War in the Spirit World
October 9th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
WAR IN THE SPIRIT WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-9-83 8:15 a.m.
And it is a gladness for us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the great throngs of you who share this hour with us on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message on angelology. Somebody asked me, "Is there a word like that?" I said, "No, it is just one that I use, coined, angelology." In the long, long series on "The Great Doctrines of the Bible," we are coming to the latter part of the three year series of messages. This section is on angels; and there are seven of them. Next Sunday morning the message will be entitled The Fall of Lucifer – The Beginning of Sin. After we have finished the seven messages on angelology, we shall enter the final three sections on eschatology, the consummation of the age.
The message this morning is entitled War in the Spirit World, and the text is Ephesians 6:12: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against," and then he names here – these words in the King James Version are translations of Greek words that refer to the hierarchy of the angels of evil. Our fighting, our wrestling, our confrontation is not with flesh and blood, "but with principalities," that is one hierarchical name group, "powers," that is another, "rulers of the darkness of this world," that is another, "spiritual wickedness in," and it is translated here, "high places," in the heavenlies up above us.
The introduction of the subject is not as extraneous as we might think; war, conflict, confrontation in the spirit world. A great philosopher – possibly the greatest of all time, Plato – Plato would say that the real world is not the material, physical world, which he would describe as being transitory and temporal, but the real world, Plato would say, is the world of the spirit, the unseen, invisible world. If Plato were lecturing here this morning, he would illustrate it with his doctrine of ideas. The real world is a world of ideas.
An idea, of course, is invisible and intangible and unseen, an idea; but the idea is the real reality. The expression of it is temporal and transitory. He would say, for example, a chair, the reality is the idea of a chair; the expression of it, the physical, tangible chair that you look at it is temporal and transitory. It’s the idea, Plato would say, that is eternal and that is invisible.
When we enter the world of physics, we also enter another world that is unseen and intangible. I read several months ago of a man’s description of the gravity that holds this world in its orbit around the sun, and he said, "The power of that gravity that holds the earth in its course around the sun has the strength of a steel beam three thousand miles in diameter." There is a power, three-thousand-mile steel beam that holds this earth as it orbits around the sun, yet a little bird can fly through it. It’s invisible; it’s in another world.
If I had been able to talk to Aristotle, or to Euclid, or to Copernicus, or to Newton, the greatest scientific minds of all the generations, and had I said to Euclid or to Copernicus, "Did you know this air is filled, this void is filled with music, and with sounds, and with pictures?" Those greatest minds of all the earth would have thought me mad! "He’s lost his balance!" But I could take the smallest radio or the smallest TV set and pluck out of the unseen air music and pictures and sound. There’s another world beside the world of corporality, tangibility, materiality; there’s another world, an unseen world, but no less real.
In that world, we live, move, have our being. It is a part of us. It is in us. It is around us. It is about us and it is a section, a partition of us. I am more than the physical structure that you see standing before you. There is another unseen spirit that dwells on the inside of me. I am not just corporeal, physical; I am also something else.
In my pastorate in Muskogee, Oklahoma, before coming here, I was asked by a dear, wonderful Christian member of our church there to visit her, she was not to live. She sent word to me. She was part Cherokee Indian. She was an affluent woman, her husband had died, and she had a fortune of her own, lived in a beautiful two-story home.
So I went upstairs to the bedroom where she lay, and she explained to me that she was not going to live and wanted me to pray with her. And as I sat by the bed and visited with her, she said to me, "An old man has come for me, and I must go with him."
Strange, I said, "Do you know him?"
"No, I’ve never seen him before."
"Well, what does he look like?"
She said, "He has long white hair and a flowing white beard, and he’s dressed in a robe. And he’s come for me, and I must go with him."
"Well," I said, "is he here now?"
She said, "Yes."
I said, "Where is he?"
She said, "He’s downstairs in the living room, next to the piano, the grand piano. He’s seated in a chair there, and he’s come for me, and I have to go with him." As I talked with her a moment more, she said, "He is just arisen, he’s just stood up. And he’s walking across the room, and he’s now seated on the sofa, next to the stairway."
"Well," I said, "I’m going downstairs."
I walked downstairs. I walked over to the right by the grand piano, and I sat down in the chair. Then I stood up and walked over and sat down on the sofa. The strangest feeling I’ve ever had in my life. Then I walked back upstairs and to the bed and looked at her – she was dead. She died with her eyes, big brown eyes, wide open; eyes that a moment before had looked at me, and now as I looked at her, no recognition, yet she was there, every part, piece, and parcel of her structural anatomy was there as it was when I left. What happened? Outside of the persuasion that the spirit of life had left the physical body, there’s no explanation. There are two of us. There’s a me, there’s an I that is physical; but there is also an I, a me, that is spiritual. There’s another world.
