In much of modern-day Western culture, there is a pervasive sentiment that any authority is bad authority—or it’s at least something to be questioned. Law enforcement in all its forms are suspect, governments are corrupt, parents are ignorant, and organized religions are duplicitous.
The highest virtue of the day is individualistic independence—the freedom to express oneself without the confines of any external set of rules or mores—while submission to any form of authority is a mutually exclusive notion that reeks of weakness, lack of enlightenment, and antiquated propaganda.
Yet, according to the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, our attitude toward and relationship with authority will determine our eternal destiny. In fact, it is the very core issue in the Great Controversy.
The Core of the Great Controversy
At some point in eternity past, the seed of the Great Controversy germinated when Lucifer questioned God’s authority and sought to claim it for himself.
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. (Isaiah 14:12-14 KJV).
The Story of Redemption further illuminates this story by highlighting that Lucifer and his sympathizers were particularly opposed to the authority of Christ:
There was contention among the angels. Lucifer and his sympathizers were striving to reform the government of God. They were discontented and unhappy because they could not look into His unsearchable wisdom and ascertain His purposes in exalting His Son, and endowing Him with such unlimited power and command. They rebelled against the authority of the Son.
Fascinatingly, this passage reveals that Lucifer and his angels did not view their dissent as rebellion. They were merely trying to reform the government of God and to improve the state of things.
Rebellion Always Has a Compelling Pretext
If the dissenting angels in heaven didn’t view their actions as rebellion, what did they think they were doing?
Concealing his real purposes, he [Lucifer] assembled the angelic host. He introduced his subject, which was himself. As one aggrieved, he related the preference God had given Jesus to the neglect of himself. He told them that henceforth all the sweet liberty the angels had enjoyed was at an end. For had not a ruler been appointed over them, to whom they from henceforth must yield servile honor? He stated to them that he had called them together to assure them that he no longer would submit to this invasion of his rights and theirs; that never would he again bow down to Christ.
While Lucifer knew that the root of his rebellion was his jealousy of Christ, he masqueraded it under the guise of a campaign against injustice, a defense against the invasion of the angels’ rights, and a fight for liberty. The pretext was so compelling that one-third of perfect, sinless angels sided with him in his crusade. Lucifer’s angels genuinely believed that standing in opposition to Christ was actually the righteous thing to do!
Since that day, every effective rebellion has had a compelling pretext to justify and fuel its existence. Rebels never think that they are rebelling in a malicious sense but are motivated by what they perceive to be noble and righteous ideals. They think they are reformers while not realizing that they are self-deceived.
Therefore God permitted him to demonstrate the nature of his claims, to show the working out of his proposed changes in the divine law. His own work must condemn him. Satan had claimed from the first that he was not in rebellion. The whole universe must see the deceiver unmasked.
Unfortunately, this leads to disastrous results.
An Incurable Disease
The great God could at once have hurled this archdeceiver from heaven; but this was not His purpose. He would give the rebellious an equal chance to measure strength and might with His own Son and His loyal angels. In this battle every angel would choose his own side and be manifested to all. It would not have been safe to suffer any who united with Satan in his rebellion to continue to occupy heaven. They had learned the lesson of genuine rebellion against the unchangeable law of God, and this is incurable.
Genuine rebellion, when fully realized, is an incurable disease. It isn’t hard to see why this is so. For if the pretext undergirding the rebellion is believed wholeheartedly enough, it is possible for God Himself to be viewed as the enemy to whom it is better to die than to yield submission. What hope is there for such a condition? That is precisely where Lucifer and his angels ended up.
The Story Repeats on Earth
History repeats itself and this same spirit of rebellion has played out numerous times in human history. Perhaps the most poignant example is that of Korah’s rebellion in the wilderness. He was discontented against Moses as God’s chosen leader, but he campaigned under the pretext of fighting perceived discriminations against the children of Israel.
Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up before Moses with some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown. They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’ (Numbers 16:1-3 NKJV; emphasis supplied).
The Lord, in an unmistakable fashion, identified who was in the right and who was in the wrong.
Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly. (Numbers 16:31-33 NKJV; emphasis supplied).
It seems that after such a shocking miracle, the case should be closed. But we see just how tenacious and destructively deceptive genuine rebellion can be when we see Israel’s response the morning after the earth swallowed up Korah and his fellow conspirators:
On the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the LORD.’ (Numbers 16:41 NKJV; emphasis supplied).
Just as in heaven, we see the same pattern of a rejection of rightful authority as the genesis, then a compelling cause coalesces around the movement as a pretext for dissidence, which then leads to a full-blown case of self-deluded, open rebellion where even a miracle of the earth swallowing people alive is insufficient to convince people of their errors—to the point where they turn upon God and His righteous as the enemies! Is it any wonder that genuine rebellion is incurable?
