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S. R. Goldstone

Woven throughout Scripture like a scarlet thread is the portrayal of powers in battle contending for the attention and affection of mankind. This conflict between Christ and Satan, good and evil, is also the central theme of Ellen White's Conflict of the Ages series. The great controversy theme throughout history has been a unique part of Adventist preaching since the birth of the denomination. This conflict was deemed so significant by church leaders that special engravings from drawings by Moritz Retzsch were printed in the early editions of Bible Readings for the Home Circle. These three pictures, entitled 'The Game of life", depict a game of chess being played between Satan and a man, the contest being observed by both demonic and divine agents. The first picture is titled 'The Game in Progress", the second 'The Game Lost", and the final picture 'The Game Won".

Seventh-day Adventists are well aware of the great controversy motif. But even a theological awareness of the ploys of the key participants of the past has not always been a deterring barrier to dissidence or the dissenter of today. Our church history speaks of many who have become disruptive and who, finally, have either separated themselves from the body of believers or been disfellowshipped. [To see a principle concerning this, click here]. Understanding the intensification of Satan's efforts as the end of time approaches, it comes as no surprise to witness such dissidence, in crescendo, worldwide.

It is imperative as individuals that, as followers of Christ, we should prepare ourselves to discern and reject dissidence, for we shall all be called to meet it with varying degrees at some time in our experience. A careful study of Scripture and the inspired comments of Ellen White are of great value to us, for the same steps as taken by Satan in heaven are repeated by those who have allowed him entrance to their lives (John 8:44).

The purpose of this article is to trace the progressive steps of Satan's dissidence in heaven as revealed in Scripture and the chapter "Why Was Sin Permitted" as found in Patriarchs and Prophets. The revolt in heaven will be compared with the dissidence of Korah, Dathan and Abiram as recorded in Numbers 16 and Patriarchs and Prophets, to see if a pattern of dissidence is apparent. Such a study will give us evidences by which we may test all dissidence. In undertaking such a study, we need to be very much aware of our own vulnerability to the wiles of Satan. If he was able to successfully deceive unfallen angels, how much more vulnerable are we sinful humans!

Dissidence in Heaven Repeated on Earth

Revelation 12:7-9 records the war between Michael (Jesus) and the dragon (Satan) as fought in heaven. It was a battle which also involved the angels who had aligned themselves behind these two leaders. The result was the expulsion of Satan and his supporting angels from heaven. [Comment] It is to other parts of Scripture that we must look for information regarding the lead-up to this battle. Isaiah 14:12-15 states that "Lucifer" lost his high heavenly estate because of self-exaltation. Pride is not a sin from which leaders are exempt. Spiritual pride is so deceptive and self-righteous.

Leadership does not give automatic exemption from dissidence. Position of leadership may make one more vulnerable, for it so proved to be the case with Lucifer. Five times he "said in his heart, 'l will exalt myself’'." We should not miss the significance of the words "in his heart". What appears to the human eye externally may not be the true picture as to what is really going on internally. Words and actions sometimes shroud motives which bear bitter fruit with the passing of time. Lucifer was an esteemed and trusted leader "who, next to Christ, had been most honored of God, and was highest in power and glory among the inhabitants of heaven" (PP, p.35). Likewise, Korah, a Levite. "was a man of ability and influence", but, like Lucifer in heaven, he aspired to position that was not his by right. The problem occurs when "loving, loyal trust" (PP, p.38) fails to discern when pride has entered in and the cancer of self-exaltation has invaded the heart.

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Satan is well aware of whom to use most effectively as his earthly agents.

Secrecy is an early evidence of dissidence. Satan "worked with mysterious secrecy and for a time concealed his real purpose under an appearance of reverence for God" (PP, p.37). Korah also "had been secretly opposing the authority of Moses and Aaron ..." (PP, p.395). The road travelled by the dissenter is a gradual downhill journey which commences with secrecy and innuendo but still remaining within the group. Only as the seeds of self-righteousness begin to manifest themselves, do we see open criticism of leaders expressed, contempt for authority, and ultimate separation from the group. "Little by little, Lucifer came to indulge the desire for self-exaltation" (PP, p.35). And speaking of Korah and his associates, Mrs. White wrote: "For a time this work was carried on secretly" (PP p.398). Clandestine meetings, meetings behind closed doors, or suggestions that "these matters are best not discussed with the pastor" are indications of dissidence.

Outward claims of loyalty are no proof of fact. It is self-apparent that any suggestion of open revolt without first carefully laying the foundation for such action would be doomed to failure. Lucifer understood this and "For a time concealed his real purpose under an appearance of reverence for God" (PP, p.37). "While claiming for himself perfect loyalty to God, he urged that changes in the order and laws of heaven were necessary for the stability of the divine government" (PP, p.38).

Likewise, Korah did not at first "venture on any open act of rebellion" (PP, p.395). His ploy was to "profess great interest in the prosperity of the people" (PP p.396). How typical! So it is today that those in the church with a hidden agenda outwardly purport to be loyally upholding historic Adventism. Given time disloyalty is revealed.

