March 2, 2016


How soon is soon?


The Day of the Lord and the second coming of Christ are themes that pervade Scripture. We recently asked some Adventist thought leaders about the implications of living in the last days. Here is a sampling of their responses. 

Where do you believe the Adventist Church is in the stream of Bible prophecy?

From my position at Loma Linda University, I have the privilege of meeting people from many cultures, traveling globally, and connecting with the young people of our church at home and abroad. I also follow cultural conflicts and security issues closely as we make decisions about programs and people in many countries. These observations have led to a growing recognition that current global issues could easily coalesce into a world catastrophe.

president, Loma Linda University

Prophecy has never been, nor will ever be, about one group or denomination. If we are asking whether or not the Adventist Church can be found in the Bible as a prophetic movement, my answer is “Yes! Absolutely yes!” The Adventist Church, based on Revelation 12, is the woman (church) that came from the wilderness (North America) after the 1,260 days (A.D. 1798) to proclaim a message that includes both time prophecies and commandment keeping (including, but not limited to, the fourth commandment). If, however, the question is asking how close the world—and by default the Seventh-day Adventist Church—is to the close of human history, then to borrow a phrase from my late friend Paul Tolbert: “We are in the fungus on the toenails of the image of Daniel 2.”

pastor, North Philadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church

Prophetically, the Adventist Church exists at the intersection between its “remnant” identity, with all its latent potential, and its “Laodicean” identity, with all its self-deceived blindness. Adventism is a mass of unrealized potential! Problem is, we live under the persistent, self-inflicted illusion that “we are finishing the work.” We imagine that if we just say what we’re saying loud enough and far enough, that if we just come up with the right program or system, that if we just get ourselves on the biggest television networks, our mission will be completed.

Only one move can thrust the mission of Adventism forward: We have to retrace our historical steps and go back to where we last saw the light. We last saw the light when the prophet to this movement went to her death urging that the gospel of righteousness by faith must be pervasively incorporated into our doctrinal construct, our missional methods, and our ecclesiastical systems.

Our current predicament is twofold: 1. Strident voices on the right have redefined “righteousness by faith” as “victory over sin” and “obedience to the law,” which keeps the emphasis and onus on the human agent as the primary locus of forward thrust. Therefore, it is merely a retooled continuation of the egocentric, legalistic orientation God has been attempting to correct in Adventism since 1888. 2. Strident voices on the left have merely reacted to the legalism on the right by marginalizing or denying key Adventist doctrines while adopting a weak sentimentalism wrongly called “grace.” So swings the great Adventist pendulum!

codirector, Light Bearers, a supporting ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

Where is the Adventist Church in the stream of prophecy? Overdue! As early as 1883 Ellen White said that Christ could have come “ere this,” a statement she repeated with growing urgency in 1890, 1898, and finally 1901, when she warned the Advent might be delayed “many more years” because of disobedience. Evidently heaven wanted the Advent message to be usurped, for a time, by Karl Marx, who wrote his first draft of The Communist Manifesto in 1844! But there is a point beyond which heaven cannot wait.

author and attorney

Are we in the last days? If so, why? If not, why not?

How soon could these events become the final ones and precipitate the rescue plan from our Lord? I’m not brave enough to guess at that, but it clearly weighs on my mind more than it used to. I’m sure there have been other times in history when clear-thinking individuals said, “We are at the end; it can’t get any worse.” Yet we’re still here. But one can easily foresee how various forces could coalesce to create global calamities. It could be a financial meltdown, emerging infections, growing resistance to antibiotics, environmental disasters, renewed terrorist threats, or simply another escalating war precipitated by a perceived slight or threat. The real danger is how our societies react to these threats.

So what do we do? Should we keep planning to build a new hospital at Loma Linda, which we are required by state regulators to do by 2020? Should we continue training young people for careers they may never have a chance to pursue? Should we invest in mission hospitals and training programs that may never be realized? These are not easy questions. Good development projects have to be based on five-, 10-, even 20-year plans. Can I safely predict the future that far? While I cannot know the future, seeking to accomplish good things, right things, is appropriate even in the face of ultimate destruction. “Occupy till I come,” Jesus said (Luke 19:13, KJV).

