Built Upon the Rock
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira

Chapter 5:  The Great Controversy
Fundamental Belief #8 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.  [Revelation 12:4-9; Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-18; Genesis 3; Romans 1:19-32; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; Genesis 6-8; 2 Peter 3:6; 1 Corinthians 4:9; Hebrews 1:14.]

Most Christians acknowledge that some kind of controversy continues to rage between Christ and Satan.  Seventh-day Adventists, however, believe specifically that this battle revolves around the nature of the everlasting gospel.  The controversy began in heaven, was transferred to earth at the Fall, and will continue until sin is eradicated and the earth is made new.

That this great controversy exists between Christ and Satan is fundamental to Seventh-day Adventist beliefs.  Scripture describes the great controversy this way:

Revelation 12:7-9
Then war broke out in heaven.  Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.  But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.  The great dragon was hurled down — that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.  He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
Revelation 21:1-4
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The Fundamental Issue

Ellen G. White felt that the controversy between Christ and Satan was so important that all Christians should clearly understand what was involved, so she devoted five of her main books to this theme.  We know them as the “Conflict of the Ages” series:  Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, The Desire of Ages, Acts of the Apostles, and The Great Controversy.

Her understanding of the fundamental controversy comes through in the opening and closing statements of the set.  She begins the series with these words:

Patriarchs and Prophets, pg. 33
“God is love.  His nature, His law is love.  It ever has been; it ever will be.  Every manifestation of creative power is an expression of infinite love.”

She closes with these:

The Great Controversy, pg. 678
“The great controversy is ended.  Sin and sinners are no more.  The entire universe is clean.  One pulse of harmony and gladness beats throughout the vast creation.  From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things both animate and inanimate declare that God is love.”

Between those two statements she depicts the grand, ongoing conflict between God’s government (based on His law of self-less, agape-type love) and Satan’s kingdom (based on the principle of self-centeredness).  This principle of self had caused Lucifer’s downfall in heaven, and he, in turn, exported the philosophy to earth, at the Fall.

Ezekiel 28:14-15
You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you.  You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones.  You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.
Isaiah 53:6
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The Fall of Lucifer

Scripture in Ezekiel explains poetically how the great controversy began, and how it will all end:

Ezekiel 28:12-19
“Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre [symbol for Lucifer-turned Satan] and say to him:  ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:  You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.  You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you:  carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.  Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.  You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you.  You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones.  You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.  Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned.  So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones.  Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.  So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.  By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries.  So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching.  All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.’”

Lucifer was a perfect created being, but when iniquity entered his heart he became Satan, God’s great enemy.  The Hebrew word translated “iniquity” means “to be crooked” or “bent.”  When used in a spiritual sense, it means bent toward self.

Psalm 51:5
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Isaiah 53:6
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Philippians 2:21
For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

This bent towards self rebels against God’s opposite nature of agape-type love, which, according to the apostle Paul “does not seek its own”:

1 Corinthians 13:5
It [Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Lucifer fueled the great controversy by, first, introducing the principle of self into heaven, and the prophet Isaiah describes the process:

Isaiah 14:12-14
How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!  You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!  You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.  I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

God is agape, and last chapter we discovered that this agape-type love is unconditional and selfless.

1 John 4:8, 16
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  ...And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

It is God’s nature, His character, and the governing principle of His law and creation.  So when Lucifer allowed self to become the goal of his existence, he completely contradicted God’s nature and the law of His government.  Lucifer introduced a foreign element into heaven:  the element of sin.

Lucifer, to whom God had given the highest position in the universe, felt that he could not be truly happy unless the primary object of his love was himself, and this concept lies at the heart of the great controversy between God and Satan.  The battle is between agape-style, selfless love and the life principle of self-seeking.

The Fall of Mankind

The principle of self-first brought discord in heaven and cursed the earth when it arrived here.  When Satan infected the human race with the principle of self at the Fall, he introduced the law of sin into human nature, and humanity became slaves to self.  As the prophet Isaiah puts it:

Isaiah 64:6
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

In other words, even the supposed good we do is polluted with self-interest.

Adam and Even accepted Satan’s principle of self and, to demonstrate the heinousness of this principle to the universe, God has allowed sin to produce its fruit on earth, in the form of wars and other atrocities.  Not until the end of the world will this central issue of the great controversy be finally resolved.  The final showdown between Christ and Satan is symbolically illustrated in the Day of Atonement service of the Old Testament Sanctuary.

