WAR IN THE SPIRIT WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-05-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled War in the Spirit World. And I am most conscious, as Dr. Bryant avowed, that on a rainy and inclement day like this that our television audience assumes enormous and gigantic proportions. There are many hundreds of thousands of you in five states, and especially across the great tier of the northern part of Texas, who are sharing with us in this church this holy hour. And I humbly pray the message will be a strength and an encouragement and scripturally a blessing to you.
In our preaching through the Book of Ephesians, we are in these last verses of the last chapter, and this sermon and the one next Sunday morning will conclude that long series. And this spring they will all be published in a book. There will be between forty and fifty of them.
Last Sunday the sermon concerned our strength in the Lord, and the text, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the methodeia, the cunning, stated strategy of the devil” [Ephesians 6:10-11]. That was the sermon last Sunday morning. This Sunday morning, “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 armor of God, that ye may be able to stand” [Ephesians 6:12-13].
May first we just look at the text and at the words that the apostle was inspired to use? Palē, “we wrestle not,” palē.” It is not an impersonal antagonism or attack. It is most personal. Wrestling is a contact sport. It is not something a man would find in a conflict, and he is on one side and your antagonist and opponent and foe is yonder somewhere removed and in another place in the area. This is face to face, and hand to hand, and foot to foot wrestling unto death. He uses the word “pros, we wrestle not against,” in the Greek, haima sarx, blood and flesh, pros, face to face. The way he writes it he emphasizes that face to face, that hand to hand, that foot to foot contact and conflict. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against,” and then he names here a hierarchy of evil, fallen spirits and angels: “but against archas,” actually, literally, “the head ones, the leading ones”; “against archas, against exousias,” translated here “powers” [Ephesians 6:12]. It refers to their inward ableness and endowments. In themselves they are powerful; “exousia, powers; against kosmokrator, kosmos, world, krateras, powers,” translated here “the rulers, the world rulers of darkness” [Ephesians 6:12].
Isn’t that a strange revelation, that the invisible and unseen rulers who lie back of the turmoil and conflict we see in this world, that they are evil and fallen? And sometimes when you persuade yourself, surely the leadership of the world must lie in gracious and godly and good hands, then just pick up any newspaper. Pick up the paper today or the one yesterday. There is outbreak of violence and war in India and Pakistan, and the nations of the world sort of look helplessly on. Conflict, kosmokratoras, the rulers of this world. And then another order, “pneumatika, spiritual beings of wickedness.” Then, where are they? Translated here, “in high places, epouranios in the heavenlies” [Ephesians 6:12]. The whole earth covered with these unseen and invisible enemies of darkness.
The idea is staggering and terrifying. For our enemies, he says, are not material. They are non-material. They are not visible. They are invisible. They are not corporeal, they do not have body and form, but they are spirit [Ephesians 6:12].
A material antagonist, Paul would avow, is nothing. It is trivial. It is insignificant. The church for three hundred years lived and prospered under vicious and violent attack and persecution. There has been no era in Christendom, in the history of the church, when the church was so able and so powerful as in the first three Christian centuries, under the bitter persecution of the Roman Empire.
Material antagonists are nothing. They are insignificant. They are inconsequential. Paul knew what it was to have material and physical corporeal enemies. He says, “In Ephesus, I fought with wild beasts” [1 Corinthians 15:32]. He spoke of having been beaten “five times with forty stripes save one, and thrice beaten with Roman rods” [2 Corinthians 11:23-25]. But these things to the apostle were outside, they were not even to be spoken of. The real enemies that he faced were invisible and unseen; not flesh and blood but archas, exousia, kosmokratoras, pneumatika, the hierarchy of invisible and evil and fallen spirits [Ephesians 6:12].
That is a revelation in the whole Word of God, that outside of us and beyond us, there are those that attack us and waste us and destroy us. In the garden of Eden, beyond the gate is a subtle and sinister spirit. The story does not begin in Eden. The story begins in the age of the ages beyond the foundation and creation of the world. And when Eden is presented in the pages of the Bible, outside that gate, there is already there this evil and diabolical and fallen spirit. And he uses the serpent to beguile and to betray our first mother and our first parents [Genesis 3:1-6].
