A tale of two pockets

At one of the town hall meetings in New Hampshire, prior to the 2016 presidential primary, a Jewish rabbi asked a question in which he spoke of the need for balance in one’s self-awareness. In one pocket, he said, you possess the awareness that “the universe is made for me.” In the other pocket you keep before you the equally emphatic awareness that we humans remain “dust and ashes.”    

In truth, this balance—this tale of two pockets—lies at the heart of the Christian’s own self-awareness, especially in view of the believer’s role in the settling of the great controversy and the end-time vindication of God’s character.

The Vindication of God—In Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy

All of us, as creatures of the infinite God of heaven, possess the insignificance of dust and ashes. Like Isaiah of old we are forced to exclaim, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (KJV, Isa. 6:5). Yet the eye of the universe rests on God’s striving, struggling saints, as they prepare to vanquish the full force of satanic allurement within the vortex of history’s closing drama. This is what the apostle Paul anticipated when he declared that the Christian is “made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men” (I Cor. 4:9).

The Bible teaches that humanity was created specifically for God’s glory. “I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even every one that is called by My name; for I have created him for My glory” (Isa. 43:6-7).

To be sure, the rabbi’s statement quoted above about the universe being “made for me” is a bit over the top. But consider the following, very remarkable Ellen White statement regarding the purpose of our creation: “We were brought into existence because we were needed. How sad the thought that if we stand on the wrong side, in the ranks of the enemy, we are lost to the design of our Creator” (Signs of the Times, April 22, 1903).

The following passage is even more amazing:

All heaven is represented to me as watching the unfolding of events. A crisis is to be revealed in the great and prolonged controversy in the government of God on earth. Something great and decisive is to take place, and that right early. If any delay, the character of God and His throne will be compromised (Special Testimonies, Series A01b, 38).

In another statement Ellen White is clear that the plan of redemption is about more than merely the salvation of human beings.

The plan of redemption had yet a broader and a deeper purpose than the salvation of man. It was not for this alone that Christ came to the earth; it was not merely that the inhabitants of this little world might regard the law of God as it should be regarded; but it was to vindicate the character of God before the universe” (Patriarchs and Prophets, 68).

One contemporary Adventist theologian, a faithful scholar of no mean skill, articulates the theory widely popular in some circles that Jesus did all the vindicating necessary so far as God’s character and the great controversy are concerned. In his words, “In the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White the cosmic vindication of God is the exclusive result of the sacrificial death of Christ. He was the only one who could reveal who God is and therefore vindicate Him in the cosmic conflict. John 1:18 (Angel Manuel Rodriguez, Adventist Review, Oct. 10, 2013).

But with all due respect to the above author, he produces no inspired statement that declares Jesus to be the only One who could possibly vindicate God’s character. John 1:18 simply states, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” Nothing in this verse disallows or precludes a future revelation or vindication of God’s character by the followers of Christ. The above author quotes the following Ellen White statement that speaks of Jesus refuting the charges of Satan against God: "By His life and death, Christ proved that God’s justice did not destroy His mercy, but that sin could be forgiven, and that the law is righteous, and can be perfectly obeyed. Satan’s charges were refuted. God had given man unmistakable evidence of His love" (Desire of Ages, 762).

The author in question then observes: “What Christ accomplished does not need to be supplemented; it is more than enough” (Rodriguez, Adventist Review, Oct. 10, 2013).  

But like John 1:18, the above Ellen White statement does not say what Jesus accomplished in vindicating God was all that would ever be needed. In the original promise of salvation recorded in Scripture, God declared to Satan: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). But according to the apostle Paul, Christ isn’t the only One who is expected to bruise Satan. Writing to the church, Paul declares: “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20). If Jesus had done all the bruising necessary, this promise by the apostle would be quite unnecessary.             

Interestingly, Jesus Himself declared that His followers would do greater things than He: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall He do also, and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto My Father” (John 14:12).

It would be hard to imagine anyone performing greater miracles than those done by Jesus, and certainly not exceeding the magnitude of sacrifice or suffering which He experienced. But the totality of inspired evidence is clear, as we will see, that God’s people—by His grace—will produce a demonstration of righteousness which will bring to an actual close the controversy whose victorious climax Jesus made certain. In this sense, we can see how Jesus’ followers will do greater works than He.

The whole world, after all, did not witness the works of Christ while He was on earth. But the whole world will indeed witness the glory of God as revealed through His final generation. We have seen how the Bible affirms this with such predictions as the following:

As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord (Num. 14:21).