I question whether genuine rebellion is ever curable. Study in Patriarchs and Prophets the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. This rebellion was extended, including more than two men … It was led by two hundred and fifty princes of the congregation, men of renown. Call rebellion by its right name and apostasy by its right name, and then consider that the experience of the ancient people of God with all its objectionable features was faithfully chronicled to pass into history.
We are admonished at the end of this statement to consider these examples of rebellion in sacred history because it’s instructive of what we should expect to encounter in the latest chapter of the great controversy.
It is Satan’s plan to weaken the faith of God’s people in the Testimonies. Next follows skepticism in regard to the vital points of our faith, the pillars of our position, then doubt as to the Holy Scriptures, and then the downward march to perdition. When the Testimonies, which were once believed, are doubted and given up, Satan knows the deceived ones will not stop at this; and he redoubles his efforts till he launches them into open rebellion, which becomes incurable and ends in destruction.
The enemy of souls has been honing his craft for millennia, and he knows how to play the game. His ultimate goal is to launch God’s people into open rebellion, for since it got him permanently expelled from heaven, he knows that it will permanently keep us out too.
How does he do this? By running the same game plan that has worked consistently since the beginning—insinuate a distrust in and rejection of rightful authority, then mask that dissidence under a noble pretext, and then reinforce that cycle of thinking until one is launched into open rebellion where even a direct miracle from God Himself would no longer be adequate to change the mind. The end result is an incurable, terminal disease.
There Can Be No Neutrality
The interesting thing about authority is that it is not a neutral term, it is something that forces a reaction from us. When we are confronted with an authority figure in our lives, we have only two options: We must either reject it or accept it—rebel or submit. There are no alternatives. This only raises the stakes that much more in the great controversy, since none of us can remain neutral bystanders.
“I’ll Submit Only If I Agree”
Few people consider themselves rebellious, and most of us like to think that we are amenable to authority. But how often do we tack on the condition that we’ll submit only if we agree? Isn’t that the whole scenario when a child insists on knowing, “Why?” before he obeys his parent’s instructions?
But how often is the child’s insistence on, “Why?” simply a ploy to delay or avoid obedience? Children don’t always need to understand, “Why?” before obeying because presupposed in the whole notion of authority is that submission is only needed when there is a disagreement.
By definition, submission is to yield to the superior authority when there is a conflict of interests. Following an authority only when circumstances are agreeable doesn’t reveal submission, it merely demonstrates that we’re going along with what we already believe. Submission to authority is a hollow concept with little meaning in the absence of any real conflict.
As free moral agents, it’s not so unreasonable to expect good reasons for why we should submit, but the problem is when we withhold our submission until our terms are met. In that case, we aren’t acknowledging authority at all but rather maintaining ourselves as the superior authority. Waiting to submit until we agree or our conditions are met is not respect for authority, it is, in fact, a rejection of authority.
Shortly after the first hints of jealousy began to grow in the heart of Lucifer, God called a special conference with all the angels to make an announcement regarding the authority of Christ:
The great Creator assembled the heavenly host, that He might in the presence of all the angels confer special honor upon His Son. The Son was seated on the throne with the Father, and the heavenly throng of holy angels was gathered around them. The Father then made known that it was ordained by Himself that Christ, His Son, should be equal with Himself; so that wherever was the presence of His Son, it was as His own presence. The word of the Son was to be obeyed as readily as the word of the Father. His Son He had invested with authority to command the heavenly host.
Why was it necessary for the Father to declare Christ’s authority to the angels at this time, when presumably a long time had passed since their initial creation, and there has never been a change in Christ’s status? Prior to that point, the angels never had to consciously choose to follow Christ in a manner that felt contrary to their own wishes.
Only when Lucifer began to raise doubts and foment discontent, did the Father have to state outright the hierarchy of authority. The notion of Christ’s authority—something that had always been presupposed but never questioned—needed now to be clearly articulated. Angels had to now grapple with the new experience of this strange tension of Lucifer’s claims standing in conflict with Christ’s.
There had been no change in the position or authority of Christ. Lucifer’s envy and misrepresentation and his claims to equality with Christ had made necessary a statement of the true position of the Son of God; but this had been the same from the beginning. Many of the angels were, however, blinded by Lucifer’s deceptions.
Individuality, Unity, and Authority
Acknowledging rightful authority doesn’t mean we must understand and agree with everything before we submit. The loyal two-thirds of the angels in heaven didn’t fully understand everything when they submitted to Christ rather than join Lucifer’s forces. There were still questions to be answered in the great controversy.
However, the rebellious angels used their inability to understand the mysteries behind God’s decisions as justification for their course of action. They didn’t understand or agree, so they wouldn’t submit:
They were discontented and unhappy because they could not look into His unsearchable wisdom and ascertain His purposes in exalting His Son, and endowing Him with such unlimited power and command. They rebelled against the authority of the Son.
