O Lord Jesus, How Long?

O LORD JESUS, HOW LONG?

Dennis Priebe

Jesus is talking to the seventy disciples who had just come back from their missionary tour. "And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." (Luke 10:18) When did this happen? Of course we answer quickly, When he sinned and got kicked out of heaven.

Here's the passage we usually think of. "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (Revelation 12:7-9) But notice that when we make this connection, we are actually equating two different phrases. Jesus said that Satan "fell," but in Revelation 12 it says he was "cast out." So perhaps these verses are referring to different events.

Notice what Jesus said in this verse. "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out." (John 12:31) This was just before the crucifixion, when Satan would again be "cast out." Does that mean that Revelation 12 is really talking about the crucifixion as well as Satan being cast out of heaven in the beginning?

Here is how Ellen White uses Revelation 12. "Christ bowed His head and died....'And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.'" (DA 761) Why is Ellen White quoting that verse when she's talking about the crucifixion? Is it because the second casting down is more important than the first casting out? The first casting out was just an exile from heaven. The second casting out was a loss of Satan's credibility, which is what the great controversy is all about.

We need some more clarification. "After the crucifixion, [Satan] saw that he had overreached himself....Satan saw that his disguise was torn away, that the character he had tried to fasten on Christ was fastened on himself. It was as if he had the second time fallen from heaven." (12 MR 411) This is definitely at the cross. It's like there is something about these two events—the fall of Satan from heaven and the death of Christ on the cross—that is so similar that inspired writers seem to put them all together.

Actually, Ellen White sometimes make the linkage even stronger. "God...looked upon the victim expiring on the cross, and said, 'It is finished. The human race shall have another trial.' The redemption price was paid, and Satan fell like lightning from heaven." (YI June 21, 1900) So there we have stages one and two in Satan's fall.

Let's move on to stage three. "The accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." (Revelation 12:10-12) This does look familiar, doesn't it? And it really is stage three.

Let's focus on a few details. The accuser of the brethren was "cast down" at the death of Christ. Now a new group is introduced. There is a group of people who have beaten the devil, placing their lives at risk in the process. Because they overcame, the heavens and everyone who lives there can rejoice. But these events appear to be bad news for all those who live in the wrong place—the earth—because the devil is running out of time and he's really angry.

When does all this come together? Of course, at the end of time. "'Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.' Fearful are the scenes which call forth this exclamation from the heavenly voice. The wrath of Satan increases as his time grows short, and his work of deceit and destruction will reach its culmination in the time of trouble." (GC 623)

So this passage in Revelation 12 is really talking about three different episodes. We've got the fall of Satan, about 6,000 years ago; the crucifixion, about 2,000 years ago; and the time of trouble, in our near future. What do these three events have in common?

"Satan...is an accuser of the brethren, and his accusing power is employed against those who work righteousness. The Lord desires through His people to answer Satan's charges by showing the results of obedience to right principles." (COL 296) These three events are all based on Satan's accusations against Christ.

So how will Satan's accusations be answered? "The completeness of Christian character is attained when the impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within. It is the atmosphere of this love surrounding the soul of the believer that makes him a savor of life unto life." (AA 551) Answering Satan's charges involves more than pure doctrine. Far more important are the lives God's people live.

In Desire of Ages, page 490, four stages are put together in one passage. "Like the apostles, the seventy had received supernatural endowments as a seal of their mission. When their work was completed, they returned with joy, saying, 'Lord, even the devils are subject to us through thy name.' Jesus answered, 'I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.' (Obviously, we are reviewing stage two) The scenes of the past and the future were presented to the mind of Jesus. He beheld Lucifer as he was first cast out from the heavenly places. (This is stage one) He looked forward to the scenes of His own agony, when before all the worlds the character of the deceiver should be unveiled. He heard the cry, 'It is finished,' announcing that the redemption of the lost race was forever made certain, that heaven was made eternally secure against the accusations, the deceptions, the pretensions, that Satan would instigate. (This is the near future for Jesus, which is stage two) Beyond the cross of Calvary, with its agony and shame, Jesus looked forward to the great final day, when the prince of the power of the air will meet his destruction in the earth so long marred by his rebellion. Jesus beheld the work of evil forever ended, and the peace of God filling heaven and earth. (This is stage four, the final destruction of sin and Satan, his last fall from heaven) Henceforward Christ's followers were to look upon Satan as a conquered foe. Upon the cross, Jesus was to gain the victory for them; that victory He desired them to accept as their own." (This is stage three, not as detailed as the others, but still there)

Stage one (6,000 years ago) – The members of the Godhead understood Satan's plans and arguments, and rejected them.
Stage two (2,000 years ago) – Angels and unfallen worlds understood Satan's plans and arguments, and rejected them.
Stage three (near future) – The 144,000 will understand Satan's plans and arguments, and will reject them.
Stage four (1,000 years later) – The wicked will understand Satan's plans and arguments, and will reject them.

