The purpose of the following passages and quotes is to paint a graphic picture of the dire consequences of sin. Some of these descriptions are yet future; some have passed and are part of history. This is tragic, yet factual history. Yet, the first two descriptions—one past and one future—are jarringly similar. The setting for the first description is found in Revelation.
“Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. … Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” Revelation 20:7–9, 11, 12.
The Great Controversy, 666, 667, expounds on these verses, revealing what this multitude of people, these nations, are experiencing during this time. “As soon as the books of record are opened, and the eye of Jesus looks upon the wicked, they are conscious of every sin which they have ever committed. They see just where their feet diverged from the path of purity and holiness, just how far pride and rebellion have carried them in the violation of the law of God. The seductive temptations which they encouraged by indulgence in sin, the blessings perverted, the messengers of God despised, the warnings rejected, the waves of mercy beaten back by the stubborn, unrepentant heart—all appear as if written in letters of fire. …” This following sentence is the one I wish us to view with our mind’s eye, to experience in our imagination.
“And now before the swaying multitude are revealed the final scenes. …
“Satan, his angels, and his subjects have no power to turn from the picture of their own work. Each actor recalls the part which he performed.”
“Before the swaying multitude … .” What do you think causes them to sway? Keep this image in your mind: the vast multitude of Satan, his angels, and his subjects, swaying as they stand before the God of the universe, viewing the picture of their own work, with no power to turn from the scene.
As you retain this picture in your imagination, let’s turn to another picture—a picture in a drastically different time and place. In fact, this scene is separated from the previous one by about 3,000 years. The time is just after the last supper in the upper room; the place is the Garden of Gethsemane. “Then He (Jesus) said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.’ ” Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34. “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22:44.
“As they approached the garden, the disciples had marked the change that came over their Master. Never before had they seen Him so utterly sad and silent. As He proceeded, this strange sadness deepened; yet they dared not question Him as to the cause. His form swayed as if He were about to fall. … Every step that He now took was with labored effort. He groaned aloud, as if suffering under the pressure of a terrible burden. Twice His companions supported Him, or He would have fallen to the earth.” The Desire of Ages, 685, 686.
Here again, a swaying form—agony beyond description. What causes this terrible agony, this weakness, this swaying as if to fall? Let’s revisit our first scene again. There we witnessed a vast multitude swaying. Why? Because of their sin. We read that they were “conscious of every sin which they have ever committed.” Not only that, but they were seeing a panorama of their lives of sin. You may be wondering what this has to do with Jesus, and His form swaying. Can there be any similarity, any comparison between the pure, spotless, perfect Majesty of Heaven and that wicked, defiled, stained multitude outside the New Jerusalem?
The Desire of Ages, speaking of Jesus, continues: “He went a little distance from them—not so far but that they could both see and hear Him—and fell prostrate upon the ground. He felt that by sin He was being separated from His Father. The gulf was so broad, so black, so deep, that His spirit shuddered before it. This agony He must not exert His divine power to escape. As man He must suffer the consequences of man’s sin. As man He must endure the wrath of God against transgression.” Ibid., 686.
The consequences of sin are clear. Sin creates blackness, darkness, separation from the only Source of life. It is spiritual suffocation, which in reality causes physical death, just as real as if you were drowning. If you were suffocating, your form would eventually sway and collapse. This is the reality of the consequences of sin—literal, agonizing death. Here is another quote expressing this same idea, but in different words. “He endured our punishment—the wrath of God against transgression. … His soul was tortured by the pressure of a horror of great darkness.” Our Father Cares, 259. The consequences of sin are hideous, terrible, beyond our comprehension.
Let’s turn to another description of the consequences of sin. The first scenario with the swaying multitude takes place after the millennium. This next one takes place at Jesus’ second coming, so soon to transpire. This portrayal comes from The Great Controversy, 656, 657. “ ‘The Lord cometh out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain’ (Isaiah 26:21). ‘And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth. And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great tumult from the Lord shall be among them; and they shall lay hold everyone on the hand of his neighbor, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbor’ (Zechariah 14:12, 13). In the mad strife of their own fierce passions, and by the awful outpouring of God’s unmingled wrath, fall the wicked inhabitants of the earth—priests, rulers, and people, rich and poor, high and low. ‘And the slain of the Lord shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried’ (Jeremiah 25:33).”
I fear that my words will be too tame, too mild, too soft to express the depth of the reality that we are facing. This is not fantasy as on TV or in some video game. This is reality–stark, severe, unbending reality.
The Israelites felt this truth at Sinai when they, in confidence in their own ability to do well, made a covenant with God to keep His commandments on their own and in just a few weeks broke that covenant. After Moses came down the mountain and saw their terrible sin, he cast down the tablets of the Ten Commandments, written with God’s own hand. The people were terror stricken, recognizing they were without hope! “They had no true conception of the holiness of God, of the exceeding sinfulness of their own hearts, their utter inability, in themselves, to render obedience to God’s law, and their need of a Saviour. …
“The people did not realize the sinfulness of their own hearts, and that without Christ it was impossible for them to keep God’s law; and they readily entered into covenant with God. Feeling that they were able to establish their own righteousness, they declared, ‘All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient’ (Exodus 24:7). … They could not hope for the favor of God through a covenant which they had broken.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 371, 372. They were doomed, and they knew it.
