What do Seventh-day Adventists Believe about The Great Controversy?

The Bible unveils a supernatural struggle between good and evil which Adventists often refer to as “The Great Controversy.”

This struggle is the one answer to the big question—WHY?
Why the outright evil in our world? Why the suffering, the betrayal, selfishness, pain and greed?

Here is a snippet of what you’ll learn from the Bible about this struggle:

This is a key doctrine in Adventism when it comes to reading, interpreting, and applying Scripture. It’s summarized in their Fundamental beliefs. It reads:

“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 disordering of the created world, and its eventual devastation at the time of the global flood, as presented in the historical account of Genesis 1-11.

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.”

That’s a lot to take in. So let’s break things down piece by piece.

What is happening in this Great Controversy between God and Satan?

Army personnel carrying gun in a war zone as explore the painful reality & consequences of struggle between good & evilEven apart from religion and spirituality, there are stories and theories about the constant struggle of good vs. evil. No matter what people call the good or name the evil, it’s obvious that the struggle is real.

A battle that started long ago, in another part of creation, is now being played out here on Earth because we are beings of free agency—the ability to choose for ourselves.

Some say these battles arise from natural and historical forces, or the outworking of various human political, economic and social powers as they progress. Others see it as the continuation of the process of evolution as life fights it out for existence.

And some see the struggle between good and evil as purely psychological. They see it as the inner conflict that arises from the human psyche, and is then played out in the drama of human existence.

One way or another, we all acknowledge that opposing moral forces are at play.

That could be why the poet T.S. Eliot wrote:

“The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change.
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.”1

Even a staunch atheist like German Frederick Nietzsche noticed this:

“Let us conclude. The two opposing values ‘good and bad,’ ‘good and evil’ have been engaged in a fearful struggle on earth for thousands of years; and though the latter value has certainly been on top for a long time, there are still places where the struggle is as yet undecided.”2

Where did the Great Controversy Begin?

Man gazing at the stars as we explore the beginning of the Great Controversy in heaven as described in Revelation 12:7The Great Controversy began in heaven between Christ and Satan.

John describes the beginning of this battle in the book of Revelation when he said:

And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought” (Revelation 12:7, NKJV).

War in heaven between cosmic entities?

Yes, the Bible teaches that life on this Earth is not the only life in the cosmos. For instance, the apostle Paul talked about other, non-earthly intelligences:

To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10, NKJV).

He also wrote:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NKJV)

(Other verses that talk about the reality of other life in the universe include: 1 Corinthians 4:9; Matthew 18:10; Colossians 1:16,17; Job 1:6, 7; 38:7.)

And all this life—not only on Earth, but throughout the universe—was created by a loving God. But why is it important for us to know that God is a God of love?

Because understanding God’s love is key for understanding the birth of this controversy.

Love is the overarching principle of how God relates to His creation. This is seen in the famous verse, John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son” (NKJV).

And as a direct result of His love, He created all His intelligent creatures with the ability to love as well.

But for love to be true love, it cannot be forced. It must be freely given. So, this moral freedom we have is a basic principle God gifted to all intelligent creatures, whether in heaven or on Earth.

Adventist scholar Frank Holbrook wrote:

God created all intelligent beings as free moral agents with the ability to render loving allegiance to the Creator or to reject His authority.3

Throne with N on it as we read Lucifer's pride in Isaiah 14: 13, 14 "...I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…"The Bible recounts the first unfortunate abuse of this freedom by an angel called Lucifer. Perhaps the most revealing text of Lucifer is found in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel:

You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, Till iniquity was found in you” (Ezekiel 28:14, NKJV).

This was a heavenly being, an angel created by God. Also, notice that he was perfect. God wouldn’t create something that wasn’t perfect.

But this perfection didn’t last. Lucifer, or Satan as he was later named, was only perfect until iniquity was found in him.

A perfect being, created by a perfect God, in a perfect heaven? Why would iniquity be found in him?

It all comes back to love and the freedom God gives us in love.

Lucifer as a perfect being also had to be a free being, a being capable of love. Being perfect required being free. So since he was free, that freedom allowed him the thoughts that led to his rebellion against God.

C.S. Lewis describes why this type of freedom is essential:

“If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible.

Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.

