"SURVIVING THE AGE OF GULLIBILITY"
Ours is the age of information explosion. Powerful computers, sophisticated satellites, automated teller machines, supersonic transports, and hi-definition audio and video instruments have shrunk our world into one global village. News flashes from London's Buckingham Palace, Beijing's Tiananmen Square, tents in the Sahara desert, or high-rise condominiums in Manila can be heard instantaneously whenever and wherever they happen. The world has come of age. But are we really any wiser? Is the world safer? Do we have a greater sense of security, especially spiritual security?
One need not go far for answers to those questions. Despite cell phones, electronic mail, and tele-fax communication, one need not even leave the comfort of his or her own home to realize that billions of people around the world are confused, deluded, and as gullible as ever. Many "isms," philosophies--new age or other--and the latest so-called scientific theories have done nothing to stop this ever-expanding phenomenon. Rather, the exact opposite is true; we are increasingly vulnerable to confusion, deception, and delusions. So the urgent question for the Christian is, How can we survive? How can we come out spiritual victors?
Despite this seemingly desperate state of people's behavior, there is good news for you today. God is concerned about our gullibility. If the enemy is working hard to confuse, deceive, and misguide, God is working even harder to lead us into truth, righteousness, and holiness.
You see, our gullibility problem is not new. It has been ours ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Consequently, our problem is not new to God, either. He had a plan to deal with it even before the Fall. So how has God dealt with our gullibility in the past? And what is He doing now to help us survive during this sophisticated age? Our Bibles contain the answers.
In the Beginning
Let's start by looking at how our gullibility began.
In the beginning God designed a beautiful paradise home for Adam and Eve to live in. There was a carpet of fresh lilies. Flowers filled the air with their sweet fragrance. Eden came from the Creator's hand a thing of perfect beauty. Sheltered under a canopy of stars at night, walled in by the cool shade of lofty trees during the day, our first parents daily communed with God face to face. At their Creator's feet they learned the treasures of wisdom and knowledge of God. They conversed with Him personally in an atmosphere of peace, joy, and happiness. Their remaining hours each day were blissful and quiet. The songs of beautiful birds filled the air. Delicate orchids swayed in the sunshine. Little creatures chirped their songs with glee--all to proclaim the truth that God is love. That was the beautiful Eden home as God originally made it.
But Eve accepted the convincing arguments of the serpent. Having stretched out her hand to taste the forbidden fruit, she then got Adam to eat of it also. Suddenly, our first parents found themselves having to flee from their Eden home, as well as from the presence of God. They had exchanged all the bright, holy, and beautiful world that God had made for them for the world of sin that they had helped to bring about. No longer could Adam and Eve stand in the presence of God and commune with Him. They now became isolated from His wisdom, knowledge, and truth. They were now the bewildered and confused captives of Satan's propaganda. From then on the human family lived in a world of confusion, misery, woe, and death.
Seeing what had happened broke God's heart. But despite the changed circumstances, God still loved Adam and Eve. He would now work to warn the human race against Satan's deceptions. God began by telling Adam and Eve that there was a way of escape, and that their Eden home that they had lost could be restored. With face-to-face communication now severed, how could He tell them?
God Communicates Through the Gift of Prophecy
The Bible tells us that God has communicated with people after the Fall. He has done it in several ways. He communicates with us through His creation (Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1, 2). He communicates with us through His acts in history (2 Chronicles 20:1-30). Through written communication in the Bible He convicts sinners to repent. As His ultimate communication, He sent His Son to demonstrate God's matchless love and character to the world. But the most common form of communication that God has used throughout the entire Bible is the gift of prophecy.
When we look at God's use of prophets, we discover that He especially used them at crucial points in salvation history. And in this, we see again God's love for the human race as He worked out His plan to restore fallen humanity to its Edenic state. In our study today, we will also discover that each one of us ultimately must decide our own response to God's messages through His prophets.
The Gift of Prophecy During the Flood
Let us begin with the Flood.
The consequence of Eve's sinful act was swift and brutal. The first murder was committed in the household of Adam, not far from their lost paradise home. Hatred, death, and moral decay clung to the human race like a shadow. People's wickedness became greater and greater, day after day, year after year. The human race was dragged ever farther from the path of righteousness. But when people's wickedness finally became too great, God in His love intervened. He decided to stop the self-destruction of His created beings. To do so, He sent a flood of waters upon the earth to cleanse it. True to His character of love, justice, and mercy, God devised a plan to adequately forewarn the wicked of the coming judgment. It was God's desire that the wicked return to Him, obey His voice, and be saved.
