At the Brink of Eternity
We are living in the last period of the Christian era, known as the Laodicean period. This time since 1844 is also referred to as the antitypical Day of Atonement. Christ our High Priest is now ministering in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, pleading His blood before the Father in our behalf and making atonement for our transgressions. It is the second phase of His work as our “high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” ().
What is Christ doing in the heavenly sanctuary? Paul tells us that Christ entered “into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” () to intercede for us. “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” ( ).
Does the intercession of Christ have anything to do with our salvation? Certainly!
“The intercession of Christ in man’s behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross,”1 for “he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” ().
We have such an high priest who “is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him.” What encouragement should this truth give to us? “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (, ).
“Now Christ is in the heavenly sanctuary. And what is He doing? Making atonement for us, cleansing the sanctuary from the sins of the people. Then we must enter by faith into the sanctuary with Him, we must commence the work in the sanctuary of our souls. We are to cleanse ourselves from all defilement. We must ‘cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’ (2). . . . Why, come and humble your hearts in confession, and by faith grasp the arm of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. Believe that Christ will take your confession and hold up His hands before the Father—hands that have been bruised and wounded in our behalf—and He will make an atonement for all who will come with confession.”
We should take this call “to cleanse ourselves from all defilement” seriously while “Christ is in the heavenly sanctuary . . . making atonement for us,” for the time is coming when Christ will leave the sanctuary and there will be no one to atone for our sins. Looking forward to that hour, the prophet Daniel wrote, “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” ().
Comparingwith Jude and ; with , we understand that Michael is none other than Christ. The time He stands up for His people will be when He has finished His work in the sanctuary, , . He will stand up, put on the garments of vengeance, and then the wrath of God, the seven last plagues described in Revelation chapter 16, will be poured out in the time of trouble.
Ellen While was given a view of this time of trouble. She wrote: “I was taken off in vision to the most holy place, where I saw Jesus still interceding for Israel. . . . Then I saw that Jesus would not leave the most holy place until every case was decided either for salvation or destruction, and that the wrath of God could not come until Jesus had finished His work in the most holy place, laid off His priestly attire, and clothed Himself with the garments of vengeance. Then Jesus will step out from between the Father and man, and God will keep silence no longer, but pour out His wrath on those who have rejected His truth. I saw … when our High Priest has finished His work in the sanctuary, He will stand up, put on the garments of vengeance, and then the seven last plagues will be poured out.
“I saw that the four angels would hold the four winds until Jesus’ work was done in the sanctuary, and then will come the seven last plagues. These plagues enraged the wicked against the righteous; they thought that we had brought the judgments of God upon them, and that if they could rid the earth of us, the plagues would then be stayed. A decree went forth to slay the saints, which caused them to cry day and night for deliverance. This was the time of Jacob’s trouble.”3
It is said that God will pour out His wrath on those who have rejected His truth. What shows that they have rejected the truth? It is the mark of the beast that they will have received in their foreheads or in their hands. While Jesus still is in the sanctuary, the warning of the third angel is to be given to the inhabitants of the earth. (See.)
Those who reject the truth of the third angel’s message will have the mark of the beast in their forehead or in their hands as proof of their rejection of God and their decision to worship the beast instead of their Creator as demanded by the first angel. For he is “saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” ().
Thus “when Christ ceases His intercession in the sanctuary, the unmingled wrath threatened against those who worship the beast and his image and receive his mark (4, ), will be poured out. The plagues upon Egypt when God was about to deliver Israel, were similar in character to those more terrible and extensive judgments which are to fall upon the world just before the final deliverance of God’s people. Says the revelator, in describing those terrific scourges: ‘There fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshiped his image’ ( ).”
When Christ leaves the sanctuary and the wrath of God is being poured out upon the rejecters of the truth, will there still be any people who will start to feel genuine sorrow for sin and by faith turn to God for mercy and salvation? We may be tempted to think that there may be some wicked who will be penitent when suffering severe judgment, as has sometimes occurred throughout history. But the Bible informs us that even the wicked who will be suffering with “noisome and grievous sores” and are being “scorched with great heat” inflicted by the first through fourth plagues, “repented not to give [God] glory” ().
