War in the Spirit World
December 5th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
WAR IN THE SPIRIT WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-5-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled War in the Spirit World. In our preaching through the Book of Ephesians, we have this message and then one other, the one delivered next Sunday, and that will conclude the long series on the Book of Ephesians. There have been between forty and fifty of the sermons, and they will be published in a book this coming spring.
Our text is in the sixth chapter, the last chapter of the book, and beginning at verse 10: "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10]. That was the message last Sunday morning, In the Strength of the Lord. "Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the methodeia, against the cunning, planted, stated craftiness of the devil" [Ephesians 6:11]. And then the text today:
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.
"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" [Ephesians 6:12]. May we look at the text as Paul by inspiration wrote it? May we first look at the text for just a moment? "For we wrestle, pale" foot to foot, hand to hand, in a struggle unto death; it is personal, not impersonal. It is close, it is in contact, "against, not flesh and blood, but against," then he names the hierarchy of evil angels, pros, face to face. "For we fight unto death, face to face with our antagonists; not against flesh and blood, haima kai sarka," he writes it, "blood and flesh."
Our enemies are not corporeal or material. They are invisible. They are spiritual. They are non-material. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against archos, leading ones," he is naming a hierarchy of evil angels, archos exousias, "powers," people who have in themselves tremendous power, exousias; it refers to inward personal power. These are unusual names for a hierarchy. They are mostly descriptive.
Kosmos, pantokratos, world rulers; isn’t that an amazing revelation? The rulers of the world, actually in this dispensation, are under the aegis and direction of Satan, kosmos, the world, [kosmokratoras], rulers, against spiritual wickedness, pneumatika, against spiritual beings of evil," and you have it translated here, "in high places, epouranios, in the heavenlies, all around the band of the world" [Ephesians 6:12].
To me all of this, as I study it, is a surprising and an astonishing revelation. And to me, it would also be almost fantastic were it not that I sense it as you do in your own personal life. For our enemies, Paul says, are not flesh and blood, not the real ones. Were the enemies material we might go to war against them, but they are immaterial. They are invisible and unseen. Material enemies do not waste us and ultimately destroy us.
The church for three hundred years lived in bitter persecution under the Roman Empire; but there was never a time when it flourished more dynamically and triumphantly than it did in its first three hundred years. Paul himself knew what it was to face material enemies. He spoke: "Against wild beasts have I fought in Ephesus" [1 Corinthians 15:32]. He described his sufferings at the hands of men, "five times receiving forty stripes save one, and thrice was he beaten with rods" [2 Corinthians 11:23-25]; spent most of his ministry incarcerated and finally was beheaded. Yet, Paul does not describe those enemies as his real enemies. They were insignificant and trivial to the apostle compared to the invisible, unseen enemies that warred against him on the outside. There is beyond us and above us an invisible world that is against us.
In the garden of Eden, outside the gate, there is a subtle and evil, and wicked being. He’s already there, unseen, invisible, but outside the very gate of the garden of Eden. And he just used the form of the serpent thus to destroy our first parents [Genesis 3:1-6]. In the afflictions of Job, they seemed to come from the providences so cruel in life; the wind destroyed his home and house, and the thieves that drove away his herds and his flocks, and the fire that consumed, and finally the afflictions in his own physical body. All of those seemed to be such providences that sweep and overwhelm us in life. But beyond Job, unseen, and unknown, and invisible, there is an accuser, Lucifer, Satan, the devil [Job 1:8-12; 2:3-7]. And Job is not aware of that unseen, subtle, vicious antagonist.
The Lord is driven by the Spirit to face an antagonist that we cannot see with our mortal eyes [Matthew 4:1]. In the third chapter of the prophet Zechariah, he saw Joshua the high priest standing to minister before the Lord and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him [Zechariah 3:1]. A world beyond us and outside of us that is against us, and when we’re introduced into that world, we find that itself is filled with war and bitter antagonism, apparently far back in the unknown ages before the creation, and continuing clear to the consummation of the age. There is war in that invisible and unseen world.
