I did not know what to do with all these claims and the insecurity I felt. Salvation is a future reality, these people insisted, and I was deeply discouraged. On one side, I believed that I was saved in Jesus Christ despite my fragility; on the other side, I had to wait for a seal of God to be approved at the end of the probation period.
I lived in fear of the future. Even though I believed in God, I was torn because, if I had to wait until the end time to know for sure what would happen to me, at the very end, everything might be different. And the time of probation was painted with dreadful colors. Feelings that I was lost brought a keen sense of desperation. My faith was shaken, and thoughts about my weak faith led to the conclusion that probably everything was in vain. Maybe I had deceived myself with the notion of being saved in Christ.
Worse than that, I was told that at the very end of human history, when the time of probation and God’s door of mercy would close and Satan’s attacks intensified, I would have to live without any help from God and that I would have to make it through the last-day events on my own because the Holy Spirit would be taken from the earth, and Jesus would cease to be our Intercessor. Thus, believers would be left alone and on their own.
By this mistaken and distorted thinking, as I understand it today, I was robbed of the assurance and joy of salvation. I was scared of God, afraid of His judgment, feared the time of the end, was concentrating on myself, my performance, and achievements, and lived in spiritual schizophrenia.
All five of these myths are erroneous. Their way of reasoning is a human construct that mixes truth with error. The Bible and Ellen G. White’s writings present a different picture.
God’s Two Seals
The Bible teaches about two seals of God—not one. These two seals are given at different times, but are complementary. Only those who receive the first seal will receive the second (just like the gift of the Holy Spirit: Only those who receive the early rain will be recipients of the latter rain). The first seal is received at the beginning of our spiritual journey with our gracious and awesome Lord, and the second one at the very end of time just prior to the close of probation.
The sequence of thoughts in the Ephesians passage is clear: (1) we heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation; (2) we believed in God, Jesus Christ; (3) we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit; (4) the Holy Spirit is given to us as a deposit (Eph. 1:14; 2 Cor. 1:22) or as a firstfruit (Rom. 8:23, 24), which means He is a pledge and guarantor of our salvation/redemption. Thus, the Holy Spirit is guaranteeing our inheritance, our salvation. He is guaranteeing our redemption for when we will be God’s possession in our entirety at the end of time, then we will have a perfect relationship with God face to face.
The you in Ephesians 1:13; 2:11 refers to the Gentile believers in Christ. Through their union with Christ, they belonged to Him, and the Holy Spirit put His stamp on them to seal that relationship. Thus, there is no uncertainty of salvation as the Holy Spirit is the Guarantor of that redemption. Having believed, they were and are sealed by the Spirit for the day of redemption.
It is significant that sealing by the Spirit is mentioned in both parts of this Epistle. In the first part, which is more theological or doctrinal, Paul presents the indicative of the gospel or root of our salvation and reminds Christians of their calling and the riches of God’s grace (chaps. 1–3). Then, in the second part, which demonstrates the consequences of salvation, namely the imperative of the gospel and ethical behavior, he exhorts Christ’s followers to live in a manner appropriate to their calling, to show by obedience the fruits of their faith, and explains how to praise the Lord in walking faithfully with Christ (chaps. 4–6).
• The second seal. The other seal of God is described in the Book of Revelation. This seal is not in contradiction to the first one, but a complementary, matching one. This seal is like a final stamp on the finished document. Its purpose is not focused on salvation or redemption but has to do with protection. Ezekiel 9 clearly demonstrates that only those who are sealed are protected from impending destruction. What happened before the fall of Jerusalem in 587/586 B.C. is a type for the marking of God’s faithful followers with the seal of God at the time of the end (9:3–6). In the Book of Revelation, those who have the seal of God are protected from the last seven plagues before the outpouring of the wrath of God. The commands were similar: “‘Do not touch anyone who has the mark’” (Eze. 9:6), and John records the order for four angels: “‘Do not harm’” (Rev. 7:3). The seal of God shields His people in the time of the outpouring of the divine judgment and condemnation.