Sometimes in that world there is violent conflict. In one of the families in our church in these years past was born a boy, a son, and he grew up to manhood, a big strong fellow. I visited with him many times. There was a strange outside spirit that sometimes entered that big, strong boy. And upon a day, a tragic day, gruesomely and violently he murdered his father who loved him and cared for him; conflict, violence in the spirit world.
When I open my Bible, I open my Bible upon a supernatural world; a world that is far deeper and greater and wider than my physical eyes can see. There is a natural world, there is a spiritual world, and the line in between is the veil of my human flesh. But over and beyond what my physical eye can see, there is another invisible, unseen world. And when I open my Bible, I open it upon a supernatural world, a world out there, a world in here, an invisible world.
And when I open my Bible, I not only open it upon a supernatural world, but I open it, in the beginning, upon a world of conflict, and war, and confrontation. When I open my Bible, the first thing I read, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" [Genesis 1:1]. I would take it for granted, if God did it, God did it beautifully, perfectly. I cannot imagine the omnipotent, almighty, holy and perfect God creating something that is chaotic, dark, vile. It’s beyond my comprehension that the great Lord God would create anything except beautifully perfect. But when I read, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," the very next sentence says, "And the earth became tohu va bohu, waste and empty, void, uninhabitable" [Genesis 1:2]. When I turn in the Bible to Isaiah 45:18, "Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He created it not tohu bohu, waste and void, but He formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord, there is none else."
Something happened here: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," perfect, beautiful; "And the earth became tohu va bohu, vain, empty, void, chaotic, dark." What happened – as we shall learn in the continuation of the series – was sin entered the world, the creation of God; sin entered, and wherever sin enters, there is darkness and destruction and waste. The Bible opens like that, and it continues through all of its pages to the consummation in that same warring confrontation; war in the spirit world.
We are told that when Moses died – wouldn’t you think there would have been a beautiful sepulcher planned for Moses, and that it would have been a shrine to this present day? In the ninth verse of the Book of Jude, it says, "When Satan, when diabalos disputed with Michael over the body of Moses," why such a disputation? Why such a confrontation, an altercation? In the Book of Kings, it says that Hezekiah destroyed the brazen serpent that Moses had raised in the camp because Israel was burning incense to it and worshipping it as an idol [2 Kings 18:4]. If they did that to the brazen serpent, what would they have done had they been able to keep the body of Moses? Such as the body of Ramses II down there in a coffin in Egypt that you can look at today. Between Michael the archangel and between Satan as they warred over the body of Moses, that confrontation goes through all the history of mankind.
In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, when God makes the first man and woman and places them in the garden of Eden, outside of the gate there is a sinister, subtle serpent [Genesis 3:1]. Where did he come from? From that warring at the very heart of the universe. It isn’t just here; it is there, from the beginning.
No more righteous man in the earth than Job, yet he is accused by Satan in the very presence of God Himself, and afflicted! [Job 1:8-12]. Daniel says in his book that his prayers were hindered in their answer by the evil spirits working back of the kings of Persia [Daniel 10:13]. In the third chapter of Zechariah, the prophet Zechariah, the prophet sees Joshua the high priest standing before the Lord and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him, to accuse him [Zechariah 3:1]. In the beginning of the ministry of our Lord Jesus, He is thrice assailed with those terrible temptations by Satan [Matthew 4:1-10].
Paul says, in the second Corinthian letter, chapter 12 [verse 7], that "the thorn in the flesh is a messenger from Satan to buffet me." And in the consummation of the age in the Revelation, in Revelation 9, a great angel comes down from heaven, and opens the bottomless pit, and there pours out like a thick cloud locusts, spirits, evil, to afflict the earth [Revelation 9:1-3]. And in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation just read, there was war in heaven: Satan and his angels warring against the dragon and his angels [Revelation 12:7]. And in the sixteenth chapter of the Revelation, evil spirits proceed out of the mouth of the false prophet, and the beast, and the dragon to call together the kings of the earth to the great battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:13-21]. And in the battle of Armageddon, you have the final confrontation between the forces of evil in this earth. And the millennium closes, in the twentieth chapter of the Revelation, with Satan and his hosts warring against God and His hosts; confrontation, war, all through the Word of God.
And it isn’t just there, and it isn’t just up there, and it isn’t just beyond there, it is in our own lives, in our own experience. It reaches down to us. Paul writes in our text, "For," here in the translation it’s turned into a verbal form, "we wrestle not," the Greek of it is substantive, he pale, "our wrestling, our confrontation is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and powers, and rulers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies" [Ephesians 6:12]; this hierarchical angelic group of evil against which we wrestle. We wrestle, we fight not against flesh and blood. Were it against flesh and blood, if that were all, it’d be comparatively simple. Flesh and blood oppressed the church for the first three Roman centuries.
