Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Faith of Jesus

by Steven Grabiner

“Martial law imposed by the president to prevent the national elections.” “Total failure of all US banks. The imminent collapse of all state governments.” “The death of millions orchestrated by the US government. Millions more are to be rounded up into concentration camps.” “Only months left before the ‘little time of trouble.’ ” These and other scenarios are currently making their way around the Internet. Some of them have even found their way into the preaching of sincere Adventist pastors and laity. These preachers believe that they are giving the trumpet a certain sound and are motivating people to prepare for the coming of Christ. Undoubtedly, such a preparation is essential. We are living in the final moments of history. God’s people do need a radical preparation. Yet, it is legitimate to ask, is this the way to prepare? Is such excitement and speculation necessary, or has God already provided a better way?

Located firmly in the midst of the thematic and structural heart of Revelation are the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14. Life-changing, demanding, complacency-shattering, priority-reorganizing, their call continues to echo. They are the reason the Seventh-day Adventist Church exists. They contain vital truths that will affect the destiny of those living in earth’s final hours. In phrases packed with meaning, they contain seeds of thought that mature into a complete warning, fully relevant for today.

Beginning with the everlasting gospel (Revelation 14:6), these messages are driven by a momentum that carries the reader along to its ultimate conclusion. Moving through calls to fear, glorify, and worship God; warning us of a final judgment, the fall of Babylon, and the mark of the beast, the messages finally come to rest in an appeal to respond. Unfortunately, the ultimate aim of this passage too frequently goes unnoticed. Or at least the import behind the aim is not fully recognized. That aim is prepare a people to live to see Jesus Christ return.

In the words “Here is the patience of the saints, here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12, KJV) is an exhortation to apply and appropriate the three angels’ messages. John’s words “Here is” demand attention and stress a special emphasis.[i] He is creating an awareness of the importance of what follows. This verse can rightly be viewed as “the take home message”[ii] of the center of Revelation (Rev 12-14). The three angels’ messages are set in the context of the final conflict. Their call is God’s response to Satan’s three-fold attack found in Revelation 13. Their purpose is to form a people who are no longer enchanted with or deceived by Satan’s counterfeits. They are not afraid of the future because they follow the one who knows the future.

This purpose of preparing a people is one of the over-arching concerns of Revelation. Woven throughout the book is a thread that connects those who have appropriated the message with those who are now called to do so. Faithfulness to the “word of God and testimony of Jesus” was evidenced in John’s life (Rev 1:9). It is a characteristic of those who partake in the first resurrection (Rev 20:4). It is a quality held by those who were killed for their faith (Rev 6:9-11). The aim of Revelation 14:6-11 is to once again form such a people who evidence such faith.

These people will be prepared for earth’s final events. They will be prepared for the final attacks of Satan and his “all-out” war against God’s people (Rev 12:17). They will be prepared for scenes far worse than those circulating around the Internet today. John sees them and describes them. They are portrayed in concise terms—those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.

This relationship between the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus needs further exploration, especially in light of its setting. When we read Revelation through, it becomes clear that the main theme is the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan. While Satan makes war with those who “keep God’s commandments and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev 12:17), his ultimate attack is upon God’s government (Rev 12:9). By attacking those who treasure God’s commandments, Satan is ultimately continuing his efforts to overthrow the divine government. Thus, in a special way, those brought to view in Revelation 14:12 have a unique role in this conflict. They withstand all the troubles and trials that are thrown against them. Their allegiance to the divine government remains firm, as evidenced by the fact that they “keep” God’s commandments.

The semantic range of the word “keep” has a broader compass than usually given to it. There are three distinct categories of meaning, each nuanced in its own way. They are “to guard” (with the idea of taking care of or watching over); “to keep” (or to preserve); and “to obey” (with the connotation of persisting in obedience or holding fast). Unquestionably, each nuance can be applied in this setting. In the midst of the final conflict over God’s government, His people will seek to preserve His law, cherish it, guard it, and clearly persist in obeying it, despite threats of death and economic boycott. Their obedience will not merely be a formal or external one. It will be an obedience that springs from the heart. Their motivation and perseverance will not be found in the latest current event, but will be anchored in “the faith of Jesus.”

