The Great Controversy - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 2 Lesson 11 - The Impending Conflict

Teachers Comments
Jun 08 - Jun 14

Key Text: John 17:17

Study Focus: John 17:17; Rev. 14:6, 7, 12; Rev. 4:11; Rev. 12:3, 4, 17; Rev. 13:1–17.

Introduction: Biblical prophecy forewarns that the long cosmic conflict between the two opposite, irreconcilable forces, God and the devil, is drawing to a close and will culminate in a final battle. This last battle will be over issues of authority and worship: who shall sit on the throne of the universe, and who will receive the glory due the Creator, the Provider, and the Savior. For these reasons, the conflict will involve the Sabbath, God’s symbol of all His power as Creator, Provider, and Savior. The rebellious force will be led by Satan himself. While Satan has tirelessly worked throughout history to recruit adherents, his main focus has been the church. Unfortunately, the traditional church compromised and became Babylon, symbolized by the beast from the sea. Satan gave this beast its seat of authority and its power, and it stands on Satan’s side in the final battle.

In the end times, the dragon also will succeed in attracting to his side the most prosperous nation on earth, the United States of America. This nation, born out of the centuries-long yearning of persecuted Christians to find a place of religious safety and freedom, will compromise, as did the papal church before it in the Old World. Thus, America will fulfill its prophetic role as the beast from the earth, becoming a global leader in the final battle.

But God has never been without a people in the great controversy. To the end of the conflict, He always will have a people, a faithful remnant church. God’s remnant church always has acknowledged Him as King, worshiped Him, and kept the commandments and the principles of His kingdom. God’s faithful remnant people will reverence the Sabbath and honor Him as Creator and King of the universe. The end-time remnant not only will worship God as their personal Savior but also will expose the confederacy of evil publicly. The remnant church will call the entire human race to return to God and worship Him. Despite the efforts of the dragon and the beasts from the earth and the sea, the victory will belong to God.

Lesson Themes: This study highlights two major themes:

  1. Biblical prophecy describes a final battle between God and His people on the one side, and the devil and his agents (symbolized, in Revelation 13, by the beasts from the sea and the earth) on the other. The battle will focus on worship and the Sabbath, which celebrates God’s Creatorship, Kingship, and salvation.
  2. God will emerge victorious. He calls His people to partake in His victory over evil and over the devil by proclaiming His eternal gospel.

Part II: Commentary

The Bet Over Prophecy

Anastasia was an atheist economist, educated in a Soviet university, during the height of the prosperity and stability of the Soviet Union. She embraced the dream of the Communist utopia and fervently believed it offered humanity its brightest hope for the future. She anticipated the day when the Soviet Union would lead all nations to abandon the free-market capitalism of the United States and adopt Soviet values.

Anastasia’s husband, Petru, however, did not share his wife’s optimism. Although Petru was not practicing his religion at that time, he had been born and raised in a Seventh-day Adventist family and church. As a youth, Petru had studied the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation, following the Adventist historicist approach. Now married, he shared with his atheist wife that, according to the biblical prophecies, the United States would eventually dominate the world and lead all nations and governments on the earth in an act of rebellion against God, during the final stage of human history. For this reason, based on the prophecies of the book of Revelation, Petru argued that the Soviet Union would lose the Cold War and that the United States would emerge as the only superpower of the last days. Knowing the power of the Soviet Union, Anastasia could not accept this prophecy. At an impasse, the couple decided to solve their differences with a bet. Anastasia told Peter that if the Soviet Union would collapse, she would become a Seventh-day Adventist. Years passed, and at the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union crumbled and disappeared without any military attack from the outside. Anastasia’s atheism and Communism collapsed together with the Soviet Union. Soon afterward, Anastasia accepted Petru’s invitation to join him in baptism into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Petru’s prediction of the collapse of the Soviet Union was not based on geopolitics, social studies, psychology, economics, or military studies. Because he was living behind the Iron Curtain, the main source for Petru’s prediction of the fall of the Soviet Union was his historicist biblical interpretation of Revelation 13, as taught in his local Adventist church. Like many other Adventists in the Soviet world, Petru did not think the collapse of the Soviet Union would happen in his lifetime or so rapidly. Like many other Adventists, Petru’s faith was confirmed and strengthened when the collapse happened. He made the decision to return to his church, and happily, his family followed him.

In our days, the Adventist historicist interpretation of Revelation 13, pointing to the United States as the lamblike beast who will lead the world in rebellion against the law of God, is being actively challenged. Many renowned experts predict, or even announce, that the sun will soon set on American hegemony. However, biblical prophecy will never fail. Like Petru, we need to completely trust biblical prophecy and its historicist interpretation, even if perceived reality suggests, and experts prognosticate, otherwise.

Conspiracy Theories

Lately, conspiracy theories flood both cyber and media spaces. Such theories often gain momentum and become social phenomena. Adventists rightly have been cautious about engaging in the propagation of conspiracy theories of any type. We need to continue to maintain this course. At the same time, our pursuit of this policy does not mean that conspiracies do not exist. Sad to say, they do.

David, Jesus, and the apostles suffered because of various conspiracies against them. Learning from their examples, Adventists have committed all such theories to God’s providence, choosing instead to focus on the mission with which God has entrusted us. Yes, the great controversy itself was the result of Satan’s conspiracy. Yes, we are called to denounce the end-time conspiracies of Satan and his adherents, who are preparing for the final battle against God. However, we must not permit ourselves to get mired in details of the myriad conspiracy theories abounding. Our task is to announce the fall of Babylon and the soon coming of the Lord. As such, our mission is to save as many people as possible from Satan’s conspiracy.

Identifying the Beasts and the Mission of the Church

Some theologians have claimed that the first Adventist pioneers’ identification of the beast from the sea with the Roman Catholic Church and of the beast from the earth with the United States were conclusions dictated by their sociopolitical contexts. Some of these theologians, then, call for Adventists to move away from these initial positions and find other more relevant spiritual, or political, forces in our own times that would better fit the descriptions of the beast from the sea and/or the beast from the earth.

However, we need to emphasize two important points. First, while the Adventist pioneers did look at the fulfillment of prophecy within their historical contexts, they consistently followed historicist principles of prophetic interpretation. They also identified the fulfillment of the prophecies in harmony with a wholistic biblical system of teaching.

Second, as God’s prophet for the remnant church, Ellen G. White clearly has warned us against abandoning our original prophetic interpretations regarding the two beasts of Revelation 13. She was especially concerned that Adventists would fall into the trap of thinking that the Roman Catholic Church has now changed and is no longer the tyrannical beast from the sea, thus necessitating the search for another candidate for this post. The following quotations from her monumental book The Great Controversy are remarkable and clearly militate against such a course of action:

“Romanism is now regarded by Protestants with far greater favor than in former years. In those countries where Catholicism is not in the ascendancy, and the papists are taking a conciliatory course in order to gain influence, there is an increasing indifference concerning the doctrines that separate the reformed churches from the papal hierarchy; the opinion is gaining ground that, after all, we do not differ so widely upon vital points as has been supposed, and that a little concession on our part will bring us into a better understanding with Rome. . . .

“The defenders of the papacy declare that the church has been maligned, and the Protestant world are inclined to accept the statement. Many urge that it is unjust to judge the church of today by the abominations and absurdities that marked her reign during the centuries of ignorance and darkness. They excuse her horrible cruelty as the result of the barbarism of the times and plead that the influence of modern civilization has changed her sentiments.”—Page 563.

“But Romanism as a system is no more in harmony with the gospel of Christ now than at any former period in her history. The Protestant churches are in great darkness, or they would discern the signs of the times. The Roman Church is far-reaching in her plans and modes of operation. She is employing every device to extend her influence and increase her power in preparation for a fierce and determined conflict to regain control of the world, to re-establish persecution, and to undo all that Protestantism has done. Catholicism is gaining ground upon every side. See the increasing number of her churches and chapels in Protestant countries. Look at the popularity of her colleges and seminaries in America, so widely patronized by Protestants. Look at the growth of ritualism in England and the frequent defections to the ranks of the Catholics. These things should awaken the anxiety of all who prize the pure principles of the gospel.”—Pages 565, 566.

“The Roman Church now presents a fair front to the world, covering with apologies her record of horrible cruelties. She has clothed herself in Christlike garments; but she is unchanged. Every principle of the papacy that existed in past ages exists today. The doctrines devised in the darkest ages are still held. Let none deceive themselves. The papacy that Protestants are now so ready to honor is the same that ruled the world in the days of the Reformation, when men of God stood up, at the peril of their lives, to expose her iniquity. She possesses the same pride and arrogant assumption that lorded it over kings and princes, and claimed the prerogatives of God. Her spirit is no less cruel and despotic now than when she crushed out human liberty and slew the saints of the Most High. . . .

“It is not without reason that the claim has been put forth in Protestant countries that Catholicism differs less widely from Protestantism than in former times. There has been a change; but the change is not in the papacy. Catholicism indeed resembles much of the Protestantism that now exists, because Protestantism has so greatly degenerated since the days of the Reformers.”—Page 571.

Part III: Life Application

  1. Maybe you live in a place far from the influence of the Roman Catholic Church or from an American presence or impact. How would you, then, best explain to your friends the prophecies about the beast from the sea and the beast from the land?
  2. Is it consistent for us to identify the Roman Catholic Church as the sea beast and the United States as the earth beast and, at the same time, pray for the salvation of the people associated with these entities? Explain your answer.
  3. The prophet Daniel, the medieval Christians, the nineteenth-century Adventists, the Adventists in the Soviet Union and in many other places and times trusted Bible prophecy against all odds. How can you trust Bible prophecy when all evidence seems contrary to its fulfillment?