The last days been happening since Paul wrote to Timothy: “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. . . . Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected” (2 Tim. 3:1-8). Paul doesn’t seem to be speaking about the last days as though they were in the future, but rather as something that had already begun, that would continue to brighten the horizon until it reached its noontime.

In modern social and market trends the principle upon which this variable operates is called “the tipping point,” the point at which the cumulative directional weight of a trend builds momentum sufficient to become normative or profitable. This principle applies not only to economics but also to psychology, politics, and morality. There is a line that the corporate mass of humanity may cross, beyond which no additional time or mercy would have any redemptive effect. We might call it an irrevocable moral slide. We should be watching for a phenomenon of convergence, not merely of critical mass.

How soon is soon? That question suggests another: How much more dangerous can our world get before we wake up? We are living in a fool’s paradise if we can watch this happen and retreat into the anesthesia of amusement parks and wide-screen TVs. What a tragedy it would be if those entrusted with the Advent message woke up, only to discover they had slept 1,000 years too long.

Jesus anticipated our desire to know more precisely the timing of the last days. He cautioned: “But about that day or hour no one knows” (Matt. 24:36). We need to hold specific speculation in check. The signs of His return should be a source of assurance, not of mental torment. Taking Jesus at His word shifts our focus from the question of precisely how soon He will return to being ready every day and actively waiting.

president, Chesapeake Conference

I hope Jesus comes soon. While there is much that is beautiful in this life, at least for some, the acceleration of tragedy and injustice is painful to watch, and even more painful to experience (I was less than a kilometer away when the recent shootings took place in San Bernardino, California). But more than 40 years of pastoral experience has taught me to balance my eager expectation of Jesus’ return with a strong focus on the mission that lies before me every day. Like Jesus, we must ultimately leave the timing to God.

dean, School of Religion, Loma Linda Univesity

Was your perspective the same at the beginning of your Adventist experience, or has it changed over time? How have your views changed since the year 2000?

My perspective has changed significantly. In 2000 I wasn’t even a Christian, let alone an Adventist. September 11, 2001, was the turning point for me. Before September 11, authors like Noam Chomsky, John Coleman, and William Cooper informed my understanding of what was going on in the world. Afterward, I had a deep desire to understand and share with others what the Bible has to say about these events, and the role Jesus would play in them.

Over the years my perspective has not changed substantially. As world events unfold there is more detail and many more examples of signs fulfilled. Every day brings us one day closer to the culmination of all things.

The disciples discovered on the Sea of Galilee that when they were with Jesus it did not matter how severe the storm was or how long it would last. They were safe with Him. The storms in our personal lives and around the world will become increasingly fierce. But with Jesus we can always be ready and be at peace.

We must resist the urge to interpret prophecy with the newspapers, as some are doing with the threat of Islam at the moment.

retired associate director, Biblical Research Institute

I distinctly remember a sermon I preached in 1972, where I gave multiple evidences from science and current events that earth’s history had less than twenty years to go. I am also distinctly aware of how wrong I was. Continually hyping the End without an outcome can kill people’s interest in eschatology. That’s where things are in most of the Western world. In the United States, Bible prophecy can serve as an “entering wedge” for maybe 10 percent of the general population. The rest are turned off by it. In Europe the lack of interest is even more dramatic. People are interested in end of the world issues, but many no longer think Christians have relevant answers. You can only cry “wolf” so many times and people turn you off.

Careful Bible study over many decades has taught me that Bible prophecy was not given to satisfy our curiosity about the future, it was given to teach us how to live as we approach the End. When we experience the eschatological Kingdom Jesus introduced, we are motivated to lay large plans for building up that Kingdom while at the same time living as if He was coming today. That tension is not easy to balance, but it is at the core of preparation for the Second Coming.

