The greatest trial in history was brewing. The most majestic created being was filing suit against his perfect Creator-God. Lucifer, son of the morning, allowed his mind to become filled with pride because of his superior beauty, ability, and position. After all, Lucifer was the five-star general of the angelic host.
We are going to look through some inspired windows to understand what actually transpired before sin ever came down to this earth.
The first thing we learn about this challenge to God's authority is that the tipping point came over God's plan to create the human family. Thus our existence and Satan's rebellion were tied closely together.
This process had to take a fair amount of time to develop, and so we learn that nothing was done in haste as Satan and God moved ever closer to a showdown.
To curb this brewing palace-coup, the Father called an assembly of all the heavenly host, and explained that the Son had from all eternity been equal with Himself in omnipresence, in omniscience, in power and authority. Although Lucifer was convinced, and almost surrendered to Christ, his growing pride prevented him. In turn he assembled the angels and described how unjust it was for God to bar him from their secret councils. "As one aggrieved, he related the preference God had given Jesus to the neglect of himself." (SR 14) Lucifer finally declared that he would take the throne of Christ by force. With this threatening news, loyal angels rushed to inform Christ of Lucifer's plans.
This brings us to the first record of this challenge in the Scriptural record. "For thou has said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds: I will be like the most High." (Isa. 14: 13,14)
Then we read the distressing outcome of this rebellion. "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angel fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (Rev. 12: 7-9)
What happened shortly after this is most significant, since it revealed the true character of Lucifer and that of Christ.
Here we have Satan repenting with weeping, and imploring God for mercy. Surely this should be enough for God to give him another chance.
What a dramatic demonstration of the difference between outward repentance even with weeping, and heart surrender with faith that God knows best. Satan was sorry because he had lost his privileges and his future, and he showed that his spirit had not changed as he expressed his hatred against God. If Satan was truly repentant, would he not have acknowledged to Christ that his I-centered spirit was completely contrary to Christ's others-centered spirit?
Why did Satan next focus on getting Adam and Eve to sin? "If...God would make some provision whereby they might be pardoned,...then himself and all the fallen angels would be in a fair way to share with them of God's mercy." (SR 27) We must remember that Satan's desire to return to heaven is an important key to understanding the ensuing great controversy. With malice he anticipated the creation and seduction of Adam and Eve. He wanted to take advantage of any mercy God would give to them as sinners, for his own reinstatement back into heaven.
As we follow the drama, now played out on earth, we need to understand what the controversy is really all about.
Jan Paulsen said it well. "In God's final and ultimate answer to the sin problem there are issues to be taken into account that are wider and larger than my personal salvation....For the larger picture--namely, for the eternal security of...(all) creation,...God will also have provided a far-reaching answer that deals with the roots as well as the consequences of rebellion." (Adventist Review, Nov. 30, 2000)
You see, in a very real sense, God is on trial. For more than six thousand years He has been facing accusations, and the whole universe is watching to see how the drama will terminate. Will love, the foundation of His law and government, prove stronger than pride, self-exaltation, and competition against others? Romans 3:4 says, "You must win Your case when you are being tried." (Today's English Version)
Satan's charges against God are not easily resolved, because of his knowledge of God's fairness.
Speaking cosmically, there is something far more important than your salvation or mine, or the salvation of all those who live in this tiny planet. From Romans 3:4 again, "So that you may be proved right in Your words and prevail in Your judging." (New International Version)
Only in this way can Satan's plea for restoration to heaven be silenced.
Looking ahead to His coming death, Jesus said, "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." (John 12: 31,32) The whole universe would be able to see the supreme example of the contrast between God's love and Satan's hatred.
When the disciples reported that they were able to cast out demons in the name of Jesus, He said, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." (Luke 10:18) This new fall of Satan from power and the sympathy of heavenly beings was far more important than his original fall described in Revelation 12. Now he was losing credibility in his accusations against God and Christ.
However, an inordinate preoccupation with the cross is a distortion of the gospel. The true Christian cross is not a crucifix on which Jesus still hangs. The true Christian cross is empty. He is not there; He is risen. The empty cross is a symbol of the risen Lord. Faith takes us not only to the cross but through the cross to the living Lord, to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given, and against whom the gates of hell shall not prevail.
"Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession." (Heb. 4:14) "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12:2)
Christ lives today and is seated at the right hand of God. This is good news! This is also the gospel. Without the resurrection the cross would only memorialize a wasteful martyrdom.