Resistance to counsel demonstrates personal pride. Jesus and the angels plead with Lucifer, "but the warning, given in infinite love and mercy, only aroused a spirit of resistance" (PP, p.36). Likewise, Scripture records how Moses counselled with Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Num 16:5-11) and requested them to bring their cause before God. Their defiant response was: "We will not come up" (Num 16:12-14). Pride had so entered their minds that "at last they really believed themselves to be actuated by zeal for God" (PP, p.397). When a dissident reaches this point, no corrective counsel is acceptable. Though given in love by men of God, it is interpreted to be of the devil and thus rejected, even though Scripture warns "there is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov 14:12). "Be not wise in thine own eyes. Fear the Lord and depart from evil" (Prov 3:7). Pride and self-righteousness are the most difficult sins to overcome.

Dissidence is not easily discernible in its early stages and, therefore, it becomes difficult to openly unmask. The words of Isaiah 14:13,'Thou hast said in thine heart" are of great significance. We humans can only judge by externals; we do not have the power to know the thoughts and intents of others.

Dissidence is deceptive. It is living out a lie. Lucifer "had so artfully instilled into their [angels] mind his own distrust and discontent that his agency was not discerned" (PP p.38). "All his acts were so clothed with mystery that it was difficult to disclose to the angels the true nature of his work. Until fully developed, it could not be made to appear the evil thing it was; his disaffection would not be seen to be rebellion. Even the loyal angels could not fully discern his character, or see to what his work was leading" (PP p.41). This being true of unfallen angels, how much more true is it of fallen man! Ultimately by their fruits one will recognise them for what they truly are..

Distortion of the motives of others is a clear indication of dissidence. When Satan tempted Eve in the garden, he was successful because he distorted God's intent in giving the command not to eat of 'the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. Satan stated that God was withholding something from man for His own selfish purpose. He said to Eve: "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5, NIV). This distortion of God's will was a continuation of Satan's dissidence in heaven, where "he began to insinuate doubts concerning the laws that governed heavenly beings ..." (PP, p.37). It was also a tactic adopted by Korah in his attack on Moses, claiming that God's appointed was -"an overbearing ruler", that all Israel's disasters "were chargeable to him [Moses], and that their exclusion from Canaan was in consequence of the mismanagement of Moses and Aaron.. ." (PP, p.397). To the false charges that Moses had acted out of selfish motives, the longsuffering leader responded: "I have not taken one ass from them neither have I hurt one of them" (Num 16:15).

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Fomenting discontent by publicly sharing expressions of disquiet. Soon the hidden agenda was publicly declared. This resulted in discord and, finally, open rebellion. Christ's stated method of dealing with disagreement (Matt 18:15) was ignored, because it served the dissident's purpose better to spread doubt and discontent, and not be subjected to the counsel of others. "He [Satan] cunningly drew his hearers on to give utterance to their feelings; then these expressions were repeated by him when it would serve his purpose, as evidence that the angels were not fully in harmony with the government of God... The spirit of dissatisfaction, thus kindled, was doing its baleful work" (PP, p.38). Again, Korah and his associates adopted a similar technique with an interesting result. "In this work of disaffection there was greater union and harmony among the discordant elements of the congregation than had ever before existed" (PP, p.398). What a triumph for Satan - a unity of dissidence!

Dissidents go public when it is thought that the weight of public support will carry the day. What is true in the political arena is also true of religious dissidence. We see it sometimes at the level of the local church. Regretfully we see similar influences in the church at large; but wherever, the origin is with Satan's rebellion in heaven. "Great numbers of the angels signified their purpose to accept him [Satan] as their leader. Flattered by the favour with which his advances were received, he hoped to win all the angels to his side, to become equal with God himself, and to be obeyed by the entire host of heaven ... For himself, he was determined never again to acknowledge the authority of Christ. The only course remaining for him and his followers, he said, was to assert their liberty, and gain by force the rights which had not been willingly accorded them" (PP, pp.40,41).

Korah, likewise, chose what he considered a politically expedient moment to openly challenge the leadership of Moses and Aaron. We read: "For a time this work was carried on secretly. As soon, however, as the movement had gained sufficient strength to warrant an open rupture. Korah appeared at the head of the faction, and publicly accused Moses and Aaron of usurping authority which Korah and his associates were equally entitled to share" (PP, p.398). The lines of difference were drawn; loyalties were declared.

Tragic Consequences of Dissidence

In time God had to step in. His very character was brought into question and it became a universal problem. "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with
him... Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time'' (Rev 12:9.12). In the case of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, not only were they and their families destroyed, but so were two- hundred-and-fifty of the leading men of Israel, and fourteen-thousand-seven-hundred of those affected by dissidence died of a plague.

Dissidence is a disease which spreads like cancer. Undiscernible at first, it spreads silently, destroying the spiritual life of those it invades until at last, when with many it is too late. It results in an untimely and tragic death.

Satan's power to deceive has not diminished with the passing of time. In fact, he has improved his strategies over thousands of years of practice. The Scriptures reveal that he will make one last effort to overthrow Jesus' reign. Even after the victory sign is raised, Satan, together with all dissidents, will surround the new Jerusalem, only to be destroyed by the same fires which destroyed the two-hundred-and-fifty associates of Korah.

"And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ. For the accuser of our brethren is cast down which accused them before our God day and night" (Rev 12:10).

The great controversy is still raging. The camps in battle are becoming more obvious. Now is the time for us to declare and demonstrate our loyalty to Christ and His Church. Satan uses the same methods today with his agents as he did in heaven against Christ. We need to be alert and totally committed to God.


PP – Patriarchs and Prophets

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