Testimony of Jesus and the Remnant Church

The Testimony of Jesus and the Remnant Church

Karl Wagner

INTRODUCTION

From our beginning we have interpreted the phrase “testimony of Jesus” in Revelation 12:17 to be the Spirit of Prophecy as defined in the ministry of Ellen White. This narrow view disturbed me and I began to wonder what the text meant to the first century church. They certainly did not interpret this verse to be Ellen White. So why do we do so today? Gerhard Pfandl rehearses this doctrine for the laity by affirming its historical place along with its present understanding. “The Seventh-day Adventist Church, from its very beginning, has believed that in fulfillment of Revelation 12:17 the spirit of prophecy was manifested in the life and work of Ellen White.”[1] If we stop here, we’ve only cracked open the door to our understanding of this text. We need to open the door all the way so we can understand the larger picture. When we do, we will have a deeper understanding of our mission and message.

THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS AND THE REMNANT CHURCH

The Dragon made war on the remnant of her seed. In Revelation 12 we see the identifying marks of that remnant. They are identified as “those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”[2] What did this mean to the church of the first century? What does it mean for Christians today?

I believe the core meaning here is the identification of the Church of Christ in the last days. Jon Paulien lists Revelation 12:17 as number four of seven texts with a duodirectional aspect. From this text we look back over chapter 12 to see the war which began in heaven and culminates with the Dragon going after the remnant people.[3] We see the text pointing us forward into the next two chapters. Chapter 13, the dragon power leading the church astray and chapter 14, God’s last day people giving a message to worship creator God, given to those in the world who are following after the dragon in the guise of the “image to the beast.” These identifying marks concerning the remnant have a great deal more to do than just identifying Ellen White as having “the spirit of prophecy” as part of the last church.

In fact, what’s interesting is that Ellen White never used this text to refer to her ministry. She used Joel 2:28-29[4] which describe God pouring His Spirit out on His people who will dream dreams and have visions during the time of latter rain.[5] So let’s begin with the classic narrow view in Adventism. Looking through the open crack in a door ajar, we may see a chair, but not the whole room. Let’s see if we can push the door open all the way.

Classic Identifying Mark of the Remnant

            “As Seventh-day Adventists we believe that we are the remnant church-the church with God’s message to this last generation. We further believe that the Lord’s messenger, Ellen Gould White, was endowed by the Holy Spirit with the gift of prophecy. We are convinced that the Lord means us in the words: ‘the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ’ (Revelation 12:17), this ‘testimony of Jesus’ being ‘the Spirit of prophecy.’ ”[6] With these words, Christian confirms a central Adventist doctrine as we have shown Pfandl to have done.

We understand that the “spirit of prophecy” was something that Ellen possessed by the grace of God. She, herself, was not the spirit of prophecy. Through our interpretation of Revelation 19:10, we understand that this is the process by which the prophets, or spokesmen of God operated under; by the spirit of prophecy. Its witness is found in Scripture itself. The Angel tells John in Revelation 19:10 that he too, like John, is God’s messenger and therefore not worthy to be worshiped. The messengers of God recorded their message in what we commonly call the Bible. This is how God spoke in times past, (Heb. 1:1), but now in these last days, by the very Word itself, Jesus Christ.

If this is as far as we go, then like Pfandl, we too must concur that the “testimony of Jesus” which is the “spirit of prophecy” is something that the whole church does not possess, but only by those whom God has called to be prophets. [7] Our door is opening up to show a larger vista, it is still far from being opened all the way. There is still more that we need to understand from this phrase, “testimony of Jesus.”

