Our Spiritual Struggle
March 10th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
OUR SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-10-57 10:50 a.m.
These are the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled Our Spiritual Struggle.
We are preaching through the Bible. We are now in the sixth chapter of the Book of Ephesians. Last Sunday night we left off at the eleventh verse of the sixth chapter, and the message this morning is from the text in the twelfth verse. The context is this – Ephesians 6:10 and following:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
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.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
The message is built upon an enumeration there which, in the English, one might think refers to just the spirit of evil and decay and darkness as we see it manifest in this world. But not so. When Paul is enumerating our enemies, he is not just spiritualizing. He is not metaphorically referring to evil and wickedness and darkness like you would in fables, giving them life and body, but he is referring to orders of angelic beings, celestial beings.
And when he refers to our struggle [Ephesians 6:12], our spiritual conflict, he is talking and describing a battle that is against actual celestial foes. And he names them. He does several times in these letters in the New Testament. Here he calls them the arche, the exousia, the kosmokratoroi, the pneumatika [Ephesians 6:12]. By those words, he is referring to orders, to angelic hosts, in their positions and in their places of leadership and authority.
There is one certain thing about the Bible, and it is this. When you open the page, you open a vista into a supernatural and spiritual world. The Bible is filled with revelations and descriptions and mentionings of the great spiritual powers of the angelic hosts of heaven, and in that conflict, the man that God made is inextricably and inevitably enmeshed and involved. Between us and the spirit world there is but a step, and the veil between is our flesh.
I say, when you open the Bible, you open the page upon a vast, spiritual, angelic, celestial world. And in that world, according to the Holy Scriptures, there are great orders and following hosts of these celestial angelic beings.
When you begin the story, almost immediately, you are introduced to a subtle and skillful and crafty character [Genesis 3:1]. And as the story proceeds, there are the cherubim standing at the garden gate with a sword, keeping the tree of life – the cherubim [Genesis 3:24]. You meet those same celestial creatures in Ezekiel – the living creatures [Ezekiel 1:4-28, 10:20-22]. You meet them again in the Revelation [Revelation 4:6-8]. Why those translators wanted to translate ta zōa "beasts," I do not know. But when that word ta zōa is mentioned there in the Revelation, it refers to the cherubim – God’s living creatures.
As you follow the story of the Book, there in one of those great celestial visions when the veil of heaven is pushed aside and you look into the courts of glory itself, there are the seraphim [Isaiah 6:1-2], the burning ones, whose seeming task and appointment is to stand in the presence of God and sing of the beauty and the holiness of the Lord God Pantokratōr [2 Corinthians 6:18].
And then, as you follow the story in the Bible, how many and many times is there presented to us those beings called angels? The angels are an enumerable company. In Hebrews 12:22, he says that we who are saved have come to the new Jerusalem, the general assembly of the firstborn, to an innumerable company of angels [Hebrews 12:22-23]. Paul will even say that when we come to church, we should have deference in our deportment, and in our character, and in our manner, and in our behavior because of the angels [1 Corinthians 11:9-10].
In the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, John says and they sang, and he looked upon their choir and their number, and they were "ten thousand times ten thousands, and thousands of thousands" [Revelation 5:11]. When Micaiah saw the vision of God, he said and on His right hand and on His left hand were the great angelic hosts of heaven [1 Kings 22:15, 19].
The thirty-eighth chapter of Job says that those angels were present when God created the world [Job 38:4-7], and they looked upon this new thing that God had wrought, the creation of matter and of life – they looked upon it in wonder, in amazement, and in joy, and they sang together as they were filled with wonder and gladness at the creation of this world [Job 38:7].
In the Bible, the Lord is called "the Lord of hosts" [Isaiah 47:4]. Sometimes one might think that refers to the hosts of the people, the great army. No. It always refers, the Lord of hosts, the Lord of the great angelic seraphic cherubic hosts of glory – the Lord of hosts. When that captain appeared to Joshua, he introduced himself as, "I am the prince, I am the captain of the hosts of the Lord of heaven" [from Joshua 5:13-15]. Their number is infinite, these great angelic orders that worship God in glory.
Might I speak of the almost well-nigh seemingly infinite power of those angelic beings? Frequently in the Bible, there will be a story of a destroying angel: passed over the land of Egypt in that dark and terrible night of the Passover when those only escaped who were under the blood, under the blood [Exodus 12:23]. Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? The awful night when the angel of death passed over [Exodus 12:21-30].
