[The following is the second part of a major study reproduced with the permission of Coleen Tinker and Life Assurance Ministries Here in part 2 we ask Who is Jesus? In part 1 we asked What is the ‘great controversy?’ ]
The great controversy hangs on Ellen G White’s [EGW] statements that God the Father exalted Jesus to be His equal. This exaltation made Lucifer jealous and reveals that Lucifer had some reasons to believe God could have picked him for this exaltation, but didn’t. Here are some of EGW’s statements:
Satan’s position in heaven had been next to the Son of God. He was first among the angels.i
Satan was once an honored angel in heaven, next to Christ. His countenance, like those of the other angels, was mild and expressive of happiness. His forehead was high and broad, showing great intelligence. His form was perfect; his bearing noble and majestic.ii
The exaltation of the Son of God as equal with the Father was represented as an injustice to Lucifer, who, it was claimed, was also entitled to reverence and honor.iii
When Adam and Eve sinned, this exalted Jesus begged the Father to allow Him to come to earth to die for them. The Father finally acquiesced, and
The Eternal Father, the unchangeable one, gave his only begotten Son, tore from his bosom Him who was made in the express image of his person, and sent him down to earth to reveal how greatly he loved mankind.iv
In the great controversy paradigm, Jesus was not the eternal, almighty God. Instead, God exalted him to be His equal at some time in the distant past. When Jesus came to the earth, He “volunteered to take humanity” so that “in His power, humanity can obey God”.v Thus, He came in the fallen condition of sinful man. EGW says,
By taking upon Himself man’s nature in its fallen condition, Christ did not in the least participate in its sin.vi
Christ took upon Him the infirmities of degenerate humanity. Only thus could He rescue man from the lowest depths of his degradation.vii
Christ bore the sins and infirmities of the race as they existed when He came to the earth to help man. In behalf of the race, with the weaknesses of fallen man upon Him, He was to stand the temptations of Satan upon all points wherewith man would be assailed.viii
In the Seventh-Day Adventist great controversy worldview, Jesus’ primary purpose was not to be our Substitute but to be our Example and to vindicate God’s character. Importantly, the great controversy worldview assumes that Jesus kept the law as a man with a “fallen” human nature. His example, therefore, is to demonstrate that all people can achieve freedom from sin if they pray and self-sacrifice as He did.
The normal Christian understanding of Jesus as an example is that He shows those who are born again how they may depend upon God after being born of the Spirit. Adventism, however, sees Jesus as the example for all sinful mankind to follow in order to become right with God. Here are some of EGW’s statements:
He came to this world to live the law in humanity, that Satan’s charge that man cannot keep the law might be demonstrated as false.ix
The Majesty of heaven undertook the cause of man, and with the same facilities that man may obtain, withstood the temptations of Satan as man must withstand them. This was the only way in which fallen man could become a partaker of the divine nature.x
The glory of Christ is his character, and his character is an expression of the law of God. He fulfilled the law in its every specification, and gave to the world in his life a perfect pattern of what it is possible for humanity to attain unto by cooperation with divinity.xi
We could quote many more EGW statements demonstrating that the great controversy model sees Jesus as the example for sinful people. This unbiblical description of Jesus, however, is only part of Seventh-Day Adventist belief about Him. EGW also states that Jesus was on probation while He was on the earth and that He could have sinned. For example:
The temptations to which Christ was subjected were a terrible reality. As a free agent He was placed on probation, with liberty to yield to Satan’s temptations and work at cross-purposes with God.xii
Yet into the world where Satan claimed dominion God permitted His Son to come, a helpless babe, subject to the weakness of humanity. He permitted Him to meet life’s peril in common with every human soul, to fight the battle as every child of humanity must fight it, at the risk of failure and eternal loss.xiii
For a period of time Christ was on probation. He took humanity on Himself, to stand the test and trial which the first Adam failed to endure. Had He failed in His test and trial, He would have been disobedient to the voice of God, and the world would have been lost.xiv
The great controversy further teaches that Jesus died to exonerate God’s law and make it possible for us to become perfect:
When Christ gave His life for you, it was that He might place you on vantage ground and impart to you moral power.xv
Jesus was bearing the sin of the world; he was enduring the curse of the law; he was vindicating the justice of God. Separation from his Father, the punishment for transgression, was to fall upon him in order to magnify God’s law and testify to its immutability. And this was forever to settle the controversy between Satan and the Prince of heaven in regard to the changeless character of that law.xvi
In making His infinite sacrifice Christ would exalt and honor the law.xvii
He died to make an atonement, and to become a pattern for everyone who would be His disciple.xviii
Furthermore, the great controversy states that Jesus’ mediation is only for a limited time and His sacrifice for sin will end when the great controversy is over. EGW says this:
“To hold the people in darkness and impenitence till the Savior’s mediation is ended, and there is no longer a sacrifice for sin, is the object which he [Satan] seeks to accomplish.”xix
The Bible teaches, however, that Jesus came to be a sacrifice for sin once for all, and His priesthood is permanent. He lives forever to intercede for His people (Heb. 8:24-25). Furthermore, He cleanses our consciences “from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14). He came to fulfill the law, not to establish it as God’s measure of our righteousness. Rather, we “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10). “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).
