The Great Controversy - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 2 Lesson 02 - 'The Central Issue: Love or Selfishness?'

Teachers Comments
Apr 06 - Apr 12

Key Text: Isaiah 41:10

Study Focus: Luke 19:41, 42; Matt. 23:37, 38; Matt. 24:9, 21, 22; Heb. 11:35–38; Isa. 41:10; Rev. 2:10; Acts 2:44–47; John 13:35.

Introduction: Last week, we studied the origin of the great controversy in heaven and on earth. This week, we focus on how the great controversy plays out in the lives, and in the history, of God’s people, especially at the intersection of Judah (the people of God in the latter part of the Old Testament) with the church (the people of God in the New Testament).

Lesson Themes: This week’s lesson highlights two major themes:

  1. As a result of its rejection of Christ, Judah officially, as a political entity, lost its favored-nation status as God’s special people and suffered the horrific experience of the destruction of Jerusalem.
  2. God established His people, the remnant of Israel, incorporated into it both Jews and Gentiles, and saved it from the cataclysms that befell Jerusalem in a.d. 70. God led His church in its mission to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, calling people of all nations to receive the good news and to join His new people.

Part II: Commentary

A Few Quick Facts About Jerusalem

The tragic fall of Jerusalem may be delineated, at least in part, by the following historical details:

  1. Jerusalem was destroyed during the First Jewish War (a.d. 66–a.d. 73), its annihilation commencing toward the end of the reign of the emperor Nero (a.d. 54– a.d. 68). The war broke out when Gessius Florus, the freshly appointed Roman procurator to Judea, took a large amount of money from the temple treasury in Jerusalem.
  2. The two major Roman generals sent to quash the revolt were Vespasian and his son, Titus. Both later became emperors.
  3. The siege of Jerusalem started in earnest in the year a.d. 70. For the most part, throughout the siege, the defenders of the city were splintered into factions and fought among themselves, uniting only to repulse the imminent attacks of the Romans. 4. Jerusalem was guarded by three walls. The first two walls fell to the Romans in April of a.d. 70, and the third was breached several months later, on August 30. The temple was burned on the same day.
  4. According to Jewish historian Josephus, more than one million people died during the siege of Jerusalem, and an estimated 100,000 were taken captive. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. The booty that the Romans took from Jerusalem funded the construction of the Colosseum, one of the most visited monuments in Rome.
  5. Bereft of its city, Jerusalem, and its temple, Judaism suffered profound changes. The center of the Jewish religion shifted from the temple, sacrifices, and priests to the law. The Sadducees, the sacerdotal class, lost most of their power, and Judaism became rabbinical.

The Fall of Jerusalem

It is no coincidence that Ellen G. White starts The Great Controversy with the chapter entitled “The Destruction of Jerusalem.” She understood that this tragic event of the Jewish nation was central to the great controversy and to the identity and mission of the church. How so? To answer this question, we need to first understand why Jerusalem fell.

From the vantage point of secular history, Jerusalem and the second temple were destroyed because the Jews rebelled against the superpower of the time, the Roman Empire, and were mercilessly crushed by its might, both in an act of vengeance and as a deterrent to other potential rebels. In the centuries that have lapsed since the fall of Jerusalem, believing Jews have generally interpreted the destruction of Jerusalem as a disciplinary measure that God allowed. Some scholars of Judaism have said that the Jews sinned by transgressing God’s law, becoming immoral; others believe that the Jews were too fractious and divided, never having learned the lesson of unity. Whatever the case, God preserved a remnant to carry on His purposes.

However, the Bible, especially the New Testament, offers a different explanation for the destruction of the temple. Yes, rebellion, iniquity, moral and social corruption, and internal strife and division were certainly major factors that led to the downfall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. But the situation that caused that tragedy was more profound than these factors alone. To help us understand what caused the temple’s destruction, several important points, from both the Old and New Testaments, need to be highlighted. Taken together, these points help us to understand the main reason for the temple’s demise: Israel’s leadership rejection of Christ and of God’s covenant.

The Original Temple

First, the original temple of Israel, built by Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians, in 586 b.c., some 20 years after Judah was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 1:1, 2). The destruction happened approximately one hundred years after the Northern Israelites fell into apostasy and were conquered by the Assyrians. However, these two events—Israel’s demise and the destruction of Solomon’s temple by Babylonian forces—did not transpire simply because the Jewish nation failed to learn how to unite or because of its moral declension. Northern Israel disappeared as a nation because they rejected God’s covenant and went after other gods (1 Kings 12:26–33, 2 Kings 17:7–23). Like Israel, Judah had wicked kings and corrupt elites bent on idolatry. Over time, Judah’s periods of idolatry also increased in frequency and intensity. However, unlike Northern Israel, Judah did not have a permanent official national policy of replacing God’s religion with paganism. For this reason, God permitted the destruction of Judah’s temple and its capital city, in 586 b.c., and the temporary exile of its people, as a strategy for national renewal.

The Second Temple

Second, the second temple was destroyed in the year a.d. 70 by the Romans, some 35 years after Jesus foretold the following three events: (1) God would take the kingdom from Judah and give it to another nation (Matt. 21:43); (2) Judah’s house (the temple) would be “left desolate” (Matt. 23:38); and (3) the temple would be completely destroyed (Matt. 24:1, 2). The reason for this triple judgment? Judah’s leadership not only failed to bring forth the fruit of the kingdom of God (Matt. 21:43) but, as did Northern Israel of old, consciously refused to remain under the jurisdiction and shelter of God’s wings (Matt. 23:37). In a.d. 31, the leaders made an official, conscious, and deliberate decision to reject God’s covenant, His salvation, and His Messiah (Matt. 26:1–3, 14–16, 57–68; 27:15–25; John 19:1–15). As a result, God allowed the earthly temple to be destroyed.

