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Christ's mediatorial ministry on behalf of those who approach the Father through Him will eventually end. At least three passages in Ellen White's writings state that during the "short time" between the end of probation and "the appearing of the Lord in the clouds of heaven" (The Great Controversy, p. 490), Jesus will not function as the mediator between God and man. Notice:
Having "to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator" can be a frightening prospect, particularly for those who have a man-centered conception of salvationthose who maintain that the believer himself must achieve a righteousness of being and a flawlessness of conduct that will meet God's standard of perfection. However, when we understand what God does to make our salvation certain before Jesus lays down His high priestly robes, our fear turns into grateful joy for the marvelous plan God devised to make sure that none of those who trust in His grace for salvation will be disappointed. All who by faith avail themselves of Christ's redemptive work on their behalf will actually inherit eternal life.
We shall briefly discuss three basic reasons the believers can rest their cases with God in full assurance that He has devised a perfect plan to bring His people safely to the eternal kingdom. In view of that, they do not have to fear either the close of probation or the time of trouble that follows it.
First, Jesus will cease His mediatorial ministry only after the destiny of all the inhabitants of the earth has been permanently fixed and the salvation of His people is no longer in question.
Such statements highlight the fact that Jesus does not really just cease His mediatorial work, but rather that He completes it. Jesus does not stop functioning as man's representative with the Father without first making sure His ministry has achieved its intended purpose. He does not suddenly interrupt His work, leaving everyone standing on his own two feet, as it were. Instead, Jesus finishes His mediation on behalf of His people by securing for them God's final and irreversible verdict of approval as the pre-Advent judgment comes to an end. As a result, they receive "the seal of the living God," which grants their sonship in Christ a permanent status, and bestows upon them the right to be heirs of the kingdom.
Second, the moment when Jesus completes His mediation for the last generation of believers also marks the end of the pre-Advent judgment. The "final test" that determines eternal destinies "has been brought upon the world. . . . The number of His subjects is made up." As a result, the destiny of all is permanently and irrevocably fixed, each case not only decided but forever closed, never more to be opened for revision. Because the verdict God pronounces as the judgment comes to an end is final, those who will be saved are saved, and those who will be lost are lost as of that moment.
The reason that Jesus no longer mediates for His people after probation closes is that His mediation has already achieved its intended purpose, fully and completely. For one thing, God has declared the believers to be accepted as righteous in Christ. He has removed their guilt and forgiven their sin. Their names are permanently recorded in the Lamb's book of life and they are sealed for eternity. For another, the judgment has ended. The believers have passed the final test that decided their eternal destiny. The Mediator has answered Satan's arguments and accusations. The Judge has handed down His verdict, Jesus has won the case, and the trial is overforever.
The third reason the believer does not need to be apprehensive about either the end of probation or the time of trouble is that God will provide special protection for His people during this period. Notice how the following statements bring this out:
At least three major factors will combine to give the believers peace, hope, and assurance: 1. Jesus will mediate in their behalf until God's final verdict of acceptance makes their eternal salvation secure. 2. They will not have to face an after-judgment test to determine whether or not they have achieved flawless righteousness of being and sinlessness of conduct and hence are personally worthy of eternal life. 3. God will protect and provide for them during the short period of time between the end of probation and the second coming of Christ, so that nothing will jeopardize their salvation.
The close of probation marks the end of the present order of things and introduces a totally different situation. As far as their eternal destiny is concerned, the inhabitants of the world have permanently been divided into two groups: those who are irremediably lost and those whose names stand permanently recorded in the Lamb's book of life. And each group will have a unique experience during the short time before Jesus' return.
Because the wicked have rejected God's final attempt to bring them to repentance, they now face the most undesirable conditions.
We can describe the experience of "the finally impenitent" as follows: 1. The Holy Spirit, removed from them, no longer motivates them to repentance and faith in Christwhich means that there no longer exists any possibility that they can be reconciled to God. 2. God leaves them entirely under the unrestricted control of Satan. 3. They go through a time of extreme trouble, strife, and ruin. 4. And they receive God's judgment in the form of the seven last plagues (ibid., pp. 627-629).
What happens to God's people during the time of trouble is almost the exact opposite of what happens to the wicked, and falls into two separate yet interrelated parts. First, as the wicked live under the total power of Satan, so the redeemed dwell under the supernatural protection and leading of God. We have already seen that through angels and other providences God will shield them from life-threatening danger and want. The following passage indicates that God will also shelter them from any experience that does not contribute to the accomplishment of His specific purpose for them during this time.