The Remnant

Unlike Pfandl, LaRondelle tells us that while not all are called to be prophets, “the prophetic

ministry is the calling of the entire church. All believers in Jesus Christ are called to ‘hold to the testimony of Jesus.’”[8] This “something more” takes us on a journey to discover not only the deeper truth to the meaning of the “testimony of Jesus” but also an insight to those who hold to it. The remnant in the Old Testament who return from exile from Babylon are described as merely those who remain, such as the words of Isaiah, “Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.” [9] Here, the word remnant is rendered, survivors in the NASB. Paul quotes Isaiah

10:22 in Romans 9:27 showing how God preserves His people. However, in Revelation, we see a different kind of remnant. This remnant is not counted simply because they have remained, or been spared. Rather, there is a quality about this remnant that seems to qualify them to be the remnant. LaRondelle examines this in his book on Bible prophecies. He examines the phrase, Testimony of Jesus or Christ beginning with Paul and then brings us to John in Revelation.[10] Beginning with the phrase, “word of God and the testimony of Jesus” as the two characteristics of the true church, (Rev 1:2, 9; 6:9; 12:17; 14:12; 20:4) we see it expressed as both word of God and commandments of God along with Testimony of Jesus and Faith of Jesus. Paul to the church at Corinth confirms they have the Testimony of Christ, through the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 1:6). Here the Gospel is referred to that for which they lack nothing “in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (verse 7, NASB)

As John was on the isle of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, he also writes in Rev. 16:4 that the martyred saints were such because they also took their stand against the false system by holding to the testimony of Jesus and the word of God. LaRondelle concludes, “Revelation shows that to ‘have’ the testimony of Jesus is not restricted to the end-time church.”[11]

John and the Testimony of Jesus

            Maybe I should take some time now to examine the word translated “testimony” in our text. The Greek word is marturia (mar-too-ree-ah), and means, evidence given. Most of us will recognize this word in how it has come down to us in English. The word is martyr, and carries the meaning of suffering for the cause, especially by the giving of one’s life for the cause. And so we too should see in this phrase “a witness” of Jesus. As you can see, we have more here than just an identifying marker for the last day remnant church in the ministry of Ellen White. It is for the whole church to hold or possess. It is timeless, not just relegated to the last days. Saints have given their lives because they held to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. And finally, the testimony of Jesus is not just another term for the Bible or the word of God. That would make John redundant, in several places of his book.

But interestingly enough, John doesn’t just mention this testimony in Revelation. He also uses it in his first epistle. He begins with the importance of having the witness or testimony in us. He writes, “The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son.” (1 John 5:10, NASB). This witness or testimony has to do with us believing the witness that God has concerning Jesus. What might that be? It’s so important that John tells us in verse 11. It’s what the saints must believe if they are to have life. Here it is, this is the Testimony defined by John and I believe has direct application to Revelation 12:17. John writes in verse 11, “THIS IS THE TESTIMOY” emphasis supplied (“witness” in NASB, “record” in KJV), “that God has (past tense) given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (NASB) And then he describes it in relational terms, “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” (1 John 5:12).

Salvation is shown in terms of having a person, such as found in Revelation 3:20. I’ve taught many of Sabbath school classes and preached many a sermon where I’ve used this verse. I always point out that Jesus knocking on the door of the church wanting to come in is not just some “good idea” or a “good theology” but a person.  John again confirms this by affirming life is found in having a person; and that person is Jesus Christ. This eternal life that is given is Jesus’ testimony about Himself and what He through the Godhead has done and is doing to save man from sin and reconcile us back into relationship.

The Gospel of Jesus

            The “testimony of Jesus” is Jesus’ witness about Himself. While we may give our testimony, it’s usually about how God has saved us from sin. Jesus’ testimony is not about His “salvation” but ours. The Word of God testifies to this by way of God’s prophets who are given the spirit of prophecy. It’s not the gift of prophecy that defines “testimony of Jesus” but rather what that gift is used for as manifested as God’s word. It’s not just God’s word in general; but a specific aspect of God’s word; otherwise, John would be redundant as I mentioned earlier. So what did Jesus “do” that He now bears witness to through the Bible by way of His prophets?

