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.