Since the judgment is finished and human probation is ended, it would be purposeless to expose God's people to needless trials, temptations, and danger. After all, their cases have been decided, their destiny established. They are God's peopleHis precious jewelswith their names permanently written in the Lamb's book of life. So it is logical that God should carefully monitor their experience during this timethat He should control Satan's reach and bid them to hide "as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast," and "spare them, as a man spareth his own son.
This reinforces something we have seen earlier, namely that the destiny of God's people is forever established at that moment when the world's probation closes and the pre-Advent judgment finishes. At that time God forever removes their "filthy garments."
The second aspect of the experience God's people have during the time of trouble is one of deep spiritual intensity, of sincere self-examination and of earnest wrestling with God. Satan will do his best "to terrify them with the thought that their cases are hopeless, that the stain of their defilement will never be washed away," and attempt "to destroy their faith" in God (The Great Controversy, p. 619). Ellen White compares their experience to the night Jacob struggled with the Angel before he met his angry brother, Esau, after many years of separation:
Obviously Jacob's experience during his "night of anguish" only symbolizes what God's people will experience during the time of trouble, and therefore no one should attempt to establish a direct and complete correlation between the two. We must respect both the similarities and the differences. Among the similarities that bear most directly on our present study are: (1) the spiritual condition of the subjects involved, (2) the test to which they are subjected, and (3) the victory they win. We shall briefly examine each.
Jacob was personally acquainted with the God of his fathers and knew that the Lord had chosen him to be a direct heir to the covenant promises He had made to his grandfather Abraham. Throughout Jacob's life God had protected, guided, and blessed him in rather unusual ways. Yet when Jacob faced that night of agony, he was a "sinful, erring mortal" who confessed "his weakness and unworthiness" (ibid., p. 617), who experienced "the crushing weight of self-reproach, for it was his own sin that had brought this danger," and who, consequently, knew that "his only hope was in the mercy of God" (ibid., p. 616).
In this sense God's people after the end of probation are no different from Jacob. Living at such a decisive time in the world's history, when they can so clearly perceive the Lord's hand in human affairs, gives them a unique experience with God. But they are far from being sinlessly perfect. The record of their lives is such that "as they review the past, their hopes sink; for in their whole lives they can see little good. They are fully conscious of their weakness and unworthiness" (ibid., pp. 618, 619). Though surrounded by enemies, their greatest concern is not their physical danger but that they have repented and received God's pardon for all their sins. They have "a keen sense of self-reproach" that they didn't do more for Christ in the past so that now they might have "more power to resist and urge back the mighty tide of evil" (ibid., p. 619).
According to Ellen White, God's people are "placed in the furnace of fire" during the time of trouble because "their earthliness must be consumed, that the image of Christ may be perfectly reflected" (ibid., p. 621). Since this happens after the pre-Advent judgment, we see clearly that God's people do not achieve a state of sinless perfection by the time probation ends and the time of trouble begins. It further shows that God seals their eternal destiny in spite of the fact that "earthliness" still lingers in their lives and consequently the image of Christ is not yet "perfectly reflected" in them.
Obviously, then, the believers who live through the time of trouble are not a generation of supersaints who have fully attained a state of total sanctification of being. Like Jacob, they are imperfect and unworthy and, save for God's grace as manifested in Christ's redemptive mediation on their behalf, have no righteousness of their own on which to claim eternal life.
As is the case with all previous generations of believers, God's remnant church will be made perfect only at the second coming of Christ. Through the resurrection/glorification event, God will restore His people to the original state of spiritual wholeness Adam and Eve enjoyed before the Fall. As a result, all the redeemed sinners will then, for the first time ever, reflect the Redeemer's image as fully as our first parents exhibited the Creator's image in their primal state. In the meantime the people of God can be perfectly righteous, holy, and worthy only in Christ.
We have here one of those instances when one can better understand what something is by first establishing what it is not. So let us begin by briefly describing two kinds of tests that, although similar in form, have a different purpose and outcome. The first test determines whether someone qualifies for an intended purpose. It creates a pass-or-fail situation. If the candidate performs as expected, he passes; but if his performance is below the established standard, he is disqualified.
The second type of test improves, strengthens, or polishes the capabilities of someone who has already been tested and accepted as adequate. The pass-fail element is absent here. For example, before an Olympic team chooses a particular athlete as a member, he must make it through some rigorous qualifying tests. Whether or not he becomes a regular member of this select group depends on his performance. Once he is selected, he engages in a variety of exercises, practices, and competitions. Each is a test in its own right. But their purpose is to improve his performance, not to decide whether or not he will officially participate in the Olympic games. That decision rests on previous testing and does not change now.
