Lesson 2

January 5 - 11

Issues in the Great Controversy

Lesson graphic

Sabbath Afternoon   January 5

READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: John 8:42-46; 14:9-11; Rev. 12:17.

MEMORY TEXT:  " 'Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works' "(John 14:10, NKJV).

KEY QUESTIONS: The great controversy is a cosmic battle involving God and Satan. What are the root issues of this conflict, and how have they been manifested?

LET GOD BE GOD. Though the Bible doesn't give a systematic explication of the specific issues in the great controversy, we may gather from the overall biblical portrayal that these issues center on God's character and around God's law, which reveals that character.

As we study this week's lesson, we need to be aware of God's infinity and our finiteness, of God's omnipotence and our frailty. We are mortals approaching a divine mystery. God is holy; we are sinners. Let us take off our shoes (Exod. 3:5, 6) as we seek to understand the ways in which His grace and love are His chief weapons in the great controversy.

"He that ruleth in the heavens is the one who sees the end from the beginning—the one before whom the mysteries of the past and the future are alike outspread, and who, beyond the woe and darkness and ruin that sin has wrought, beholds the accomplishment of His own purposes of love and blessing."Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 43.  

*(Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, January 12.)

Sunday  January 6


"And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 12:17).  

If Satan wars against God's people because they are faithful to His law (Rev. 12:17), we can conclude that one of the issues in the great controversy is that law. Scripture says that "everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4, NIV). But sin is more than lawlessness. Read Psalm 40:8. This Messianic text identifies the principles of God's law with His personal will. Sin, therefore, is also rebellion against God Himself.

When 1 John 3:8 says that "the devil has been sinning from the beginning" (NIV), it seems that right from the start of the great controversy, Lucifer rebelled against God by questioning the necessity of obeying His law.

What position did Jesus take regarding the law?

Matt. 5:17, 18 (what Jesus taught)  ___________________________________________________________


John 15:10 (Jesus' testimony)  ______________________________________________________________


2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22 (the sinlessness of Jesus)  ______________________________________________


The nature of a government is discerned by its laws:  Evil governments have evil laws; good governments have good laws.  In this context, what does it mean to say that God's law is a "transcript of His character"?  (see The Great Controversy, p. 434).  

Monday  January 7

GOD'S CHARACTER AND AUTHORITY (2 Chron. 20:6; Jer. 31:3; Dan. 7:14; John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; Rev. 19:6).

What do the passages listed above teach us about God's character, power, and authority?  

The New Testament word used to describe God's love is agape. It refers to love in its highest, fullest, and most selfless sense. The entire Bible portrays God's love, but nowhere more vividly than it does at the Cross (1 John 4:9, 10). God's law, mercy, providence, and judgment are all in harmony with His love. Even the commandment He gave to Adam and Eve regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17) stemmed from that love. God not only loves; He is love. This love includes "mercy," "loving-kindness," "long-suffering," and "goodness."

One of the most famous verses in the Bible is 1 John 4:8, "God is love." What does that mean? If it said "God exudes love" or "Love is a manifestation of God's character," then it would be easier to understand. But "God is love"? Love is an emotion, a principle, or (to get really technical) a specific chemical reaction in the brain. How, then, do we understand this idea that God is love?

How did Lucifer dispute God's character, power, and authority in heaven? The following texts give us some clues: Matt. 5:21, 22; John 8:44; 1 John 3:11-15.  

In John 8:44, Jesus states that "from the beginning" Lucifer was a liar and a murderer. Thus he was in violation of God's law (Exod. 20:13, 16), which, in essence, is His character. But whom did he kill or lie about "from the beginning" (that is, before he was thrown out of heaven)? Both Jesus and John state that anger and hatred are the motivating forces behind murder (Matt. 5:21, 22; 1 John 3:11-15). Therefore, in John 8:44, Jesus is apparently alluding to the emotions Lucifer was harboring in his heart that led to spreading lies in heaven about God's character. In effect, he was "murdering" God.

Discrediting God's law, His character, and His authority doesn't always have to be openly and blatantly manifested to be real.  In fact, more subtle forms could be even more dangerous, because those doing so might not even be aware of what they are doing.  In what subtle ways could we, even as professed followers of Christ, be guilty of this same sin?  Even more important, how can we break free from this most deadly of deceptions?  

Tuesday  January 8

GOD THE SON (Matt. 4:8-11; John 14:10).

In heaven, Satan sought for himself the worship only God deserves (Isa. 14:12-14). And, if that wasn't enough—on earth he attempted to get even God the Son to worship him! In exchange for that worship, Satan offered Christ "all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor" (Matt. 4:8, NIV).

