Monthly Archives: October 2019

Questions and Answers (17:13)

Lou: I want to come now to something that you touched on a bit at the conclusion of your presentation. How could we, as Christians, allow the adversary to deceive us regarding the very truths that we hold? For example, how could Satan distort “faith” in such a way that it would be a deception rather than the truth?

Graham: He already has. When people understand that faith is a religious conviction for which you do not need evidence, they are totally vulnerable to him. If they truly looked at the evidence, they would not be deceived because the evidence isn’t with him. But he’s led many Christians to understand that faith is believing without evidence, without inquiry, without investigation. And so he’s turned faith into a vulnerability, and he has set us all up to be deceived. The idea of blind faith is widely held. And in the next chapter I’d like to go more deeply into this.

Lou: But what about the matter of “sin?”

Graham: When he suggests that sin is the violation of an arbitrary command, he can use the misunderstanding of sin to support his charges that God is arbitrary.

Lou: Another area he could exploit is understandings of the atonement and the cross.

Graham: On the atonement, Satan is particularly behind the idea that Christ died to reconcile the Father to us. That He died to assuage the Father’s wrath. These things are widely held by Christians, but they imply a God who is vengeful, unforgiving and severe. That is not the picture of God that Jesus brought. Who had to die to persuade Christ? And yet He’s also God. Who had to die to win Christ to our side? Yet He said, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9). So a widely held Christian view of God could be used to support the Devil’s charges.

Lou: Would “the law” be another area he tries to distort?

Graham: Yes, when we say that the Sabbath is an arbitrary test of our obedience, we are saying, “God is arbitrary.” But then we try to sanctify that by saying, “Well, He’s sovereign. He has a right to be arbitrary. If He seems arbitrary, He really isn’t because He has a right to be.” My mind begins to go around and around when I hear that kind of talk. It isn’t logical to talk that way. Behind that kind of talk is the idea that religion doesn’t have to make sense. And when we say that religion doesn’t have to be reasonable or logical, we are playing into Satan’s hands. Since the truth is not on his side, Satan gets us to do this to all the doctrines. And all the while we are saying that we are Christians.

Lou: What do you see him doing with the word “judgment” or the idea of the judgment?

Graham: The idea of judgment can be fearsome when we think that the Father is not as gracious as the Son. When we say, “Don’t be afraid, we have a friend in court, and that friend is Jesus,” the Devil smiles, because that makes it seem the Father is not our friend. Yet the truth is, the Father is just as friendly as the Son.

Lou: That leads up to the idea of Christ’s intercession; the thought that the Son has to plead with the Father to forgive us.

Graham: I remember the words of my daughter when she was only six: “Does that mean God doesn’t love us as much as Jesus does?” Well, we encouraged our children to raise those questions, and to raise them early, because they still have to pass through this experience. Jesus said: “There is no need for Me to intercede with the Father for you, for the Father loves you Himself” (based on John 16:26-27). That’s the plainest testimony about intercession in the whole Bible. We say we accept the testimony of Jesus, but then we picture Him pleading with the Father. The Devil must smile when we do this. The most gracious things about God, he has twisted to his advantage.

Lou: That’s true. But what about that matter of the destruction of the wicked (Rev 14:9-11; 20:11-15)? He’s done a number on that one as well.

Graham: Yes. He manages to cover up this deception by keeping us from discussing religion in simple language. We use euphemisms and sanctified phrases so that our teachings don’t sound too bad. But the underlying message of the common position is that God has said to His children, “You either love Me, or I will torture you in the fire for eternity. Now do you love me?” It’s the most diabolical thing he’s ever perpetrated on the human race. And even if we say, “No, He won’t burn you forever; He’ll only burn you as long as you deserve,” Satan’s still smiling. Just stop to think of what that means. Our heavenly Father says, “Children, all I want is your love, because all I want is peace and freedom up here. But if you don’t love Me, I’ll burn you as long as you deserve. Now, I hope I didn’t scare you.” It doesn’t make sense, and religion must make sense. Truth makes sense.

Lou: When you say it makes sense, is there anything about it that goes beyond my understanding?

Graham: It makes sense that the One who created this whole vast universe is way beyond my understanding, but I can understand Him enough to trust Him. I can understand Him enough to know He’d never say, “Look, you either love Me, or I’ll kill you.” If He said that, it would make no sense. But then we say, “Well, religion doesn’t have to make sense. His thoughts are not like ours” (based on Isaiah 55:8-9). True, but His thoughts are at least as good and gracious as ours.

Lou: Now in the previous chapter on the Three Angels’ Messages, I think you spent about ninety per cent of the time just talking about the “good news” part. And I was wondering, shouldn’t we have divided the time equally between all three messages? Why such an overemphasis upon that first one?