This seal affirms God’s faithful children at the time of the end. It is not by chance that in the climax of the three angels’ messages, the Spirit of God says: “‘They will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them’” (Rev. 14:13). These faithful are resting in the Lord until the day of redemption. Salvation is never an anthropocentric but a theocentric endeavor. We cannot take it into our hands. We do not possess salvation; it comes to us as God’s prepared gift that we can only accept or reject. God possesses us; we belong to Him. One needs to stay “in Christ,” and this is “a central motif in Paul.”3 Christ is the Guarantor of our sealing, because He received a seal of approval on His work of salvation on our behalf when He lived on earth: “‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval’” (John 6:27).
This eschatological, or apocalyptic, seal is plainly described in Revelation where God’s faithful followers receive it at the end of time to be able to go through the final events and be protected from the seven plagues (Rev. 7:2, 3; 9:4; 14:9). This seal of God is in contrast to the seal/mark of the beast, and people are solemnly warned not to receive the seal/mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16, 17; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4), because the recipients of this mark are not ready for the second coming of Christ and will perish. Ranko Stefanovic fittingly comments: “All classes of human society are commanded to receive the mark of the beast. To receive the mark of the beast means to belong to the beast and worship it. The mark of the beast is, thus, an antithesis of God’s seal (14:1). Just as the seal identifies those who belong to God, so the mark of the beast identifies those who belong to and worship the beast. While the sealing signifies the Holy Spirit’s working presence in human hearts (Eph. 1:13, 14; 4:30), the mark of the beast counterfeits the work of the Holy Spirit.”4
Moreover, the seal of God “at the end time functions as a sign of protection. Those who have the seal of God upon their foreheads are protected from the destructive forces of the seven last plagues. These are the ones who are able to stand on the great day of wrath (Rev. 7:3).”5
The first seal may be called the “seal of the gospel” and the second, “the apocalyptic seal.” The first is a seal of salvation, and the second is the seal of protection. Each is irreplaceable and cannot be exchanged. The sealing is done by the Holy Spirit. One seal is a seal of acceptance, and the other is a seal of final ratification. The first seal is declarative, and the second is affirmative. This second seal confirms their faithfulness in following the Lamb and God’s leadership in one’s life, doing His will, keeping His commandments, and living according to His revealed Word (Rev. 12:17; 13:10; 14:4, 5, 12; 17:14; 19:10). They were sealed by the Spirit at the time of their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Savior, but, according to the Book of Revelation, they will have continued walking with God to receive the final eschatological seal of God at the close of the time and to be able to go through the final showdown and stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36). Although the seal of the gospel can be broken by rebellion and unrepentance, the apocalyptic seal is permanent.
The Assurance and Joy of Salvation
In a crystal clear way, the apostle John proclaims: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:12, 13; see also John 1:12; 3:16, 17, 36; 6:47; 10:28, 29; Rom. 5:1–5; Eph. 2:1–14; 1 John 1:7–9; 2:1; 3:1). Note how often the biblical material speaks about eternal life in the present tense! We have it here and now. Of course, by faith, and at the second coming of Jesus, it will be a physical reality.
There are two extreme views of salvation. One group of believers has too little or no assurance of salvation and experiences internal struggles with doubts, frustrations, fears, self-centeredness, and unwholesome tensions. The other group has too much assurance and sleeps on the pillow of self-assurance, self-justification, and self-deception, and relies on cheap grace. Where does the balance lie? Only the Word of God can provide it—living in harmony with the revealed will of God. The apostle Paul speaks about healthy self-examination under the guidance of God’s Spirit: “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28, NRSV). “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
Ellen G. White further warned against emptying God’s grace of its power by false self-confidence as well as affirming the assurance of salvation we have only in Christ: “Those who accept the Saviour, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or to feel that they are saved. This is misleading. Every one should be taught to cherish hope and faith; but even when we give ourselves to Christ and know that He accepts us, we are not beyond the reach of temptation. God’s word declares, ‘Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried.’ Daniel 12:10. Only he who endures the trial will receive the crown of life. (James 1:12.)
