One of the principal and most controversial subjects of the Shepherd’s Rod is its teaching on Ezekiel Chapter Nine. The Rod contends that the sealing and slaughter recorded in Ezekiel Nine is a literal or physical event that will take place within the ranks of Seventh-day Adventists, leaving only 144,000 members living. Furthermore, it insists that this cleansing will take place before the loud cry (the final proclamation of the gospel) and the general close of probation. This doctrine is replete throughout the message. Thus it becomes a critical section of our study.
The Denomination’s Position
The Historical View:
There are two common positions held by denominational leaders and theologians. The first or historical view more or less conveys the idea that Ezekiel Nine was fulfilled in the past as an historical event, except for a secondary or loose fulfilment during the seven last plagues and the second coming.
On the surface the reasons for this view appear sound. Because Ezekiel wrote at the time of the second siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, (approximately 597 BC), church theologians conclude that the prophecy of Chapter Nine was fulfilled then, and if it has a future application, it is only secondary or analogous to the destruction at the second advent of our Lord. They are further convinced because Ezekiel mentioned that the “men” (verse 2) who destroyed Jerusalem came from the “North” (verse 2)—an allusion to Babylon since they generally came down from the north (Ezekiel 26:7)—and the fact that the people of Judah were slain,(verses 5 -7), give the impression that Ezekiel Nine’s prophecy is not prophetic today, but historical.
The Plagues/Second Coming View
The basis for this other view is found primarily in three references from Ellen White about Ezekiel Nine. Time and space will not permit us to quote the entire reference but the reader is encouraged to read them in full at his leisure.
“Unless they repent, and leave the work of Satan in oppressing those who have the burden of the work and in holding up the hands of sinners in Zion, they will never receive the mark of God’s sealing approval. They will fall in the general destruction of the wicked, represented by the work of the five men bearing slaughter weapons . . .But the general slaughter of all those who do not thus see the wide contrast between sin and righteousness, and do not feel as those do who stand in the counsel of God and receive the mark. Is described in the order to the five men with slaughtering weapons. . .”
In another reference she quotes Ezekiel Nine, verse 2 -7. Then she makes the following statement:
“The words will soon be spoken “Go thy ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.”
Speaking about the time of the general close of probation, She wrote:
The mark of deliverance has been set upon those “sign and cry for all the abominations that be done.” Now the angel of death goes forth, represented in Ezekiel’s vision by the men with slaughtering weapons, to whom the command is given: “Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women . . .
Based upon these statements, which use terms such as: “the general destruction of the wicked”and “the wrath of God” in the context of the Ezekiel Nine, many conclude that the slaughter of Ezekiel Nine has to take place during the falling of the plagues and the second coming of Christ.
The Rod’s Position
The denomination’s perspective may seem incontrovertible, but when we study the passages in depth we see that these positions are not altogether tenable. Remember, we are told that we are to take the “weight of evidence.”
Reply to the Historical View
One of the key problems with the historical view is that the Sprit of Prophecy clearly applies Ezekiel Nine to our time, not the time of the Ezekiel, and she is correct in doing so.
“Study the Ninth Chapter of Ezekiel. These words will be literally fulfilled.”
“. . .will be fulfilled to the very letter.”
“The earnest prayers of this faithful few will not be in vain. When the Lord comes forth as an avenger, He will also come as a protector of all those who have preserved the faith in its purity and kept themselves unspotted from the world. . . .The command is: “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. . . .In the time when His wrath shall go forth in judgements, these humble followers of Christ will be distinguished from the rest of the world by their soul anguish. . . . Here we see the Church–the Lord’s Sanctuary–was the first to feel the stroke of the wrath of God. The ancient men, those to whom God had given great light and who had stood as guardians of the spiritual interests of the people had betrayed their trust.”
“The true people of God, who have the spirit of the work of the Lord and the salvation of souls at heart, will ever view sin in its real sinful character. They will always be on the side of the faithful and plain dealings with sins that beset the people of God. Especially in the closing work for the church, in the sealing time of the one hundred and forty-four thousand. . . Read the ninth chapter of Ezekiel.”
These inspired references clearly reveal that Ezekiel Nine applies to our time—not the time of Ezekiel. There is no indication from her pen that it has specific application to the past. Inspiration’s next statement provides further proof.
“This sealing of the servants of God [the 144,000] is the same that was shown to Ezekiel in vision. John also had been a witness of this most startling revelation.” [Brackets ours]
Clear it is that the sealing of the 144,000 “servants of God” recorded in Revelation 7 was also revealed to Ezekiel. The only chapter in Ezekiel that records a sealing is Chapter Nine. Now it is a well-known fact that Revelation 7, which describes the sealing of the 144,000 and the holding of the four winds, applies to our time not Ezekiel’s.