The test Jacob encountered during his night of trial and the one God's people will endure during the time of trouble belong to the second category. The test God's people will endure will not decide whether or not they will be participants of His redemptive covenant. That decision has already been made. Instead, God has designed their test as a means to achieve three basic objectives: (1) to destroy all remaining confidence in their own ability to deliver themselves; (2) to lead them to a full realization of their unworthiness to be heirs of God's covenant blessingsthey must be fully persuaded that they are saved by grace alone; and (3) to strengthen their faith in and dependence on the mercy of God for the fulfillment of His covenant promises.
Let us examine Jacob's case first. God had appointed him as the heir of His covenant with Abraham even before Jacob's birth (see Gen. 25:23). On the night of his trial Jacob already had both Isaac's birthright blessing and God's confirmation of the covenant (Gen. 27:17-29; 28:10-15), in spite of the fact that he was an imperfect and unworthy sinner. So Jacob's experience that night was not intended to determine whether he was worthy of the covenant promises. God had obviously made that decision long ago. Instead, the test examined the patriarch's faith: faith that God had forgiven his sins and that in His mercy He would deliver him from the impending danger and fulfill His covenant promises to him.
Jacob recognized his inability to deliver himself from the impending danger. He admitted his sinfulness, imperfection, and unworthiness to be an heir to the covenant promises. Yet he did not yield to Satan's attempts to have him abandon his faith in God. That is why he based his hope of deliverance, not on his personal meritsfor he had nonebut on "the mercy of a covenant-keeping God" (ibid., p. 617).
The experience of God's people as they go through the time of trouble is similar to Jacob's in this regard. We have previously seen that God's final and irreversible verdict at the pre-Advent judgment has already fixed their eternal destiny. God in Christ has already appointed them as heirs of the kingdom. Their names stand permanently recorded in the Lamb's book of life, not because they are righteous and worthy, but because they accepted the salvation God provided in Christ. And yet they, go through a time of intense trial. Notice:
Clearly, the trying experience God's people will have after He permanently establishes their eternal destiny is not designed to determine whether they will be saved or not. Nor is it meant to find out whether or not they have developed spotless righteousness of being or flawlessness of conduct. Instead, it reveals that they recognize their helplessness and unworthiness, that they have confessed their guilt and depend on God's forgiveness for absolution, and that they do not yield to Satan's attempts to destroy their faith in God for deliverance.
Another comparison Ellen White establishes between Jacob's night of anguish and the experience of God's people during the time of trouble is the victory they winhow they obtain deliverance from the immediate danger and continue enjoying their covenant relationship with God.
Jacob's triumph had obviously little to do with either spiritual accomplishments, moral development, righteous character, or sinless behavior. His great accomplishment that night was that he "prevailed with the Majesty of heaven," and not that he transcended his fallen condition and attained to a state of flawless perfection. His victory was, in essence, the assurance that God would deliver him from immediate danger and retain him as an heir of His gracious covenant, in spite of his unworthiness for such a special privilege.
His victory is also the secret of the victory for God's people during the time of trouble.
We can attribute the triumph of Jacob on his night of anguish and the victory of God's people during the time of trouble to three separate yet complementary factors: (1) open acknowledgment of their unworthiness to participate in the covenant blessings; (2) sincere repentance for their sins and pleading for the assurance of God's forgiveness; (3) unyielding faith that in His mercy God will deliver them from present danger and fulfill the promises of the covenant, in spite of their obvious shortcomings, imperfection, and sinfulness.
The believers of the last generation will recognize that "it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that [they] are saved," just as everyone else (Acts 15:11). They will gladly admit:
The prevailing mood of all the redeemed will be one of gratitude and praise to God precisely because they are equally aware that it was His grace, as expressed in the redemption He provided in Christ, that made eternal life a reality for them. That is why they will forever be mindful of the fact that their presence in God's eternal kingdom is, not an evidence of their personal righteousness, works, or merits, but a telling demonstration of the everlasting love, the infinite grace, and the unwavering faithfulness of the covenant-keeping God.
4. Some Scriptural Considerations
The classic text for an idea of the end of probation reads:
Scripture does not provide any details concerning either the specific historical moment of the verdict or the conditions that will prevail between the time of God's pronouncement and the second coming of Christ. All that we can say with reasonable certainty is that (1) it is a divine, final, and irreversible verdict that (2) divides mankind into two separate groups and (3) fixes everybody's eternal destiny forever. Since God's judgment permanently seals the unjust in their unjust state and the righteous in their righteous state, it logically follows that no one will change sides afterward. A decision has been made concerning who belongs where, and it stands unchanged.
