A COMMON QUESTION THAT OFTEN ARISES IN CHURCH CIRCLES IS: WHAT PRIMORDIAL MESSAGE SHOULD THE CHURCH BE PREACHING BEFORE CHRIST’S SECOND RETURN?
Through time, I have observed that the responses to this question take one of two positions. The first position is that the mission of the church was and will always be to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ—His life, death, and resurrection. Such an answer becomes even more accentuated by the fact that the content of this message is directly related to the discipleship of “all peoples” as the text of Matthew 28:18-20 asserts. The second position emphasizes the eschatological nature of the content of the mission, focusing on the end-time factor of its proclamation. For those that hold this position, the content of preaching should be the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14. So who is right? Is such a question bound to divide Seventh-day Adventism altogether?
THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY OF REDEMPTION, GOD HAS ALWAYS HAD A FAITHFUL GROUP OF PEOPLE ON EARTH.
THE CONTENT OF MISSION THROUGHOUT THE STORY OF REDEMPTION
Throughout the history of redemption, God has always had a faithful group of people on earth. The faithfulness of these people was always in direct relation not only to their mission but also the content of this mission, which God Himself gave them. Some examples of the revealed “content” of mission in different stages of the story of redemption are: Enoch and God’s judgment (Jude 14, 15); Noah and God’s response to human wickedness (Gen. 6, 7); and Abraham and God’s blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3). Yet just as there are several stages of divine revelation to the patriarchs and the community of Israel throughout time, so there are several stages in the content of mission. In other words, through time, the content of mission is widened.
THE CONTENT OF MISSION: PROCLAMATION OF TORAH
When the book of Revelation was written, the vast content of divine revelation was called “the everlasting Gospel” (Rev. 14:6). Yet what is the first stage of this “everlasting gospel”? Where does the “everlasting gospel” begin? What is the first content of mission given to God’s people as a community on earth? The answer is given in Isaiah 2:3: “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The content of the mission of God’s people in the past was first and foremost the proclamation of God’s law from Jerusalem. This “law,” which the text of Isaiah refers to, is the Hebrew Torah, meaning “the instruction” or “the way.” The Torah comprises a revelation from God that outlines His dealings with humanity in the past, from the creation of the world (Gen. 1, 2) to the proclamation of the coming Messiah (Gen. 3:15 and many other “messianic” texts in the Pentateuch). It is also significant to notice that the focus or object of such proclamation in Isaiah 2, like the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28, is on “the nations,” and “many peoples” (Isa. 2:4). This way, the content of mission of God’s faithful community on earth was first the proclamation of the Torah, what God did in the past, and had its object of “all nations.”
THE CONTENT OF MISSION: PROCLAMATION OF WHAT JESUS DID
Knowing that the leaders of Israel failed in guiding their own to the fulfillment of their mission, especially by their disregard to the content of the mission itself, God found within Israel a new group of faithful followers that were to proclaim a new message to the world, a message that did not contradict the Torah but assumed it was a legitimate revelation of God in the past and expanded its content based on what God was doing in the present. What kind of expansion was this? The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christ to whom the Torah pointed. The content of the mission of God’s faithful people on earth was now both the Torah (what God had done in the past) and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (what God was doing in their time). Notice how the content of the preaching of God’s faithful always had a direct connection to what God was doing during “their time.” Furthermore, just as Isaiah 2 had a focus on the “nations” and “many peoples,” the Great Commission is also focused on “all nations,” once again emphasizing the seriousness and scope of such a missionary message. It is no wonder that the imagery of the “coming Elijah” in the book of Malachi joins both of these proclamations:
1. The emphasis on Torah: “Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel” (Mal. 4:4).
2. The emphasis on Christ: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:5, 6).
In the book Mystery of Israel, Dr. Jacques Doukhan sees that in the imagery of this “coming Elijah,” the Adventist church joins, in its very essence, both the proclamation of the Torah and the preaching of Jesus Christ, bringing about a reconciliation of fathers to their sons. Yet there is still more to the content of mission! The message for God’s people to proclaim to the world does not end with Christ’s resurrection and ascension to heaven; it begins a new development of the content to be proclaimed to the world!
THE MESSAGE FOR GOD’S PEOPLE TO PROCLAIM TO THE WORLD DOES NOT END WITH CHRIST’S RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION TO HEAVEN.
THE CONTENT OF MISSION: PROCLAMATION OF WHAT JESUS DOES
The final stage of divine revelation that directly influences the content of mission and preaching of God’s faithful people in the world is connected with the last “time prophecy” of the Bible and its relation to the last book of the Bible, namely, Daniel 8:14 and Revelation 14. The prophecy of Daniel 8:14 points to a period in the last days when God would begin the final stage in the plan of redemption, and Revelation 14 announces the time of its fulfillment. Once again, this message, at its very essence, is nothing more and nothing less than the announcement of what God is doing now, in our time period, in heaven! To any serious follower of Christ, belief begs the question: If Christ created the world, if He came to this world and lived, died, and was resurrected, where is He now? The end time prophecy in the Bible, indicating what Christ is doing now in heaven and how it affects our life in this world, is the last stage of divine revelation and content for His faithful to proclaim to the world. According to John, this message is to be proclaimed, as in previous stages, “unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” This message, of course, is not isolated from the Torah or from the proclamation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; rather, it is an expansion and culmination of the revelation of what God did and is now doing in heaven. The Christ of the Torah is the Christ who came to the world, died, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven, and is the Christ who began a period of judgment in heaven “in favor of the saints” (Dan. 7:22).
THE CONTENT OF MISSION: THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL AND THE ENTIRETY OF SCRIPTURE
The content of mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is comprehensive and logical. It does not overlook or ignore any of the portions of Scripture that do not fit into a pre-established conception of what the church should preach now. It is faithful not only to what God has ordained us to proclaim now; it is also faithful to the entire context of revelation that has led up to it from Genesis to Revelation. This way, the content of mission of the church is indeed the “everlasting gospel,” a gospel that proclaims the actions of God in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and in the present time. No wonder Paul understood that the “gospel of God” was first announced to the prophets as he writes: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (Rom 1:1, 2, emphasis added) or even in Galatians 3:8, where he writes: “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.” This way, the gospel—the “gospel of God,” the “everlasting gospel”—was preached since the beginning, was preached in the coming of Christ, and reaches its climax in what Christ is doing today. Let us not be tempted to narrow down such a high calling by focusing only on the portions of the message that we see best (either the four Gospels only, or Daniel and Revelation only, or even the Old Testament only), for there is danger in extremes. Let us proclaim the everlasting gospel, the content of our mission in the world, in its fullness, the entirety of the gospel in all of Scripture, so that “all nations” might see that indeed God is still at work for humanity, and that, indeed, there is hope for us after all. The Christ of the Old Testament is the Christ of the Gospels and Paul. The Christ of Daniel and Revelation is the same Christ who is the center of our message and mission as seen in the entirety of Scripture.
Tiago Arrais is a Ph.D. student in Old Testament and Christian Philosophy at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary (Andrews University) in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.