“Before the final visitation of God’s judgments upon the earth (the seven last plagues) there will be among the people of the Lord such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times.” The Great Controversy, 464.
According to this statement by Ellen White, primitive godliness has not existed since the times of the apostles in the first century, but it will exist again before the close of probation.
Under the training of Christ, His disciples had finally come to recognize their need of receiving the Holy Spirit. One of the first things Jesus said to His disciples after His resurrection was “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Under the Spirit’s teaching during the next few weeks, the disciples received their final qualification to go forth in their life work.
Incidentally, the disciples’ mission was second in importance only to the mission of Christ Himself. “No longer were they ignorant and uncultured. No longer were they a collection of independent units or discordant, conflicting elements.” The Acts of the Apostles, 45. That is what they had been during the entire time of Jesus’ ministry. Before Jesus called them and even throughout His ministry, from a worldly standpoint they were looked upon as ignorant, uncultured men. They had not been called from among the higher classes of society but from among the lowly, a collection of independent units. They were discordant, without harmony or unity, conflicting with one another.
There are many churches throughout the world today of all denominations that are simply a collection of independent units such as were the twelve disciples while they were being trained for Jesus. But after receiving His Spirit they were united and ready to carry out the plan of spreading the Gospel.
I have often asked myself what it will take for those professing Christ today to no longer be a collection of independent units. Finally, in the upper room they got it. Acts 2:46 says, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”
In Acts 4 we are told that there were several thousand Christians at that time. They were of one heart and one soul, no longer a collection of discordant independent units to the point that “… neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common” (Acts 4:32).
There was only one way that this experience was possible and is possible today. “Christ filled their thoughts; the advancement of His kingdom was their aim. In mind and character they had become like their Master, and men ‘took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus’ (Acts 4:13).” The Acts of the Apostles, 45.
At this time the church was possessed of one common interest that controlled everybody, which was the success of the mission that had been entrusted to them. “… after Christ’s ascension His enthronement in His mediatorial kingdom was signalized by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit was given. Christ’s witnesses proclaimed the power of the risen Saviour. The light of heaven penetrated the darkened minds of those who had been deceived by the enemies of Christ. They now saw Him exalted to be ‘a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 5:31).” Christ’s Object Lessons, 120.
So the very people that had been deceived, and some of those were directly responsible for the crucifixion of Christ, “… saw Him encircled with the glory of heaven, with infinite treasures in His hands to bestow upon all who would turn from their rebellion.” Ibid.
Jesus wanted to give these infinite treasures to anybody who would turn from his rebellion against the government of heaven. As the apostles set forth the glory of Christ, people became convicted of their sinful condition and that they were wretched and polluted, but they saw at the same time that Jesus Christ was somebody who could take their pollution, wretchedness, and guilt away. As Christ was lifted up as an all-powerful mediator and as they saw that He was the very same one who had born humiliation and suffering and death itself in order that they might not perish and to be given the opportunity to have everlasting life, they began to realize something of His power and majesty. People by the thousands started to stretch forth their hands and say, “I believe,” “This is what I need,” “This is who I need.”
The people who accepted Jesus as their Saviour were compelled in their spirit to relate to other people the message of hope and salvation they had heard. Within one generation, the glad tidings of a Saviour who had not only died for their sins, but who had risen and gone to heaven where He was interceding to God for His children, had spread to the utter most bounds of the entire inhabited world.
Colossians 1:5, 6: “… because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth.” The church beheld converts flocking to her from every direction. Those who were already believers were reconverted. People who had been living in sin united with Christians in seeking for the pearl of great price and the prophecy of Zechariah 12:8 was fulfilled: “In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the Lord before them.”
Every Christian looked and saw in his brother or in his sister the divine similitude, the divine image, of benevolence and love and there was only one interest that prevailed throughout the entire church, one object that swallowed up all others. All hearts beat in harmony and their one ambition was to reveal the likeness of the character of Christ in their life and to labor for the enlargement of His kingdom.
The divine design was that the church was to be a reincarnation of Christ in every believer. At that time the entire congregation was animated by the Spirit of Christ, for they had found the pearl of great price.