Another problem with the historical view is that everything doesn’t fit into the context of the Babylonian siege. Our rule of interpretation tells us that : “To know whether we have the true historical event for the fulfillment of prophecy: if you find every word of the prophecy (after the figures are understood ) is literally fulfilled, then you may know that your history is the true event; but if one word lacks fulfillment, then you must look for another event, or wait its future development; for God takes care that history and prophecy shall agree, so the true believing children of God may never be ashamed. Ps. 22:5; Isa. 14:17 -19; 1 Peter 2:6; Rev. 17:17; Acts 3:18.1
According to Ezekiel nine, one of the “six men” had a writer’s inkhorn by his side and was commanded to seal those who sighed and cried for the wrongs in Jerusalem or the church. (See verses 3, 4). There was no such sealing in the time of the Babylonian siege. In fact, according to Ezekiel’s vision, the Lord Himself was present, and He directed the sealing and the destruction. (See verses 3 -7).
The vision of Ezekiel Nine is a continuation of the vision of Ezekiel Chapters one through 8, where he mentions both kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In Ezekiel 2:3, as with Ezekiel Nine verse 9, and chapter 3, verses 1, 4, 5, 7, “the prophet was to bear his message to the whole ‘house of Israel’ (the term ‘house of Israel,’ denoting either all twelve tribes or only the ten tribes as the case might be). Yet he did not understand the meaning of the vision. Had he, he would have explained it, rather than declaring: ‘I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar and I sat where they sat, and remained astonished among them seven days.’ Ezekiel 3:15.
“Since at the time of the vision, the house of Judah, the two-tribe kingdom, was in captivity in the land of the Chaldeans, and the house of Israel, the ten-tribe kingdom, was in dispersion among the nations, whither it had been carried away and scattered some years before ) 2 kings 17:6), there was no possibility of Ezekiel’s delivering the message to them. And as it is to both the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Ezekiel 9:9)–the twelve tribes–consequently it was prophetic in Ezekiel’s time.
“The Jewsih nation, moreover, up to the time of Christ, had no light on this prophecy, and it appeared to them as too complicated to understand, and even unsafe for an ordinary mind to read. ‘All this chapter appeared so obscure, and full of mysteries, to the ancient Hebrews, that, as we learn from St. Jerome (Ep. ad Paulin.,) they suffered none to read it before they were thirty years old.’ Duay Version, footnote to Ezekiel 1:5.”
So this all reveals that Mrs. White is correct—Ezekiel nine is prophetic. You could say that the Babylonian siege was a type or photograph of what is to take place in our day. In other words, the circumstances and events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon are secondary and typical of the circumstances and events that surround the primary judgment that is to fall upon modern Judah—the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Reply to the application of the Plagues/2nd Coming
Let us first look at Vol. 3, Testimonies for the Church, p. 267, where Inspiration used the expressions: “the general destruction of the wicked . . .” and “the general slaughter. . .”
These phrases may give the impression that she is referring to the time of the seven last plagues or the second coming. Others may even believe that this general destruction takes place after the millennium when all the lost are cast into the lake of fire. But impressions alone do not make rock solid ground on which to build a doctrine. The terms are relative not exclusive. We can know this because the context makes that very clear. Let us go back to page 266:
“The true people of God, who have the spirit of the work of the Lord and the salvation of souls at heart, will ever view sin in its real, sinful character. They will always be on the side of faithful and plain dealing with sins which easily beset the people of God. Especially in the closing work for the church, in the sealing time of the one hundred and forty-four thousand who are to stand without fault before the throne of God, will they feel most deeply the wrongs of God’s professed people. This is forcibly set forth by the prophet’s illustration of the last work under the figure of the men each having a slaughter weapon in his hand. One man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer’s inkhorn by his side.” [Then she quotes Ezekiel nine, verse 4].
This statement was made in the context of Ezekiel nine. It is in this context that she refers to the general destruction of the wicked. Let us look at the entire sentence on page 267:
“They will fall in the general destruction of the wicked, represented by the work of the five men bearing slaughter weapons. Mark this point with care: Those who receive the pure mark of truth, wrought in them by the power of the Holy Ghost, represented by a mark by the man in linen, are those that “sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done” in the church. . . .Read the ninth chapter of Ezekiel.”
The context plainly reveals that God is speaking of the destruction of the wicked in the church not the seven last plagues. There is no mention here of the world. It is the destruction of the wicked represented by the work of the five men bearing slaughter weapons whose work of judgment is to take place in Judah and Jerusalem—the church, not Babylon—the world.
Furthermore, the term, “general destruction” is also used in The Great Controversy in referring to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D.
They must not hesitate a moment, lest they be involved in the general destruction.
Obviously, this statement is not referring to the time of the plagues or second coming!
The second reference was found in Testimonies to Ministers, pages 431, 432. Here again, we must take the context.
“He who presides over His church and the destinies of nations is carrying forward the last work to be accomplished for this world. To His angels He gives the commission to execute His judgments. Let the ministers awake, let them take in the situation. The work of judgment begins at the sanctuary.”
