Chapter 8: THE GREAT CONTROVERSY


Seventh-day Adventists Believe...

All humanity is now involved in a great controversy

between Christ and Satan regarding the character of God, His

law, and His sovereignty over the universe. This conflict

originated in heaven when a created being, endowed with

freedom of choice, in self-exaltation became Satan, God's

adversary, and led into rebellion a portion of the angels.

He introduced the spirit of rebellion into this world when

he led Adam and Eve into sin. This human sin resulted in the

distortion of the image of God in humanity, the disordering

of the created world, and its eventual devastation at the

time of the worldwide flood. Observed by the whole creation,

this world became the arena of the universal conflict, out

of which the God of love will ultimately be vindicated. To

assist His people in this controversy, Christ sends the Holy

Spirit and the loyal angels to guide, protect, and sustain

them in the way of salvation.--Fundamental Beliefs,8

 

THE GREAT CONTROVERSY

Scripture portrays a cosmic battle between good and evil,

God and Satan. Understanding this controversy, which has

involved the entire universe, helps answer the question Why

did Jesus come to this planet?

A Cosmic View of the Controversy

Mystery of mysteries, the conflict between good and evil

began in heaven. How could sin possibly originate in a

perfect environment?

Angels, beings of a higher order than humans (Ps. 8:5),

were created to enjoy intimate fellowship with God (Rev.

1:1; 3:5; 5:11). Of superior strength, and obedient to God's

Word (Ps. 103:20), they function as servants or "ministering

spirits" (Heb. 1:14). Though generally invisible, at times

they appear in human form (Genesis 18,19; Heb. 13:2). It was

through one of these angelic beings that sin was introduced

to the universe.

The Origin of the Controversy

Using the kings of Tyre and Babylon as figurative

descriptions for Lucifer, Scripture illuminates how this

cosmic controversy began. "`Lucifer, son of the morning,'"

the anointed covering cherub, resided in the presence of God

(Isa. 14:12; Eze. 28:14).(*1) Scripture says, "`You were the

seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in

beauty....You were perfect in your ways from the day you

were created, till iniquity was found in you'"

(Eze. 28:12,15).

Although sin's rise is inexplicable and unjustifiable,

its roots can be traced to Lucifer's pride: "`Your heart was

lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom

for the sake of your splendor'" (Eze. 28:17). Lucifer

refused to be content with the exalted position his Creator

had given him. In selfishness he coveted equality with God

Himself: "`You have said in your heart; "I will ascend into

heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God...I

will be like the Most High"'" (Isa. 14:12-14). But though he

desired God's position, he did not want His character. He

grasped for God's authority but not His love. Lucifer's

rebellion against God's government was the first step in his

transformation into Satan, "the adversary."

Lucifer's covert actions blinded many angels to God's

love. The resulting discontent and disloyalty to God's

government grew until one third of the angelic host joined

him in rebellion (Rev. 12:4). The tranquility of God's

kingdom was shattered and "war broke out in heaven" (Rev.

12:7). The celestial warfare issued in Satan, depicted as

the great dragon, the ancient serpent, and the devil, being

"cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him"

(Rev. 12:9).

How Did Human Beings Become Involved

Upon his expulsion from heaven, Satan spread his

rebellion to our earth. Disguised as a speaking serpent and

using the same arguments that had led to his own downfall,

he effectively undermined Adam and Eve's trust in their

Creator (Gen. 3:5). Satan aroused in Eve discontent

regarding her assigned position. Infatuated by the prospect

of equality with God, she believed the tempter's word--and

doubted God's. Disobeying God's command, she ate the fruit

and influenced her husband to do the same. In believing the

serpent's word over that of their Creator they betrayed

their trust in and loyalty to God. Tragically, the seeds of

the controversy that had begun in heaven took root in Planet

Earth (see Genesis 3).

In seducing our first parents to sin, Satan ingeniously

wrested from them their dominion over the earth. Now

claiming to be the "prince of this world," Satan challenged

God, His government, and the peace of the whole universe

from his new headquarters, Planet Earth.

