a new, Spirit-filled life of love in union with Jesus Christ (Heb. 11:6). Like repentance, faith is also a gift given at the initiative of God (e.g., Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:9) that cannot be exercised without the enabling of the Holy Spirit. The Greek term for “faith” in the New Testament (pístis) connotes two distinct yet related aspects: belief and trust.

(1) Belief is the intellectual assent to and cognitive acceptance of the factual propositions of biblical teaching (e.g., Matt. 9:28; Heb. 11:6; 1 John 4:1), as in “credence” or “being convinced.”

(2) Trust is the firm and settled confidence in the reliability, dependability, and trustworthiness of God to fulfill His saving promises in our lives, as in the expression “placing trust” (Matt. 18:6; Mark 1:15; John 1:12; 2:11, 23; 3:18; Acts 10:43; 19:4; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:8; 1 John 5:10, 13).

A real, living faith is characterized by both of these aspects.

Those who genuinely repent of their sin (Acts 2:38, 39) and wholly place their faith in Christ for salvation (Rom. 3:22; Eph. 2:8, 9), are truly converted. This is manifested by a clear and decided change in the direction of their lives initiated by regeneration (Titus 3:5).[xix] No longer will we have carnal minds that are “hostile to God” and do “not submit to God’s law” (Rom. 8:7, ESV), but minds that are “led by the Spirit of God” as His children (Rom. 8:14). The apostle Paul wrote, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2, ESV). God’s moral law of love becomes “the law of liberty” (James 2:12) for the converted, freeing us to live in relational love with God and others.

White noted that an authentic experience of repentance and faith causes the heart to be “brought into harmony with God, as it is brought into accord with his law” (p. 468). True conversion results in a wholistic transformation (1 Thess. 5:23)[xx] from living according to the “the works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16–21) toward a life that produces “the fruit of the Spirit” of which “love” holds the position of preeminence (Gal. 5:22–24). The apostle Paul pointed to the source of that love when he wrote, “God’s love” is “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5, ESV). The moral law of love is fulfilled in the lives of Christians as they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to reform the life and “by the grace of God to form characters in harmony with the principles of His holy law” (p. 469). Echoing Paul, White wrote, “This work [of reformation] can be accomplished only through faith in Christ, by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God” (p. 469). Conversion and the lifetime process of sanctification shapes believers to reflect the character of God, which is preeminently love (1 John 4:8, 16).

When we are truly converted, our experience will be that of the Christians of Thessalonica about which Paul wrote, “your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for another is increasing” (2 Thess. 1:3, ESV). He called these believers “to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9) and urged them to do this “more and more” (1 Thess. 4:10), praying for them “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all . . . so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness” (1 Thess. 3:12, 13, ESV). “What the world needs now is love, sweet love”—sinners who are truly converted and reformed to become people of love “more and more” (1 Thess. 4:10).

Satan’s End-Time Deceptions and Wrath Against God’s Law and the Remnant

After declaring the victory of God in Christ’s accomplished redemption on the cross and the joy of salvation experienced by those who embrace the divine love by repentance and faith (Rev. 12:7–11), the apostle John informed those of us living in the time between Christ’s advents that “the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev. 12:12, ESV). Since the first advent of Jesus, Satan has tirelessly poured out all of his greatest energies and demonic resources into attacking God and His people by assaulting the foundation of His government, the moral law of love, in a variety of ways.

A Major End-time Deception

For example, some well-meaning Christians have been deceived into believing that Christ abolished God’s law on the cross such that humans “are henceforth free from its requirements” (p. 466). This nontruth, however, is merely a satanic tactic to get people to turn away from the love revealed in God’s moral law. White points out that “[t]he claim that Christ by His death abolished His Father’s law is without foundation. Had it been possible for the law to be changed or set aside, then Christ need not have died to save man from the penalty of sin. The death of Christ, so far from abolishing the law, proves that it is immutable” (p. 466, emphasis supplied). Jesus Himself said about the moral law in His Sermon on the Mount, “‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished’” (Matt. 5:17, 18, ESV). The apostle Paul echoes Jesus, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. . . . Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom 3:21, 22, 31, ESV, emphasis supplied).

By way of this errant teaching, Satan stirs up false revivals in the end time that “appeal to the imagination,” excite “the emotions” (i.e., emotionalism), gratify “the love for what is new” (i.e., novelty) “and startl[e]” (i.e., sensationalism; p. 463), mingle “the true with the false,” (p. 465) and supplant “love for God and His word” with “the love of this world” (p. 464). While such revivals may be spoken of as movements of the Holy Spirit by some and may even appear to involve supernatural signs and wonders, White is clear that these revivals are in actuality “of another spirit” (p. 464). Jesus once said, “[Y]ou will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:20, ESV) and particularly, “‘By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:35, ESV). True revivals point people to God’s law as the standard of character and the divine guide for moral reformation in love. False revivals produce the opposite effect.