“Those who accept Christ, and in their first confidence say, I am saved, are in danger of trusting to themselves. They lose sight of their own weakness and their constant need of divine strength. They are unprepared for Satan's devices, and under temptation many, like Peter, fall into the very depths of sin. We are admonished, ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.’ 1 Corinthians 10:12. Our only safety is in constant distrust of self, and dependence on Christ.”15
Not only our safety, but the whole universe’s, lies in beholding and understanding the meaning of Jesus’s sacrifice. It is the effectiveness of what He accomplished on the Cross and not in our or angels’ achievements or sinlessness: “The angels ascribe honor and glory to Christ, for even they are not secure except by looking to the sufferings of the Son of God. It is through the efficacy of the cross that the angels of heaven are guarded from apostasy. Without the cross they would be no more secure against evil than were the angels before the fall of Satan.”16
Ellen G. White rightly explained the healthy tension every believer has to live with—full confidence in Christ and complete mistrust in self. It is not easy to learn how to live this paradox of our faith and avoid extreme positions that lie on both ends. We need to be constantly focused on Him: “We are to be found day by day abiding in the Vine, and bringing forth fruit, with patience, at our home, in our business; and in every relation in life manifesting the Spirit of Christ.”17 In this process we need to look persistently to Jesus (John 15:5; Phil. 4:13; Heb. 12:2) and not concentrate on our bearing the fruit that is the natural result of cultivating a close fellowship with Him: “Connected with Jesus Christ, they will be wise unto salvation. They will be fruit-bearing trees.”18
God’s Apocalyptic Sealing—At Any Time?
Does the Bible teach that the cases of the living can be brought before God in the pre-Advent judgment any time before the close of probation? If this were the case, it would be unfair and unjust as Douglas Bennett writes: “God appears hard, unjust, and arbitrary. Why should He finalize on a person’s destiny prior to the close of probation, since life has not ended and that person still possesses the power of choice?”19 God judges according to an individual’s decision, and at the time of the end, there will be such pressing circumstances that people will have to decide on which side they stand—with God or the forces of evil presented in the Book of Revelation (the dragon, the beast out of the sea, the beast out of the earth, the image of the beast, and the false prophet; see Revelation 13–18).
The apocalyptic seal is given to God’s faithful followers only after the final global crisis. It is closely related to forming the image of the beast and the false demands that power requests. “The image of the beast will be formed before probation closes; for it is to be the great test for the people of God, by which their eternal destiny will be decided. . . . This is the test that the people of God must have before they are sealed. All who proved their loyalty to God by observing His law, and refusing to accept a spurious sabbath, will rank under the banner of the Lord God Jehovah, and will receive the seal of the living God. Those who yield the truth of heavenly origin and accept the Sunday sabbath, will receive the mark of the beast.”20
Ellen G. White also explained more specifically when the mark of the beast will be received: “No one has yet received the mark of the beast. The testing time has not yet come. There are true Christians in every church, not excepting the Roman Catholic communion. None are condemned until they have had the light and have seen the obligation of the fourth commandment. But when the decree shall go forth enforcing the counterfeit sabbath, and the loud cry of the third angel shall warn men against the worship of the beast and his image, the line will be clearly drawn between the false and the true. Then those who still continue in transgression will receive the mark of the beast.
