The Great Controversy - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 2 Lesson 09 - The Foundation of God’s Government

Teachers Comments
May 25 - May 31

Key Text: Revelation 12:17

Study Focus: Eccles. 12:13, 14; Prov. 28:9; Dan. 7:25; Isa. 51:7, 8; Rev. 13:15–17; Rev. 12:17; Rev. 14:6–12.

Introduction: The biblical themes of the great controversy and of the heavenly sanctuary are inseparably interwoven with the theme of God’s law and of His Sabbath, which is included in His law. In fact, the great controversy started with Lucifer’s erroneous accusations against God’s character, His law, and the principles of His government. The rebel angel proposed that we are autonomous beings, fully capable of defining the meaning of life on our own terms and shaping our relationships and society in the way we want. Ultimately, this blasphemous proposition constitutes the clear desire to exclude God from our lives, from our relationships, and even from the universe. For this reason, our insistence upon the validity of the law of God is not a matter of legalism or salvation by works but inasmuch as God’s law is the expression of His character, the law stands at the core of the great controversy itself.

Defending God’s law is defending God’s character and His status as Creator and rightful King of the universe, enthroned in His heavenly sanctuary. Upholding God’s law means that we understand that God is the only source of moral standards and of the meaning of life. Abandoning God and His principles of life will lead to chaos and to eternal death. For this reason, Seventh-day Adventists proclaim the following Bible truths:

• the immutability of God’s law,

• the Sabbath as the sign of God’s Creatorship and Kingship,

• the heavenly sanctuary as the seat of God’s government and of salvation in the universe, and

• the Adventist movement as the remnant church, called to proclaim God’s last invitation to humanity to return to His kingdom.

The centerpiece of the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14. These messages indicate that the great controversy is a choice between two diametrically opposed principles: the devil’s, which leads to perdition; and God’s, which leads to life.

Lesson Themes: This week’s study emphasizes four major themes:

  1. The law of God, which includes the Sabbath, is eternal and immutable because it represents God’s being, character, status as Creator and King of the universe, and His principles for life and relationships.
  2. The heavenly sanctuary is the seat of God’s government and of His salvation.
  3. The great controversy started because of Lucifer’s impulses to usurp God’s status and authority.
  4. Toward the end of the great controversy on earth, God called forth, and established, His remnant church. God commissioned this remnant church to proclaim His final call of mercy to members of humanity, inviting them to embrace Him as their Creator, Savior, and Lord, who is the only Source and way of life.

Part II: Commentary

Christianity and the Law of God

Many Christians have mixed feelings regarding God’s law. On the one hand, they all agree, to various degrees, that God’s law is good and necessary. Even Martin Luther, who many Protestants think had a negative view of the law, dedicated a significant portion of his Large Catechism to comment on the importance of God’s law for the life of the Christian. In the preface to the Large Catechism, Luther confessed that, whenever possible, he recited the Ten Commandments, along with the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Psalm.

On the other hand, throughout history, Christians have found reasons and ways not only to diminish the importance of the law of God but also to change it. During the early and medieval times, theologians found it relatively easy to change the Sabbath. Why? As with the case of the sanctuary, the integration of the dualism and worldview of Greek philosophy made possible the dismissal of the Sabbath. If, according to Greek philosophy, the heavenly sphere is spaceless, the existence of a literal sanctuary that occupied space in heaven was meaningless. Jesus’ ascension into heaven in a literal, space-filling, material human body was also unacceptable to Greek philosophy.

Likewise, if the heavenly sphere is timeless, a literal Sabbath, as holy time, was irrelevant to God and to religion. However, the Sabbath is too obvious a theme in the Bible to be simply brushed aside. For this reason, many early and medieval Christians applied to the Bible the allegorical-interpretative method, the only method that allowed them to reconcile the Greek and the biblical worldviews. According to this method, the most important meaning of a biblical teaching was not the literal but a spiritual, transcendent, timeless meaning. They concluded, therefore, that Christians did not need to celebrate a literal Sabbath. Instead, they could replace it with a spiritual meaning, such as an abstract, eternal rest in God. Little wonder, then, that Christians did not give special attention to the law of God in medieval times.