God first sent a prophet to predict the coming flood long before it happened. Enoch, by naming his son Methuselah, predicted the coming of the Flood (Genesis 5:21). Names in Bible times usually carried significant meanings. Even today, in many cultures, the names given to children by their parents carry significance. Many Bible scholars believe that the name "Methuselah" means "at his death the coming forth of waters." If this is correct, then the Flood was already predicted 969 years before it happened. That means God through His prophet predicted the coming of a terrible judgment long before it happened. And what did God do when the Flood was about to happen? He sent another prophet--Noah--to warn and prepare the world for the oncoming judgment.
Noah was called by God for a special mission: to warn the world of the coming flood. His message was that the world was going to be destroyed by water. His mission: To proclaim the warning message and to prepare the people for the coming judgment. Noah preached for 120 years. The Flood came. The world was destroyed. But those few who had responded to God's warning message through His prophet Noah survived. All others were destroyed.
From this judgment event we discover a pattern of how God used the gift of prophecy in the plan of salvation. Long before judgment is executed, God will warn the world through His chosen medium--usually through His prophets. When the particular judgment is about to happen, God will raise up another prophet, and a special movement, to proclaim a special message, to accomplish a special mission for His plan of salvation. The great exodus of Israel from Egypt is another example of this pattern.
The Gift of Prophecy During the Exodus
The Exodus story is considered by many to be one of the most accurate blueprints of God's plan of redemption. It is the story of salvation in miniature. Like the Flood, the Exodus event was predicted long before it happened. God revealed it first to His servant Abraham (Genesis 15:13, 14).
"Then the Lord said to Abram, ?Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they will come out with great possessions'" (Revised Standard Version).
Did it really happen as was predicted? We all know the story, how Abraham attempted to help God fulfill His covenant by forcing the issue with Hagar and Ishmael. We know that Abraham waited for 25 long years, and was at a ripe old age before Isaac, his legitimate heir, was born. There was a delay, it seems, in God's plan. But God was faithful to His promises. Jacob and Esau were born to Isaac, and through Jacob the population of Abraham's descendants greatly increased, even though they were transplanted in a land that did not belong to them. In Egypt the Hebrews grew politically and numerically, but not spiritually. As a result, they became slaves instead of being honored guests.
However, God did not forget His covenant with Abraham. While His people were suffering, almost at the brink of annihilation, God intervened. He prepared a prophet in His own mysterious way to deliver His people out of Egypt and out of their bondage. God called Moses (Hosea 12:13) as a fulfillment of a previous prophecy. Moses was sent by God to organize the Exodus movement. God gave him a special message and mission. Moses was to warn of an impending judgment, and he was sent to bring a message of hope. Those who obeyed the message were delivered. Those who disobeyed were destroyed.
Once again, after the judgment and after the deliverance, God was ready to begin again with the faithful few. The remnant occupied the promised land. They grew into a strong nation. Under God's leadership they prospered, but again they rebelled against Him. They wanted a king just like all the other nations. Their political progress and material prosperity under kings like David and Solomon was not accompanied by spiritual growth. But through numerous prophets God laboriously and patiently reminded them again and again of their duties and obligations. Occasionally there were revivals and reformations, but overall, the nation continued to go farther and farther away from the path of righteousness.
In time, Israel was divided into two kingdoms. People practiced idolatry. They killed God's prophets (2 Chronicles 36:15). Eventually, in love, God intervened again. He wanted to teach them a lesson of obedience. This time He worked through the kings of heathen nations to execute His judgment. He allowed Israel to go through the painful experience of captivity. But again, God preserved a remnant who could begin all over again. When we study the Babylonian captivity, we can see how the gift of prophecy was active in this judgment event.
The Gift of Prophecy During the Babylonian Captivity
As we now have come to expect, God employed the gift of prophecy to warn His people before this judgment happened. God sent prophets to warn about the Babylonian captivity years before it happened. The prophet Jeremiah warned:
"This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste" (Jeremiah 25:11, 12, Revised Standard Version).
Did this happen as predicted? Yes, exactly. Even the name of the ruler who would be the instrument of God's deliverance was given 150 years before he was born (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1).
This is the pattern God always follows. He sends signals before destruction. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, to name a few, were God's trumpets for His work of salvation during this bleak period in Israel's history. Despite people's stubbornness, hard-headedness, and apostasy, the abiding gift of prophecy never faltered. All through the captivity, the rebuilding of the temple, the restoration of Jerusalem, and the reestablishment of Israel as a nation, God was there. The gift of prophecy was there, guiding actively, patiently, and perseveringly. The gift of prophecy was present in the ministry of Haggai; it was active in the voice of Zechariah; it echoed in the preaching of Malachi. As God had done many times before, He used the gift of prophecy for the salvation of His people.
