The Ultimate Rest
Have you ever felt that you were in the midst of a great battle, a kind of struggle between good and evil? Many, even secular people, have sensed this reality. And we feel that way because, well, it’s true. We are in a great battle between good and evil, between Christ (the good) and Satan (the bad).
Life, then, is really being played out on two levels. The great controversy between Christ and Satan is taking place on a global scale—in fact, even a cosmic level, for in heaven is where it first began (Rev. 12:7). Yet, in the confusion of events, we can easily lose the big picture of God’s escape plan for this world. Wars, political unrest, and natural disasters can hold us in helpless terror. But God’s prophetic guidance can help us keep in mind the big picture of where we are going and how we will get there.
The great controversy also is being played out on a much more personal level. All of us individually face faith challenges in our everyday life, and if we die before the second coming of Jesus, we will face death too. This week, we look at how we can rest in Jesus in the face of global unrest and our own unknown future, at least in the short term. In the long term, things look very promising, indeed!
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, September 25.
The oldest surviving disciple actually to have been with Jesus sat on a rocky prison island far from everything that was near and dear to him. What must have been going on in John’s mind as he found himself stranded on this desolate island? How did he wind up there, and like this too? After all, he had seen Jesus leave, and he had seen the two angels standing there, saying: “ ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven’ ” (Acts 1:11, NKJV).
That, however, had been years and years ago, and Jesus had not yet returned. Meanwhile, the other apostles present on that day already had died, most of them martyred for their witness about Jesus. The young church had undergone a generational change and was now facing horrible persecution from the outside and strange heretical movements from within. John must have felt alone, tired, and restless. And then, suddenly, he was given a vision.
Jesus had told His followers, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, NKJV), words that, no doubt, must have encouraged John as he faced his lonely exile. Surely this vision, this “revelation” of Jesus, must have been a great comfort to him, knowing that Jesus, “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” was now manifesting Himself in a special way to the exiled apostle.
What followed from these verses were visions about the future of this world. An awesome panoramic view of history would be portrayed before him, basically what’s to us the history of the Christian church but was to him its future. And yet, amid the trials and tribulations that would come, John was shown how it would all end. “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1, 2, NKJV).
The great apocalyptic vision John has recorded in Revelation helped John confidently to rest in God’s provisions and promises.
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus painted history in broad strokes as He responded to the questions of the disciples: “ ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’ ” (Matt. 24:3, NKJV). Jesus’ famous sermon, recorded in Matthew 24, covers the uninterrupted, historical time line from His days until the Second Coming and beyond.
Jesus wanted to give His people throughout the ages a rough sketch of the divine schedule for end-time prophecies so that those living at the end of time could be prepared for the ultimate event. He wanted us to be able to rest confidently in His love, even when everything around us is falling apart.
Adventists know well Daniel’s description of “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” (Dan. 12:1). Jesus wants us to be prepared for this event, which precedes His second coming.
Jesus’ coming will be a literal event at the end of time. Considering the space given in prophecy to His return, and even in Jesus’ sermons, this is a big deal.
The last time there was a worldwide climactic event only eight people in all the world were ready for it. Jesus compares the unexpectedness of the Second Coming to that event—the Flood (Matt. 24:37–39). But although no one knows the day or hour of the Second Coming (Matt. 24:36), God has given us a prophetic countdown that we can watch happening in the world around us.
In this cosmic conflict, we are more than just observers. We are to be active participants in spreading the gospel to the ends of the world, which means that we, too, will face persecution.
The prophetic big picture of history doesn’t just allow us to sit back and do nothing as events unfold, events that we really can’t control. So often the attitude can be “Well, final events are going to happen as predicted, so what can we do about it other than just simply go along with them? After all, what can I alone do?”
But that’s not how Christians are to relate to the world around them and, especially, to final events. Revelation 14 tells us that our purpose at this time in history is to tell others about God’s judgment and help them prepare for the second coming of Jesus.
