What Adventists Believe About the Great Controversy

What is the Great Controversy?
What is the Great Controversy?

The most captivating stories have a clear hero and villain. Someone fights for good, and the other fights for evil. 

It’s easy to look at this messed-up world and believe that clearly-defined battles between good and evil only happen in stories. Everything here is so mixed up! Heroes are far from perfect. And anyone can become a villain.

It’s not uncommon to see people do horrible things for good causes. Others try their best to do the right thing but end up making things worse. How can pure good and pure evil exist in such a confusing world?

The Bible helps make these moral struggles clear. It tells how each of us are caught in an epic battle between good and evil. 

This battle encompasses the entire world and was being fought before humanity even began. And, just like in all good stories, the Bible tells us that good eventually comes out on top. God will prevail, and evil will be destroyed.

This epic battle is sometimes referred to as the “Great Controversy,” the conflict between God and Satan. And all humanity is caught up in it due to our free will, and the fact we chose the “knowledge of good and evil” back in the Garden of Eden. 

But this isn’t a physical battle:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).

The Great Controversy is a spiritual battle, a conflict over God’s character and His right to rule the universe. 

This will cover:

  • How the Great Controversy began
  • How the earth and humanity became involved
  • What are we to do during this spiritual war?
  • God’s ultimate victory over evil

All these questions can be answered in scripture. We’ll learn exactly how this Great Controversy got started, what the stakes are, and why our own roles are so important in this great battle of the universe.

Belief 8: The Great Controversy

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. (Gen. 3; 6-8; Job 1:6-12; Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-18; Rom. 1:19-32; 3:4; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; 1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 1:14; 1 Peter 5:8; 2 Peter 3:6; Rev. 12:4-9.)

Red Sunset Sky over clouds

The Great Controversy begins with war in Heaven

Right from the beginning of the Bible, God lets us in on the facts, explaining why our Ever since sin entered our world, Earth has been the battleground of the Great Controversy. All the pain and loss humanity suffers is a result of that war. 

But the war didn’t start on earth.

Back in heaven, before the earth even existed, there was an angel named Lucifer. He was also called “Morning Star” because of his radiance and beauty (Isaiah 14:12). 

He was a splendid being, wise and beautiful, one of God’s perfect creations. He was one of the great commanders of the angelic host. He even held a place of honor upon God’s Holy mountain, serving as the right-hand man to the Trinity itself.

The book of Ezekiel describes Lucifer’s splendor:

“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering… On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. 

You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you” (Ezekiel 28:12-15, ESV).

Something went wrong. Lucifer looked at himself, saw his beauty and wisdom and started to wonder why he, with all his splendor, wasn’t equal with God. Ezekiel tells us that “the King of Tyre” grew proud because of his beauty, that his wisdom was corrupted because of his splendor.

Lucifer let pride into his heart, letting it drive him to consider himself an equal to God (Isaiah 14:13-14). And in that pride, Lucifer incited a rebellion, trying to turn the angels of Heaven against their Creator. He falsely accused God’s character, spreading lies among the angels and calling God an unjust ruler. And some of the angels believed him. They sided with Lucifer, choosing him as their new leader, and rose up in rebellion against God.

“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:7-9, ESV).

Lucifer, once a trusted angel at God’s side, betrayed his king, started a rebellion, and was kicked out of heaven with his followers. On that day he became Satan the deceiver. And that when all earth’s troubles began.

A person tossing a globe above their hand.

How the Great Controversy came to earth

When Satan was banished from Heaven he headed straight for Earth, accompanied by all the angels who followed him. He knew he was no match for God, so he cooked up a plan to get revenge. He wanted to cause God the most pain he could—by corrupting God’s new creations (Adam and Eve).

Eden, Adam and Eve’s garden home, was a place of perfection. Every living creature was friendly and many plants and trees yielded fruit that was good to eat. 

Except one. The fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was to be off-limits. God specifically told Adam and Eve to go nowhere near that tree, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17, ESV).

Satan saw this as his opportunity. He caught Eve’s attention by taking the appearance of a radiant winged serpent and spoke to her.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5, ESV, emphasis added).

Satan employed the same trick he’d used to deceive the angels in Heaven, casting doubt on God’s character, calling Him a liar and claiming that God was just trying to keep all the power for himself. Satan essentially told Eve that she didn’t need God.

A person handing an apple to someone.

Sadly, Eve was intrigued enough to test this out. She ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam did the same. And with that, humanity took the side of rebellion against God and was dragged into the great controversy between good and evil.

Ever since Adam’s and Eve’s rebellion, humanity has had a distorted view of God. We struggle with Satan’s lie about God’s character and are now born with a natural tendency toward selfishness. We cannot regain our once-perfect nature on our own. Only through God’s help are we able to choose His way and aid in the war against sin and Satan (Romans 5:12-21).

We are truly living in a world with both the knowledge of good and evil, and each of us must make daily decisions on whose side we choose. These daily choices are more important than we can imagine. The entire universe has its eyes on Earth, watching the choices we make.

Earth is the only place God created that contains sin, and all God’s creations have their eyes on it, witnessing the devastating effect sin is having on our world (1 Corinthians 4:9). 

This is the reason God allowed Satan to live, why He allows sin to exist and spread across our world. 

It would be easy for God to destroy Satan and his angels in an instant. But if God did that, the angels who remained would only follow Him out of fear. God didn’t want His people to follow Him out of fear, but out of choice. They had to see what Satan was like, so they could witness what sin was like and choose for themselves who they were going to serve. 

Some things we really do have to truly see to truly believe.

Earth is the place where good and evil are put on full display so each person can judge for themselves who they are going to follow: Satan and his selfishness, or God and His love.

An older woman helping a young girl read the Bible.

What do we do during this Great Controversy?

So what are we to do while this Great Controversy wages on throughout the earth and within our hearts? 

We know we can’t do this on our own, and we know we will make mistakes. But those who hold onto Christ’s promises will be saved (Matthew 24:13). 

To help us, God offers us many promises and pieces of advice throughout the Bible:

“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41, ESV).

“Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God and He will come close to you…” (James 4:7-8, CSB).

“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is comfortable and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NASB). 

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raise Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).

“Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth…” (Joshua 24:14, NKJV).

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NKJV).

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16, 17, ESV).

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NKJV).

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).

A person standing on the beach with arms outstretched at sunset.

God’s ultimate victory

The entire universe has its eyes on Earth, waiting to see how this war plays out. Will God’s good and just character finally be vindicated?

Fortunately, we already know how this war is going to end. God told us Himself in the book of Revelation, explaining how Satan and everyone he’s deceived will one day be wiped out and the world will be made new (Revelation 20).

One day, God promises us He will put an end to sin, destroy Satan and his followers, and make all things right again. But before that happens, everyone has to make a choice. 

Everyone on Earth must take a side in this spiritual war, this Great Controversy. They must look at the world around them, see the terrible results sin has brought, and choose whom they will serve. 

They can serve God, accepting His free gift of salvation and choosing to live by His commandments, or they can serve themselves, choosing the path of rebellion, following Satan, and eventually sharing his fate.

Scripture has already made it clear how this great war for Earth is going to end. God will one day be victorious, conquering sin once and for all. He will set up a new kingdom on earth, a kingdom that will never die. 

God wants each and every one of us to be there with Him. He is patient with us, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:10, ESV). 

But ultimately, the choice is ours. It’s up to us whose side we take in the Great Controversy over God’s character. 

We can choose the path of rebellion and selfishness, which is made to look appealing to the flesh, but it leads to destruction. Or, even though this world makes it difficult, we can choose the path of justice, mercy, and God’s unfailing love. 

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