The Gift of Prophecy and the First Advent
But this isn't the end of the story. The best was yet to come!
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16, King James Version).
God sent His Son, His ultimate revelation, His greatest Prophet, for the salvation of the lost human race. Symphonies have been written about Christ. Dramas enacted for Him. Types and symbols are devoted to Him, but it was from the lips of God's chosen prophets that we hear the loudest proclamation of Christ's first coming.
The prophecy of Daniel recorded in Daniel 9:24-27 predicted the first advent of the Messiah with astonishing accuracy. Exactly 483 years from the decree to restore Jerusalem by King Artaxerxes, the Messiah was anointed by John the Baptist in the river Jordan. And when the appointed time had come, Jesus was crucified on Calvary's cross. That was earth's greatest remnant-making event. It was the most solemn scene of God's judgment, with ramifications that continue reverberating until today. For what you decide to do with Jesus determines your eternal destiny.
Did God use the gift of prophecy to predict this greatest of all events? Yes, definitely. From Genesis 3:15 to Isaiah 53, it was predicted. From the lamb caught in the thicket on Mount Moriah to the lamb slain in the morning hours in the court of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, Christ's death was prefigured. Again, God followed the pattern He had outlined in the previous judgment events. He raised up John the Baptist, who, in the spirit and power of Elijah, prepared the highway of the Lord. What about anticipating Christ's second coming? Do you think God will follow the same procedure before that event as He always has done in the past?
The Gift of Prophecy During the Time of the End
God is faithful. He is predictable in the sense that He does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7). In fact, all the judgment events that we have mentioned thus far "happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Corinthians 10:11, Revised Standard Version). God has always done it that way in the past, so we can expect that He will act the same way at the end of earth's history. This is good news! God's final judgment is coming. He commenced the process for this judgment in 1844. That same year He commissioned a remnant movement to warn the whole world of this great judgment event. As He did so many times in the past, once again He employed the gift of prophecy to guide the movement in carrying out its mission, climaxing in the second coming of Christ.
If God is consistent with the pattern mentioned earlier, there should be a prophecy regarding 1844. And yes, as we would expect, centuries in advance there was a prophecy predicting the final judgment that began in 1844. The prophet Daniel in Daniel 8:14 states that at the end of the 2,300-year period the sanctuary will be cleansed. The cleansing of the earthly sanctuary happened during the Day of Atonement. The cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary in the pre-Advent judgment began in 1844. If God were to be faithful to the pattern, then He would at the same time raise up a prophetic voice to guide His prophetic movement. And true to the pattern, He did.
In December 1844, in the city of Portland, Maine, in the United States, God commissioned another prophet. God revealed His plan to a 17-year-old girl named Ellen Harmon. God showed her that this remnant Advent movement had specific things to do. Its members were to proclaim a special message to the whole world in anticipation of the return of Christ to earth the second time. They were to bear the three angels' messages found in Revelation 14:6-12. The Advent movement is a prophetic movement. It is to carry out its mission with the spirit and power of Elijah, predicted earlier by another prophet, Malachi (Malachi 4:5, 6).
It is easy to identify this movement. It has two characteristics: it keeps the commandments of God and it has the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:17). Satan will be angry at this movement. But this movement will survive because God will see it through. It will survive because of the blood of the Lamb. It will be able to carry out its mission because of the guidance of the gift of prophecy.
The Flood judgment had its Noah to proclaim the warning that the Flood was coming (Genesis 6:13, 14). The Exodus event had its Moses (Hosea 12:13) to bring a message of warning and deliverance to enslaved Israel. Israel in apostasy had Elijah to save them from themselves (1 Kings 18:18-31). The first advent of the Messiah had its John the Baptist to announce that His coming was "now" (Luke 3:16).
The judgment that precedes the glorious return of the King of kings has its movement with its message (Revelation 14:6-12) and the help of the gift of prophecy, manifested in the ministry of Ellen White. It will proclaim a present truth to warn and prepare the world of the second coming.
The only question that remains for us now is, How do we respond to the gift of prophecy? Are we listening to its voice? Are we studying it? Are we obeying its counsel? If as a church we want to succeed in our God-given mission; if as an individual you want to survive the coming judgment, then "believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed" (2 Chronicles 20:20, Revised Standard Version).
Let us believe and obey the voice of God revealed through the gift of prophecy, and we will all survive this "Age of Gullibility." In the name of Jesus, Amen.
--Dr. Reuel Almocera currently serves as Director of the Ellen G. White - S. D. A. Research Center at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines. In addition, he chairs the Applied Theology Department and is Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program.