A world of automata–of creatures that worked like machines–would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.”4

Using this freedom, Lucifer was unsatisfied with his exalted position as the covering cherub, and he wanted more. So He challenged God’s position, and he has never tired of the struggle to this day. He has dug in his heels, and he’s not giving up.

In the poetic imagery of Earthly monarchs, the Bible tells us what happened with Lucifer in heaven and how he rebelled:

Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” (Ezekiel 28:17, NKJV).

It also says this about Lucifer:

For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13, 14, NKJV).

And the apostle Paul, in referring to Lucifer, warned against ordaining a new convert lest he “become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the Devil” (1 Timothy 3:6, NIV).

Somehow, amid the recesses of His mind, Lucifer sought to be God Himself.

And that briefly explains the origins of the great controversy.

If The Great Controversy Started in Heaven, How Did it End Up on Earth as well?

Eve plucking forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good & evil which God commanded not to eat in Genesis 2:17The Controversy shifted to earth because humanity was also free to choose their actions and allegiances. And as Satan represented the opposing side of God, he tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and they gave in.

In Revelation 12:7-9, we read how Satan first landed on earth, after his rebellion in heaven.

“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and His angels fought with 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. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (NKJV).

Then Genesis 3 tells the story of how Adam and Eve, created like the angels as free moral agents, used that freedom for their own selfish interests at the instigation of Satan. (See also Revelation 12:9; 20:20).

And just as Lucifer in heaven fell because he wanted to be like God, he used what happened to him in heaven to tempt and deceive Eve on Earth.

He told her that if she ate of the forbidden tree, she would be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 2:17; 3:5).

What’s sad is that she didn’t know that she had already been made “in the image of God.” (Genesis 1:27).

So, in a way, Eve was already like God.

But we’re told Satan was “crafty,” even opting to take the form of a beautiful, radiant serpent (very much unlike the snakes of today). But his behavior was certainly snake-like. He mixed truth with error—which often makes for the lies that are easiest to fall for.

He quoted them the command God had given them. And what he promised if they ate the fruit—that they would know good and evil—was the actual consequence. But they were taken in by the temptation to “be like God.”

So here we see that the great controversy began first in heaven with Lucifer, and when he was cast out and renamed “Satan,” he brought the rebellion to the earth.

Why didn’t God destroy Satan as soon as he rebelled?

Board displaying "You are Worthy of Love" pointing to the Scriptures teaching that God is a God of love & worthy of our loveAn analogy could help answer this fair question.

Suppose you were a kind and loving leader of a country. For some unfair and unjust reason, someone started a rebellion and accused you of being cruel, unfair, and unjust.

What if you responded to these charges by simply wiping out the rebels?

Yes, you might have ended the rebellion, but what about the charges made against you?

By killing the rebels you’d prove right what they accused you of—you could be called cruel.

Or say you were actually a vicious leader who ruled by fear, then you wouldn’t care if people thought that about you. In fact, you might use it as a way to keep them in line.

But as we have seen, Scripture teaches that God is a God of love, and that He does not force His creation to follow Him.

Instead, God is going to let the principles of Satan and rebellion play out before the eyes of the universe (Ephesians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 4:9; Revelation 15:3).

That way we truly will know what happens if we choose the other path.

A good example is the story of Job.

In this story, a “blameless and upright” man faced terrible calamities, all of which started from events in heaven (Job 1:1).

In heaven, Satan made accusations against Job, and, in principle, against God Himself before other angels (Job 1: 6-12; 2:1-6).

“The cosmic perspective the book of Job affords provides powerful proof of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. This planet is where this dramatic struggle between right and wrong is being played out.

Scripture states, ‘We have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels, and to men’ (1 Corinthians 4:9).”

How Will the Great Controversy Be Resolved?

Jesus Christ, praying to His Father in Gethsemane, bearing the sins of the worldAdventists believe the central component of the great controversy is the life and ministry of Jesus, and its climax was at the cross.

The cross was the place where the fate of sin was decided once and for all.

Let’s go back to the analogy of the leader who was accused by rebels of being cruel, unjust, and unfair.

What if, in order to answer the charges, this leader voluntarily came down to the level of all his people. What if he lived among them, suffered among them, and even sacrificed his life for them?

What would that say about the charges against him?

It would negate them.

And what if the one who accused the leader of being cruel was the one who unjustly killed him? Wouldn’t that make the rebel the unjust one instead?

Though only an analogy, this reveals how Jesus answered the charges Satan made against Him.

