God’s love is infinite—so great that I cannot understand it, but it is wonderful to meditate upon it. Have you meditated recently about why God made this world? Ellen White penned an interesting statement about why God created this world: “Infinite love—how great it is! God made the world to enlarge heaven. He desires a larger family of created intelligences (MS 78, 1901).” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 1, 1081. How interesting! God made this world because He wanted to enlarge His family of created intelligences.
From that statement, we know that in heaven there is a family. We, if we are God’s children, are destined to become a part of that family. In this great family of heaven, each one has individual responsibility; each one has freedom, but no one in heaven misuses that freedom to act independently, because all are held together by cords of humility towards self and love towards one another.
Jesus says, “Come unto me, all [ye] that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Then He says, “ I am gentle”—the Greek word praos means gentle, lowly, or humble. Matthew 11:28, 29. This is the way Jesus is. He is not proud.
God Not Independent
There is perfect harmony in heaven, with each one maintaining his own identity, uniqueness, and function, but with no one acting independently. Are you aware of the fact that even God does not act independently? Following are a few examples.
We could not create the world. Only God could do that; He created the world. But when He created Adam, God left it up to Adam to give names to all the animals. He wanted Adam to cooperate with Him in His work of creation.
Not only that, but God created the minimum number of people to populate the earth. Then He told them to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth they were to populate. God would not have had to do that. God could have created several million perfect people, but He did not do it.
I suppose all of us who are parents can look back and think of many failures we have made, but, in spite of that, God has never taken this responsibility away from the human family.
As it was on the earth when Adam and Eve were created, so it was in heaven with the angels. God did not create a hierarchy or a dictatorship. He created a family. In Revelation 12:7, we are told that there was war in heaven. There never could have been a war in heaven if it had been a dictatorship or a hierarchy with an absolute totalitarian government, such as some that we have in this world. It never could have happened. The reason war happened was because the angels had total freedom.
When war broke out in heaven, as we read in Revelation 12:7, God could simply have banished Satan from heaven on the spot, and he would have had to go. But God did not do that. What did He do? God allowed the angels, as far as possible, to decide the issue. Every angel in heaven had to choose on which side he was going to be, and then he had to be willing to fight.
We do not know how angels fight. All we know is that war occurred in heaven, and Michael and His angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought with his angels. In other words, there was no neutral ground, and there is still no neutral ground. Jesus said, in Matthew 12:30, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathers not with me scatters abroad.” There is no neutral ground in this world; you are on one side or the other. The angels had to choose; every angel had to choose. And we are on one side or on the other side. We are going to have to get on one side or the other; every angel had to get on one side or the other. God allowed the angels to make up their minds and to decide the issue for themselves.
Even after this war, when Satan was cast out of heaven, he was allowed to return to heaven to represent the earth at the councils in heaven. You can read about that in chapters one and two of Job. In those chapters, God presented Job’s fidelity and challenged Satan’s claim to represent the earth. Satan did not represent all the inhabitants of the earth, for God said, “Have you considered my servant Job? He is a perfect man [Job 2:3]; you are not representing him.”
Evidently the angels allowed the devil to remain in heaven; that is, he was allowed to come to heaven whenever they had a meeting with the representatives of the different worlds. He came as a representative of this world. But that time of tolerance ended at the time of the cross.
We read from The Desire of Ages, 761, that when Jesus was crucified, “Satan saw that his disguise was torn away. His administration was laid open before the unfallen angels and before the heavenly universe. He had revealed himself as a murderer. By shedding the blood of the Son of God, he had uprooted himself from the sympathies of the heavenly beings. Henceforth his work was restricted. Whatever attitude he might assume, he could no longer await the angels as they came from the heavenly courts, and before them accuse Christ’s brethren of being clothed with the garments of blackness and the defilement of sin. The last link of sympathy between Satan and the heavenly world was broken.” So after Jesus was crucified on the cross, the devil was not allowed to return to the heavenly courts and stand outside and await the angels as they went to and fro.
How did that happen? The angels decided that Satan could no longer visit heaven as the representative of this earth, because, after the cross, only Jesus was allowed to be the representative of this planet. Are you happy about that?
