Adventist Review Online | God’s End-Time Remnant
December 8, 2009
he concept of the remnant has a long biblical history, running from Genesis (6:9; 7:23) to ?the book of Revelation (12:17). It is fundamental in understanding the nature of the people of God and His divine intention for them. At the center of this biblical concept lies a profound interest in the preservation of human life. In the ancient world families, tribes, and nations were often threatened by the possibility of extermination through military attacks or other catastrophes. Consequently, it was natural to raise the question of survival. If only a few would survive, a remnant, the group would not be extinguished. Every effort was made to assure that a remnant of them would be left on the land.
Old Testament Perspective: In the Old Testament the concept of the remnant was imbued with significant theological content. It was embedded in the cosmic conflict, and came to express the certainty that in this cosmic conflict God will be victorious. The forces of evil attempted to exterminate the people of God, the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), and occasionally they appeared to have succeeded by deceiving, corrupting, and persecuting some of the people of God. Nevertheless, God always preserved a remnant. Through these faithful ones His divine intention was realized within the flow of history. They were preserved through His saving grace. Most of the time this happened in the midst of national apostasy (e.g., Gen. 7:23; 1 Kings 19:14; Rev. 2:24). When truth was rejected, God preserved a remnant through whom truth was protected and restored.
Christological Perspective: The remnant is deeply connected to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Although the people of God are part of the seed of the woman (Rev. 12:17; cf. Rom. 16:20), Jesus is the Seed of the woman; they are her offspring but He is the Child of the promise (Rev. 12:5). He is the ultimate expression of the remnant. He came to a world of rebellion and sin, remained absolutely loyal to God, and permanently defeated the cosmic forces of evil. Jesus was God’s majestic instrument in revealing to the universe the truth about God’s loving character. In Him and through Him God preserved the human race. Therefore, the identity and work of the remnant people of God is determined and centered in the person and work of the Son of God.
Adventists and God’s End-time Remnant
Adventists believe that God raised them up at the close of the cosmic conflict as a reform movement to prepare the world for the return of Christ. They found in Revelation 12–14 their identity as God’s end-time remnant, their message, and their mission. The concept of the remnant plays a significant role in Revelation and finds expression through different terminology. They are specifically called “the remnant/the rest” (12:17). The Greek word used by John is loipos and designates that which pertains “to the part of a whole which remains or continues and thus constitutes the rest of the whole—‘rest, remaining, what remains, other.’”1 In Revelation it designates, among other things, the remnant in the church of Sardis (3:2), and the faithful remnant in Thyatira (2:24).2
Historical Remnant: According to Revelation, the remnant is a historical entity. Revelation 12 provides a prophetic summary of the experience of the Christian church. The dragon goes first against the Son of God (12:2, 4, 5), and then against the woman, the church, in an attempt to destroy it (12:13). As a result the true people of God go underground and are protected by God (12:14-16). The 1,260 days designate the period during which the church experienced apostasy, imposing its views on others through civil power (see Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thess. 2:2-6; Dan. 7:25; 8:12). The Reformers attempted to restore biblical truth but unfortunately their task remained unfinished. Other biblical truths needed to be restored. Near the end of the conflict a remnant remains, and they become the object of attack of the dragon (Rev. 12:17).
Visible Remnant: According to Revelation, the end-time remnant is identifiable, visible. It possesses some specific characteristics. First, they keep the commandments of God (12:17; 14:12). The reference is primarily to the Decalogue. The central issue in this conflict concerns the question of worship: whom should humans worship (14:7)? Since the law of God was altered (see Dan. 7:25), it is necessary to restore it. The seventh-day Sabbath is to be reinstated in the Decalogue. Humans need to understand that apostasy opens up the church to further demonic deception (Rev. 13:13, 14; 16:13, 14). The remnant, relying on God’s grace, keep His commandments. Second, they have the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 12:17). The testimony of Jesus is identified with the gift of prophecy (19:10). The spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy, should be found among God’s end-time remnant people. The gift of prophecy was powerfully and specifically manifested among us in the ministry of Ellen G. White, even though we still anticipate a glorious fulfillment of Joel 2:28, 29.
The remnant is also characterized by having the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12), that is to say, embracing the teachings of Jesus based on a faith commitment to Him. It is the responsibility of God’s end-time people to call the world back to the scriptural teachings of Jesus and His apostles. Finally, the remnant has the patience of the saints (14:12). “Patience” here means “endurance.” At a time when deception prevails and apostasy appears to prevail, the remnant resist the constant attacks of the enemy and remain committed to the beloved Savior.
Mission of the Remnant: But the remnant also have a particular mission, and it corresponds to the mission of the Adventist movement (Rev. 14:6-12). At the center of their proclamation is the eternal gospel. It needs to be heard again at the close of the conflict in the context of the final judgment. They call humans to worship God the Creator, not the dragon and its allies (14:7). It is part of their mission to proclaim that the apostasy of the Christian world will reach global dimensions but that it will not be able to deliver the salvation it promised. It will finally collapse under its own weight of deception (14:8). The remnant announce that those who worship the beast and who identify with the agenda that it promotes will experience defeat (14:9-11). Through the remnant, God is gathering His people from every tribe, people, and tongue. The characteristics listed above as well as the mission we just discussed define who we are and identify the Adventist movement with the historical and faithful remnant of God.
Remnant and the Christian Church
God’s People in Babylon: God has a people in figurative Babylon, and it is our mission to call them out to be part of God’s end-time eschatological remnant (18:4). These are sincere Christians who serve the Lord in different Christian denominations and even among world religions. They are part of the church of Christ. At the present time they are not a visible group; that is to say, they do not possess the characteristics of the remnant, but it is God’s plan to bring them out of their invisibility through the mission of His remnant people. We can, then, suggest that the fullness of the church of Christ is constituted by a visible, historical remnant people who have specific characteristics, and also by loyal believers who are still in Babylon, in exile. They need to hear the message of the remnant in order to reaffirm their commitment to biblical truth and not be deceived by the dragon and its allies.
The Fullness of the Remnant: This understanding of the remnant leaves no room for exclusivism. Since at the present time the church is larger than the remnant it cannot proclaim ecclesiastical exclusivism. God is also active outside the remnant. Consequently, there is salvation outside the remnant—this is not soteriological exclusivism. As already indicated, the invisible component of the church of Christ, called by Jesus “other sheep that are not of this sheep pen” (John 10:16), needs to hear the message of the remnant. Then, something wonderful and glorious will happen. As the cosmic conflict comes to an end, the eschatological expectation of the oneness of the fullness of the church of Christ will be a reality. The remnant and those coming out of Babylon will constitute the fullness of God’s eschatological remnant. God’s people from every tribe, nation, and tongue “will give voice to one great final witness to the world.”3 The forces of evil “will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be His called, chosen, and faithful followers” (Rev. 17:14). Maranatha!
1Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, 2 vols. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), vol. 1, p. 613. See also Frederick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2000), p. 602, who states that loipos refers “to that which remains over, especially after action has been taken.”
2For a more detailed discussion, consult Ekkehardt Mueller, “The End-time Remnant in Revelation,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 11 (2000), pp. 188, 189.
3Jon Paulien, “Eschatology and Adventist Self-Understanding,” in Lutheran and Adventists in Conversations: Report and Papers Presented 1994-1998 (Silver Spring, Md.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2000; Geneva, Switzerland: Lutheran World Federation, 2000), p. 237.