Having been involved with several conservative Adventist blogs over the last decade, I’ve sensed anxiety among conservative Adventists over the need to set a definite time for the second coming of Christ. I’ve also noticed an unseemly insistence on forcing current events, whatever they might be, into the Adventist eschatological blueprint, whether they fit or not.
We Seventh-day Adventists have been prophetically warned away from trying to set a date for the Second Coming of Christ. We know that Christ will come “soon” but that is as definite as we can be.
Crucially, we have also been given a very particular scenario for last day events that involves the passing and enforcement of Sunday laws in the United States and throughout Christendom. These events will take place in public for all to see. Probation will not close and Jesus will not return until the Sunday laws are passed. Therefore, we need not live in anxiety about end time events.
If conservative Adventists would accept that we cannot know when Christ will return, and that we will be given a public warning sign when the final events begin to take place, I think we would be much happier.
A. No One Knows When Jesus is Coming
No one knows the day nor the hour of Christ’s return. There are no time prophecies that extend past 1844, so there is no way to know when Christ will return.
“Our position has been one of waiting and watching, with no time-proclamation to intervene between the close of the prophetic periods in 1844 and the time of our Lord's coming.” —Manuscript Releases 10:270 (1888).
“Many who have called themselves Adventists have been time-setters. Time after time has been set for Christ to come, but repeated failures have been the result. The definite time of our Lord's coming is declared to be beyond the ken of mortals. Even the angels, who minister unto those who shall be heirs of salvation, know not the day nor the hour. ‘But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only.’ [Mat. 24:36, 42; 25:13; Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7]”—Testimonies for the Church 4:307 (1879).
“We are not to know the definite time either for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit or for the coming of Christ.... Why has not God given us this knowledge?—Because we would not make a right use of it if He did. A condition of things would result from this knowledge among our people that would greatly retard the work of God in preparing a people to stand in the great day that is to come. We are not to live upon time excitement. You will not be able to say that He will come in one, two, or five years, neither are you to put off His coming by stating that it may not be for ten or twenty years.”—The Review and Herald, March 22, 1892.
Conservative Adventists have many ways to hint that Jesus will return in this or that month, season or year. Just last year, David Gates, a prominent independent SDA evangelist, predicted persecuting laws would be passed this spring. If you are one of those date-setters, please stop it. Date-setting discredits us in the eyes of non-Adventists as well as with our more liberal Adventist brethren. The false excitement it creates is harmful, and the predictions that do not come to pass lead to loss of belief in the Adventist message.
“Because the times repeatedly set have passed, the world is in a more decided state of unbelief than before in regard to the near advent of Christ. They look upon the failures of the time-setters with disgust, and because men have been so deceived, they turn from the truth substantiated by the Word of God that the end of all things is at hand.”—Testimonies for the Church 4:307 (1879).
“There will always be false and fanatical movements made by persons in the church who claim to be led of God—those who will run before they are sent and will give day and date for the occurrence of unfulfilled prophecy. The enemy is pleased to have them do this, for their successive failures and leading into false lines cause confusion and unbelief.”—Selected Messages 2:84 (1897).
We spend much time saying that time is short, and that Christ will soon return, but little do we contemplate our own mortality. I have reached late middle age, with its attendant health problems and signs of impending mortality, and have become painfully aware that life is incredibly brief. None of us is above ground for long. “Man born of a woman has but a short time [to live] and is fully of misery. He cometh up and withers like a flower; he flees as a shadow and does not endure.” Job 14:1, 2.
When we die, we are not conscious; hence, we have no awareness of the passing of time (Eccl. 9:5). Our first conscious thought after death is of being resurrected from the dead. (1 Thess. 4:16; Rev. 20:4-6). As far as we are aware, therefore, Christ comes for us the moment after we die. (2 Cor. 5:6, 8; Phil. 1:23). What this means is that Jesus is coming for each of us, everyone who is reading this, in just a few short years. That is a fact not contingent on any speculative prediction about when Christ is returning to the earth.
Since Jesus is absolutely, positively coming for each of us quite soon, we can stop trying to predict when Christ will return to the earth. God has the timing under control. He does not need us to worry about the timing. Let God decide when Jesus will return to the earth. Do not take this burden on yourselves.
Since Jesus is coming for each one of us very soon, let us concentrate on the perfecting of our characters in preparation for the judgment. For it is written, “each person is destined to die once, and after that to face the judgment.” (Heb. 9:27). Our job is not to worry about when Jesus is coming back, but to perfect our own characters in preparation for the judgment, which each of us will soon face. (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 2:16).
If we would concentrate not on when Jesus is returning, but on perfecting our characters, Jesus would return sooner. Ellen White says,
“Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. . . . Quickly the last great harvest would be ripened, and Christ would come to gather the precious grain.” —Christ's Object Lessons, p. 69 (1900).
If we had concentrated on internalizing and reflecting Christ’s perfect righteousness rather than on trying to figure out when Christ will return, He might already have returned.
