Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Have you thought about the role of the non-Christian religions in the Adventist understanding of last-day events?
Yes, I have. Let me say at the very beginning that we should not speculate on a subject that is not directly addressed in the apocalyptic texts of the Bible. That does not mean that your question is irrelevant. I am simply proposing that we should be careful when addressing this particular issue. Probably the best way to proceed is to examine the main thrust of end-time prophecies and then explore in a general way how non-Christian religions may fit into that prophetic framework.
1. Global Nature of End-time Events: The historical horizon of apocalyptic prophecy is universal in scope. We read about “the whole world” (Rev. 13:3), “all inhabitants of the earth” (verse 8), “the earth and its inhabitants” (verse 12), “every nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev. 14:6), “all nations” (Rev. 15:4), and “the kings of the whole world” (Rev. 16:14). That type of prophecy is not directed to a particular nation or people but to the totality of the human race. Within the context of human history this global focus unquestionably includes the non-Christian world.
2. End-time Polarization of the Human Race: One of the fundamental characteristics of apocalyptic prophecies is that they foresee a time when every human being will have to take a stand for or against God and His Messiah. Each one will have to choose between the seal of God (Rev. 7:1-4) or the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16, 17); between worshiping God (Rev. 14:7) or the dragon and the beast (Rev. 13:4); between being a citizen of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2) or of Babylon (Rev. 18:2-4). The proclamation of the eternal gospel goes to every nation, tribe, language, and people precisely because no one will be able to remain neutral during the last conflict. Non-Christian religions will not be able to offer a third alternative in order for humans to avoid taking a stand during that critical period.
3. Role of Spiritualism: In a world of so much religious diversity as ours it is difficult to imagine a time when the human race will be united for or against God and Christ. Such a radical change will require a turn of events that we cannot fully anticipate at the present time. Apocalyptic prophecies shed some light on the way that could happen by the emphasis they place on the function of spiritualistic powers (Rev. 13:13, 14; 16:13, 14; 1 Tim. 4:1). Deception through the miraculous and supernatural is extremely persuasive and can produce significant paradigm shifts in non-Christian religions. Where religious dialogue may have failed or political forces were ineffective, the intervention of spiritualistic powers in the arena of human history—in unprecedented forms—will succeed. The false messiah, the antichrist, will thus be able to bring some form of unity or consensus among Christian and non-Christian religions. Ellen White warned: “As we near the close of time, there will be greater and still greater external parade of heathen power; heathen deities will manifest their signal power, and will exhibit themselves before the cities of the world; and this delineation has already begun to be fulfilled” (Evangelism, p. 705).
4. God’s People in Non-Christian Religions: God’s Spirit is reaching out to those who are in non-Christian religions (John 1:9). The three angels’ messages are to be proclaimed to Christians in order to call them to return to the Scriptures as the only source of faith and practice, and to non-Christians in order to present Christ as the only and exclusive means of salvation. Both Christians and non-Christians need to be alerted to the last deceptions that will take place and to their need to prepare to meet Christ in glory. Paul suggests a significant eschatological shift among the Jews, but does not provide specific information (Rom. 11:25-27). The details about the final conflict’s climactic moments are not available. Unquestionably there will be significant, radical, and unexpected shifts in world religions, global politics, and economic systems. But at that time God’s people will rejoice, knowing that their redemption is near. Meanwhile, we all have a mission to accomplish on behalf of the human race.
*Scripture quotations in this article are from the New International Version.