|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
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'"
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"
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
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'"
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
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
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
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
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
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.