“With rapid steps we are approaching this period. When Protestant churches shall unite with the secular power to sustain a false religion, for opposing which their ancestors endured the fiercest persecution, then will the papal sabbath be enforced by the combined authority of church and state. There will be a national apostasy, which will end only in national ruin.”21
Additionally, the statement/belief that the name of a believer before the close of probation can be taken into judgment any time and sealed for eternity is a myth. The eschatological sealing comes only after apostate Protestantism unites with Catholicism and enforces the keeping of Sunday. This Sunday law will cause people to choose, and their final decision for or against God, His law, and His people will be made. Only then will the seal of God or the seal of the beast be given. Bennett explains this crucial point very well when he states: “It seems appropriate to suggest that the close of probation will occur for all the living simultaneously and that this can only be after all the living have met a supreme test that exposes the true condition of each heart before the universe.”22 Ellen G. White also clearly states: “Sundaykeeping is not yet the mark of the beast, and will not be until the decree goes forth causing men to worship this idol sabbath. The time will come when this day will be the test, but that time has not come yet.”23
Today, there is still time to prepare people for the final crisis by preaching the gospel, educating, and teaching them so they will be ready to stand before the Son of Man at His second coming. God’s apocalyptic sealing of the living will not occur at just any time but only after the final test. Those who have chosen God’s side will be approved, affirmed at the heavenly pre-advent court.
Another myth is built on a serious misinterpretation of biblical teaching as well as of the Spirit of Prophecy, namely, that the Holy Spirit is gradually withdrawing from our world and that He will be finally be taken away; and at the close of probation, the world will be left without Him. Thus, it is concluded that everyone, including believers, will be left on their own. This erroneous belief is taken from a misunderstanding of Ellen G. White’s statement that “the Spirit of God is gradually leaving the world.”24 However, if this statement is studied in its proper context, it is clear that Ellen G. White was talking about the Holy Spirit gradually leaving the wicked world: “All fornicators will be outside the City of God. Already God's angels are at work in judgment, and the Spirit of God is gradually leaving the world. The triumph of the church is very near, the reward to be bestowed is almost within our reach, and yet iniquity is found among those who claim to have the full blaze of heaven's light.”25 On the other hand, the Holy Spirit will be more abundantly given to God’s followers to enable them to be transformed into His image and to accomplish God’s given mission.
Ellen G. White associated the withdrawal of the Holy Spirit only with the wicked. “The days in which we live are solemn and important. The Spirit of God is gradually but surely being withdrawn from the earth. Plagues and judgments are already falling upon the despisers of the grace of God. The calamities by land and sea, the unsettled state of society, the alarms of war, are portentous. They forecast approaching events of the greatest magnitude.
“The agencies of evil are combining their forces and consolidating. They are strengthening for the last great crisis. Great changes are soon to take place in our world, and the final movements will be rapid ones.”26
“The restraining Spirit of God is even now being withdrawn from the world. Hurricanes, storms, tempests, fire and flood, disasters by sea and land, follow each other in quick succession.”27
“The time is at hand when there will be sorrow in the world that no human balm can heal. The Spirit of God is being withdrawn.”28
“The wicked have passed the boundary of their probation; the Spirit of God, persistently resisted, has been at last withdrawn. Unsheltered by divine grace, they have no protection from the wicked one. Satan will then plunge the inhabitants of the earth into one great, final trouble. As the angels of God cease to hold in check the fierce winds of human passion, all the elements of strife will be let loose.”29
“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. The forms of religion will be continued by a people from whom the Spirit of God has been finally withdrawn; and the Satanic zeal with which the prince of evil will inspire them for the accomplishment of his malignant designs, will bear the semblance of zeal for God.”30
Thus, it is very evident that Ellen G. White underlined that the Holy Spirit is withdrawn from the wicked world but will stay with God’s faithful followers. Already in Early Writings, she explained that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the very end will have two functions: (1) to finish the preaching of the gospel before the second coming of Christ; and (2) to help the saints to go through the perilous period of time after the close of probation. Believers will never live without the Holy Spirit. God will always be with His people (Matt. 28:18–20; John 15:5). The latter rain of the Holy Spirit will be given in abundance to the believers (Joel 2:23, 28, 29), and it will be the Holy Spirit who will carry them victoriously through the short final crisis (Matt. 25:1–10; Gen. 32:24–30).