The year 2000 marked a major change in geopolitical and global economic situation. It marked a turning point towards the very last days. Economic winter has arrived. Subsequent events since 2000 have sharpened my understanding of end time prophecies.

associate treasurer, General Conference

Has my Adventist perspective changed over time? Yes! Early generalizations about end time crises are now clarified by a reality so obvious that even newscasters are starting to get it—and I can say that, having once been a newscaster. How does one recognize we have reached the last moments? Jesus warned that when the abomination of desolation predicted by Daniel sought entry into holy ground, the end was near. For Jerusalem, this was Roman invasion into the holy ground near the temple. But a physical temple no longer stands. Today, the holy ground is the temple of the mind (“which temple ye are.”) When religious coercion, contrary to the express command of God, demands entry into the mind, it is high time to turn loose of this world!

What events will indicate that we have reached the last moments of earth’s history?

We have been given some pretty clear signposts from both the Bible and Ellen White, but they are always couched in unpredictable phrases. It seems the plan is to warn and prepare while avoiding predictions. But we are also given great reassurances that we have nothing to fear, except that we forget how we have been led in the past. So I’m wary but encouraged, anxious but confident, that God is following events closely while watching and waiting.

I can’t really know how my church, my community, even my family, is preparing for these events in their minds and hearts. But it seems incredibly important that I remain vigilant, watching, and trying to interpret signs and events that tell us about the future of our world. My spirit of adventure has always made me want to be part of these last-day events. But on a much deeper level I look forward to meeting my Savior, and I sense my hope may be realized.

Popes will come and go, times will be hard, darkness will spread, humanity can, and will, get worse, and deception will be rampant. We can focus on those things, or we can make sure Christ lives in our own hearts. We can offer relief to the least and lowest; we can keep our lamps trimmed and burning; we can be better Christians.

When we witness within the church the love of Christ in our dealings with one another, and when the focus of the church shifts with significant focus and passion to the message of righteousness by faith, we can know that we have reached the final moments of earth’s history.

The only sure sign of the end is the fulfillment of Matthew 24:14: the gospel is proclaimed to the world, and “then the end will come.” Today’s social media and 24/7 news could accomplish that in a matter of days once end-time truths become worldwide issues. They will be catalyzed by people who deliver the Advent message by living it.

When Protestantism shall stretch her hand across the gulf to grasp the hand of the Roman power, when she shall reach over the abyss to clasp hands with spiritualism, when, under the influence of this threefold union, our country shall repudiate every principle of its Constitution as a Protestant and republican government, and shall make provision for the propagation of papal falsehoods and delusions, then we may know that the time has come for the marvelous working of Satan, and that the end is near” (Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948], vol. 5, p. 451).

Since the great prophetic time line has literally run out, Jesus’ followers, to keep vigilant, must focus their attention on the “signs of His coming.” We find these “signs” primarily in Matthew 24; 25; Mark 13; Luke 21; 2 Timothy 3; and Revelation 13. Knowing that the great prophetic time line has run its course, and that the signs Jesus gave to announce the nearness of His coming and the end of this world are being displayed in abundance, we can logically conclude that the coming of Jesus is very near, “even at the doors” (Matt. 24:33, KJV).

Ellen White described the finishing of the great commission this way: “There will be an accumulation of divine agencies to combine with human effort that there may be the accomplishment of the work for the last time. The work will most assuredly be cut short in a most unexpected manner. . . . There will be thousands converted to the truth in a day, who at the eleventh hour see and acknowledge the truth and the movements of the Spirit of God. . . . The accessions to the truth will be of a rapidity which will surprise the church. God’s name alone will be glorified. Finite man will wonder and adore” (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials [Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1987], vol. 2,pp. 754, 755).

What an exciting time to be alive and be involved in giving the most relevant, timely message ever given to the world. Jesus’ promise still rings true: “I will come back” (John 14:3). Let us be of good courage.

assistant to the president for planned giving, Adventist World Radio