The Protestant Reformers would change this trend by returning to a grammatical, or literal, reading of the Bible. For this reason, the Reformers gave the Ten Commandments a prominent role in the Christian life and even a place in the catechisms. However, even in these documents, the law of God was perceived as partially authoritative. For instance, just several paragraphs after highlighting the importance of the Ten Commandments for the life of the Christian, Luther makes a comment regarding the Sabbath commandment. Luther’s Large Catechism concludes that the Sabbath is an Old Testament ordinance and does not concern the Christians, who were freed from it by Christ. Despite the reformation in theology he was proposing, Luther could not break entirely free from the gravitational pull of Greek philosophical presuppositions and the traditional Christian way of thinking.

In contemporary times, dispensationalism has found yet another excuse for, or way of, diminishing the importance of God’s law for Christians. The foundational teaching of dispensationalism is that the history of salvation is divided into several dispensations or periods of time. However, this segmentation is not a simple periodization or division of the history of salvation. Rather, in each of these dispensations, God establishes a distinct covenant with a particular group of people, giving them a unique revelation and a different responsibility from the ones who covenanted with God before. One of the dispensations, the law, covering the period from Sinai to the death of Jesus, is characterized by the covenant and the law revealed at Sinai. Dispensationalists think that the law was revealed or “added” only to Israel and not to other people before Sinai or after Christ. For this reason, the law of God and the Sabbath are not relevant to Christians.

All these ways of diminishing or dismissing the law of God will eventually lead to the establishment of the mark of the beast, a replacement of God’s law with human or demonic laws, even within the framework of Christianity. Thus, the Sabbath will be replaced with a counterfeit Sabbath. The mark of the beast precisely represents the initial intention and objective of Satan in the great controversy: to reject God’s authority and His law, and to replace them with the devil’s own authority and law. Seventh-day Adventists believe that they are tasked by God to proclaim the three angels’ messages, which call people to return to God’s kingdom; to accept and uphold His law; to reject the mark of Satan and the authority of his beast powers; and to join God’s end-time remnant people, who await Christ’s soon return (Rev. 14:6–12). For this reason, Seventh-day Adventists have included an entire fundamental belief on the law of God:

The great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ. They express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age. These precepts are the basis of God’s covenant with His people and the standard in God’s judgment. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit they point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Saviour. Salvation is all of grace and not of works, and its fruit is obedience to the Commandments. This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being. It is evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow human beings. The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness.—Fundamental Belief 19, “The Law of God,”

This fundamental belief highlights at least two essential aspects of God’s law. First, the law of God is the reflection of God’s character and of the principles of His kingdom (see Ps. 89:14). As such, the law is located at the very heart of the heavenly sanctuary, in the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place (Rev. 11:19). For this reason, the law of God is eternal and applicable to all people at all times. Because God, His nature, and His character do not change, His law has never changed; Jesus Christ Himself declared that He did not come to change the law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17–19); and He never gave any authority to anyone among His people, in any period of history, to diminish or change His law, in whole or in part!

Second, the law of God is the reflection of God’s nature of love and righteousness, which are reflected in the principles of His kingdom. According to Paul, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10, NKJV). For this reason, the law cannot be placed in opposition to the gospel or to salvation. The law is not, was not, nor ever will be the enemy. Our enemies are sin and the devil. The law of God is “holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12, NASB). Salvation is by God’s grace and is accepted by, and appropriated through, faith. However, salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit, who aims to restore us to our original status as the children of God, who perfectly reflect His love and righteousness.

Part III: Life Application

  1. If you are in a non-Christian country, how does your local religion understand the concept of law, in general, and of divine law, in particular? How could you explain the law of God to your friends in the context of your local culture? If you live in a Christian country, how do the Christians in your country relate to God’s law? How can you share with them the Adventist message of God’s law?
  2. In most Christian countries today, we could debate about Sunday versus Saturday as God’s current holy day. But what if you live in a non-Christian country? How could you explain to your friends the truth about the Sabbath and the great controversy? How also might you explain about the mark of the beast in your non-Christian context?
  3. Compare the ceremonial with the moral law. What is similar, and what is different about them? What does each of these laws reveal about God? How do each of these laws relate to Jesus Christ?