Living Without an Intercessor
How often is heard in different congregations of our church the thought that believers will live without an Intercessor after probation ends, meaning that they will be on their own. This half-truth is another myth related to the erroneous thinking that the apocalyptic sealing and the presentation of our cases in the heavenly judgment before the second coming of Christ are two different events. On the contrary, they are closely related.
When our name is called during the pre-advent judgment and Jesus as the True Witness of our life presents before all the universe’s representatives (Dan. 7:9, 10, 13, 14) our life choices and orientation and we are found hidden “in Christ,” then our destiny is sealed and protected before the seven last plagues. After probation, when the door of mercy has closed, Jesus Christ will no longer be our Intercessor because He has “save[d us] completely” (Heb. 7:25). This fact is often interpreted in such a way that believers will have to survive without His help and that they will be on their own. Consequently, they must develop a strong character and a firm will to go victoriously through the final crisis without divine help while the evil forces will no longer be restricted by divine mercy and intervention (Rev. 7:1–3; 14:9–11; 15:6–8). Such an understanding is not biblical.
All five interpretations of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy mentioned above are completely wrong in their teaching:
Because there are two seals of God, the seal of God is not only given at the end of time: the seal of the gospel/salvation is given at the beginning of our spiritual journey with Christ, and the eschatological/affirmative/protective seal is given only to those who will live through Planet Earth’s final crisis after the close of probation. This seal demonstrates that those of who receive it love God, His law, and His values and have sought to save people for eternity. Each seal has a special and distinct but complementary role. Only those who received the first seal can experience the second one. Only those who were sealed by the gospel seal can at the end of time be marked by the eschatological seal that will protect them in the time of trouble and when probation is closed. It is a seal of life in the midst of destruction and ruin; it is a seal of final redemption (Ezekiel 9).
The sealing will not occur at just any time for those who will be alive when the final events of human history will take place but only after the Sunday law is issued, and people have made their decision for or against God. The Sabbath-Sunday controversy will be an outward expression of either loyalty and love for God or obedience to the ungodly powers aimed against Him, His law, and His people.
The Holy Spirit will not be taken away from believers at the end. On the contrary, He will be given to them even in greater portion, and it will be the Holy Spirit who will carry us through the final time of crisis. We will be safe in His hands! The Holy Spirit will leave only the wicked, stubborn world.
We will never live without Christ, but only without His special intercessory ministry: He saved us and secured our salvation on the Cross and proclaimed it on our behalf in front of the universe and heavenly tribunal, so we do not need to worry about being alone, without His presence. During Jacob’s fight (Gen. 32:24–30) when the patriarch was wrestling with God, the Lord was closer to Him than ever. This will be the experience of God’s people after the time of probation has closed. They will be sustained by Jesus’ constant presence as Jacob was sustained and blessed by Him.
These five myths in regard to end-time events are not biblically substantiated. We can face tomorrow with full confidence because we are in God’s hands, and He is in ultimate control of our lives and world events. We can trust Him, and on this relationship between our gracious and Holy Lord and us depends our destiny. We can rely on the firm prophetic Word of God and look forward with hope. The hope of the second coming of Jesus is called the “blessed” hope (Titus 2:13), so we can rejoice in this life, having full confidence in Him (1 John 2:28; 4:17) while having our eyes are fixed on Jesus (Heb. 12:2). This is why we do not need to listen to different conspiracy theories on last-day scenarios, but instead cultivate God’s presence in our lives and serve others with joy (Rev. 14:6, 7). We cannot be “fear-centered” Seventh-day Adventist Christians, but need to be known as “hope-centered” people. The return of Jesus is the ultimate hope for humanity, and He is the only way to the bright future.
Jiří Moskala, Th.D., Ph.D., is Professor of Old Testament Exegesis and Theology and Dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references in this article are quoted from the New International Version of the Bible.