God's blueprint--a secure, loving universe

Clarifying the purpose of the gospel

Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D. (retired), lives in Lincoln Hills, California.

One of the Seventh-day Adventist statements of faith follows: 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 the 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. (Rev. 12:4-9; Isa. 14:12-14; Eze. 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.)

From beginning to end, the controversy between God and Satan is the united thread of the Bible. "And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer" (Rev. 12:7, 8) 1

Hard to believe! But war there was, and "a third of the stars [angels]" rebelled under the chief rebel, "the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world" (verses 4, 9).

Where did this vast entourage of disaffected angels go? God permitted this proto-evil empire to test its theories wherever it could get a hearing. From the standpoint of this world's experience, it was "cast to the earth" (verse 9).

We are not left in darkness regarding how the conflict ends. John tells us that after millennia of struggle, there is heard "a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, 'Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments'" (Rev. 19:1, 2). A parallel glimpse of the final hour of the long controversy resonates with the song of Moses and the Lamb: "Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested" (Rev. 15:3, 4).

In this concluding affirmation lies the clue as to what the conflict is all about. We hear the echoes of Satan's unfounded charges. The biblical saga, so far as humanity is concerned, begins with the conflict in Genesis and ends it in Revelation, foreseeing the time when God's universe of created intelligences is convinced that He is worth loving and worthy of trust and worship.

The issues in the controversy

The issues in the controversy center on whether God is fair, selfless, and loving in the way He runs the universe. God's integrity was challenged. Satan charged that God's sense of freedom limits created intelligences in their pursuit of liberty. They wished to test alternate plans of running the universe.

Before the creation of humans, Satan has been known as Lucifer ("light bearer"), "the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty" (Ezek. 28:12). He had it all! He was first among the angels, the "anointed cherub"; in fact, he was "perfect in your ways...till iniquity was found in you" (Ezek. 28:14, 15).

Isaiah also was given further background of this proto-iniquity, recording that Lucifer "said in [his] heart" that he wanted to share the prerogatives of God! At the core of this ambition was the lust for power, to be "like the Most High" (Isa. 14:13,14). Slowly, imperceptibly, jealousy became envy. Lucifer began to rationalize (justify) his strange feelings. And feelings became words sly, devious, deceptive words. The brightest of all created intelligences was slowly becoming Satan (the adversary), the beginning of entropy in a perfect universe.

Jesus highlights Isaiah's insights that Lucifer/Satan was "the devil...a murderer from the beginning...because there is no truth in him...a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44). The issue focused on why "should Christ have the supremacy? Why is He honored above Lucifer?" 2 And thus began the great controversy between Christ and Satan. The issue: Who could best run the universe of created intelligences?

God's response to Satan's charges

When the light bearer became the adversary, a mysterious secrecy, based on unfounded accusations, began to contaminate a pristine universe. Insinuations were interwoven with promises of unrestricted "freedom," all the while presenting "the purposes of God in a false light misconstruing and distorting them to excite dissent and dissatisfaction." 3 Genuine freedom became polluted by the miasma of evil hiding under destructive lies, confusion, and coercion.

But the question arises: Why didn't God, knowing the inevitable future of evil, destroy Satan before he infected one-third of the angels? Had He done that, new questions and new fears would have risen throughout heaven and all the universe: "Maybe Satan was right? Maybe God is a smiling tyrant who allows no substantive disagreement! Maybe it doesn't pay to question or cross God!"

In His infinite wisdom God "permitted Satan to carry forward his work until the spirit of disaffection ripened into active revolt. It was necessary for his plans to be fully developed, that their true nature and tendency might be seen by all."4 As the shadows darkened, God could not use Satan's weapons of "flattery and deceit." God needed time to let truth unfold and to allow Satan's "own work...condemn him."5

Truth takes time to make its case; lies always seem to get the front page first. God risked the future of the universe by allowing the principles of right and wrong to play out. Nothing could be settled until His character was vindicated. The earth as the stage for this awful play would eventually vindicate God's decision to risk the universe on the integrity of His plan for human salvation.

How did God respond to Satan's charges that He was "severe and unforgiving," a "being whose chief attribute is stern justice"?6

He created "human beings...a new and distinct order," putting "it in our power, through cooperation with Him, to bring this scene of misery to an end."7

He left His fingerprints on the world of nature (Rom. 1:20).