The Impact on the Human Race

The effects of the struggle between Christ and Satan soon

became apparent as the sin distorted the image of God in

humanity. Though God offered His covenant of grace to the

human race through Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15; see chapter 7 of

this book), their first child, Cain, murdered his brother

(Gen.4:8). Wickedness continued to multiply until in sorrow

God had to say of man "that every intent of the thoughts of

his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5).

God used a great flood to cleanse the world of its

unrepentant inhabitants and give the human race a new start

(Gen. 7:17-20). But before long the descendants of faithful

Noah departed from God's covenant. Although God had promised

never again to destroy the entire earth with a flood, they

blatantly concretized their distrust of Him by erecting the

tower of Babel in an attempt to reach heaven and thus have a

means of escape from any ensuing flood. This time God

quashed man's rebellion by confounding his universal

language (Gen. 9:1,11; 11).

Sometime later, with the world in near total apostasy,

God extended His covenant to Abraham. Through Abraham, God

planned to bless all nations of the world (Gen. 12:1-3;

22:15-18). However, the successive generations of Abraham's

descendants proved faithless to God's gracious covenant.

Entrapped in sin, they aided Satan in achieving his

objective in the great controversy by crucifying the Author

and Surety of the covenant, Jesus Christ.

Earth, the Theater of the Universe

The account in the book of Job of a cosmic convocation

involving representatives from various parts of the universe

gives additional insight into the great controversy. The

account begins, "Now there was a day when the sons of God

came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also

came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, `From where do

you come?' So Satan answered the Lord and said, `From going

to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on

it'" (Job 1:6,7; cf. 2:1-7).

Then the Lord, in effect, said, "Satan, look at Job. He

faithfully obeys My law. He is perfect!" (see Job 1:8).

When Satan countered, "Yes, but he's perfect only because

it pays to serve You. Don't You protect him?" Christ

responded by permitting Satan to test Job in any way short

of taking his life (see Job 1:9-2:7).

The cosmic perspective the book of Job affords provides

powerful proof of the great controversy between Christ and

Satan. This planet is the stage on which this dramatic

struggle between right and wrong is being played out. As

Scripture states, "We have been made a spectacle to the

world, both to angels and to men" (1 Cor. 4:9).

Sin severed the relationship between God and man, and

"whatever is not from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). The

breaking of God's commandments, or laws, is the immediate

result of a lack of faith, the evidence of a ruptured

relationship. In turn, by the plan of salvation God intends

to restore the trust in the Creator that leads to a loving

relationship manifested by obedience. As Christ noted, love

leads to obedience (John 14:15).

In our lawless age absolutes are neutralized, dishonesty

is praised, bribery is a way of life, adultery is rampant,

and agreements, both international and personal, lie

shattered. It is our privilege to look beyond our desperate

world to a caring, omnipotent God. This larger view reveals

to us the importance of our Saviour's atonement, which is

bringing this universal controversy to an end.

The Cosmic Issue

What is the pivotal issue in this life and death

struggle?

God's Government and Law

God's moral law is just as essential to the existence of

His universe as are the physical laws that hold it together

and keep it functioning. Sin is "the transgression of the

law" (1 John 3:4, KJV), or "lawlessness" as the Greek word

anomia indicates. Lawlessness issues from a rejection of God

and His government.

Rather than admitting responsibility for the lawlessness

in the world, Satan lays the blame on God. He says God's

law, which he alleges is arbitrary, infringes on individual

freedom. Furthermore, he charges, since it is impossible to

obey it, that law works against the best interests of

created beings. Through this constant and insidious

undermining of the law, Satan attempts to overthrow God's

government and even God Himself.

Christ and the Issue of Obedience

The temptations Christ faced during His earthly ministry

revealed the seriousness of the controversy over obedience

and surrender to God's will. In meeting those temptations,

which prepared Him to be "a merciful and faithful High

Priest" (Heb. 2:17), He met in single combat a deadly foe.

In the wilderness after Christ fasted forty days, Satan

tempted Him to change stones to bread to prove He really was

the Son of God (Matt. 4:3). As Satan had tempted Eve to

doubt God's word in Eden, so now he tried to cause Christ to

doubt the validity of what God had said at His baptism:

"`This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'" (Matt.