Although by crucifying the perfect Son of God, Satan had signed his own death warrant, and had uprooted himself from the sympathies of the heavenly beings, "yet Satan was not then destroyed. The angels did not even then understand all that was involved in the great controversy. The principles at stake were to be more fully revealed. And for the sake of man, Satan's existence must be continued. Man as well as angels must see the contrast between the Prince of Light and the prince of darkness. He must choose whom he will serve." (DA 761)
Throughout the Bible, God makes it very clear that nothing is more important for all the universe than to have His reputation cleared and His name honored. And that is exactly what John is telling us in Revelation 7. Jesus will not return until God has a people who make guarding the name of God the most important purpose of their lives.
John saw four angels holding back the winds of destruction for a very specific purpose. "And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." (Rev. 7: 2,3)
Why is God holding back these last-day winds of terror and destruction? God's people are not yet ready! God is saying, "Hold back the east wind of human madness. My people haven't caught on yet as to the purpose of the gospel. Hold back the west wind of satanic fury until my people are ready to carry out their last assignment. Hold the winds until my people are ready to be sealed. Hold the winds until my people are ready for me to use them in my final message to earth's last generation."
Down here in the days of the held winds, God is telling the universe when He writes His name in the foreheads of His faithful ones, "Listen to them. You can trust what they say. I can give them my seal of approval. The quality goes in before my name goes on." What could be more wonderful than to have our heavenly Father write His name across our foreheads? By that signature God is saying, "Here are people who have let my Holy Spirit do His work; people who indeed reflect my glory. I am not embarrassed by how they represent me, and they have my seal of approval."
What is this seal of God that makes Satan angry? "Just as soon as the people of God are sealed in their foreheads--it is not any seal or mark that can be seen, but a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved--just as soon as God's people are sealed and ready for the shaking, it will come." (Mar 200)
This is the time when angels and all the unfallen universe are judging whether God is fair in His judgments about the men and women that He is sealing. He will seal them through a gospel of unlimited grace--grace that is powerful enough to overcome all inherited and cultivated tendencies to sin.
To prevent this sealing work, Satan offers some very attractive gospels of his own. He says, "Exalt the law as being so high above human attainment that no man or woman could ever hope to keep it, but don't worry, you don't have to keep the commandments, because Jesus kept the law for you."
He says, "You can't keep the commandments because you were born a sinner; you live in sinful flesh and you will always be falling short. But don't worry, as long as you are sorry for your sins, that is all the Lord requires. God looks at Jesus' record in the judgment and not yours."
He says, "You shouldn't try to keep the commandments, because if you do, you will be a legalist. The main thing is to have a relationship with Jesus."
Of course, you recognize some half-truths in these attractive deceptions. But when you are told that it is either unnecessary or impossible to be overcomers, remember that somebody called Satan is redefining and confusing the plan of salvation. And John calls this deception the wine of Babylon.
Satan hates the everlasting gospel because the purpose of the gospel is to reproduce the character of Jesus, which just drives Satan furious. He is furious when people see through his false gospels, which are really a new legalism. When men and women think they can be saved by believing in a legal adjustment on the books of heaven without a character adjustment on earth, and then calling this righteousness by faith, then you know you are listening to the new legalism.
Can anyone imagine what it will be like when men and women wake up in the second resurrection screaming at their pastors and teachers, "You told me that grace covered my sins and that character did not count." Or, "You told me that my assurance of salvation was in believing that Jesus died for me and that I could not add anything to what He did." Or, "You told me that faith plus nothing was the way to avoid legalism." Or, "You told me that any attempt to add obedience to faith would be legalism." Or, "You told me that Ellen White had no theological authority."
Let us not be distracted with limited gospels straight out of Babylon. Limit not the Holy One of Israel. Give Him a chance. The good news is that Jesus changes people so that they can be sealed with His Father's approval. The faith of Jesus is the same kind of faith that kept Jesus from sinning. And all heaven is waiting to seal that kind of person in these last days before the wind blows, before this world becomes a madhouse.
If we are to be a sealable people, we must have an attitude adjustment. "The Lord has no place in His work for those who have a greater desire to win the crown than to bear the cross. He wants men who are more intent upon doing their duty than upon receiving their reward--men who are more solicitous for principle than for promotion." (MH 476,477)
Ellen White characterizes the popular gospel as "a way of escape from suffering rather than as a deliverance from sin." (COL 47) Lucifer wanted to be reinstated to the privileges of heaven without the character of heaven. Are we looking at heaven as an escape from a difficult world or as final freedom from our own selfishness?