He spoke through providential events in history and in our own lives.8

He spoke by direct conversations through the Holy Spirit. 9

Most important, He revealed His love (John 3:16) through Jesus, who is "the express image of His person" (Heb. 1:3). How did Jesus prove Satan wrong and God right in the great controversy? By bearing witness in life and word that God is truth (see John 14:9; 1 7:3; 18:37). In addition to telling the truth about God, He also showed that God's law is not harsh and arbitrary. "The great teacher came into our world, not only to atone for sin but to be a teacher both by precept and example. He came to show man how to keep the law in humanity, so that man might have no excuse for following His own defective judgment...Christ has shown us that it is possible for all humanity to obey the laws of God."10

In all that Jesus taught and did, He was exposing Satan's lies regarding God's fairness and trustworthiness. On Calvary, the whole universe saw Satan's monstrous deception about God's character. Satan's mask was off. But there was more! At first, even the unfallen angels "did not...under stand all that was involved in the great controversy. The principles at stake were to be more fully revealed. And for the sake of man, Satan's existence must be continued. [Men and women] as well as angels must see the contrast between the Prince of life and the prince of darkness."11

When Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30), He was looking ahead, beyond what even angels as well as any human being could then understand. On the cross He looked forward to earth's final events when all humanity and angels will have seen for themselves that our Lord's words were meant to be trusted and obeyed as willing friends would trust and obey their greatest Benefactor. That was not yet clear, especially to human beings, even at Calvary! 12 But for Jesus in that dark hour, His heavenly Father let Him see the ultimate "finish" of the plan of salvation.

Although the onlooking universe could see the unmasking of Satan, earth's family was still largely in the dark. Men and women had yet to learn why Jesus came to earth and why He died! But telling this story would bring a new dynamic to the human race "for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes [has faith]" (Rom. 1:16). This good news promised that "the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly" (16:20).

The work of the Christian community

The Christian church has the assignment to help vindicate the character of God and to silence Satan. When Jesus became a human being, God placed His integrity at risk. The apparency of the risk continues as God plans to secure the universe from evil by assigning so much of His strategy to the Christian Church.

Before Jesus ascended He laid out our assignment: "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world" (John 17:18; see also 20:21). Could it be that, in some important aspects, the plan of salvation depends on His disciples doing faithfully what He did so faithfully! And if they do not, would they not be His followers in name only? And someday such followers will hear those dreadful words, "I never knew you" (Matt. 7:23).

New Testament writers clearly focused on the purpose of the gospel (see Titus 2:11-14, NIV;2 Peter 3:11-14, NIV; and 1 John 1:9, NIV). For them and for the other biblical writers, the purpose of the gospel included more than forgiveness, more than cleansing from the effects of sin. The big issue continued to be: Can God be trusted? Does His Word produce the results that He promises? Can we truly draw on the same power Jesus depended on to overcome the radical warp of our natures (see Rev. 3:21)? In the larger sense, can fallen beings rescued from sin by the grace of God be trusted to be loving, hon est, gracious, and compassionate people who will abhor sin and love righteousness? In other words, will the power of the gospel truly restore men and women to reflect the image of their Lord? Can they be trusted with eternal life?

Paul's song in Ephesians sets forth God's redemptive purpose in bold lyrics (Eph. 1:4-12; 3:8-19). The apostle Paul grasped the Spirit's message: The Christian church was destined to be the living exhibit of God's wisdom, the handiwork of His enabling grace, the convincing testimony that His ways are "true and just" (Rev. 19:2). Ellen White says: "If there was ever a people in need of constantly increasing light from heaven, it is the people that, in this time of peril, God has called to be the depositaries of His holy law and to vindicate His character before the world. Those to whom has been committed a trust so sacred must be spiritualized, elevated, vitalized, by the truths they profess to believe." 13

Further, "it becomes every child of God to vindicate His character. You can magnify the Lord; you can show the power of sustaining grace."14 (See Ezek. 36:21 -27, RSV). Would any Christian who understands what Jesus did on the Cross want to do any less? Those who understand how much God has done for them in Christ and how much He needs their witness are on the way to playing their part in fulfilling the promise of His return. Jesus and His Church are God's witnesses that the things Satan has said about Him are lies! In a special sense, Christians as well as God "are on trial before the heavenly universe." 15 

God's final response

God's response to Satan's charges in the great controversy is twofold. First, He dealt with the problem of sin and rebel lion by the ultimate revelation of His love on the cross. Second, He is preparing a people who were once in sin but are now, by trusting in God's grace expressed so perfectly in Jesus Christ, and by following His will through the Holy Spirit, are ready to be citizens of God's kingdom, inheritors of eternal life.

