War in the Spirit World
October 9th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
WAR IN THE SPIRIT WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-9-83 10:50 a.m.
And no less do we thank God for the multitudes of you who share with us this hour on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled War in the Spirit World. In our preaching through the long series, three years long on the ‘Great Doctrines of the Bible,” we have come to the section on angelology, the section concerning angels, a study of angels.
And after this section is presented in seven sermons, we shall enter the final sections on eschatology, a study of the revealed Word of God concerning the consummation, the end of the world. This section of seven sermons concerns angels. I called it “Angelology.” Next Sunday morning at this hour the sermon will concern the fall of Lucifer, and this morning, War in the Spirit World.
In Ephesians 6, verse 12, Paul writes: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness in this world, against spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies” [Ephesians 6:12]. The King James Version has placed it in a verbal form, “We wrestle not.” Paul wrote it in a substantive nominative form, hē palē, “our wrestling,” our confrontation, “is not against flesh and blood, it is pros,” face to face, hand to hand, foot to foot, in life and death struggle against. And these words translated here are words that Paul uses in his Greek language to refer to the hierarchy of the angels of darkness.
Could such a thing be? Is there an unseen, invisible world of which we are a part, and it a part of us? There assuredly and certainly is! We live in the grasp of, in the power of, unseen and invisible spiritual forces. If the greatest philosopher of all time were here this morning, Plato, Plato would say the real world, the actual world is the unseen and the invisible world. “The seen and visible world,” Plato would say, “is temporal and transitory.”
For example, Plato would illustrate that with his philosophical doctrine of ideas. Plato would say the reality is the idea. The physical expression of it is temporary and transitory and transient. For example, Plato would say the everlasting continuing reality is the idea of a chair, not the physical chair itself. The physical chair is temporary, transient. It will come to an end. But the idea of a chair, the spiritual conception of chair is everlasting and eternal. It is invisible. It is intangible. But Plato would say it is the reality. The real world, Plato would say, is the world of the spirit.
We have a like persuasion of that in physics. The great powers that control life and destiny and universe, the learned teacher of physics would say, is invisible, it’s intangible, it’s unseen. I was reading some time ago of a man who was trying to describe the power that holds our earth in orbit around the sun. And he said that the power—you call it gravity—that holds this earth in orbit around the sun has the strength of a steel beam three thousand miles in diameter!
Can you imagine? A beam—steel—three thousand miles in diameter that holds this earth in orbit around the sun, round and around, holding it in orbit. Yet a little bird can fly through it. You don’t see it. It’s invisible.
I can well imagine if I were able to talk to the greatest scientific, learned minds of the human generations and I were to say to Aristotle, or to Euclid, or to Copernicus or to Newton, if I were to say to one of those brilliant, learned scientists, “Did you know that the air is filled with music, with pictures, with speech, with sound, with drama,” those learned men, Aristotle, Euclid, Copernicus, Newton would look at me and say, “You are mad. You have lost your equilibrium.”
But I can take the smallest radio or the tiniest television set and set it before any one of you today, and the air is filled with sounds and pictures and all of the multitudinous things that fill our daily lives. But those winds of ether waves are unseen. They’re all around us. They’re everywhere. But they’re intangible, ephemeral, but no less real.
It is so with our constitution, our structure and makeup. We are something more than the physical and the material and the tangible. We are also incorporeal. We’re also spirit. We are. Whether we can understand it or explain it or not, the reality is there. We are more than physical, material. We’re also spiritual.
In the day when I was pastor in Muskogee, Oklahoma, before coming here to be undershepherd of the church here in Dallas, there was a woman in Muskogee who asked me to come and to pray with her, that she was dying. She belonged to our church, a very fine, noble woman. She was mostly a Cherokee. She was most affluent. Her husband had died, and she lived in a beautiful two-story home in Muskogee.
I dutifully went to see her to pray with her before she died. And as I visited with her in the second story of her beautiful home, she said to me, “There is an old man who has come for me, and I must go with him. I must leave with him.”
I said, “An old man has come for you? Where is he?”
She said, “He’s downstairs in the living room.”
I asked, “What does he look like?”
She said, “He has long, white hair and a flowing white beard and wears a robe.” “And he’s down in the living room?”
“Where is he in the living room?”
She said, “He is seated on that side by the grand piano.”