How Do We See the Great Controversy in the Ministry of Jesus?

The battle between Christ and Satan is revealed in the life and death of Jesus.

As an example, we see that right after His baptism, the great controversy was on display when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 3:13-17; 4:1-11).

Scripture is clear that Satan, who is a supernatural being, tried to tempt Jesus three times. Satan tried to get Jesus to doubt who He was and to divert Him from the mission.

But in all three times, Christ defeated Satan, which was a precursor to Satan’s final defeat at the end of time (Revelation 20:10).

All through His ministry on Earth, Jesus often referred to Satan—or confronted and defeated satanic forces—in the context of the great controversy (Matthew 12:26; Mark 4:15; Luke 10:18; 22:3; 31).

One time, when Jesus came across a man possessed by demons, the demons cried out:

What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29).

Clearly, they understood they were no match for Jesus.

Then, the book of Acts talked about “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38).

Just before the cross, Jesus said that His own death would lead to the conquest of Satan.

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world [Satan] will be cast out” (John 12:31, NKJV).

It’s at the cross that Satan was finished once and for all. He was also exposed to the universe for what he really was.

As Adventist scholar Frank Holbrook wrote

“At the cross, Satan (including the other fallen angels) was clearly seen in his true light as a rebel and a murderer. We may infer that any link of sympathy still existing in the minds of the heavenly beings for Satan’s cause was forever broken.”5

If Satan Was Defeated at the Cross, Why is There Still Sin Today?

Cross of Christ on Calvary as the death of Jesus exposed satan as a murder to the universe including the unfallen angelsEven with the defeat of Satan at the cross, which ensured his final destruction, the Bible teaches that issues about the character of God still remain. There is still more to be played out. And to cut it short would hinder us all from being redeemed, or even redeemable.

Ephesians 3:10 states that “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (NKJV).

Because of Satan’s initial rebellion, other heavenly beings could still doubt the character of God. So to put an end to that doubt, the end of sin and the wisdom and victory of God must be seen, by all, from the church.

At the end of time, after God’s judgments are issued, heavenly beings cry out:

Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Revelation 16:7; 19:2, NKJV)

So, even after the cross, there’ll be more for humanity and the universe to see and understand about the great controversy—namely, the judgments God passes on the people of the world. And the New Testament, written after the Cross, reveals the continued reality of the great controversy.

Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12, NKJV).

But all the evil, suffering and violence in the world reveal the wrath of Satan, and that he isn’t going down without a fight.

After all, humanity chose to “know both good and evil.” Now we’re surely seeing what that is like, and learning about what it really means to choose between the two on a daily basis.

Peter also warns us:

Be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8, MKJV).

Even after the Cross, Satan is at work, seeking whom he can lead astray before the end times.

Should We Be Afraid of Satan?

Warrior in full armor as Paul writes in Ephesians 6 to put on the whole armor of God & we may be able to stand against devilThankfully, we do not! God does not want us living in fear—He wants us living in faith.

Adventists uphold the biblical idea that not only is Satan a beaten foe, but that anyone who chooses to follow Jesus will find help and protection from Satan.

Paul encourages us in Ephesians:

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-2, NKJV).

Paul’s point here is that, through Christ, we can experience victory over the devil.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you ” (James 4:7, NKJV).

Yes, evil still happens and sickness and death still come, but in the end, all who are in Christ have the assurance of victory now. We can say with Paul:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV)

And we have the promise of eternity with Jesus in a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 66:22: 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).

For now, we live knowing that the great controversy is real. But however much we hate evil, we don’t have to be perplexed by its horrible existence.

We know that we are amid a great controversy and that we have to be awake and diligent (1 Peter 4:7).

But we can also know that Jesus has won the crucial victory for us at the Cross.

And in the end, Satan, death, and suffering will all end forever—thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.

And after the end times, when Jesus calls His beloved followers to meet Him in the clouds to be taken with Him to heaven we can rest assured we will be restored to perfection (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58). And after that, we’ll never sin again—for we will have truly, unmistakably seen what it means to know both good and evil.

[1] Excerpt From: T. S. Eliot. “The Rock.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-rock/id837916987
[2] Frederick Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, 1887 p. 16.
[3] (Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology; Review and Herald Publishing Association; 2000. p. 970).
[4] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity
[5] (Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology; Review and Herald Publishing Association; 2000. p. 986).

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