Kingdoms in Conflict
In the previous article I brought to our attention the crucial role that one’s world view plays in how we live and what we expect to encounter in life. Peter has spoken clearly in the concluding paragraph of his first epistle that each we face a war with our mortal enemy, the Devil. And we need to pay close attention to the instruction he gives us. Continue reading . . .
In the previous article I brought to our attention the crucial role that one’s world view plays in how we live and what we expect to encounter in life. Peter has spoken clearly in the concluding paragraph of his first epistle that each we face a war with our mortal enemy, the Devil. And we need to pay close attention to the instruction he gives us. Here is the passage again.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:8-11).
Let me begin with three important observations that we must keep at the forefront of our thinking as Christians.
First, just as there is a kingdom of God, so, too, is there is a kingdom of Satan. And the two are in conflict.
It was Jesus himself who said: "If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? . . . But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Mt. 12:26,28; see also Acts 26:18 ["the dominion of Satan"]; Col. 1:13 ["the domain of darkness"]).
Second, few Christians fully realize the extent of Satan's influence. Nor do they understand their own authority. Two texts in particular make both points clear.
In 1 John 5:19 we read this: "We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one."
Observe the contrast. Whereas the "whole world" is in the evil one, we who are "of God" (v. 19) are in God and in his son, Jesus Christ (v. 20). The point is that everyone is in someone! "John wastes no words and blurs no issues,” notes John Stott. “The uncompromising alternative is stated baldly. Everyone belongs either to 'us' or to the 'world'. Everyone is therefore either ‘of God' or 'in the evil one'. There is no third category" (194).
This forever shatters the illusion of neutrality, the idea that so-called "good" people who are not Christians are neither for God nor for Satan, are neither in God's kingdom nor in Satan's. The fact is, all people, young and old, male and female, belong to one of two kingdoms: either the kingdom of light or the kingdom of darkness. If one is not "in Christ" one is "in the power of the evil one," even if there is no visible, sensible awareness of being in the devil's grip. Thus, not to serve God is to serve Satan whether one is conscious of it or not.
To say the whole world is “in” the power of the evil one is to say it lives under the influence, power, and under the authority of Satan; in his grip and subject to his dominion (cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 17:15; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-2). Apply this notion to the "whole world", i.e., to the financial world, business and industry, the stock market, the banking system, political institutions and parties, entertainment (TV, films, media, radio), sports, education, the family, the home, the neighborhood, civic clubs and social service organizations, country clubs, . . . everything! Simply put, there is a satanic global influence with which we must reckon.
This is a stunning, shocking revelation. It takes one's breath away when the implications of such an assertion are unpacked. Indeed, it is a frightening revelation that could easily instill fear and dread were it not for another assertion that John makes in 1 John 4:4 - "Little children, you are from God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world."
You Christians, says John, have not fallen victim to the false prophets and theological heretics who try to deceive you. And the reason is because the one who is in you, namely, our Great Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is greater and more powerful than the one, namely, Satan who is in them.
Yes, Satan is great, but God is greater! Yes, Satan is powerful, but God is infinitely more powerful!
John does not say "greater are you" but "greater is He". It isn't you, but God in you that brings the assurance of victory.
So these two verses alert us both to the extent of Satan’s influence and power but also the superior power and ultimate victory that is found in our relationship with God.
Third, people often respond to the call to spiritual warfare in one of two ways: either with obsessive preoccupation (based on their focus on 1 John 5:19 to the neglect of 1 John 4:4) or with complacent indifference (based on their focus on 1 John 4:4 to the neglect of 1 John 5:19). According to C. S. Lewis,
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves [i.e., the demons] are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight" (Screwtape Letters, 3).
In other words, it matters little to the devil whether you attribute the totality of evil to him or none at all!
The fact of the matter is that spiritual warfare is all-encompassing. It touches every area of our lives. The conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan affects how we use our money, what we watch on TV, how we raise our kids, the tone of voice with which we speak to our spouse, how we use our time, how we talk about our boss when he isn't listening, indeed, every aspect of our lives.
Peter’s warning here in v. 8, therefore, is very real and very important and concerns a very literal enemy called the Devil.
Satan is an angel. All angels were created (Col. 1:16; Jn. 1:1-3). Therefore, Satan was created. He is, therefore, God's Devil. Satan is not the equal and opposite power of God (contra dualism). He is not eternal. His power is not infinite. He does not possess divine attributes. In sum, he is no match for God!
The word of God is clear that whereas Satan is powerful, he is not omnipotent. Whereas he is intelligent, he is not omniscient. Whereas he is active, he is not omnipresent.
It’s also important for us to know that Satan has a plan. Although sinful, he is not stupid. He does not act haphazardly or without a goal in view. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 that Satan has “designs” or an agenda to destroy the church. We must be careful, therefore, that we not be "outwitted" (ESV) by him. He seeks "to take advantage of" us (NASB). In other words, his aim is to cheat or defraud us by deception.
In Ephesians 6:11 Paul refers to Satan’s "schemes" (lit., methodia = method), an indication that our enemy is cunning and employs wily stratagems (cf. Eph. 4:14). That is to say, he seeks to influence and manipulate value systems, institutions, organizations, philosophical movements, political, social, and economic systems.
Satan sets his goal and then utilizes and exploits the most effective means, while avoiding all obstacles, to reach his diabolical end.
Peter tells us that Satan’s aim is to “devour” or to “swallow up” Christian men and women. What does he mean by this? The answer is given in v. 9 – “Resist him, . . . knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” Evidently here Peter has in mind the persecution and insults and slander and other forms of suffering that these people are enduring. Your adversary the Devil is behind all this and other Christians around the world are suffering the same things you are.
We see something similar to this in Revelation 2:10 in the letter Jesus sent to the church in Smyrna: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Jesus is saying that Satan is responsible for the imprisonment of certain Christians and that in the case of some, death will be the end result. But “be faithful unto death,” said Jesus, much in the way Peter says, “Resist him, firm in your faith.” And just as Jesus promised them, saying, “I will give you the crown of life,” so too Peter makes the promise that God will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” those who suffer in this way.
By the way, this means that you can successfully and faithfully “resist” the Devil and he might still kill you! Think for a moment about all the martyrs in church history who have lost their lives but never lost their faith. What both Peter and Jesus are telling us is that Satan can do no ultimate or eternal harm to us, though he may inflict physical harm. And even then, he can’t do it without God’s permission.
But the primary point is that when you are confronted with a roaring lion seeking to devour you, you better not be spiritually drunk or mentally distracted. You need all your spiritual faculties.
We’ll take a look at this in the next article.
To be continued . . .