Moreover, Jesus did not come with a fallen nature, nor was He divested of His full deity and power (Col. 1:19; 2:9). He was never exalted to be equal to God but was eternal, almighty God (Is. 9:6). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Moreover, Jesus identified Himself with the personal name of God, “I Am” (Jn. 8:58).
Jesus was Satan’s creator (Jn. 1:3); He was never in competition or in a battle with Satan. Jesus is God—not Michael the archangel or any lesser being exalted to be equal to God.
Finally, Jesus overturned death. While the resurrection is a central theme of the New Testament, it receives only passing mention in the great controversy. Yet Scripture tells us His resurrection life is what gives us our eternal life when we are born again (Rom. 5:10; 8:10-11). He has already been seated at the right hand of God and forever intercedes for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25).
The great controversy model depends on the belief that humans are physical beings without immaterial spirits. Furthermore, Seventh-Day Adventists believe that sin is transmitted genetically. Their Fundamental Belief #7 says in part,
Though created free beings, each is an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit…When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and…the image of God in them was marred and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil.xx
Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the “breath of life” is the literal breath, or air, that one breathes. They compare it to “streams of electricity that…transform a quiet, gray panel of glass in a box into a pulsating splash of color and action when we flip the switch on a color TV.”xxi
Moreover, Adventists assume the image of God in man includes a physical resemblance. Seventh-day Adventists Believe states:
Since the Bible teaches that man comprises an indivisible unity of body, mind, and soul, man’s physical features must also, in some way, reflect God’s image. But isn’t God a spirit? How could a spirit being be associated with any form or shape?
A brief study of the angels reveals that they, like God, are spiritual beings…Yet they always appear in human form…Could it be that a spiritual being may have a “spiritual body” with a form and features…?
The Bible indicates that some people have seen parts of God’s person.…Christ is described as “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and “the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3). These passages seem to indicate that God is a personal being and has a personal form. This should come as no surprise, for man was created in the image of God.xxii
The great controversy worldview assumes man is body plus breath, not a body with a spirit that can worship God (Jn. 4:24), that can be deeply moved and troubled (Jn. 11:33), or that goes to the Father at death (Lk. 23:46). Without a spirit, humans cannot be spiritually dead in a literal sense. Adventists do not believe that humans are born depraved, unable to obey or please God apart from a divine intervention. Scripture says we are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). “No one understand; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:11-12).
Rather, EGW teaches that sin is a choice we make:
It is not in the power of Satan to force anyone to sin. Sin is the sinner’s individual act.…Through prayer and the word of God we shall be enabled to overcome temptation.xxiii
By faith and prayer all may meet the requirements of the gospel. No man can be forced to transgress.xxiv
Because Adventism assumes a false understanding of man’s nature, they also have a false belief about Christ’s nature. Since man is a physical being with “higher powers” in his physical mind, they understand sin to be transmitted through the gene pool. Thus a fallen or sinful nature is defined as inherited weaknesses and tendencies to evil. Therefore, Jesus the man had a “fallen nature” but overcame temptation and showed us how we, too, can conquer sin by prayer and faith.
Without immaterial spirits, humans have no way to be “born of the Spirit”, or “born again” (Jn. 3:3, 5). Instead, the new birth within Adventism is a mental change, the Holy Spirit enlightening the mind, a decision to be baptized. Because they do not believe in a literal human spirit, Adventists have no understanding that Jesus was conceived with spiritual life. He was the Son of God, not the son of Adam. His spirit was alive from the moment He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and He was the only human born who did not need to be born again.
Since the great controversy assumes that obedient people will demonstrate that God’s law is fair and will thus vindicate God’s character to a watching universe, it is not surprising that salvation and our highest loyalty are defined by Law. EGW said,
Satan had asserted that men could not keep the commandments of God. To prove that they could, Christ became a man, and lived a life of perfect obedience, an evidence to sinful human beings, to the worlds unfallen, and to the heavenly angels, that man could keep God’s law through the divine power that is abundantly provided for all that believe.xxv
In order to see clearly how the great controversy paradigm warps Adventists’ belief about reality, we’ll summarize what we’ve said so far before concluding with a final look at Adventism’s deceptive worldview. The great controversy:
• depends on the extra-biblical writings of Ellen White, their prophetic voice, their “continuing and authoritative source of truth”.