But were they really his to offer? On the contrary, they were "stolen property, but so long as they were in his hands Satan proposed to trade with them to his own advantage. Christ was the true owner, and His ownership was based on the fact that He had made 'all things' (John 1:3). He had never abdicated His rights. Satan knew that Jesus had come to contest his claim, and now offered to surrender it without a conflict—but on conditions."—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 314.

What makes Christ (as opposed to Satan) the true "owner" of this world? See Col. 1:16.  

Linked to the idea of Christ as owner of the world is the last of Jesus' three temptations in which His status as God the Son, the Creator, is another issue in the great controversy:

1. Satan disputed Christ's unparalleled position. (For Christ's status, see Matt. 16:16; John 1:1-3; 10:30; 14:10; 17:5; Rom. 9:5; Phil. 2:5-8; Titus 2:13.)

2. Satan was jealous of Christ's position in the Godhead, and on earth he thought he could make Christ bow to him.

3. Satan knew that God alone is worthy of worship and that as God the Son, Christ deserves worship from all created beings. Getting Christ to worship him meant getting Him to doubt His own position in the Godhead.

4. Jesus' mission was to return Satan's "stolen property" to the Father by shedding His blood for sin.

"Satan had questioned whether Jesus was the Son of God. In his summary dismissal [Matt. 4:10] he had proof that he could not gainsay. Divinity flashed through suffering humanity. Satan had no power to resist the command. Writhing with humiliation and rage, he was forced to withdraw from the presence of the world's Redeemer."—The Desire of Ages, p. 130.

Harry was raised in the church, but as a young man, he left, disgruntled and angry.  Whenever anyone in his family tried to talk to him about the claims that Christ had on his life, he would retort: "No one owns me. I am my own man."  Are we really our Own?  How would you answer him?  

Wednesday  January 9

GOD'S JUSTICE AND MERCY (Rev. 12:10; Zech. 3:1-5).

Based on Revelation 12:10 and Zechariah 3:1-5, what is another issue in the great controversy?  

Satan, Jesus said, is a liar; he is also the "accuser of our brethren." What are some of the accusations Satan makes against us?  Does he even have to lie about us? Can the truth, alone, of our deeds be enough to condemn us?  If so, what's our only defense against his accusations?  

Can God be both just and merciful—or are these two attributes mutually exclusive? If obeying God's will is so crucial to the welfare of His created beings, then how can it be fair to grant mercy to those who violate His will? Lucifer disputes God's right to offer sinners grace and forgiveness, and he bases that dispute on questions such as these.

Even the casual observer can see what a dilemma sin must be for God. He loves His creatures no less because they have sinned (Hos. 11:8). But how can a holy God remain true to His nature if He forgives them? The following illustration helps us to understand:

Martin Luther dreamed he was standing before the judgment seat of God, where Satan spread out a long scroll on which he had kept a careful record of Luther's innumerable sins. With great fervor, the accuser argued before God, "This man cannot enter the kingdom. He has violated the law times without number. He deserves death. He cannot enter heaven where only the loyal and the obedient live." Martin Luther then told Satan to take his hand off the scroll. Satan said, "I will not." Luther again demanded that he do it, and the devil again refused. Finally, Luther said, "In the name of Jesus Christ, move your hand!" Satan then moved it from the scroll, which said:

"The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses Martin Luther from all his sins." Here is the mystery of the Cross, the mystery of how God could be both just and merciful. At the Cross, He poured out His righteous and just indignation against sin. That's God's justice. But He poured it out in the person of Jesus, not us, the ones who deserved that punishment. That's God's mercy. Thus, it was through the Cross, and only through the Cross, that God was able to be both just and merciful.

Picture yourself among some of those soldiers nailing Jesus to the cross.  Imagine taking the nails and hammering them into His hands and feet.  Though we weren't there, in the flesh, doing that to Jesus, we still, in a real sense, share in the guilt of His death.  How so?  

Thursday  January 10

GOD'S PREROGATIVES (Deut. 10:12, 13; Matt. 7:21; Rev. 14:7).

 Because God is who He is, He has certain rights or privileges (prerogatives) that His creatures cannot claim for themselves. What are some of these prerogatives? Based on previous lessons in this Bible Study Guide, how did Lucifer take issue with each of them?

Texts God's Prerogatives Lucifer's Issues
  Deut. 10:12, 13    
  Matt. 7:21    
  Rev. 14:7    


When we understand (to whatever degree possible) what God has done for us, when we accept His activities on our behalf and apply them to our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit, then we can fear God. Fearing God means approaching Him with awe and reverence, being completely loyal to Him, and surrendering ourselves totally to His will (see Deut. 4:10).