In the story of Job, all of the providences that overwhelmed him, the wind that blew his house down [Job 1:19], and the fire that burned up his property [Job 1:16], and the thieves that took away his flocks and his herds [Job 1:13-15], and the disease that destroyed and slew his children [Job 1:18-19], to Job as to us they look like providences of life, these things that happen to us. But unseen, and unknown, and invisible, and incorporeal there is an enemy. And he accuses Job in the presence of God Himself, and he afflicts the sainted man of the east [Job 1:8-12; 2:3-7].
In Zechariah the prophet, in the third chapter, he saw Joshua, God’s high priest, who ministered before the Lord, he saw him standing before God dressed in filthy garments and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him, an invisible and unseen enemy [Zechariah 3:1-3]. The Lord is driven out into the wilderness to face an antagonist that is spirit [Matthew 4:1]. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood,” but against incorporeality, against the unseen invisible world that presses us on every side [Ephesians 6:12].
And in the revelation of God, that unseen and invisible world is itself a world of violent contact and war, conflict, vicious, apparently through the ages. And we are engulfed in it and cannot disassociate ourselves from it. There is war and antagonism and conflict at the heart of the universe, and we are an inextricable part of that violent confrontation. In this Holy Book we are told of Michael. And in Daniel, standing as the prince for God’s people Israel, he is opposed by the princes of the nations of the world. Think of that. And so opposed that he could not bring to Daniel an immediate answer to his supplication, and confession, and prayer, and intercession [Daniel 10:13-21]; think of that. Michael, Michael, opposed by the princes of darkness. In the Revelation there is war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels [Revelation 12:7]. And the conflict is to the consummation of the age.
In the revelation, and it was only in the revelation of God that we could know, in the revelation of God there are these two hierarchies, these two ranks of soldier angels, these celestial beings created before God created us [Job 38:4-7], the hosts of heaven. And they are divided into two parts. We speak first of what the revelation in God will say about those who belong to the Lord, the angels of glory, the hosts of heaven, these who follow in the train of our Lord [1 Samuel 1:3].
One: some are named seraphim. That’s just a Hebrew word meaning, “the burning ones,” the seraphim. And they stand in the presence of God, and they do obeisance, covering their face with their wings, and in humility covering their feet with their wings, and with the twain of wings on their backs, they hover in the presence of God, crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is filled with His glory” [Isaiah 6:2-3]. The seraphim pay homage to the holiness, the exaltation of God.
Then there is a rank of angels, there are angelic beings that are called cherubim. They were the ones who were placed at the eastern gate of the garden of Eden when our first parents were driven out [Genesis 3:24]. They are the ones that were woven in tapestry in the tabernacle and in the temple [Exodus 26:31]. Two of them faced full the mercy seat above the ark of the covenant, and their overarching wings touched [Exodus 25:18-20]. They are depicted in the first and in the tenth chapters of the Book of Ezekiel [Ezekiel 1:5-23; 10:1-9, 15-22].
And in the Book of the Revelation, what a disappointment to see that word zōa, translated “beasts” [Revelation 4:6-9]; it is “living ones,” four of them, representing all of the story and history of mankind in the earth. They are the cherubim. And wherever the cherubim are presented, they are symbols and tokens of God’s love and grace and mercy and forgiveness; the cherubim. They are they, who in God’s grace and mercy, represent us and the mercy and love of God that extends down to us.
Then, there is one angel called an archangel [Jude 1:9]. Whether there are a series, an order of them, I do not know. I think so because in the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter, the apostle says that we are to be raised from the dead “by the voice of the archangel” [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. There’s only one of them named by that, and that’s Michael. Five times is his name called in the Bible—three times in the Book of Daniel [Daniel 10:13,21; 12:1], and one time in Jude [Jude 1:9], the passage that you read, and one time in the Revelation [Revelation 12:7]. Michael is the prince of God’s chosen family Israel [Daniel 10:21]. And he stands as the guardian angel for the people of the Lord; Michael the archangel.
Then there is Gabriel. Gabriel presents himself, to Zacharias the priest, the father of John called the Baptist, he presents himself as the messenger who stands in the presence of God [Luke 1:19]. Four times is Gabriel named; twice in Daniel [Daniel 8:16; 9:21], and twice in Luke [Luke 1:19,26]. And in all four instances he is identified with the redemptive work of Christ.