So there's the fall of Satan. Naturally it's easier to understand the first two stages, since they've already happened. But it's stage three that should most interest us, since we actually have a chance to do something about that one. At the very least we should be working on it. ( In passing, notice that the righteous dead are missing from the list above. We'll come back to them shortly.)

Stage Three

We will start with a familiar verse. "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." (Matthew 24:14) Everyone is familiar with this sequence. But is there a reason for this order of events? It is a common assumption that the gospel must go to all the world before the end can come. This assumption is correct, but why? It isn't so everyone will have a chance to be saved. Billions of people have already died without hearing the gospel. A number of inspired passages tell us that even the "unenlightened heathen" can be saved. (Zechariah 13:6; Romans 2:13-15; DA 638; SD 364; COL 385) It looks like God has a way of dealing with that problem.

So why does "this gospel" need to go to all the world? More importantly, which gospel is "this gospel"? If the pope could preach an evangelistic series that was broadcast to every person on earth, would the end come? How about Benny Hinn, or Pat Robertson, or James Dobson, or Joel Osteen? What about Ted Wilson, or Dwight Nelson, or Doug Batchelor, or Mark Finley? The point is, "this gospel" must be the true gospel. It has to be complete, mature, and powerful enough to bring on the end. That is the "gospel of the kingdom." To whatever extent my gospel falls short of that, I will fall short of ever finishing God's work, no matter how much I do. In the Lord's service, quality is always more significant than quantity. Our failure to master the science of salvation is the greatest cause for the delay of the end of time.

Scripture talks about that delay in the Lord's plans. "And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel." (Revelation 7:1-4) So what is holding things up? It is the sealing that is holding up God's plans. By the way, it is also holding Satan up. He started falling a long time ago, and he should have hit the rocks by now. It's only because we aren't ready for the sealing, that he's still sort of floating around in mid-air.

But why can't God's plans go forward without the sealing? What makes it necessary? What does it accomplish? Let us look at another verse. "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." (Ephesians 3:10) Notice that it says "by the church." Somehow the church will provide a demonstration of "the manifold wisdom of God" that is so different from anything else that has ever been seen, that "the principalities and powers in heavenly places" will learn something new. And that demonstration is to be made through the sealing. So now we can say that it is the need for the demonstration of the wisdom of God that comes through the sealing of the 144,000 that is holding things up.

So what is this wisdom of God? We will ask four questions about this specific part of God's wisdom that is to be demonstrated to the principalities and powers in heavenly places by the church. 1. What plans are being held up? 2. What wisdom of God could possibly require demonstration? 3. What specifics need to be demonstrated? 4. Can the sealing demonstrate what is needed?

What plans are being held up? Obviously it is God's plans for the end of time that is to come after the gospel goes to all the world. In other words, everything from the sealing on. This includes the close of probation, the time of Jacob's trouble, the second coming, the reward of the righteous, and the destruction of the wicked.

What wisdom of God could possibly require demonstration? Remember, this is for the benefit of the principalities and powers in heavenly places. That's a loyal audience. Don't they trust Him? It is the last two items that need clarification—the reward of the righteous and the destruction of the wicked. Satan has been complaining about God's plans on these two issues for several thousand years. And the unfallen inhabitants of the heavenly places have a stake here as well. Angels have good reasons to make sure that God's plans don't endanger heaven and don't execute the wicked unfairly.