In the Bible, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was at the hands of two angels [Genesis 19:1-25]. In that awful day, in the last chapter of Second Samuel, when Israel is being wasted and destroyed because of the sin of David, David saw the angel destroying, standing above Jerusalem with a sword in his hand, and cried to God that those poor sheep might be spared [2 Samuel 24:15-17]. In one solemn and terrible night, when the hosts of Sennacherib pressed Jerusalem on every side [2 Kings 18:13], in that one terrible night, one angel – one destroying angel – slew 185,000 of the army of Sennacherib the Assyrian host [2 Kings 19:35-36]. Their power, I say, under God is seemingly almost infinite.
They are also ministering spirits for good described as such in the first chapter of Hebrews [Hebrews 1:14]. They are ministering spirits who war on our side and who fight for us. In the story of the New Testament, an angel appears to Zacharias [Luke 1:11-13]; an angel appears to maiden Mary [Luke 1:26-33]. In the story, an angel appears three times in a vision to Joseph [Matthew 1:20-24, 2:13-14, 19-20].,
Upon the birth of the Son of God, an angel makes the announcement to the shepherds in the field [Luke 2:8-12], and the whole angelic host follow singing, "Glory to God in the highest" [Luke 2:13-14]. An angel appears to the Lord Jesus giving Him strength as He’s tried in the wilderness [Mark 1:13]. An angel appears to the Savior as He struggles in prayer in Gethsemane [Luke 22:43]. An angel comes from heaven and rolls back the stone from the sepulcher of our risen, living Lord [Matthew 28:2].
An angel directs Philip the evangelist from the great revival in Samaria down to Gaza on the way to Egypt and Ethiopia [Acts 8:25-26]. An angel appears, and the chains and the bonds of Simon Peter fall from him; and, accompanied by the angel, they go through the iron door that opens of itself [Acts 12:6-11].
An angel strikes Herod Agrippa l with death as he gives not praise to God [Acts 12:20-23]. That angel appears to Paul in his hour of conflict and trouble and sudden death and encourages him in the testimony of the Lord [Acts 23:10-11, 27:23]. I say, I repeat, when you open the Book, you open the Book upon a whole vast celestial angelic world. I say this world is ordered: arche, exousia, kosmokratoroi, pneumatika – orders, positions like an army. May I turn to three of those tremendous angelic celestial beings?
One is called an archangel. His name is Michael. He is referred to by name five times in the Bible: one time in the ninth verse of Jude [Jude 1:9], Michael the archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses; a second time in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 12:7-9], Michael with his angels warring in heaven against Satan and his angels. Then, three times is he named in the Book of Daniel [Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1]. He is called "the prince of the hosts" [Daniel 8:11]. He is referred to as "the chief of those who represent the people of Israel" [Daniel 12:1]. There, Michael the archangel warring against Satan, standing up for the people of God.
In the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter, the end time shall be with a voice of the archangel and with the trump of God [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. I would suppose that refers to the final end day, the denouement of all of the great program of God through the ages. And the Lord shall call Michael again, and the voice of the archangel shall sound, and the dead in Christ shall rise to meet the Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17] – Michael, the archangel of the hosts of heaven.
A second great, powerful angel in these orders is named Gabriel. Gabriel is called by name four times in the Bible: two times in Daniel and twice in the Book of Luke. He is sent to Zacharias. He must be a powerful angel because he refers to himself, "Zacharias, I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God" [Luke 1:19]. And as the messenger of heaven, the Lord Himself, he speaks to Zacharias. Then six months later, he is sent to Nazareth where he appears and speaks to Mary the maid [Luke 1:26].
He is named twice, I say, in Daniel [Daniel 8:16, 9:20-21]. Wherever he is mentioned, he has to do with the redemption and the salvation of God’s people. In Daniel, he is telling of the coming of the Savior and the great redemption of God’s children, and in Luke, he is announcing the fulfillment of that wonderful prophecy: Gabriel, the messenger of God.
Then the other: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood" [Ephesians 6:12]. Were our war a matter of bombs and ammunition and guns and tanks, were our enemies only Communists and infidels and blasphemers and workers and contrivers of treason, then we might with hope and with success assume for ourselves the instruments of this conflict and war and fight and shoot and destroy. But our conflict, our spiritual struggle, is not against flesh and blood. It is against another of those celestial archangels: the mightiest, the most powerful, the most brilliant and able of them all, and his name is Satan, the adversary of God [Matthew 4:1-11].
