February 27, 2019

Righteousness by Faith and the Third Angel's Message

Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (Revelation 14:12, NASB).

Nearly all Adventist interpreters of Revelation 14:12 before 1888 saw “the faith of Jesus” as a body of truth that one could keep. Most often, however, Adventist didn’t spend much time on that part of the verse. It was the part about obedience to the commandments that got the most attention. Thus, as we noted earlier, Uriah Smith underlined the word “keep” when commenting on the text in January 1888, and G. I. Butler did the same for “keep the commandments of God in May 1889.

Such an emphasis followed from their view that the Sabbath truth, in the context of the mark of the beast, would be God’s last message to a world ripe for the Second Coming. It is slight wonder that such an interpretation and emphasis often led traditional Adventism into the realm of legalism. Such implications lay at the foundation of the vocabulary of their belief. Words such as “keep,” “do,” “obey,” “law” and “commandments” spelled, in their minds, the significance of the Adventist distinctive contribution to Christianity.

It was that interpretation of Revelation 14:12 that came under fire in 1888. Out of Minneapolis would flow a new understanding of the central text in Seventh-day Adventist history.

Jones hinted at the new interpretation in December 1887. “The only way in which they can ever attain to harmony with the righteous law of God,” he wrote, “is through the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ. . . . In the third angel’s message is embodied the supreme truth and the supreme righteousness.”

Note what Jones had done. He had equated the “the supreme truth” with “the commandments of God.” and “the supreme righteousness” with “the faith of Jesus,” which he implied was faith in Jesus.

At this point we should merely note that the Greek phrase at the end of Revelation 14:12 can be translated as either faith of Jesus or faith in Jesus, as represented in the transition of today’s text from the New American Standard Bible and many other versions.

Thought question for today: What are the implications of faith in Jesus versus faith of Jesus? What difference could those implications make in your life?