Paul describes the confrontations, and the heartaches, and the troubles, and the perils in the eleventh chapter of 2 Corinthians: perils of his countrymen, perils of robbers, perils by the sea, all kinds. But these in Paul’s sight were comparatively trivial compared to the he pale pros, face to face, hand to hand, foot to foot confrontation, wrestling, war against the spiritual enemies of darkness. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? It isn’t just flesh and blood that assail us and that afflict us, but there are spiritual wickednesses, demons, fallen angels from another world, that unseen world, that wait to prey upon us. It is a darkening situation.
Well, what is our deliverance? How do we find victory in such an awesome life into which we have been thrust? Paul says if it were a matter of flesh and blood, we’d take up arms against them. Shakespeare said that same thing: we would just take up arms and oppose them. But it isn’t that simple. You take it to bed with you at night. You get up with it in the morning. You face it every hour of the day. You confront it and meet it every moment of your life. There is another darkening world all around us and in us, and we wrestle against it, Paul says, as long as we live. Our deliverance lies in the power of God: only in His ableness is there triumph [Ephesians 6:11].
Who is equal to Satan? I referred to that ninth verse of the Book of Jude: even Michael the archangel dare not condemn him, accost him; even Michael the archangel dare not oppose him, but said, "The Lord rebuke thee" [Jude 1:9]. Even Michael the archangel dare not speak against him an accusing accusation. Michael the archangel is no equal for Lucifer. How much less we? Our deliverance is found in the power of Almighty God. It’s the same with us, as in the story in the seventeenth chapter of Matthew, when the three came down with our Lord from the Mount of Transfiguration, and the other nine were there helpless before an afflicted boy, and the Lord healed him and cast out the evil spirit in him. And when the disciples said, "Why could not we cast him out?" the Lord said, "This kind cometh out by nothing but by prayer," and a scribe added, "and fasting" [Matthew 17:19, 21]; that is, we cast ourselves upon the mercies of God.
It’s like death, and it’s like the grave. Who can save us from so awesome a judgment as death? We have no other recourse but to cast ourselves upon the mercies of God: "Lord, I’m not equal to this life, and I’m not equal to the darknesses that war against me, and I’m not equal to death, and I’m not equal to the grave. God must lift me up. God must save me, for I have no power to deliver myself."
And it is no less true in our keeping, our safety in the grace, and love, and mercy of our Lord. How can I stay saved? How can I, with so much against me, wrestling; how can I? I can only do it in the grace of the Lord Jesus. There is no other way. It is the same thing as our Lord spoke of in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Matthew. The evil spirit left the heart of a man and went out; and after the passing of time, he came back, and looked into that man’s heart, and found it empty, swept, and garnished. And the evil spirit went out and found seven others more vile than himself, and came back, and dwelt in the life of that man; and the latter end was worse than the first [Matthew 12:43-45]. We are that way.
When the evil spirit came back and looked into that man’s heart, he found it empty, swept and garnished: there was no Holy Spirit of God living in his heart; he was not filled with the grace of our Lord. The keeping power of the blessed Savior was not in him and with him, and the evil spirit came back, and the last state was worse than the first. It is thus with us: having saved us, and having delivered us, who can keep us? Only God. And our hearts are open heavenward and God-ward: "Lord, Lord, come into my life, come into my soul, make Your home here." Then when the spirit of evil comes to knock at the door, there is Somebody to meet him: the Spirit of Jesus who lives in our souls.
I think of that closing marvelously beautiful benedictory last two verses of Jude; no more beautiful benediction or meaningful in the world than this one:
Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, power and dominion, both now and for ever. Amen
"Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling." Lord, Lord, not unto me, weak, unstable, like water, "Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, to Him be glory and majesty," world without end, "forever and ever."
We need the Lord. And God can deliver us. Look around you, my brother, just look around you. Everywhere you sit will be men and women and young people who, if they had opportunity, would stand up and testify "what God has done for me, how the Lord has delivered me, and strengthened me, and changed me, and blessed me." And some of you could stand up and say, "I lived in the blackness of the hopelessness of the midnight, and Christ came like the light and glory of heaven itself; and I’ve never been the same since that day." The power of God to deliver, to change, and to keep; that’s the gospel, that’s our hope, our only hope.
We are going to sing us a song in just a moment. And while we sing the appeal, a family you, "This day, pastor, we’re putting our lives with this dear church." Welcome. A couple you, just you, somebody one you, "I want to accept the Lord as my Savior. I open my heart toward Him. I want Him to come into live, and live in my soul. I want to walk with God. I want to see His face someday when I die. I want to go to heaven. I want to live here and forever with the blessed Lord. I want to come and be baptized, just as God says in His Book. I’m following through the waters of the Jordan."
As the Lord shall press the appeal upon your heart, on the first note of the first stanza, come, and may God bless you in the way, may angels attend you. Make the decision now, and when we stand and sing our song, that first step will be the most precious, meaningful you’ve ever made in your life. Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way." A thousand times welcome as you come, while we stand and while we sing.