Sanctuary Lesson 19 - The Great Controversy
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there pain and suffering in the world? Why do evil people seem to be able to get away with doing bad things to others? If God is so good, then why is He allowing all these tragedies in the world to occur? I am sure you have heard questions like these before or you may have even asked these questions yourself. Can a study of the Sanctuary help us try to begin to answer any of these questions?
Let's turn to Psalms 73 and read the entire chapter together (verses 1-28).
- According to verse 3, who were prospering?
- Answer (highlight to read): The wicked
- According to verse 12, what do the ungodly seem to be and seem to have?
- Answer: The ungodly seem to be at ease and increase in riches.
- According to verse 16, how did the psalmist feel about all this?
- Answer: It was too painful for him to try to understand this.
- According to verse 17, what led the psalmist to understand the end of the wicked?
- Answer: The psalmist understood the end of the wicked when he went into the sanctuary of God.
Over 3000 years ago, a psalmist named Asaph was asking the very same questions you and I ask today. Asaph found his answers to his pressing questions in the sanctuary!
Let's turn to Psalms 78:56-61.
- According to these verses, what happened to the sanctuary when God's people turned away from Him?
- Answer: God forsook the sanctuary.
Let's turn to Psalms 78:65-72.
- According to these verses, what happened to the sanctuary when God's people came back to Him?
- Answer: God built the sanctuary like the heights.
When the psalmist Asaph reviewed the history of the Jews, he noticed that there was a conflict between right and wrong and his people were caught up in the middle of this conflict. He wondered why bad things happened to good people faithful to God and why the wicked seemed to prosper. It was only when Asaph studied the sanctuary, did he understand what would ultimately happen to the wicked.
This conflict between good and evil goes back further than the time of the Jews. The conflict between good and evil actually started in heaven.
The Great Controversy in Heaven:
Let's turn to Revelation 12 and read to entire chapter together (verses 1-17).
- According to verse 7, what happened in heaven?
- Answer: War broke out in heaven.
- According to verse 7, who were fighting?
- Answer: Michael and his angels were fighting against the dragon and his angels.
Who is Michael? If we study the Bible carefully, we will learn that Michael is none other than Jesus! (Daniel 10:21; 12:1).
- According to verse 9, who is the dragon?
- Answer: The Devil (also known as Satan)
- According to verse 8-9, what happened to Satan and his angels?
- Answer: They were defeated and cast out of heaven.
- According to verse 13, where is Satan now?
- Answer: On earth
- According to verse 12, what is Satan doing now?
- Answer: Satan is making war with those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
There was a cosmic conflict, a great controversy, if you will, between Jesus and Satan. This controversy was so great, that a war actually broke out in heaven! Can you even imagine this? Who is Satan, exactly? Let's turn to Isaiah 14:12-15.
- According to verse 12, what was Satan's original name?
- Answer: Lucifer
Satan used to be an angel named Lucifer? Did God make him evil like this? Let's turn to Ezekiel 28:12-18.
- According to these verses, how did God make Lucifer?
- Answer: Perfect
Lucifer was an anointed cherub, and had an exalted position in the kingdom of God. In fact, as a covering cherub, Lucifer was right in the presence of God. The fiery stones in verse 14 is an allusion to the throne of God. He would have been a defender of the foundation of the throne of God, the law of God (Exodus 24:10-12). Notice that Lucifer wore almost all the stones as the High Priest (Exodus 28:17).
- According to these verses, what happened to Lucifer's heart?
- Answer: Lucifer's heart was lifted up because of his beauty.
If we compare Ezekiel 28:12-18 with Isaiah 14:12-15, we will find that Lucifer became proud of his beauty. In fact if we re-read Isaiah 14:13, Lucifer became so proud that he wanted to take God's place in heaven. Ezekiel 28:16 tells us that Lucifer became so filled with pride that he became filled with violence. That verse also said that Lucifer began trading. What was he trading?
Let's turn to John 8:44.
- According to this verse, what are two things Lucifer is called?
- Answer: He is called a murderer and a liar.
Let's try to put what we have learned so far into one picture. Lucifer was so corrupted by his own splendor, majesty, and magnificence, that he used his wisdom to temp, bring down, and manipulate others. Ezekiel 28:15 states clearly that iniquity was found in Lucifer.
Let's turn to 1 John 3:4.
