Lesson 9

*November 24 - 30

Vision Two — Judgment by Fire

Lesson graphic

Sabbath Afternoon   November 24

Numerous texts depict an end-time fire, a retributive, destructive inferno that destroys sin and sinners. This cauldron of pitch, brimstone, and ash is what we call "hell."

In fact, the only way to really understand hell is to realize that Jesus Christ on the cross had, in a sense, been in that fire already for us. At Calvary, Jesus went to "hell" so that none of us—who because of our sins deserve it—would ever have to go there. Thus, however terrible and frightful hell is—no one will suffer there worse than did Jesus, the only One who, in fact, never even deserved it.

THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: The Bible uses numerous images of fire, both as a means of punishment and as a means of purification. What makes the difference? What happened to Jesus on the Cross so that, ideally, everyone could be saved? What is the ultimate fate of the wicked? As Seventh-day Adventists, we sometimes talk about the conditionality of prophecy. What does that mean, and in what cases are prophecies conditional, and in what cases are they not?

MEMORY TEXT: "Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?" (2 Peter 3:11, 12).  

*(Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 1.)

Sunday  November 25


"Behold, the Lord God called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and did eat up a part" (Amos 7:4).  

In the second vision, instead of locusts, Amos evokes the image of fire—a fire that came from God. It's not the only time, however, that an Old Testament prophet has used this image to depict the judgments of God.

"Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven" (Gen. 19:24).

"And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord (Lev. 10:1, 2).

"And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh" (Isa. 66:24).

Look up other texts in the Bible that deal with God using fire as a judgment. And though the connotation in these cases is always in the negativethat is, the fire is seen as something "bad"in what ways can the imagery of fire be used as something "good"?  

Fire is a biblical image that evokes not just punishment but purification, cleaning, refinement. "And Eleazar the priest said unto the men of war which went to the battle, This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord commanded Moses; only the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead, every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water" (Num. 31:21-23). Look at how the fire is used in Isaiah 6, or in Malachi 3:1-3. In these cases, fire is doing something different than in the first examples.

Read 1 Peter 4:12.  All of us, at some point in our lives, have faced "fiery" trials that could purify us.  We don't all have to face, however, the fire of judgment, because Jesus, in a sense, did that for us at the Cross.  What happened at the Cross that can spare us the judgment by fire that the Bible promises is coming?  

Monday  November 26


"He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21).  

At the cross, Jesus died the "second death" (Rev. 20:14; 21:8). It couldn't have been the first death, because all of us, Christians or non-Christians, face that death. Nothing Jesus did at Calvary changes the fact that all of us will die or (as the Bible in numerous places says it) "sleep." Instead, to spare us the "second death"—the death by fire, the death that comes from God's righteous indignation over sin—Jesus hung on the cross, because He Himself, at the cross, suffered that second death in our stead.

Mark 15:34 reads: "At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" How do we understand these words in light of what was happening to Jesus?  

"Upon Christ as our substitute and surety was laid the iniquity of us all. He was counted a transgressor, that He might redeem us from the condemnation of the law. The guilt of every descendant of Adam was pressing upon His heart. The wrath of God against sin, the terrible manifestation of His displeasure because of iniquity, filled the soul of His Son with consternation. All His life Christ had been publishing to a fallen world the good news of the Father's mercy and pardoning love. Salvation for the chief of sinners was His theme. But now with the terrible weight of guilt He bears, He cannot see the Father's reconciling face. The withdrawal of the divine countenance from the Saviour in this hour of supreme anguish pierced His heart with a sorrow that can never be fully understood by man. So great was this agony that His physical pain was hardly felt."—The Desire of Ages, p. 753.

Take some time to dwell upon exactly what Jesus faced at the Cross.  Realize that the punishment for every sin ever committed—from every lustful look to the most vicious and violent atrocities in history—fell upon Him so that, ideally, none of those who committed these sins would have to face the final fire, God's righteous judgment against those sins.  Write down your thoughts, particularly focusing upon the hope that Christ's death should bring to each of us individually, knowing that the punishment for our sins has already been paid.  

Tuesday  November 27


"For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch" (Mal. 4:1).  