Graham: I think there’s an important message in your observation. We need to know the everlasting good news before we even start to look at the other two. You’ve got to know the truth about our God before you can understand the consequences of rebellion. The truth is our protection. We should go to the world with all three angels’ messages, but we should always start with number one. Never start with number three. We need to understand the other two in the light of number one. That’s why I spend ninety percent of the time on number one.
In the next chapter our topic will be: “God Waits for His Children to Grow Up.” We need to grow up. And so, in mercy, He waits.

Questions and Answers (17:12)

Lou: In Revelation 12:17 it speaks of those who “have the testimony of Jesus” (KJV). What is this “testimony of Jesus” that the remnant will have?

Graham: That phrase is also translated, “Bear testimony to Jesus,” in some versions (RSV). But you can take it either way. In one version of this phrase, the Remnant hold fast to Jesus’ testimony about His Father. They believe that what Jesus said about His Father is true. In the other version, the remnant bear witness to Jesus. They believe in Him, and it’s their privilege and pleasure to bear witness to Him, the One who brought them the truth. So it can work either way, you don’t have to get into the technicalities of the Greek. Whichever way you take it, it makes sense. You find these kinds of double meanings everywhere in the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation.

Lou: Is that same thing true when we come to Revelation 14:12? It speaks about “those who keep the commandments of God and have ‘the faith of Jesus.’”

Graham: The Greek there is a genitive, “of Jesus.” The Greek genitive expresses relationship or belonging. It can be translated in this case as the faith that Jesus had or as “faith in Jesus.” The Greek technical point is exactly the same as in 12:17. It could go either way. You can have the faith in God that Jesus had, or faith in Jesus as the One who brought the truth about the Father. If you have either one you’re going to arrive at the same place. So I like to translate it both ways.

Lou: You have spoken about Satan not coming with forked tail and hooves and a pitchfork, but masquerading as an angel of light. That raises the question, if he comes as an angel of light, how are we going to recognize him? You mentioned strategies and insights we might have tucked away because we think they are going to work for sure. But he’s going to be more clever than that, so I have an uneasy feeling. How will we recognize him? Especially when nearly the whole world is going to be worshiping him (Rev 13:8). What are the best ways to identify the Devil and his work?

Graham: The answer lies in the one central issue in the Great Controversy, the question of authority. The goal of God’s authority is peace and freedom throughout the universe. That’s one thing Satan cannot counterfeit. If Satan were to say, “You may investigate me and study the evidence,” he would be exercising authority the way God does. But when we start investigating the Devil he loses, so he won’t do that. When we compare how Satan and God exercise authority, therefore, we will be able to perceive that Satan is the adversary.

Lou: So the key is not how well he can perform things that dazzle and catch our attention?

Graham: That he can do easily.

Lou: So we need to see behind the theatrics to the way Satan exercises authority and the character that motivates his behavior.

Graham: You see, such theatrics could deceive the very elect, if that were possible (Matt 24:24). But it’s not possible. The elect are so settled into the truth about God’s way of running the universe that they perceive the falsity of the Devil’s way.

Lou: Your mention of Revelation 13 raises a question about the beast and the mark of the beast. “Do you think that anyone has the mark of the beast now?”

Graham: That depends on what the mark of the beast is. I think that the best way to understand the mark of the beast is to consider first the seal of God. And in the next chapter we will consider in some detail what it means to be settled into the truth.

Questions and Answers (17:11)

Lou: If you were to sense the presence of Satan, would it help to call on the angels? Would it help to recite the name of Jesus several times? What do you think of such approaches?

Graham: If you’re using the name for the purpose of “magic,” you should know that Jesus never went by that name. “Jesus” is an English pronunciation of the Greek Iesous. His actual name in Hebrew and Aramaic was Joshua (Yehoshuah or Yeshuah), and I’ve never heard anybody using “Joshua” to scare the Devil away. So I regret it very much when people use the name of Jesus as a good luck charm. I think it is an insult to Him and does us a lot of damage. But I hear it all the time. We’re always singing about those precious two syllables, “Je-sus,” and He never went by that name. What matters is the Person, not the name. If we could remember Him and call on Him, that would be the only way to go.

Lou: But you could use the name “Jesus” at that point.

Graham: Yes, because we know who we mean by it. If I’m thinking of the real Person when I say “Jesus,” even though that’s an English pronunciation of a Greek transliteration, He will understand that. But if I’m just using that name as a good luck charm, I might as well use garlic to scare off vampires and that sort of thing. I think it is diabolical to use His name as magic. Why would the Devil be scared of the name anyway? But if Jesus were there, the Devil certainly would flee. So I would want Him there by whatever name you might call Him.