3:17). Had Christ taken matters into His own hands, creating

bread out of stones to prove His divine sonship, He would

have, like Eve, revealed a lack of trust in God. His mission

would have ended in failure.

But Christ's highest priority was to live by His Father's

word. In spite of His great hunger, He answered Satan's

temptation with "`Man shall not live by bread alone, but by

every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'"

(Matt. 4:4).

In another attempt to defeat Christ, Satan gave Him a

panoramic view of the kingdoms of the world, promising,

"`All these things I will give You if You will fall down and

worship me'" (Matt. 4:9). He implied that by doing so Christ

could regain the world thus completing His mission without

enduring the agony of Calvary. Without a moment's

hesitation, and in absolute loyalty to God, Jesus commanded,

"`Away with you, Satan!'" Then, using Scripture, the most

effective weapon in the great controversy, He said, "`You

shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall

serve'" (Matt. 4:10). His words ended the battle. Though

retaining His total dependence on the Father, Christ had

defeated Satan.

Showdown at Calvary

This cosmic controversy comes into its clearest focus at

Calvary. Satan intensified his efforts to abort Jesus'

mission as the time approached for it to close. Satan was

especially successful in using the religious leaders of the

time, whose jealousy over Christ's popularity caused such

trouble that He had to end His public ministry (John

11:45-54). Through betrayed by one of His disciples and

perjured testimony, Jesus was arrested, tried, condemned to

death (Matt. 26:63,64; John 19:7). In absolute obedience to

His Father's will, Jesus remained faithful until death.

The benefits of both Christ's life and His death reach

beyond the limited world of the human race. Speaking of the

cross, Christ said, "`Now the prince of this world [Satan]

will be driven out'" (John 12:31, NIV); "`the prince of this

world now stands condemned'" (John 16:11, NIV).

The cosmic controversy came to its climax at the cross.

The love and faithful obedience Christ demonstrated there in

the face of Satan's cruelty undermined Prince Satan's

position, assuring his ultimate downfall.

Controversy About Truth as It Is in Jesus

Today the great controversy raging furiously around

Christ's authority involves not only His law, but His

word--the Scriptures. Approaches to the interpretation of

the Bible have been developed that allow little or no room

for divine revelation.(*2) Scripture is treated as if it

were no different from any other ancient document and

analyzed with the same critical methodology. A growing

number of Christians, including theologians, no longer view

the Scriptures as the Word of God, the infallible revelation

of His will. Consequently, they have come to question the

Biblical view of the person of Jesus Christ; His nature,

virgin birth, miracles, and resurrection are widely

debated.(*3)

The Most Crucial Question

When Christ asked, "`Who do men say that I, the Son of

Man, am?'" the disciples replied, "`Some say John the

Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the

prophets'" (Matt. 16:13,14). In other words, most of His

contemporaries considered Him as a mere man. Scripture

continues the account: Jesus asked His twelve, "`But who do

you say that I am?'

"And Simon Peter answered and said, `You are the Christ,

the Son of the living God.'

"Jesus answered and said to him, `Blessed are you, Simon

Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,

but My Father who is in heaven'" (Matt. 16:15-17).

Today everyone faces the same question Christ asked His

disciples. One's answer to this life-and-death question

depends on one's faith in the testimony of God's Word.

The Center of Bible Doctrines

Christ is the focus of the Scriptures. God invites us to

comprehend the truth as it is in Jesus (Eph. 4:21), for He

is the truth (John 14:5). One of Satan's strategies in the

cosmic conflict is to convince people that they can

understand truth apart from Jesus. So several centers of

truth have been proposed, either individually or in

combination: (1) man, (2) nature, or the observable

universe,(3) Scriptures, and (4) the church.

While these all have their part in revealing truth,

Scripture presents Christ as the Creator of each of the

above, and transcending each. They all find real meaning

only in the One from whom they come. Divorcing Bible

doctrines from Him leads to a misunderstanding regarding

"`the way, the truth, and the life'" (John 14:6). It suits

both the nature and the purpose of the antichrist to suggest

other centers of truth than Christ. (In the original Greek,

antichrist may mean not only "against" Christ but "in the

place of" Christ.) By substituting some other center than

Christ in the church's doctrines, Satan achieves his goal of

directing attention away from the One who is the only hope

of humanity.