Our very first parents felt this dire situation almost immediately after they sinned. We know how Genesis 3:6–13 chronicles the terrible and immediate consequences for sin. Patriarchs and Prophets, 57, expands and deepens our understanding in these words: “They felt a sense of sin, a dread of the future, a nakedness of soul. The robe of light which had enshrouded them, now disappeared, and to supply its place they endeavored to fashion for themselves a covering; for they could not, while unclothed, meet the eye of God and holy angels.
“They now began to see the true character of their sin.”
Why have I dwelt so pointedly on this dreadful reality? Why contemplate so fixedly the pending, grim reality awaiting the sinner? There are two reasons. The first is simply this: If we are to escape the doom of the sinner, we must first recognize ourselves as sinners; we must feel this terrible truth in our souls. Without the recognition of this fact, we will never be free. We must recognize that we are sinful, wicked, and evil. Even our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The sinner “has nothing of his own but what is tainted and corrupted, polluted with sin, utterly repulsive to a pure and holy God.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 342. “It was sin that separated man from his God, and it is sin that maintains this separation.” Ibid., 253, 254. The Spirit of Prophecy tells us that we must recognize this if we are to be saved. “Men … must feel themselves sinners, exposed to the wrath of God, before they will realize their need of a Saviour.” Ibid., 219.
Jesus Himself spoke the same reality in Matthew 5:3. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” On the surface this text looks so gentle and benign, but Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 7, sheds a different light on this text. “Those who know that they cannot possibly save themselves, or of themselves do any righteous action, are the ones who appreciate the help that Christ can bestow. They are the poor in spirit, whom He declares to be blessed.”
This brings me to the second purpose for dwelling on the serious and absolutely certain end for the sinner. Matthew 5:3 begins with the word “blessed.” Blessed! Oh, my friends, we have in our minds and imaginations experienced the doom of the wicked. I would also suggest that you read the chapters in The Great Controversy, Chapter 40, “God’s People Delivered,” Chapter 41, “Desolation of the Earth,” and Chapter 42, “The Controversy Ended.” As we recognize the horribleness of what is awaiting the sinner, and that Jesus voluntarily chose to suffer those consequences in our place, “blessed” is a weak, feeble, insipid word to describe our state, if we become poor in spirit and escape the rightful consequences of our sin when we consider the reality of what we deserve.
I would like to share a quote revealing a little more clearly what Jesus bore on our behalf. Have you contemplated the reality that God, the Father Himself, inflicted the penalty for our sin on Jesus? “Christ had come to give His life a ransom for many. As the Good Shepherd, He had laid down His life for the sheep. It was the righteousness of God to maintain His law by inflicting the penalty. This was the only way in which the law could be maintained, and pronounced holy, and just, and good. It was the only way by which sin could be made to appear exceeding sinful, and the honor and majesty of divine authority be maintained.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 301, 302.
Remember the swaying multitude, remember the swaying form of our Divine Saviour in the Garden? Jesus bore that for you! And at such tremendous risk! Did you know that if Jesus Himself had sinned, the Father, Himself, would have had to inflict that eternal death on His own Son? “Could Satan in the least particular have tempted Christ to sin, he would have bruised the Saviour’s head. As it was, he could only touch His heel. Had the head of Christ been touched, the hope of the human race would have perished. Divine wrath would have come upon Christ as it came upon Adam.” Ibid., 256. Can we possibly think that our lives will be spared if we do not recognize in the depth of our being our unrighteousness? God would not, could not have spared, even His own Son had He sinned! Who are we that we should be spared if we do not cling with deeply humble, broken, and contrite hearts to the great heart of love that poured out all heaven for us in the inestimable gift of His own Son?
Do you really take in the severity, the horror, the utter abject terror and desperation awaiting the unrepentant? Now, compare that reality with the inexpressible joy, the perfect peace, the blissful rest which the “poor in spirit” are given. As we recognize the absoluteness of our doom as sinners, and the severity of that doom, and as we see our Jesus taking the consequences of our sin, paying the price in our behalf, what joy, what gratitude, what inexpressible love fills our heart.
Whatever then takes place in your life, whether in the world it would be considered something “good” or something “bad,” we can truly give thanks from hearts filled with gratitude and joy because of what our Lord and Saviour has done for us. We will with Paul be able to say, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11). And this, from a Roman prison! These realities, the wretchedness of our sinful state, and the hope we have in Jesus our Redeemer provide for us an “anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever.” Hebrews 6:19, 20. These truths keep us safe, joyous and at peace through all the temptations, the trials, the difficulties that Satan can place in our path. What a gift God has given to us.
Let us first recognize, in humility of soul, our true condition–that we as sinners have “nothing of his [our] own but what is tainted and corrupted, polluted with sin, utterly repulsive to a pure and holy God.” And then, as we contemplate that Jesus bore the penalty, the terrible consequences of that sin, becoming “utterly repulsive” to His beloved Father, on our behalf, let this fill our hearts with love for Him. Let us return to Him the truest form of gratitude through obedience to His laws of mercy and love.
[All emphasis supplied]
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Brenda Douay is a staff member at Steps to Life. She may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org