The Day of Atonement

The biblical Sanctuary is God’s visual aid for the Plan of Salvation.  The service on the Day of Atonement represented the culmination of the Plan of Redemption, where two goats were brought into the Sanctuary.  Both were spotless, without blemish, and lots were cast (similar to drawing straws or tossing a coin, today), and one animal was selected to be the “Lord’s goat.”  It represented Christ and Him crucified.  The other goat became the “scapegoat,” and represented Lucifer, who was created perfect until iniquity was found in him.  The central question asked on the Day of Atonement is this:  “Who is responsible for the sin problem that has plagued God’s creation?”<

Since the beginning of the great controversy, Satan has accused God Himself of being responsible for the sin problem.  Satan has held that His law of selfless, agape-type love is unreasonable and impossible to follow.  God has responded by allowing Satan to develop his principle of self on earth, even as God has temporarily accepted full blame for all the terrible things that the human race has to endure.  This is why the sovereign God declares:

Isaiah 45:7
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

But the real culprit must ultimately be exposed before God can bring sin to an end and usher in everlasting righteousness.  Satan and his idea of self-centered utopianism must be seen as ultimately responsible for the sin problem.  This is the symbolism of the two goats on the Day of Atonement.  It shows that Satan is the one responsible for the curse under which the earth has suffered.  It also demonstrates that, once Satan’s guilt is established, all blame will be placed on his head, and God will be vindicated.  The saints will declare, “Just and true are your ways”:

Revelation 15:3
...And sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb:  “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty.  Just and true are your ways, King of the nations.”

Only then can God cleanse the universe of sin and its curse.

The Great Controversy and the Gospel

The primary issue of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, we have seen, is God’s selfless agape-type love versus Satan’s principle of self.  Now we must deal with the big question:  “What effect does this controversy have on the Plan of Salvation, the good news of the gospel?”

While the great controversy began in heaven, it is one that will ultimately be resolved here.  When Adam sinned, he surrendered his God-given dominion over the earth.

Genesis 1:26
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Centuries later, when tempting Christ in the wilderness, Satan showed Him all the kingdoms of the world (the entire human race) in a moment of time and said:

Luke 4:6
And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.” [Emphasis supplied.]

Christ did not dispute Satan’s claim.  In fact, on more than one occasion, Jesus openly referred to Satan as “the ruler (or prince) of this world”:

John 12:31
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
John 14:30
I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming.  He has no hold over me....

He acknowledged that, at the Fall, the entire human race was taken captive and came under Satan’s dominion.  Using human beings as tools, Satan governed the world on the principle of self.  Self is the undergirding principle behind society today — commerce, politics, education, sports, nationalism, you name it.

In coming to redeem the human race from this captivity, Christ established His own kingdom on earth, a kingdom built on the principle of agape.  He announced the arrival of that kingdom with the words:

Mark 1:15
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news!”

And the great controversy begun in heaven now focused completely on earth.  Jesus described it this way:

Luke 11:21-22
“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe.  But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.”

On the cross, Christ bought back the entire human race, delivering mankind from Satan’s dominion and bringing everlasting hope.

John 12:31-33
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

Since the cross, Satan’s kingdom stands condemned before the universe, leaving open only one escape:  the gift of salvation offered in Christ:

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

To follow Christ, therefore, is to pass from death to life, to change spiritual citizenship, under the banner of Christ.

John 5:24
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”
John 15:19
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.

Jesus can indeed rightfully declare:

Luke 11:23
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
Luke 12:51
“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but division.”

For everyone who receives the gospel also becomes involved in the issues under dispute in the great controversy.

The Two Groups

The apostle Paul describes this warfare that affects the followers of Christ:

Ephesians 6:12-13
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

The everlasting gospel polarizes the human race into two camps:

1 John 5:19
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

On one side are those who by faith accept Christ as their personal Savior, Lord, and Master, and have become God’s adopted children.

1 John 3:1
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

On the other side are those who deliberately and persistently reject the good news of the gospel:

John 8:44
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Scripture describes these two groups in many ways:  as believers and unbelievers, sheep and goats, builders on rock and builders on the sand of self-righteousness, etc.  In the final judgment, the believers (sheep) are invited into heaven, while the unbelievers (goats) join Satan and his angels in an all-consuming, life-ending lake of fire.