After the angels decided that only Jesus was to represent this planet and that the devil was not allowed as a representative of this planet to come to any meeting, how were they going to keep him out? Have you ever thought about that? We do not know all the particulars, but Ellen White wrote, “All the angels that are commissioned to visit the earth hold a golden card, which they present to the angels at the gates of the city [the Holy City] as they pass in and out.” Early Writings, 39. Evidently the angels have been issued identification cards! They each have golden cards, and when they leave and are commissioned to go to this earth, upon their return, they have to present their card before they are allowed entrance back into heaven.
The devil has many, many angels, and they all can appear as angels of light, but they do not have the right card. They do not have the gold identification card.
Today, there is a judgment going on in heaven. We have seen that God does not act independently. The angels of heaven do not act independently. Does God need a judgment? No, He does not need a judgment. He has known who will be saved and who will be lost from the foundation of the world. (See Ephesians 1:4; Isaiah 46:10.)
But even though God knows this, and He can make a correct judgment in just saying that it is all over, the angels do not know it, nor do the inhabitants of the unfallen worlds know. They do not have all the knowledge God has, so they have to keep records, and they have to review them. God could do it in a moment, but the angels need more time, and God is willing to spend the extra time and effort, so all the angels and all the inhabitants of the unfallen worlds can see that the right decision is made.
Heaven is built on the principle of cooperation and unity. That has always been the way it is. If you want to study into this, it is one of the fundamental reasons that, in the inspired writings of Ellen White, competitive sports are condemned, because they are based on a wrong fundamental principle. They do not play football in heaven. Are you aware of that? They do not play baseball either. They do not play those kinds of things, because those games are based on a different principle than the one on which they operate in heaven. Heaven is built on the principle of cooperation and unity. It has always been this way, and it will always be this way in the future through all ceaseless ages of eternity.
You know, from reading the story in Revelation 12, that there came a time when one of the angels decided that he was going to be independent. This is described in Isaiah 14, also in Ezekiel 28, and it is described briefly in Revelation 1. Lucifer began an independent organization, and this was sinful.
I want you to understand why it was sinful. It was sinful independence because it worked apart from God and His plans and organization. Independent ministry and self-supporting work were never part of God’s original plan. Are you aware of the fact that if Seventh-day Adventists had always followed the writings of the messenger that God sent to the remnant church, there never would have been such a thing as self-supporting work?
There was one who came along in the perfect environment and perfect government of heaven and acted, independently, in competition and opposition to the regular, established government and ministry, which had been in operation for ages. When that spirit of independence came to earth, this world entered into the darkness and misery of sin.
Temptation of Independence
Do you understand that the first great temptation to Adam and Eve was the temptation to be independent?
Genesis 3:4 says, “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die.” Because, the serpent continued, in verse 5, “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Can God do anything He wants? Yes, God can do anything He wants; He is above law. The angels are not above law; Adam and Eve were not above law; you and I are not above law. The first temptation was one of independence, claiming that Eve would be able to do whatever she pleased. She could be just like God.
The temptation was that Eve would be wise enough, if she ate of this fruit, to act independently, knowing good and evil herself without having to depend on God for guidance. There are still millions of people today who believe that lie. As a result of Eve’s choice, this earth became a part of the independent government of Satan, which made things rather confusing on this planet. Nearly the whole earth became loyal to Satan’s independent government.
Who is Really Independent
Those who remained loyal to God became, themselves, independent of the rebellion that existed on the earth. On the earth, the great mass of the population was independent from God and was, instead, loyal to Satan’s independent government or ministry. So those that were loyal to God were independent of Satan’s rebellion, but, because they were so few in number, they looked like the offshoot. Do you follow? The people that were loyal to God were few in number. Noah, for example, apparently was all alone. The rest of the world was independent of God and was following the philosophy of Satan and his leading and guiding.
Who was really independent? Who was really sinfully independent? Was Noah sinfully independent? The whole world was sinfully independent. They were following the leading of the devil. Noah was the only one who was not independent—just the opposite of the way it looked; he was dependent on God. But because such a few people were loyal to God, it looked like they were the ones that were independent. The others looked like they were all united; they were the establishment.
