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God created human beings to enjoy eternity in a loving relationship with Him and His creation. But this relationship was distorted by the mysterious appearance of sin within the heavenly courts (Isa. 14:12-15, Ezek. 28:12-19, Rev. 12:7-12) and the subsequent fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-19, Rom. 5:12). Tragically, death engulfed not only the human race but all life, as well. Expressions of death can be seen today in the leaves that fall from the trees, the flowers that fade in our vases, our innocent pets who die in agony, and our beloved ones who are taken from us so brutally. Our world is full of suffering and unwiped tears.
Longing for a better world, people have painted for themselves many “paradises” in which they would like to live. For example, in 1933 English novelist James Hilton released his book, Lost Horizon, which a few years later was turned into a film under the same title. The film captures the plight of an airplane that runs out of fuel, eventually crashing into the snow-covered Himalayan Mountains. The pilot dies in the crash, but the few who survive are pulled from the wreckage and escorted by a group of Tibetans to the paradisiac valley of Shangri-La. Isolated from the outside world, the inhabitants grow in love and wisdom, living an almost immortal life of enduring harmony and joy.
Of course, it’s only fiction.
As mortal human beings, we need assurance in the present and hope for the future. As well-stated by the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner, “What oxygen is for the lungs, such is hope for the meaning of human life. Take oxygen away and death occurs through suffocation, take hope away and humanity is constricted through lack of breath; despair supervenes, spelling the paralysis of intellectual and spiritual powers by a feeling of the senselessness and purposelessness of existence. As the fate of the human organism is dependent on the supply of oxygen, so the fate of humanity is dependent on its supply of hope.” — Emil Brunner, Eternal Hope (London: Lutterworth Press, 1954), p. 7. Indeed, the biblical hope sustains us during the existential crises we face in our journey toward eternity.
In contrast to the fictional Shangri-La of the Lost Horizon, our hope of eternal life does “not follow cunningly devised fables” (2 Pet. 1:16, NKJV). It is based on God’s trustworthy promise of a perfect world with no more tears, pain, or death (Rev. 21:1-5). This precious promise inspired the apostolic church and was held, and cherished, by many Christians throughout the centuries. Without ever losing its power, this same promise gives meaning and purpose to our present lives. It allows us to look with confidence into the future. It assures us that all our beloved ones who died in Christ will finally be raised from the dead to inherit eternal life.
The present Bible study guide deals with the subject of the great controversy between good and evil from the perspective of two major themes. One is the origin and ongoing existence of sin and death. The other theme is God’s enduring work to solve these problems and bring the world back to its original perfect condition. Special emphasis is given also to the mortal nature of human beings and how the resurrection is what leads to immortality. In reality, we should not fear death because Christ died for us and overcame the power of death. Actually, we are assured that He holds “the keys to death and to the place of the dead” (Rev. 1:18, NCV).
This quarter we will explore the painful subject of death, but through the lens of the hope offered us through Jesus.
Alberto R. Timm, PhD (Andrews University), is an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate, Inc. and a member of the Biblical Research Institute Committee (BRICOM) and the Geoscience Research Institute Committee (GRICOM). Previously he served as president of the multi-campus Latin-American Adventist Theological Seminary (LATS).
Lesson 1 September 24-30
Read for This Week’s Study: 1 John 4:8, 16; 1 John 4:7-16; Ezek. 28:12-19; Isa. 14:12-15; Revelation 12.
Memory Text: “How you have fallen from heaven, you star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who defeated the nations!” (Isa. 14:12, NASB).
Many thinkers have tried to explain the origin of evil. Some suggest that evil always has existed because, in their view, good can be appreciated only in contrast to evil. Others believe that the world was created perfect but, somehow, evil emerged. For example, in Greek mythology, evil started when the curious Pandora opened a sealed box out of which flew all the evils of the world (this myth, however, does not explain the origin of the evils supposedly hidden in that box).
By contrast, the Bible teaches that our loving God is all-powerful (1 Chron. 29:10, 11) and perfect (Matt. 5:48). All that He does must likewise be perfect (Deut. 32:4), which includes how He created our world. How, then, could evil and sin appear in a perfect world? According to Genesis 3, the fall of Adam and Eve brought sin, evil, and death here.
But that answer raises another issue. Even before the Fall, evil already had existed, manifested by the “serpent,” who deceived Eve (Gen. 3:1-5). Hence, we need to go back, even before the Fall, in order to find the source and origins of the evil that so dominates our present existence and that at times can make it pretty miserable.
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 1.
