While preaching in Texas about 20 years ago, I was approached by a man who told me about his grandfather whose desire it had been to see Jesus return in his lifetime, but he had died and Jesus still had not returned. The man then told me about his father who had also wanted to see Jesus come, but he died. He also thought that he would live to see Jesus come, but he was 70 years of age, and that was in 1987.
There have been millions of people who, expecting to see Jesus come during their lifetime, prepared to meet Him. They accepted the Three Angels’ Messages, the truths concerning the hour of God’s judgment, faithfully kept God’s commandments and expected to be ready to see Jesus when He comes, but in their time they have died. We are told that these faithful ones who accepted the truth of the Three Angels’ Messages and died before Jesus returns will see Him come. Before the general resurrection that happens when Jesus comes, there is to be a special resurrection for these people to see the final events and Jesus coming in the clouds. “All who have died in the faith of the third angel’s message come forth from the tomb glorified, to hear God’s covenant of peace with those who have kept His law.” The Great Controversy, 637.
“In the time of trouble we all fled from the cities and villages, but were pursued by the wicked, who entered the houses of the saints with a sword. They raised the sword to kill us, but it broke, and fell as powerless as a straw. Then we all cried day and night for deliverance, and the cry came up before God. The sun came up, and the moon stood still. The streams ceased to flow. Dark, heavy clouds came up and clashed against each other. But there was one clear place of settled glory, whence came the voice of God like many waters, which shook the heavens and the earth. The sky opened and shut and was in commotion. The mountains shook like a reed in the wind, and cast out ragged rocks all around. The sea boiled like a pot and cast out stones upon the land. And as God spoke the day and the hour of Jesus’ coming and delivered the everlasting covenant to His people, He spoke one sentence, and then paused, while the words were rolling through the earth.” Early Writings, 34. It is at that time that the everlasting covenant will be delivered to His people.
Ellen White wrote, in 1913, that if we had done our work, Christ could have already come. “Had the church of Christ done her appointed work as the Lord ordained, the whole world would before this have been warned, and the Lord Jesus would have come to the earth in power and great glory.” The Review and Herald, November 13, 1913. Jesus wants more than anything else to come back to this world that has been so corrupted and save His people. He is “waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.” Hebrews 10:13.
For Him to stop waiting, something needs to happen! “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I remember no more.’ Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.” Verses 14–18.
Once the new covenant has been received, sin is taken away, bringing an end to the plan of salvation. When Jesus comes to this world the second time, He is going to announce that there is no more offering for sin. Those who retain sin at that time will be lost. Those who are saved will be without sin (Revelation 22:11, 12). The plan of salvation is all over before Jesus returns the second time. We cannot look forward to that time with rejoicing unless the Holy Spirit is working in us a work of overcoming sin, because when Jesus leaves the Most Holy Place, there is no more forgiveness (Hebrews 10:18; 9:28). Since this is the way it is going to be, Paul says that we need to hold fast our confession (Hebrews 10:23), and, “having boldness to enter the Holiest” or Holy Places (verse 19). Different versions of the Bible use different language, but the Greek word is hagios, which should correctly be translated as “holy places.”
In the plan of salvation, as illustrated in the sanctuary, there are three stages, and it is necessary to go through all three stages to be saved. The first is to enter the courtyard where the sacrifice is offered. The courtyard of the heavenly sanctuary is this world. It was in this world where Jesus, represented by the lamb without blemish, offered His life on the cross to save man from sin. That sacrifice must be accepted by faith in order to receive the benefits that are provided. Paul explains in Hebrews 13 how by His blood we are sanctified, made holy, and therefore able to enter into the Holy Place. This is the first apartment of the sanctuary, which involves learning holy living. Before entering into the Holy Place it is necessary to be washed clean. That cleansing, represented by the laver, is located just outside the entrance to the Holy Place. However, it is not enough to just reach there in order to be saved. Let me illustrate:
When playing the game of baseball, even if you have run to the third base, you are not really safe and can still be put out until you get home. There are many people who think that if you just get to the courtyard and accept the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that is all it takes to be saved. That is a deception, and it is just the first step in the Christian walk. In fact, Paul discusses that in detail in the book of Hebrews. He said that we need to not just lay down the foundation, but we need to go on to perfection (Hebrews 6:1), describing the experience of the Holy Place. The experience in the courtyard is the preparation to go into the Holy Place and the experience in the Holy Place is preparation for entry into the Most Holy Place.