Moreover, submission to authority doesn’t mean giving up individuality or free will. This is where faith is needed. The perfect, unfallen angels had adequate evidence to know that God’s will was always best for their own happiness in the end. Even though they were perfect and untainted by sin, they recognized that they were still finite compared to the Creator.
While they didn’t and couldn’t understand everything, they understood enough—enough so that by faith—faith based on the evidence of God’s love and trustworthiness—the loyal angels chose of their own free will to submit to Christ’s authority despite still having some unanswered questions.
Even the loyal angels could not fully discern his [Lucifer’s] character or see to what his work was leading.
Angels that were loyal and true sought to reconcile this mighty, rebellious angel to the will of his Creator…They clearly set forth that Christ was the Son of God, existing with Him before the angels were created; and that He had ever stood at the right hand of God, and His mild, loving authority had not heretofore been questioned; and that He had given no commands but what it was joy for the heavenly host to execute. They urged that Christ’s receiving special honor from the Father, in the presence of the angels, did not detract from the honor that Lucifer had heretofore received. The angels wept. They anxiously sought to move him to renounce his wicked design and yield submission to their Creator; for all had heretofore been peace and harmony, and what could occasion this dissenting, rebellious voice?
There was only one-way unity and harmony could have been restored in heaven. The creature must submit to the Creator.
Their high and happy state had been held upon condition of obedience to the law which God had given to govern the high order of intelligences…The happiness of the angelic host consisted in their perfect obedience to law. Each had his special work assigned him, and until Satan rebelled, there had been perfect order and harmonious action in heaven.
There was no option of unity where Lucifer and his confederacy coexisted with God’s government. Complete submission to God’s authority was the only path to harmony in heaven. God is the Creator and harmony cannot exist outside of His intended, created order.
The Antidote: The Gospel
The very essence of the gospel can be summed up in one word: Surrender. And the essence of surrender is acknowledging Christ as my highest authority—to submit myself to His will for my life, despite what I think or feel. It can be summarized in the words of Christ Himself, “Not my will, but thine be done.”
It is easy to claim Christ as our Savior, the substitute who died the death we deserve, but that is only half of the gospel. Christ must become our Lord as well—our King, Ruler, and Highest Authority! When we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are accepting both His substitutionary death for our sins and also His rulership and authority in our lives.
That means, we choose to obey even if we don’t fully understand all the reasons why, we don’t wait to follow Him until all objections have been met, and we don’t put up a fight just because we find something He said to be disagreeable.
Why must this be so? Because, if the gospel is the antidote to cure us of the infection that will keep us from entering heaven, it must undo the problem that led Lucifer to be expelled in the first place. In order to do this, we must be brought back into right relation with God’s authority over us.
In surrendering to Christ as not only our self-sacrificing Savior but also as our sovereign Lord, we are disavowing Lucifer’s claims that God’s authority cannot be trusted and that His government needs reforming. We are divorcing ourselves from that age-old rebellion which began so long ago. How can we be readmitted through the gates of heaven otherwise?
Our Fate Depends Upon It
As I stated at the outset of this article, our attitude and relation to authority will determine our eternal destiny. The reason is that it is the central issue in the great controversy, and the nature of this conflict forces us off the sidelines to pick a side. There is no neutral ground.
But praise God for the gospel, for it is “the power of God unto salvation!” It is the antidote to cure us of the infection of rebellion, to bring us back into harmony with Christ, and into right relation with His authority in our lives.
In the next part of this series of articles, we will investigate practical ways how we can acknowledge Christ’s authority in our lives today. With something so central and pivotal in the Great Controversy and the plan of redemption, the Lord has not left us without instruction.
 Ellen White, Story of Redemption (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1947), p. 15.1; emphasis supplied.
 Ibid., p. 14.2; emphasis supplied.
 There is a fine line between rebellion and reformation. Rebels think of themselves as reformers, while reformers are viewed as rebels. For example, the Protestant Reformers were “rebellious protesters” to the Papacy when actually they were genuine defenders of the truth. The final distinction between rebellion and reformation can only be determined by its faithfulness to the Word of God.
 Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1890), p. 42.2; emphasis supplied.
 Ellen White, Story of Redemption (1947), p. 17.1; emphasis supplied.
 Ellen White, Selected Messages, book 2 (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1958), p. 393.2; emphasis supplied.
 Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4 (Washington, D.C.: Review & Herald, 1881), p. 211.1; emphasis supplied.
 Ellen White, Story of Redemption (1947), p. 13.2; emphasis supplied.
 Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets (1890), p. 38.1; emphasis supplied.
 See Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets (1890), p. 41-43.
 Ellen White, Story of Redemption (1947), p. 15.1; emphasis supplied.
 Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets (1890), p. 41.2.
 Ellen White, Story of Redemption (1947), p. 15.2; emphasis supplied.
 Ibid., p. 18.2; emphasis supplied.
 Luke 22:42 KJV.
 Romans 1:16 KJV.