Seal of God
What is the seal of God? Many have long taught with much vigor and elaborate explanations that it is the seventh-day Sabbath. And while I am not denying that it involves this to a great extent, I have a growing conviction that we might actually be masking over other truths that may be even more vital to our salvation with our obsession over convincing others to keep one certain day of worship.
The key proof text for making the seventh-day Sabbath as the seal of God is what is commonly referred to as the first angel's message. And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters." (Revelation 14:6-7) This verse is then directly linked to the fourth commandment spoken by God from Mt. Sinai which has very similar language. It is then explained from human illustrations that a seal has three identifying characteristics of authority which are all found in the fourth commandment, which in turn is reflected in the first angel's message.
It is then pointed out that the first angel's message is in sharp contrast with the mark of the beast as referenced in the third angel's message, for receiving that mark will result in the worst suffering imaginable involving fire and brimstone and torture. This is where the terrors of the second death are most often taught as being a direct infliction of punishment from the hand of God Himself against all who have refused to embrace His provisions of mercy for them to escape such a fate. God is most often presented as offering humanity a 'carrot and stick' option – if you agree with Me I will save you but if you agree with My enemy I will treat you so harshly and viciously that any threats from my enemies against you will pale in comparison.
This line of reasoning has long been used to terrify people into embracing what Adventists have long claimed is 'the truth'. We have made the seventh-day Sabbath and our understanding of the state of the dead the core foundations on which we define our unique identity. Yet the more I study the Bible for myself and listen to the guidance of the Spirit of God, promised to each one willing to be led into all truth, the more uncomfortable I am becoming with this disturbing presentation. Increasingly I see this method as blocking us from trusting God rather than drawing us to Him as Jesus said He would do.
I believe the time is ripe to begin speaking the real truth about God publicly and to turn away from the dark opinions we have held about His character that have severely damaged His reputation for so long. Sadly, those who refuse to view these proof texts from any other perspective than the current standard used in mainstream evangelism often deny that the hour of God's judgment, as spoken of in the first angel's message, has anything to do with the evaluation of God by all those He has created, whether they are lost or saved. Such ones seem very afraid to entertain the thought that the core of the great controversy we are embroiled in centers around Satan's vicious charges against God that must be dealt with before the safety of the universe can ever be secured. They insist that the issue of judgment is strictly about God imposing sentences on all His subjects based on their beliefs and behaviors, and any notion of God Himself being judged is just simply heresy.
However, I have come to the place where I can no longer embrace such thinking myself. The more I discern the larger context of the great war between Christ and Satan the more clear it is becoming to me that the central issue that must be resolved are the charges of Satan over God's character and the way He runs His government. The involvement of everyone else, including sinners being examined in the judgment, is much more along the line of cross-examination of witnesses rather than sinners being the ones at the center of the trial.
I am seeing now that when we make salvation out to be all about us and simply getting us into heaven instead of about God's reputation, we are playing directly into a scheme of the enemy who wants to keep us blinded to the real issues. He also intends to prevent us from participating effectively in God's defense. It is becoming more clear that our thinking and theology that makes us the center of the judgment rather than God, actually increases our spirit of selfishness rather than curing us of it; and selfishness itself is the core problem of sin that we need deliverance from. As long as we make sin out to be the breaking of rules that earns us punishments, and righteousness to be the earning of rewards as so many have assumed, we are repeating many of the lies of Satan that he has used to defame God's glory.
The three angels messages of Revelation 14 are about bringing glory to God's reputation. But I'm afraid that in the way we have long presented God using these messages that in fact we may be actually detracting from His glory – His reputation – far more than have enhanced it. I believe it is time we reexamine our assumptions, challenge our messages and humble ourselves to be made aware of how far we may have strayed from the true gospel once delivered to the saints. In our enthusiasm to promote our uniqueness as seventh-day Sabbath keepers we may have actually been sucked into defaming God's reputation as much as we have intended to do just the opposite.
