'We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places'
John Bunyan who wrote ThePilgrim’s Progress, also wrote another fascinating book called The Holy War. Bunyan, that master of allegory, depicts the battle for the town of Mansoul with its five gates – Ear Gate, Eye Gate, Mouth Gate, Nose Gate, and Feel Gate and with a colourful array of characters such as Lord Innocent, Lord Willbewill, Mayor Understanding, Mr. Conscience, Captain Resistance, Mr. Prywell, Mr. Ill Pause, Mr Good Deed and so on. Mansoul, in the land of Universe founded and built by King Shaddai, rebelled and was lost to Diabolus then won back by Prince Emmanuel only to be undermined and laid astray by Mr. Carnal Security and plotted against by the remaining Diabolonians who instigated an attack and invasion by Diabolus himself with his army of Doubters under General Unbelief. Mansoul fought back and was delivered by the return of Prince Emmanuel. But, again Mansoul had to withstand yet another attack by Diabolus this time with an army of Bloodmen and Doubters. Delivered again, Prince Emmanuel then makes a speech to Mansoul and finally reminds them: “Remember, O my Mansoul you are my beloved. As I have taught you to watch, to fight, to pray, and to make war against my enemies, so now I command you to believe my love is constant”.
As believers we are engaged in spiritual warfare and a continuous struggle with an unseen enemy. In this message I want to think about that conflict and the strategy of him who is behind the spiritual rebellion and the face of evil that we see daily in this world.
Now why have I traced all of this history briefly? Simply to show that the foe with whom we are in perpetual conflict and who holds ‘this present evil age’ in his power has ever been working to a strategy to fulfil his ultimate purpose, which is to displace Christ with the Antichrist and through such a personage receive the worship that only God deserves and is due (Matt 4:8-10; 2 Thess 2:4). There is a sense, a real sense in which civilization as we know it is but a veneer over an energy of evil that works beneath the surface and as we see every so often rises to the surface in anarchy and violence the object of which is to overthrow stable and divinely instituted government. But, it’s more much more than that. This world has ever been and is being conditioned by Satan through the pernicious philosophies, ideas and religions of men. Humans are but the pawns in the master deceiver’s game, just as our first parents were at the beginning; they were only a means to an end. Satan is working in all levels of society to achieve his goals which when they come fruition will bring the wrath of God upon this world.
‘Ideas have Consequences’ ‘Ideas Have Consequences’ is the title of a book by Richard M. Weaver published in 1948. It’s very true, ideas really do have consequences. Viktor Frankl, an Auschwitz survivor, in his book, The Doctor and the Soul, says this of the gas chambers of the Nazi’s concentration camps: ‘I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers’ (Frankl, Viktor E. The Doctor and the Soul. Profile. Kindle Edition).
The philosophy of nihilism (nihilism ‘argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value’ and ‘denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths’) taught and pushed in the universities of the Western world is ‘alive and well’. The process of devaluing human dignity, overthrowing social order and destroying the moral foundations upon which society is built is ongoing and happening before our very eyes, while the shocking modern day 'holocaust' against the unborn continues unabated.
The darkness of men’s hearts as they yield to the corruption of a fallen nature and fight against God under the direction of their ‘general’ is tragic, but worse still is how Satan has corrupted religious thought, maligned the truth of scripture and attacked the person of Christ. The Bible warns that such would be the case. Even before the New Testament is complete the enemy has infiltrated among the saints. The apostle’s warned about how false teaching and opposition to the Lord Jesus has its very roots in the dominion of Satan. Paul writes: ‘Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons’ (1 Tim 4:1 NKJV). Paul also reminded the Thessalonians that ‘the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way’ (2 Thess 2:7 NASB) and John wrote: ‘Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time … Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world’ (1 John 2:18; 4:3). Peter warned that ‘there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you’ (2 Pet 2:1) and Jude wrote: ‘Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude v 3). The battle in which we are all engaged is for the faith. Paul identifies for us who the false apostles of his day really served and what was true of them is true of every false teacher and preacher: ‘For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works’ (2 Cor 11:13-15).
Knowing the Enemy If we are to overcome the onslaught of the enemy and stand strong in the evil day we must know who our real enemy is and we must be properly equipped to withstand his onslaught. Moreover, we must ever be vigilant. There is no doubt that in our modern times Satan has been ‘sanitized’ in the minds of people through the power media and in a society which considers the portrayal of the darkest of evil and wickedness to be entertainment. The danger for believers is that we too can become careless in our thinking and desensitised to the powers of darkness who oppose us.
Very relevant to our times is Peter’s first epistle. Peter writing to saints facing a ‘fiery trial’ of opposition from the world which was calling them ‘evil doers’ (1 Pet 1:7; 4:12-14 2:12; 13-16; 4:4) unmasks the real source of hatred against them. He writes: ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Pet 5:8). That which Isaiah wrote of was as true in the 1st century as well as the 21st: ‘Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!’ (Isa 5:20). The Devil, unmasked, is on the prowl for his prey today, ‘whom’ Peter says ‘resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world’ (1 Pet 5:9).