B. The Sabbath Controversy is the Sign of the End
The events leading to Christ’s return in the clouds of glory are public in nature. They have been marked out for us by our latter-day prophet, Ellen White. The Sabbath will be the great end-time issue:
“In the warfare to be waged in the last days there will be united, in opposition to God's people, all the corrupt powers that have apostatized from allegiance to the law of Jehovah. In this warfare the Sabbath of the fourth commandment will be the great point at issue, for in the Sabbath commandment the great Lawgiver identifies Himself as the Creator of the heavens and the earth.”—Selected Messages 3:392 (1891).
Sunday laws will be passed, and the enactment of these measures will be a sign that the end is near:
“To secure popularity and patronage, legislators will yield to the demand for a Sunday law. By the decree enforcing the institution of the papacy in violation of the law of God our nation will disconnect herself fully from righteousness. As the approach of the Roman armies was a sign to the disciples of the impending destruction of Jerusalem [Luke 21:20-21], so may this apostasy be a sign to us that the limit of God's forbearance is reached.” —Testimonies for the Church 5:451 (1885)
There are instructive parallels between the sign given the apostles and early Christians, and the sign given to last day Adventist believers.
First, the approach of the Roman armies to Jerusalem was easily visible to everyone in the city. Everyone in Jerusalem and Judea soon learned of this momentous event. Likewise, the enactment of Sunday legislation will be clearly visible and known to all.
Second, the first approach of the Roman armies was not the end of Jerusalem; the first Roman army retreated to the coast after only a few days. But another Roman army, more capably led, returned three years later, and this time there was no escape from the holocaust. Likewise, the passing of the Sunday law is not the end; it does not indicate that probation has closed, and Christ’s return is immediate. Rather, it is a sign that the final conflict has begun, that probation is soon to close, and that Christ’s return is now very near.
The Sabbath/Sunday controversy will not be limited to the United States but will involve the entirety of Christendom, all the Christian nations:
“The Sabbath question is to be the issue in the great final conflict in which all the world will act a part.” —Testimonies for the Church 6:352 (1900).
“Foreign nations will follow the example of the United States. Though she leads out, yet the same crisis will come upon our people in all parts of the world.” —Testimonies for the Church 6:395 (1900).
“The so-called Christian world is to be the theater of great and decisive actions. Men in authority will enact laws controlling the conscience, after the example of the papacy. Babylon will make all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. Every nation will be involved. Of this time John the Revelator declares: [Revelation 18:3-7; 17:13, 14, quoted]. ‘These have one mind.’”—Selected Messages 3:392 (1891).
“In the great conflict between faith and unbelief the whole Christian world will be involved.”—The Review and Herald, February 7, 1893.
“All Christendom will be divided into two great classes—those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and those who worship the beast and his image and receive his mark.”—The Great Controversy, 450 (1911).
“As the Sabbath has become the special point of controversy throughout Christendom and religious and secular authorities have combined to enforce the observance of the Sunday, the persistent refusal of a small minority to yield to the popular demand will make them objects of universal execration.”—The Great Controversy, 615 (1911).
Who will act a part of this drama? “All the world will act a part.” Who will be involved in this final Sabbath conflict? “Every nation will be involved,” “the whole Christian world will be involved.” Who will be divided into two great classes? “All Christendom.” Where will the Sabbath become the “special point of controversy”? “throughout Christendom.”
Obviously, this is not a secret event. The Sabbath controversy will be a very public conflagration that everyone will know about, and everyone will be forced to take a position on. We will all be called upon to take our stand either with those who uphold God’s Sabbath or with those who would substitute a false sabbath of man’s devising.
Passage of the national and international Sunday laws will lead to fierce persecution of Sabbath-keepers, including denying them the right to buy or sell:
“The time is coming when we cannot sell at any price. The decree will soon go forth prohibiting men to buy or sell of any man save him that hath the mark of the beast.” —Testimonies for the Church 5:152 (1882).
“In the last great conflict in the controversy with Satan those who are loyal to God will see every earthly support cut off. Because they refuse to break His law in obedience to earthly powers they will be forbidden to buy or sell.” —The Desire of Ages, 121, 122 (1898).
The persecution will be public, as will the exclusion of Sabbath-keepers from the economy. Advanced Western societies are moving ever closer to cashless economies, in which all payments are made with debit and credit cards and internet-based payment systems like PayPal. This will make it easy for the government to exclude Sabbath-keepers from the economy.
When the final events take place, we will know about them. Everyone will know about them. The Sunday vs. Sabbath issue will be agitated throughout Christendom. Sunday laws will be passed, at first in the United States and then throughout Christendom. After the Sunday laws are passed, persecution will be directed at those who persist in keeping the biblical Sabbath. Eventually those who keep God’s true Sabbath will be prevented from buying and selling.
Yes, we should be watching for these events to take place. No, they have not happened yet, and it does not appear they are imminent.