The wicked cannot experience genuine repentance in the time of trouble because probation will have already closed and all will have made their irrevocable decision either for eternal life or eternal death. Henceforth there will be no crossing over or switching between the righteous and the wicked. It is no longer possible for a wicked individual to be converted to become righteous. The wicked will remain wicked, and the righteous and holy will remain righteous and holy forever. (See.)
When does probation close for the world? This event will take place just before the coming of Jesus in the clouds of heaven. This is evident by the fact that the solemn announcement that the righteous and the wicked will remain as they are is immediately followed by Jesus’ statement, “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” ().
“When the work of the investigative judgment closes, the destiny of all will have been decided for life or death. Probation is ended a short time before the appearing of the Lord in the clouds of heaven.”5
The Lord has revealed to us that our probation will end when Christ leaves the sanctuary before Christ comes in the clouds of heaven. But the exact date when probation closes is not revealed.
“God has not revealed to us the time . . . when probation will have an end. Those things that are revealed we shall accept for ourselves and for our children; but let us not seek to know that which has been kept secret in the councils of the Almighty. . . .
“Letters have come to me asking me if I have any special light as to the time when probation will close; and I answer that I have only this message to bear, that it is now time to work while the day lasts, for the night cometh in which no man can work. Now, just now, it is time for us to be watching, working, and waiting. . . .
But there is no command for any one to search the Scripture in order to ascertain, if possible, when probation will close. God has no such message for any mortal lips. He would have no mortal tongue declare that which He has hidden in His secret councils.”6
This, of course, is referring to the general close of probation for the world. However, we must also keep in mind that “judgment must begin at the house of God” () and our individual close of probation does not necessarily coincide with the moment Christ leaves the sanctuary. Probation will close for those who have known the present truth before it closes for those who have never before heard the testing truths for this time.
The Lord’s messenger explains: “I speak not my own words when I say that God’s Spirit will pass by those who have had their day of test and opportunity, but who have not distinguished the voice of God or appreciated the movings of His Spirit. Then thousands in the eleventh hour will see and acknowledge the truth.”7
“The time of God’s destructive judgments is the time of mercy for those who have no opportunity to learn what is truth. Tenderly will the Lord look upon them. His heart of mercy is touched; His hand is still stretched out to save, while the door is closed to those who would not enter. Large numbers will be admitted who in these last days hear the truth for the first time.”8
“Silently, unnoticed as the midnight thief, will come the decisive hour which marks the fixing of every man’s destiny, the final withdrawal of mercy’s offer to guilty men. . . . While the man of business is absorbed in the pursuit of gain, while the pleasure lover is seeking indulgence, while the daughter of fashion is arranging her adornments—it may be in that hour the Judge of all the earth will pronounce the sentence: ‘Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting’ (9).”
“When the irrevocable decision of the sanctuary has been pronounced and the destiny of the world has been forever fixed, the inhabitants of the earth will know it not.”10
The Bible prophesies of a famine of the word of God that is coming. (See, .)
When will be this famine of hearing the words of the Lord? The spirit of prophecy tells us that it will be after Christ leaves the sanctuary, after probation has already been closed, and while the plagues are being poured upon the earth. The vision was shown:
“The plagues were falling upon the inhabitants of the earth. Some were denouncing God and cursing Him. Others rushed to the people of God and begged to be taught how they might escape His judgments. But the saints had nothing for them. The last tear for sinners had been shed, the last agonizing prayer offered, the last burden borne, the last warning given. The sweet voice of mercy was no more to invite them. When the saints, and all heaven, were interested for their salvation, they had no interest for themselves. Life and death had been set before them. Many desired life, but made no effort to obtain it. They did not choose life, and now there was no atoning blood to cleanse the guilty, no compassionate Saviour to plead for them, and cry, ‘Spare, spare the sinner a little longer.’ All heaven had united with Jesus, as they heard the fearful words, ‘It is done. It is finished.’ The plan of salvation had been accomplished, but few had chosen to accept it. And as mercy’s sweet voice died away, fear and horror seized the wicked. With terrible distinctness they heard the words, ‘Too late! too late!’