True revivals point people to God’s law as the standard of character and the divine guide for moral reformation in love. False revivals produce the opposite effect.

Along these lines, White wrote that “the secret of the lack of the [Holy] Spirit and [true] power of God in the revivals of our time” is losing sight of the “nature and importance of the law of God”—a “wrong conception of the character, the perpetuity, and the obligation of the divine law” (p. 464). True revivals are easily distinguishable from false revivals because, the latter do not produce genuine repentance of sin and real reformation of the life after the fact that yields love for God and love for others in the heart and actions. In false revivals, God’s moral law of love has been neglected or even rejected, and, therefore, no real change is manifest in the life. Oppositely, true revivals will be led by gospel preachers who give “prominence to the law, its precepts, and its threatenings” (p. 465). The Spirit-filled preaching of the Word of God will drive people to conversions that result in lives transformed by the Holy Spirit in alignment with the moral law and its central principle of love.

Contrary to Satan’s false revivals, White prophetically foresaw that

“Before the final visitation of God’s judgments upon the earth there will be among the people of the Lord such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times. The Spirit and power of God will be poured out upon His children. At that time many will separate themselves from those churches in which the love of this world has supplanted love for God and His word. . . . It is only as the law of God is restored to its rightful position that there can be a revival of primitive faith and godliness among His professed people” (pp. 464, 478).

Thus, while Satan’s deceptions will prove successful in many lives, God’s end-time remnant people will experience a true revival that will radically reform their lives to reflect the loving character of Christ in harmony with the moral law of love.

Force vs. the Freedom of Love

Beyond these efforts, Satan will launch attacks in the end time against a particular aspect of the moral law—the fourth commandment regarding the sacredness of the seventh-day Sabbath—in an attempt to annihilate God’s faithful people. Why does he target the Sabbath? Because, on the first seventh-day Sabbath on the earth, God rested from His creative labors to spend time relishing in all that He had made (Gen. 2:1–3). Throughout that day, God enjoyed the give and take of love with His new, beloved creatures. Accordingly, the Sabbath is “a sign” of God’s relationship of reciprocal love with His people (Eze. 20:12, 19, 20). In blessing and rest, this sacred day reveals God’s care and concern for His creation and later memorialized His salvation (Deut. 5:12–15, esp. v. 15).

In the end time, the adversary of God and his demonic host are working to influence the world to disregard the fourth commandment of the moral law by reviving an archaic institution that seeks “to change the times and the law” by abolishing the seventh-day Sabbath (Dan. 7:25c, ESV).[xxi] During the 1,260 years of papal reign in the Middle Ages from 538 to 1798 (cf. Dan. 7:25d; 12:7; Rev. 12:6, 14; 13:5), the power of the medieval Christian church was at its greatest. The church, headed by the papacy, utilized the civil authority and militaries of kings and princes to do its bidding, which included altering God’s moral law by replacing the seventh-day Sabbath with a first-day counterfeit within Christendom and persecuting those who opposed it. White understood the apocalyptic prophecies concerning a little horn in Daniel 7 and 8 and a sea beast and prostitute in Revelation 13:1–10, 17, 18 as identifying the work of the papacy in medieval times and in the end time respectively to grow its power and further its agenda.[xxii]

In the last days of Earth’s history, Satan will reestablish the prominence of the medieval Christian church and its sway in civil matters to coerce the world to reject the seventh-day Sabbath and accept in its place the church’s own sign of authority, the first day of the week. To accomplish this, the devil will arrange, once again, a union of church and state—this time with the Protestants in the United States, symbolized by an earth beast and false prophet in Revelation 13:11–18 and 16:13, 14.[xxiii] For this to be possible, the United States will repudiate “the direct and solemn avowals of the Declaration of Independence” and the principles of “the Constitution” (p. 442). These powerful religio-political forces in Europe and America will together gain control over governmental authorities to implement global civil laws that stand in direct contradiction to God’s moral law, particularly the fourth commandment. One major way this will manifest itself is through the enforcement of Sunday laws that will coerce the desecration of the true seventh-day Sabbath of the moral law and the exaltation of a counterfeit in its place. A death sentence will be issued (Rev. 13:15) against “those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Rev. 14:12, ESV) in contrast to those who worship “the beast and its image and” receive “a mark” (Rev. 14:9, ESV). Instead of giving the world what it needs (i.e., love), these forces will usher in corrupt coercion and death. White predicted “that a time is approaching when the laws of the state will so conflict with the law of God that whosoever would obey all the divine precepts must brave reproach and punishment as an evildoer” (p. 459).

