Thoughts on 2 Maccabees 12 – While we await The Blessed Hope

As we come upon the final hours of this world’s history what is God teaching us about the role of His people in preparing and hastening the return of Jesus? Are our minds open to the work that God will do upon this earth? Will we be prepared? 

Habakkuk 1:5 ESV “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.  

If there is any semblance of human understanding of this work God expects us to share it. 

Habakkuk 2:2-3 ESV And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. [3] For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end-it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.  

The third chapter of this wonderful Old Testament book gives the climatic fulfillment of these events. 

Habakkuk 3:3-4 ESV God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. [4] His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power.  

On a seemingly unconnected subject the following passage of Scripture from the Apocrypha is often used as evidence of being able to pray for those who have passed away. What could this have to do with the finishing of God’s work and the second coming of His Son? 

39 On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. 40 Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. 41 So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; 42 and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. 43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin. 2 Maccabees 12:39-45 NRSV

It would be easy to relegate this passage to the ‘too hard’ basket or even the ‘heresy’ basket if it wasn’t for the fact that the apostle Paul shares very similar thoughts. Like the writer of Maccabees, Paul is here associating this concept of prayers, or “baptism” for the dead with the resurrection

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptised on their behalf? 1 Cor.15:12,29 

Roman Catholics have no problem with these passages of Scripture. In the Catholic tradition those who do not go immediately to heaven or hell go to a place called purgatory. There they can be prayed for. This is the long standing Catholic tradition. 

Protestants on the other hand do not believe in purgatory. Most believe that the immortal soul (conscious entity) of a person at death goes to either the presence of God – Heaven – or eternal separation from God – Hell. This can be a damning teaching, fraught with fear.

What of Protestants who believe that death is a sleep until the resurrection morning? - that the soul of man is not inherently immortal – that God only, has inherent immortality – and that immortality is a gift only through Jesus Christ.

These Bible professing protestants should have a fresh and open view of these verses of Scripture  which appear to give hope to those who are ‘asleep’.  Seventh-day Adventists who are more at liberty to grasp the meaning of these verses seem reluctant to step out from under this cloud of protestant accord. Of all people SDA’s should be at the forefront of helping souls find freedom and redemption with their enhanced understanding of the character of God through their understanding of the sanctuary service and the true Sabbath rest that that leads to. Notwithstanding their preoccupation with the law it is in this area of the immortality of the soul and the sanctuary that they should step up and be counted. 

Because it has always been the teaching of this church that the hour of God’s judgement has come and that the Second Coming is imminent.

This is the teaching of Seventh-day Adventists. And I believe this to be correct. They were raised up for this very hour. Not to preach the law which would have the apostle Paul concerned. But to preach the majesty of salvation through faith alone which is to come into even more sharp focus at this time in the world’s history. In fact it was Ellen White who wrote,  “Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, ‘It is the third angel’s message in verity.’ ” —Review and Herald, April 1, 1890.

They teach that there is an hour of earth’s history – before Christ’s second coming – when God’s judgement would begin. …Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgement is come… Rev.14:7 Read in context this text does appear to be happening before the second coming of Jesus. (vs.14)  

What then is this judgement that is to occur in the end times prior to the second coming of Jesus?

Do these above mentioned verses from Maccabees and Corinthians shine any light on what God expects His people to know in these last days? There is more expected of this last generation of Christians than ever before. With much light and understanding comes great responsibility.

Prayers for those who have died: is this a reasonable teaching?

The Scripture says, ….it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgement. Heb.9:27 This is in the context of the second coming of Jesus. (vs. 28)

This judgement which would begin just prior to the second coming, according to the lessons of the sanctuary has everything to do with the righteousness of Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the prayers of God’s people. These three Imperatives are what prepare a people for the coming of Jesus. 

Prayers for those who are ‘spiritually’ dead or who are actually asleep in death are only legitimate if there is a corresponding work of the Holy Spirit in that persons life. Hence the importance of the three articles of furniture in the first apartment.

Are these latter day Christians then in a position to more readily appreciate and understand the above verses from Maccabees and Corinthians?

These end time Protestants who believe that death is a sleep have long held that Dan.8:14 marks the beginning of an ‘investigative judgement’. They base this on the authorised translation that says, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed. Dan.8:14 KJV

Most newer versions have it as …..restored to its rightful state. Dan.8:14 ESV

This would indicate, not a time of judgement, but a time of greater awareness and appreciation of what the sanctuary stands for. This is critical in our understanding of this text. God’s truth and revelation does advance.

The whole message of the sanctuary service is not about condemning and judging. It is about saving and releasing people from the condemnation of sin. In the sanctuary, the law, which represents the justice, or judgement, of God, was actually hidden under the mercy seat.

Therefore, do not continue to be curious about how the ungodly will be punished; but inquire how the righteous will be saved, those to whom the age belongs and for whose sake the age was made.” 2 Esdras 9:13

There is no need of a time of “investigative judgement” – purely a made up term to describe a perceived event. God does not need a time of “investigative” judgement. The Lord knows those who are his… 2 Tim.2:19 He needs the earnest prayers and intercession of His people.  

What we should be concerned of is our great privilege of working with Jesus and the Holy Spirit for the salvation of those whom we can easily consign to the unsaved. This is clearly taught in the sanctuary service. The message of the sanctuary service is more about saving rather than judging.