And beside the seraphim, and the cherubim, and the archangel or angels, and Gabriel the messenger of the Lord, there is an innumerable host of angels. And in the Scriptures, so many times are they presented as being uncounted, innumerable, infinite in number [Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 5:11]. They were created, the Scriptures say, by God, and before the beginning of the foundation of the world [Job 38:4-7]. And when the Lord created the universes, when He flung them out into space and in their orbits and galaxies, they magnify the handiwork of God, they exhibit the glory of the Lord [Psalm 19:1].
The Scriptures say that when the Lord created the worlds that the angels were there to rejoice and to sing together, and to look with wonder and astonishment upon the handiwork of God [Job 38:4-7]. They are innumerable. They are without number. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, “We shall someday come,” he says, “to the general assembly and church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven, and to an innumerable company of angels” [Hebrews 12:22-23].
And in the Revelation they are described as “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands and thousands” [Revelation 5:11]. The Greek word used there is “myriad, myriad.” And “myriad” in our English language, taken over from that word, means “an uncounted number,” and an uncounted number, myriads times myriads, times myriads, and ten thousands of times of myriads. So the number of the angels in the hosts and the ranks of God are infinite in number. They are innumerable.
They are powerful. In the story of the siege of Hezekiah and Jerusalem under the iron hand of Sennacherib, the bitter Assyrian enemy of the people of the Lord, that night, in answer to a prayer of Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet, that night, one angel, just one, passed over the host of the Assyrians, and one hundred eighty-five thousand dead corpses were counted the next morning [2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:6].
When I think of that I am astonished at what the Lord said, turning to Simon Peter, “Put up the sword, put up the sword, for thus it must be that the Scriptures might be fulfilled [Matthew 26:54]. For,” the Lord said, “could I not ask My Father and He send me twelve legions of angels?” [Matthew 26:52-53]. Each legion at full, manned accompaniment would be six thousand men. Twelve of them would be seventy-two thousand angels; and just one angel, the demonstrated, demonstrable power, just passing over an army, to leave one hundred eighty-five thousand dead; the power of the angels of God [2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:6].
And, in the last verse of the first chapter of Hebrews, they are called “ministering spirits, sent from God to shepherd and to guard and to keep God’s saints,” those who have placed their trust in the Lord [Hebrews 1:14]. These angels, by the uncounted myriads, all of them, the author of Hebrews says, are ministering spirits to sustain, and to care for, and to keep, and to help, and to guide us.
It was an angel that ministered to the Lord after the forty days of trial [Matthew 4:1-11]. It was an angel that comforted the Lord in Gethsemane [Luke 22:39-43]. It was an angel that opened the door, the iron door of prison for Simon Peter [Acts 12:7-10]. It was an angel that stood by the apostle Paul in the hour of great trial and ultimate deliverance [Acts 27:21-24]. It was an angel that gave to John the sainted apostle on the isle of Patmos the apocalyptic revelation [Revelation 1:9-22:21].
And when John fell down to worship him, the angel said, “No, for I am of thy brethren, and of those who keep the faith and trust in the Lord” [Revelation 1:1]. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? When he sought to worship at the feet of the angel, the angel identified himself with us his brethren, and called us brethren and a fellow servant. They work with us. They live with us. They guide and guard and keep us; the angelic hosts of glory, the ministering spirits of heaven [Hebrews 1:14].
Don’t you wish you could stop there? This is the story. This is the glad outline of the presence of God with us. But it doesn’t stop there. At the very heart of heaven itself, at the very heart of the universe is this violent and interminable conflict. There are other angels, and there are other princes, and there are other spirits. And they are as evil and dark and bitter and impeccable foes as are the angels of God merciful, and sympathetic, and guardian in shepherdly care.
The evil spirits, these that Paul names: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and powers, and kosmokratoras, the rulers of this world of darkness and violent conflict and war” [Ephesians 6:12]: first, and above all, is the prince, the prince of light, Lucifer, “light” [2 Corinthians 11:14], Lucifer, diabolos, our accuser, Satan. He’s the most powerful of all of the princes that God created. He is above all of them. That’s why in the Jude epistle I had you read, “For Michael the archangel, when he disputed with Satan about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation.” He dare not confront Satan, even Michael the archangel. But he said, “The Lord rebuke thee. God’s power and right arm rebuke thee, condemn thee” [Jude 1:9] The prince that is the most powerful of all that God made is Lucifer, Satan, diabolos, the dragon, the serpent [Revelation1 2:4].