However wonderful the plan of salvation, however complete and sufficient in and of itself was Christ's death on the cross, the Bible makes it clear that not all will accept it. Because they refused to grasp, by faith, Christ's death for them, untold multitudes will have to face the punishment of their own sins.

Yet even here, God's love and mercy comes through; for unlike the common notion that the lost will face conscious eternal torment in hell, the weight of biblical evidence makes it clear that the destruction is eternal, not the destroying—a crucial difference.

If someone didn't have any preconceived notions about what the Bible teaches regarding the ultimate fate of the lost, what would the following verses tell them?

1.  Matt. 7:13  _______________________________________________________________________

2.  John 3:16  ________________________________________________________________________

3.  John 10:28  _______________________________________________________________________

4.  2 Thess. 1:9  ___________________________________________________________________  

God does not punish even the most wicked in an eternity of fire for wrongdoings that took place in a limited period of time here on earth. You would think that after a few billion years, even the worst sinner would have paid his or her dues. Such a faulty understanding has led many Christians to conclude that God is not loving. God's purpose with hellfire is to destroy sin and its consequences in order for there to be a new earth untarnished by evil. But before He destroys sin and sinners, He gives everyone a chance to repent.

What's amazing is that even those who don't know the truth about the ultimate fate of the wicked can still, even while believing the erroneous notion of eternal torment, love God anyway.  Imagine how much more they would love Him if they knew the truth!  Compare the two views, eternal torment and eternal destruction, and dwell upon just how different are the pictures of God they paint.  

Wednesday  November 28


"Then said I, O Lord God, cease, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small. The Lord repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord God" (Amos 7:5, 6).  

As in the previous vision, here, too, we have the same thing repeated: Amos interceding before God and God "repenting," or "changing His mind" regarding the predicted destruction.

This notion brings up an interesting question: As we saw last week, thanks to the intercession of some people, certain predictions have been diverted or at least delayed. What we saw here was the conditionality of these prophecies. The question then arises, Because some prophecies appear to be conditional, are, then, all of them conditional?

Look at the texts below.  Which ones have an element of conditionality to them, and which ones don't? In other words, which deal with things that could possibly be changed by human actions, and which deal with the absolute certainties within God's plan for humankind, certainties that cannot be changed by anything that humans can do?

1.  Isa. 1:19, 20  _______________________________________________________________________

2.  Isa. 38:1-22  _______________________________________________________________________

3.  Jer. 18:7-10  _______________________________________________________________________

4.  Mark 14:62  _______________________________________________________________________

5.  Acts 1:11  _________________________________________________________________________

6.  Rom. 14:10  _______________________________________________________________________

7.  2 Pet. 3:13  ___________________________________________________________________  

The above texts show the difference between prophecies, in the sense that some do have an element of conditionality to them.  Their fulfillment depends upon human response.  At the same time, some prophecies seem to be absolute, with no possibility of their being revoked.

What makes the difference?  

Thursday  November 29


"Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it" (Isa. 46:10, 11).  

Yesterday's lesson, based on Amos 7:5, touched on a topic of vital interest to Seventh-day Adventists, a people who see themselves not only as harbingers of a prophetic message but actually as a prophetic people themselves, a people whom the prophets dreamed and wrote about (See Rev. 12:17; 14:12).

This topic is, of course, the nature of prophecy. Adventists have understood that many prophecies are conditional, that they will happen according to how those who hear the messages respond. Time and again, for instance, the Lord warned Israel of the calamities that would come if they didn't obey Him. If they did obey, the prophetic warnings would not come to pass. This is seen, for instance, in Amos (after all, why would the Lord bother to warn the Hebrews to turn from their sins if there were no hope that their actions would avert the coming calamity?). (See also Deuteronomy 28.)

The question, however, is this: Is all prophecy—including those about final judgment, a new heaven and a new earth, or the Second Coming—conditional? Can anything human change the inevitability of these prophecies?

In the short term, human actions do seem to have a role in how prophetic events unfold. In the long term, however, in the grand scheme of things, God's sovereignty always overrules. Though as humans we are given free will, and free will determines our destiny (and even in some cases the destiny of others), God is ultimately in control, in the sense that His final purposes for ending sin and rebellion will be fulfilled. None of the end-time prophecies that deal with the grand climactic events of the great controversy appear to be conditional. On the grand scale of things, in which the ultimate issues are involved, God's transcendence and power completely overrule human machinations and plans.

