The cosmic controversy

A christocentric view of the eighth statement of Adventist belief

Norman R. Gulley, Ph.D., is research professor of systematic theology, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee.

Seventh-day Adventist Statement of Faith #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 dis ordering 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. (Rev. 12:4-9; Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-18; Gen. 3; Rom. 1:19-32; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; Gen. 6-8; 2 Peter 3:6; 1 Cor. 4:9, Heb. 1:14.)"

There was war 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" (Rev. 12:7-9).1

War in heaven! Strange that war should break out in the most holy place of heaven's sanctuary! God's throne is the last place one would expect a fight. But the throne was the focus of the battle. Possession of the throne was the issue. Two groups battled the dragon and his angels, and Michael and His angels. The dragon is Satan, the devil(see Rev. 12:9; cf. Ezek. 28:14-17; Rev. 20:2). The Hebrew word for Michael (micael) means "who is like God." Michael is another name for Christ, the One who protects God's people in the time of trouble (see Dan. 12:1), and the One who guarantees the resurrection of the saints (see Jude 9).

Clearly the war in heaven was between Christ and Satan, first in heaven and then on earth. Before this war in heaven, God created the universe through Christ (see John 1:1-3; Heb. 1:2). "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities" (Col. 1:16). This means Christ created Lucifer (who later became Satan) and those who joined his side of the cosmic controversy. Rebellion was against Christ, the One who gave them existence.

Lucifer's rebellion in heaven

But consider Lucifer's position in heaven before his rebellion. The name means "the shining one." He stood at God's throne as the "anointed . . .guardian cherub" (Ezek. 28:14). Like Christ (see Rev. 22:16), he was called a "morning star" (Isa. 14:12). Christ created Lucifer as much like Himself as He could. We might call him a look-alike.

Lucifer even had his own throne. He said, "I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High" (Isa. 14:13,14). Lucifer, a created being, wanted to raise his throne above the throne of God and be "like the Most High." How could this be a created being wanting to become as the Creator and sit on His throne?

Why did Lucifer rebel and become the devil? He thought he could become God, sit on His throne, in spite of the fact that it was Christ who created him (see John 1:3) and gave him everything, including freedom of choice and a position as the leading cherubim at the throne (Ezek. 28:14,15), and thus great authority.

Lucifer was the most exalted created being in the universe. He should have been grateful and known that the One who created him was the Creator and not a created being. And a creature can never become the Creator. Yet Lucifer sought to be one. So blind is pride. Thus sin, rebellion against God, had its roots in self-exaltation, or self-dependence. Lucifer knew that He was dependent on Christ for his life (see Ps. 36:9), yet said "I will" be independent (the word appears five times in Isaiah 14:13, 14)!

Lucifer's rebellion was not public at first. It started in his mind. That's where all sin begins. Sin is not just the outward act, it's the inward thought. Lucifer was becoming Satan in his mind. He mulled over the position of Christ and became jealous. He wanted to take the throne of the One who had given him his throne, and he hated Christ. To hate someone is murder (see 1 John 3:15), and that's why Christ called him a murderer and liar from the beginning (see John 8:44). Satan's jealousy and hatred of Christ led him to launch a campaign of disinformation about Him among the angels (cf. Rev. 12:10).

Scripture says of Satan, "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" (Ezek. 28:15, 16). The Hebrew word for "wickedness" is rekullah, meaning "trading" or "peddling." As Richard Davidson points out, the "widespread trade" refers to goods or to gossip. Here Satan spreads gossip about God among the angels. 2 The cosmic controversy spread with gossip, slandering the character of God as unjust.

Satan silently and seditiously invaded heaven's peace and joy with selfishness. From sin's inception "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" (John 8:44). Satan claimed himself a better choice to run heaven's government. His influence permeated Paradise like cancer. One third of the angels succumbed to his deception and cast their lot with him (see Rev. 12:4).

Mournfully come the words, "How have you fallen from heaven, O 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 heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High'" (Isa. 14:12- 14). Satan wanted to take Christ's place. He wanted to be like Him in position, not in character. This look-alike wanted power for selfish reasons. He wanted to be God. No wonder he urged Christ in the wilderness to fall down and worship him! (See Matt. 4:8, 9.)

