The Seen and the Unseen War

LESSON 5 *April 23–29

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Matt. 11:11, 12; Rev. 5:5; Matt. 12:25–29; Isa. 27:1; Matt. 11:1–12; Heb. 2:14.

Memory Text: “ ‘From the days of John the Baptist until now the king- dom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force’ ” (Matthew 11:12, NKJV).

Each day we make important choices about lifestyle, relationships, careers, priorities, entertainment, and friends. To truly comprehend the significance of these choices, we need to make sure we understand what they are really about. We need to pull back the curtain and see the unseen, for the Bible teaches that there is an unseen reality that greatly impacts what we do see.

Living in the age of science, we shouldn’t have a hard time believing in invisible realities. We who know about X-rays, radio waves, and wireless communication should easily believe in what we cannot see. With every cell phone call we make or receive, or with any satellite communication we watch, we are working on the assumption of unseen realities that make these seen (and heard) experiences real.

Indeed, the great controversy between Christ and Satan forms the unseen background to the world of the seen that we experience every day. This week we will examine texts from Matthew (and elsewhere) that help to reveal these unseen forces and how they impact our lives, and choices, here.

* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 30.

SUNDAY April 24

Matthew 11:11, 12

Scripture is the Word of God, and in it the plan of salvation is made clear. Yet, some texts can be difficult to understand. This, though, should not be surprising. After all, in every aspect of natural life we find things hard to understand. How much more so will it be with parts of the Word of God, which reveal to us spiritual and supernatural truths and realities?

Ellen G. White expressed this concept so clearly: “The very humblest forms of life present a problem that the wisest of philosophers is powerless to explain. Everywhere are wonders beyond our ken. Should we then be surprised to find that in the spiritual world also there are mysteries that we cannot fathom? The difficulty lies solely in the weakness and narrowness of the human mind. God has given us in the Scriptures sufficient evidence of their divine character, and we are not to doubt His word because we cannot understand all the mysteries of His providence.”—Steps to Christ, pp. 106, 107.

For instance, one of the most challenging texts in all Scripture is Matthew 11:11, 12: “ ‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it’ ” (NIV).

Read through the verses. What do you understand about them? What don’t you understand?

Some translations of verse 12 read: “ ‘From the days of John the Baptist until the present, the kingdom from heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people have been attacking it’ ” (ISV). “ ‘And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it’ ” (NLT).

What is Jesus saying to us here?

What things, even in secular life, remain mysteries to us? Do we stop believing, for instance, in the existence of the sun simply because of the many mysteries about it that we don’t understand? How much more so, then, with questions of faith and the Word of God?

MONDAY April 25

The Frontiers of Darkness

Bible students through the ages have struggled with Matthew 11:12 because the words that describe the kingdom and the people here can be used in either a positive or negative sense. The Greek verb basmati can mean either “forcefully advancing” or “suffering violence.” And the Greek word biastes can mean “forceful or eager men” or “violent men.”

So, does this verse mean that the meek and mild kingdom of heaven is suffering violence, that violent people are attacking it? Or is the kingdom of heaven forcefully advancing in a positive sense, and the forceful men seizing it are actually followers of Christ?

Is it possible for followers of Christ to be this aggressive, even forceful, in their pursuit of the kingdom?

Read the following texts. What are they saying that could shed some light on the last question asked above?

Matt. 10:34

Rev. 5:5

Mic. 2:13

Some have argued that the most likely interpretation of Matthew 11:12 is to apply the most common uses of biazomai (typically positive) and biastes (typically negative), giving us this interpretation: the kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing with “holy power and magnificent energy that has been pushing back the frontiers of darkness”; and while this is happening, “violent or rapacious men have been trying to plunder it.”—D. A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary With the New International Version: Matthew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 266, 267.

This interpretation appears to ring true to the wider Gospel of Matthew. In fact, this interpretation also captures the bigger picture, that of the struggle between light and darkness, between Christ and Satan, a theme that permeates the Bible but is made explicit in the New Testament. There is indeed a war, seen and unseen, in which we are all involved, in which we all take a side, in which we all experience every day, regardless of how much we do or do not understand what’s going on. This is what living amid the great controversy is all about.

TUESDAY April 26

The “Warfare Worldview”

Whatever the ultimate meaning of Matthew 11:12, as we saw yesterday, it does help to reveal the reality of the great controversy. It depicts a struggle, a battle, and—as we know from other Bible texts—this battle is, at the core, the one between Christ and Satan.

What do the following texts tell us about in view of the reality of the great controversy?

Matt. 12:25–29

Isa. 27:1

1 John 5:19

Rom. 16:20

Gen. 3:14–19

Eph. 2:2, 6:10–13

These are just a few of many more texts, both in the Old and New Testament, that refer to what one contemporary (non-Adventist) theologian has called the “Warfare Worldview,” the idea that there is a battle going on between supernatural powers in the cosmos, a warfare in which we are all in one way or another involved. This notion, of course, is not new to Seventh-day Adventists. It has been part of our theology from the earliest days of our church; indeed, our pioneers held to it even before our church itself was officially formed.

In what ways do you see the reality of this struggle expressed in your own life? How is it being played out in the choices you have to make and in the temptations you face? How can your understanding the reality of this conflict help you to make the right choices and to resist temptation?