There is war and conflict at the very heart of the universe. In the Book of Daniel, Michael is introduced to us. He is the prince that stands for the people of God, for Israel, and he is opposed by the spirits and the rulers, the kosmokrator, the rulers of the princes of the world; conflict in that unseen invisible world beyond us [Daniel 10:13-21]. In the passage that you read from Jude, Michael is disputing with Satan about the body of Moses [Jude 1:9].
And in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation it is openly described, "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels warring against Satan and his legions" [Revelation 12:7]. The whole universe, invisible and visible, material and non-material, corporeal and non-corporeal is afflicted, and assailed, and divided by this awesome conflict. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and powers, and rulers of world darkness and spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies" [Ephesians 6:12].
As we are introduced to this unseen conflict – – and it is only in the Word of God that we’re made aware of its nature, though we feel it and sense it in all of our personal lives – – in that world, there are two legions arrayed against one another, and they’re both revealed to us in the Scriptures. There are first the hosts of heaven, the angelic creatures, creations, beings, angels of God. They are described, some, as seraphim. That is a word meaning "the burning ones," the seraphim. And they attend and praise the holiness of God, singing, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is filled with His glory" [Isaiah 6:3]; the seraphim, the burning ones. The cherubim; wherever they are presented, they are angels of mercy, and love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. They were at the eastern gate of the garden of Eden when the man and his wife were driven out [Genesis 3:24]. They were woven in the tapestry of the tabernacle and of the temple [Exodus 26:31]. And two of them, with wings meeting, looked full faced upon the mercy seat; the cherubim [Exodus 25:18-20]. They are described in the first and the tenth chapters of Ezekiel, and in the Book of the Revelation such as the fourth chapter, zoon translated there, "beasts," no, "the living ones," the four cherubim who represent God’s love, and grace, and mercy to the human race, these angels of God [Revelation 4:6-9].
Seraphim, cherubim, archangels; there is just one of them named. But he is called by name five times; three times in Daniel [Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1], one time in Jude [Jude 1:9], and the fifth time in the Revelation [Revelation 12:7]. Michael is the prince that stands for the chosen people of God, the race of Israel. And Michael seems to be the great antagonist of Lucifer and of Satan. He wars with his legions against the dragon and his fallen angels. And in the final and ultimate conflict it is Michael and his legions who are triumphant. Gabriel: four times in the Bible is Gabriel named; twice in Daniel [Daniel 8:16; 9:21], and twice in Luke [Luke 1:19, 26]. He describes himself as "the messenger who stands in the presence of the Lord" and always, when Gabriel is named he is named as a representative and in connection with our redemption in Christ Jesus. Then beyond these who are named, the seraphim, the cherubim, the archangel, if there are other archangels, at the sound of the voice of the archangel we shall be raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16]; the archangel, or archangels, Gabriel.
Then, the hosts of heaven, the angels of God; they are innumerable. In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, "For we shall someday come to the church and general assembly of the first-born, and to an innumerable company of angels" [Hebrews 12:22-23]. And in the Revelation, the apostle John says the number of them, "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands and thousands" [Revelation 5:11], the word is "myriads, myriads, and myriads, and myriads"; the great host of God’s angelic creatures in glory. The expression, "the Lord of host" is an expression that refers to the Prince who leads the glorious galaxy of God’s angelic creation, the Lord of host, the angelic hosts.
And they are powerful, the angels of God. One angel, just one, one angel, only one, passed over the army of Sennacherib, the bitter Assyrian antagonist of Hezekiah, and Judah, and Jerusalem. One angel passed over the army of Sennacherib, and the following morning there were one hundred eighty-five [thousand] dead corpses in Sennacherib’s army [2 Kings 19:35]. Sometimes I think of the vast extent of what Jesus meant when He said, "Put up the sword, for thus it must be that the Scriptures might be fulfilled; for," He said, "could I not ask for help from My heavenly Father, and He send me twelve legions of angels?" [Matthew 26:52-53] Each legion at full manning was about six thousand. And twelve legions would be seventy-two thousand angels. And just one angel, passing over the army of Sennacherib, left one hundred eighty-five thousand dead. They are powerful, the messengers of God.