God’s Grace

Third, God gave Israel and Judah all the grace necessary for redemption and restoration before He permitted them to suffer the penalty for breaking His covenant. From the time of Moses to the destruction of the second temple in a.d. 70, a span of more than 1,500 years, Judah experienced God’s unremitting love. Despite their failures, God was willing to work with them as long as they were willing to remain in His covenant and be transformed by His grace and power. Even when the Jewish leaders eventually decided to reject God, which was followed by Jesus’ pronouncement of doom against them, God gave them more than 35 years before He executed that verdict. During this probationary period, Christians, such as Peter (Acts 2–4), Stephen (Acts 7), and Paul (Romans 9–11), pleaded with them to accept Jesus as the Messiah and to participate in God’s new covenant. Sad to say, instead of heeding these calls, the leaders sealed their decision to reject Christ with a heavy-handed persecution of Christians that culminated in the murder of Stephen, in a.d. 34. However, even in the decision to reject Judah as His representative nation, God continued to call individual Jews to enter His new covenant and to be saved in His kingdom.

The fall of Jerusalem, therefore, illustrates God’s dealings with sinners in the great controversy. This perspective helps to partially answer our initial question as to why Ellen White felt that this tragedy was so central to the great controversy theme and to the identity and mission of the church. Furthermore, Ellen White understood that the fall of Jerusalem would help us to understand the paradox of the judgment: that is, how divine mercy can be extended to sinners while at the same time satisfying the demands of divine justice. On the one hand, God is full of love, compassion, and patience, pleading with sinners to return to His kingdom. God does not want sinners to die the second death (Ezek. 33:11). On the other hand, God is just and righteous. Because He is holy, He cannot tolerate evil in His presence. However, He will respect the final decision of individuals who wish to go their own way, leaving God’s kingdom, covenant, protection, and source of life. Still, God gives sinners ample warning that they will die if they refuse the protections of His kingdom and the mercies of His covenant. Outside God’s covenant there is no joy or life, for the simple reason that no created being has life, unborrowed or underived, within themselves.

The Plan of Salvation

Fourth, despite the setbacks caused by the covenant betrayal, God continued His plan of salvation and His actions to resolve the great controversy. God promised that Jesus, who was the Seed of Eve (Gen. 3:15), of Abraham (Gen. 12:2, 3, 7; Gal. 3:16, 29), and of David (2 Sam. 7:12–15, Mark 12:35–37), would bring salvation to humanity, liberating them from the dominion of the devil, and would restore God’s reign on earth. At the same time, God promised that Jesus, the true Lamb of God and the fulfiller of the earthly sanctuary types (John 1:29, 2:19–22), would save humanity from the guilt and the power of sin. Though the history of humanity may seem directionless, at times, and left to the whims and devices of the devil and of human nature, the Scriptures show a clear progress of God’s purposeful and intentional implementation of His plan and promise of salvation. When His own people failed Him, God worked relentlessly to bring them back to Him and to rescue humanity from the mire of sin. Abraham, Moses, and Judah are all examples of the rescued and redeemed. Nothing can stop God from keeping His promises and implementing His plans.

Types and Antitypes

Fifth, the earthly sanctuary and the sacrificial system were only antitypes of the coming sacrifice and ministry of Jesus. When the first temple was destroyed and Judah lamented for its past glory, God told them that the real glory was yet future and that it depended not on materials and architecture but on the One to whom the sanctuary pointed (Ezra 3:12, Hag. 2:9, Matt. 23:16–22). For this reason, when the second temple was destroyed, in a.d. 70, Christians did not lose hope. On the contrary, they understood that the earthly sanctuary fulfilled its mission of pointing to Jesus, to His sacrifice, and to His ministry of salvation in the real heavenly sanctuary above. Type met antitype; symbol met reality. After Jesus’ incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, the great controversy now was focused on the heavenly sanctuary. The Epistle to the Hebrews discusses extensively the meaning of these changes. Thus, Matthew 24 and the destruction of the second temple, the Epistle to the Hebrews and its focus on the heavenly sanctuary are extremely important to the Adventist understanding of the great controversy and to the entirety of Adventist theology in general.

It was precisely this complex understanding of the destruction of the temple that inspired the apostolic and post-apostolic Christians during the first several centuries, and the writings of Ellen White in the nineteenth century, with an understanding of the church’s identity and mission. Having survived the destruction of the temple, the apostolic Christians shifted their focus from the temple to the heavenly sanctuary. They overcame the fear of persecution and death because they experienced the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and looked in faith to Christ’s ministry at the right hand of God in heaven. They knew they were God’s people, the New Israel, called by God to proclaim His wonderful news of salvation to all humanity gripped by the power of the devil, sin, and death. They shared their love by helping the people around them with the means they had available. And they directed the attention of others to the end of the great controversy, to the end of suffering and death, when the Lord Jesus Christ shall return to the earth and forever defeat the devil and sin.

Part III: Life Application

  1. What do the people in your culture think about love and righteousness? Do they still have hope that there will come a time when human society, in its entirety, will be characterized by love and righteousness? Why, or why not? How might you explain to them that there cannot be true and enduring love and righteousness apart from Jesus? Or that there can be no love or righteousness apart from His revelation of these divine qualities as seen in His sacrifice? Or that love and righteousness cannot exist without the Holy Spirit’s bestowal of these qualities upon humans or His help to grow them in us?
  2. Examine your personal evangelistic activities. How clearly do you understand what Jesus’ words “the gospel of the kingdom” mean? How can you live out this gospel in your own life? How can you and your church share this gospel with smaller and/or larger audiences around you?