Lou: But if the Devil could deceive a third of the angels, what chance do we have to resist him by ourselves?

Graham: Well, there were people in the Bible who did succeed in resisting him, like Job. Job even called to God for help and no help seemed to come. And yet he survived.

Lou: But things seemed to get worse when he called for help.

Graham: Things did get worse, that’s right. The more he called for help, the worse things got. He said, “God, I call and You never answer me” (based on Job 30:20). And yet Job did not let God down. I believe God wishes to bring us to the point where we can actually stand singly and alone, and the only restraint on the Devil is, “You may not take his life” (Job 2:6). The incredible thing is that Job survived. But did you notice Job bragging about it when it was all over? Oh no, he was humbled by it all, and he was hardly prepared when God said, in effect, “You did wonderfully, Job (Job 42:7-8)! When you felt you were doing so badly, here in heaven I was saying, ‘Now there’s a perfect man.’” But that was God speaking about Job, Job himself was not conceited (see Job 42:1-6).

Lou: You used the expression “to stand singly and alone.” You don’t mean standing without God, do you? Do you mean standing alone as far as the presence of others is concerned?

Graham: Satan was given a completely free hand with Job. Satan said: “Just let me get my hands on him, and he’ll curse You to Your face” (Job 2:5). So Satan eventually took everything away from Job. All Job had to help him, it appeared, were those theologians; and they were all wrong. They were miserable help (Job 16:2). Satan’s final effort to deceive may come most persuasively through caring theologians. So we must be alert. But Job was certainly protected to the extent that Satan could not kill him.

Lou: Yet he had to trust in the truth, and he was growing in his understanding of what that truth was, wasn’t he?

Graham: He was still learning and growing at the time of his suffering. At this point I can’t help but use Ellen White’s magnificent thoughts on what it means to be sealed. It is to be so settled into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, that one cannot be moved (Ellen G. White, Last Day Events, 219; Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, volume 4, 1161). As we have said, that is the work of the Spirit. It was the Spirit of Truth and his conversations with God that brought Job to a similar place. It was all God’s doing, but Job’s part was to always say “yes” to God. And if we can say “yes” to God long enough, the heavenly Physician can heal us and bring us to the place where Job was.

Questions and Answers (17:10)

Lou: I was fascinated by your reference to ancient mystery religions that seem to have closely counterfeited the Christian faith. How popular were these?

Graham: The mystery religions were very popular throughout the New Testament era and for some time thereafter. They were so popular that some people joined several of them, just to be on the safe side, like the altar to the “Unknown God” in Athens. They counterfeited and confused the issues both before and after Jesus came. One of my teachers at the University of Chicago, Dr. Harold Rideout Willoughby, was a real expert on the mystery religions, so we heard a lot about them. He wrote a long Ph.D. dissertation on rebirth in paganism called “Pagan Regeneration.” Many of the ideas in the mystery religions are very close to the truth, and yet they are diabolically perverse. That’s why I came to the conclusion that the Devil really tried to counterfeit the first coming of Christ. But he failed with many back then, and he has learned from his failures. With his final, ultimate cunning, he will counterfeit the Second Coming as far as he can.

Lou: You used the phrase “mystery religions.” Didn’t Paul himself speak of Christianity as “the mystery of godliness”? 1 Tim 3:16.

Graham: Yes. That’s right. I think he was using that language on purpose. It was not that God deliberately kept the truth a secret. Circumstances did not allow Him to reveal it all (see John 16:12). But one of the major differences between the mystery religions and Christianity was this: When you were initiated into one of the mysteries, you were sworn never to tell anybody. Whereas, the Christian “mystery” was to be told to everybody. So Paul loved calling Christianity a mystery and then telling everybody everything about it. So what we have in the New Testament is a “revealed mystery.” Paul’s hearers would understand that, and would be rather struck with the contrast. We have the most important information in the universe and, instead of keeping it to ourselves, we want to tell everybody. The followers of the mystery religions were not allowed to tell; it’s amazing that we know anything about them at all.

Lou: But was the Greek word that Paul used the same word?

Graham: Yes, musterion. The English word “mystery” comes from it.

Lou: As you talked about this matter of Satan’s final effort to deceive, I wondered if you expect that we are going to see direct devil worship before the end of time, the kinds of things we tend to associate with other places on earth?