It has been that way over and over again—that the appearance was the exact opposite of the reality. God is in the business in this sinful world of training people and getting them ready for heaven. How is God going to get us ready for heaven?
Spirit of Submission
How do the heavenly beings operate up there? They love each other, and they have humble cooperation with each other. There is no competition or independence up there. God’s plan has always been for humble cooperation. That is why Jesus selected the disciples whom He selected. He had to select disciples who were teachable, who were humble. God is trying to teach each one of us the character traits of humility and submission. Those character traits do not seem to be easy for us to learn! Have you noticed? It does not seem easy for human beings to learn the character traits of humility and submission, but we all have to learn them, or we cannot be saved, because this is the character of heaven.
Every experience of life is to instill within us these precious traits of character, so we can fit into the society that Satan forfeited because of pride and independence. You see, pride is the opposite of humility, and independence is the opposite of submission. The Bible has a lot to say about submission, but we do not like to read it.
Have you read Romans 13 lately? It says that we are to submit to the civil government. When we decide that we are not going to obey the laws of the land, that we are not going to pay taxes, that we are not going to get liability insurance on our cars, or whatever else the government requires, this is a violation of Romans 13. Are you aware of that?
There are Seventh-day Adventists who seem to be proud that they are independent of the civil government, but that is not what the Bible teaches. People say, Oh, but the government is wicked. Let me tell you, our government is no more wicked than the government of Nero, and that is to whom Paul was referring when He wrote Romans 13. He told the very people living in probably the most wicked city in the whole world that they were to obey the civil government.
We are to submit. Why? Oh, friend, if we do not learn the lesson of submission, we can never be saved. We can never be saved with a proud, independent spirit—never.
Ephesians 6 talks about being submissive to employers. The kind of employers about whom Paul speaks is not the same kind about which we think. They actually had lords and servants in those days. Two-thirds of the Roman Empire was in slavery and not free; about one-third was free. Yet in Ephesians 6:5, he talks about being submissive to these people.
People say, Oh, you mean I have to be submissive to them? Well, yes; if we are going to develop the spirit of heaven, we have to learn the lesson of submission. How are we going to learn the lesson of submission if we do not ever submit to anybody? Someone says, Yes, but I am a Christian; I am free; I am a sovereign; I am not going to submit to anybody. Friend, that is not the spirit of heaven.
Husbands like to remind us that the Bible says that the wife is to submit to the husband. (Ephesians 5:22.) But the previous verse talks about both husbands and wives submitting to each other. It talks about all of us submitting to each other. In both 1 Peter and Hebrews, it talks about submitting and being in submission to the leaders in the church.
In 1 Peter 5:5, we are told even that the younger are to be in submission to those that are older. Why is that? For the simple reason that the older people have more experience, and, therefore, younger people should submit to their judgment. Now the older people will make mistakes in judgment; sometimes they did in Bible times, but they will make mistakes fewer times than people who do not have that experience. So, the Bible says to submit to those who are older, and then it says that all are to be in submission to each other.
None of us can go to heaven if we have a proud, independent spirit. We will never be admitted. We have to learn the lessons of submission given in the Bible—submission to the leaders in the church, submission to leaders in the family, submission to civil government, submission to employers.
Revelation 14 talks about the 144,000. The last part of verse 4 tells us that the 144,000 are people who have learned the lesson of submission. It says, “These are they which follow the Lamb whither-soever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, [being] the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.” Notice that these are followers; they follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They are in submission to His authority, period. And they will follow Him—they do not just submit until they go so far and then say that they are not going any further.
Have you ever met somebody like that? Perhaps you have studied the Bible with someone, and they accept everything until you get to some doctrine that cuts so hard across their practice that they say, “I have accepted everything so far, but I cannot go that far.” I have seen it happen with tithing, with the Sabbath, with the state of the dead, with jewelry, and all different kinds of things. Some people will go to a certain point, and then it cuts so hard across their belief, their thinking, or their practices, that they say, No, I cannot go any further.
The 144,000 are people that go wherever the Lord leads. They do not say that they are just going so far; they follow wherever He goes. Do you want to be a person like that? If you do, then you have to learn the lesson of submission.