Then she quotes Ezekiel nine, verses 2, 3, instructs us to read verses 2 -7, and quotes parts of verses 6 & 10. But notice the very next paragraph which brings in a different thought.
“The words will soon be spoken, “go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.” One of the ministers of vengeance declares . . .”
Afterward she quotes Revelation 16:1, 5, which as you know, refers specifically to the seven last plagues. In other words, she is dealing with God’s commission to execute His judgments. But God’s judgments are in two sections—first for the church then for the world. Ezekiel nine primarily focuses on the judgment in the church, while the seven last plagues fall on the world. So there is no contradiction.
Furthermore, please ponder this next point as well. There is a distinct difference between the seven last plagues and the slaughter of Ezekiel nine. Notice that the plagues fall on Babylon, (Revelation 16:2, 19), but the slaughter on Judah and Jerusalem (the church). In fact, the terms, Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem, never represent the world. Moreover, the angels in Ezekiel’s vision use slaughter weapons and slay the wicked., but the angels commissioned for the plagues, use vials.
We will look at the third reference, The Great Controversy, p. 656, in the next section.
There is More Evidence for a Pre-plague Judgment in the Church.
Notice that the opponents of the Rod, almost without exception, try to disprove the idea of a judgment in the church before the final close of probation by using Sis. White’s writings. They rarely if ever use the Bible. Yet if one would objectively and honestly investigate the Rod’s biblical evidence they would see an abundance of evidence for a purified church before the close of probation. The study of Daniel two, Zechariah six, Revelation seven, the Harvest, Revelation twelve, Isaiah sixty-six, and a host of others, all explicitly reveal this fact. Time and space will not permit us to go deeper into these subjects, but the reader is heartily invited to order either literature or cassette studies on these subjects.
Besides Bible evidence, there are also a number of references from the Spirit of Prophecy that support the Rod’s position—references that the opponents do not quote. Take the following for example:
“And I saw that the Lord was whetting His sword in heaven to cut them down. Oh, that every lukewarm professor could realize the clean work that God is about to make among His professed people.”
“Angels keep a faithful record of every man’s work, and as judgment passes upon the house of God, the sentence of each is recorded by his name, and the angel is commissioned to spare not the unfaithful servants, but to cut them down at the time of slaughter.”
“The time of God’s destructive judgments is the time of mercy for those who have had no opportunity to learn the truth. Tenderly will the Lord look upon them. His heart of mercy is touched; His hand is still stretched out to save, while the door is closed to those who would not enter.
“Here we see that the church–the Lord’s sanctuary–was the first to feel the stroke of the wrath of God. . . .Men, maidens, and little children all perish together.”
As far as the Bible evidence goes, do you remember the study of the previous section? Do you remember that the separation of the wheat and tares in the “field”— the church, takes place before the final close of probation and before the second return of our Lord? That the removal of the wheat or faithful takes place at the beginning of the “harvest” – last part of probationary time? Well, there you have it, more evidence that there must be a pure church before the final proclamation of the Gospel.
Now let us look at one more Bible reference. There are many, many more, but let us spend a few additional moments and turn to Isaiah 66:15, 16, 19, 20.
“For the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and His sword will the Lord plead with all flesh; and the slain of the Lord shall be many. . . . And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles. And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord out all nations. . .”
Of course, you’re welcome to read the verses in-between so you can be certain that we are not taking anything out of context. Your first impression of Isaiah 66:15, 16, may be that it is a prophecy of the second advent. But it cannot be. Notice that at this coming of the Lord, probation is still open because Isaiah says that the Lord will “plead” with all flesh. There is no pleading with anyone after the second advent. Is not that right? Some versions say judge, but the point is the same, the investigative judgment is over by the time Christ returns the second time. Thus this passage must be speaking about a time of judgment when probation is still open for one class, but closed for another. Furthermore, it has to be this way, because verse 19 tells us that those who escape the judgment of verses 15, 16, are not taken to heaven immediately, but are sent as missionaries to the world to preach the gospel! There is no such gathering or preaching after Jesus returns in the clouds! Friends and brethren, it reveals that there must be a slaughter or judgment upon God ‘s people before the gospel goes to the world with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Think, dear brothers and sisters; there is no other fair and logical conclusion. It could not have been fulfilled in Christ’s time or after His first advent, because He did not come with fire and chariots and whirlwind, but as a babe. It could not be the third coming after the millennium because, there again, the gospel will not be preached then either!
So the Rod’s position on Ezekiel nine is correct. Just like Matthew 13, God first removes the unfaithful from His church and then His people in Babylon are called out (Revelation 18:1 - 4). No wonder Ellen White wrote: “Clad in the armor of Christ’s righteousness, the church is to enter upon her final conflict. ‘Fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners’ (Song of Solomon 6:10), she is to go forth into all the world, conquering and to conquer.”
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