What specifics need to be demonstrated? Suppose a teacher gave a math test and everyone flunked. But suppose the teacher announced later that seven students would get passing grades anyway. You would want to know what made those seven different, wouldn't you? And if the teacher said, "It's because they have blue eyes," you wouldn't think it was fair, especially if you didn't have blue eyes! The problem is that blue eyes have nothing to do with math tests. That's just not a good reason. Well, what would be a good reason? Maybe if the class studied the lesson again, and then took another test. If the seven students showed that they had learned how to do the math, it would make more sense. But does that second test guarantee that they will never again mess up another math question? Is that reason really any better than blue eyes? So, does it sound like a good idea to take people to heaven. Even people who have passed a second test? What a risk! And what about those who failed twice? What if the teacher gave them another chance? How many chances should someone get before the teacher says, "I give up. This student is hopeless."? The situation is much more serious when the consequence isn't just a failing grade—it's eternal death.

So we must look at our question more carefully. What specifics need to be demonstrated? To justify His government's rulings on the reward of the righteous and the destruction of the wicked, God needs to do three things. 1. He must show that there is a good reason some are lost and some are saved. This is necessary to counter Satan's claim that because God's people have sinned, they are no more entitled to salvation than he is. Or better yet, he deserves salvation just as much as they do. 2. He must show that the people He wants to take to heaven are safe to have there. This allays the concern of the unfallen inhabitants of the universe about taking people like you and me to heaven. The righteous need to be completely safe to save. 3. He must show that there is nothing more that even God could do to help the wicked. This establishes God's love and justice as being entirely compatible. The wicked need to be completely irredeemable.

Can the sealing demonstrate what is needed? This is our fourth and most important question. We all know some basic information about the sealing. The seal of God is contrasted with the mark of the beast. A seal—an official sign of authority—gives the essential information (usually the name, title, and jurisdiction) of the individual, organization, or government which it represents. This information is found in the Sabbath commandment: Name—Lord; Title—Creator; Jurisdiction—Heaven and earth. The mark of the beast is readily identified as the claim to have changed the Sabbath to Sunday. The sealing is "a settling into the truth...so they cannot be moved." (The Faith I Live By, p. 287)

So we know that the Sabbath is the seal of God's government, and that determined opposition to God's authority by the exaltation of Sunday is the mark of the beast. When God's people settle into the truth intellectually and spiritually so that nothing can move them, they will receive the seal of God. We also know that the seal of God is placed in the foreheads of the 144,000 before the close of probation, and the close of probation marks the end of Christ's work in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary. Sometimes we think of the seal of God as some sort of heavenly diploma after we pass the final test. But the reality is that the seal is given before the final test. Teachers don't do that. You don't hand out diplomas before you know whether or not the student has passed the final test. So what's going on here?

We also know that the conflict between the observance of the Sabbath and the mark of the beast reaches its peak during the time of Jacob's trouble, when those resisting the combined religious/political authority of the world are condemned to death. This is clearly after the close of probation. Perhaps we need to look more closely at Jacob and this "trouble." "For thus saith the Lord; We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness? Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it." (Jeremiah 30:5-7) Jeremiah is clearly referring to the story of Jacob's night of wrestling by the Jabbok.

We know the story. Jacob is returning home after his twenty year absence when he gets word that his brother Esau is coming with 400 armed men. Realizing that his only hope is God, he spends the night praying. At midnight someone attacks him. "And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said,...as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." (Genesis 32:24-28)

Please note that the One Jacob has been praying to is the same One he has been fighting. What does Jacob believe? That God loves him and wishes him well, or that God hates him and wants him dead? It's faith versus sight (and feeling and hearing and smelling and the taste of blood). Which is stronger? This is the basic test of the time of Jacob's trouble.

Jacob is not the only illustration of this test? Under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, when to Job it seemed that God was out to kill him, still he maintained his trust and loyalty, when he said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." (Job 13:15) It is important to note that this whole test was Satan's idea, and God went along with it. Lest anyone think that this was an insignificant event, remember that it cost the lives of about 100 people to set up this test for Job.

But the ultimate example is Jesus. "And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying,...My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34) Jesus was willing to complete the plan of redemption even when it seemed that His Father had deserted him completely.

What makes the test of the 144,000 after the close of probation special? Millions have faced death for their faith. What is the difference here? This is not the normal test of martyrdom, because at this time—with no High Priest to intercede in the heavenly sanctuary—the 144,000 feel no sense of God's abiding presence. Every sensory input tells them that God is their enemy. "Those who live in the last days must pass through an experience similar to that of Jacob. Foes will be all around them, ready to condemn and destroy. Alarm and despair will seize them, for it appears to them as to Jacob in his distress, that God Himself has become an avenging enemy." (Signs of the Times, Nov. 27, 1879)

After making every sacrifice imaginable to remain true to God's government, facing imminent death because they refuse to disobey His commandment, with no possible hope in anything but God, that's when God seems more like an enemy than a helper. DO THEY STILL TRUST HIM? Why such a test? Because it has to be the absolute most difficult test of faith possible ever, under any circumstances. Nothing less can show that they trust God so much that they will do His will even when it doesn't make sense to them. Nothing less can show that they are "saved enough" to be safe in heaven.