And as I visited with her for the moment, she said, “He now is standing up, and
he’s walking across the room, and he’s seated on the sofa by the stairway.”
I went downstairs. “The old man,” she says, “has come for me, and I must leave with him.”
“But you don’t know him and you’ve never seen him before?”
“No. But he’s here and has come for me.”
So going downstairs into the living room, I walked over and sat down in the chair by the grand piano. Then I stood up and walked across the living room and sat down on the sofa where the stair went up to the second story. I had a feeling beyond any that I have ever known in my life, strange and eerie. I walked then back up the stairway into the bedroom and over to where she laid. And I looked down into her eyes, wide-open, dark-brown eyes. She was dead.
She lay there as I had seen her, every part of her, just as she was. But what had happened? There is nobody in this earth that can tell you. What is death? What happens to us when we die? All that I know and all that anyone could say is there is in us spirit, soul, a something other! And when the two are separated, the physical from the spiritual, we die.
Sometimes that spiritual world in which we are inextricably and inevitably involved is vicious and full of bitter conflict and confrontation. In our church here, in this church, there was a family. Their boy grew up here. I talked with him, visited with him many times. The father was a godly man who loved that boy, and his mother, no less devout. But there were times when it seemed to me that from an outside world, a strange spirit seized that boy. He grew up to be big and strong. And upon a tragic, traumatic day, gruesomely and violently, he murdered his godly father. What is that? What strange possession is that?
When I open my Bible, I open it upon a supernatural world, a world far beyond what my eyes can see or even my mind can encompass or understand. It is a world of spirit. There is a natural world. There is a spiritual world. And the veil that falls in between is my fleshly body.
The earth and the heavens are peopled with powers named by the apostle Paul in this sixth chapter of Ephesians and the twelfth verse [Ephesians 6:12]. They are everywhere. And when I open my Bible, I open it upon a world, a spiritual world of conflict, of war. Conflict and war; confrontations are at the heart of this universe, in the creation of God.
When I open my Bible, the first sentence I read, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” [Genesis 1:1]. In my understanding of God, it would be impossible for God to create something unbeautiful, imperfect, ugly, dark. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” I would think that if God did it as the Bible’s first sentence says that it was beautiful and perfect in every detail. God did it.
But when I read the second sentence, “And the earth became formless and waste and void” [Genesis 1:2], however you want to translate those Hebrew words, tohû, “And the earth became tohû wa,“ and, ”bohû,” and the earth became waste, and dark, and chaotic, and void.
In the forty-fifth chapter of Isaiah and the eighteenth verse, the prophet says, “Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He created it not tohû wabohû. He created it not tohû, not waste, and chaotic, and formless, and void, but He created it to be inhabited for a beautiful and perfect home” [Isaiah 45:48].
Well, what happened? In the first verse God created the world and the heavens, beautiful, perfect, to be inhabited, to be a beautiful home for perfect people [Genesis 1:1]. The second verse, “And the earth became tohû wabohû” [Genesis 1:2]. What happened to make it waste and chaotic, and formless, and void, and uninhabitable? It is very obvious what happened. Between those two verses you have the fall of Lucifer [Isaiah 14:12-14]. That will be the message next Sunday. You have the entrance of sin into God’s creation. And wherever sin enters, there also enters destruction and waste and chaos and darkness!
When I turn the page to the third chapter of Genesis and see here the estate of the perfect man and the perfect woman placed in the garden of Eden, and the sentence begins, at the door, at the gate of the garden is the subtle, sinister serpent! [Genesis 3:1]. Where did he come from? There he stands at the entrance of God’s paradise in the garden of Eden. There is conflict and war and confrontation at the heart of this universe, and when I follow through the pages of the Bible, that is its story and its revelation.
When Moses died, would you not have thought there would have been a beautiful tomb and we could visit it to this present day? This is where Moses is buried? Instead, in the ninth verse of the Book of Jude, we are told that Michael disputed with Lucifer concerning the body of Moses [Jude 1:9]. Why did Lucifer want the body of Moses? In the Book of Kings we’re told that Hezekiah destroyed the brazen serpent that Moses had raised in the wilderness because the people of Israel burned incense before it and worshipped it as an idol, and Hezekiah destroyed it [2 Kings 18:4].