Graham: I don’t think so, especially among the Christian nations. Satan wants to be worshiped, but not as the Devil; he wants to be worshiped as Christ. And so he masquerades as an angel of light at the End. He will be worshiped by humans (Revelation 13:8) the way he wanted to be worshiped by Jesus and the angels. His great moment in history will be when the cry goes forth, “Christ has come! Christ has come!” and the world prostrates itself before him; all except the few who will say, “No, you not only have a devil; you are the Devil.” And you can see why it would go hard for these few.

Lou: That ties in with what you said earlier. He really isn’t anxious to be identified as Satan, he really wants to masquerade as Christ.

Graham: That’s the deception. If he came with horns and a tail, that wouldn’t really fool anyone. Instead, he comes as a gracious redeemer, the great medical missionary. He heals the diseases of the people and even appears to raise the dead. Since people often use miracles to validate their beliefs, Satan will deceive many. He will lie to us the way that older prophet did in 1 Kings 13 (see verse 18). But the way he uses his authority and relies on miracles will warn the faithful.

Lou: When Peter admonishes us to resist Satan (1 Pet 5:8-9), how can one resist such a clever, intelligent, wily foe?

Graham: We can only resist him with the truth. We will have to be so settled into the truth that we cannot be moved.

Questions and Answers (17:9)

Lou Venden: The title of this chapter, “Satan’s Final Effort to Deceive,” makes me think of the fact that Satan has been a deceiver all along. That’s just his nature. Are you aware of any evidence that we are into that final time of deception the Bible warns us about?

Graham Maxwell: That question is so significant that we will devote the whole of Chapter Nineteen to it (“How Soon Will the Conflict Be Over?”). Are we really in the last days? You and I have both had fathers who preached the nearness of the End. My father preached that for fifty-five years, and we’re still here. What’s the reason for the delay? Are we now in this final period of earth’s history?

Lou: Do you consider it an encouraging sign that our world is at least talking more about Satan than in the past? There is talk of “black magic” and there is even a Church of Satan. Does that mean the world in general is more aware of Satan’s existence and deceptions?

Graham: I think the fact that people talk about Satan so much should not be interpreted to mean that we are more alert or more ready for his deceptions. It all depends on what we are saying about him. This very surge of interest may all be part of his deception. He wants us to think of him in a way that he is not. Eventually he wants to come in the guise of Christ.

Lou: Here’s a question I’ve heard asked before: “Since Christ is not going to come until after Satan’s final effort to deceive, does Satan have some control over the timing of the End? In other words, if Satan were to work a little harder, and be a bit more successful, would that help to hasten the second coming of Jesus? What part does he play in the timing here?”

Graham: That would be a terrible thing. It would be as if the text, “Work to hasten the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet 3:12), were really addressed to the adversary. I think as far as Satan is concerned, he would provoke the final events immediately, but the Lord knows we are not ready. And so in mercy He waits, as Peter also says (2 Pet 3:9). And that’s why the subject after this one will be, “God Waits for His Children to Grow Up.” If we would be as ready as Job was, God would allow these closing events to occur right away; but He’s our heavenly Father, so He waits.

Lou: So Satan does not have controlling power over the timing of the End. God and he are not partners in this.

Graham: Well, he is being restrained; that is the picture in Thessalonians (2 Thess 2:6-7) and elsewhere (Rev 7:1-3).

Lou: But that brings up another question: “If Satan’s deceptions are being restrained, that also implies that God is allowing, at least in some sense, for Satan to deceive. How does that serve God’s purposes in the Great Controversy?”

Graham: Good question. If God won the victory on Calvary, why not terminate everything right afterward? After all, look what has happened these last two thousand years and what is happening in the news most weeks. How does the delay speak eloquently to God’s purposes?
I would say there are things yet to be demonstrated—and not just about God and His government. Up to this point, Satan has never been given an entirely free hand to run things his way, to demonstrate what the universe would be like if he were in charge. So in the final period of earth’s history we are going to see this. We understand from Romans (1:18-28), Hosea (11:1-9), and the cross (Rom 4:25), that the seven angels pouring out the wrath of God means He is giving people up, handing them over. The Spirit ceases to restrain (Rev 7:1-3) and Satan will have a free hand. Just before the Second Coming, the whole universe, and even Satan’s own followers, will see how he would run things, if he could run them his own way. And all hell will break loose at that time.
I think it demonstrates something else also. I wouldn’t blame the angels for wondering if we rebels could really be as convinced of the truth as they are. They are all ready to see the seven last plagues and not interpret them as God’s vengeance. They are also prepared to see the wicked consumed and not be afraid of God. But they might wonder if we are. They might also wonder if the truth will be able to heal us to the point where we could pass through that awful time of trouble and not be led away from God. Would we think of Him as vengeful during the seven last plagues? Would we be ready to see the final destruction without being afraid?
The generation that will be alive to see the Lord come will also be able to speak eloquently of God’s power to heal, and the power of the truth to restore the damage done by sin. This last generation has the great privilege of bringing honor to God. God shows the universe through them that He can heal with the truth. He can restore sinners to the kind of trust the angels have. That is a high privilege. We’ll go deeper into that in the next chapter.

