Ground Zero in the Holy War

It’s a reality we’d all rather forget about:  The world is at war. It’s enemy is us.

It’s easy to forget about this war when the battlefields that we associate it with are so far away and our daily lives aren’t touched by the trauma or the casualties. This is where we in the West are at a disadvantage and where decades of the dominance of materialism have done us a disservice.

If we were not engulfed in ease and abundance, where, as I’ve no doubt you’ve heard before, the poorest of our citizens live on a higher scale of wealth than the richest of citizens in Third World nations, the real-life persecution of our brothers and sisters might download into our memory banks more frequently. If skepticism and rationalism wasn’t so prevalent among today’s evangelicals, then we might really live like we believe the biblical warnings that mankind exists at ground zero of a spiritual war.

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” (2 Timothy 3:12). And in Ephesians 6:12, he 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” (Luke 22:31). 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. China. 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.

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But now, in this Valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was severely challenged. He had gone only a short distance when he saw coming over the field toward him a disgusting fiend named Apollyon. . . .

That monster was hideous to look at. He was covered with scales like a fish (these are his pride). He had wings like a dragon and feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke; and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he came up to Christian, he looked upon him with disdain and then began to question him.

Apollyon. Where did you come from, and where are you going?
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?

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 2:1-3Ephesians 2:13Colossians 1:21Colossians 3:7Titus 3:3)

If it were it not for my desire to have you serve me longer, I would now strike you down to the ground with one blow.
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.” When I reach maturity, therefore, I did as other concerned persons do: I searched for a way to renew myself.
Apol. There is no prince who will lose his subjects so lightly, and I don’t intend to lose you. But since you complain about your work and wages, be content to go back. What our country yields, I now promise to give to you. . . .

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 3:20Romans 6:131 Corinthians 6:19-201 Corinthians 9:27Galatians 4:3-7Galatians 5:132 Timothy 3:13)

Chr. What I promised you was in my adolescence, and besides, 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. In addition—O, you destroying Apollyon!—to speak the truth, I like His Work, His Wages, His Servants, His Government, His Company and His Country better than yours. Therefore quit trying to persuade me; for I am His servant, and I will follow Him.
Apol. Consider again, when you cool down, what you’re likely to meet with in the way that you’re going. You know that for the most part His servants come to an ill end because they are transgressors against me and my ways. Think of how many of them have been put to shameful deaths! And besides, you count His service better than mine even though He has never come from the place where He is to deliver out of our hands any who served Him. But as for me, how many times—as all the world knows very well—have I delivered from Him and His, either by power or fraud, those who have faithfully served me, even though they were taken by them.  And I’ll deliver you in the same way.

Because we have not believed the lie. Our love of the truth by necessity calls out their deception. (Genesis 3:1-5;John 8:442 Corinthians 4:42 Corinthians 11:32 Timothy 2:262 Peter 2:1-3)

[After Christian offers sound apology for the attributes and purposes of the King, Apollyon continues to berate him personally for unfaithfulness to his new Employer.]
Apol. You fainted at the beginning of your journey when you were almost choked in the Gulf of Despondence. You attempted to rid yourself of your burden in the wrong way when you should’ve waited until your Prince had taken it off. You sinfully slept and lost your valuable things. Also, you were also almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the lions. And when you talk about your journey and what you’ve heard and seen, you are inwardly in everything you say and do.
Chr. All this is true and much more which you’ve left out, but 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!”

Because the god they follow hates Christ, Christianity and anyone who relinquishes citizenship here and is regenerated as a citizen of Heaven (Isaiah 14:12-15Zechariah 3:1-2Revelation 12:10Revelation 13:6)

Chr. Beware of what you do, Apollyon, for I am in the King’s Highway, the Way of Holiness. Therefore, take heed to yourself.
Apol. Then Apollyon straddled over the whole breadth of the Path, and said, “I am void of fear in this matter. Prepare yourself to die, for I swear by my infernal abode that you will go no farther. I will spill your soul here!”

And with that, he shot a flaming arrow at Christian’s chest!

But Christian had the Shield in his hand, and with it he intercepted the arrow and averted its danger.