It is that “faith of Jesus” that is both the power and the inspiration for God’s people. Unfortunately, it is too true that as Adventist pastors, we have inadequately communicated and demonstrated the life-changing force of “the faith of Jesus.” Ellen G. White wrote from Denver Colorado, in 1889, that we have “only casually lifted up Christ as the sin-pardoning Saviour. . . . The faith of Jesus is not comprehended.”[iii] What does it mean to “comprehend” the faith of Jesus? How should this phrase be understood?[iv]

The phrase is found in Bible translations in three different ways. For example, there is the KJV’s “faith of Jesus,” the NASB’s “faith in Jesus,” and the NIV’s “faithful to Jesus.” In wanting to more fully comprehend the expression, there are two main questions that demand answering. First, should the genitive construction (“of”) be understood as objective or subjective? That is, is Jesus the object of faith, which in English would be expressed by “faith in Jesus”? Or is it subjective, John discussing the faith that belongs to Jesus, that He demonstrated both in His Father, and toward those who are the objects of His love? The choice of the subjective has more weight, given that the “commandments” are clearly God’s (subjective) and that the parallel nature of the phrase would support a subjective reading for “the faith of Jesus.” Similarly, the “testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12:17) is best understood as originating in Jesus, not simply being about Him. It also is a subjective genitive. Thus, this points to “the faith of Jesus” as a subjective as well.

Second, should the Greek pistis be translated as faith or faithfulness? Both find support in different translations and both are within the semantic meaning of the word. If faithfulness is chosen, this gives rise to an alternative understanding, which is not found in any translations. The verse could be read as “those who keep [cherish, preserve] the commandments of God, and the faithfulness of Jesus.

This choice is strengthened by the overall tenor of Revelation. Jesus is frequently described as One who is Faithful (Rev 1:5; 3:14; 19:11). Within the larger concern of Revelation, Jesus is revealed as the One who answers the issues raised in the great controversy. When the heavenly council is confronted with no one in heaven or earth that can respond to questions about God’s government (Rev 5:1-3), Jesus is brought forth as the answer (Rev 5.5, 6). He responds to Satan’s accusations through His own self-sacrifice and by His faithfulness to God. He preserved this faithfulness despite feeling forsaken by God. While Satan raises questions about God’s faithfulness and the certainty of God’s promises, Jesus refutes those questions with the demonstration of His own life. Read this way, the verse is saying that God’s people will find their fidelity to God made possible only through Christ’s faithfulness.

Whether one finds merit in this way of reading the verse or not, it is certain that the focus of attention for God’s people needs to be centered in Jesus Christ. “It should be the burden of every messenger to set forth the fullness of Christ.”[v] It is an absence of a practical application of Christ’s righteousness that causes the state of lukewarmness and lack of dedication prevalent today.

“What constitutes the faith of Jesus, that belongs to the third angel's message? Jesus becoming our sin-bearer that He might become our sin-pardoning Saviour. . . . He came to our world and took our sins that we might take His righteousness. Faith in the ability of Christ to save us amply and fully and entirely is the faith of Jesus.”[vi] An experiential understanding of Christ’s sacrifice and the transformation He is longing to accomplish in our hearts will be the agency to prepare a people to live to see Jesus come. The way to prepare others is startlingly simple. Lift up Christ, in word, in life, and in action.

“The preaching of Christ crucified has been strangely neglected by our people. . . . It is this neglected part of the ministry which will be found the great instrument in the conversion of souls and in leading to the high standard of holiness which every church needs in order to become a living church.”[vii]

Here is the power to transform lives.

[i] David E. Aune, Revelation 6-16, WBC (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 798.

[ii] Sigve K. Tonstad, Saving God’s Reputation (New York: T&T Clark International, 2006), 160.

[iii] Ellen G. White, The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials (Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1987), 430.

[iv] For a fuller discussion of the following ideas, see Tonstad , 166-194.

[v] Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1946), 186.

[vi] Idem., 1888 Materials, 218.

[vii] Ibid., 843.

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