In the Jewish service under the Old Covenant, opposite things happened in the Holy Place and in the Most Holy Place when throughout the year the amount of sin that accumulated in the sanctuary increased in the Holy Place. When the people confessed their sins, though the real record is in the heavenly sanctuary, the earthly record, the blood of the offering, was in type taken into the Holy Place where it stayed until the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement all the sin was removed in type, and it was gone. That is what happens in reality in the heavenly sanctuary. When the sins are removed, the Lord will come.
There is coming a time, if you are a Christian, when there will be no more temptations. No more will you be tempted to be discouraged or to break God’s law in any way. At present, the devil has access to God’s people 24 hours a day every day of the week, so it is hard to even imagine not being tempted, but that time is coming. It is exciting to know that soon life will be experienced the way God intended.
Ellen White wrote, “He [God] created man for happiness.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 290. Today, that is not very obvious because of sin and all of the trouble caused by the devil’s temptations. David wrote, “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11. That will be the experience of life in heaven.
Paul said we have this hope, so we are waiting for this to happen. Jesus also is waiting for this to happen, so do not let loose, hold on, do not turn away, do not turn back and do not give up your faith. When a prophet or apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives us a warning, it is because there is a danger looming. The danger is that by becoming impatient we will give up, as many others have given up waiting. Paul cautions and counsels and exhorts us to not give up. He says, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holy Places by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:19–23. Paul is here writing about entering by faith into the Holy Places of the heavenly sanctuary, but in that same context, he says, “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Verses 24, 25.
When I was a student about 19 or 20 years old, I was in a Christian institution that held regular religious services. There was prayer meeting at midweek, a religious service on Friday evenings and services on Sabbath morning, which included Sabbath School and church. I was a bookish sort of person and thought that I did not need to go to all of those religious services because I could read. I had a Bible and Spirit of Prophecy books, and I probably read more than any other student in the school at that time. I was content to just stay in my room and read on my own. Since becoming a pastor, I have met lots of other people like me.
At that same time, I became acquainted with an elderly man in his eighties who had been a Christian for many decades, and he was at the institution. After a short time, this man approached me and said, “I want to talk to you. What were you doing last Friday night? You were in your room studying your Bible, were you not?” I was in my room reading. I knew he could not get me in trouble, because I was not doing anything wrong. But then he continued, “You know, it is good that you are studying your Bible, and it is good that you are praying, but God’s will for His people is not only to study and pray, but for them to assemble together to study and to worship Him.” I thought about what he said. I actually checked things out in the Bible and found that the Bible supported what he told me.
Elder Ralph Larson, a Bible teacher, also spoke about this to our Bible worker training school students about 20 years ago. He said, “I have always told ministerial students that if you do not pray at least 30 minutes a day, your ministry will not amount to much.” We all need to have a prayer life. We all need to study. But he was talking to me: “Study is good, prayer is good but do not forget to assemble together with others to study and worship Him.” Paul emphasizes this same thing.
There are many churches where someone is assigned to note who is present and who is not present so that those who are missing can be visited; there is nothing wrong with doing that. God also keeps a record of which people assemble to worship Him and which people are not there.
“Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them, so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name.” Malachi 3:16. These were God’s people, the ones who feared Him, those who assembled to speak to one another. God heard it, and He wrote a book of remembrance. “ ‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.’ Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.” Verses 17, 18.
The Lord looked down and saw the people who were assembled and talking about Him. The Lord said, “Get the book. Put it in the book.” The Lord keeps a record.
After that elderly gentleman, who was about sixty years older than I was and deserving of my respect, had a talk with me giving his wise counsel, I decided I would go to the Friday evening services and not spend all that time reading my Bible alone in my room.
Right after the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit had filled the church, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Acts 2:42. One of the things that made the early church so powerful was that the people had fellowship. They were just like a family. It is going to be that way again among His people just before Jesus comes. It is exciting to think that we could be part of that group. I did not understand the importance of fellowship until after that elderly gentleman talked to me. I could never develop a close relationship with the other members of the church if I stayed in my room and never talked to them.
I am still bookish, but I try to fellowship with God’s people and not spend all my time just reading and praying on my own. Part of God’s plan is for His people to worship and fellowship together. I meet people who have told me they believe the Three Angels’ Messages, but for one reason or another, they cannot go to church. Some people have legitimate reasons, and others have all sorts of reasons for not going to church.
“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7. If we are really walking in the light, we are going to have fellowship with one another. As I travel about, I see too many people like me, staying in their rooms, studying and praying. They are often on their own with not much fellowship; everybody doing their own thing.
The Lord specifically said what His ancient people were to do on the Sabbath: “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings. These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations. …” Leviticus 23:3, 4. The Sabbath is a holy convocation, a place where people assemble to worship the Lord.