It explains God’s plan for not only saving but using His people. Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. Ps.50:5  

The work of Jesus is quietly represented by the table of shewbread. Jesus said while He was on this earth. I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger… John 6:35

The work of the Holy Spirit is clearly represented by the seven branched candlestick.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. Jn.1:9 (see also Zech.4:2,6)

That leaves one item of furniture in this first apartment. This is the altar of incense. And this item has very much to do with the actions of God’s people.

….golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints… Rev.5:8 ESV 

This is telling us that God’s people have a very real part to play in the salvation of the lost. This is brought about because of a recognition and understanding of the significance of the sanctuary truth. Hence the verse, …..the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state. Dan.8:14 ESV

Their’s is the role of intercession directly to God the Father. There is more to being Seventh-day Adventists than believing they are ‘commandment keepers’ simply because they go to church on a certain day. This is quite delusional and should not be taught. Tell me, you who want to be under law….. It was for freedom that Christ set us free… Gal.4:21; 5:1 The writings of Paul do not send a conflicting message for the last generation of Christians. 

But many will be thinking at this point: I can understand the importance of prayer and intercession for the living. But why should this extend to the dead? That is too radical, too controversial. Perhaps there is an answer to that question.

Jesus cannot return to this earth before his work is finalised in the heavenly sanctuary.

It is worthy of note that Jesus first thoughts after His victorious resurrection was of those who had died.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, [19] in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, [20] because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. [21] Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 3:18-21 ESV

Note the word “baptism”. Just as Jesus baptism of fire prepared and authorised Him to preach to those who had been without hope. That word “baptism” in our opening text from 1 Corinthians 15 shows how we also are called to enter into and intercede for those whom we love. 

Jesus divine memory extended right back to a very sinful time of this world’s history. Our memory is not that far reaching. But nevertheless to us who were made in the image of God we feel for and love those of our loved ones who have passed on. There is hope. Just as Jesus first thoughts after His great victory were not for himself but for his creation. So our thoughts are not just for ourselves but for those for whom we have been given divine love. Like the patriarch Job who had a deep love for his children, our Lord Jesus had a deep love for His creation. 

Never before in the history of this world will there be a generation of people who will not see death. Listen very carefully, I tell you a mystery (a secret truth decreed by God and previously hidden, but now revealed); we will not all sleep (in death), but we will all be (completely) changed (wondrously transformed) 1 Cor.15:51 Amplified Version Their’s is a special privilege. As the Scripture says, … For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required… Luke 12:48  

The sealing work will be going ahead in earnest…… a rate never before seen in the earth’s history.. Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 4:30 ESV And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 

Some will be laid to rest before that great day comes. The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity; he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness. Isa.57:1,2

There were some who pleased God and were loved by him, and while living among sinners were taken up. They were caught up so that evil might not change their understanding or guile deceive their souls. For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.  Wisdom of Solomon 4:10-12 NRSV

Just as Job’s partying care free children were not beyond his intercession. (compare the first and last chapter of Job and all that it implies)

Job 1:4-5 TLB Every year when Job’s sons had birthdays, they invited their brothers and sisters to their homes for a celebration. On these occasions they would eat and drink with great merriment. [5] When these birthday parties ended-and sometimes they lasted several days-Job would summon his children to him and sanctify them, getting up early in the morning and offering a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and turned away from God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.

Job 1:18-19 TLB As he was still speaking, another arrived to say, “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home, [19] when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and engulfed the house so that the roof fell in on them and all are dead; and I alone escaped to tell you.”

Job 42:10,13 TLB Then, when Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his wealth and happiness! In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! [13] God also gave him seven more sons and three more daughters….

It is strongly implied here that this ancient man’s prayers on behalf of all of his children were heard. Thus it will be at the end of time.

At that time the prayers of God’s people will be heart felt and earnest. At that time as never before these prayers will be like thunder and lightning in the spiritual realm. 

Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. Rev.8:5 NRSV

Those who are laid to rest will not be beyond help.

Could this be intimated in the following verse in Revelation where God is showing love and care for His sleeping children?

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” 11 They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. Rev.6:9-11 NRSV 

These verse appears to parallel 2 Esdras 4:33-37 NRSV

33 Then I answered and said, “How long? When will these things be? Why are our years few and evil?” 34 He answered me and said, “Do not be in a greater hurry than the Most High. You, indeed, are in a hurry for yourself, but the Highest is in a hurry on behalf of many. 35 Did not the souls of the righteous in their chambers ask about these matters, saying, ‘How long are we to remain here? And when will the harvest of our reward come?’ 36 And the archangel Jeremiel answered and said, ‘When the number of those like yourselves is completed; for he has weighed the age in the balance, 37 and measured the times by measure, and numbered the times by number; and he will not move or arouse them until that measure is fulfilled.’”  

This is clearly talking of the end times when God is preparing for His harvest. God is completing that which He has been waiting for aeons of time to complete.

The context would seem to indicate that God is calling us to pray, not only for those who are spiritually dead, but even for those who have passed on. Is this really an important work to be speaking about? One remembers the words of Paul. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor.13:13 ESV  While ‘love’ is the all important issue in the Christians life, it does not diminish  the importance of ‘hope’.

If this is a source of comfort  and hope to God’s people who have lost loved one’s and if it bears the scrutiny of Scripture then let it stand.  Although don’t expect it to be perceived or understood by the majority. Like all of God’s work it is spiritually discerned.  

1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 

Zechariah 4:6 ESV Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. 

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  1. Julia says:

    The Gift of Love – If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers …

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