If the people were entrapped into idolatry by the brazen serpent, think what they would have been idolatrous concerning if they possessed the actual body of Moses, embalmed like the body of Rameses II down there in Cairo, Egypt, where you can see it today. And he’s been dead thousands of years—the confrontation at the heart of the universe in the spirit world, there between Michael and Lucifer over the body of Moses [Jude 1:9].
You have the story in the Book of Job, one of the best men in all the earth, but accused before the throne of God by Satan [Job 1:8-12, 2:3-5]. You have that confrontation in Daniel. Daniel’s prayers are long in being answered because the messenger from God to bring him the triumphant answer to his supplications has been hindered by the evil angels that infest and damn and curse this whole universe [Daniel 10:11-13]. You have it in the story of Zechariah in the third chapter. And the prophet Zechariah, he sees Joshua the high priest standing before God, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him [Zechariah 3:1].
You have it in the story of our Lord as He begins His public ministry. Satan attacks Him [Matthew 4:1-11]. And you have the story of those three awesome confrontations called temptations [Matthew 4:1-10]. You have it in the story of Paul in the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinthians. He says, “This thorn in the flesh that I have is a messenger from Satan to buffet me” [2 Corinthians 12:7]. Satan does that! And when we come to the consummation, the Apocalypse, the last chapter and the last book in the Bible, dear me, the whole story is one of war in the spirit world.
In the ninth chapter of the Revelation a great angel comes down from heaven and opens the bottomless pit, and evil spirits like black clouds of locusts pour out upon the earth [Revelation 9:1-3]: the great tribulation. In the twelfth chapter, the one that you just read, “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fighting against Satan and his angels” [Revelation 12:7-9]. In the sixteenth chapter of the same Revelation, evil spirits pour out of the mouth of the dragon, and the beast, and the false prophet, going to the kings of the earth to gather them together in the great battle of the Lord called the battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:13-16].
In the twentieth chapter of the Revelation, the millennium ends with the last uprising of Satan and his demons warring against God and the saints of the Lord [Revelation 20:7-10]. It continues. It never ceases until the end. And in that confrontation all of us are caught up. That’s why Paul writes, “For hē palē, our wrestling is not pros, face to face, with flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness, principalities, rulers, spiritual wickedness” [Ephesians 6:12]—these evil spirits that afflict us and torment us, attack us, and before whom we are weak like water. No man is an equal to Satan. No man.
In that same ninth verse of the Book of Jude, it says, “Even Michael the archangel dare not bring against Lucifer, Satan, a railing accusation, but he said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” [Jude 1:9]. And if Michael, God’s great warrior angel, cannot face in victory or triumph the power of Lucifer, then how much less are you and I able to stand before what Paul calls the wiles of the devil, the attacks of Satan? [Ephesians 6:11].
“Well pastor, that is a bleak and dreary word you have brought concerning war in the spiritual world. But what of us, poor, human beings, weak as water, unstable, unable, prone to fall into every sin and temptation? What of us?”
That’s the gospel. That’s the message of hope. That’s Jesus our Lord. That’s the revelation of the mercy, and grace, and saving love of our Lord. There wouldn’t be any hope for us, no way out, no deliverance, no salvation were it not that the great Lord God bares His arm to rescue us, and to save us, and to lift us up out of the miry pit, and to deliver us from damnation in hell [Isaiah 52:10]. God does it, and only God is able to do it [Acts 4:12]. We can’t do it in ourselves. God has to do it.
We can but cast ourselves upon the mercies of the Lord. “God save. God have mercy. God help. God deliver. God redeem me.” It is He and He only able to deliver us.
I think of the disciples down at the foot of the mountain in Matthew 17 when the three are up there with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-3]. And when they come down from the mountain, there are those nine apostles, helpless, helpless before a demented boy, an afflicted boy, trying to heal him. And when they turned to the Lord who does heal him and ask, “Why could we not heal him?” the Lord replies, “This kind [is] saved, delivered, healed only by prayer, by supplication” [Matthew 17:14-21]—a scribe added, “and fasting.”
We don’t have any other hope. We don’t have any other deliverance. Saved in the ableness and the power of God, we cast ourselves upon His merciful arms. “God be merciful to me. Help me. Save me. Deliver me.” And God does it.