Paul before he concludes His letter to the Ephesians in which he unfolds ‘the mystery of the gospel’ (Eph 6:19) which is the glorious truth of Jew and Gentile united in Christ as His body the Church whose members are raised and represented in Him as He is in highest glory (Eph 1:3; 2:4-6; 3:1-13). The Church is heavenly in its calling and destiny and therefore in conflict with the fallen powers of the heavens. Paul writes:
'For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places' (Eph 6:12).
This must be one of the most startling verses in the New Testament. Paul is reminding us through the imagery of a soldier that we need to adorn the whole armour of God to be able to stand or resist in the evil day. We are truly in the evil day, we really are and far more than we perhaps realize. If we are to stand firm for truth and righteousness and survive spiritually and mentally we need this defensive armour provided for us in Christ and worn and realized in His power. It’s not my purpose to go into the detail of this passage other than to highlight the nature of the enemy and our need for God’s armour in the midst of the onslaught of these evil powers whose influence is clearly evident in our present world. To summarize simply what Paul is saying in these verses: We will only be strong in the Lord’s power (Eph 6:10-12), we will only stand wearing God’s provision (Eph 6:13-17) and we will only succeed through prayer in the Spirit (Eph 6:18). We must protect ourselves in this evil day. If we lay off any part of this armour we are vulnerable.
Push Back If Paul focuses on the believer’s defensive armour in Ephesians he writes to the Corinthians of how he warred against the strongholds of the enemy as seen in the pride, wisdom and unbelief of men which resist the gospel, the knowledge of God:
'For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ' (2 Cor 10:3-5).
The enemy has advanced powerfully in these last 10 years. I think it’s evident we are in ‘the last of the last days’. When we consider the days of Noah and the days of Lot, both were characterized by unnatural wickedness along with everything else that is said about them. Both became utterly corrupted societies which God had to eradicate in judgment. Yet, ‘the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing’ (1 Pet 3:20) and so it waits today for God desires ‘that all should come to repentance’ (2 Pet 3:9). The only and effective push back against the evil of our times, which we long to distinctly witness, is the power of the gospel.
Paul calls upon us to pray and watch: ‘Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak’ (Eph 6:18-20). This call speaks to us today. We need to be constantly praying and we need to pray for one another in the intensity of this battle. We also need to pray for those who preach the gospel that they will do so with courage and clarity as Paul longed to do even before Caesar.
Also, we need to pray that God will make known His power in the gospel. Preachers have preached, the saints have supported the work of the gospel faithfully, our land has been saturated with gospel literature and yet the strongholds of Satan remain and seem to be expanding. May the Lord help us to become prayer warriors. And, not only should we pray for the power and blessing of God, we should pray against the power of the enemy remembering the Lord Jesus is almighty and sovereign overall as Paul reminded the Ephesians:
'And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all' (Eph 1:19-23).
In Daniel’s day the evil power assigned to Persia withstood for ‘one and twenty days’ God’s angelic messenger coming to Daniel with the message of ‘the scripture of truth’ regarding what would befall Daniel’s people in the latter days (Dan 10:12-21). This is an insight into angelic warfare, God’s angels against the fallen angels under Satan. Michael, the great prince of Israel (Dan 10:21; 12:1), is the same archangel who contended with the Devil over the body of Moses (Jude v 9) and who will directly war with Satan at the mid-point of the coming tribulation as he stands up for Daniel’s people (Rev 12:7-9).
Satan hates the woman who brought forth the ‘man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron’ and who ‘was caught up unto God, and to his throne’ (Rev 12:5). He attempted to devour the man child and failed. In that future day when the dragon is cast down to earth he will yet again, as he has ever done, persecute the people of the Messiah, ‘the woman which brought forth the man child’ (Rev 12:13).
But, as Christ faced ‘the strong man’ himself, the Devil, in the wilderness He rebuked him by the truth and power of the word of God those three times (Matt 4:1-11). Let us go forward following our Lord’s example. Let us take ‘the sword of the Spirit’ and speak with the authority and power of the word of God. Let us continue to proclaim the power of the Cross to a deceived and dying world and may we be always praying in the power of Spirit.
And never forget this assurance in this conflict for right:
'What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us' (Rom 8:31-34).
To conclude. I think one of most amazing portions of scripture is when Elisha was in Dothan surrounded by a great host of the Syrians. His servant when he saw them exclaimed “Alas, my master! How shall we do?” Elisha answered, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray Thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:15-17).
We, like Elisha, belong to and serve the LORD of hosts (Isa 6:3). Paul told the Corinthians: ‘Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong’ (1 Cor 16:13).
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, All ye that are upright in heart; And ye that have made Him your choice, Bid sadness and sorrow depart.
Rejoice, rejoice, Be glad in the Lord and rejoice; Rejoice, rejoice, Be glad in the Lord and rejoice.
Be joyful, for He is the Lord On earth and in Heaven supreme; He fashions and rules by His word-- The “Mighty” and “Strong” to redeem.
What though in the conflict for right Your enemies almost prevail? God’s armies, just hid from your sight, Are more than the foes which assail.
May you know the Lord’s presence and strength, always.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from the KJV.