Will you consider for the moment how powerful this celestial archangel is? In that ninth verse of the little Book of Jude I referred to a while ago, referring to Michael, Michael the archangel, when disputing with Satan about the body of Moses, listen to it: "Even Michael" – the archangel at whose voice God’s dead shall rise from the heart of the earth [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17] – "even Michael the archangel, disputing with Satan about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, ‘The Lord God rebuke thee’" [Jude 1:9]. Even Michael dare not in his own strength and in his own power stand up to and face Satan alone nor did Michael even dare to insult him. Nor did Michael the archangel in himself dare to denounce him. Michael only dared to say, "The Lord rebuke thee."
Who is this mightiest of all the angels? Who is this prince from heaven who reigns over these celestial powers called the arche and the exousia and the kosmokratoroi, and the pneumatika – these terrible celestial beings who drive against God and who drive against the people of the Lord and the Kingdom of Jesus? Who is this prince who is the adversary of God?
This is a part of his subtlety. It’s a part of his ingeniousness. Did you ever see a picture of him? Why, every little child: "Why, yes! I’ve seen a picture of the devil with his horns, with his elongated forked tail, with a pitchfork in his hand, with that moronic leer on his face. Sure, we’ve all seen the devil." Have you? Have you? I say that’s a part of his ingenious subtlety. Who’d be afraid of a devil with his pitchfork and his forked tail? A ridiculous caricature, a silly moronic figure: oh, oh!
Who is this celestial being, this one described as being in the Eden of God? "Every precious stone thy covering . . . the anointed cherub that covereth . . . in the holy mountain of God, walking up and down in the midst of the stones of fire" [Ezekiel 28:13-14]; beauty filled with wisdom [Ezekiel 28:17]; so glorious, so magnificent, so wise that he even refused to be counted in the government of God [Ezekiel 28:16-17], but descending hold a rebellion [Isaiah 14:12-15], announce the war, and one-third of the angels of heaven forsook God Himself and joined their lot and their destiny and their fortunes with that beautiful, magnificent, celestial archangel who walks in the glory of the stones of fire [Revelation 12:3-9; Ezekiel 28:14].
That’s what’s the matter with us. Whenever I see the hand of Satan in the back, in the closet, in the deep of the night, I may see its ultimate corruption. I may see its final death. I may see the awful and stark tragedy. But when Satan appears, he is that same glorious, celestial archangel. For some reason known but to God, the Lord has not changed his beauty, or his wisdom, or his ingenious subtle skill.
Looking down Broadway, in a great city like New York, with its dazzle and its light and its glitter and its rewards, that’s a little reflection of the glory of Satan. Behind, beyond, there may be a broken heart for every burning, glittering light. But Satan’s appearance is always enticing, interesting, glamorous, rewarding, glorious. Even in the presence of the Lord Jesus, Satan said, "And I will give Thee, and I will give Thee all of the kingdoms of this earth and the glory of them" [from Matthew 4:8-9].
Listen to me. I don’t care what any exegete says of that passage. Verily, verily I say unto you, if Satan did not have the glory of those kingdoms to offer, the temptation is a farce. It’s silly. The story has no point; it has no meaning. The glory of the kingdoms of this world are in the hands of Satan who said to Jesus, "Without going to a cross, they are yours. Just bow down and worship me" [from Matthew 4:9]. A beautiful being, a celestial being, an infinitely wise and ingenious being: his logic is irrefutable; his chicanery, his plans, his program well-nigh unfathomable.
It appears that when the Lord God created this vast multiverse, He gave each part of it to a celestial being over which he was to rule. And this part of God’s universe was Satan’s, and the Lord exalted him. Even the Scriptures call him "the prince of this world" [John 14:30].
And when he rebelled, when he warred against God, when he refused to belong to the government of the Almighty, then the chaos and the darkness. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" [Genesis 1:1] glorious from His hands [Isaiah 45:18]. And the angels, looking upon it in gladness, sang together [Job 38:4-7]. But the earth became, but the earth became dark, and void, and empty, and uninhabitable [Genesis 1:2]. And those great cataclysms, volcanic eruptions and fires, and waters, and dense, dark atmospheric clouds, and the ages of ice came upon God’s created world: all the result of the rebellion of this prince of heaven.
And I do not say, I do not know, I cannot understand – God never took this dominion away from him. And in the Garden of Eden, he is there [Genesis 3:1-6], and the awful and tragic story that is following is still directed by his masterful hand [John 10:10; 2 Corinthians 11:14; 1 Peter 5:8]. As he slew Adam [Genesis 2:15-17; Romans 5:11-14], our first father, and as he deceived Eve [1 Timothy 2:14], our first mother, so is it his continuous hope that the dark stream of humanity, joyless, full of tears and heartache, shall continue to flow into misery and unto death until finally, as he destroyed Adam and Eve, so will he gain the death of the souls of Adam and Eve’s posterity [Revelation 20:10-15].