Matthew 25:31-34, 41
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’  ...Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

So, the moment an individual obeys the gospel and receives Christ by faith, Satan loses a citizen, and does not accept the loss lying down!  Hence the battle for the believer’s soul begins in earnest, and the Christian becomes personally involved in the great controversy.  This is the fight of faith that the apostle Paul mentions to young Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:7-8
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

As long as faith in Christ perseveres, Satan cannot deprive the Christian of the joy of salvation, in Christ.  But the moment he destroys that faith, the canopy of justification can no longer offer protection.

Scripture nowhere teaches that once saved means always saved, as some teach.  Christ Himself said that only the person whose faith “endures to the end will be saved”:

Matthew 10:22
You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

The writer of Hebrews is even more specific:

Hebrews 10:38-39
And, “But my righteous one will live by faith.  And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”  But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.  [Emphasis supplied.]
2 Peter 2:20-21
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.  It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.
Matthew 10:17-22
Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

The righteousness that justifies the believer and that qualifies him or her for heaven, both now and in the judgment, is secure in Christ.  But the faith that makes that righteousness effective is found in the believer’s heart, and this Satan can indeed influence.  Nowhere does Scripture teach that Christians become unjustified every time they fall or commit a sin.  But it does teach that in deliberately turning their backs on Christ and His righteousness, they also turn their backs on heaven.

Hebrews 6:4-6
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.  To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

The prodigal son did not cease to be the father’s son when he rejected his father and left home.  But he did say good-bye to the father’s joys and blessings when he left for a faraway country.  Had he not returned in repentance, he would never again have enjoyed the blessings of home.

In the same way, God does not stop loving the Christians who turn their backs on Christ; but neither does he force them to return.  Persisting in unbelief is to turn one’s back on heaven forever:

Hebrews 10:26-29
If we deliberately keep on sinning [deliberately reject Christ’s sacrifice] after we have received the knowledge of the truth [as it is in Christ, and Him crucified], no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

The Battle in the Great Controversy

This raises the vital question, “How can Satan destroy faith in Christ?”  Scripture lists three primary ways — through persecution, through worldly attractions, and by perverting the gospel.  He will try any and all, if necessary.  Let’s examine each of them, one by one.

  1. Persecution.  Satan first used persecution to attack the faith of the early Christian church (Revelation 12:12-13)
    Revelation 12:12-13
    “Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!  But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!  He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”  When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.

    Christ warned His disciples that, after His departure, they would face severe attacks from the world under Satan’s control:

    Matthew 10:16-21
    “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.”
    Matthew 13:20-21
    “The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time.  When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”
    John 15:18-21
    “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you:  ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.

    But all attempts failed to destroy the infant church, and as the church father Tertullian so aptly puts it:

    Apologeticus, L.13
    “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” [“Plures efficimur, quoties metimur a vobis; semen est sanguis christianorum.”]

    According to the apostle Paul:

    2 Timothy 3:12
    In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted....

    Satan’s persecution may take many forms.  It may be mental, social, economic, or even physical.  It can originate both inside and outside the church.  It can come from family members, the government, or strangers.  Satan doesn’t care whom he uses or what methods he applies, so long as it effectively destroys the believer’s faith.

    How should Christians respond to persecution?  Both James and Peter offer good counsel.  James says:

    James 1:2-4
    Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

    Peter puts it another way:

    1 Peter 1:6-7
    In all this [salvation] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
  2. Worldly Attractions.  Since the believer’s sinful nature remains unchanged at conversion, and even during the sanctification process, the Christian continues to feel the effect of three human drives — “the lust of the flesh (self-indulgence), the lust of the eyes (covetousness), and the pride of life (desire for power and status)”:

    1 John 2:16
    For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world.

    Satan is skilled at using this sinful nature as the point of contact (the law of sin within) to draw Christians away from Christ.  The New Testament presents the example of Demas, Paul’s co-worker, who was caught up in this Satanic snare:

    2 Timothy 4:10
    ...For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.  Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.

    All Christians face the great danger of worldly attractions — that is, materialism — especially in developed countries.  In one of his last letters, Paul gave this counsel to the young pastor Timothy:

    1 Timothy 6:9-12
    Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
    2 Timothy 2:3-4
    Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.
    Romans 12:2
    Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

    In the parable of the sower, Jesus describes what happens in a life when the gospel seed falls among thorns and is choked out by the cares of the world:

    Matthew 13:22
    “The seed [the gospel] falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word [a believer], but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

    Well aware of this problem, Christ often warned His disciples,

    Luke 21:34
    “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life [bios], and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.”
  3. Perverting the Gospel.  Satan has met with some success using persecution and the cares of the world, but his most successful method of drawing believers away from Christ and destroying their faith continues to be by perverting the gospel.  For example, using the Judaizers (Jewish believers who opposed Paul’s message of salvation by grace alone), Satan was successful in turning the Galatian Christians from the good news of the gospel to a perverted form of gospel that demanded grace plus law and works:

    Galatians 3:1; 5:7
    You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  ...You were running a good race.  Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?

