The Bible gives us a particular kind of worldview—a remarkable meta-narrative that pulls back the curtain between heaven and earth. Here we are given the reason for the sinful mess that this world is in. Further, we are given the only solution in all the universe whereby people can understand the chaotic world of disease, violence, disaster, and death in which we live.
We call this biblical drama the great controversy between God and Satan.
Ellen G. White has given one of the clearest expositions of this biblical theme. Throughout her ministry of 70 years, in spoken and written words, she has outlined in simple terms how sin developed, how the minds and bodies of men and women have been affected, and how God has entered the picture to provide relief and hope for a future without sin and suffering.
The Key Issue
Ellen White highlights how the controversy erupted when Lucifer, God’s chief angel, became dissatisfied with what he thought was the arbitrary way God was running the universe. His personal dissatisfaction led to other angels sharing his baseless challenges to God’s authority. And as Revelation 12:7-9 tells us, war broke out in heaven and the rebels were cast out, ending up on this planet.
This rebellion eventually became a universe-wide concern because God, the Creator, was charged with being unfair, severe, and unforgiving: “The enemy of good blinded the minds of men, so that they looked upon God with fear; they thought of Him as severe and unforgiving. Satan led men to conceive of God as a being whose chief attribute is stern justice,—one who is a severe judge, a harsh, exacting creditor…. It was to remove this dark shadow, by revealing to the world the infinite love of God, that Jesus came to live among men.”1
Beyond the angels in heaven and human beings on earth, God knew that Satan’s charges had to be answered and His government vindicated: “God, the One infinite and all-wise, sees the end from the beginning, and in dealing with evil His plans were far-reaching and comprehensive. It was His purpose, not merely to put down the rebellion, but to demonstrate to all the universe the nature of the rebellion. God’s plan was unfolding, showing both His justice and His mercy, and fully vindicating His wisdom and righteousness in His dealings with evil.”2
How could a fair, loving, and gracious God “unfold” a plan so that the universe would be forever settled regarding His character? He did so by letting Satan have the opportunity to fully “unfold” his way of running the universe: “In the great controversy between good and evil, Satan must be given every opportunity to develop his true character, that the heavenly universe and the race for whom Christ was giving His life might see the righteousness of God’s purposes. Those under the control of the enemy must be allowed to reveal the principles of his government.”3
The Great Rescue
So the big questions are: How does God plan to reverse the damage that rebellion has done to this earth and its inhabitants? How would He convince humanity that He has been completely fair in handling Satan’s rebellion? Listen to this: “By His life on earth He honored the law of God. By His death He established it. He gave His life as a sacrifice, not to destroy God’s law, not to create a lower standard, but that justice might be maintained, that the law might be shown to be immutable…. Satan had claimed that it was impossible for man to obey God’s commandments; and in our own strength it is true that we cannot obey them. But Christ came in the form of humanity, and by His perfect obedience He proved that humanity and divinity combined can obey every one of God’s precepts.”4
Jesus lived and died, not only to demonstrate God’s fairness; He also provided a way for men and women to be forgiven and restored, defeating Satan in their own lives through the drama we call atonement—restoration from the ranks of Satan to the family of God: “The atonement of Christ is not a mere skillful way to have our sins pardoned; it is a divine remedy for the cure of transgression and the restoration of spiritual health. It is the Heaven-ordained means by which the righteousness of Christ may be not only upon us but in our hearts and characters.”5
The key word on which each person’s salvation depends is “faith”—our response to grace. Faith is more than intellectual belief or assent to truth: “To have faith means to find and accept the gospel treasure, with all the obligations which it imposes.”6
God’s Final Word
God will ultimately do away with all sin on earth, including removing sin from the hearts of those who believe in Him! Becoming righteous by faith is the process and goal of all who are loyal to God: “The law requires righteousness,—a righteous life, a perfect character; and this man has not to give. He cannot meet the claims of God’s holy law. But Christ, coming to the earth as man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them. His life stands for the life of men…. More than this, Christ imbues men with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a goodly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ.”7
The sanctuary service in both the Old and New Testaments teaches the fundamental purposes in God’s plan to rescue men and women from sin: “The intercession of Christ in man’s behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross. By His death He began that work which after His resurrection He ascended to complete in heaven.”8
Our daily lives are determining our destiny! “The traits of character you cherish in life will not be changed by death or by the resurrection. You will come up from the grave with the same disposition you manifested in your home and in society…. Our daily lives are determining our destiny. Defects of character must be repented of and overcome through the grace of Christ, and a symmetrical character must be formed while in this probationary state, that we may be fitted for the mansions above.”9
Satan would like to keep our world, and that includes each of us, in a state of sin and sadness forever. But soon, God will completely eradicate all suffering. When Jesus comes, the great controversy between Christ and Satan will be forever decided. Satan will be annihilated. It is the privilege of every Christian to cast our vote today on God’s winning side.
1 Steps to Christ, pp. 10, 11.
2Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 78.
3The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, vol. 5, p. 1107.
4Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 314.
5The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, vol. 6, p. 1074.
6Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 112.
7The Desire of Ages, p. 762.
8The Great Controversy, p. 489.
9Last Day Events, p. 295.
Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D., is a retired pastor and professor who has served the Adventist Church in a number of roles over the past 60 years.