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First Quarter 2016 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON REBELLION AND REDEMPTION
Week 11: March 5–11
COMMENTARY ON PETER ON THE GREAT CONTROVERSY
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Ironically, this week’s lesson is about Peter supposedly writing his observations about living within the great controversy. In actual fact, Peter’s epistles are some of the most explicit regarding the fact that we are born again by the Word of God, a reality that is not “conversion” to Adventist beliefs but to actual new life. Moreover, Peter explicitly describes and warns again the false teachers that will creep in among believers and lead them astray, preying particularly on young or weak believers who are not well-anchored in Scripture.
Peter is not describing a “great controversy”. He is, in his epistles, discussing how to endure suffering as a Christian in an unbelieving world that is hostile to the gospel; he discusses living holy lives by denying the flesh because we have been born again of the Spirit, and he warns strongly against false teachers. If one is not born again, spiritually alive, he has no choice except to see Peter’s epistles as “good advice”, moral teachings to help navigate one’s own sinful nature and temptations.
If, however, one is born again, Peter’s epistles are encouragements, reminders that God cares for His own and holds the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment (2 Pet. 2:9).
If Adventists understood the difference between being dead in sin and born again—a difference that occurs within the human spirit, the immaterial part of us that is separated from God from conception and must be brought to life by the Holy Spirit when we trust Jesus—if they understood this reality, the “great controversy” would evaporate. The truth is amazing: God is sovereign, and Satan is His monkey!
Sunday’s lesson again reveals the essentially desperate and hopeless viewpoint that asks how one can deal with overwhelm and discouragement by one’s own behavior and character. It quotes Ellen White saying our helpless condition means Jesus’ redeeming power is a necessity, that we must renounce self-dependence.
Once again, this dilemma reveals the truth: Adventism does not teach or understand the new birth. While we will always have a law of sin in our members until we are glorified in our eternal bodies, (Rom. 7:23), we have already passed from death to life if we have believed in the Lord Jesus and His completed atonement. If we have trusted Him, we no longer have to struggle with our essential identity. We have been born again and have a new Father. We have a new identity, an adopted son or daughter of God. We are a living stone placed into the house being built up by the Lord Jesus—a picture that is also part of 1 Peter 2 but which was completely ignored in the lesson.
When we have trusted Christ, we come to Him, the Living Stone rejected by the builders but planted by the Father as the Cornerstone, and we are built up with Him into a holy temple. We are not players in a great controversy raging around us with poor Jesus struggling against the wiles of the devil to secure our loyalty. We are already alive and placed into the temple that is the body of Christ, and nothing can shake us out of that.
We must resist the devil and not indulge the flesh, but because we are born again and spiritually alive, we finally have the ability to choose to surrender to the Lord Jesus when we are tempted instead of to indulge temptation. We are in a new position with a new identity, and our future is secure.
The lesson tries to get the reader to contemplate the agonies of peer pressure, of what he must do to stay true to his Adventist distinctive when he is surrounded by non-Adventist peers who might pressure them to fudge on the Sabbath or to resist being loyal to other practices and beliefs.
The lesson focusses on 1 Peter 4:1-7 and develops a moralizing tone as it admonishes the reader to be loving as they behave morally. In fact, the first part of 1 Peter 4 admonishes born-again believers to remember that they have been changed by the gospel, that the gospel is the means by which each person, although “they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:6).
This is not a chapter on resisting peer pressure and doing right; it is a passage reminding believers that they have new power and new life, and they are able, finally, to submit to the Lord Jesus and to live lives of love. In fact, this passage precedes the last part of the chapter which is entirely about suffering as a believer, ending with a warning about the outcome for those who do not believe God. Because believers will suffer in a world of unbelievers, they need to be reminded of the life and power that are already theirs as born again children of God.
This passage of 1 Peter is not about peer pressure; it is about living a surrendered life, trusting God and allowing Him to keep us faithful when surrounded by unbelief and temptation. We trust God, and when we are His, His power and His Spirit are entirely ours. His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). We have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter. 2:3).
Today’s lesson ought to be a revelation about the true nature of Ellen White. In fact, I find the lesson a bit confusing; the title addresses 2 Peter 1:16-21, but the development of the contents is more about directing the readers “to spend their energies on positive things rather than negative ones” (last sentence of the day’s lesson).
In the Bible, Peter develops his line of reasoning. He saw the transfigured Jesus, the One who fulfilled the prophecies of the coming Messiah. He heard the Father declare, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”
Because of his own eyewitness, he says, he has the prophetic word (meaning the Old Testament prophecies—this reference cannot be construed to apply to EGW or to any modern prophet) made more sure. He admonishes his audience that they need to pay attention to the prophetic word (Scripture), and they need to know that no prophecy of Scripture came about by anyone’s as a result of any person’s interpretation or impressions of anything. Neither did any prophecy come about because someone decided they wanted to speak prophetically. All prophecy—and Peter is clear that he refers to Scripture—came about as men “moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet. 1:21).