Before we continue, we must digress to look at the end of this test. "Dangers thicken on every side, and it is difficult to fix the eye of faith upon the promises amidst the certain evidences of immediate destruction. But in the midst of revelry and violence, there falls upon the ear peal upon peal of the loudest thunder....God utters His voice from His holy habitation. The captivity of His people is turned. With sweet and subdued voices they say to one another, 'God is our friend.'" (Signs of the Times, Nov. 27, 1879) The hardest test of all time can be passed by anyone who has learned that "Jesus loves me, this I know."

So, what does this test show? By placing His seal on the 144,000 before this most difficult of all tests, God provides convincing evidence that He can correctly identify those who are safe to let into heaven. The seal is not a diploma! It is a demonstration of God's wisdom that helps His loyal subjects feel more comfortable with people like you and me. But it does more.

Because everyone on earth at this time is familiar with "this gospel," and only those who have faith pass the test, and all those who have faith pass the test, this test shows that faith is necessary for salvation, and faith plus a knowledge of "this gospel" is sufficient for complete obedience. This is why the gospel has to go to all the world. This test can't be carried out properly without simplifying the situation down to a single variable. Only when the question of knowledge is standardized can the role of faith be clearly seen. It's a little like working on a car. You don't do a major engine overhaul and switch gasoline brands at the same time. You wouldn't know which change solved the problem. You must stick with one variable.

And why is all this important? Aside from proving that the 144,000 are safe to let into heaven, this demonstration just happens to be exactly what is needed to take care of the one group of people who got left out of the four stages of Satan's fall—the righteous dead. Let's use a great hero to illustrate this. Martin Luther didn't keep the Sabbath. He was all confused on infant baptism. He lived on roast beast, sauerkraut, and beer. He was not the most patient of individuals. But he had faith. Now Jesus says, "I can teach Martin Luther the details of 'this gospel' when I get him to heaven. But the investigative judgment has already found that he had true faith. Is it alright with everyone if I take him home with Me?" And there won't be a single voice raised in objection, because righteousness really is by faith. Martin Luther's faith allows him to be saved with an incomplete knowledge of God and His plan of redemption, but something more is necessary before Satan's arguments can be cast down.

What is the final test really for? "All heaven is waiting to hear us vindicate God's law." (Review and Herald, April 16, 1901) "If there was ever a people in need of constantly increasing light from heaven, it is the people that, in this time of peril, God has called...to vindicate His character before the world." (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 746) "The honor of the law of God is to be vindicated before the unfallen worlds, before the heavenly universe, and before the fallen world." (Ye Shall Receive Power, p. 338)

The final test is not about my salvation, but about the vindication of God's law and His character (which are exactly the same). It is God Who is really being examined here. Is God's way really a foolproof way to preserve the universe? Notice the future direction of these statements. This is not about Stage 2 and what happened at the cross. This is about "us" and "the people" that live at the end of time. Notice also that this vindication demands "increasing light from heaven" because God can only be vindicated by pure truth, never by honest untruths about His law and character. Martin Luther lived in a time of limited light and thus could not vindicate God. Martin Luther's faith was sufficient to save him, but insufficient for the final vindication of God and the defeat of Satan.

This last test is not really about our salvation, although that is involved. It is to answer all remaining questions on all levels, fallen and unfallen. The remnant of Revelation 12 was not called into existence to repeat the mission of Martin Luther or John Wesley or Billy Graham. It was called to vindicate God's way of accepting and rejecting sinful men and women. Is God's way fair to all and will it protect the universe from repeating the whole sorry mess?

The test shows that God is fair in saving people with limited "light" on the basis of their faith. The sealed final generation shows that true faith will lead to obedience to complete "light" when it is available. Therefore, those who died with limited "light" will not jeopardize the safety of the universe, because their genuine faith will always respond in obedience to "new light."

