Relevant Verses: Daniel 7, Revelation 13, Jeremiah 31
Leading Question: Is it possible that the most significant “change” in the law is the one that happens when it is written on our hearts?
Given the current situation in church and world, a lesson on the “change” of the law raises a host of issues, any one of which could take a whole quarter’s lessons to work through. I’ll simply note the primary issues and then we will address our leading question:
1. Sacred time. In a world where the idea of sacred time has simply disappeared, what does a Sabbath/Sunday conflict mean?
2. Applied historicism. In a world where beastly behavior is being exhibited by a host of powers, both secular and religious, what does it mean to focus on just one beast? Perhaps “Applied Historicism” can point the way to a both/and approach. See Alden Thompson, Beyond Common Ground (PPPA, 2009), pp. 194 – 220.
3. Gentle Beast. Pope Francis is getting rave reviews by many for his gentle, Christ-like approach to people, church, and world. Yet the rumblings within his own church for a more traditional approach to Catholicism are worth noting. What does that mean for the Adventist approach to Roman Catholicism.
4. Conditional Prophecy. The largely neglected article, “The Role of Israel in Old Testament Prophecy” (SDABC 4:25-38), thoroughly develops the idea of conditional prophecy, implying that God’s original plan was for his people to accept Christ as their Messiah. Where does that leave prophecy and prediction? The words of Ellen White are appropriate here:
The angels of God in their messages to men represent time as very short. Thus it has always been presented to me. It is true that time has continued longer than we expected in the early days of this message. Our Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped. But has the Word of the Lord failed? Never! It should be remembered that the promises and the threatenings of God are alike conditional. – MS 4, 1883, unpublished until Evangelism, 695 , and then more completely in 1 SM 67 . The original response was apparently never sent to anyone.
5. Day/Year Principle. The “History of the Interpretation of Daniel” in the SDABC 4:39-78 includes some choice nuggets. It wasn’t until Joachim of Floris (1135 -1202 CE) that the day- year principle was applied to the 1260 days of Daniel and Revelation (p. 50). Johan Petri (1718- 1792) was the first to begin the 70 weeks and 2300 day together. In short, if the implications of the SDABC4 article noted above are taken seriously, no one would have been the wiser if Christ had actually concluded his ministry in the first century CE. The day-year principle only became an option when the calendar made such an option believable.
Question: But now let’s return to our “leading question”: Is it possible that the most significant change in the law is the one that happens when it is written in our hearts?
Adventists have always insisted on the “binding” nature of the law: God’s law does not change! And we have focused on the Sabbath-Sunday issue as a crucial element in our heritage. Crucial it is, but compare that use of the term “binding” with the languages Ellen White uses when describing God’s law in heaven:
But in heaven, service is not rendered in the spirit of legality. When Satan rebelled against the law of Jehovah, the thought that there was a law came to the angels almost as an awakening to something unthought of. In their ministry the angels are not as servants, but as sons. There is perfect unity between them and their Creator. Obedience is to them no drudgery. Love for God makes their service a joy. So in every soul wherein Christ, the hope of glory, dwells, His words are re-echoed, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart.” Psalm 40:8. Mount of Blessings, 109
Reinforcing that “internal” understanding of the law is this remarkable comment about the nature of God’s law:
The same law that was engraved upon the tables of stone, is written by the Holy Spirit upon the tables of the heart (PP 372).
In that context, what would it mean to refer to the “binding” nature of God’s law? How would I react if my wife insisted on my timely arrival at home, citing the “binding” nature of our marriage agreement? In my heart, at least, use of such language would have a withering impact on my relationship with my wife.
Question: How would our evangelism and outreach be affected if we were to shift from an emphasis on external law to internal? How might that affect the presentation of our eschatology?
Question: What is the goal and issue over “law” in the “Great Controversy” Would one say that it is over the question of whether God’s law was arbitrary or natural?
Question: How might the Sabbath be affected if it were motivated internally rather than externally on the basis of rules?
Question: Can we take the new covenant promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34 as the basis of all our living?