And, according to the last verse of the first chapter of Hebrews, the angels of the Lord are guardian, ministering spirits to help us who belong to the family of God [Hebrews 1:14]. It was an angel that comforted Christ in the days of His forty day trial in the wilderness [Matthew 4:11]. It was an angel that comforted Christ in Gethsemane [Luke 22:43]. It was an angel that opened the door of the iron prison that incarcerated Simon Peter [Acts 12:7-10]. It was an angel of the Lord that stood by Paul in the awful disastrous trial of the storm and wreck at sea [Acts 27:23]. It is the angels who shepherdly, prayerfully, tenderly, lovingly watch over God’s people [Psalm 91:11]. These are the invisible, unseen helpers who stand by the side of the children of God.
But the Scriptures also reveal to us the unseen, invisible antagonists who war for our ultimate and final devastation and destruction. First of all, and above all, and apparently the most powerful prince of all is Satan, Lucifer, diabolos, the devil, the dragon. So powerful is he that in the passage you just read out of Jude, even Michael the archangel, when he disputed with Satan over the body of Moses, "durst not bring against him a railing accusation." Even Michael the archangel dare not confront Satan in his own strength and power, but said, "The Lord God rebuke thee" [Jude 9].
Satan; what is he like? The caricature of him from the Middle Ages is somehow repeated to us, in image, down through the years until finally the identification has made it seem like a ridiculous thought that he even exists. By that I’m talking about in those miracle plays of the Middle Ages, Satan was always presented as a crude, moronic creature with horns, and forked tail, and red suit, and an insane leer on his face. That pleases Satan, I’m sure, that we could hide his real identity under such mischievous characterization.
In the Scriptures he is delineated for us, as in the eleventh chapter of the [second] Corinthian letter he is called "an angel of light" [2 Corinthians 11:14]. 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 shrewd. He is intelligent. He is cunning. He’s the most gifted of all God’s creatures, Satan. And apparently, he wins. He won over Adam and Eve [Genesis 3:1-6]. And apparently he has won over the race. He has brought into this world death and pain and misery. And he presides over the dark, sullen, joyless stream of humanity that finally pours itself out into age and pain and ultimate death; Satan’s the god of this world.
And with him are the hosts of the fallen angels. The demons that are named in the Bible are these fallen spirits. Apparently when Satan fell, he drew with him, according to the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, he drew with him one-third of the heavenly host [Revelation 12:4]. Sometimes, thinking about it, seems fantastically unbelievable. One-third of the angels of glory chose to leave their habitation, and they joined in the rebellion of Satan against God.
They are of two kinds. In the passage you read in Jude [Jude 1:6], and mentioned also in 2 Peter, there are the fallen angels who are incarcerated [2 Peter 2:4]. They are in prison awaiting the great judgment of Almighty God. But there are hosts of them, and legions of them, that are free. And it is these that Paul refers to as warring against us – not flesh and blood, but these fallen angels that afflict the human race [Ephesians 6:12]. Why some of them are incarcerated, held down against the day of judgment, I do not know, nor can I find out in all of my studying. I have never been able to find an answer. Why some are in prison and some are free, I do not know. But hosts of them are free; the minions of Satan that make him almost omniscient, and almost ubiquitous. And they are everywhere, and they afflict the human race. In Acts 10:38, the Lord is described as someone going about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed of diabolos. The oppressions of mankind come from that invisible and unseen world, the antagonists, the principalities, and powers, and the rulers of darkness, and the pneumatika, the spiritual beings in the heavenlies.