Sunday ↥ September 25
Nature in its present condition carries an ambiguous message that mingles both good and evil. Rosebushes can produce lovely and fragrant roses but also harmful and painful thorns. A toucan can impress us with its beauty and then dismay us by assaulting the nests of other birds and eating their frail chicks. Even human beings, who are capable of kindness one moment, can be vicious, hateful, even violent in the next. No wonder that in the parable of the wheat and the tares, the servants asked the field owner, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?” (Matt. 13:27, NKJV) And the owner replied, “An enemy has done this” (Matt. 13:28, NKJV). Likewise, God created the universe perfect, but an enemy defiled it with the mysterious seeds of sin.
Read 1 John 4:8, 16. What can the certainty that “God is love” tell us about the nature of His creative activities?
The fact that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16, NKJV) conveys at least three basic implications. First, love by its very nature cannot exist closed in itself but must be expressed. (What kind of love is not expressed?) God’s love is shared internally among the Three Persons of the Godhead, and externally in His relationship with all His creatures. Second, all that God does is an expression of His unconditional and unchangeable love. This includes His creative works, His redemptive actions, and even the manifestations of His punitive judgments. Actually, “God’s love has been expressed in His justice no less than in His mercy. Justice is the foundation of His throne, and the fruit of His love.” — Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 762. And third, since God is love and all He does expresses His love, He cannot be the originator of sin, which is in direct opposition to His own character.
But did God really need to create the universe? From the perspective of His sovereignty, one could say “No,” because it was a decision of His free will. But from the perspective of His loving nature, He wanted a universe as a means of expressing His love. And how amazing that He created some forms of life, such as humans, not only capable of responding to God’s love but also capable of sharing and expressing love, not just to God but to others, as well. (See also Mark 12:30, 31.)
Look around at the created world. In what ways can you see in it reflections of God’s love, despite the ravages of sin? How can we learn to draw lessons of hope from the expression of God’s love revealed in the Creation?
Monday ↥ September 26
Read 1 John 4:7-16. What does this passage tell us about free will as a condition to cultivating love?
Artificial flowers can be gorgeous, but they do not grow and bloom as do real ones. Robots are pre-programmed to talk and to perform many tasks, but they have neither life nor emotions. In reality, life and free will are indispensable conditions for someone to receive, cultivate, and share love. So, our loving God created angels (including Lucifer) and human beings with freedom to make their own choices, including the possibility of following a wrong path. In other words, God created the whole universe as a perfect and harmonious environment for His creatures to grow in love and in wisdom.
In 1 John 4:7-16, the apostle John underscores that “God is love,” and that He manifested His love to us by sending His own Son to die for our sins. As a result, we should express our gratitude for His infinite love by loving one another. Such love, divinely originated, would be the most convincing evidence that God abides in us and that we abide in Him. This appeal to reflect God’s love to one another makes sense only if addressed to creatures who can choose to cultivate and express that love or, in contrast, to live a self-centered life. However, freedom of choice can easily be misused, a sad fact demonstrated in the tragic rebellion of Lucifer in heaven.
Even recognizing the importance of free will, some people still wonder, If God knew that Lucifer would rebel, why did God create him? Does the creation of Lucifer not make God ultimately responsible for the origin of sin?
That can be a very difficult question to speculate about, because it depends upon many factors, including what exactly is meant by the word “responsible.” The origin and nature of sin are mysteries that no one can fully explain.
Even so, God did not ordain sin to exist; He only allowed its existence, and then, at the cross, He took upon Himself the ultimate punishment for that sin, thus enabling Him, ultimately, to eradicate it. In all our painful musings about evil, we must never forget that God Himself paid the highest price for the existence of sin and of evil (see Matt. 5:43-48, Rom. 5:6-11), and that He has suffered from them more than any of us ever will.
Free will, a gift from God, is sacred, but comes heavy laden with powerful consequences, not only for yourself but for others, as well. What important decisions are you, using this gift, about to make, and what will be the consequences of whatever choices you make?
Tuesday ↥ September 27
Read Ezekiel 28:12-19. What can we learn from this passage about the mysterious origin of sin?
Much of the book of Ezekiel was written in end-time symbolic language. In many instances, specific entities (like persons, animals, and objects) and local events are used to represent and describe broader cosmic and/or historical realities. In Ezekiel 28:1-10, the Lord spoke of the king of Tyre (Tyre itself was a prosperous ancient Phoenician port city) as a rich and proud ruler who was only a “man” but who claimed to be a god and who even sat (he claimed) in the throne of the gods.