Paul said, “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” 1 Corinthians 14:26. The word edification means to build something up. Edification takes a lot longer than destruction. A house can be destroyed in one day.
I remember when I was a senior in college the administration and the board of the college decided that they were going to destroy the old dormitory, a three-story wooden frame building that was considered a fire hazard to the surrounding buildings. A crane was brought in with a leaden bob, which was dropped onto the top two stories, causing them to collapse. When there was only one story left, they decided to burn the rest. The heat was so intense from that fire that it was felt a quarter of a block away. The fire was over in 30 minutes, and the building was destroyed very quickly. A church, a family, a marriage, an institution, can be destroyed very quickly, much faster than it can be built up.
Building something up takes time. A house can take months and lots of work. It is the same way in a church, in a marriage, in a family, in an institution; if you want to build something up, it takes time and much work. It takes time, often many months or even years to build relationships, and church is one of the places where God wants to build a fellowship, bringing many different people together to build a relationship among those who are getting ready to go to heaven. It takes work. Many people know that and use it as a reason and often an excuse for not going to church, because they are too tired and they know that it takes work. It takes even more work if you are among the members of a small church rather than if you are in a large church. That is also one of the reasons why many people gravitate toward large churches where they can sit in the pew without any responsibilities.
There is a special group of people, however, who have legitimate reason not to go to church.
Ellen White says, “There will always be duties which have to be performed on the Sabbath for the relief of suffering humanity. This is right, and in accordance with the law of Him who says, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice’ [Matthew 12:7]. But there is danger of falling into carelessness on this point, and of doing that which it is not positively essential to do on the Sabbath.” Medical Ministry, 50.
Much care is needed in these cases not to be doing things on the Sabbath that could be done at other times. She also says, “Often physicians are called upon on the Sabbath to minister to the sick, and it is impossible for them to take time for rest and devotion. The Saviour has shown us by His example that it is right to relieve suffering on this day; but physicians and nurses should do no unnecessary work. Ordinary treatment, and operations that can wait, should be deferred till the next day. Let the patients know that physicians must have one day for rest.” Ibid., 214.
A physician relative told me, “I am struggling in order to study my Sabbath School lesson 15 minutes a day.” He was busy from morning till night. Mrs. White, writing to a physician, said, “Your work being always urgent, it is difficult for you to secure time for meditation and prayer; but this you must not fail to do. The blessing of Heaven, obtained by daily supplication, will be as the bread of life to your soul and will cause you to increase in spiritual and moral strength, like a tree planted by the river of waters, whose leaf will be always green, and whose fruit will appear in due time.
“Your neglect to attend the public worship of God is a serious error. The privileges of divine service will be as beneficial to you as to others and are fully as essential. You may be unable to avail yourself of these privileges as often as do many others. You will frequently be called, upon the Sabbath, to visit the sick, and may be obliged to make it a day of exhausting labor. Such labor to relieve the suffering was pronounced by our Saviour a work of mercy and no violation of the Sabbath. But when you regularly devote your Sabbaths to writing or labor, making no special change, you harm your own soul, give to others an example that is not worthy of imitation, and do not honor God.
“You have failed to see the real importance, not only of attending religious meetings, but also of bearing testimony for Christ and the truth. If you do not obtain spiritual strength by the faithful performance of every Christian duty, thus coming into a closer and more sacred relation to your Redeemer, you will become weak in moral power.” Counsels on Health, 368. This counsel was not just to attend meetings, but to take an active part in them.
The danger for this physician was that he would become weak in moral power because he could not attend church regularly. That is too high a price to pay. I have friends who have not been to church for years and when we do not listen to Divine counsel, we become weak in moral power.
I know that temptation. I succumbed to it when I was a young man and decided I did not need to go to church because I read my Bible and studied and prayed on my own. Fortunately, God spoke to me through that elderly gentleman who, without criticism or jumping on me with a tongue-lashing, simply explained to me the need of fellowship with like believers for the edification of the church.
The apostle Paul says we must exhort one another, “and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). “The Day,” the day that Jesus will come again, that is fast approaching. Someday, if you are in prison for your faith, it will be impossible to attend church because you will be behind iron bars. So take advantage of the spiritual opportunities that God places within your reach while they are available.
Someone may say, “But you do not know how tired I am.” Still, meet with God’s people on Sabbath, or you will miss the special blessing that He has for His people on His holy day. You cannot afford to continually miss it without eventually becoming weak in moral power and running the risk of losing your soul.
[Bible texts are NKJV translation.]
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.