More than once I have heard it said regarding the riots, “These are unprecedented times,” or “We are living in unprecedented times.”
No, these are not unprecedented times and we are not experiencing anything new.
Riots in the United States numbering in the hundreds, both large and small, have been occurring since the original thirteen colonies united and federated as states. If we extend beyond the borders of the United States, riots have been occurring for millennia.
Watching the news, however, can be a depressing, and even fear-inducing experience. Just last evening, Alean was in tears as she watched the beatings, looting, and burning. It is unpleasant to observe the manifestation of humanity’s darkest character floating to the surface.
What typically follows is the blaming exercise, and no collective or high-profile individual is immune to being blamed.
- It’s the liberals.
- It’s white supremacy groups.
- It’s Black Lives Matter.
- It’s Antifa.
- It’s George Soros.
- It’s Trump.
- It’s Obama.
- It’s those who won’t speak up.
- It’s those who won’t shut up.
There may be sufficient culpability to span the gamut from end to end. But with whom should the Christ-follower align? Who is right and who is wrong in the current clashes? Is there even a singular answer to that question?
I believe there is just such an answer.
Defining the Battlefield
In any clash of humanity, the Christ-follower can define the battlefield with ease, because the battlefield has been defined for us.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12, NASB
We don’t even know who the enemy is! We think the enemy is the man or the woman standing in front of us. We think the enemy is she or he who holds a differing political opinion. We think the enemy is that man or woman who figuratively gets up in our gill on Twitter or Facebook.
That’s not who the enemy is at all. All of that is just a distraction from the real battle – the real war. We’re getting bad intelligence. Until we can properly identify the enemy, we will see little success in securing his defeat.
Recognizing the Enemy
As names or labels go, the enemy has myriad identifiers. Most often it is Satan (adversary) or the devil (accuser). That’s appropriate, because he is our adversary, and he accuses us day and night before the throne of God (Revelation 12:10). He is called the tempter, a murderer, and a liar. Peter likens him to a roaring lion. Jesus called him a thief. He is a serpent, an angel of light, and the god of this age.
There is much debate and speculation regarding the origin of Satan, but the truth is, we really don’t know from where he originates. What we do know, with certainty, is that he exists, he is here, he is running rampant on the world.
We know that he is created, thus not eternal, not omniscient, not omnipotent, and not omnipresent. There are limits to what he knows, to what he can do, and to where he can be. But be warned, though Satan has limitations, he is no one to be toyed with.
The Bible speaks of principalities, powers, and demons, plural, but only one devil, Satan, singular.
To overcome his limitations, Satan has help. Depending on your translation, these helpers are called principalities, rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, spiritual forces. The apostle John seems to indicate that about one-third of the angels were cast out of heaven in the angelic rebellion (Revelation 12), and these may be the very principalities and powers the apostle Paul mentions.
And take note of where these principalities and powers are. They are “in the heavenly realms.” It is not the man or woman standing before you, or the thug on television, or that annoying person on Twitter or Facebook. This war is underway, but it is not on the streets of Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York. This is a war in the heavenly realm.
Retaining Our Focus
The fact that our enemy does not share our physical space does not give us license to ignore the battle. Please note, it is not their battle. The apostle Paul clearly calls it our battle, our struggle.
Paul’s use of the word παλη (pah-lei) indicates that the struggle, the wrestling is an activity in which we are directly involved. Given that reality, we must fight well, and that begins with not being distracted and drawn away from where the real battle lies. My supervisor at work is constantly reminding the team to “keep the main thing the main thing.”
In the final chapter of 1 Kings, Ahab, king of Israel and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah ignored the warning of the prophet Micaiah and chose to do battle with Ben Hadad II, the king of Aram. To his credit, Ben Hadad knew how to fight and win this battle, and instructed his soldiers to resist being distracted from the true objective.
Now the king of Aram had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, saying, “Do not fight with small or great, but with the king of Israel alone.” – 1 Kings 22:31, NASB
Ben Hadad’s argument was not with the soldiers, or the captains, or even the king of Judah. Ben Hadad’s argument was with Ahab. Similarly, our argument is not with the protesters, the looters, the governors, or the president. Our argument is with the devil and with him alone. That’s where we fight our battle.
Locating Our Strength
Just prior to telling us our struggle is not with flesh and blood, the apostle Paul admonished us to find our strength in God, rather than within ourselves.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. – Ephesians 6:10-11, NIV-1978
Though our enemy is not omnipotent, neither is he a weakling. Without the power of God, and the armor of God, we will fall victim to Satan’s wiles. He is cunning and deceptive, and Paul warns us elsewhere that we should not be ignorant of his “devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Next week, we will examine this armor we are called to wear. Until then, grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.