However, if you look at the first part of Revelation 14:4, you will see that the 144,000 appear to be independent, just as it was in the days of Noah. “These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.”
Women in Bible prophecy represent churches. The 144,000 are those who have not been defiled by women. They have not been defiled with Babylon, who is the great harlot defiling the whole world, as you can read in Revelation 14, 17, and 18. They have not been defiled with false religion. They have not been defiled with false religious philosophy that is prevalent throughout the world, because they are independent from manmade tradition. They will be thought to be a crazy and fanatical offshoot that is independent from the entire rest of the world. But the reason they are independent of the rest of the world is because the world is on the wrong side. They are loyal and faithful to God, and they are in the minority.
The Bible says that these people are followers. In this world, very often the reality is exactly the opposite from appearance. From the beginning of sin, those who have remained submissive and dependent upon God by following the Lamb wherever He goes have found themselves out of step and independent from the world—like Noah. When the rest of the world remained independent of God, can you imagine what people said? They said, “That man Noah is so aloof from counsel; he is so independent.” But actually Noah and his cohorts were the only ones in the world that were not independent. They were dependent on God. They were loyal and faithful to Him.
In the Book of Numbers, the experience of the organized church in the days of Moses is recorded. When the unfaithful spies returned from surveying the Promised Land, they got together and said, “Let us select another leader, and go back to Egypt.” (See Numbers 14:2–4.) It was probably the first great nominating committee in the organized church! They decided to select another leader instead of the one that God had chosen for them. Caleb and Joshua remonstrated with them and tried to talk some sense into them, because they were making the wrong decision (verses 9 and 10), and the situation became very heated.
Caleb and Joshua, in this instance,—now think this through—became independent from the organized church. That sounds awful; but is that what happened? Caleb and Joshua became independent of the organized church, and the people in the organized church said, “This Caleb and Joshua are not accepting the leader that we are choosing, and they are not accepting the decisions that we are making, so we are going to disfellowship them.” Do you know how they were going to disfellowship them? They said, “We are going to stone you.” That is the ultimate in disfellowshipping! That is permanent.
Here is the question: Who was right? Was it those who remained loyal to the church and the church organization? Or was it those who appeared to be independent and were, therefore, to be disfellowshipped? It is easy to give the answer when looking back at the Bible account, but it is not so easy when you are in an identical situation yourself. This situation was not solved at that time, even though the Lord Himself intervened so that Caleb and Joshua were not stoned.
This feeling in the church (this is the church—they are called the church in the wilderness by Stephen in Acts 7:38, and they were organized) continued. Feelings are some of the most difficult things with which any teacher or pastor must deal. Feelings become very deep-rooted in individuals, and quite often the only way they can be changed is by divine intervention. Sometimes God has to send some terrible experiences for people to get their feelings changed.
As I have studied these things, I have prayed, “Lord help me to become submissive, so I do not have to go through judgments to get my feelings changed.” Have you ever prayed a prayer like that?
Several chapters later, in Numbers 16:1, 2, Moses himself, and also Aaron, are accused of being independent. At that time, the children of Israel had a representative form of government. A representative church government is one where a number of churches each select delegates, and the delegates come together in what we call a conference and make decisions for the sisterhood of churches. Actually, that is all a conference is ever supposed to be.
If you have ever been to a constituency meeting, you know that a vote is taken at the end of the meeting. The constituency meeting is the only group that has the authority to act for the sisterhood of churches. A resolution is made at the end of every constituency meeting authorizing the conference committee to act on behalf of the constituents until the next constituency meeting. This is one reason a constituency meeting should be held at least every 12 months.
Of the children of Israel, 250 leaders, or representatives of the people, came together in a conference. These leaders, it says in the Hebrew Bible, were men of renown. Have you ever heard it said that when the leadership of the church gets together, it is as the voice of God? This is what the children of Israel thought too. These leaders accused Moses and Aaron of being independent from the church and taking too much upon themselves without the approval of the church. They said, “God has chosen this church, and, surely, when the entire church through its appointed representatives decides on something, it is as the voice of God to the people.”
[Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]
Pastor John Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.