Friday, January 1, 2016

Lesson 1: Crisis in Heaven

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Rebellion and Redemption

Lesson 1: Crisis in Heaven

Welcome to a new cycle of Sabbath School lessons on the great controversy theme in the Bible. The purpose of Sabbath School Today is to let the dynamic of the 1888 message shine through these lessons.

We can understand how war breaks out in this dark, sinful world; but how could there be "war in heaven"? (Rev. 12:7) Heaven is a perfect place! Who started it?

The Bible says clearly that sin originated with Lucifer, the highest of the angels. [1] He sought to spread rebellion. And many angels joined him. [2] But who started the conflict that resulted in "the great dragon, ... the Devil, and Satan [being] ... cast out" (vs. 9)?

Ellen White says that Lucifer's new idea of "the ... exaltation of self, contrary to the Creator's plan, awakened forebodings of evil in minds to whom God's glory was supreme." [3] This quiet, clever, secret "exaltation of self" would have gone on and on had it not been that some "minds" loyal to God were "awakened" to oppose it. They were the ones who started the "war in heaven"! They were not content to let this underhanded work proceed unopposed.

This war against God did not begin in hell, for there was no hell at that time, but it began in a perfect place in heaven. It was there that Satan invented the principle of self-love. This was a new idea in God's universe of peace, which had been filled with unselfishness and harmony. The Book of Revelation describes the war between Satan and "Michael," another name for Christ.

"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).

From this we learn some important truths. Satan's weapon in the battle was lies; Christ's weapon was truth. Truth triumphed over lies (it always will triumph!). Some of the angels joined Satan in his rebellion, believing his lies. Satan deceived "the whole world," so that now he and his angels are on this planet waging war against God. The vast majority of earth's inhabitants are "deceived" by the devil and his evil angels (or spirits). Thus there is no safety in following the crowds! On that fateful Friday morning in Pilate's judgment hall when Jesus stood before him, it was the crowd that yelled, "Crucify Him!" Those who were loyal to Jesus were a minority, and they always are such.

Satan was "cast out into the earth" because our first parents welcomed him (Gen. 3). Now the cosmic controversy continues here until "our brethren ... overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony" (two things!), and "loved not their lives unto the death" (Rev. 12:9-12). When among them that original "exaltation of self" is renounced, the final victory will come.

Satan's lies must be unmasked and he must be defeated in order for the Kingdom of God to be established. The war between good and evil cannot go on forever, for if it does it will prove that God is impotent. And that will mean that truth cannot prevail. No news could be worse than that. Victory for righteousness must come.

And this is where the 1888 message cleansing of the sanctuary truth emerges brightly. During the trial, often spoken of as the "great controversy," God is to the inhabitants of this earth, at least, in a kind of exile. As King David felt obliged to vacate the throne in Jerusalem and leave for temporary exile when his son Absalom rebelled, so God sets up temporary "field headquarters" from where the warfare is directed in putting down the rebellion. The sanctuary is God's "tabernacle" or "tent." [4]

The honor of the sanctuary is the honor of God's throne. That honor is in jeopardy until the issues are settled finally. As the word "Pharaoh" to the ancient Egyptians connoted "government house," so the "cleansing of the sanctuary" means the vindication of God's "house" or government in relation to the problem of sin. The sanctuary is the setting for all the activities of Christ.

Victory for righteousness is precisely the scenario that the Bible unveils in the Book of Revelation: "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 our 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).

True "salvation" is greater than our personal security. It is the salvation of the cause of righteousness and truth. Our personal salvation is involved in that greater salvation, like saving your finger from drowning is included in saving your body. In fact, our personal salvation would be worthless without that greater salvation having been achieved. There is no way that "saved" souls can exist independently of God!

This setting up of "the kingdom of God" is the same as the goal of the Lord's prayer: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10).

Satan's enmity and warfare are now directed against "our brethren," that is, against all who are loyal to God. Those who are loyal to Satan remain on his side. All human beings are therefore involved in this great spiritual war, and no one can exempt himself from being on one or the other side.

Loyalty to God is expensive, for it means (for many at least) the sacrifice of life itself.

But this is not difficult for them, for they are loyal "unto the death" through faith in "the blood of the Lamb." Christ was loyal to them "unto death," "even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8). They say "Thank You" for such a sacrifice.

--Paul E. Penno

[1] Eze. 28:12-15; Isa. 14:12-14.
[2] "The third part," Rev. 12:4.
[3] Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 494.
[4] Cf. Heb. 9:2; 9:11; Rev. 13:6; 15:5; 21:3.

Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at:

Raul Diaz