Then, in Ezekiel 28:12-19, this historical reality becomes an analogy to describe the original fall of Lucifer in the heavenly courts. So, the king of Tyre, who was a human being living “in the midst of the seas” (Ezek. 28:2, 8, NKJV), now represents “the anointed cherub who covers,” (Ezek. 28:14, NKJV) living “in Eden, the garden of God,” (Ezek. 28:13, NKJV) and “on the holy mountain of God” (Ezek. 28:14, NKJV).
A crucial statement in the whole account is found in Ezekiel 28:15, which says, “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you” (NKJV). Hence, and importantly, Lucifer’s perfection included the potential for evil, the potential to do wrong, and that was because, as a moral being, Lucifer possessed free will, part of what it means to be a perfect being.
In reality, Lucifer was created perfect — which included his ability to choose freely. However, abusing that perfection by the misuse of his free will, he became corrupted by considering himself more important than he actually was.
No longer satisfied with how God had created and honored him, Lucifer lost his thankfulness to God and wished to receive more recognition than he actually deserved. How this could happen with a perfect angelic being living in a perfect universe is, as already mentioned, a mystery.
“Sin is a mysterious, unexplainable thing. There was no reason for its existence; to seek to explain it is to seek to give a reason for it, and that would be to justify it. Sin appeared in a perfect universe, a thing that was shown to be inexcusable.” — Ellen G. White, The Truth About Angels, p. 30.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul says that “in everything” (NKJV) we should give thanks. How can these words help us to overcome any feelings of ingratitude and self-pity, especially in trying times?
Wednesday ↥ September 28
Within Scripture, one can see two major predominant themes or motifs that are competing with each other. One is the theme of Salem, Mount Zion, Jerusalem, and the New Jerusalem, which represents God’s kingdom. The other is the theme of Babel and Babylon, which stands for Satan’s counterfeit domain. Several times God called His people out of pagan Babylon to serve Him in the Promised Land.
For example, Abram (later Abraham) was asked to move from Ur of the Chaldees to the land of Canaan (Gen. 11:31-12:9). At the end of their long exile, the Jews left Babylon and returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 2). And in the book of Revelation, God’s people are called out of end-time Babylon (Rev. 18:4) to abide with Him eventually on Mount Zion and the New Jerusalem (Rev. 14:1; Rev. 21:1-3, 10).
Read Isaiah 14:12-15. What far-reaching consequences did Lucifer’s pride while in heaven bring to the universe and to this world?
In the Bible, the city of Babylon stands for a power in direct opposition to God and His kingdom; and the king of Babylon (with special allusion to Nebuchadnezzar) becomes a symbol of pride and arrogance. God had revealed to King Nebuchadnezzar that Babylon was only the gold head of the great image of successive empires (Dan. 2:37, 38). Challenging God’s revelation, the king made an image entirely of gold — a symbol that his kingdom would last forever — and even required everyone to worship it (Daniel 3). As in the case of the king of Tyre (Ezek. 28:12-19), the king of Babylon also became a symbol of Lucifer.
Isaiah 14:3-11 describes the fall of the haughty and oppressive king of Babylon. Then, Isaiah 14:12-15 moves from the historical realm to the heavenly courts and highlights that a similar proud and arrogant spirit generated the original fall of Lucifer. The text explains that Lucifer planned to exalt his throne above all heavenly hosts and make himself “like the Most High” (Isa. 14:14). This was the beginning of a new and hostile situation in which God’s altruistic love and cooperation would be challenged by Lucifer’s selfishness and competition. The enemy was not afraid of accusing God of what he himself was and of spreading his lies to other angels. Here are the mysterious origins of evil in the universe.
Why is it so easy to become proud and boastful of either our positions or achievements, or both? How does keeping the cross before us prevent us from falling into such a trap?
Thursday ↥ September 29
Read Revelation 12. What does this chapter teach about the spread of the rebellion in heaven to the earth?
The fall of Lucifer was not a simple clash of conflicting ideas. Revelation 12 tells us that a major war broke out in heaven between Lucifer and his angels on one side and Christ and His angels on the other. In this passage, Lucifer is called “the great dragon,” the “serpent of old,” “the Devil and Satan,” and “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev. 12:9-10, NKJV). Christ is referred to as “Michael” (Rev. 12:7), which means “who is like God.”