The Function of Christian Theology

The cosmic view unveils Satan's attempt to remove Christ

from His rightful place, both in the universe and in truth.

Theology, by definition a study of God and His relationship

with His creatures, must unfold all doctrines in the light

of Christ. The mandate of Christian theology is to inspire

confidence in the authority of the Word of God and to

replace all other suggested centers of truth with Christ.

When it does so, true Christian theology serves the church

well, for it goes to the root of the cosmic controversy,

exposes it, and meets it with the only incontrovertible

argument--Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. From this

perspective God can use theology as an effective instrument

for aiding humanity in opposing Satan's effort on earth.

The Significance of the Doctrine

The doctrine of the great controversy reveals the

tremendous battle that affects every person born in the

world--that, in fact, touches every corner of the universe.

Scripture says, "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,

but against principalities, against powers, against the

rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts

of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12).

The Doctrine Produces

a Constant State of Watchfulness

An understanding of this doctrine convicts one of the

need to combat evil. Success is possible only through

dependence on Jesus Christ, the Captain of the hosts, the

One "strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle" (Ps.

24:8). As Paul said, accepting Christ's survival strategy

entails taking up "the whole armor of God, that you may be

able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to

stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth,

having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having

shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be

able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And

take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit,

which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and

supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with

all perseverance and supplication for all the saints" (Eph.

6:13-18). What a privilege for true Christians to live a

life that is characterized by patience and faithfulness, a

readiness at all times for the conflict (Rev. 14:2),

manifesting a constant dependence upon One who has made us

"more than conquerors" (Rom. 8:37).

It Explains the Mystery of Suffering

Evil did not originate with God. He who "`loved

righteousness and hated lawlessness'" (Heb. 1:9) is not to

blame for the world's misery. Satan, a fallen angel, is

responsible for cruelty and suffering. We can better

understand robberies, murders, funerals, crimes, and

accidents--however heartbreaking--when we see them in the

framework of the great controversy.

The cross testifies to both the destructiveness of sin

and the depths of God's love for sinners. Thus the great

controversy theme teaches us to hate sin and to love the

sinner.

It Displays Christ's

Present Loving Concern for the World

Upon His return to heaven, Christ did not leave His

people orphans. In great compassion He provided us with

every possible aid in the battle against evil. The Holy

Spirit was commissioned to "fill in" for Christ to be our

constant companion until Christ would return (John 14:16;

cf. Matt. 28:20). The angels were also commissioned to be

involved in His saving work (Heb. 1:14). Our victory is

assured. We can have hope and courage as we face the future,

because our Master is in control. Our lips can utter praises

for His saving work.

It Reveals the Cosmic

Significance of the Cross

The salvation of humanity was at stake in Christ's

ministry and death, for He came to give His life for the

remission of our sins. In doing so He vindicated His

Father's character, law, and government, against which Satan

had cast false aspersions.

Christ's life vindicated God's justice and goodness and

demonstrated that God's law and government were fair. Christ

revealed the groundlessness of Satan's attack on God,

showing that through total dependence on God's power and

grace repentant believers could rise above the harassments

and frustrations of daily temptations and live victorious

over sin.

References

l. "Lucifer" comes from the Latin, Lucifer, meaning "light

bearer." The phrase "son of the morning" was a common

expression meaning "morning star"--Venus. "A literal

rendering of the Hebrew expression translated `Lucifer, son

of the morning' would be `shining one, son of dawn.' The

figurative application of the brilliant planet Venus,

brightest of all the heavenly luminaries, to Satan before

his fall...is most appropriate as a graphic illustration of

the high estate from which Lucifer fell" ("Lucifer," SDA

Bible Dictionary, rev. ed., p. 683).

2. See, General Conference Committee, "Methods of Bible

Study," 1986; Hasel, Biblical Interpretation Today

(Washington, D.C., Biblical Research Institute [of the

General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists], l985).

3. See e.g. K. Runia, The Present-day Christological Debate

(Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984); G. C.

Berkouwer, The Person of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B.

Eerdmans, l954), pp. 14-56.