Satan, the prince of the world

After he was cast out of heaven, Satan shifted his focus to Planet Earth to cause the human race to rebel against God (see Gen. 3:1-5). Satan knew that God has given all His creatures, angelic and human, freedom of choice. It was the wrong exercise of this freedom that led Lucifer and his angels to rebel, and now he would use the same technique with our first parents. Adam and Eve, made in the image of God (see Gen. 1:26, 27), were free beings. They could converse with God, and God expected them to serve and obey freely out of love. Once again the wrong exercise of freedom on the part of Adam and Eve led them, and with them all humanity,to become subjects of sin and Satan.

God knew that freedom is risky, but the fearful risk was worth it, for at the end of history all created beings will choose to freely follow Christ forever.

God warned Adam and Eve that they would die if they ate the forbidden fruit (see Gen. 2:16, 17). But Satan in the form of a serpent told Eve, "You will not surely die. . . . For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:4, 5). Eve doubted the word of her Creator and accepted the word of the tempter. Thus, through Adam and Eve sin entered the world, and all humanity fell prey to sin and its effects (see Rom. 5:12). Consequently, Satan pretended to be the master of this earth (see Job 1:7). Jesus called him "the prince of this world" (John 12:31), and Paul labeled him "the god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4). As prince and god of this world, Satan claimed the human race as his. But Christ came to this world to win back the lost world.

The book of Job introduces us to the cosmic united nations where Adams of different worlds came to a cosmic council. These representatives come by virtue of being the leader of a world. Christ created each of these worlds and each of these Adams (see John 1:1-3), also called "sons of God" (Job 1:6,NKJV). Each one has dominion over their world as Adam and Eve were given dominion over this world (see Gen. 1:26). But Adam and Eve lost their position, which, because of their sin, was usurped by Satan. And so Satan came. "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them" (Job 1:6, NKJV).

At this cosmic council, Christ asked Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil" (Job 1:8). Here's a test case of one who freely followed Christ in the cosmic controversy. The book of )ob unravels the drama that ensues, and one imagines that angels and inhabitants of all the worlds watched to see whether Job would stay true to Christ.

Christ allows Satan to cause Job's family and possessions to be taken through death and destruction (see Job 1:6-20). Rather than blame God, job "fell to the ground in worship and said: 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.' In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing" (Job 1:20-22).

At another meeting of the council (see Job 2:1, 2), Christ asked Satan again about Job. "'Skin for skin!' Satan replied. 'A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face'" (Job 2:4, 5). Again Christ permitted Satan to test Job. "So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head" (Job 2:7). Through it all Job remained faithful to Christ and was commended by Him (see Job 42:7), and He made him twice as prosperous as before (see Job 42:10).

Job is a type of all those who will be saved. Each one witnesses to the uni verse about the justice of God. Paul had it right. God's intent is "now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:10, 11).

Biblical worldview

So the biblical worldview is far more than human salvation. It is about the cosmic controversy of which human salvation is only a part. It is easy for Christians to think everything centers on this world, and in a sense that is true, because this is the theater in which the controversy is unfolding. But the inter est in what happens here is not confined to this world and heaven. Scripture is clear that Christ created worlds (aviw/naj aionas, plural, Heb. 1:2, ages or worlds, 3 translated "worlds" in KJV, NKJV, and "universe" in Phillips, NIV) populated by unfallen intelligent beings. These and the unfall en angels view the course of the cosmic controversy on this earth with great interest.

Satan against Jesus during His human life

When Jesus became a helpless babe and a dependent human, Satan must have exulted in his advantage over Him. How he must have wanted to wrench back His position in heaven by defeat ing Christ! That's why he tempted Jesus (see Matt. 4:1-10).

After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was physically exhausted. Then "the tempter came to him and said, 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread'" (Matt. 4:3). What a temptation to a man at the point of death, and to a God who had the power to perform the deed! "Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 'If you are the Son of God,' he said, 'throw yourself down. For it is written: "He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone"'" (Matt. 4:5, 6). When you are emaciated and at the point of death, and are not known for who you really are, it's a great temptation to test God, who had made the promise Satan quoted.

"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 'All this I will give you,' he said, 'if you will bow down and worship me'" (Matt 4:8, 9). What a temptation this was to One at the point of death, and who knew that one day crucifixion would be far worse. He came to die to win back the kingdoms of this world usurped from Him by Satan in Eden. The temptation was, "If you bow to me now, you can get these kingdoms and avoid the horrors of Calvary." This last temptation provides insight into what the cosmic controversy is all about.Satan wants to be worshiped. He wants to take the prerogative that belongs only to Christ and the Godhead. Satan always wanted to be like God.

How did Christ respond? He answered with the Word of God (see Matt. 4:1-10; Deut. 8:3; Deut. 6:16; Deut. 6:1 3). Whereas Satan questioned God's word in Eden and beyond, Christ used God's word to overcome him.

