Paul and the Rebellion
Paul’s writings abound with the great controversy theme. There’s no question that Paul believed not only in the reality of Satan but also in the reality of his work of deceit and death. In numerous places, Paul warned of Satan’s “schemes” (Eph. 6:11, NIV), of his powerful deceptions (2 Cor. 11:14), and even of his supernatural powers (2 Thess. 2:9).
But as anyone who has read Paul knows, the apostle’s emphasis has always been on Christ and His ultimate victory for us. However much Satan succeeded in overcoming God’s covenant people through the centuries, the devil utterly failed against Jesus, and in Jesus all the covenant promises have been fulfilled, thus ensuring salvation for all who claim it in faith and obedience, Jew and Gentile. Christ’s faithfulness also ensures the ultimate demise of Satan (Heb. 2:14) and the end of the great controversy.
This week we will look at some of the images and metaphors that Paul used in explaining the reality of the battle and how we are to live, working together for the good of the whole as a church and a community of believers engaged in this cosmic struggle.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, March 5.
While Paul is best known for his clear exposition of the gospel, his explanation of the great controversy is also crucial. In the midst of his teaching the good news, he summarizes his main points: we have been “justified by faith” through Jesus (Rom. 5:1); we have direct access to God, and we “rejoice in hope” (Rom. 5:2); and tribulations no longer worry us (Rom. 5:3–5). He also gives us the promise that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) and that we are now “saved” by Christ’s life and death on our behalf. We also are spared from God’s last judgment against sin (Rom. 5:9, 10), and we rejoice that we have been reconciled to Him (Rom. 5:11).
After talking about all that Christ has done for us, Paul explains how Jesus did it. Unless the damage caused by Adam at the tree in the Garden was fixed, there would be no hope of an eternal future, and Satan would be triumphant in the great controversy. Adam brought death to all because of what he did (Rom. 5:12). Even the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai could not stop death and the sin problem. The law only clarified what sin is. It was not the answer to sin. The problem of sin and death could only be solved through the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus paid the debt through the “gracious gift” of His own life (Rom. 5:15, 16, NLT).
Now humankind could be restored. Just as death had “reigned” because of Adam’s sin, now “abundance of grace” and “the gift of righteousness” could reign because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Rom. 5:17). It is not fair that we lost paradise because of Adam. We had no part in his wrong choice; yet, we suffer the consequences of it. However, neither is it fair that we regain paradise. We had nothing to do with what Jesus did two thousand years ago. Paul summarizes his argument in Romans 5:18–21. The first Adam brought condemnation and death; the second brought reconciliation and life.
“The church of Christ, enfeebled and defective as it may be, is the only object on earth on which He bestows His supreme regard.”—Ellen G. White, In Heavenly Places, p. 284.
Nowhere is this classic Ellen G. White statement better illustrated than in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul likens the church to a crop that different people work on: one person plants the seed, another waters it, but God Himself is responsible for its growth and maturity (1 Cor. 3:4–9).
Paul continues his point, now by describing the church as a building. Someone sets the foundation and then various others build upon it (1 Cor. 3:10). Because the foundation is none other than Christ (1 Cor. 3:11), then those who follow must be careful about what sort of material they use. The coming judgment will distinguish between inferior and suitable “building materials” (1 Cor. 3:12–15).
Now look at what follows: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:16, 17, ESV).
We need to notice two things. The first is that the context is speaking about the church and how it is built up. It is not talking primarily about health. God does not destroy people who abuse their bodies with bad lifestyle choices; they destroy themselves. (Later, Paul does talk about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit in connection with our moral choices in 1 Corinthians 6:15–20.)
The second thing is that each time the word you is mentioned in these two verses, it is plural in the Greek. An individual is not being addressed, but a group. So, if anyone does anything to destroy the church, he or she is in serious trouble. God warns that He will destroy the person who tries to destroy the church.
The role and functions of the church are clearly spelled out in 1 Corinthians 12. Here we find the church likened to a body, and with the role of each of its members clearly defined and working together as a harmonious whole (1 Cor. 12:12).
Paul speaks in a seemingly ridiculous manner, wondering what would happen if a foot or an ear said they were not part of the body. Paul goes further by wondering what would happen if the whole body were an eye or an ear (1 Cor. 12:17). Imagine a big ear flapping its way across the room to say “Hello” to us! As ridiculous as that may sound, it does in fact happen when people try to control the church as if they were the sole owner.