The ultimate mission of the last prophetic church is not to be saved or even to lead others to salvation, although both of these goals will be accomplished by them, but to annihilate Satan's last remaining arguments against God, His character, His law, and His method of saving sinners. We are here as God's final piece of evidence necessary to end the experiment of sin and preserve the universe from any similar experiments in the future.

Stage Four

After a thorough examination of the books of record to answer every question about why this one or that one is not among the redeemed, the time has come to finish sin and sinners forever. We know the story. After 1000 years Jesus descends on the Mount of Olives. The earth splits to create a great plain, and the New Jerusalem comes to rest. Soon the wicked are raised to life. After a period of unknown duration during which they
prepare their weapons and organize their forces, they are ready to attack the city.

"At last the order to advance is given, and the countless host moves on—an army such as was never summoned by earthly conquerors, such as the combined forces of all ages since war began on earth could never equal. Satan, the mightiest of warriors, leads the van, and his angels unite the forces for this final struggle. Kings and warriors are in his train, and the multitudes follow in vast companies, each under its appointed leader. With military precision the serried ranks advance over the earth's broken and uneven surface to the City of God. By command of Jesus, the gates of the New Jerusalem are closed, and the armies of Satan surround the city and make ready for the onset." (GC 664)

Up to this point, I don't know of any means by which God has shown the universe that it is absolutely impossible to reclaim those who have rejected faith. What about the little old lady down the street who grew pretty roses, and gave cookies to the neighborhood children, but never accepted Christ? Isn't there some way to reach her? Just on more chance? Wouldn't you ask? Wouldn't Jesus—the One who is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8); the One who said, "[whoever] comes to Me I will by no means cast out" (John 6:37); the One who has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezek. 33:11) — wouldn't Jesus let a repentant and trusting sinner in?

So one more thing needs to be revealed. "As soon as the books of record are opened, and the eye of Jesus looks upon the wicked, they are conscious of every sin which they have ever committed. They see just where their feet diverged from the path of purity and holiness, just how far pride and rebellion have carried them in the violation of the law of God. The seductive temptations which they encouraged by indulgence in sin, the blessings perverted, the messengers of God despised, the warnings rejected, the waves of mercy beaten back by the stubborn, unrepentant heart—all appear as if written in letters of fire. Above the throne is revealed the cross; and like a panoramic view appear the scenes of Adam's temptation and fall, and the successive steps in the great plan of redemption." (GC 666)

In this great panorama in the sky, every individual will see what God did to save them and what they did to reject His love. "It is now evident to all that the wages of sin is not noble independence and eternal life, but slavery, ruin, and death....All see that their exclusion from heaven is just....Those who have united with [Satan] see the total failure of his cause....Satan sees that his voluntary rebellion has unfitted him for heaven....His accusations against the mercy and justice of God are now silenced....And now Satan bows down and confesses the justice of his sentence....Every question of truth and error in the long-standing controversy has now been made plain....God's wisdom, His justice, and His goodness stand fully vindicated." (GC 668-670)

In all that multitude outside the city, not one can be found who has faith in God's love. As the faithful 144,000 pass the hardest of all tests and show the power of faith, so the faithless wicked fail the test and show their total depravity. Now the entire unfallen universe knows that there is nothing more that even God Himself can do to save them. More time will not help. Miracles will not help. Additional demonstrations of love and patience will not help.

"Notwithstanding that Satan has been constrained to acknowledge God's justice and to bow to the supremacy of Christ, his character remains unchanged. The spirit of rebellion, like a mighty torrent, again bursts forth....He rushes into the midst of his subjects and endeavors to inspire them with his own fury and arouse them to instant battle. But of all the countless millions whom he has allured into rebellion, there are none now to acknowledge his supremacy. His power is at an end." (GC 671)

With this evidence before them, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess the justice and righteousness of God. Now, finally, all that must be demonstrated has been shown. It is time to end the conflict forever. With the storyline clearly laid out before us, the only thing left is for us to make a choice. "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed." (Isaiah 45:22-24)

God has told us what to expect. It shouldn't be a mystery for anyone who reads the Bible. The only real question is, Do we have faith enough to obey? Do we trust God without questioning? Will we be on the inside of that city?


[Much thanks is due to Dave Fiedler, who put this presentation together, and graciously allowed others to use and adapt it. It is his hope and mine that this story will motivate and unite those who are waiting for Christ's return to take a proactive role in causing that return to be sooner rather than later.]