In the fifth chapter of the Book of Mark is the marvelous story of the healing, the deliverance, of the Gadarene demoniac, a man who was afflicted by a legion of evil spirits [Mark 5:1-14]. There he sits at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, completely changed, completely delivered [Mark 5:15]. “Well,” you say, “that’s in the fifth chapter of Mark.” My brother, look around you. On the pew where you are seated, there are men and women who have been marvelously changed, saved, delivered, born again, born anōthen, “from above” [John 3:3], by the same power of the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
“This is the way I used to be. This is the way I am now.” Look just alike: same body, same house; but a new man, a new spirit, born again [John 3:3, 7], changed by the power of God [2 Corinthians 5:17]. It is thus that the Lord keeps us. Not only does He deliver us where we are helpless in ourselves, but it is the Lord who keeps us, who saves us to Himself in glory [2 Thessalonians 3:3].
When I begin this earthly pilgrimage from this life to the life that is to come, how do I know that I’ll make it to the beautiful city, to the pearly gates, to the golden streets [Revelation 21:21], to the mingling with the family and saints of God? In myself, no strength to persevere; I make it, I’m going to be there by the grace of the keeping power of God. God does it [John 10:28-30]. It’s something He does for me. I love that old song, “In God’s unchanging hands He holds us.”
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Matthew our Lord tells the story of an evil spirit who leaves a man [Matthew 12:43-45]. And after he has wandered in dry places, he comes back to that man’s heart, and he looks on the inside of that man’s heart, and he finds that his heart is empty, and swept, and garnished—nothing there. And he goes out and he finds seven other evil spirits more worthless and filthy and dirty than himself. And he gathers those seven and they come into that man’s heart to live there. And the last estate of that man is worst than the first [Matthew 12:43-45].
Well, what happened? What’s the matter? It is plain. The man’s heart is empty, and swept, and garnished. The man’s heart is made for the throne of the Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit of Jesus is to live in a man’s heart [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. That’s His kingdom, the kingdom of our Savior. It’s in our souls. It’s in our hearts. And when we are filled with the grace, and love, and presence of God, when the evil spirit comes, he can’t get in. Jesus is there. There’s no place for it. The Holy Spirit is there.
That’s why I say that an evil spirit can sometimes affect God’s saint, but he can’t possess him! He can’t live in him! There’s no room for him! He’s filled with the presence of Jesus in his heart. And that is the way that a man is kept. He’s kept by the power of God, by the presence of the Lord in his heart and in his life.
I don’t think that in all of the Bible there is a benediction more beautiful and more pertinently precious to us who have looked in faith to the Lord Jesus than the benedictory close of the Book of Jude. Do you remember it? “Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless in the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, Unto the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, power and dominion, both now and forever. Amen” [Jude 1:24-25].
Just think of that. “Unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless in the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Savior,” the Lord Jesus Christ, “be glory and majesty, power and dominion, both now and forever. Amen” [Jude 1:24-25].
Lord, Lord. Could I finally remark, when you get to heaven, when you see Jesus, when you mingle with the family of God’s redeemed, you know what you’re going to sing about? You’re not going to sing about, “All praise to me. I did it. All glory to me. I made it.” Because we didn’t do it; we’re not able to do it. What you’re going to sing about is my favorite song out of Handel’s Messiah, “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood . . . To Him be glory and honor and majesty forever and ever” [Revelation 1:5-6]. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” [Revelation 5:12].
It’s here. That’s heaven and that’s heaven here in this earth, singing the praises of Jesus, what God hath done for me. It’s a beautiful and wonderful and triumphant and glorious life, giving our souls and our hearts in loving faith to the Lord Jesus.
We’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, coming into the fellowship of our dear church, a couple you, or just a one somebody you, “Pastor, today we have decided for God, and here we come. We want to be baptized just as God has commanded it in His Book [Matthew 28:19-20]. We want to walk with our Lord through the waters of the Jordan.” Or, “Today we’re accepting the Christ who died on the cross as my Savior” [1 Corinthians 15:3]. In any way the Holy Spirit of God invites you to Him and to us, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we stand to sing our appeal, down a stairway, there, there, down an aisle, here, here, here, “Pastor, we’re coming today. This is God’s day and God’s time for us.”
May the Holy Spirit be with you. May angels attend you as you come. While we stand and while we sing, “Here I come. Here I am.”