This was the experience of the early church. According to the statement in The Great Controversy, 464, that very same thing is going to happen again. Ellen White describes it this way: “These scenes are to be repeated, and with greater power.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 121.
The question is, When these scenes are repeated again with greater power, would you like to be part of it? The latter rain is going to be more abundant than the former rain. Christ again is going to be revealed to this world in His fullness by the power of the Holy Spirit. People again are going to receive and see the pearl of great price and respond to its call.
The problem is that we are a long way from that kind of condition or experience today. However, we do not need to be discouraged because that was also the condition of the disciples. The world then was not that much different from the world now. In the ancient world, similar to the modern, position meant self-aggrandizement. The masses simply existed for the benefit of the ruling classes. Those with influence, wealth or education used their position as the means for getting control of the masses of the people, believing they were to think, to enjoy, and to decide and rule, while the lower classes were to obey and serve. The condition of the population of the Roman world at the time of Christ was terrible. The majority were slaves with no rights whatsoever and did not do much more than what their superiors told them to do. The right of a man to think for himself was not recognized. That was the world that Jesus Christ was born into.
Jesus came to establish a kingdom that was based on a completely different principle, and His disciples had a hard time learning that. They were still trying to operate on the principles of this world as we see in Matthew 20:20–23: “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, ‘What do you wish?’ She said to Him, ‘Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered and said, ‘You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They said to Him, ‘We are able.’ So He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.’ ”
Now, notice verse 24: “And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers.” They knew that the highest position came with power, authority and control.
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you [My followers]; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave …’ ” (verse 25).
Christ’s kingdom is set up on a different principle from the kingdoms of this world. Jesus did not call His disciples to authority. He called them to service, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (verse 28).
All who call themselves Christian are not called to authority but to service. This service means that the strong are called to bear the infirmities of the weak, and that those with power, position, talent or education have a greater obligation because of those benefits to serve their fellows.
Paul told the Corinthian church, “For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:15). Jesus set the example. He was a caretaker and a burden bearer. When you study His life you find that He shared the poverty of the lowest class and that on behalf of His disciples, He practiced self-denial.
The principle on which Jesus acted is the principle which is to actuate the members of the church, His body. Those who are greatest in the kingdom of Christ will follow His example and act as servants of the flock. Paul said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more” (I Corinthians 9:19) and “Just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved” (I Corinthians 10:33).
Christ’s kingdom is different from all other worldly kingdoms. It is based not on the principle of authority, but on the principle of service. The higher the position of leadership, the greater the responsibility to be a servant of all.
There is another way that Christ’s kingdom is different from earthly kingdoms. Romans 14:12 says, “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” In verse 5 we read, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.”
These texts influenced the congressional testimonies of one of the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist faith regarding the Sabbath/Sunday controversy. In 1888, 1890 and 1891, Elder A.T. Jones went to Congress to testify against the institution of a national Sunday law. During the debate, he was asked if the tables were turned and the majority of the people in the country kept Sabbath, would you support a law enforcing that? Elder Jones responded that it would not be all right. Even if 90% of the people in the country were resting on Saturday, it would still be wrong to enforce a Sabbath law. Why? In the last part of Romans 14:5 it says, “Let each be convinced in his own mind.”
In matters of conscience, no human being is to attempt to control another’s mind, judge for another, or prescribe somebody else’s duty. God gives to every human being freedom to think and follow his own convictions and each must give account of ourselves to God.
In Christ’s kingdom there is no lordly oppression, no compulsion of behavior. In fact, the angels of heaven do not come to this world to give orders, to rule or to exercise authority. They come as ministering spirits to sinners who are lost. If all of God’s professed people would receive the light that shines on them from God’s word and receive the truth, we would reach that state of unity for which Christ prayed. “… endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:3–5).
The early church reached that condition and received the Holy Spirit, resulting in having the bond of peace. They were of one body, one spirit, one hope, one calling, one lord, one faith and one baptism. It has been almost 2000 years since that condition has existed in the church.
What is preventing that condition today?
