How We Know When Jesus Will Return?  ©2008 Herbert Douglass

(Sermon given on 9 February 2008)


Along a New York street, two men were observing two other men, each of whom was carrying a sandwich sign—the kind that have a message on the front as well as on the back. One man’s sign read: “The world is coming to an end!” The other, “The world will never end!” One of the bystanders said to the other, “One’s a pessimist and the other’s an optimist. But I am not sure which is which.”


That’s our twenty-first century dilemma! On one hand, we have experts who shout that we are running out of food, out of fresh air, out of livable space, and that nuclear explosion is just around the next terrorist corner. On the other hand, equally trained experts argue convincingly that the future never looked brighter!


Do Adventists have a clue as to who’s right? The answer has everything to do with where one will spend eternity!


So let’s talk about it!  How many would like to know when Jesus will return? Of course, we know that probation for everyone living will have closed before Jesus returns. So, the next question: how many would like to know when their probation will be closed?


Jesus has already told us. But we also know that Satan will do all he can to confuse us. In fact, we are told that he will be furious with God’s faithful when they get serious about these questions: Let’s read Revelation 12:17: “The dragon [Satan] was wroth [furious] with the woman [the church] and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”


We all know what it is like to feel the dragon’s breath—the pain of injury or loss of loved ones; the dark clouds of discouragement when jobs are sent overseas or when a loved one disappoints us; the long nights when anxieties press hard—the list can get long. And the only refuge we have is the peace and presence of Jesus and His Holy Spirit, just to get through the night.


But John the Revelator has more to say about our responsibilities in these days of Satan’s fury. Revelation 7 opens with these words, “I saw four angels standing at four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who has been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, ‘Do not hard the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.” Rev 7:1-3.


What on earth could John be describing? Why is God holding back the Seven Last Plagues?  Why is He telling angels to “Hold, hold back the north wind of nuclear destruction? Hold back the south wind of last-day terror and destruction!” Why? God’s people are not ready! Hold back the east wind of satanic fury--until God’s people are ready to carry out their last assignment. Hold the west wind of human madness!” Why? God’s people have not caught on yet as to where last-day battles are really to be fought!


Hold the winds until God’s people are ready to be sealed; hold the winds until His people are ready for His stamp of approval, hold the winds until His people are ready for God to use them in His final warning to earth’s last generation.”


One of these days, God’s waiting loyalists will have caught on as to what the final battle is really like.  In the 14th chapter of Revelation, John picks up this theme again and highlights why God holds the winds of the Seven Last Plagues until the sealing is finished. Here John describes those who are sealed in chapter 7—“those who had his name and His Father’s name on their foreheads” for “in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of God.”


What will identify God’s loyalists in these last days? Sabbath-keeping, tithe paying, health reformers? Yes and No! After all, Sabbath-keeping, health-reforming tithe payers once crucified God! John goes at it in a different way—He says that God’s people will have the Father’s name written in their foreheads.  They will be sealed with His approval.  


Many products can’t be sold without a seal of approval—the seal that tells the world that the product has passed all the tests—such as the yellow Underwriter’s Seal on the bottom of electrical appliances or in the imprint in the plastic casing.


What’s the importance of a seal?  Every gasoline pump has one, as well as every elevator. No seal—no service! What’s the value of a signature? Ask any art collector, or clock collector, ask any world-class violinist as he checks his Stradivarius. Why do people buy Tiger Wood golf clubs or Venus Williams tennis rackets. Or look for Pierre Cardin ties and Tommy Hilfiger sweaters or Gucci shoes? Or when looking for a reliable washing machine, Consumer Reports say Kenmore; or for a lawn mower, they say, Craftsman or Toro.      


For most products, the name means everything. It means that the product carries the endorsement of someone who cares about quality, someone who can be trusted. O.J. Simpson used to make many millions from endorsements, but not anymore.


Remember those TV ads for Hanes clothing? Can’t you see that determined female inspector on the assembly line, with all of her formidable charm, looking over each item, and saying: “The quality goes in before the name goes on!”


Down here in these days of the held winds, that is what God is telling the universe when He writes His name in the foreheads of His faithful. “Listen to them, He is saying, “You can trust them and what they say. I am proud to give them my seal of approval. The quality goes in before the name goes on!”


What could be more wonderful than to have our Heavenly Father write His name across your forehead! Is this a group you want to be apart of, or what? With that signature, God is saying, “Here are people who have let my Holy Spirit do His work in them—people who indeed are telling the truth about Me! I am not embarrassed by how they represent Me and they have my seal of approval.”


Later in Revelation 22, John describes the redeemed on the other side: “They shall see His face, and His Name shall be on their foreheads.” Some future!


We call this process of having God’s signature on our lives, the “sealing work.” This is what all heaven is focusing on today. And that is why Jesus still waits. And that is why probation still lingers. And this is where the real last-day battle will be fought. Satan knows it, God knows it. But do we?


Let’s look further at what is meant by the sealing work? After all, it is the one event that is delaying the return of Jesus.  And when the sealing is complete, probation will close!


What is this seal that makes Satan so angry? Listen to this wisdom: “Just as soon as the people of God are sealed in their foreheads—it is not any seal or mark that can be seen, but a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved—just as soon as God’s people are sealed and ready for the shaking, it will come.” LDE:219.


