We will begin with some of the most dramatic passages of Scripture in the Bible.
"And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels 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)
"And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne." (Rev. 12:3-5)
Satan's most decisive attack against God after being cast out was against God's Son directly, but he was unsuccessful, so he turned his fury against the church which Christ established.
"And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days….And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth." (Rev. 12:6, 13-16)
For 1260 years the Christian church suffered the wrath of Satan, hiding in the hidden places of the earth in many cases. But again Satan failed to accomplish his purpose, so he turned all of his forces against the very last generation to live on planet Earth.
"And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." (Rev. 12:17) "And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed." (Rev. 13:11-15)
It is at this point that God decisively enters the picture again, to turn the apparent victory of Satan into final defeat.
"And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped." (Rev. 14:14-16) "And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before out God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." (Rev. 12:10-11) "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." (Rev. 14:12)
What a dramatic story, from the first battle in heaven to the final battle on earth. This is the storyline that we are living in on a day by day basis. We are very near the endpoint of the whole story, and we need to understand as clearly as possible what the battle is all about, and what part we are to play in the final battle.
To understand what is at stake, we need to go back to the beginning of the battle. From its very inception the great controversy has been over God's law. Satan challenged the law of God as being the enemy of peace. Satan said, "While the Creator demands self-sacrifice and self-denial of others, He Himself practices no self-denial and makes no self-sacrifice." Sin, Satan claimed, was because of God's law. God was responsible for sin.
How could God prove that His law is a law of love? Once the great controversy broke out in heaven, the stability of the divine government depended on someone unfolding the law of God-someone demonstrating to the whole universe what a beautiful thing God's law is.
When the scene of the battle shifted to this earth, Satan immediately challenged the truthfulness of God's commands. "And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." (Gen. 3:4,5) In other words, God is a liar. God's warning is meaningless. Eve would suffer no harm from disobeying. She need not obey God. Satan also propounded a theory that is still very popular today. He claimed that unalloyed goodness is not desirable; instead, a mixture of good and evil is far better.
The clearest picture of the early struggle between God and Satan is found in the book of Job.
"Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast thou not made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face." (Job. 1:6-11)
Satan claimed ownership of this earth, and God challenged this claim by pointing to Job as His faithful follower. Satan responded that Job did not really serve God out of love, but only for selfish reasons.
How nearly Satan came to success in his attempts to thwart the plans of God for this earth is noteworthy. During the Flood, only eight persons survived to continue the human race. Only a small remnant returned to Judea from Babylonian captivity.
In the very day that Satan succeeded in turning Adam and Eve to his side, God made a far-reaching promise. "And I will put enmity between thee (Satan) and the woman, and between thy seed (Satan's followers) and her seed (the Deliverer); it (the Deliverer) shall bruise thy (Satan's) head, and thou (Satan) shalt bruise his (the Deliverer's) heel." (Gen. 3:15)
The controversy begun in heaven would continue on earth. It would be fought out over every individual. Ceaselessly, Satan and his angels would seek through deception to introduce dissension into every family, every workplace, every community, and every nation. They would persuade people to disregard God's health laws in addition to His moral laws.
The high point of God's response to Satan came in the person of His own Son, "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:6-8)
Christ's whole life was an unfolding of the law of God. Satan said that God's law was a law of selfishness. Jesus came to show that it was not. "The law of Jehovah is the tree; the gospel is the fragrant blossoms and fruit which it bears." (1SM 212) In other words, the law of God is the source from which all God's blessings flow, including His gospel of grace to repentant sinners. God's love and mercy are simply extensions of the principles of His law.
What does Calvary show us about the great controversy? Calvary shows us that God's law is good. If we love Calvary we must love the law of God, because Calvary is the law of God. Calvary shows what a beautiful thing God's law is. Calvary shows that Satan, not God, was responsible for sin. "At the cross of Calvary, love and selfishness stood face to face….Satan…made it evident that the real purpose of his rebellion was to dethrone God, and to destroy Him through Whom the love of God was shown." (DA 57)
"The death of Christ upon the cross made sure the destruction of him who has the power of death, who was the originator of sin….There will be no danger of another rebellion in the universe of God….It is through the efficacy of the cross that the angels of heaven are guarded from apostasy. Without the cross they would be no more secure against evil than were the angels before the fall of Satan….The plan of salvation, making manifest the justice and love of God, provides an eternal safeguard against defection in unfallen worlds, as well as among those who shall be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb….Oh, we do not comprehend the value of the atonement! If we did, we would talk more about it….Why should man not study the theme of redemption? It is the greatest subject that can engage the human mind." (ST Dec. 30, 1889)
It is only in the light of Calvary that we can see what sin is. The fact is that someone else has joined Satan in his rebellion. The whole world stands charged with the murder of the Son of God. "Not a soul knows what God is until he sees himself in the light reflected from the cross of Calvary, and detests himself in the bitterness of his soul." (TM 264,265)
The lightnings flashed, the thunders crashed.
