Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Rebellion and Redemption
Lesson 10: Paul and the Rebellion
Before they sinned, God told Adam and Eve they would surely die if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Satan told them they would not die. In the simplest terms the great controversy between Christ and Satan as it relates to human beings is which of the two we choose to believe and follow. Do we rely on our works to create our own righteousness, or do we humbly accept the righteousness of Christ. This is the controversy. There is no middle ground.
When Adam and Eve fell, Satan told them that God was withholding something desirable from them, the knowledge of good and evil. By their rebellion, they were trying to work their way to what they thought was a more elevated and desirable existence. Their son Cain must have believed this, thinking that his own efforts to produce an acceptable offering were unfairly rejected by God. The results were that the thinking and actions of the people in the pre-flood world were continually evil, so God had to destroy everything but a small remnant.
Ten generations after Noah, things weren't much better, but God again pulled a small remnant out of Babylon in the family of Abraham (called Abram at the time). Abraham's life was a constant lesson in faith, but God was very patient with him, as He is with us. He gave Abraham promises or covenants that applied to his life on earth as well as to his descendants. One of those promises is interpreted by scholars as meaning the Messiah would come in Abraham's lineage: "And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3, New American Standard Bible).
This week our lesson refers to God's "covenant" people (page 80), but we must be careful in defining who they are. The nation of Israel believed they were the covenant people, to the exclusion of all others. It was a dangerous idea from an evangelism standpoint. Imagine if you were trying to get people to an evangelistic campaign and you told them they would have to be born a Jew in order to be saved. Why would anyone come to such meetings? There would be no hope for almost all of them. But the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 12 included "all the families of the earth."
This is a very large group of people, and can be interpreted as including everyone born, but certainly all the promises God made to Abraham in Genesis 12 cannot apply to "all families." Paul makes this clear: "Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying 'All the nations shall be blessed in you'" (Gal. 3:7, 8).
The Jews cherished the idea that to be an Israelite you have to have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in your physical lineage. Jesus told the Syrophoenician woman that He "was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24). When the woman persisted in her faith saying even the dogs get fed crumbs, he said, "'O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.' And her daughter was healed at once" (vss. 27, 28).
We don't often see the deception of Satan in such things, but it is there. The Jews had the truth, but they had perverted it. Who had inspired them to do that? It certainly wasn't God. In promoting this perversion, Satan hoped to keep the heathen nations surrounding Israel from any interest in the true God since it was impossible to be reborn as a Jew.
The various letters Paul wrote to the new Gentile churches are God's clarification of this misconception of the Gospel. "Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7). Paul is saying that the plan of salvation does not exclude those who aren't physically descendants of Abraham. In Romans 9:6, 7 Paul states, "For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel [originally named Jacob], neither are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: 'Through Isaac your descendants will be named.'" Like Isaac's birth our rebirth occurs because God promises to do that for those who accept it.
Isaac did nothing to cause his own birth, but he did have to believe the promise God gave his father that he was the promised son, and that he would have children. When Isaac learned that he was to be sacrificed by Abraham, it took faith for him to believe that somehow God would fulfill His promise. If not, he could have resisted his father, who was then an old man. He could have argued that they should postpone the plan at least until he married and produced a child.
Paul gives us the "Hallelujah" chorus of Romans 5 to show that Jesus accomplished salvation, including all the righteousness we will ever need, for all of mankind. The "1888" paraphrase of the chapter might look like this:
A. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God's own proof of His agape love towards us. Since all we sinners have been justified by Christ's sacrificial death, we are certain to be saved through Him from final retribution.
B. It was through one man (Adam) that sin entered the world, and through sin death, and thus death pervaded the whole human race, inasmuch as all sinned.
C. God's act of grace is out of all proportion to Adam's wrongdoing.
D. For if the wrongdoing of one man, Adam, brought death upon so many, its effect is vastly exceeded by the grace of God and the gift that came to so many by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, the second Adam.
E. Again, the gift of God which solved the sin problem exceeds the damage caused by Adam's sin, for the death of Christ on the cross accomplished a judicial act, or satisfaction of judgment of the wages of sin for Adam's act. This resulted in a verdict of acquittal for everyone, not just Adam.
F. If Adam's act established the reign of sin, God's gift of righteousness is given in much greater measure so that those who receive His grace will live and reign through the second Adam, Who is Jesus Christ.
G. It follows then, that the result of one misdeed was condemnation for all, so the result of one just act is acquittal and life for all.
H. For as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of the one Man the many will be made righteous.
When a convict in prison receives a pardon from the governor or president, that is wonderful, but all that has happened is a reversal or acquittal of his conviction of his crime. The death of Christ accomplished that for all of us, but much more than that, it rewrote our history. Often, a criminal who is pardoned has trouble re-entering society. People don't trust that they will not return to their criminal ways, and without a change of heart, that may happen. Christ not only pardons us, He places us in Him, so His experience becomes ours. We therefore are restored to life, and we sit with Him in heavenly places. God casts our sins in the depths and remembers them no more. We even reign with Christ as heirs of His legacy. Praise God!
This is what Paul means by how much more God's "free gift" is greater than the damage done by Adam's sin. The "controversy" develops when we forget that this salvation is a free gift from God and cannot be earned by law-keeping, but only through faith in the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. The 1888 message of the cross teaches that its grace extends to all mankind, but, mysteriously, many spurn it and throw it away. It is pride that insists that a person's works count for something.