While the situation will appear dire for those who have chosen allegiance to God and His moral law of love, God will not abandon to eradication His people whom He loves. Jesus will return as He promised (John 14:1–3) to deliver His people from their imminent death (Rev. 19:11–21). “[W]ith the breath of His mouth” and “with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thess. 2:8), Christ will bring an end to the papal “man of lawlessness” and the deceptive activity of Satan (2 Thess. 2:3; cf. verses 3–12). Jesus will usher His faithful, commandment-keeping remnant into an eternal life of bliss with Him in the heavenly kingdom of God (Rev. 21:1–22:5).

The Gospel Call to Love

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Only the power of divine love manifest in the actions of the truly converted and transformed heart can war against Satan’s end-time movements to obliterate God’s moral law of love. As the Gaither Vocal Band sang with the African Children’s Choir in the refrain of their song “Love Can Turn the World” on their Grammy-Award-nominated album Give It Away,

If coal can turn to diamonds,

And sand can turn to pearls,

If a worm can turn into a butterfly,

Then love can turn the world.[xxiv]

Christ has called us who compose a part of His eschatological remnant since 1844, the close of the 2,300-day prophecy in Dan 8:14,[xxv] “to proclaim” the “eternal gospel” of love in the context of the warnings of the three angels’ messages in Revelation 14:6–12. This “work of reform”[xxvi] is to include the restoration of God’s moral law of love and a repair of the “breach” that “was made in the law of God when the Sabbath was changed by the Roman power” (p. 453). As we work to “‘make disciples of all the nations’” (Matt. 28:19), “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), many will not welcome this end-time message; others, however, will appreciate our labors and receive “the light concerning the sanctuary and the immutability of the law of God,” being “filled with joy and wonder” as they see “the beauty and harmony of the system of truth” (p. 454). They will join us in the ranks of the remnant and unite their lives with ours in heralding the truth that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16) in both word and deed by the latter-rain power of the Holy Spirit. As a result, the earth will be “made bright with his glory” (Rev. 18:1, ESV), like a brilliant sunrise breaking through the darkness of dawn. While Christ now tarries in “mercy to the world . . . that sinners may have an opportunity to hear the warning and find in Him a shelter before the wrath of God shall be poured out” (p. 458), our mission will one day come to an end. Jesus will return to reap the great harvest that this message of love will have produced (Rev. 14:14–16). “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” The question is will you spend your days as a gospel messenger to the world, as one of Christ’s agencies of love, meeting that need?

              [i] “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” This Is Jackie DeShannon (Los Angeles, CA: Imperial Records, 1965). Performed by Jackie DeShannon. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The full lyrics are as follows: “[r.] What the world needs now is love, sweet love; / It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. / What the world needs now is love, sweet love, / No not just for some but for everyone. / [v. 1] Lord, we don’t need another mountain; / There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb. / There are oceans and rivers enough to cross, / Enough to last till the end of time. / [r.] What the world needs now is love, sweet love; / It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. / What the world needs now is love, sweet love, / No, not just for some but for everyone. / [v. 2] Lord, we don’t need another meadow; / There are cornfields and wheat fields enough to grow. / There are sunbeams and moonbeams enough to shine. / Oh listen, Lord, if you want to know. / [r.] What the world needs now is love, sweet love; / It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. / What the world needs now is love, sweet love, / No, not just for some but for everyone. / No, not just for some, oh, but just for everyone.”

              [ii] See chapter 4 of John C. Peckham, Theodicy of Love: Cosmic Conflict and the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018), pp. 87–118.

              [iii] See Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1890), p. 11; idem, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 657.

              [iv] Literary scholars call this kind of literary structure an inclusio, when two literary units that are parallel to one another (semantically, grammatically-syntactically, and/or conceptually) encapsulate the literary content between them, and thus conceptually frame that which is between them. This form functions as two bookends or two parentheses that guarantee the topic of what is said in the middle and hold it all together.

              [v] Richard Rice comments, “Love describes the inner reality of God. . . . Love is the essence of God’s nature. Love is what it means to be God. According to the Bible, love is not only God’s most important quality; it is also his most fundamental quality. All his attributes arise from love. The assertion God is love therefore includes everything there is to say about God” Reign of God: An Introduction to Christian Theology from a Seventh-day Adventist Perspective, 2nd ed. [Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1997], pp. 53, 54; emphasis original. John C. Peckham concurs, “[W]hatever else may be said with regard to the relationship between God’s essence and love, since [1 John 4:8, 16] proclaims that ‘God is love,’ all that God is and does must be understood as congruent with divine love. That is, God’s character is itself love, and God is essentially loving” (The Love of God: A Canonical Model [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015], p. 252).

[vi] Lyrics taken from the refrain of the hymn “Give Me the Bible,” written by Priscilla J. Owens.