This morning I decided to look up the word 'seal' for myself in the Bible to see how it is used and what its implications might be that would help me better understand God's perspective about this term. What I found was both revealing and affirming that what the Spirit has been leading me towards really is the truth as it is in Jesus. I found that the nuances of this word include much of what I have been starting to see now for a number of years, and interestingly that very little emphasis regarding the seal of God involves the Sabbath directly. Rather what I am discovering is that the seal of God has far more to do with the attitude and state of mind and character that is found within the hearts of those who allow God to seal them with His own character than it has to do with behaviors or religious practices.
At the same time it is also becoming even more clear to me that the mark of the beast, that most mysterious and dreaded curse bantered about in eschatology, similarly has to do with the shape of the character of those embracing these very views of God that we so often rely on in our current method of teaching. These two opposing opinions about God that are in sharp contrast with each other, really determine what determines which side we will be found on much more than which day we attend church and teach others to observe.
Am I implying that it is not very important to observe or teach the truth about the seventh-day Sabbath of God? Not in the slightest. What I am trying to say here is that I believe we well may have obscured some of the most powerful truths that the Sabbath was meant to portray by the way in which we have perverted both its practice as well as how we have misrepresented the character of the God who gave us the Sabbath. If we promote keeping the Sabbath in ways that increase fear rather than perceiving it as the most incredible gift of love and life as it was originally, we come dangerously close to the same kind of blasphemy committed by the Jews when they crucified the very God they claimed to worship and then rushed hope in order to carefully observe the Sabbath commandment of that very God.
But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'You shall surely observe My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.' (Exodus 31:13)
I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live. Also I gave them My Sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. (Ezekiel 20:11-12)
Sanctify My Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God. (Ezekiel 20:20)
Notice the common denominator in each of these verses. The Sabbath is presented by God as a signal to all outside observers that those who observe this practice are doing so because of their intimate connection with a God who is sanctifying them. Of course we must address our misconceptions about what it means to be sanctified as well, for I am finding that nearly every religious term has been distorted in its definition over the centuries causing us to be very confused about many things related to salvation. But even so, I think it is quite clear from these passages that the emphasis is on the Sabbath being a sign of a relationship with God, not a means of producing merits by which to impress God or other notions we have brought into it. The focus is on what God is doing for and in us far more than what we are doing of ourselves.
The Jews, to whom the Sabbath was given on Mt. Sinai as part of the Decalogue, failed to grasp this most important truth. As history clearly shows, they made the very same mistakes that we have fallen into by making the keeping of the Law the basis of their assumed salvation instead of making their unique relationship with God the center of their focus. Thus they came to the place where they were so rule oriented that they could not recognize those who were reflective of the God of heaven while they confidently considered themselves experts on the subject truth.
Shortly before the Jews committed their highest act of treason against the government of God by crucifying His own Son, Jesus said these revealing words that reflect the message of the above passages about the Sabbath.
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:1-3)
What will we really know when we come to know God and His Son? I don't think it could be brought out any clearer than the way John himself expressed this truth later in some of his letters.
We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16)
I don't believe there can be any clearer explanation of the gospel than what is found in the book of 1 John. As I have meditated on this little book I find it to be the most concentrated revelation of the real truth about reality and the conflict between God and Satan written anywhere. And the explicit message repeated over and over by John can't be missed – we should not deceive ourselves into assuming we are following God if we resist the very essence of who God is in our own relationships with those around us. To know God is to know love. So why do we rely so much on fear-oriented messages to frighten people into keeping the Sabbath?
By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:10-11)
So, what does all this have to do with the seal of God or the keeping of the right day as the Sabbath? It has everything to do with it – which is precisely why we may find it so difficult to admit the truth. The real meaning of the Sabbath is not just which day of the week it is, rather it is far, far more importantly, what view of God is reflected in the disposition of those claiming to obey God and who keep His commandments.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him. (1 John 3:14-19)
As the verses quoted previously inextricably link the keeping of the Sabbath to knowing that it is the God of heaven who is the one sanctifying us, it becomes clear that it is vital we understand the kind of God who is doing this transformation/sanctification. If we harbor and promote misconceptions about the kind of God we claim to serve, then those same misapprehensions will mark our own lives and will serve to bear false witness against Him when He comes into the hour of His own judgment.
