by Dr Jurie Vermeulen

This Easter, during Holy Week, I read again the events of Jesus’ last week on earth, from his arrival in Jerusalem to the Resurrection and Ascension. What came into focus was the reality of the spiritual war that was constantly raging in the background – in fact, it functioned as spiritual decor or cosmic context for the Easter events. For example, we read: “The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus … As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly’” (John 13:2, 27 NIV).

In John’s version of events, Satan was the unholy instigator of Judas’s betrayal to the Jews; it was not only motivated by the human jealousy and fear of religious and political authorities. But the events of the Cross are not only to be ascribed to Satan’s “inspiration”. After all, we know that the prophet Isaiah saw and described in great detail the crucifixion of the suffering Servant 700 years before that Easter: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed … the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:5-7 NIV).

Several New Testament passages also describe the result of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in martial terms: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work … You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world … We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 3:8, 4:4, 5:18-19 NIV).

So, what does all this mean for those of us who belong to Christ and form part of His church and His kingdom on earth?

Firstly, in the abovementioned passage John makes it very clear that Jesus already fought and won this cosmic spiritual battle 2,000 years ago! Satan is a defeated foe, sin has lost its sting, and soon Death will face its own death.

The second truth we see here is that this defeated foe continues, despite Jesus’ victory, to work relentlessly to prevent as many people as possible from living in Christ’s triumph. Consequently, they offer no resistance, and in many cases, they remain totally unaware of the role we are meant to play in this cosmic war. It reminds me of this scripture: “These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience) …” (Judges 3:1-2 NIV).

Each of us can do incalculable damage to Satan’s kingdom through our prayers, love, testimony, and positive influence in the world; therefore, we sometimes endure a lot of persecution on different levels, from physical persecution to emotional and psychological struggles. And as I mentioned already, we do not need to fight the war all over again – Jesus settled the outcome long ago. No, our fight merely requires of us to enforce Jesus’ victory, and even that is frequently too much for us.

Generally speaking, Western Christianity has probably become too used to material and spiritual prosperity and comfort to face the rigours of war! In his book, Those Who Remain, Michael Hopf writes, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.” I want to complete the cycle by adding: “…and hard times create strong men (again).”

“Fight the good fight of the faith”!

Paul has a lot to say about our battle. Apart from his exhortations to Timothy, we are well-acquainted with his description of the armour of God: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground …” (Ephesians 6:11-13 NIV).

In this passage, Paul describes Satan’s battle forces. He also describes the psychological and cognitive dimensions of our fight – after all, 80% of our spiritual battles are fought for control of the human mind and soul: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NIV).

Our battle can range from purely superficial social discrimination by family and friends on the one hand, to physical persecution and death on the other. But the most common battle we fight from day to day takes place in our thoughts and emotions. Never has the world been as full of fear, depression, confusion, meaninglessness, materialism, hate, and desperation as right now. And never has Jesus’ victory, as well as Paul’s exhortation to, “when the evil day comes … stand your ground”, been more relevant!

In the words of the philosopher Marcus Aurelius: “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”

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