What’s the link between the remnant and God’s mission?
Precarious situation,” “possibility of nuclear annihilation,” “large-scale destruction of human life caused by the ecological crisis,” “the menacing problems of mass starvation and overpopulation,” “uncertain political, social, and economic conditions,” “widespread racial and national unrest,” “unprecedented insecurity and anxiety,” and “intense quest to secure life and preserve existence.” Depressing words from today’s New York Times? Perhaps from a recent speech at the United Nations? No. They all come from one long sentence Adventist scholar Gerhard Hasel wrote a half century ago.1
In his book The Remnant Hasel traced the concept of the remnant from the earliest days of human history. He argued that the remnant idea surfaces at crucial moments when people feel their lives are threatened.2 In the face of times of uncertainty and chaos, “the urgent prophetic call to turn to God in faith, confidence, and trust” is the only basis for survival. If we wholeheartedly turn to God, we will receive “true security, real peace, genuine love, and lasting hope with the assurance that one is a member of the remnant.”3
CATALYST—NOT A CLUB
More than 50 years after Hasel wrote those words, we need hope and assurance more than ever. But with that hope and assurance comes responsibility. The remnant isn’t an exclusive religious club that focuses on its own needs, comforts, and security. It doesn’t access secret passwords and codes that gain special blessings from God that aren’t available to anyone else. Certainly it focuses on and upholds the importance of biblical truth, but just as important, it lives the truth. And rather than focusing inward, its passion is to share and show that truth.
Instead of an elite spiritual club, the remnant is more like a human catalyst—situated in the world to bless it, change it, and love it. It’s a catalyst that goes into all the world and demonstrates God’s message of hope and salvation. Centuries ago Isaiah described His remnant going to places “that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory.” Their task was to “proclaim my glory among the nations” (Isa. 66:19, NIV).
A biblical remnant doesn’t just declare that glory in words and by sharing distinctive beliefs. It demonstrates that glory through the way they live. Again and again the biblical prophets tell the remnant of Israel and Judah that God is weary of words. He wants to see changed lives. The prophet Amos rebukes the “remnant of Joseph” because they’re dishonest and mistreat the poor (Amos 5:7, 12, 15). Likewise, the prophet Zechariah calls the remnant a curse because they’re blind to the suffering around them and don’t care for the widows, the orphans, the foreigners, and the poor (Zech. 7:9, 10; 8:12).
But Zechariah says that if they changed, the remnant could become “a blessing” among the nations (Zech. 8:13). That blessing would lead people from different nations and speaking different languages to stream to Jerusalem to find God. Envisioning that beautiful scenario, Zechariah says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you’” (verse 23, NIV).
It’s a mission vision of what the remnant could be.
A faithful biblical remnant also resists cultural and political pressures that surround it. Like salmon swimming upstream, the remnant goes against the flow. It protests and opposes dominant belief systems that oppose God’s values. The remnant works to give God a good name but doesn’t enter any popularity contests. The book of Revelation depicts a remnant toward the end of time surrounded by corruption, apostasy, and persecution. But they remain faithful in their mission: they keep the commandments of God and have “the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17, KJV). This description is also found in Revelation 14, immediately after the message of the three angels: “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12, KJV). In the face of those who oppose or just ignore God’s ways, the remnant stays firm and endures in its commitment.
The remnant is like a resistance movement against beliefs and systems that have been set up in opposition to God’s truth. I’m reminded of John Weidner, a Dutch Seventh-day Adventist businessman who organized escape lines for Jews during World War II. Despite being imprisoned and tortured, and regularly putting his own life in danger, he helped rescue hundreds of Jews. His brave resistance to the forces of evil earned him numerous medals and recognition by the Israeli government as a righteous Gentile. At Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, a grove of trees was planted in his honor.
The faithful, resisting remnant of Revelation lives its life in obedience to God. And it can enthusiastically join the three angels in proclaiming the everlasting good news to “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people,” directing them to the Creator God, alerting them to a coming judgment, and warning them that false systems of worship are a dead end (Rev. 14:6-11).
This mission was uppermost in Adventist minds when the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists moved to Takoma Park, Maryland, in 1903. At the time there were fewer than 78,000 Adventists worldwide. They were a tiny remnant from other Christian denominations, a “little flock,” as they often called themselves.
Their arrival made an impact. While no doubt being good neighbors, they resisted mainstream thinking and behavior. They were nonsmoking, vegetarian, teetotalling health reformers. They were anti-war. They cared for the poor and the sick. They worshipped on the seventh day. The God they loved didn’t burn sinners in hell forever. The list went on. Some years later Washington Post journalist Nicole Arthur wrote that Adventists were “considered a little subversive.”4That’s what a faithful remnant is all about. It has a countercultural, resistance mission. It undermines established ways of doing things while blessing the community. It remains faithful to God and shares with the world His everlasting message of salvation. That message is timely and timeless. And, to borrow Gerhard Hasel’s words again, it’s the only message that brings “true security, real peace, genuine love, and lasting hope.”
1 Gerhard F. Hasel, The Remnant: The History and Theology of the Remnant Idea From Genesis to Isaiah (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1972), p. vii.
2 Ibid., p. 402.
3 Ibid., p. 403.4 Nicole Arthur, “Weekend’s Guide to Takoma Park,” Washington Post, Apr. 16, 1999, pp. 25, 36.