One reason for lack of unity among God’s people is the many people striving to become a center of influence themselves. Like the disciples, “Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest” (Luke 22:24). People now say that we are not like that. However, in Lift Him Up, 296, it says: “We have need of divine illumination. Every individual is striving to become a center of influence, and until God works for His people, they will not see that subordination to God is the only safety for any soul. His transforming grace upon human hearts will lead to unity that has not yet been realized, for all who are assimilated to Christ will be in harmony with one another. The Holy Spirit will create unity.”
To reach that condition is going to take a lot of self examination and hard work. All need to pray, “Lord, what is it in me that is keeping it from happening.” The first job is to go to the Lord and ask Him to change me.
I was always taught as a child growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church that the Bible was our only creed. However, Ellen White taught, “The prayer of Christ to His Father, contained in the seventeenth chapter of John, is to be our church creed.” Ibid.
Jesus said, “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (John 17:11).
He was not willing for His children to remain a collection of independent units and prayed to His Father that His disciples be one just as He and His father are one. There is much instruction in this prayer recorded in verses 12 to 19, but notice verses 20, 21: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word (every Christian in the world); that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
Nowhere do you see in any nation of the world controlled by the devil’s principles a situation where there is a group of people that are one, one in heart, one in mind, and one in spirit. To move forward as one is only possible under the control of the Holy Spirit. Instead of unity, you see collections of independent units that are discordant and conflicting, which indicates to the whole world that those people are still part of the devil’s kingdom. It is impossible for demonic spirits to create unity. It is only possible under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said, “… that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (verses 21–23).
When this happens, the desire will be fulfilled that Jesus expressed in His prayer when He prayed, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (verse 24). For 2000 years this has been the prayer of all who look for the return of Jesus.
“Christ is the uniting link in the golden chain which binds believers together in God. There must be no separating in this great testing time. … The children of God constitute one united whole in Christ, who presents His cross as the center of attraction. All who believe are one in Him.” Lift Him Up, 296.
Imagine what could happen if God’s people around the world right now, who are mostly just a collection of independent units, would receive the Holy Spirit and become united with one heart and one spirit. When that happens, there will be unity of action.
“Unity of action is necessary to success. An army in battle would become confused and be defeated if the individual soldiers should move according to their own impulses instead of acting in harmony under the direction of a competent general.” Testimonies, vol. 6, 139.
“Moving according to their own impulses” describes much of the work today and why we see so much defeat. Individual soldiers are moving according to their own impulses instead of acting in harmony under the direction of a competent general. However, “A few converted souls, uniting for one grand purpose under one head, will achieve victories in every encounter. …
“Those who are not yoked up with Christ always pull the wrong way. They possess a temperament that belongs to man’s carnal nature, and at the least excuse passion is wide awake to meet passion. This causes a collision; and loud voices are heard in committee meetings, in board meetings, and in public assemblies …” Ibid.
One of the marks of a mature Christian is knowing how to deal with somebody who does not agree with you and thinks you are wrong.
Jesus told Nicodemus, a prominent leader in the Jewish church, that there is no chance of being in the kingdom of heaven unless you are born of the Holy Spirit (see John 3). This does not mean receiving some wonderful feeling, because the first thing the Holy Spirit does is reprove of sins (John 15). If you are really serious about receiving the Holy Spirit, you will be willing to be rebuked. An unwillingness to be corrected is one of the reasons that receiving the Holy Spirit is not as sought after as it should be.
It is never pleasant for anybody to have mistakes pointed out, but the Lord wants to make changes in your life, even if it hurts initially. God is going to finish the work He commenced in each life (see Philippians 1:6). He cannot take anyone to heaven while they hold on to any sin. Therefore He has to tell me what needs to be changed and I have to be willing to receive that discipline or that rebuke and be willing to change.
After the ascension of Christ, a 10-day prayer meeting was held in the upper room, where the disciples prayed to the Lord and spent time making things right with each other. After that time “… they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). When this group of people had the unity of spirit, the Holy Spirit came and the world was changed in one generation and it has never been the same since then.
That same experience is needed before the latter rain can fall and Jesus can return. If you are willing to be changed and would like to be part of such an experience, pray earnestly and often that Jesus will change you.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.