Satan and the Meaning of Salvation (17:8)

Another way Satan attempted to confuse the evidence was through the ancient “mystery religions.” Even before the earthly ministry of Jesus, Satan was at work to undermine and confuse the evidence by counterfeiting Christ’s first coming. In the mystery religions the central figure was a dying, rising savior who had been supernaturally born. He died a cruel and violent death, was exalted up to heaven, and there mediated supernatural help to his followers on earth. Later that savior would return, resurrect his followers and annihilate the forces of evil. These mystery religions even had the equivalent of the Lord’s Supper, baptism, washing in the blood, and many other things.

One of the main researchers in this field was a professor who taught at the University of Chicago just before I got there. His name was Shirley Jackson Case. He wrote a book entitled, The Origin of Christian Supernaturalism. He observed, “Of the Gentiles it might truly be said that there was no salvation without the shedding of blood.” And they were doing this even before Christ came. Let me share a quote or two:

Long before Christianity arose, there were many Gentile religions inviting those who felt the need of divine assistance for the inward man. The rites of the various mystery religions offered an especially good opportunity for the attainment of a new emotional experience, readily interpreted as an effective acquisition of fresh divine power. The stimulation of the senses by music and processionals, the play upon the feelings attending various acts in connection with the rites of initiation, the pledge to secrecy, solemnly imposed upon all the candidates, the wild orgies connected with some of the cults, all served to produce the desired emotional agitation. The necessity of presenting oneself voluntarily for membership as well as the purifications and the other preparatory acts only heightened the effect.
Everything that was done happened to one as an individual. This strong emphasis on the personal relations between the devotee and his god gave precisely the sense of divine interest which alone could produce in needy humanity feelings of solace and satisfaction. Initiation into the mysteries was likened to the experience of death itself. It filled one with terror, but issued in triumph. It was easy for the members of the mystery cults to believe that they were under the protection of divinities who had successfully engaged in a mighty cosmic struggle with the forces of evil and men spoke of being born again, born unto eternity. Shirley Jackson Case, The Origin of Christian Supernaturalism, 166-167.

Does all of that sound familiar to you? Before Jesus came, Satan was already working to distract people from the revelation about God that was coming in Christ. I believe we will see brilliant counterfeits of Christ’s second coming as well. Popular and apparently spiritual movements are using the wonders of technology to distribute “every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14, ESV) all over the globe. Even the most important beliefs and teachings of Christianity are being bent to support Satan’s position against our God. Even faith, the subject of sin, the atonement, the cross, law, judgment, Christ’s intercession, the destruction of the wicked, all God’s emergency measures, are being twisted just enough to obscure the real truth about God.

Do you feel ready for this? Have we oversimplified? Are we in danger of being overconfident? Are we interpreting these truths in such a way that we are leaving ourselves vulnerable and leading the people we win to be vulnerable with us? That is why, in the very next chapter, we are going to talk about why “God Waits for His Children to Grow Up.” You can trust our God to wait for that to happen.

Satan and the Nature of Christ (17:7)

Other saints are in danger of underestimating Satan’s ability to deceive and confuse. I have heard many say, “There is no way I could be deceived when Satan comes as Christ in the last days. I have two or three things carefully stored away by which I will test him when he comes.” But I doubt that the Devil will make it that easy on us. History offers many examples that warn against such overconfidence. For example, when Jesus suffered, died, and rose again, Satan knew that the great weight of evidence was against him. Therefore, he worked very hard to destroy or hide the evidence. One of his most diabolical successes, right from the beginning, was in leading some to believe that Jesus did not really come in the flesh. He did not really suffer and He did not really die. He only seemed to do those things. The group of people who believed that were known as the Docetists. They taught that Jesus did not have a physical body, that He did not really die and rise. He was more like a ghost than a person. This was an effective way by which Satan sought, right from the start, to destroy the evidence Christ provided of what God is really like. This idea was widespread in John’s later years:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God (1 John 4:1-2, NIV).

We know historically that people were going around saying Jesus had not really come in the flesh. John wrote a whole Gospel to show that Jesus, a real, embodied human being, was also fully God and came to reveal what the Father is truly like. If Satan can get people to believe that Jesus was not both human and divine, the clarity of His revelation of God’s character is lost.