What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, "that You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged." (Romans 3:3-4)
I am afraid that possibly we have presented the three angel's messages to the world in such a way that we have contradicted the very core meaning of the first angel's message regarding giving glory to God. By mingling into our teachings misapprehensions about God through our presentations of the Sabbath, we often confuse the hearts of people about the kind of God who gave us the Sabbath. What I have been learning is that the glory of God has mainly to do with the opinion others have about His reputation. So if we present God in ways that reinforce the false charges against Him by His enemies, we are in fact taking away from His glory instead of giving Him glory, even while we may be trying to help others see the importance of the Sabbath given to us by that same God.
I believe this mixed message we have given the world related to the Sabbath truth is why we are also so confused about how to experience the Sabbath ourselves. For too long the Sabbath has been overshadowed by all sorts of rules and regulations from our own traditions along with carryovers from Jewish traditions and laws. But I believe this problem is often rooted in failing to perceive the more fundamental truth about the nature of God's real character – His glory – and that confusion has spilled over into how we relate to the Sabbath. As long as we harbor dark views of God linked to insinuations by Satan about what He is like, we will never be able to come into a proper appreciation of the enormous power available to us through the blessing of the Sabbath. We will fail to actually give God the glory that could be revealed if we embraced the truth about Him as it is in Jesus.
I believe as we open ourselves up to changing our minds about the character of God, to see it in its true beauty as revealed in the life and teachings of His Son Jesus, we will also radically alter our relationship to and our concepts about the Sabbath truth and can then place it in its true context as Jesus demonstrated. The Sabbath is not just about a certain day of the week or the external activities we do or don't do on that day nearly as much as we have thought. Rather, the central issue that needs to be focused on is the kind of God that the true Sabbath reveals Him to be. Then the world can begin to see resulting reflections of that truth in the lives of those claiming to observe this unique sign. It is only those who reflect the truth about God's character who can be sealed with the seal of God, not those who promote the 'truth', whether it be the Sabbath or any other doctrine, but with a spirit that sees God as anything less than the passionately loving, non-violent God that Jesus revealed.
Let me share two more references here that reveal the true nature of the kind of seal God has in mind that should become central in our understanding of what the Sabbath is all about.
"Who is this coming up from the wilderness Leaning on her beloved?" "Beneath the apple tree I awakened you; there your mother was in labor with you, there she was in labor and gave you birth.
Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; if a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised." (Song of Solomon 8:5-7)
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
If we continue to promote and teach and practice the Sabbath without allowing this underlying fundamental principle of love to permeate everything we teach and live, then we will be found to be just the same as were the Jews who crucified Jesus while fully confident they were in harmony with God's will. (Read again 1 Corinthians 13) John makes this very clear as he tries to alert us to the extreme danger of trying to live the external life of a supposed Christian while failing to allow the true nature of our Father to be reflected from our own hearts into all the relationships of our lives.
(see next page for more references)
Following is a list of references I came across in relation to the idea of a seal in my research. For those wanting to explore this further I will briefly list them here.
Gen. 38:18 He said, "What pledge shall I give you?" And she said, "Your seal and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand." So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him.
Exodus 28:21 The stones shall be according to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, according to their names; they shall be like the engravings of a seal, each according to his name for the twelve tribes.
Exodus 28:36 You shall also make a plate of pure gold and shall engrave on it, like the engravings of a seal, 'Holy to the LORD.'
Esther 8:8 "Now you write to the Jews as you see fit, in the king's name, and seal it with the king's signet ring; for a decree which is written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's signet ring may not be revoked."
Job 38:14 It is changed like clay under the seal; And they stand forth like a garment.
Song 8:6 "Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.
Isa. 8:16 Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.
Eze. 28:12 Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, You had the seal of perfection, Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
John 3:33 He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true.
John 6:27 Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.
Rom. 4:11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them,
Rom. 15:28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain.
1 Cor. 9:2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
2 Tim. 2:19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness."
Rev. 7:2-3 And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads." (ref. Eze. 9)
Rev. 9:4 They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.