• teaches a “different Jesus”, one who is not Mighty God, the I AM, but a diminished one who took man’s fallen nature, was on probation, and could have sinned, thus threatening the existence of the cosmos and God Himself.xxvi
• falsifies the identity and person of God by equating His essence with the law.
• gives Satan illegitimate power and freedom.
• claims God is obligated to answer to Satan.
• says Christ’s atonement was not finished at the cross but continues through the controversy.
• teaches Christ’s mediation will end sometime before the second coming, and there will no longer be a sacrifice for sin.
• replaces Jesus as our total Substitute with Jesus as our Example.
• replaces Jesus with Satan as the scapegoat who ultimately bears away the sins of the saved.
• falsifies the nature of man by denying the human spirit.
• claims the “the righteousness of God” is obedience to the Ten Commandments.
• substitutes the new birth by the Holy Spirit with conversion to Adventism and law-keeping.
• says salvation depends on our knowledge of good and evil to inform the right choice.
• replaces the Lord Jesus as the test of faith with loyalty to Adventist teachings.
The great controversy worldview is the Adventists’ definition of reality. Just as they are taught that grass is green, so they learn that God identifies Himself with Law. Because the law is the transcript of God’s character but Satan has said that law is unfair, humans’ only hope lies in knowing what is good and what is evil so they can make right choices.
Although Adventists use all the words Christians use when referring to God and salvation, they internally mean the definitions established by the great controversy. They believe their replication of Jesus’ obedient character will finally bring this controversy to an end. Thus, they finally have the power to vindicate God’s reputation and expose Satan as a fraud. Satan, therefore, is relentless in provoking and deceiving those who desire to serve God, while Jesus stands before them as a continuous example of sinless perfection which they must emulate. In this way each person becomes a player in the controversy as he grows in the knowledge of good and evil, the reputation of God and His law hanging on his shoulders.
Martin Carey, a contributing author to Proclamation!, has summarized the great controversy worldview like this: “When God’s sovereignty is reduced, Satan or nature must fill the vacuum. The great controversy’s god can be accused and put on the defensive with a ‘meaningful’ trial he can very possibly lose. We are also told, however, that natural and moral laws are sovereign. They cannot be questioned and can never fail. Therefore, the laws represent higher realities than God. The great controversy creates a dualistic cosmos that limits the power and control of God and expands the power of Satan and the laws. God must answer to Satan, and we must answer to the laws. God requires lesser beings, such as Jesus and a human ‘remnant’, to vindicate and rescue His sovereignty. Great controversy theory removes all the sound reasons why we should believe any of its god’s prophecies or promises of success because they depend upon human obedience and faithfulness. The doubts that great controversy theory raises help explain why so many Adventists become agnostic. Their god has already been discredited and dethroned.”
The great controversy worldview is the unexamined assumption Adventists believe to be truth. It shapes every aspect of their lives, and there is no escape from the guilt, imperfection, doubt, anxiety, and pretending that runs rampant among them. They pursue education and good works to prove they love God, but behind their whitewashed exteriors lie despair, depression, corruption, abuses, addictions, and lies. No matter how they try to say gospel words, their worldview keeps them from understanding what is true.
But here is truth: Jesus Christ died, was buried, and was raised on the third day (1 Cor. 15:1-3). He saves “to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). All who believe will in Him have eternal life (Jn. 3:14), and those who believe pass from death to life (Jn. 5:24).
Jesus lives, and He sits at God’s right hand. Satan is a defeated foe. The battle is won.
“It is finished!”†
i EGW, Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 341.
ii EGW, Early Writings, p. 145.
iii EGW, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 35.
iv EGW, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, 07-09-1895, “The Duty of the Minister and the People,” Par. 14.
v EGW, Signs of the Times, May 10, 1899.
vi EGW, Manuscript Releases, vol. 16, pp. 116, 117.
vii Ibid., p. 117.
viii EGW, Selected Messages, bk. 1, pp. 267, 268.
ix EGW, Signs of the Times, April 7, 1898.
x EGW, Selected Messages, Bk. 1, p. 252.
xi EGW., Signs of the Times, Dec. 12, 1895.
xii EGW, Selected Messages, Bk. 3, p. 131.
xiii EGW, The Desire of Ages, p. 49.
xiv EGW, Signs of the Times, May 10, 1899.
xv EGW, Manuscript Releases, vol. 14, p. 74.
xvi EGW, ibid., July 12, 1899.
xvii EGW, ibid., July 12, 1899.
xviii Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 4., 1159.
xix EGW, The Great Controversy, p. 581.
xx Seventh-day Adventists Believe, 2005 ed., p. 91.
xxi Ibid., p.94.
xxii Ibid., p. 98.
xxiii EGW, Signs of the Times, Dec. 18, 1893.
xxiv EGW, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 177.
xxv EGW, Signs of the Times, May 10, 1899.
xxvi Batchelor, Doug, The Trinity, 2009, pp. 29-30.