I said a moment ago, such a revelation would be almost fantastic were it not that I see it, and sense it, and feel it in the world in which we live, in daily life. I don’t have time to enter into these things in my pastoral work. I’m thinking of a young man, a convicted criminal, in perpetuity, seemingly that, and when he stabbed a cab driver to death, his father came to me and said, "We’re just asking that he be incarcerated for the rest of his life." As I visited with the boy and talked to him, the spirit of violence, the response of the criminal, you could feel it and sense it. Ah, and what is it that is in these men who live in the world of vice and corruption, unreachable by the appeal of the Spirit of Christ, dark denizens of an evil and destructive and violent world?
And the lesser and non-violent spirits that I see seize people. Did you ever visit with a kleptomaniac, a compulsive thief? Did you ever talk with a compulsive liar? Telling me the untruth, when the truth itself would have served better, seemingly possessed by a spirit of untruthfulness; and a thousand other things that I witness and see; sometimes the spirit of anger seizing, directing, almost helpless before it; driving. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood" [Ephesians 6:12], but against these hierarchies of invisible and unseen spirits that come and seize us and possess us and destroy us.
And in the moment that remains, how do we stand, assailed, warred against by such awesome invisible foes? That’s why the appeal of the apostle and the address of the letter to us: "Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand" [Ephesians 6:13]; then he names it – which will be the sermon next Sunday morning – it is only in God that we are delivered and that we are saved. I must close. May I give you one illustration of what I mean? It is only God who is able to deliver and to save. If it is not from God, we are helpless and hopeless.
Do you remember in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, up there on the mountaintop are the Lord, Moses and Elijah talking to Him about His death which He should accomplish in Jerusalem, accomplish in Jerusalem; something assigned for us, in our behalf. And up there are Peter, James, and John with the Lord, wanting to stay up there, build a tabernacle, a house, and just live up there in such celestial glory [Matthew 17:1-4] – – and I don’t blame them, and I understand it – – and down in the valley are the other nine apostles. And a man has brought to the nine apostles a boy who is afflicted with an evil spirit, tormented by it [Matthew 17:14-16]. And the nine apostles, and as you remember the story, they were discussing and in bitter contention about who was to be first, and who was to be the leader, who was going to sit next to the right hand of the Lord [Matthew 18:1]. They were in that kind of an unspiritual humor, and they found themselves powerless. They could not deliver the boy or cast out the evil spirit. They were not the means of saving the lad.
I presume they fell into those altercations with one another because the Lord had taken Peter, James, and John up there on the mountaintop. So when the Lord came back down to the valley from the transfiguration and met those nine apostles, the father came and bowed at the feet of Jesus, and said, "Lord, what shall we do? I brought my boy to the disciples, and they were not able to help or to deliver or to cast out the evil spirit." And the Lord said, "Bring him to Me, bring him to Me." And the Lord healed the boy. And after the throng had melted away, and the disciples were with the Lord alone, those nine came to Him and said, "Lord, why couldn’t we do that? Why couldn’t we deliver that boy? Why is it that our hands are powerless and we can’t be used? Why?" And the Lord replied, "This is done, this power comes only in prayer and fasting" [Matthew 17:14-21].
The weapons of our warfare are never material. You cannot seize an instrument and say, "Now I go to war against these spiritual enemies of God, and of my own soul." They are only in the hands of those who receive from God that strength and power to stand. "This is done only in prayer and fasting," only in flinging yourself, casting yourself upon the mercies of God. The victory comes alone and only from Him.
We must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family, or a couple, or you, while we sing the song, to give your heart in trust to Jesus, to put your life in the fellowship of the church, to ask God to come into you heart and life, while we sing this hymn of appeal, make the decision now to come, and when we stand up, stand up coming. From the balcony round, down a stairway, on the lower floor, into the aisle and here to the front, "Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now." Make the decision in your heart now, and come now. And may the guardian angels of Jesus attend your way while you come, while we stand and while we sing.