The concept of the end of probation and the fixation of destinies also appears in some of Christ's parables, particularly that of the 10 virgins. This parable contains at least three details relevant to our present discussion. First, the virgins divide into those who go in with the bridegroom "to the wedding banquet" (Matt. 25:10) and those not prepared to do so. Second, those who do not enter with the bridegroom cannot join the wedding party laterthey lose forever their opportunity to take part in the wedding.
Third, when after their unsuccessful search for oil the foolish ones return, the bridegroom denies them entrance into the wedding hall, saying, "I tell you the truth, I don't know you" (verse 12). Clearly, the reason for their rejection is their lack of a personal acquaintance with the bridegroom. In theological terms we would probably say that they do not have a close faith relationship with Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. They probably have other fine qualifications, but because they are strangers to Christ, they have no access to the wedding.
According to the parable, all 10 young ladies had lamps, representing "the word of God," but the foolish ones had no reserve of oil, "a symbol of the Holy Spirit" (Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 406, 407). In a theological sense we should not construe this to mean either that God arbitrarily withheld the Spirit from them or that they somehow were unable to retain Him. Previously we saw that our faith relationship with Christ gives us access to the blessings of the covenant of graceHe is "the medium through which Heaven's blessings" come to His people (The Desire of Ages, p. 357). And since the sealing of the Spirit is one of those blessings, it follows that only those who live in a faith relationship with Christ can have the Spirit in this particular sense. Consequently we see that while their lack of oil was a perceptible evidence of their unreadiness, the real cause of their problem was the absence of a personal faith connection to the Sayiour.
A personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the basic factor in a person's eternal destiny is illustrated elsewhere in the Gospels, as well. In Matthew 7, Jesus predicted that at the judgment many will come to Him, saying:
To prophesy, expel demons, and do mighty deeds in Christ's name are definitely good works. Unfortunately such things do not reconcile a sinner with Godthey are incapable of granting him adoption into God's spiritual family or giving him access to His eternal inheritance. So the problem of the people in Matthew 7:22 is that they have a behavior-centered conception of salvation. Instead of relying on Christ's redemptive work on their behalf, they expect to be welcomed into the kingdom on the basis of the things they did in Christ's name.
Christ's declaration to them reveals two significant facts: 1. Only those Jesus personally knowsthose He has engraved in the palms of His hands because they accepted His redemptive work on their behalfwill enter the kingdom of glory. All others will remain outside regardless of what they may have done or the qualifications they may possess. 2. Good workseven such outstanding things as prophesying and exorcising demons, things that require superior spiritual powerscannot do for man what God has determined only a personal faith relationship with Christ will accomplish. As a result, those who come presenting to God their own "mighty works" rather than Christ's redemptive work imputed to them by faith He counts as "evildoers."
Christ's faithfulness in finishing His work on the cross guarantees that He will finish His work on the throne. As Jesus hung on Calvary's cross, the bystanders mocked and humiliated Him, urging Him to save Himself from such a horrible death. The rulers, the common people, the Roman soldiers, and even one of the crucified criminals challenged Him to prove His Messiahship by coming down from the cross (Luke 23:35-39). But no person or thing could persuade Jesus to leave the cross until He had fully accomplished the purpose of His earthly mission. He must give His life as the atoning sacrifice to reconcile humanity to God. We can therefore rest assured that He will not leave the heavenly throne or cease His mediation on our behalf until He finishes applying the benefits of His redemptive work to secure the salvation of those He purchased with His blood.
The fact that Jesus took the penalty for our sin upon Himself assures us that He will face God's judgment as our representative. The judgment is real, and it has eternal consequences. But thanks to Jesus, it is not a time of wrath for the believer. For him the cup of God's unmitigated judgment on sin has already been poured outit is empty. The Saviour drank every last drop of it so that those who accept His redemptive activity on their behalf will never have to taste the eternal consequences of sin. "Their sins have gone beforehand to judgment and have been blotted out" (The Great Controversy, p. 620). As a result, they stand blameless in Christ before God.
While it is true that Jesus will not act as our mediator during the time of trouble, we can rest assured that He will not leave us alone. Jesus promised never to forsake us, but will be with us "always, to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:20; see Heb. 13:5). We can therefore rest secure in the faithfulness of God, who is both willing and able to keep His own. After all, Jesus said:
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