Paul writes, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Writing to the church at Corinth, he affirms that the gospel or ‘good news” is found in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s through this passion that God has given us eternal life. (2 Cor. 5:14-19).  This is the testimony that Jesus has concerning Himself, by which the whole church, past or present, holds to and is willing to die for. We receive this by faith, (Eph. 2:8-10). Jesus tells us that this faith or belief in Him whom God has sent (see on John 6:28-29) is the eternal bread of life that we are to labor for. Jesus Himself is that eternal bread, which is come down from heaven (John 6:51). He came preaching the gospel of that promised coming kingdom that was to bring God’s people into a glorious new age.[12] This was the climax of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, the coming kingdom that would rise above the earthly nations. Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 culminates in the coming kingdom as the hope for God’s people who win in the judgment and are restored back to God. The whole of Scripture testify to this truth, where we see Jesus with the Disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13ff) explaining from Moses and “the prophets the things concerning Him in all of Scriptures,” (ver. 27).

The Faith of Jesus and the Last Message

            In Revelation 14:12, we see a parallel to Revelation 12:17, but instead of “testimony of Jesus”, we read, “faith of Jesus.” This phrase in chapter 14 is a clarifying equivalent to the “testimony of Jesus.”[13] “This ‘faith of Jesus,’ which His followers ‘keep’ is not simply their subjective faith in Jesus, but the objective faith or teachings of Jesus, which formed the very substance of ‘the apostles’ teaching. (Acts 2:42).”[14] Regarding the “faith of Jesus”, even Ellen White understood its gospel nature.[15] It identifies the remnant people, and here, in 14:12, we get the clearer picture of those who are to preach the three angels messages. In fact it was more important to our founding fathers than Revelation 12:17. It was here, in Revelation 14:12 that we took our covenant statement to identify the remnant church as those who hold to the faith of Jesus.[16] This phrase not only specifies that the remnant hold to what the Godhead has done to save mankind, but we hold this gospel of grace in union with the commandments of God. We hold to a proper balance between law and grace[17] without having to overturn one for the other.

Exodus 20               Revelation 14

Salvation

v. 2 God delivers them from Slavery                    v. 6 Preach everlasting gospel

Judgment

v.5 visiting the iniquity                                                           v.6 Judgment “IS”

Worship

v.8-11 God of the Sabbath                                                           v.7 creator God

Our message, beginning with the first angel in Revelation 14:6, is contextually to be preached to those who follow the image to the beast in chapter 13. As last day Elijah’s, we preach our message to those who are following “Ba’al,” calling them instead, to turn and worship Him who created the heavens and the earth.[18] The great gospel commission found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel is also our mission, but in a last day context. Calling the world along with many who already make a claim to the gospel, we present it along with judgment. In fact, Jon Paulien has shown that the first angel’s message alludes to the first table of the law in Exodus 20.[19]  The chart below illustrates the thematic parallel.

The message of the last day remnant church found in the three angels of Revelation 14:6-12 is only successful when the Testimony of Jesus is rightly plugged into it. That testimony is Jesus’ testimony about himself regarding what He has done to restore us and remove sin from the cosmos. It is not about keeping all the commandments, i.e., the Sabbath, and having Ellen White. It’s about holding to and preaching the gospel to a dying world whose only hope is Jesus. The last message is the gospel, which historically, tried to regain its proper place in Adventism’s mission at the 1888 General Conference. As George Knight shows us, the 1888 presentation of justification was not some new understanding, “but the same as that taught by the evengelicals.”[20] What Dr. Knight does for us is to show our theology in context to our history and journey as a people. I recall my own journey back into Adventism with the question, “Why Adventism?” If God called this church into being, then we need to know our history. And so I began at the beginning with F.D. Nichols’ book, The Midnight Cry.

CONCLUSION

            We can continue to present a cultic picture of Adventist mission and message to those outside of Adventism, or we can pick-up our Bibles and learn to articulate the Adventist message biblically. While we once identified ourselves based on Revelation 12:17 as those who keep the Sabbath and have Ellen White, we can see that it’s about those who obey God and hold to the Testimony of Jesus, which is what Jesus has to say about Himself regarding what He and the Father have done to save mankind.

So now, the door is open all the way. We see that the spirit of prophecy operates through God’s prophets who through the written word present Jesus’ witness. I believe Ellen White was called to be such a witness, although not a Canonical one. Her writings exemplify the life and message of Jesus and point us to the Bible as the source and foundation of our faith. The Testimony of Jesus is held by the Church through all ages, but especially the remnant who are indentified by it. It is the message of Jesus’ testimony, the gospel, that is to be preached in the three angels of Revelation 14.