When I point out that these events are not now happening, and do not appear imminent, conservative Adventists chafe. They think I am being skeptical or unfaithful to the spirit of Adventism, but the opposite is true. Because I know the outline of end-time events as Adventists have believed them, and what will be the sign of the opening of the final conflict, I know these end-time events are still in the future.
Much that could fit into the Adventist end-times scenario is now taking place, including:
The corruption of Mainline Protestantism because of liberalism, and of evangelical Protestantism because of an antinomian, grace-only gospel
The weakening, indeed, the nearly complete disappearance, of anti-Catholicism among American Protestants and evangelicals, which has led to:
The U.S. Government’s embrace of the Papacy, as seen in diplomatic recognition and sending an ambassador to the Vatican, and more recently by having the Pope address a joint session of Congress.
The weakening commitment of Americans to religious liberty. The Left values the ever more extreme excrescences of the Sexual Revolution much more highly than the right of Christians to uphold their biblical values in their own businesses and institutions, while Christians are ever more willing to accept government money (for their charities and NGOs [ADRA]) and for their schools (GSLs, grants, tax-exempt bond financing), yes, but even for their churches! Christians have become entangled with state bureaucrats and state goals.
The continual and progressive strengthening of International and transnational institutions and international cooperation since the end of the Second World War.
The practical feasibility of a cashless society, which would enable a persecuting government to exclude a disfavored group from participation in the economy.
The United States is the world’s only superpower. For several decades after World War II, there was a rivalry between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. but that came to an end when the Soviet Union collapsed suddenly in 1989-90. Russia is now a regional power unable to challenge the U.S. More recently, China seemed poised to catch up to the U.S., but actions taken by President Trump have foreclosed that possibility, or at least delayed it by decades.
But many things are taking place that do not seem to fit our end-times scenario. These include:
The de-Protestantization of America, largely through demographic change—In 1955, Protestants were 70% of the U.S. population, a large majority. Today we are only about 46% of the population (in the Adventist end-times scenario, it is Protestants who pass the Sunday laws).
The increasing atheism and secularization of American society. The non-religious have increased from fewer than 5% to more than 20% in just a few years. Atheists and non-religious people have no interest in state enforcement of sectarian religious observances.
The rise of socialistic sentiment in the U.S.—recent polls have found that over 40% of Americans favor socialism, and more than half favor it among 18 to 30-year-olds, who have been inculcated with socialism in the schools. The far-Left controls big tech and new media, including Face Book, YouTube, and Twitter, and they are using that control to silence non-Leftist opinion. Socialism is an historicist, quasi-religious belief system that competes with, and is hostile to, Bible Christianity. Socialists have no interest in compelling a Christian observance; to the contrary, the history of Leftism includes attempts to eradicate the weekly cycle.
The West’s intensifying war on the created sexual order, and the promotion of homosexuality and transgenderism, leading to persecution of Christians who would uphold the biblical sexual order. The “Religious Right” comprehensively lost the culture wars and is in full retreat, fighting a running rear-guard action to protect its own churches and denominational schools from an increasingly intolerant, totalitarian mob of Leftists and sexual revolutionaries who control most significant societal institutions, including the courts, and are everywhere in the ascendancy.
The fanatical commitment of the West’s Center-Left and Center-Right political parties to multiculturalism, leading to massive, transformative Muslim immigration into the nations of Christendom. Note that Ellen White states that “Christendom” is the locus of the great conflict over the Sabbath, but unless Christendom can find some way, in the near term, to defenestrate both its ruling elites and multiculturalism, Christendom will soon pass into history. Some Western European nations may already be lost to Christendom. Britons, who once ruled the waves and sang that they would never be slaves, are even now being governed as conquered dhimmis.
These lists are intended as discussion starters, not discussion enders. Many trends and events in contemporary America can be spun either way. If you read the lists carefully, you’ll have noticed that the downfall of American Protestantism is mentioned first on both lists. How can that be? Well, I would argue that Protestantism’s corruption and alienation from Bible religion is a necessary precursor to a Protestantism so depraved that it could imagine that God would find enforced worship desirable or acceptable, so the corruption of Protestantism is a factor in favor of the Adventist eschatological scenario. On the other hand, that Protestants are no longer a large majority in the U.S., but a rapidly shrinking minority, weighs against them being able to get Sunday laws enacted.
The remorseless war on Christian sexual values is also on both lists. It demonstrates real contempt for religious liberty on the part of our cultural elites, a fact that supports the Adventist narrative in a vague, general way. But it also shows blatant hostility to Christianity and Christians, which seemingly does not translate into propping up Christianity with a legally enforced day of worship.
For now, we see a mixed picture. It is not possible to know how we will move from today’s mixed bag into a situation in which a large majority is demanding that governments pass laws mandating Sunday-sacredness. It will happen, but we cannot know how or when.
But we need not live in fear and anxiety. When the final events begin, we will know it. Because we will see the sign that the end times have begun.