The bolts of wrath He bore for me!
Then in the dark some fiend I see,
He nailed God's Son upon the tree.
That angry face was full of hate:
Just who could be, could be so vile?
He spat upon that lovely face;
Who could it be? Who could it be?
The darkness breaks; that fiend I see,
Oh, it was me! Yes, it was me!
I drove the nails at Calvary!
The truth at last-at last I see!
Do we have a true concept of what sin is? Every time we depart from right, do we see it in all its hateful, malignant nature? "Those who have permitted their minds to become beclouded in regard to what constitutes sin are fearfully deceived." (9T 267)
When we sin, the great thing is not so much the deed itself. It is the enmity which lies in the heart. Every time we depart from right, do we realize that in our hearts there exists murder against God? When a person repents, he vindicates God. He says, "God is not responsible for sin." A person who fails to repent of his sin, a person who blames his circumstances, a person who seeks an excuse for sin, virtually says, "God is the cause." Calvary proves, and the live of Jesus proves, that no circumstance in which a person can be plunged can be made an excuse for sin. There is no excuse for sinning!
Why So Long?
If God is going to exterminate the devil and all evil eventually, why does He not do so now? Why did He not do so long ago? Why does a good God permit evil to flourish so long? Perhaps because of the challenge given by Joshua long ago.
"And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Josh. 24:15) God desires our love too much to destroy it by demanding it. Freedom to make choices on the basis of evidence underlies the entire great controversy. God knew it was best for the universe to become wise about Satan and sin and about Himself and His love through examination of evidence.
But if Christ's life and death convinced all the loyal angels of God's goodness and of Satan's wickedness, could not God have destroyed Satan right after the cross? If the main questions about God's law and His character were answered by Christ's life and death, why did the great controversy need to go on? Why didn't God destroy the devil and all evil as soon as Jesus died on the cross?
The principal reason seems to be the dull stubbornness of human beings. Millions-billions-of us still prefer to believe what the serpent says about God instead of what the Bible says. Many of us are on Satan's side in the great controversy.
The Closing Argument
In the flesh of a Jew Jesus demonstrated that not only could Adam have overcome Satan in Eden, but also that ordinary people could overcome him. God wants His loyal people to help vindicate Him and His laws. In Ezekiel 36:23 He says that the nations will know that He is the Lord when He will be vindicated "in you before their eyes."
Soon everyone on Planet Earth will have taken sides, and only two clear-cut parties will remain. One of these parties will be composed of people who have chosen to believe Satan's falsehoods. On the other hand, the people who have faith in God and who have sought to have characters like His will be found obeying Him, lovingly observing all of God's commandments.
Satan still challenges God. He says to God, "All right, Jesus defeated me. Jesus lived the law of God. But where are the people who can do that? Yes, you have had people who have accepted Calvary and their sins have been forgiven. You cover them with the garments of your righteousness, and every now and then they commit sin again. Where are the people who will keep the law of God perfectly as Jesus did? You are in the sanctuary covering up the mistakes of your people. I have not been defeated yet." Then God says to Satan, "I will produce these people, through my grace, in the most degenerate age of earth's history. I will separate them from all sin completely. They will reflect the image of Jesus fully. I will step out of the sanctuary and they will live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor."
Such a people will be produced that will be the wonder of the whole universe. Through them Satan will be forever defeated, and every question that could be raised against the law of God-can humanity really keep it?-will be forever answered in that special people which Scripture calls the 144,000.
The Fit Man
Among the yearly feasts given by God to the Jewish nation there was a very special day called the Day of Atonement. The purpose of this day is concisely described in these words, "For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord." (Lev. 16:30) This was a special day of cleansing in Israel, when all sin was removed from the sanctuary and the people.
Near the end of the ceremonies of the day an unusual thing happened. "And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness." (Lev. 16: 20-22) As a necessary part of the cleansing of the sanctuary, they had to find a fit man, someone who was able, someone who was prepared, to lead the scapegoat out into the wilderness.