Then Christian drew his Sword, for he recognized it was time to rouse himself. And just as quickly, Apollyon charged him, shooting arrows as thick as hail

Despite all that Christian could do to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him with arrows in his head, his hand, and foot. This caused Christian to fall back a little. Apollyon therefore followed with another sudden and forceful attack. Christian took courage again and resisted as bravely as he could. This severe combat lasted for over half a day, even until Christian was almost worn out, for you must realize that Christian had to have grown weaker and weaker because of his wounds.

Then, seeing his opportunity, Apollyon began to draw close to Christian and, wrestling with him, gave him a dreadful fall. With that, Christian’s Sword flew out of his hand. Then Apollyon exclaimed, “I have you beaten now!” With that, he almost crushed him to death, and Christian began to despair of life.

But as God would have it, while Apollyon was preparing for his last blow, which he would use to bring an end to this good man, Christian skillfully reached out his hand for his Sword, and grasped it, saying, “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise.”

Then Christian gave him a deadly thrust, which made Apollyon back away as if he had received a mortal wound. Recognizing it, Christian attacked him again, saying, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” With that, Apollyon spread out his dragon’s wings, and quickly sped away, so that Christian saw him no more. *

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Now do you understand why we have been issued the full armor of God”? Now do you see why this warfare must be waged until final death befalls Satan and his dominance over the world comes to an end? Christian’s tactics—and Christian’s tactics—are drawn from God’s book: truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, and the Spirit. (Ephesians 6:13-17) Christ’s resurrection does declare victory over sin and death, yet for a time, the Evil One demands allegiance from his worldly citizens. He cares little about how many are left as casualties on the battlefield. Look, the trauma is all around us.

This is the spiritual warfare we and fellow believers face every day. We are called to “suffer hardship” (2 Timothy 2:3). Our souls are the target of the war of fleshly living promoted by the world (1 Peter 2:11).  “If the world hates you,” Jesus said in John 15:18-19, “know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

Imagine how equipped an army hospital would have to be to deal with the tribulations that Christian experienced. Consider how ill-equipped many of us are to minister to the wounds and trauma inflicted in Apollyon’s battle against the church. But according to verse 17 of John 15, we do have one balm and solace to offer our stricken comrades:  These things I command you so that you will love one another. 

I don’t think we’re supposed to go through the trials and afflictions dealt by the world alone. Although Christian had to battle Apollyon solo, soon afterward the King sent Faithful to him to patch up his wounds and share the journey with him. As they traveled, they encouraged one another in Scripture and songs, edifying and building each other up in the faith. Later, Christian discovered that a citizen of Vanity Fair, where our pilgrims were abused and persecuted and threatened with death, had fled the service of the Rebellious One. Once a reviler and mocker, once content to live in a town known for its vaguery and meaninglessness, now Hopeful prevailed upon Christian to allow him to travel in his company. This is loving one another taken to a Christlike level.

It was necessary to make a case for the intensity of the spiritual warfare we face as believers because our materialistically trained senses would rather we forget all about that. It’s just too . . . weird to focus on demons and angels and unseen maneuvers in the air. But my point is that if we are aware that that is the manner of attack that we’re all enduring, why do we neglect our brothers and sisters when they are in the midst of the battle, resisting the devil’s lies and temptations, enduring the slings of doubt and accusations, or when they are lying wounded and bloody in the aftermath?

Basic training should be ongoing for all believers, where the weaponry of prayer, the Word, the spirit, righteousness, faith and the gospel are drilled and perfected upon, and where we encourage one another with reminders of the Prince’s promise that He will return to settle the score once and for all. There ought to be a mess hall where brotherly love, fellowship and unity in Christ are served at each meal. And it goes without saying that an army hospital should be raised up at the gates of hell where we are the servants the great Physician uses to provide healing to wounded travelers and warriors, until we see the full manifestation of His victory over the world. (John 16:33)

  1. For an excellent summary of the triumph of King Jesus over the wicked schemes of Satan, see this post by Tim Challies, a live-blogging report of John Piper’s Desiring God message from 2005, “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”.
  2. 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. 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.

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