Christ defeated Satan at Calvary

In the trials and crucifixion of Jesus we find the climax of the cosmic controversy between Christ and Satan. Properly understood the destiny of the world hung in the balance at Gethsemane and the cross. The temptations endured during those crises can only be glimpsed, never fully under stood. Amid the anguish and shame of crucifixion, carrying the crushing weight of the world's sin (see Isa. 53:6), the mob mocked and ridiculed the One who hung there for them. Was it worth it? Should He give up? Satan knew everything was at stake now. If Christ died triumphant, he was doomed. But if he could make Christ come down from the cross, or just sin once, his future was secure.

But Calvary decided the controversy. Christ won the decisive victory. Satan knew he was defeated. He knew Christ's death meant that he would die. But Satan would not give up. He flung his full fury against the resurrected/ascend ed Christ. He would throw all his energy against Christ by attempting to make the Cross of no avail. If the human race neglects what happened that day on the Cross, then it would be of no value to them, and Satan would still come out the winner. He would invest everything to make the Cross of none effect to humans.

The cosmic conflict and the final judgment

Although Christ has won the cosmic war on the cross, the Bible does speak of a final judgment at the end time (Rev. 20:11-15) when the great controversy will meet its final resolution. Indeed, it makes no sense to have a final judgment if there isn't a cosmic controversy heeding resolution. For why else would God gather all who ever lived in one place at one time? This post-millennial judgment (see Rev. 20:11-15) is one thousand years after the saints went to heaven in the second advent (see 1 Thess. 4:16- 18), and includes the dead wicked who are now resurrected (see Rev. 20:12, 13). The fact that one group has been in heaven and the other group not, shows destiny has already been decided and experienced by the saved.

The wicked dead are resurrected to face their Creator and Savior and to receive their final judgment, along with Satan and his angels. What is this final judgment? It is God's self-revelation, providing overwhelming evidence that convinces all created beings that God is just, gracious, and loving. True, God's character was fully revealed at Calvary. But only a few saw Jesus die. How could He show the others? What if He replays the scenes of the cross across the canvass of the heavens. The saved and the lost would gaze upon this greatest revelation of God. Here they would see that God poured out all His love to save every human. Here they would see that Satan and his fiends did everything to kill the One who had given them life. The contrast between Christ and Satan would be stark and shattering! Then each one would realize on that judgment day that their destiny was decided not arbitrarily by a vengeful God, but on the basis of whether they accepted or rejected Christ's death for them as a ransom for their sin.

In the light of Calvary the saved will say, "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the Ages" (Rev. 15:3), and "Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments" (Rev. 19:1, 2). It's not hard for the saved to say He's just, but what will the lost say? Will they cry out, "You are unjust!"

In the light of salvation offered to all at Calvary, the wicked realize their abject slavery to Satan. For the first time they see the utter contrast between Christ and Satan. They realize that only God is love. But they also realize that they don't love Him. They are unfitted for life with God. They want to be hid den from God. Sin has separated them from the Savior.

But there will be a universal acknowledgment of God's love and justice. "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10, 11; cf. Isa. 45:23, 24; Zeph. 2:11). "Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!'" (Rev. 5:13).

The wicked can't help saying these things. The evidence is overwhelming. But they remain unchanged. Their last act is to follow Satan in battle against God, His city, and His people (see Rev. 20:7-10). Their demise is their choice, and the saints will forever know that God gave them their desires and so is just. Throughout eternity the saved, the unfallen angels, and beings from unfallen worlds, will revel in the great love of God manifested in Christ. Then every created being will realize "in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Rom. 8:28). For God is love (see 1 John 4:8-16). 4 On that universal acclamation, the cosmic conflict will see its end.

1 Except as otherwise stated, all Scripture passages quoted in this article are from the New Inter national Version.

2 Richard M. Davidson, "Cosmic Metanarrative for the Coming Millennium," Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 11 (2000) 1-2:108.

3 See James Strong, A Concise Dktionaiy of the Words in The deck Testament; with their renderings in the Authorized English Version (McEean, Va.: MacDonald, npd), 9.

4 For a much fuller biblical and theological presentation on the Cosmic Controversy worldview, see Norman R. Gulley, Systematic Theology: Prolegomena (Berrien Springs, Mien.: Andrews University Press, 2003), 1:10.

 

 

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Norman R. Gulley, Ph.D., is research professor of systematic theology, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee.

July 2003

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