When the Battle Gets Nasty

As we have already seen, the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:12, however deep, do reveal the fact that the kingdom of God isn’t going to be established without a struggle, or without a fight. That fight, we understand, is the great controversy, and it has been and still is raging. It will until the final destruction of sin, Satan, and the lost. And, at times, it can and does get very nasty along the way.

We can see the reality of the great controversy, and just how nasty it can become, in the context in which Jesus Himself said what He did in Matthew 11:12.

Read Matthew 11:1–12. How do we see the reality of the great controversy here being played out on a number of levels? That is, how does the great controversy help us to make sense of what is happening here?

For starters, who do we think inspired the leaders to put John in jail? We can see here Satan’s attempt not only to stop John but to discourage faith in Jesus. After all, if John, Jesus’ forerunner, met such a fate, what could one hope for Jesus Himself?

Then, too, there’s no question that Satan could have made the followers of Jesus and John ask themselves the question: If this Jesus of Nazareth can do so many wonderful things, and has so much power, then why is He letting such a faithful and good man as John, His cousin, rot in jail?

Also, who do we think was putting the doubts in John’s head? Why am I here? Why doesn’t He free me? Hence, no wonder he asked, “ ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ ” (Matt. 11:3, NKJV). Remember, this is the same John who baptized Jesus, who saw the “ ‘Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him’ ” (Matt. 3:16, NKJV) and who heard the voice from heaven declare: “ ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ ” (Matt. 3:17, NKJV). Now, though, with all that had happened, he becomes filled with doubts. Of course, as bad as John’s situation was, it was (at least for the short term) going to get worse, which could only continue to feed more doubt (Mark 6:25–28).

If anything is causing you to doubt now, what can you focus on, dwell on, and pray about that will push the doubt away and help you to realize all the


A Lost Cause

All through history, humans have engaged in warfare. Something in human nature causes the people of one group to want to plunder, pillage, and slaughter those of another. In a book about her father, British philosopher Bertrand Russell, Katherine Tait wrote about her father’s concern at the outbreak of World War I regarding the joy in the streets of England at the prospect of war with Germany. “He had grown up with an optimistic Victorian belief in automatic progress, with the confidence that the whole world would, in its own good time, follow the wise course of the English from ancient brutality to civilized self-government. Then, suddenly, he found his own beloved compatriots dancing in the streets at the prospect of slaughtering great numbers of fellow human beings who happened to speak German.”—My Father Bertrand Russell (England: Thoemmes Press, 1997), p. 45. Multiply this same idea over history among almost all people, and we see the reality of fallen human nature in one of its most consequential and tragic forms.

Now, in most of these human wars, no one knew the outcome beforehand. People went to battle not knowing if they would be on the winning or losing side.

In the “Warfare Worldview” of our cosmos, we have one great advantage: we know which side has already won. Christ has won the decisive victory for us. After the Cross, no question remained about who is the Victor and who can share in the fruits of that victory. Satan’s cause is, indeed, a lost cause.

What do the following texts tell us about the outcome of the great controversy? Heb. 2:14, 1 Cor. 15:20–27, Rev. 12:12, 20:10.

Just as Satan lost the war in heaven, he lost the war on earth, as well. But with hatred and vengeance he’s still seeking all whom he may devour (see 1 Pet. 5:8). However complete Christ’s victory, the battle still rages, and our only protection is to place ourselves, mind and body, on the winning side. And we do that by the choices we make every day. Are we making choices that put us on the winning side, where the victory is assured for us, or on the losing side, where defeat is certain? On the answer to this question our eternal destiny hangs.

FRIDAY April 29

Further Thought: Who among us doesn’t know the reality of the great controversy? We know about this war because we feel it inside us on a daily basis. We live in a broken world, a world cursed with anxiety and pain. A world where a serpent isn’t limited to one tree in the middle of a garden but where the entire garden has been overrun with serpents. A world full of the whispers of temptation that come in all sorts of ways and that so easily ensnare those who are not diligent in faith and in prayer. No wonder Jesus said: “Watch and pray” lest we fall into the many snares that await us. And, of all the snares, perhaps the most dangerous one for the Christian is believing the lie that says, “When you succumb to temptation, you’ve gone too far. There is no God of grace who will welcome you back into His arms.” Who hasn’t at one time or another heard that voice whispering in his or her ears? In one sense, that sentiment is right: when you fall into temptation, even once, you have gone too far to ever get yourself back. That’s exactly why Jesus came, won the victory for us where we all have failed, and then offers His triumph to us. This is what the whole gospel is about, Jesus doing for us in the great controversy what we could never do for ourselves. At the same time, too, though, we have to choose, daily, hourly, moment by moment, to place ourselves on His side, and we do that by obeying His Word and by claiming the promises of victory that He had assured us we can have, the whole time leaning only upon His merits for us as the surety of our salvation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the other physical realities that exist all around us and yet that are completely inaccessible to our sense perceptions? Again, how should this reality help open our minds to the existence of other forces and powers that we simply cannot see? How can our realization of the existence of these unseen realities help us to understand the reality of the great controversy?

  2. Many Christians do not believe in or have any concept of the great controversy worldview. What reasons might they have for not seeing it? What arguments might they throw out at you against it, and how would you answer them? If you were to give someone a study on the great controversy, what texts would you use?

  3. How do you deal with the question of why we are still here so long after Jesus won the victory at the cross? After His death and resurrection and ascension, why didn’t Jesus just come back and destroy the devil once and for all?