Based on the allusion to “Michael the archangel” (Jude 9), some interpreters believe that He is only an angelic being. But in the book of Daniel, each major vision culminates with Christ and His everlasting kingdom — as the stone cut out without hands (Dan. 2:34, 45), as the Son of man (Dan. 7:13), as the Prince of the host and the Prince of princes (Dan. 8:11, 25), and as Michael the great prince (Dan. 12:1). So, as the Angel of the Lord is the Lord Himself (Exod. 3:1-6, Acts 7:30-33, etc.), Michael must be the same Divine Person, i.e., Christ Himself.
Revelation 12 provided a general overview of this ongoing controversy, which 1. began in heaven with the rebellion of Lucifer and one-third of the heavenly angels, 2. culminated with Christ’s decisive victory at the cross, and 3. still continues against God’s end-time remnant people.
Reflecting on the beginning of this controversy, Ellen G. White explains that “God in His great mercy bore long with Lucifer. He was not immediately degraded from his exalted station when he first indulged the spirit of discontent, nor even when he began to present his false claims before the loyal angels. Long was he retained in heaven. Again and again he was offered pardon on condition of repentance and submission.” — Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 495, 496.
We do not know how long that war lasted in the heavenly realms. Regardless of its intensity and time span, the most important aspect of the whole struggle was that Satan and his angels “were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven” (Rev. 12:8, NRSV; see also Luke 10:18). The problem, of course, was that they came here, to the earth.
What are ways in which we can see the reality of this battle being played out on earth? What is our only hope to overcome our enemy in this battle?
Friday ↥ September 30
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Why Was Sin Permitted?” pp. 33-43, in Patriarchs and Prophets; “The Origin of Evil,” pp. 492-504, in The Great Controversy.
“There was no possible hope for the redemption of those [Satan and his angels] who had witnessed and enjoyed the inexpressible glory of heaven, and had seen the terrible majesty of God, and, in presence of all this glory, had rebelled against Him. There were no new and wonderful exhibitions of God’s exalted power that could impress them so deeply as those they had already experienced. If they could rebel in the very presence of glory inexpressible, they could not be placed in a more favorable condition to be proved. There was no reserve force of power, nor were there any greater heights and depths of infinite glory to overpower their jealous doubts and rebellious murmuring. Their guilt and their punishment must be in proportion to their exalted privileges in the heavenly courts.” — Ellen G. White, Confrontation, p. 21.
“From the beginning, God and Christ knew of the apostasy of Satan, and of the fall of man through the deceptive power of the apostate. God did not ordain that sin should exist, but He foresaw its existence, and made provision to meet the terrible emergency. So great was His love for the world, that He covenanted to give His only-begotten Son, ’that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ John 3:16.” — Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 22.
Screams pierced the air in the rural village in Laos.
A Seventh-day Adventist pastor, who was visiting the village with a small team of church workers, headed toward the loud cries to find out what was happening. He was surprised to see a 16-year-old boy chained to the wooden floor of his family home. “What happened to your boy?” he asked the parents. “Why is he chained up?”
The parents looked sad. “Our son Aer has been sick for many years,” his father said. “He becomes normal for several hours but then he loses his mind again, several times a day,” his mother said.
The parents had spent all their money trying to find a cure. But the situation steadily had gotten worse until they reluctantly decided to leave Aer in chains all the time to prevent him from harming himself and others. He had been bound to the wooden floor for the past six months.
The pastor spoke with Aer and told him and his parents about the saving love of Jesus. “If Jesus is willing, He can heal Aer,” he said.
He asked for permission to pray for the boy. Aer’s parents happily agreed. Hope shone in the faces that their son would be healed.
A few days later, the pastor and his team again visited Aer and prayed for him. The pastor invited the family to worship in the nearest Adventist church in a neighboring village.
The next Sabbath, the parents arrived at church with Aer, his hands bound in chains. Each church member prayed for Aer, and then the pastor asked the boy’s father also to pray for him. All heads bowed as the father prayed to Jesus on behalf of his son. From that day, the boy was healed. He returned to normal and no longer needed to be chained up.
Neighbors were amazed, and they deluged Aer’s parents with questions.
“Is this the boy who was ill for many years and was chained up?” one said.
“Why is he OK now?” said another. “Who healed him?”
The parents explained that the Christian God had healed their boy.
Not only did Aer’s parents accept Jesus as their personal Savior after the healing, but many other families did so as well. Those families are among 122 people who were baptized at the church in April 2021, filling the church building to overflowing.
“We praise God for performing so many miracles in this area, resulting in many people coming to Him to be saved,” said the Lao pastor who shared the story with Adventist Mission.
Thank you for your Sabbath School mission offerings that support the spread of the gospel in Laos and around the world.
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