Relevant Passages: Isa 14, Ezek 28, Rev 12, Luke 10:18
Leading Question: Is the idea of a battle in heaven crucial for our understanding of the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan?
A “cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan” suggests a primal battle in the heavenly realm, a view that comes clear in Scripture only in Revelation 12:7-12: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (NIV).
Here the rebel leader is called dragon, serpent, devil, and Satan. What is remarkable about these names is their distribution in the Bible. In particular, Revelation 12 is the first passage in Scripture to identify the serpent as Satan. In Genesis 3, where the serpent appears in the garden, he is simply “more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made” (NRSV).
1. Question: If it weren’t for Revelation 12, how could one argue that the serpent is Satan?
Note: In Egypt the serpent could represent both a good deity and an evil one. Even the bronze serpent which Moses raised in the wilderness shows the ambiguity of the symbol (Numbers 21). Hezekiah (d. 687 BCE) ordered the bronze serpent destroyed because the people were worshiping it (2 Kings 18:4).
2. Question: Where in Scripture could one go to confirm the nature of the principles involved in the conflict, i.e. self-sacrificing love vs. selfishness?
Note: Two passages in the prophets have traditionally been used to demonstrate the element of pride in Lucifer’s fall: Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-19. The two passages share several characteristics and both have been applied to the “prehistory” of Satan. In addition, both appear in prophetic oracles or “taunt-songs” against heathen kings. Isaiah 14 is directed against the king of Babylon; Ezekiel 28 is directed against the prince or king of Tyre. Modern scholarship has been very much intrigued with the parallels between these passages and similar passages in the literature of other Ancient Near Eastern cultures. Two general conclusions can be drawn from the research done on these passages. First, that the parallels in pagan cultures are striking indeed; second, that the prophets themselves are speaking of the historical enemies of Israel, not of the supernatural realm. The supernatural appears only by way of analogy. In other words, most modern scholars would say that these prophetic oracles would not have been understood by an Old Testament audience as describing Satan. That conclusion seems to be verified by the fact that the first clear application of the Lucifer passage (Isaiah 14:12-15) to Satan, was not made until the time of Tertullian, a church father who died in 240 CE. The history of the interpretation of Ezekiel 28:11-19 is less clear, for the passage has been applied not only to a supernatural being, but to the first man as well (cf. RSV), a problem of interpretation which stems from ambiguity in the original text. In any event, the application to Satan is not explicit until several centuries into the Christian era.
Regardless of when these passages were linked with Satan/Lucifer historically, however, the thrust of both passages emphasizes the danger of a pride that seeks to be equal with or above God himself.
3. Question: How do the Gospels describe the role of Satan?
Note: In John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11, Jesus refers to the condemnation of the “ruler of this world.” Luke 10:18 states that Jesus saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning. The wilderness temptations of Christ (Matthew 4, Luke 4) also depict Satan in his role as Christ’s opponent.
4. Question: Can one describe the Great Controversy struggle without a clear satanic figure?
Note: In the Old Testament Satan is only identified as a supernatural opponent of God in three passages, all of which were either written or canonized late: Job 1-2, 1 Chron. 21:1, and Zech 3:1-5. The verse in 1 Chron. 21 is particularly interesting because it attributes to Satan what the earlier parallel in 2 Sam. 24 attributes to God, namely, responsibility for triggering David’s numbering of the people. This “late” appearance of Satan was no doubt linked with the danger that Israel might worship Satan as another deity, an evil one. So, for practical purposes, God assumed full responsibility for evil through much of the Old Testament. That is why Christians often have such difficulties in reading the Old Testament because God is depicted as the active agent in everything that happens.
5. Question: What does the book of Job contribute to the Great Controversy story?
Note: Satan only appears in two of the five scenes in the prologue to Job (Job 1-2). Otherwise, throughout the book only the author and the reader know anything of Satan. Job appears to be oblivious to his existence. In a sense, then, Job faces the same dilemma that moderns do when confronted with a disaster: Did God do it or Satan? For us, the conclusion is rarely clear. Yet the dialogue in Job helps us to see more clearly the issues in the great struggle between good and evil.
Summary: Through this quarter we will be looking for evidence of the great struggle between good and evil in the people, events, and teachings of the Bible. For the most part, we will be doing so in the absence of explicit references to the great opponents in the battle. Once one glimpses the full panorama of the drama, however, one can return to virtually any aspect of Scripture and see how the cosmic battle is played out.