The presentation of Satan in the Middle Ages is a sheer, unadulterated, gross caricature. In those miracle plays, he was always introduced as someone who had horns and a forked tail and a red suit, and stoking a fire and a moronic leer on his face. I presume that pleases him because it hides his actual identity. Nothing could be further from the truth; for Satan is called, in the eleventh chapter of the second Corinthian letter, “the prince of light” [2 Corinthians 11:14].
Satan is an angel of light. And in the fourth chapter of the [second] Corinthian letter he is called “the god of this world” [2 Corinthians 4:4]. He is brilliant. He is intellectual. He is endowed. He is gifted. He is shrewd. He is astute. He is cunning. His strategy is almost unassailable, unapproachable. Satan is everything of light.
“The glory of the world,” he said to the Lord Himself, “I have and I can give it to Thee” [Matthew 4:8-9]. Satan. And he wins, and apparently he always wins. He won in the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:1-6]. And he wins over the human race. Death is universal. Pain, and misery, and heartache are universal. He presides over the dark, sullen joyless stream of humanity that continues on in its tormented way until finally it loses itself in the darkness of the grave. Apparently, Satan wins, always! The ultimate end of every life is to die, to fall into the arms of corruption and death; the strategy and the victory of Satan, the archenemy of God, the accuser of the brethren, the invisible and implacable, the incorporeal foe of the human race and of God [1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:10].
But he’s not alone. With the Satan are hosts of minions. In the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, we learn that when Satan fell, when Satan fell, he took with him one-third of all of the angels of glory [Revelation 12:4]. Our minds cannot enter into that, nor does the Revelation exhibit what happened. It just was that way the Book says. One-third of the angels of God left their habitation and chose to be with Lucifer [Revelation 12:4]. What a prince he must have been and still is, walking in the glory of fire and the jewels of God [Ezekiel 28:14]. Lucifer, son of the morning [Isaiah 14:12], and one third of the angels rebelled with him. And when he was cast down [Revelation 12:9], they were cast down. And the evil spirits, called “demons” in the Bible, are these fallen angels; they are of two kinds, and why they are two kinds, I do not know, nor can I find out. I have studied and tried, and I have no answer at all.
Some of those angels are imprisoned [2 Peter 2:4]. They are bound down in darkness awaiting the great judgment day of Almighty God [Jude 1:6], and some of them are free [Matthew 8:29]. Why some are imprisoned and why some are free, I cannot learn. But these that are free are these that are named here in this twelfth verse of the sixth chapter of [Ephesians], these archē and exousia and all the rest of that order, and they are here with us [Ephesians 6:12]. In the tenth chapter of Acts, the thirty-eighth verse, “Jesus went about doing good, healing all who were oppressed of the devil” [Acts 10:38], and these are the minions of Satan who afflict mankind.
I might think, I might suppose, that I was reading fantastic legends and fairy tales as I look at the Bible. It is so unthinkable and beyond imagination that such should be in the earth. Then, in experience, daily I see it and come in contact with it. Souls, people who are oppressed by evil spirit. I think of a young man in our church. The father came to me and said, “Pray that he not be sent to the electric chair, but he needs to be incarcerated all of his life.” I visited with the young man. I did it before the crime that sent him in a life sentence to prison. He stabbed a cab driver to death with a knife for no cause and no reason. And as I talked to the young man, I sensed in him that spirit of habitual criminality. He was possessed. There was something else in him.
I see it in these who are denizens of an underworld. They are leaders of vice and corruption. Why do they not respond to a gentle, and sweet, and redemptive appeal? But they give themselves to the destruction of the young. They push and peddle wares that destroy boys and girls. And they do it with no compunction of conscience. They are denizens of death, and destruction, and depravity, and despair. They are leaders of vice and corruption. They have another spirit in them.
I see it in other areas of life, where the thing is not so violent. There are those who have a spirit of thievery. You call them kleptomaniacs. I’ve talked to them. They have talked to me. They are compulsive thieves. They don’t need it, and what they gather together in theft, it is of no necessity in their lives, yet they steal it. They are possessed.