A prisoner looks out of his cell window upon a beautiful park where his family and Jesus are waiting. The prisoner merely wishes to escape his restraints and have fun with his family. But Jesus and His family are hoping that we prisoners will desire godly fellowship enough to separate ourselves from the sins which hurt and imprisoned us in the first place. Christ wishes not merely to rescue us from the strife and suffering which our sins bring, but to rescue us from the selfish, impatient and deceptive dispositions which cause our bondage.
The great controversy between Christ and Satan puts those of us who are living in these last days on center stage as God's star witnesses, defending His justice for giving us mercy and an opportunity to learn and live like Christ. Should not the perfect inhabitants of heaven be given an opportunity to declare whom they would feel comfortable having as their neighbors throughout eternity? The underlying question which God places before the entire universe is this: "Is there sufficient power in Christ's gospel of the kingdom to cleanse teams of people from all unrighteousness?"
The nagging question remains--will Jeremiah 50: 20 ever be fulfilled? "In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found."
Just how important is God's last remnant to His eternal purpose? "In order to destroy sin and its results, He gave His best Beloved, and He has put it in our power, through co-operation with Him, to bring this scene of misery to an end." (Ed 264) What an incredible promise, and a revelation of how important we are to the fulfillment of God's plans.
Satan knows how much is riding on the success of the final generation, and he will not go quietly into the night. "While the plagues are falling, the scapegoat is being led away. He makes a mighty struggle to escape, but he is held fast by the hand that leads him. If he should effect his escape, Israel would lose their lives. I saw that it would take time to lead away the scapegoat into the land of forgetfulness after the sins were put on his head." (Spalding-Magan, p. 2)
The wicked are brought back to life. Seeing the vast multitude of his followers, Satan recovers from the hopelessness that he suffered during the millennium.
At the critical moment, high above the city, appears the throne of God, and like a panoramic view, all will see in detail the history of Satan's rebellion in heaven and the whole sad six thousand years of human misery. Each one, human and demonic, will see his or her own part in the great drama. Each one will see the infinite mercy and justice of God.
Lucifer and his angels resisted every effort of God and the loyal angels as they urged them to change their minds. The rebels knowingly chose the side of rebellion and decided to brave the consequences. At the end of the thousand years, of those within or outside the city, not even one would choose to change sides. The ones outside covet the wealth and splendor of the city of God, but they could not endure the atmosphere of holiness and love found inside. Heaven would be hell to them.
It is now that "Satan bows down and confesses the justice of his sentence." (Mar 345) In full view of the panoramic evidence, he is compelled to proclaim that God has given him every advantage. God has given him all the talented humans he could deceive--all the healthy, wealthy, wise, powerful, skilled, handsome and beautiful he could employ--and they have all turned against him. Furthermore, Satan will be compelled to acknowledge that God maintained the very slimmest army possible--the weak, the ignorant, the unaccredited, the untitled and unknown, the poor, the unattractive--and with these leftover scraps He overcame all the hosts of evil.
Paul sums it up. "But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are." (1 Cor. 1:27,28)
"Satan sees that his voluntary rebellion has unfitted him for heaven." (Mar 345) He is self-condemned, thus fulfilling the prediction of Paul, "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,...and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2: 10,11)
For more than seven thousand years Satan has been plugged into a life-support system to which he had no right. Now of his own volition he acknowledges God's justice. God is absolved from all Satan's charges. The at-one-ment is complete. "Every mouth will be stopped, and all the hosts of rebellion will be speechless....The whole universe will have become witnesses to the nature and results of sin. And its utter extermination, which in the beginning would have brought fear to angels and dishonor to God, will now vindicate His love and establish His honor before the universe." (FLB 71)
And how has God been able to accomplish this great victory and protect His universe from sin's entry ever again? "The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people." (DA 671) "The honor of Christ must stand complete in the perfection of the character of His chosen people....Your character is His glory revealed in you." (ST Nov. 25, 1897)
Let us determine to be that final generation through whom God can reveal His grace and His power. May He not have to search for another remnant because we were too careless and lazy to respond to His call. This is His hour and we can be His remnant.
[I am indebted to the insights of David Lee and Herbert Douglass in their studies of the great controversy and its implications for us living in these momentous times]