These special INSIGHTS accept the Sabbath School Lessons produced by the General Conference, and thank the Lord for them; our contribution is simply to inquire where the 1888 message of Christ’s righteousness may offer a valuable “insight” or comment.
Ellen White was overjoyed with that message of 120 years ago. She recognized that its true identity was (and is) the long-awaited “beginning” of the Loud Cry of Revelation 18.
But as the 1888 era drew to its close with the message largely unappreciated and rejected (cf. Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 234, 235), she declared that “the disappointment of Christ is beyond description” (Review and Herald, Dec. 15, 1904). The “disappointment” was because Jesus longed for His people to get ready for His second coming, which would mean “the marriage of the Lamb.” His eagerness as a divine Bridegroom was the cause of the “disappointment.”
Our Lesson brings us to the experience of Jesus on His cross when He screamed in agony, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Never had any human being before experienced this total abandonment of God; even the multitudinous victims of Roman crucifixions never experienced the horror that Jesus did. It’s true that Moses had declared that anyone hanged on a tree is “accursed of God” (Deut. 21:21-23), yet something that God had done “in Christ” had spared all those criminals who died in ancient Rome from actually experiencing that awful “accursedness.” Romans 5 makes it clear:
“God’s act of grace is out of all proportion to that one man’s wrongdoing [Adam’s]. For if the wrongdoing of that one man brought death upon so many [everyone!], its effect is vastly exceeded by the grace of God and the gift that came to so many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ.
“And again, the gift of God is not to be compared in its effect with that one man’s sin [Adam’s]; for the judicial action, following on the one offence, resulted in a verdict of condemnation, but the act of grace, following upon so many misdeeds, resulted in a verdict of acquittal. ...
“It follows, then, that as the result of one misdeed was condemnation for all people, so the result of one righteous act is acquittal and life for all” (vss. 15-18, NEB).
Every pagan criminal executed on a cross by ancient Rome benefited from that “judicial ... acquittal” in God’s sight. None was paying the final price for his sin or crime, whatever it was.
So has every sinner that has ever died; God did not “impute” his trespasses against him (see 2 Cor. 5:19).
The punishment for sin is not now; it comes at the end of the 1000 years of Revelation 20, when all the lost who have come up in the second resurrection gather around the Great White Throne for the final judgment.
Then each will finally realize that his true name has always been “Esau,” the man who had the “birthright” that no one could have taken from him, but which he “despised” and “sold” for a mess of pottage (Gen. 25:34; Heb. 12:16, 17).
Every soul who will finally perish in the “second death” will be a soul whom Jesus has always loved since his/her birth, yes, even from conception (cf. Psalm 139:13-16). In the earth made new, God will wipe away all tears from people’s eyes (Rev. 21:4); but surely He Himself will shed tears before that time—when He has to watch the “Esau’s” of all time perish in their second death which they have chosen—which He Himself has already died in their behalf on His cross.
It’s time for us now to learn to appreciate the “breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that [we] might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph 3:14-21).
This larger heart appreciation of agape is the preparation for the close of probation and translation (without seeing death, 1 Thess. 4:15-17) which the Lord intended for us 120 years ago when He “sent a most precious message” to us, but which “we” did not appreciate at that time. We made “ourselves” like the ancient Israelites who could not enter their Promised Land because of their unbelief (cf. Heb 3:7-19).
Jesus Christ has become one of us; as an eager Bridegroom, He longs for His “marriage of the Lamb” to come soon (cf. Rev. 19:7, 8).
—Robert J. Wieland