he Sabbath School lessons for the fourth quarter of 2015 have focussed on the book of Jeremiah. The lesson for the fifth week, October 24-30, looks at many of Jeremiah’s “woes” and links the prophet’s suffering to the dynamics of the great controversy. The lesson also makes the point that while God knows all people’s decisions in advance, His foreknowledge does not change our ability to make our own decisions, and the lesson emphasizes that, like Jeremiah suffered, the readers as Adventists can expect to suffer opposition for their faith.
In this article, excerpted from the online commentary found at this web address, http://biblestudiesforadventists.com/2015/quarter4/sabbathschool5.html, we will take a closer look at the assumptions underlying the great controversy and see that Jeremiah’s experiences are not illustrating this Adventist paradigm.
The great controversy: scriptural or not?
Adventists like to argue that the term “great controversy” simply represents the evil influence of Satan in the world opposing the good influence of Jesus as the two beings fight for the souls of men. The way they describe this conflict publicly conceals Adventism’s underlying beliefs, and many Christians, unaware of the Adventist assumptions underlying the doctrine, might agree with it.
Nevertheless, Adventism’s view of a great controversy is not founded in Scripture. Jesus and Satan are not in a battle for the souls of men. They are not relatively equal opponents fighting for an ultimate “win”. On the contrary, Jesus has already disarmed and humiliated Satan:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Col. 2:13-15).
Satan has never imagined that he could be considered a legitimate opponent of Jesus because Satan has always known that Jesus was his Creator. Yes, Satan opposed Jesus and rebelled against Him, but he has not been confused about his relationship to Jesus. He has always known he was a creature of the triune God.
Ellen White’s (EGW) descriptions of Lucifer’s jealousy when the Father supposedly exalted Jesus to the position of His Son and brought Him into the council of God, snubbing Lucifer by not inviting him in (see “What Is Seventh-Day Adventism?”, p. 8-18 in this issue), are completely extra-biblical and opposed to Scripture.
Furthermore, EGW’s explanation of the great controversy involves our faithfulness to obey Jesus and keep the law in order to demonstrate to Satan that God’s law is just and fair, thus proving to a watching universe that Satan is a liar and a false accuser. By choosing to obey God, therefore, we help Jesus win the battle of the great controversy. We add evidence to God’s cause and thus disprove Satan’s accusations.
Again, this idea is completely unbiblical. We as God’s born again, adopted children never answer to Satan, neither proving nor disproving anything to him. We answer only to God. Even when we sin, we deal with God, not Satan. David emphasized this fact in Psalm 51:4 when he wrote, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”
Furthermore, there is no watching universe of creatures waiting to see what will happen. The Bible reveals that only the angels long to look into the matters of our salvation (1 Pet. 1:12). Our obedience is only something between us and God.
In fact, because we are born spiritually dead into the domain of darkness and under Satan’s control from birth and condemned to eternal death (Eph. 2:1-3; Col. 1:13; Jn. 5:24), we are not naturally able to make a choice between God or Satan. In fact, Paul quotes David when he writes,
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Rom. 3:10-12).
God has to draw us and call us to trust Him and His word. Jesus said,
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me (Jn. 6:44-45 ESV).
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (Jn. 6:65).
We can only choose to trust Jesus after the Father has intervened in our spiritual death and has called us to repent and to place our faith in Jesus’ shed blood and completed atonement on the cross.
Reliability of God’s promises
The Sabbath School lesson points out that God honors people’s choices to believe. If they repent of their sin after hearing a prophetic message, the lesson explains, they can reverse the prophesied punishment that was to come. To be sure, any individual Israelite could have trusted God and received His blessing for that trust. Indeed, Daniel and his friends, to name a few, did trust God and receive His blessing in the land of Babylon during the exile.
What the Sabbath School lesson fails to explain, however, is that the book of Jeremiah is showing us how God continued calling His people to repent while concurrently carrying out the terms of His covenant with Israel. The Mosaic covenant contained not only the promises of blessings for obedience but also the certainty of curses for disobedience. These conditions were not only for individuals; they were for the nation of Israel.
The exile to Babylon was not just for individual apostasy that permeated the nation. When God gave the law to Israel, He commanded that every seventh year, they were not to cultivate and harvest but were to give their land a rest. In fact, God foretold that they would fail to observe their sabbatical years of jubilee and that they would be in their enemies’ land for as many years as they had failed to give their land rest (Lev. 26:34). Moreover, Jeremiah prophesied that Israel would be in Babylon for 70 years, and 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 states that Judah was taken into Babylon “to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths…to fulfill seventy years.”
Jeremiah’s suffering was not for the purpose of demonstrating the conflict of a supposed great controversy. His agony was rooted in the fact that not only the people of Judah but the entire nation had disregarded the terms of their covenant with God. Now, whether individuals repented or not, the national terms of the covenant were trampled, and God was punishing them with exile in fulfillment of His own word to them. Israel’s national disobedience resulted from persistent individual unbelief and apostasy, to be sure—but Jeremiah’s appeals for God’s people to repent would not undo the consequences of their national disobedience to the terms of their covenant with God.
The book of Jeremiah is the historical account of God’s dealings with Israel as He fulfilled all His promises to them—including His promises to discipline them for unbelief.
Adventism assumes that, because it upholds the law and the the Sabbath, it is now “spiritual Israel”. They assume, therefore, that God’s promises to the nation of Israel apply to them. They fail to see, however, that the Lord Jesus fulfilled God’s covenant with Israel and ushered in the new covenant which has new terms.
In the new covenant, the Lord Jesus keeps all God’s righteous requirements with the Father. Our only work is to believe in Him and to place our trust in Him (Jn. 6:29; Acts 16:31). When we believe, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14) and placed in Christ, hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). The new covenant is based on the reality of Jesus and His finished work, not on the shadows of rituals foreshadowing Jesus (Col. 1:16-17).
Adventism, however, looks back to the law and insists people must keep it in order to please God. They fail to see that if they place themselves back under the law, they also place themselves under God’s curses for disobedience. They remove themselves from Jesus’ full payment for sin.
Consequently, when Adventism attempts to teach books such as Jeremiah, it attempts to identify with Jeremiah’s suffering as God’s chosen agent and to focus on his calls to repentance. They fail to see that unless they accept the terms of the new covenant and believe that Jesus alone is their salvation, they are under a curse—because the law curses all who fail to keep it perfectly. Paul said,
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Gal. 1:6-10).
Adventism cannot legitimately compare itself to Jeremiah or to Israel because it is not a biblical religion. Furthermore, it cannot consider itself to be part of the new covenant body of Christ because it distorts the gospel of Christ.
What is needed?
The need of Adventists is to see clearly who Jesus is and what He has done. Jesus is the Son of God who was the perfect Sacrifice for our sin and our Substitute. He became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus keeps all the requirements for God’s demands upon mankind. Jesus and the Father are the participants in the New Covenant: Jesus, who has the perfect righteousness of God (because He is God) keeps all the righteous commands of God including becoming the complete Sacrifice God demands for sin. He breaks the curse of sin by shattering death from the inside-out. He took the curse that described the heart of the law and paid the price for human sin, but then He rose from death.
Adventists, like every other human, need to know the gospel, and they need to repent and receive the Lord Jesus ALONE for their salvation and reconciliation with God. They need to trust Scripture and know that the loyalty to which we are called is not to the law or to a day or to a prophet. Jesus alone saves us. †
Copyright 2015 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised May 25, 2016. Contact email: email@example.com
W I N T E R • 2 0 1 5
VOLUME 16, ISSUE 4