Simply put, the Testimony of Jesus is the gospel, and it’s the gospel that drives the three angels messages. Without the gospel plugged into Revelation 14, we have no message other than last generation perfection. This is no gospel at all, but ego-centric behavior modification. If I have only one opportunity to speak to you, I want to speak words of life, and the gospel is life. That life is found in Jesus’ testimony. This is the Testimony, that God has given us eternal life and that life is in His Son.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Christian, Lewis Harrison. Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, The. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1947.

“Hans K. LaRondelle-Testimony of Jesus.” 14 October 2010. Glendale Seventh-day Adventist Church. 14 October 2002 <http://glendale.adventistfaith.org/podcasts/3163?format=rss&gt;.

Knight, George R. A Search for Identity: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Beliefs. Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2000.

LaRondelle, Hans. How to Understand the End-Time Prophecies of the Bible. Sarasota: First Impressions, 1997.

—. “The Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus.” Ministry Magazine May 2003: 13-16.

Paulien, Jon. Deep Things of God, The. Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2004.

Pfandl, Gerhard. “Foundations for Ellen White’s Prophetic Call.” Adventist World September 2008: 22-23.

  Footnotes:

[1] Gerhard Pfandl, “Foundations for Ellen White’s Prophetic Call,” Adventist World, September 2008: 23. With the B.R.I. at church headquarters, Dr. Pfandl has enormous influence on the laity in his presentation in a magazine article meant for the average member.

[2] Revelation 12:17

[3] Jon Paulien, Deep Things of God, The (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2004) 119.

[4] Hans LaRondelle, at the Arizona Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Workers Meeting, January 6-8, 2002, stated that he asked Angel Rodriguez who at that time was with the White Estate, to find anything where Ellen White identified her ministry with Revelation 12:17. He responded that she never did. LaRondelle said that she used Joel 2:28 instead. Interesting how Ellen identifies herself with the rest of God’s people. One place to see this is in one of the very few introductions she ever wrote herself, that is, the introduction to the Great Controversy. The audio file, “02 LaRondelle,” (Hans K. LaRondelle-Testimony of Jesus)can be found at, http://glendale.adventistfaith.org/podcasts/3163?format=rss – begin at 50 minutes, 30 seconds.

[5] Joel 2:28, “And it will come about after this That I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.” [NASB] This occurs after the falling of the latter rain of verse 23 and is yet future, representing that God will have a whole people with the spirit of prophecy.

[6] Lewis Harrison Christian, Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, The; (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1947) 15.

[7] (Pfandl) page 23

[8] Hans LaRondelle, The Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus (Ministry Magazine, May 2003) 15.

[9] See on 2 Kings 19:30-31;  Ezra 9:8; Neh. 1:13; Isa. 1:9

[10] Hans LaRondelle, How to Understand the End-Time Prophecies of the Bible (Sarasota, FL: First Impressions, 1997)  281-286.

[11] ibid, 283.

[12] Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 3:17 & 23; the same message John the Baptist preached (Matt. 3:2). The Jews were looking for a real kingdom, and so are we.

[13] (LaRondelle, How to Understand the End-Time Prophecies of the Bible) 286.

[14] ibid

[15] 16MR, 227; “The message that was given to the people in these meetings presented in clear lines not alone the commandments of God–a part of the third angel’s message–but the faith of Jesus, which comprehends more than is generally supposed. And it will be well for the third angel’s message to be proclaimed in all its parts, for the people need every jot and tittle of it. If we proclaim the commandments of God and leave the other half scarcely touched, the message is marred in our hands.”

[16] Review, 8 October 1851: 149.

[17] MS 24, 1888 where Ellen affirms that “the faith of Jesus has not been proclaimed by Seventh-day Adventists as of equal importance, the law and the gospel going hand in hand.”

[18] 2 Kings 18:20ff and Revelation 14:7

[19] (Paulien) 145.

[20] George R. Knight, A Search for Identity (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000) 106.

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