And he works, and he wars, and he contrives, and the great and final days come on. And the Scriptures say, "And he builds a religion without a redeemer, and he builds his church without a true Christ, and he calls his ministers without the Word of God." And he works, and he strives, and he plots, and he plans. And we wrestle – our spiritual struggle – and we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the kingdom of Satan and the powers of darkness [from Ephesians 6:12]. And it goes on, and it gets more impossible. And we become more enmeshed, and the instruments of destruction multiply, and finally and ultimately, the battle of Armageddon – the great, last war of this world – finally, the battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:13-16, 20:7-10].
Do you suppose we’ll live to see that? Reckon it’s in our day and in our generation? On the plain of Megiddo, the Har Megiddo – the hill of Megiddon – in the great final battle of Har-Magedon, Satan’s great and final masterpiece for the slaughter and the destruction of the armies of mankind: Satan, Satan, Satan preparing for that great, final dark river of death [Revelation 20:10-15].
Then the Tribulation. But for the elect’s sake, those days shall be shortened [Matthew 24:22]. Were it not for the intervening hand of God, were it not for the disposition of Almighty to intercede, we are no match for him: wrestling not against flesh and blood but against the kingdom and the prince of the power of darkness and of this earth [Ephesians 6:10-12]. Poor, feeble creatures made out of dust, we are not able in that awful day. But for His people’s sake, those days shall be shortened [Matthew 24:22]. God’s elect crying unto heaven, and the Lord intervenes. And Michael, the archangel, with the trumpet of God does sound [1 Thessalonians 4:16], and the Lord Jesus, now a reigning King, our coming Prince, takes unto Himself His great power [1 Thessalonians 4:17], and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever [Revelation 11:15], Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
No wonder Handel closed his incomparable oratorio [Messiah by Georg Frideric Handel, 1742] with the great celestial angelic song: "The King of all kings and the Lord of all lords." And Satan – the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet – and an angel shall come and lay hold upon him by the Word of the power of God, shall bind him in chains, and cast him into the bottomless pit [Revelation 20:1-3]. And God’s people in glory, in resurrection, in the power of Christ, shall live and reign forever and ever, world without end [Revelation 22:3-5]. Amen, Amen.
"We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against arche, exousia, kosmokratoroi, pneumatika. Brethren, stand therefore in the Lord" [from Ephesians 6:10-11]. Then it describes the glorious armour of the Christian [Ephesians 6:13-18] which is our sermon for tonight. Oh, blessed hope, precious Book, glorious victory, heaven, and home.
Now, while we sing our song, somebody you, give his heart to the Lord in faith and in trust. Somebody you, put his life here in the church. A family or one you, while we sing this song, you come. Anywhere, from the balcony, down these stairwells to the front, on this lower floor, as God shall say the word and lead the way and open the door, anywhere, anywhere, would you come? Stand by me: "Pastor, here’s my hand; I’ve given my heart to God. I’m trusting Him in life, in death. In the world to come, I’m trusting Him." Or to be with us in prayer and in a yokefellow ministry, serving our Savior here with us, come, while we stand, while we sing.
I. Scriptures are full of the
A. When enumerating our
enemies, Paul is not spiritualizing(Ephesians 6:12)
1. He is
referring to orders of angelic beings, celestial beings
2. He describes
battle against actual foes
B. There are great
orders and following hosts of these angelic beings
the beginning we see a subtle, crafty character(Genesis
"living ones"(Genesis 3:24, Ezekiel 1:4-25,
10:1-22, Revelation 4:6-8)
"burning ones"(Isaiah 6)
a. Innumerable company(Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 5:11)
i. Stand on right
and left hand of God(1 Kings 22:19)
ii.Were present when
God created the world (Job 38:4-7)
iii. "Lord of hosts" refers
to the hosts of heaven(Joshua 5:14)
Mighty in power – "destroying angels"(Exodus 12,
Genesis 19:13, 2 Samuel 24:16, 2 Kings 19:35)
Ministering spirits for good (Hebrews 1:14, Luke
1, 2, 22:43, Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 19, 4:11, 28:2)
II. Three of the angels are named – each
is of a different rank
– Michael(Jude 9, Revelation 12:7, Daniel 10:13,
21, 12:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
Mentioned four times; all in connection with redemptive work of Christ(Daniel 8:16, 9:21-27, Luke 1:19, 26)
the most powerful and able of them all (Jude 9)
appearance always enticing, interesting, glamorous(Matthew
4:9, Ezekiel 28:12a-19)
The prince of this world
He works, wars, contrives until battle of Armageddon