    Note how Paul responds with some anger when he discovers what was going on:

    Galatians 1:6-7
    I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

    If Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus, then the “so soon” represents only one year.  If, on the other hand, he wrote this letter from Corinth, the “so soon” would mean about three years.  In either case, it did not take long for the devil to sidetrack the Galatian Christians from the pure gospel of grace.

    The very first council of the Christian church, the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15, centered on the matter of perverting the gospel.  The same Judaizers who had caused so much trouble in Galatia came to Antioch, where Paul and Barnabas were ministering.  The Judaizers insisted that all Gentile believers could not be saved unless they were circumcised and kept the law of Moses.

    The Bible records that Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, and that finally “they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question”:

    Acts 15:1-2
    Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers:  “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.  So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

    What happened at the council?  One thing came though clearly, whatever differences the apostles may have had among themselves on various issues:  they all came away perfectly united in the gospel of salvation by grace alone:

    Acts 15:7-11
    After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them:  “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?  No!  We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

    Had they not done so, the Christian church would have withered away long ago.  Satan understands the power of the pure gospel and, from the very beginning of the Christian era, has tried his best to pervert it.

    Paul’s greatest fear as an apostle/evangelist was that the Christian church would accept a perverted gospel.  Note how he expresses this fear to the church in Corinth:

    2 Corinthians 11:3-4
    But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

Perverting God’s Agape

Believers need to understand the crafty ways Satan has used to pervert the gospel.  His first salvo was to misrepresent the agape-type love of God, which lies at the very foundation of the Plan of Salvation:

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Ephesians 2:4
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy....
1 John 4:9, 19
This is how God showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  ...We love because he first loved us.

The nature of this love is the defining question in the controversy between Christ and Satan.

In writing about God’s love, all New Testament writers use the Greek word agape.  This noun appears some 87 times in the New Testament and always refers to the unconditional, everlasting, changeless love of God, love so unlike self-centered human love.  This agape allowed Christ to reconcile mankind to God, while they were still helpless, ungodly, and at war with God:

Romans 5:6-10
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

The English language, unfortunately, has no word equivalent to the Greek noun agape.  This has allowed Satan to equate God’s love with human love, perverting the very foundation of the gospel and presenting the incredibly good news as simply “good advice,” with lots of do’s and don’ts.

Even at its very best, human love is conditional, and those who wish to be loved in this world must work hard to present themselves attractively.  When we project this kind of human love onto God, we tell ourselves, “I must first be good, meet the demands of His law, and make myself attractive to Him so He can love and save me.”  This turns the gospel into a subtle form of pagan legalism, in which salvation is at least partially earned by good works and law-keeping.

After the disciples passed from the scene, church leadership fell into the hands of the Church Fathers, most of whom were cultural Greeks.  Satan used some of these men as his agents to pervert the church’s understanding of God’s agape-love.  Through Church Father Marcion, Satan tried to substitute the Greek word eros for the word agape, in describing God’s love.

Plato had used the word eros to describe the highest known form of human love:  man’s love for God.  But the word eros appears nowhere in the New Testament, and this bothered some of the Church Fathers.  So a few years later, Church Father Origen of North Africa succeeded in changing John’s sublime statement, “God is love (agape)” to “God is love (eros).”

Human love, even at its very best (i.e., eros), is polluted with self and falls short of God’s agape, “which seeks not its own”:

1 Corinthians 13:5
It [Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Satan seemed to know if that, if human love, eros, could be substituted for God’s love, agape, he would succeed in turning the gospel from salvation by grace alone to salvation by human goodness.  The gospel would then cease to be good news for sinners and become merely good advice, as Christians came to believe that to be saved they would have to achieve God’s standards of conduct.

1 Timothy 1:15
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst.

Augustine, the fourth-century bishop of Hippo in North Africa, evolved this idea yet further, teaching that true love was a synthesis between God’s agape and human eros, a love he termed caritas (from which comes the English word “charity,” as used in the King James Version of the Bible).  Interestingly, the present Roman Catholic Pope defended caritas love in his first encyclical.