“Those who had not prized God’s Word were hurrying to and fro, wandering from sea to sea, and from the north to the east, to seek the Word of the Lord. Said the angel, ‘They shall not find it. There is a famine in the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the Lord. What would they not give for one word of approval from God! but no, they must hunger and thirst on. Day after day have they slighted salvation, prizing earthly riches and earthly pleasure higher than any heavenly treasure or inducement. They have rejected Jesus and despised His saints. The filthy must remain filthy forever.’”11
“We are to make the best of our present opportunities. There will be no other probation given to us in which to prepare for heaven. This is our only and last opportunity to form characters which will fit us for the future home which the Lord has prepared for all who are obedient to His commandments. . . .
“All will be tested and tried according to the light they have had. Those who turn from the truth to fables can look for no second probation. There will be no temporal millennium. If, after the Holy Spirit has brought conviction to their hearts, they resist the truth and use their influence to block the way so that others will not receive it, they will never be convinced. They did not seek for transformation of character in the probation given them, and Christ will not give them opportunity to pass over the ground again. The decision is a final one.”12
We have seen that when Christ leaves the sanctuary and probation closes, the unjust and filthy have in their foreheads or hands the mark of the beast and they will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, the seven last plagues, which is poured out unmingled with mercy; and they shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.
How about the righteous and holy? Will they be scourged with the plagues together with the wicked? Certainly not! Before probation closes that usher in the time of trouble they were sealed in their forehead with the seal of the living God.
The Lord’s messenger describes: “I saw the time of trouble, such as never was—Jesus told me it was the time of Jacob’s trouble, and that we should be delivered out of it by the voice of God. Just before we entered it [the time of trouble], we all received the seal of the living God. Then I saw the four angels cease to hold the four winds. And I saw famine, pestilence and sword, nation rose against nation, and the whole world was in confusion.”13
The seal of the living God is the covering of the Almighty over His people to protect them in the time of trouble that they be not hurt of the plagues. Ellen G. White said, “I saw a covering that God was drawing over His people to protect them in the time of trouble; and every soul that was decided on the truth and was pure in heart was to be covered with the covering of the Almighty.”14
“I saw that Satan was at work in these ways to distract, deceive, and draw away God’s people, just now in this sealing time. . . .
Satan was trying his every art to hold them where they were, until the sealing was past, until the covering was drawn over God’s people, and they left without a shelter from the burning wrath of God, in the seven last plagues.”15
This means that our only safety in the time of trouble is to have the seal of the living God in our foreheads so that we can be protected from the scourge of the plagues. To be sealed is to be settled in the truth so “that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” ().
“Just as soon as the people of God are sealed in their foreheads—it is not any seal or mark that can be seen, but a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved.”16
Moreover, to be sealed we must depart from iniquity. It is written, “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” ().
For us to be sealed, sin must “become exceeding sinful” () in our perception so that we shun it. We must no more be indifferent to sin. (See .)
“Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to become perfect in Christ. Not even by a thought could our Saviour be brought to yield to the power of temptation. Satan finds in human hearts some point where he can gain a foothold; some sinful desire is cherished, by means of which his temptations assert their power. But Christ declared of Himself: ‘The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me’ (17). Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable him to gain the victory. He had kept His Father’s commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to his advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble.”
“Not one of us will ever receive the seal of God while our characters have one spot or stain upon them. It is left with us to remedy the defects in our characters, to cleanse the soul temple of every defilement. Then the latter rain will fall upon us as the early rain fell upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost.”18
Note that the conditions for the sealing and for the latter rain are the same. John tells us that those who receive the seal of God are holy: “And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God” (). To be sealed therefore, we must, by the grace of God, overcome sin now before Jesus leaves the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary.