The Great Controversy - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 2 Lesson 13 - The Triumph _of_ God’s Love

Teachers Comments
Jun 22 - Jun 28

Key Text: Revelation 21:3, 4

Study Focus: Jer. 30:5–7; Rev. 3:10; Isa. 33:15, 16; Ps. 91:1–11; Rev. 1:7; Rev. 19:11–16; Rev. 20:1–15; Jer. 25:33; Jer. 4:23–28; Rev. 21:1–4; Matt. 8:11; Isa. 65:17, 22, 23; Rev. 22:1–5, 11.

Introduction: This week’s lesson wraps up our study, highlighting the final developments in the cosmic war between God and Satan. Among the notable events that transpire during the culmination of the great controversy are: (1) the time of trouble; (2) the second coming of Jesus; (3) the executive judgment in heaven during the millennium, with a synopsis of events both on earth and in heaven at that time; and (4) the restoration of all things for eternity. The Bible promises that the great controversy will end in God’s victory. Scripture calls us to trust God, participate with Him in the salvation of as many souls as possible, and share in His past (the Cross), present (individual, church, and salvation), and future (final cosmic) victory.

Lesson Themes: This week’s study focuses on four related themes:

  1. God Himself will sustain and protect His people during the most brutal parts of the final battle of the great controversy.
  2. The great controversy will end with God’s victory over the devil, over evil and sin, and over suffering and death. This threefold victory is assured because it has already been secured by Christ through His death and resurrection.
  3. We share in God’s victory when we accept it by faith and allow the Holy Spirit to work it out in us.
  4. God’s victory will culminate in the second coming of Jesus, in the millennial judgment, and in the restoration of all things.

Part II: Commentary

The Close of Probation

The close of probation is a topic that often induces fear in many people. Probation closes for each individual at his or her death. That is, the window of opportunity for an individual to respond to God’s grace has been closed by death. His or her attitude toward God’s revealed grace will have eternal consequences. God is righteous and will treat each individual’s case according to the light that he or she received; but our individual response decisively matters.

However, Adventists understand from Scripture that, apart from the closing of probation at one’s death, there will be a moment in the history of the great controversy when God will declare that the time when people can accept His forgiving grace in order to be saved has ended. That moment will be the point of no return, and no one will be saved beyond that time. The world then will live under the pronouncement recorded in the book of Revelation: “ ‘Let the one who does wrong still do wrong, and the one who is filthy still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous still practice righteousness, and the one who is holy still keep himself holy’ ” (Rev. 22:11, NASB). Truly concerned for their salvation, many Christians and Adventists ask such questions as: What if the moment of the close of probation will catch me off guard or unaware? What if I will not be completely ready at that moment?

At least two clarifications are necessary here.

First, the close of probation is real, and it will take place. The deceptions, intrigues, and evils of the devil will not continue forever. Sin, suffering, and death will not hold sway eternally. To eternalize the devil, evil, and death would mean that God is not a God of love and righteousness. But because He is, He will put an end to the sources, and forces, of evil. God has patiently waited and given every opportunity to humans to test His promises, to come to know Him, and to return to Him and to His kingdom of grace. How much God would have loved for all humanity to accept His gospel! But there will be a moment when God must say, “Enough; it is finished.”

Second, God will not withdraw His gift of sustaining grace from His people, despite His withdrawal of mercy and forgiving grace to the unrepentant at the close of probation. This point is very important: the end of probation does not imply that God’s love and grace for humanity have reached their limits or that they have been consumed. God never ceases to be the God of love, grace, and righteousness portrayed in the Bible. For this reason, there will be no one after probation closes who would have sincerely wanted to receive God’s grace and who would have responded with faith to God’s mercy to whom God would say, “Sorry, too late; I would love to have saved you, but the grace period is ended.”

God’s closure of probation will be His confirmation that every individual has made his or her final decision about His grace and His kingdom. At a future moment in history, the historical setting of the world will be such that all the inhabitants of the earth will make this final decision and will side with either God or Satan. However, that decision will not be made in the impulse of the moment. Rather, each person’s decision for eternity will be made based on his or her free choice and in full consciousness of its consequences. Just as Northern Israel and Judah when they rejected God’s covenant and Messiah, some will decide they do not want to be with the God of the Bible. Others will agree with Lucifer’s lie that they are gods and immortal; they do not relish the idea of being with God in His kingdom. God is saddened by these unalterable decisions; He provided all the evidence and love necessary to save them, but He will respect their final choice. Others, however, decide to accept God’s grace because they love Him and want to stay with Him forever.

On another note, the close of probation does not imply that, after that moment, God’s faithful people will stand without His presence and grace and covering righteousness. Christ assured us that He will be with us “ ‘always, to the end of the age’ ” (Matt. 28:20, NASB). The empowerment of the Holy Spirit, which we will receive in order to give the loud cry, will not be removed from us. All God’s people, from Adam and Abel to Abraham and Moses, from David and Isaiah to Paul and the last Christian sealed before probation closes, will be saved exclusively by Christ’s righteousness and mediation, through faith. Thus, the idea that some Christians at the end of time will stand on their own merit and power is not biblical.

The Biblical New Heaven and the New Earth

Christians generally talk and sing about heaven as the place of their final destination and eternal rest. However, we must maintain the biblical understanding of heaven and guard against falling into pagan or philosophical views on Paradise. According to many worldviews—such as Greek, Hindu, or Buddhist philosophies—heaven is an alleged transcendent, timeless, and spaceless sphere that only a disembodied human mind or soul could reach. In Greek philosophy, the human mind that reaches heaven somehow keeps its identity and consciousness. In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Neoplatonism, the human consciousness that reaches heaven must disappear by dissolving into the universal consciousness.

As a result of the influence of classical Greek philosophy on traditional Christianity, most Christians now believe in the immortality of the soul and in a spiritual, as opposed to a material, heaven. These Christians do not realize that these philosophical concepts create irreconcilable contradictions in their theology and lives. On the one hand, when thinking about death and heaven, traditional Christians think in Greek philosophical terms: at death, the immortal soul goes to a transcendent, timeless, spaceless realm, called either hell or heaven. On the other hand, these same Christians believe in the exceedingly clear biblical teaching of the resurrection of the body. However, they do not realize that the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body are simply incompatible and generate a lot of inconsistencies.

If our souls are immortal and are in heaven with God, why resurrect the body? Under such circumstances, the resurrection of the body would imply that the soul would leave the spiritual realm of heaven and re-enter the material, temporal, and spatial sphere. Even so, if only the soul is immortal, one must ask, Will the resurrection of the body be permanent? Will the body now also be eternal?

The biblical teachings on human nature and the resurrection eliminate all these inconsistencies and problems. First, the biblical teaching of the unitary human nature indicates that humans do not possess an immortal soul but are complex, indivisible, integrated living beings. At His return, Jesus will resurrect the whole human being. Second, the biblical teaching of the nature of humanity rejects Greek dualism and its concept that heaven is a transcendent, timeless, spaceless, divine sphere.

According to the Bible, at death our being is not divided. We do not survive as an ethereal soul, and that soul does not transition, fully conscious, to a state of transcendence beyond the created universe. When we die, our entire being dies. However, when Christ returns, He will resurrect our entire being and welcome us into His real, historical, temporal, and spatial kingdom. Yes, at the second coming of Christ, we will travel with Him to the throne of God, to the heavenly sanctuary, somewhere in the center of the universe. But that travel will take place in the temporal and spatial universe, meaning we will be traveling in space and time. We will never go beyond the universe. In fact, no created being will ever be transcendent because only God is transcendent or beyond the created universe. To want to reach the transcendent is to want to be God.

The millennial judgment in heaven will also be a historical event that will take place in space and time in God’s heavenly sanctuary before His throne, which is also located in a central place in the universe. After that judgment, we will return to earth. Following God’s executive judgment against the devil and the rest of the rebels, God will restore our planet to its original beauty and perfection. The new earth will be our home. There we will live as we were originally intended to live before the Fall: smelling flowers, cultivating a garden, studying a leaf, playing with a lion, meeting and interacting with redeemed of all ages, as well as with angels and other created beings. Most important, we will enjoy the privilege of face-to-face communion with God; we will worship Him in person. The earth and the universe will be reconciled and will be brought back to the harmony and unity that existed before the Fall. We will be able to travel freely throughout the universe. The reason we cannot travel to heaven now is not because of constraints or barriers of time, space, substance, or speed, but sin. When the great controversy finally is over and sin is removed once and for all, the new (renewed) earth will be integrated with heaven, and then will be realized that most precious of Bible promises: a new earth and a new heaven.

Part III: Life Application

  1. Do you have Adventists in your congregation who are afraid to talk about last-day events? Are you one of them? How would you help them to overcome this fear? How could you and your Adventist community communicate our biblical message as good news rather than as some warped version, produced by Hollywood, of a scary, postapocalyptic movie? On the other hand, what is the best way to present realistically many of the darker aspects of the great controversy, such as religious persecution and the time of trouble?
  2. Do people in your culture believe in the return of a divinity or of a great guru? What does this belief tell us about humanity’s hope for the return of a savior from “the beyond”? How could you share the hope of the second coming of Jesus Christ with such an audience? What points would you emphasize?
  3. Some Christians or secular persons believe that the second coming of Christ is merely a symbol of a profound moral transformation of the human individual or society. How could you explain to such persons that Christ’s coming will be a literal, visible, and audible event, one in which Jesus Himself will enter into our history, time, and space, in person?
  4. What do the people in your culture think of heaven? What is problematic about their views of heaven, as compared with Scripture? How could you share with them the biblical description of heaven? What points in the biblical view of heaven would be especially attractive to the people in your culture?