I talk to people who are compulsive liars. They will lie when just to tell the truth would be far better and easier. But they lie. They are compulsive liars. I talk to people who a facet of that spirit will exaggerate. Oh! How many millions they are going to possess tomorrow, or how exalted the situation, when actually it’s nothing at all. They have a spirit of lying, of misrepresentation. They are seized with it.
There are those that I think are possessed in a thousand ways, such as a violent temper, one that is ungovernable and inexcusable. A spirit of violent reaction, volatile in the extreme, a fury of fire––where does that come from? For the physical frame, the body is just clay, made out of dirt, but there’s a spirit that possesses it and uses it [2 Corinthians 5:4]. And that is the evil spirit named by the apostle Paul that can seize us and make us into something else.
What is our deliverance? We’d need another book here. In conclusion, there’s not any for us in ourselves; there is no man who lives who is congruent, equal, able to face Satan. He is so superior to any of us. Nor, in my humble judgment, nor are we equal to any of the fallen spirits who follow in the destructive and disastrous train of Satan, our arch-antagonist.
Then why are we not ultimately destroyed? How do we have any hope whatsoever? How is it not for us just one long interminable story of doom and disaster and death? Our hope lies in the deliverance of God, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and in the Lord’s guardian, merciful, shepherdly care. There is no hope, and there is no strength, and there is no comfort outside of casting ourselves upon the mercies of God. We cannot war in ourselves. “Take therefore the whole panoply of God, that ye may be able to stand” [Ephesians 6:13]. Our survival, our life, our hope lies in the mercies of God. For no man can do it in himself, he cannot.
May I take time before closing to illustrate what I mean? In the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, on the top of the mount, is the Lord, and Elijah, and Moses [Matthew 17:1-3], speaking to Him about the death that He should accomplish in Jerusalem [Luke 9:31], and at His feet glorified, transfigured [Matthew 17:2], at His feet are Peter, James, and John. I don’t blame Simon Peter for saying, “Lord, let us stay here on this glorious mountaintop. Let us stay” [Matthew 17:4]. What joy, and what gladness, and what happiness, and what ecstasy. I don’t blame him. “I’d like to stay. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to go back down into that valley. Let’s just stay.” But it always comes back down to that valley. And when the Lord came, there were the other nine apostles. A father had brought to the nine a demented, possessed boy, and had asked the disciples to heal him, to cast out that evil spirit of destruction and waste. And they couldn’t do it. They were helpless [Mathew 17:14-16]. The Bible plainly reveals why: while Peter, James, and John were up there with the Lord, the nine were quarreling about who was greatest in the kingdom [Matthew 18:1], and I presume the taking of that inner circle up there [Matthew 17:1] had precipitated the quarrel in the other nine. They were helpless; the power had gone from them [Matthew 17:16].
The Lord said, “Bring the boy to Me,” and He healed him and delivered him and cast out the evil spirit [Matthew 17:17-18]. And then when the crowd had melted away, the disciples gathered around Him, and the nine came to the Master and said, “Master, why could not we deliver that boy? Why could not we cast out that evil spirit? Why could not we heal him? Why?” [Matthew 17:19]. And the Lord told them why [Matthew 17:20], and then ended it with the verse, “But this kind cometh out by nothing save by prayer and fasting” [Matthew 17:21]. You cannot in yourself, you cannot. There is no deliverance in us, nor strength, nor help. “This work is done in prayer and in fasting”; in casting ourselves upon the mercies of God.
If the war is won, God has to win it. If there is strength to do, God has to give it. If there is help, it has to come from heaven. And this is the message of the sainted apostle Paul, “For our enemies are not material, corporeal; they are not haima and sarx, they are not blood and flesh, but they are invisible [Ephesians 6:12]. They are unseen, they are spiritual, and God must help us” [2 Corinthians 10:4]. We cast ourselves upon the mercies of the Lord [Ephesians 6:13-17]. May He be kind and good. May He strengthen and comfort and help.
We stand now in a moment to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, or a couple, or just you, one somebody you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, while we sing this song and make this appeal, would you make the decision for Christ in your heart now and come now? Down one of these stairways, or into the aisle and here to the front: “Here I come, pastor, I make it now. I’m choosing for God now, and here I come.” When you stand up, stand up coming, and may the angels of glory attend you in the way while you come, as we stand and as we sing.