We can now more clearly under stand why the power and purpose of the gospel have so much to do with being on God's side as He settles the great controversy with Satan. Did God place an impossible burden upon His followers when He exhorted them to walk as Jesus walked? (See 1 John 2:6; cf. Eph. 5:1, 2; Phil. 2:1 -5; 1 Peter 1:15, 16.) Did God ask too much when He sought a people who would "keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12; see also 12:17)?

As we near the time of the end, Satan will contend fiercely against God's people because their testimony completes God's case against him (see Rev. 12:17). They have "endured" all Satan's mightiest thrusts (Matt. 24:9). They have let God work out His plan in their lives, and He endorses them with His approval: He writes His name in their foreheads (see Rev. 14:1).

The fulfillment of the gospel

When the great controversy is ended, the purpose of the gospel will be fulfilled in the lives of those who have chosen to follow Jesus all the way. This purpose works its magnificent way through the forgiveness of sins and keeps moving on into the human soul to bring about the restoration of what God made human beings to be before the commencement of the great controversy on this planet. The goal of redemption, after all, is to restore in men and women the image of their Maker.16

Restoration is central in the thematic structure of God's plan as expressed in the Bible: "The central theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other in the whole book clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God. From the first intimation of hope in the sentence pronounced in Eden to that last glorious promise of the Revelation, They shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads/ the burden of every book and every passage of the Bible is the unfolding of their wondrous theme man's uplifting...'which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.' He who grasps this thought has before him an infinite field for study. He has the key that will unlock to him the whole treasure house of God's word." 17

This divine plan of restoration flowers out of God's response to Satan's al legations in the great controversy. This becomes clear when we permit the integrity of the Scriptures as a whole to explain the meaning of its parts such as "its grand central theme" of restoration, "God's original purpose for the world, of the rise of the great controversy...the nature of the two principles that are con tending for supremacy, and ...how this controversy enters into every phase of human experience."18

The main issue in the great controversy has been whether God or Satan had the blueprint for a safe, secure, and loving universe. When the last words are said (see Rev. 15:3, 4; 19:1, 2), the universe will have all the evidence needed for the vindication of God and His government. Not only will the faithful of earth play their part in the exoneration of God's character, but so will Satan and his followers play theirs. They will have demonstrated that rebellion against truth is always self-defeating, self-destructive, for "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Just as God said in the beginning!

1 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references in rhis article are from rhe New King James Version

2 Ellen G White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1913), 17

3 Ibid., 38

4 Ibid , 41.

5 Ibid., 42.

6 White, Steps to Christ (Nampa, Idaho Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), 11. See also Prophets and Kings (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn , 1943), 31: Testimomes for the church (Nampa, Idaho Pacific Press Pub Assn., 1948), 5:7.58, Manuscript Releases, 18.331

7 _, "Review and Herald," Feb. 11, 1902. See also "Education" {Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub Assn, 1952), 15, 264.

8 __, Steps to Christ, 87

9 Ibid.

10 _, Selected Message (Hagerstown, Md. Review and Herald Pub Assn., 1958, 1980), 3:135. See also 139

11 _, "The Desire of Ages" (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub Assn, 1940), 761

12 Ibid., 762.

13 _, Testimonies for the Church, 5:746

14 Ibid, 317

15 _, Christ's Object Lesson (Hagerstown, Md. Review and Herald Pub. Assn , 1941), 303.

16 __ The Desire of Ages, 824.

17 _, Education, 125, 126

18 Ibid., 190 See also Patriarchs and Prophets, 596.

 

 

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Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D. (retired), lives in Lincoln Hills, California.

December 2005

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