Giving God glory means to praise Him and honor Him (see Ps. 115:1; Isa. 42:12; 2 Pet. 3:18; Jude 25).

"The Creator of the universe is the true and only object of worship. No man, no angel, is worthy of worship. This is the prerogative of God only. Creatorship is one of the distinguishing features of the true God in contrast with false deities (Jer. 10:11, 12). The appeal to worship God as Creator has become especially timely in the years following the initial preaching of the first angel's message, because of the rapid spread of the theory of evolution. Furthermore, the call to worship the God of heaven as Creator of all things implies that due heed be given to the sign of God's creative works—the Sabbath of the Lord.... If the Sabbath had been kept as God intended, it would have served as a great safeguard against infidelity and evolution."—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 828.

Why does God ask us to worship Him?  Does the Creator really need our worship?  Or is worship for our own good?  If so, how would worshiping God be to our advantage?  In other words, what good does it do for us, personally, to worship God?  

Friday  January 11

FURTHER STUDY:  According to Revelation 12:17 and 19:10, what is another issue in the great controversy?  

The word 'prophecy' describes any inspired message communicated by God through a prophet (see on Matt. 11:9). Prophecy may be a prediction of future events, though more commonly it is not. The expression 'spirit of prophecy' refers specifically to the 'manifestation of the Spirit' in the form of a special gift of the Holy Spirit that inspires the recipient and enables him to speak authoritatively as a representative of God (1 Cor. 12:7-10) when 'moved by the Holy Ghost' to do so (2 Peter 1:21). The context of the expression in Rev. 19:10 defines 'the testimony of Jesus' and 'the spirit of prophecy' in this sense. In view of the fact that the 'remnant' of ch. 12:17 specifically refers to the church after the close of the 1260 prophetic days of vs. 6 and 14, that is, after 1798 . . . , ch. 12:17 stands as a clear prediction of the special manifestation of the 'spirit,' or 'gift,' of prophecy in the church in our day. Seventh-day Adventists believe the ministry of Ellen G. White meets the specifications of Rev. 12:17 in a unique way."—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 876.

1. What role does God's law have in the great controversy?  Why did God not change His law in order to meet humanity in its fallen condition?  Would having changed the law been an admission that something was wrong with it from the start?  
2. Didn't God know, even when He created Lucifer, that eventually Lucifer would rebel?  God knew, too, that Adam and Eve would sin, did He not?  Why, then, did God create these beings, knowing what would happen?  Perhaps a key to understanding this is to understand that God has given His creatures free will; that if He wanted beings who could love Him, He had to create them free, for only free beings can love.  Yet this freedom has caused so much pain and suffering.  Was it worth it?  How does what happened at the Cross, in that God Himself suffered in the person of Jesus, help answer some of the issues involved in the great controversy?  

SUMMARY:  At the root of the great controversy lie several issues. Some of these include God's law, His character and authority, His justice and mercy, His prerogatives, and the position of His Son, Jesus. Satan raised these issues while he was an angel of light in heaven, and he is still raising them globally and in our personal lives. But praise be to God for His love and mercy-two indestructible weapons in the fight against sin.  

InSide Story

Faithful Hitchhikers, Part 2

Gladstone Simmons

Although Clara Smith and her teenagers live 40 miles from the Adventist church, they never missed a Sabbath service or prayer meeting. When their car was demolished in an accident, they prayed for a ride and began hitchhiking to church.

Sometimes the family would get a ride quickly, but occasionally they had to walk several miles before someone would offer them a ride. When this happened Clara sometimes asked the pastor's wife for a bandage to cover the blisters on her aching feet, but she never complained, though her arthritis caused her a great deal of pain. Always the pastor or someone in the church would take them home.

Being without a car caused other problems for the family. Alexis and Dana have completed secondary school and want to attend college, but the nearest college is in Gallup, 40 miles away, and there is no public transportation to town. The family cannot afford to send them to a boarding college. Alexis hopes to study history and law, and Dana would like to become an elementary school teacher.

While waiting for an opportunity to continue their studies, Alexis and Dana have tried to find jobs. Repeatedly they hitchhiked into Gallup to look for work. But lack of a consistent means of transportation and their refusal to work on Sabbaths have stymied their efforts to find jobs. But the young people would not grumble. Instead they threw their energies into helping the family and serving their church. Alexis enjoys leading the song service, and Dana runs the sound system.

The family continues to rely on God's providence and the kindness of strangers to get to church. Clara testified, "I receive such a blessing as I worship with God's people. I cannot understand why some people do not attend church regularly."

Clara Smith and her family (left). Gladstone Simmons is pastor of the All Nations Adventist Church in Gallup, New Mexico.

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