              [vii] She also noted that the moral law reflects other aspects of God’s character as well: “The character of God is righteousness and truth; such is the nature of His law. Says the psalmist: ‘Thy law is truth;’ ‘all Thy commandments are righteousness.’ Psalm 119:142, 172. And the apostle Paul declares: ‘The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.’ Romans 7:12” (The Great Controversy, p. 467). God is also declared “holy” (Isa. 5:16), “just” (Deut. 32:4), and “good” (Luke 18:19).

              [viii] See E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 466.

              [ix] See E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 465.

              [x] Matthew recorded Jesus as referring to the Father as “perfect” in the context of Jesus’ discussion that love for both “neighbor” and “enemy” is the manifestation of a true perfection that images the Father’s perfection (Matt. 5:43–47). So, when one loves perfectly, one is truly a son or daughter of God (verse 45) and perfect like him (verse 48).

              [xi] Cf. Gen. 1:1; Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12; Rev. 1:8, 17; 2:8; 21:6; 22:13).

              [xii] White wrote, “All the paternal love which has come down from generation to generation through the channel of human hearts, all the springs of tenderness which have opened in the souls of men, are but as a tiny rill to the boundless ocean when compared with the infinite, exhaustless love of God. Tongue cannot utter it; pen cannot portray it. You may meditate upon it every day of your life; you may search the Scriptures diligently in order to understand it; you may summon every power and capability that God has given you, in the endeavor to comprehend the love and compassion of the heavenly Father; and yet there is an infinity beyond. You may study that love for ages; yet you can never fully comprehend the length and the breadth, the depth and the height, of the love of God in giving His Son to die for the world. Eternity itself can never fully reveal it. Yet as we study the Bible and meditate upon the life of Christ and the plan of redemption, these great themes will open to our understanding more and more” (Testimonies for the Church, 9 vols. (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1885–1909), vol. 5, p. 740; emphasis supplied).

[xiii] See E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 466.

[xiv] E. G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1892), p. 27.

[xv] Lesley DiFransico, “Repentance,” Lexham Theological Wordbook, ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), n.p. The Hebrew verb in the Old Testament for “to repent,” שׁוּב (šûb̲), connotes the same idea.

[xvi] The Greek verb used for “repentance” in the New Testament is metanoéō, which literally means “to think differently about something or to have a change of mind” (Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed.(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), p. 867. The Old Testament has two Hebrew verbs for “to repent”: (1) nāḥam, which means “to sorrow,” “to grieve,” “to lament,” or “to regret” one’s own actions (Jer. 8:6), and (2) šûb̲, which means “to turn” or “to return.” Thus, repentance requires a change of mind about oneself. See E. G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 23.

[xvii] See E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 467.

[xviii] E. G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 23.

  • [xix] Accompanying the experience of true conversion is that of regeneration, which is the instantaneous “work of the Spirit at conversion that renews the heart and life (the inner self), thus restoring the person’s intellectual, volitional, moral, emotional, and relational capacities to know, love, and serve God” (Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, ed. John S. Feinberg [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1997, 2006], 293). Regeneration is described in the New Testament as a spiritual re-creation (καινὴ κτίσις [kainē ktísis] or “new creation”), “a radical inner change wrought by God’s power, whereby one becomes a new spiritual being” (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15); a spiritual revivication and resurrection (συζωοποιέω [syzōopoiéō] or “to make alive together with someone” and συνεγείρω [synegeírō] or “to raise up with someone”) “from death to life by identification with the risen Christ” (Eph 2:4–6; Col 2:12–13; cf. 1 Pet 1:3–5); a spiritual circumcision of the heart “or an inner spiritual transformation born out of penitent faith” (Col 2:11, 13); a spiritual washing, “signifying the cleansing of former sins” (1 Cor 6:11; Titus 3:5; cf. Eph 5:26); and a spiritual rebirth from above (γεννάω ἄνωθεν [gennáō ánōthen] and ἀναγεννάω [anagennáō] or “to be born again/from above”) by the Holy Spirit (John 1:13; 3:3–8; Jas 1:18; 1 Pet 1:3–5, 22–23) (Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, 293).

[xx] See E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 473.

[xxi] See E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 466.

[xxii] See E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 439.

[xxiii] See E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 444.

[xxiv] “Love Can Turn the World,” Give It Away (Spring House Music Group, 2006). Performed by Gaither Vocal Band and African Children’s Choir. Written by Kim Williams, Jeff Silvey, and William Benjamin Gaither.

[xxv] See E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 457.

[xxvi] See chapter 26 of E. G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 451–460.

Matthew L. Tinkham

Matthew L. Tinkham, Jr., M.Div. is a pastor in Georgia-Cumberland Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.