- According to this verse, what is sin?
- Answer: Sin is lawlessness.
Sin is equated with lawlessness, or transgression of the law. An American author once wrote that "sin is the out-working of a principle at war with the great law of love which is the foundation of the divine government."
Satan basically argued that there was no need for God's law, as we have seen in Genesis 3. If you remember, he told Eve that you could be god, without being like God. He argued that God's law is not needed - there were too many hard and unfair rules. You don't need the law to tell us how to be righteous. We can be self-righteous.
Satan's arguments were so persuasive that he drew 1/3 of the angels in heaven to his cause (Revelation 12:4; Jude 1:6) and started a war in heaven. Satan's lies to Eve ended up dooming mankind to die as sinners. Indeed, Satan was a liar and murderer from the beginning.
So, why didn't God just get rid of Satan? Why was sin permitted?
There are only two sides to this conflict. There is God's side, where one must follow His law. Then there is Lucifer's side, where you don't need the law to tell you how to be righteous (you can be self-righteous). Who do you believe?
Let's turn to 1 John 4:18.
- According to this verse, can there be fear in love?
- Answer: No
Love cannot be forced or based upon fear. If God had immediately destroyed Satan as a response to his accusations, wouldn't the angels grow afraid of God instead of loving Him? Wouldn't the angels start to wonder if there was any merit to Satan's accusations?
God could not keep Satan and his angels in heaven, so He had to cast them out of heaven. God let Satan continue on, to ultimately show the entire universe (Job 1:6-12; 38:7) what Satan's character truly is and what God's character is (1 Peter 1:12; 1 Corinthians 4:9).
The Great Controversy on Earth:
Satan's second argument is that God cannot be both merciful and just at the same time.
Satan deceived mankind in Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3:4-5, Satan was basically telling Eve, "God is lying to you. He is withholding power from you. You can be as gods without God."
Because of our sins, Satan says that mankind is not worthy of God's salvation (Zechariah 3:1-4).
Is God merciful? If so, shouldn't God forgive humans?
Is God just? If so, shouldn't God destroy humans for sinning?
Which is it? God's character is on trial with the entire universe watching. Is God really love? Is God's law really necessary?
God's answer lies in the plan of salvation as shown through the Sanctuary (Psalms 77:13). As sinners, Adam and Eve were cast out of God's presence. Tricked by Satan, mankind did not know the depths of God's love. However, God could still show His character to save them (Romans 2:4).
So, the Godhead (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) sent the Son to die for mankind. Jesus' life and death crosses the gulf of separation between God and man (Genesis 28:12; Isaiah 58:12).
Let's turn to Romans 1:16-17.
- According to these verses, what is the gospel of Christ?
- Answer: It is the power of salvation to everyone who believes.
- According to these verses, what is revealed in the gospel of Christ?
- Answer: The righteousness of God
God is revealed in the gospel. Jesus lived a life in perfect harmony with the law of God. Jesus is God's character on display in the flesh - humble, loving the outcast, merciful, holy, and pure.
When Jesus was crucified, the character of Satan was revealed - Satan crucified the Creator the universe and killed Him (John 8:44).
When Jesus was crucified, the character and law of God was revealed - He died for His creatures. The universe was drawn to God's character at the cross (John 12:31).
When Jesus was crucified, mercy and justice were united once again (Psalms 85:10; Psalms 143:11-12; 1 John 1:9).
When Jesus was crucified, God's character and law were justified. The angels and the universe at the moment of seeing Christ give His last breath - as they watch the infinite God die to save sinful wicked beings - they knew at the moment that God is love and the law is right. They came to realize that sin is evil.
The Great Controversy in Our Lives:
Sin in the heart and mind must be removed from the sinner without destroying him or her. The only thing remains now, is which of mankind is on God's side, too? Which side do you choose?
Let's consider the sanctuary again as we close this lesson:
- Sacrifice: Christ has paid the price for us.
- Holy Place: Going into the Holy Place releases the Holy Spirit to work in our lives to bring us into harmony with the law of God, so that we can enter into His holy presence in the Most Holy Place
- Day of Atonement: It is proving to the rest of the universe who is on God's side, who is it that truly desires to live in heaven. God makes us the reflection of Christ's character - through the power of the Holy Spirit we can conquer sin (Romans 16:20) and Satan in our lives (Revelation 12:11).