Previously, Paul outlines various activities in the church, describing each as a gift of the Holy Spirit. There are those who speak with wisdom and others who are very knowledgeable about Scripture (1 Cor. 12:8). There are those whose faith is an inspiration to all, and there are those with a healing touch (1 Cor. 12:9). There are miracle workers, people with prophetic insight, those who can clearly distinguish between good and evil, and those who can break through language barriers (1 Cor. 12:10). Note that the individuals concerned are not the ones to decide their own ability. Instead, the Holy Spirit has handpicked each of them from different backgrounds to build up and bring unity to the body, the church (1 Cor. 12:11–13). To underscore this important fact, Paul repeats himself: God is the one who decides where each member fits (1 Cor. 12:18).
Most important, despite the many members, there is only one body; each member is vitally linked to all the others, even those who do not consider themselves worth much (1 Cor. 12:20–24). This interdependence has built-in protections to ensure the safety and well-being of each. The interdependence comes into play when hurts and rejoicing are shared (1 Cor. 12:26).
The reality of the great controversy, and that we are in a literal battle with a real enemy (Eph. 6:11), is revealed by Paul’s use of war imagery in Ephesians 6.
It is not what the various pieces of armor are all about but rather what they represent that counts. Notice that Paul stresses that we need to take all of the armor, not just selected pieces of it. In so doing we will remain standing (Eph. 6:13), a metaphor used in the Bible to describe innocence in judgment (compare with Ps. 1:5). In other words, we will be victorious.
What holds all the armor in place is the belt, used as a metaphor for the truth (Eph. 6:14). Thus, the truth is what holds all our spiritual defenses in place. Jesus often talked about truth (John 1:14, 17; 4:24; 8:32; 14:6). The breastplate of righteousness follows (Eph. 6:14); righteousness is another key word in Jesus’ discourses (for example, Matt. 5:6, 10; 6:33). In the Old Testament, righteousness was understood as upholding justice and ensuring that everyone had a fair deal.
The military sandals (Eph. 6:15) represent the gospel of peace, an expression borrowed from Isaiah 52:7, which speaks about people walking vast distances to let people in captivity know that Jerusalem has been rebuilt and that God has restored the freedom of His people. It is another way of saying that part of fighting against evil is to let people know that God has won the battle already and that they can now live at peace with themselves, with others, and with God.
The shield of faith (Eph. 6:16) prevents “fire arrows” from hitting their intended target and causing wholesale destruction. The helmet of salvation (Eph. 6:17) parallels the crown Jesus shares with us (Rev. 1:6, 2:10), and the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God) is our only weapon of self-defense, to be used as Jesus did when tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10).
Evidently some in the church at Corinth were confused about the resurrection. Paul carefully explains its importance as a key element of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1–4). It seems there is some concern about the believers who have died (1 Cor. 15:6), and some are suggesting that those who have died would miss out on Jesus’ return (1 Cor. 15:12). This is similar to the situation in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 4:13–17).
Paul concludes his argument by saying that “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19, NKJV). To the contrary, Christ has indeed risen and has become “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20, NKJV).
Then Paul compares Christ with Adam: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22, NKJV), and he specifies when that general resurrection will be: “at His coming” (1 Cor. 15: 23, NKJV). Later in the chapter he continues with the comparison of the two “Adams” (1 Cor. 15:45–49). The first man was made from the dust, but the heavenly Man is from heaven, and so one day He will change us. What this means is explained in a description of what happens at the Second Coming—”the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:52, 53, NKJV).
Although Adam was at first made to live forever, the human race soon deteriorated to the point of living only for a relatively short time. If we are to inherit eternal life, we will be made to last forever, and that’s what we will be given.
Further Thought: “Not only man but the earth also had by sin come under the control of the wicked one, and was to be restored by the plan of redemption. At his creation, Adam was placed in dominion over the earth. But by yielding to temptation, he was brought under the power of Satan, and the dominion which he held passed to his conqueror. Thus Satan became ‘the god of this world.’ He had usurped that dominion over the earth which had been originally given to Adam. But Christ, by His sacrifice paying the penalty of sin, would not only redeem man, but recover the dominion which he had forfeited. All that was lost by the first Adam will be restored by the second.”—Ellen G. White, Signs of the Times, November 4, 1908. It’s so easy, though, as we look around at the world, to forget the crucial truth that Satan is defeated and that his “ ‘time is short’ ” (Rev. 12:12, NIV). Evil, death, and suffering pervade this world, though we are promised that, because of what Christ has done, all these will be eradicated. Also, if it isn’t clear to us by now, it ought to be: these will not be eradicated by anything we as humans do, except if we completely destroyed the earth and all life on it, which we’d probably do if given enough time, and God didn’t hold us back. Only the supernatural intervention of God will bring the promised changes for us. We certainly can’t take care of the problems ourselves.