What does it mean to be settled into the truth? First, they know what the final issue is that separates those who “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” from those who “marveled and followed the beast”(Rev 13:3). The final issue will distinguish the biblical Sabbath from the papal Sunday. But there is much more!


Sealed people have “settled into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually.” This truly is the work of faith, joining the head with the heart. They have studied out the reasons for their commitment to God’s calls for loyal Christians and they have discovered the validating assurances of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The intellectual grasp of truth has reached its transforming purpose—men and women have developed characters that will vindicate God’s wisdom as He waits for the purpose of the gospel to be fully developed in the lives of men and women.


Why can God be sure that He can seal these people? He knows these men and women will not disappoint Him! Why is He so sure? Because they are “so settled into the truth. . . they cannot be moved.”

Whatever Satan throws at them, they cannot be moved! We can think of some who were so settled into the truth that they could not be move—Enoch, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, John, Paul, Peter—and many more through the centuries.  That is the promise that hovers over everyone listening to my voice.


Jesus stood face-to-face with Satan and overcame him—He was settled into the truth and could not be moved. That is the promise the Jesus holds up for all of us in these last days.


I am sure that all of us have habits of the past that no longer are habits today. I am not thinking only of alcohol or drug or smoking addictions. I am thinking of social habits that are probably worse than those addictions—such as lying and cheating, or jealousy and envy that have hurt others, of laziness that upsets spouses. And you can make your own lists of what you once were.  The point of the sealing is that anything that does not reflect the character of Jesus must be worked out of the life by the power of the Holy Spirit—or the whole universe will see that you can easily be moved with these temptations.


This settling into the truth is not something that can be done after one dies or after the close of probation. When we are resurrected from the grave (and everyone will one day be resurrected), we will come up with the same disposition and habits that we had when we died. No replays, no mulligans!


The Seal of God is not a trivial or peripheral subject. It is not a subject for theologians only. For instance, many life-long Sabbath keepers will receive the Mark of the Beast and not God’s seal! We are talking about something far more important than which day we worship on! We are talking about those who have settled into the truth so that no trial, no Satanic arrow, no threat of death can move them. That is why Ellen White wrote unambiguously that the Seal “will be placed upon those only who bear a likeness to Christ in character.” LDE:221.


Probation closes when the last honest seekers of truth come to this place when they are settled into the measure of truth they know. And for this moment, all heaven and unfallen worlds are waiting. 


Why is this so important in the finishing of the Great Controversy? Because now God and angels and unfallen worlds know who can be trusted with eternal life.  They know that the sealed ones are those who never again rebel against the will of God. Their habit patterns, their neuro pathways, are so settled into truth they never would be moved throughout eternity to say “No” to God!


No wonder those who see God have His name written in their forehead—those heads that are settled forever to think and do God’s way. They have lived through the experiment of what happens to this Planet when men and women do things Satan’s way. Never again!  Never again will anyone from  Planet Earth say No! to God! Forevermore, they can never be moved from their willing loyalty to God who can be trusted.


One of these days there will be a great wedding when the bride finally settles into the truth that she wants to be married to Jesus. No more unsureness, no more hesitation—she is settled into the truth that she can be trusted.  Jesus has been standing at the altar for a very long time!  He has been waiting for His bride to get dressed! 


Wonderful words that John records in Revelation 19:7:--the thundering praises of the great multitude: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb [Jesus} has come and His wife has made herself ready.”


But there are some things a bridegroom cannot do. I have never heard of a man dressing his bride!.  What was Jesus waiting for? He was waiting for His Bride to accept her responsibility:


“And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.. Then He said: Write, ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” Rev 19:7-9.


Dear friends: we all our part of this picture. We all are called to be the Bride at our Lord’s wedding. We are called to be responsible for getting ourselves dressed with fine linen which is the “righteous acts of the saints.”


Jesus is waiting for more than our promises. He is waiting for His people to act like they do not want to continue embarrassing Him! He provides all the help that a Holy Groom can do. He even lays out the clothes. But He won’t force His Bride to live out the “righteous acts of the saints.”


But in another sense, we all are invited to the wedding feast. I know how you all feel when invited to a wedding, especially when you are invited to the reception! One of these days now, God’s faithful will see the long table, decorated with heaven’s beautiful flowers. Wedgewood china, but even better; at each chair, Rodgers silverware, but even better. The music will be violins and cellos and clarinets like you have never heard before.


And fathers and mothers will start looking for namecards with their children’s names on them. And husbands and wives will search for each other. And children will search for their parents.


It will be a terrible moment when one realizes that someone who was once on the invitation list is not therebecause they did not settle into the truth while they still had time .  There is still time for everyone here to say Yes to their Heavenly Bridegroom.


Everyone here still has time to get their future settled. How? By determining today to sink deeper into the arms of God, abiding in Him as He wants to abide in you, come what may.  Learn it, love it, live it! 


Please don’t let Jesus die for you in vain!  Anyone who says to God today that you will keep trusting His promises to keep you from falling, that you are serious about wearing those wedding garments—you will be at that wedding feast, in your place, for your loved ones to find you. You will have His signature of approval written across your forehead.


 Is there anyone here today who, for the first time, wants to tell Jesus that He did not die in vain for you?