Christ's first coming was not conditional.  Nor is the Second Coming.  What's conditional is our response to them.  How we respond will have eternal consequences.  How crucial, then, that we use our free will to make decisions that will impact us in regard to the inevitable.  

Friday  November 30

FURTHER STUDY:  Who makes the final decision about the destiny of the wicked?

The destiny of the wicked is fixed by their own choice. Their exclusion from heaven is voluntary with themselves, and just and merciful on the part of God."—Last Day Events, pp. 279, 280.

"But like the stars in the vast circuit of their appointed path, God's purposes know no haste and no delay. Through the symbols of the great darkness and the smoking furnace, God had revealed to Abraham the bondage of Israel in Egypt, and had declared that the time of their sojourning should be four hundred years. 'Afterward,' He said, 'shall they come out with great substance.' Gen. 15:14. Against that word, all the power of Pharaoh's proud empire battled in vain. On 'the self-same day' appointed in the divine promise, 'it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.'  Ex. 12:41. So in heaven's council the hour for the coming of Christ had been determined. When the great clock of time pointed to that hour, Jesus was born in Bethlehem."—The Desire of Ages, p. 32.  

1. We often tend to look at trials as methods of purification, thus having some redemptive value.  At the same time, how do we explain trials that seem to contain no redemptive value for anyone?  For example, a baby starving to death in a famine would (at least as far as the baby is concerned), have no redemptive value.  How do we understand, as Christians, tragedies like this?  Or what about tragedies that, far from purifying people, instead make them angry, bitter, and hateful, especially toward God?  
2. Discuss more this idea that Christ died the "second death" at the Cross.  How does His dying that death offer us the chance to be spared it?  
3. Why would some prophecies be conditional and some not?  Why would God overrule in some cases and in others allow human actions to determine the outcome?  

SUMMARY:  God threatened to punish Israel by a judgment of intense fire. When the prophet Amos appealed to the Lord not to do so, God told him that He would not do it. However, the time will come in the last moments of history when the earth and everything in it will be burned up to prepare the way for God's creation of a new earth wherein righteousness dwells.  

InSide Story

Please Don't Come!

Dorothy Eaton Watts

Saroja (sah-ROH-ja) and Sonal (SOH-nal) Joseph returned to their home town in Maharashtra, India, after an accident resulted in the amputation of Sonal's leg. The couple settled down and started a goat farm. Then they began looking for a church home. But they could not find one where they felt comfortable. "Please, God, help us to find a church where the people believe as we do," they prayed.

Sonal's mother, an Adventist, invited the couple to visit her church. "But you will have to come on Saturday," she said. Saroja and Sonal decided to give the Adventist church a try.

The couple enjoyed the simplicity of the service, which reminded Saroja of the mission where she grew up. Saroja and Sonal returned to the church the next week, and soon they felt quite comfortable with this simple congregation who worshiped on Saturday.

One Sabbath the pastor greeted them after church and offered to come to their home and give them Bible studies.

"No, please don't come," Saroja responded. "We are much too busy. We don't need to study the Bible. We will just continue coming to church every Saturday. That is enough."

But the pastor showed up at their home that week anyway. "Just give me two minutes," he said, smiling. Saroja and Sonal agreed, but as they began talking about religion, the couple had so many questions that he stayed all day, and the busy couple got no work done.

"Please don't come any more, pastor," they told him as he left. "We are much too busy with on our goat farm. We cannot take this kind of time to study with you."

But the next week the pastor came back again, this time with some books for them to read. "OK, we'll read the books," Sonal said, thanking him for his gift. "But please don't come anymore!"

But the pastor continued to come, and soon they began regular Bible studies. Sonal and Saroja discovered that the Bible had answers to many of the questions that had plagued them. Finally the couple decided they must not only attend the church on Sabbath, but they should become members and help spread the message of truth they had found.

The couple has formed a musical group that travels throughout Maharashtra State, sharing their love for God and their testimonies. Finally, they have time!

Dorothy Eaton Watts is associate secretary of the Southern Asia Division.

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