The Christian church of Augustine’s day embraced this new idea, and it became the dominant view regarding God’s love, as defined by Christianity during the Dark Ages.

The introduction of caritas love turned the gospel into a call for a mixture of grace and works, faith and law-keeping.  The gospel became defined as infused grace, grace through which “I must do my best to meet God’s requirements, and Christ will make up the difference in saving me.”  So the everlasting gospel of God’s unconditional agape-love was downgraded to conditional news.

Restoring Agape

The Reformation in the Sixteenth Century corrected this perverted gospel and restored the good news of justification by faith alone.  But many Christians today — including the majority of Seventh-day Adventists, unfortunately — still find themselves victimized by the perverted gospel of the Galatians:  that one is saved by grace plus keeping the law, by faith plus works.

If Adventists wish to restore the pure gospel of the New Testament and preach it with the three angels of Revelation 14 as a worldwide proclamation, they must first restore the true biblical understanding of God’s agape-type love.

Only when this happens will the earth be filled with the glory of God, infuriating Satan and precipitating the final showdown in the great controversy, described in the book of Revelation as the War of Armageddon.

Revelation 18:1
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven.  He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.
Revelation 16:12-16
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East.  Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet.  They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.  “Look, I come like a thief!  Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”  Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

This war has nothing to do with the Middle East crisis, nor is it some nuclear war or global battle.  This is “the battle on that great day of God Almighty.”

This will be a spiritual war, fought between the world under Satan and God’s people on earth, the final generation of Christians who, as the 144,000, will have fully washed their robes in the blood of the lamb and will be able to withstand the great tribulation.

Revelation 7:13-17
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes — who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.  ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’  ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

Jesus prophesied that, before the end of time, the gospel of the kingdom would be preached in all the world:

Matthew 24:14
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

When this happens, the earth will be filled with the glory of Christ, and there will be no further excuse for any who have reached the age of accountability to misunderstand the good news.  Those who persist in rejecting the gospel will come under Satan’s banner and make war against the followers of Christ.

The Final Conflict

The issue in this war will be the believers’ faith.

Luke 18:8
“I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

On the cross Jesus felt forsaken of God:

Matthew 27:45-46
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Ellen G White describes this as follows:

The Desire of Ages, pg. 753
“The Savior could not see through the portals of the tomb.  Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice.  He feared that sin was so offensive to God that their separation was to be eternal.”

While Jesus hung on the cross, Satan used human agents to tempt Him to come down and save Himself:

Luke 23:35-39
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him.  They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and mocked him.  They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
There was a written notice above him, which read:  this is the king of the jews.  One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him:  “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But:

The Desire of Ages, pg. 756
“By faith He rested in Him whom it had ever been His joy to obey.  And as in submission He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of His Father’s favor was withdrawn.  By faith, Christ was victor.”

The big question in this final showdown is this:  “Can God reproduce this same kind of faith, the faith of Jesus, in His people — faith that will endure the feeling of God’s abandonment?”  The everlasting gospel of the three angels says, “Yes.”  Christ will do it in the last generation of Christians, the 144,000:

Revelation 14:12
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.  [Emphasis supplied.]

To vindicate the power of the gospel, Christ will allow His people to feel forsaken of God in the great tribulation, but they will come out victorious:

Isaiah 54:5-8
“For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.  The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit — a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.  “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.  In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer.

When Satan realizes his defeat in this final conflict, he will influence his followers to issue a decree that all the saints are to be killed.  But Christ will step in and deliver His people, at His Second Coming.  This will bring a 1,000-year halt to the War of Armageddon, but, after that time, during which Satan will have been exiled on earth, he will once again gather all who have taken his side since the Fall, and they will attack the New Jerusalem as it comes down from heaven, with Christ and the redeemed.

At this time, fire will come down from heaven and consume, once and forever, Satan and all who have accepted his principle of self:

Revelation 20:7-10
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth — Gog and Magog — and to gather them for battle.  In number they are like the sand on the seashore.  They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves.  But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.  And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown.  They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

At last,

The Great Controversy, pg. 678
“The great controversy is ended.  Sin and sinners are no more.  The entire universe is clean.  One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation.  From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things both animate and inanimate declare that God is love.”

During this great controversy, all must choose one side or the other.  May God give each one of us the wisdom to make the right choice, the one that allowed the apostle Paul to exalt:

Philippians 1:21
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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