But we risk being counted among the deceived if we limit the battlefields to geographical dimensions. Paul wrote to Timothy that “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that we “wrestle . . . against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
This Holy War is documented in Scripture from unmarked time before the creation of the world when Lucifer and his followers plotted in rebellion against Mighty God. It’s in the demand for Job’s testing of faith and revealed in the moment the Lord told Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.” The Son of God is crucified. Stephen is stoned. The apostles are imprisoned, and many are tortured and put to death. The church is run out of Jerusalem and the spread of the gospel begins, shaded with the blood of martyrs.
This is Holy War, engaging all the armies of heaven and the forces of darkness, down through the ages.
Today, we follow stories from places where Christians are eliminated with impunity. Syria. Iran. North Korea. We wonder if the building resentment toward believers in not so distant places is part of the same wave of rebellion against Christ. Christians who are denied freedom to preach, punished for turning down work that will compromise their beliefs, forbidden to speak of Christ if they hold positions in education, the military or the government. Although we may not yet be resisting to the point of bloodshed, the spiritual casualties are just as real in God’s perspective. While persecution (which admittedly for us in the West is really only a discomfort at this point) is to aid us in sharing His suffering, cause us to long all the more for Heaven, and hew us to look more like Christ, nonetheless it represents an offense to God, a rebellion against His order, and a rejection of His Son’s perfect reign.
Our friend, John Bunyan, draws a picture of the battle for the soul in The Pilgrim's Progress and hints at the biblical reasons for why the world hates us. In the course of his journey to the Celestial City where he longs to live eternally with his King, the story's protagonist, Christian, found himself face to face with Apollyon, a hideous monster and ruler of the land he was fleeing. Apollyon demanded to know Christian's destination.
Chr. I've come from the City of Destruction, which is the Place of all Evil, and I'm going to the City of Zion.
Apol. By this I perceive you're one of my subjects, for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it then, that you have run away from your king?
The world hates us because we’ve broken ranks with them in their devotion and obedience to the god of this world. We are considered traitors to our original king. (Ephesians 2:1-3; Ephesians 2:13; Colossians 1:21; Colossians 3:7; Titus 3:3)
Chr. True, I was born in your empire. Yet serving you was hard, and the wages you paid were such that a man couldn't live on them, for "the wages of sin is death."
Apol. There is no prince who will lose his subjects so lightly, and I don't intend to lose you. . . .
The world hates us because we don’t “appreciate” a life enslaved to depravity, indulgence and pride, but instead give our bodies over to the Lord. Our faith shines a light on the sinister darkness of their bondage. (John 3:20; Romans 6:13; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 4:3-7; Galatians 5:13; 2 Timothy 3:13)
Chr. I believe the Prince, under whose flag I now serve, is able to forgive me; yes, and even pardon what I did as to my agreement with you. .... Therefore quit trying to persuade me; for I am His servant, and I will follow Him.
The world hates us because we have not believed the lie. Our love of the truth by necessity calls out their deception. (Genesis 3:1-5;John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Timothy 2:26; 2 Peter 2:1-3)
After Christian offered sound apology for the attributes and purposes of the King, Apollyon continued to berate him personally for unfaithfulness to his new Employer.
Chr. The Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive. These infirmities controlled me in your country, for there I sucked them in; and I've groaned under them and been sorry for them, but I've obtained pardon for them from my Prince.
Apol. Then Apollyon broke out into a tremendous rage, saying, "I'm an enemy of this Prince! I hate His person, His laws, and His people. I've come here on purpose to oppose you!"
The world hates us because the god they follow hates Christ, Christianity and anyone who relinquishes citizenship here and is regenerated as a citizen of Heaven (Isaiah 14:12-15; Zechariah 3:1-2; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 13:6)
For many of us, the thought of journeying through life under the oppression of hatred and the threat of destruction by spiritual forces is overwhelming and enough to paralyze us with fear. But the Lord, the same King that Christian proclaims to be trustworthy and faithful, assures us He will be with us, He will provide us strength and courage through the trials and times of despair, and He will preserve us to the end. "So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:6)
In a liveblogging post of John Piper’s Desiring God message from 2005, “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”, Tim Challies notes that, when in the midst of battles with the devil, we ought to be celebrating "the sovereignty of God, not fear or flee from it. Satan will be put in his proper place, and God in His - vastly more sovereign over Satan. . . . The evil and suffering in this world are greater than we can ever imagine. But evil and suffering are not ultimate or sovereign. No, only and always it is God who is sovereign over joy and pain, evil and suffering."
In the next related post on Holy War, we will look at the role of the church as a M*A*S*H unit and assess whether we are equipped to minister to the wounds and trauma inflicted in Apollyon's battle against the Pilgrims at our doorstep.
*The text of The Pilgrim's Progress came from the 1998 Bridge-Logos edition, revised and updated by L. Edward Hazelbaker, titled The Pilgrim's Progress in Modern English. This is the book being used by the women's study group for this spring, meeting on Mondays and running through May 2. More information is available here. If you are already familiar with Bunyan's better known work, I invite you to read his lesser known but more relevant to this topic masterpiece, The Holy War.
This post originally appeared at Laura's blog, #thereyougothinkingagain, on 2/17/16.