Peter’s line of reasoning is that true believers have been granted God’s magnificent and precious promises so that by these promises they may become partakers of the divine nature. He develops his teaching that as true believers, they are to develop mature Christian characteristics which Paul identifies as fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 6. Because they are born again, the Spirit will grow true believers from the inside-out, and they are to allow the Spirit to reveal their sin and to submit to His development in them of the qualities that reflect the righteousness that is already credited to them because of Jesus.
Finally, Peter reminds them that there is tangible reason to know God’s prophecies are certain, and he challenges them to trust Scripture, to trust God’s promises, and to know that none of the prophecies of Scripture is remotely uncertain but have been given by God Himself.
Today’s lesson focusses on the need to stay attached to the promise of the Second Coming. To be sure, Jesus IS coming back. This promise is as certain as was the promise of His first coming.
The lesson makes 2 Peter 3 a chapter exposing the near-conclusion of the Great Controversy and the need to resist being agnostic about a second coming.
The Bible, however, is showing that unbelievers will refuse to take seriously God’s promise that He will destroy the earth. It is that word “unbelievers” that is key here.
Adventism assumes that Adventists are “believers”, but in fact, most Adventists are not born again because they do not know the true gospel. Hanging fast to a belief in the second coming within a great controversy paradigm will only discourage a person.
On the other hand, if a person knows Jesus, if he has repented of His sin and placed his faith entirely in the Lord Jesus and His finished atonement and substitutionary Sacrifice, the coming of the Lord will not seem unlikely. It becomes very real because the believer’s born-again spirit is at home with the Lord. Even now, believers are seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2:4-6). The return of Jesus is a blessed hope, a greatly anticipated reality.
Scoffers include those who refuse to believe that the Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, that when one trusts Him, the law becomes obsolete for him. Scoffers are not just those who say Jesus isn’t coming back; scoffers are also those who say that Jesus can’t be the fulfillment of the Sabbath.
Scoffers are those who hold onto anything that prevents them from letting everything they love go, trusting Jesus alone for life and eternity.
Thursday’s lesson focusses on one’s becoming blameless. “Being blameless is our aim,” the last paragraph of the day’s lesson begins. The lesson does point out that Jesus was the spotless lamb and that He presents the church as blameless to the Father, but the author does not understand being literally credited with the imputed righteousness of Christ.
The lesson ends with the question, “Why must we always rely on the righteousness of Jesus that is credited to us by faith” as we seek to overcome sin and shun evil and live holy and blameless lives?
The confusion of this lesson reflects the fact that although Adventists love to say the classic Christian formulae about being credited with Christ’s righteousness, they truly have no clear understanding of how that works.
Because they deny the human spirit, they fail to grasp the new birth. Failing to grasp the new birth means having no understanding of the fact that we are eternally alive when we trust Christ, and His live is literally the life that brought us to life. There is no understanding that we are saved and secure, completely credited with the Lord Jesus Himself, even though this redeemed “us” is still dwelling in a mortal body which has a law of sin.
For Adventists, the struggle with the flesh is the definition of their entire lives. For Christians, the struggle with the flesh is what we do knowing that the Lord Jesus gives us His identity, insight, power, peace, and faith to allow Him to show us our sin and to teach us to cease to indulge it. For a Christian, the struggle with the flesh has no effect whatsoever on the eternally alive, saved state of our born-again spirits. For Adventists, the struggle with the flesh means they can fall in and out of salvation.
This lesson is despairing because it reflects the lack of confidence, the fear, and the hopeless insufficiency of each person to adequately deal with his own sin. Adventists do not know the gospel, and they do not know what it means to gives up their works and spiritual disciplines in favor of trusting Jesus.
Finally, the lesson refers to God’s “strategy to end sin and suffering and to restore the earth to its original perfection.”
2 Peter 3:10-13 and Revelation 21 and 22 make it very clear that God is not going to restore the earth to its pre-fall condition. Rather, He will make something COMPLETELY new. We will not be like Adam and Eve in their innocence; the earth will not be like Eden. God has not revealed what He is preparing, but He has revealed that it will be marvelous beyond our ability to imagine, and it will not be like Eden.
He is making all things new!
Today’s lesson reinforces the warnings against scoffing at the prophesied end of the world. Instead of commenting further on this subject, I will end by quoting 2 Peter 2. This passage is uncannily precise in describing Adventist evangelism and the subtly of the false Adventist “gospel”. Adventist evangelism targets young or immature Christians who don’t know Scripture well, and they deceptively teach their heresies by making them appear glorious.
Read 2 Peter 2 and ask God to show you what you need to know as you read it:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness.
These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
(2 Peter 2 ESV)