As Adventists, we believe that “present truth” (2 Pet. 1:12) is found, specifically, in these verses that we refer to as “the three angels’ messages.” Here we find the essence of what our calling is at this time in earth’s history. Notice, it starts out with the “everlasting gospel,” the wonderful news of Christ’s death and resurrection, upon which our only hope of salvation rests. There also is the message that “the hour of His judgment has come” (Rev. 14:7, NKJV), a powerful waymark that points to the end of time. Then, too, there is the call to worship the one “who made heaven and earth,” in contrast to the fearful warning about those who, staying in Babylon, worship “the beast and his image.” Finally there is the depiction of God’s end-time people: “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (NKJV).
No rest, day or night, for those who worship the beast and his image? Though various ideas exist regarding what this exactly means, all would agree that these people do not experience the kind of rest that God offers those who are faithful to Him.
For long centuries now, Christians have been awaiting Christ’s return. It is, truly, the culmination of all our hopes—and not just ours but the hopes of all God’s faithful throughout all history.
In many ways, these verses make no sense if the common and popular version of death were true. What is the passage talking about, these people “not having received the promises”? They’re dead, supposedly now up in heaven with Jesus enjoying their great reward. When, for example, Billy Graham died, again and again we heard how he was now in heaven with Jesus.
There’s an irony, too, in this view, because often when someone dies, we hear, “May he [she] rest in peace.” But what is going on here? Are such people resting in peace, or are they up in heaven doing whatever they are supposed to be doing (such as watching all the “fun” down here)?
In fact, the idea of their resting “in peace” is, of course, the truth about what happens at death, isn’t it? The dead, truly, are at rest. “To the believer, death is but a small matter. Christ speaks of it as if it were of little moment. ‘If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death,’ ‘he shall never taste of death.’ To the Christian, death is but a sleep, a moment of silence and darkness. The life is hid with Christ in God, and ‘when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.’ John 8:51, 52; Col. 3:4.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 787.
Jesus compares a person’s condition between death and resurrection morning to an unconscious sleep (John 11:11, 14), but He also emphasizes that both the saved and the lost will receive their reward after the resurrection (John 5:28, 29). He highlights the necessity of being prepared for death, whenever it comes.
One of the most-used apps on our smartphones is Google Maps. Most of us cannot remember what we did before GPS-based maps existed on our phones. We may be nervous heading toward a place that we have never been to before, but with Google Maps on our phones, we can confidently venture out and find our way in any foreign city. Could this confidence be an illustration of the kind of rest God wants to give us with His prophetic timetable?
Sometimes, however, we may enter the wrong address into our apps, or we may just decide not to follow the directions because we think we know a shortcut. In either case, we may end up somewhere we didn’t want to be—and most definitely not in a restful frame of mind, either.
In this passage, Paul is not saying to rejoice always, in all the trials that you are facing. Instead he is saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” No matter our present situation, no matter what trials we are facing, if we dwell on God, on His goodness, His love, and on His sacrifice on the cross for us, we can rejoice in Him and have peace for our weary souls.
Just the very tone of the texts implies rest, peace, and a transcendent hope of something beyond this world.
Imagine, too, the kind of rest for our souls that we would have if, indeed, we could be “anxious for nothing.” This hardly seems realistic for anyone in this world (even Paul had plenty of worries), but again, knowing that a loving God is ultimately in control and will save us into His kingdom can, surely, help us put the things that we are anxious about into proper perspective.
The “Lord is at hand”? That is, He is always close to us, and as soon as we close our eyes and rest in the sleep of death, the next thing we know is the return of Christ.
No question, life is full of tensions, trials, and struggles. None of us escape them; certainly the apostle Paul didn’t either (see 2 Corinthians 11). Nevertheless, his point is to tell us that even with all that we endure now, we can rejoice in what we have been given in Christ, and, indeed, we can find rest for souls, even now.
Further Thought: “We all desire immediate and direct answers to our prayers, and are tempted to become discouraged when the answer is delayed or comes in an unlooked-for form. But God is too wise and good to answer our prayers always at just the time and in just the manner we desire. He will do more and better for us than to accomplish all our wishes. And because we can trust His wisdom and love, we should not ask Him to concede to our will, but should seek to enter into and accomplish His purpose. Our desires and interests should be lost in His will.”—Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 219.
“It will only be a little while before Jesus will come to save His children and to give them the finishing touch of immortality. . . . The graves will be opened, and the dead will come forth victorious, crying, ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’ Our loved ones who sleep in Jesus will come forth clothed with immortality.”—Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 350.