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it (Isa. 40:5).

Both Scripture and Ellen White tell how this glory is to be revealed, and through whom:

Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people, but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee (Isa. 60:1-2).

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:18-19).

From the beginning it has been God’s plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and His sufficiency. The members of the church, those whom He has called out of darkness into His marvelous light, are to show forth His glory. The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to “the principalities and powers in heavenly places,” (Ephesians 3:10) the final and full display of the love of God (White, Acts of the Apostles, 9).

The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love.  The children of God are to manifest His glory.  In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them. The light of the Sun of Righteousness is to shine forth in good works—in words of truth and deeds of holiness (Christ’s Object Lessons, 415-416).

Ellen White states elsewhere, “Satan represents God’s law of love as a law of selfishness. He declares that it is impossible for us to obey its precepts” (Desire of Ages, 24). In light of this, we note the following statement from her writings that the work of refuting Satan’s lies about God’s requirements is not the work of Christ alone, but of both Christ and all His followers:

Unselfishness, the principle of God’s kingdom, is the principle that Satan hates; its very existence he denies. From the beginning of the great controversy he has endeavored to prove God’s principles of action to be selfish, and he deals in the same way with all who serve God. To disprove Satan’s claim is the work of Christ and of all who bear His name (Education, 154).

Listen to what the servant of the Lord says about how Job vindicated God’s character:

According to his faith, so it was unto Job. “When He hath tried me,” he said, “I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). So it came to pass. By his patient endurance he vindicated his own character, and thus the character of Him whose representative he was (Education, 156).

Now God waits for vindication through His end-time church:

Pray, pray earnestly and without ceasing, but do not forget to praise. It becomes every child of God to vindicate His character. You can magnify the Lord; you can show the power of sustaining grace. There are multitudes who do not appreciate the great love of God nor the divine compassion of Jesus (5T, 317).

If there was ever a people in need of constantly increasing light from heaven, it is the people of God that, in this time of peril, God has called to be the depositories of His holy law, and to vindicate His character before the world (5T, 746).

Let all remember that . . . angels are recording in the book of remembrance every word that vindicates the character and mission of Christ. Of those who testify of the love of God, the Lord says, “They shall be Mine . . . in that day when I make up My jewels” Malachi 3:17 (Our High Calling, 168).

His heart of sympathy goes out to all earth's sufferers, and with every one who works for their relief, He co-operates. As with His blessing health returns, the character of God will be vindicated, and the lie thrown back upon Satan, its originator (Christian Educator, Oct. 1, 1898).

The very image of God is to be reproduced in humanity. The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people (Desire of Ages, 671).

There are those who say the idea of God’s vindication through the sanctified victory of earthly saints is a detraction from the primacy of the cross of Christ in our salvation. Some have quoted such Ellen White statements as the following, which they claim prove conclusively that the universe is secure against the recurrence of sin only because of what happened on Calvary:

The angels ascribe honor and glory to Christ, for even they are not secure except by looking to the sufferings of the Son of God. It is through the efficacy of the cross that the angels of heaven are guarded against apostasy. Without the cross they would be no more secure against evil than were the angels before the fall of Satan (5BC, 1132).

Very true. But what some seem to forget is that the efficacy of the cross goes beyond the historical events of two thousand years ago. This efficacy includes the application of Jesus’ blood in the heavenly sanctuary, not only for the forgiveness of sins but for victory over sin. According to the New Testament, the blood of Jesus is as much the agent in achieving sanctified holiness as it is the means of pardoning our transgressions (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Heb. 13:12, 20-21; I John 1:7,9). The vindication of God by history’s final generation poses no threat to Calvary’s all-sufficiency, as Calvary is the only means whereby this vindication is possible.

Conclusion: Those Two Pockets

Like the rabbi said in that town hall forum, the awareness of those two pockets serves both to instill humility and to inspire us with the sense of our ultimate purpose. Though we acknowledge ourselves transgressors of the divine law and thus traitors to God’s kingdom, we acknowledge with equal emphasis the divine plan for our forgiveness and restoration, and the resulting focus of God’s universe on our sanctified quest for victory over sin.  

The rabbi’s “dust and ashes” pocket reminds us that it is we, history’s final generation of believers, who have been responsible for delaying the coming of Jesus (Rev. 7:1-3). But the other pocket reminds us that one day, through God’s enabling grace, that same generation will bring about the close of the controversy with evil, and stand before God’s throne and the watching universe without guile and without fault (Zeph. 3:13; Rev. 14:5).