Before Satan can be cast out of this world, he must be cast completely out of the lives of God's people. All hidden iniquity must be revealed. The cleansing of the sanctuary is not just a work of cleansing in heaven, but it means the final making away of sin in the lives of God's people, taking away the dominion of the man of sin for all eternity. Here is a people who for the first time in the history of sin have had all their sins blotted out, and have been sealed for eternity. God can say, in the presence of the whole universe, "Here is a people who have been completely separated from sin." And He will promise, "They will never go back into sin again." And by virtue of the fact that these people will never go back into sin after the final work in the most holy place, by the mere fact that once they have been separated from sin they will never touch the stuff again, Satan is proved to be responsible. But on the other hand, if Satan could lead them into a departure from right in the least particular, he would win his point.
In the Day of Atonement ceremony there had to be a fit man that could lead the scapegoat into the wilderness. There had to be someone who could take him away, who was able and fit enough and strong enough to do it. While the real scapegoat is being led away he makes a desperate attempt to escape. During the plagues all the energy of Satan is expended against the 144,000. "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 upon his head." (Spalding-Magan, p. 2)
When Jesus steps out of the sanctuary He virtually says to Satan, "Here are my people, Satan. You can do whatever you want to them, but you cannot take their lives." Satan has full charge of the world and all the legions of darkness. All the wicked join with him, and a whole vanguard comes against God's people to overthrow them. But he is held fast! If Satan could lead one of the 144,000 into sin, if he could lead one of them to depart in the least particular from the law of God, he would triumph.
But the fit man will be able through the strength of Jesus to hold Satan fast. He will stand tall. It is in the 144,000 that Jesus finally wins the great controversy. It is a desperate struggle between Jesus and Satan. In the Incarnation it was a struggle between Jesus and Satan personally, and during the time of the plagues it is again a struggle between Jesus and Satan, but this time between Satan and Jesus lived out in the experience of the 144,000. By the mere fact that they do not fall into sin, but keep the law of God perfectly, Satan is defeated. His cause is lost, and he is held fast.
God has to give the angels in heaven some assurance that the plan of salvation is completely successful. What assurance do the angels have that the redeemed who have died down through the ages will not go back into sin again? Some of them accepted Jesus on their deathbeds. What assurance do the angels have that they will never sin again?
When God blots out the sins of the living saints, He allows Satan to test them to the uttermost. Satan puts them through every trial that he can devise, under the most discouraging circumstances, but they prove that the plan of salvation is a success. But if the scapegoat could escape, all Israel would lose their lives, not just the 144,000. God is waiting for a people upon whom He is going to stake His throne. God is going to risk all on the 144,000. If the scapegoat should escape, Israel would be lost. The plan of salvation would be proven a failure.
There is only one thing this group will fear during the time of Jacob's trouble. They realize that everything depends on them. They realize that they could disgrace God's throne. This is why this company is going to taste more fully than any other people the experience of Jesus.
In the book of Hebrews there is a listing of the great heroes of the Bible. At the end of the list is this remarkable promise. "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." (Heb. 11:40) There could be no resurrection of the righteous without the development of the 144,000. These heroes are waiting upon God's church for someone who can vindicate God's character, someone who will defeat Satan, someone who can lead the scapegoat away.
When God raised up a movement in 1844, it was not His purpose to raise up just another church, along with many other churches. The special work of the 144,000 is to call out a people to receive the seal of the living God. Not until that is done can the work be finished, and that work is to finish with sin. He is waiting for a people whom He can use to do this special work.
Sometimes we lose sight of the purpose of the third angel's message. God has not raised up a movement just to prepare men and women for death. If we go on in the way we are going, Satan could never be led away and the work could never be finished. The devil comes along and tells us, "You are doing a wonderful work in the world. You are raising up schools and hospitals and institutions and churches. Just carry on with the good work you are doing." Anything to blind us to the work that is being left undone in the most holy place. God wants to blot out our sins and give us the seal of the living God. Such a victory is waiting for God's people in the most holy place.
Jesus says, "Behold, I have set before thee an open door." The door is open, the latter rain is waiting. It awaits the demand and reception of the church. Jesus is waiting to finish with sin. If God's people set their faces like a flint to go up to the sanctuary, that work will be done.
May we indeed see the purpose of the third angel's message. May we see what Jesus is waiting to do. May we, through Jesus' grace, strive with all our might to be among that special company which is called the hundred and forty-four thousand.