who care for one another and bring God’s love into a broken world”
Maurits Stevens, February 21, 2016
Today I continue with our series ‘God at War’. From a biblical and Kingdom perspective I would like to look at ‘the reality of evil’. As someone said: ‘There seems to be more pain and misery, injustice and violence in this world than love, prosperity, justice and joy’ (Boyd G. God at War. Pg. 36). The earth is a battlefield, full of suffering and satanic evil. And how are we, as Christians, to respond to all that evil? That’s the fundamental question behind this series.
In my previous message, I looked at the reality of evil and our response to that from the OT and in specific Ps. 74. From this Psalm we learned that in the OT, evil is described to Leviathan who is Satan, the ultimate opponent of God and God is at war with him. The biblical perspective is that behind the earthly violence, satanic powers are at work. But God defeated Leviathan. He did it in the past and his final defeat is in the future, when Jesus comes [the day of the Lord]. In the present reality; thus today, God is advancing his rule, pushing back darkness and establishing His kingdom. From Ps. 74 we’ve learned that our response to the satanic evil is ‘proclamation and prayer’. Speaking the truth of God, using His word and joining God in spiritual warfare through ‘prayer’.
Now I switch to the NT. In the NT the perspective on evil hasn’t changed. It is described to satanic forces. And Jesus Christ came ‘to do something about it’ (John 12:27, 30-32). And today I will focus in particular on the calling of the Church in spiritual warfare. I will address three principles that are fundamental in our response to evil: our identity, power and authority.
Reading: Math. 16:13-20; focus is vs. 18-20
The Church: a messianic community
Jesus asked his disciples ‘who do people say that the Son of Man is’? It was a question about ‘his’ identity. Obviously, at that time, it wasn’t really clear to the people who Jesus was. Then Jesus asked Peter, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter, who spoke on behalf of the Twelve, said: ‘You are the Christ,[the Messiah], the Son of the living God’. Jesus was delighted in Peter’s response and said that he was blessed because of that.
But Jesus also told Peter that ‘this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven’. Only the Father can reveal Jesus’ true identity to us and only Jesus can reveal the true identity of the Father (John 1:18, 14:6-7, 8-10).
But Peter’s answer led Jesus to give an important lesson about the future ‘church’. First a few words about our ‘identity’.
‘I will build my church’ – Jesus said. The Greek word that is translated as ‘church’ is ‘ecclesia’. Ecclesia means ‘called out’ or ‘assembly’. The church is the ‘ecclesia’ of Christ; we form the new people of God, who are being called out of the world, set apart from it, and who are dedicated to Jesus Christ (M. Henry). On a universal level, as well as the local church, like we are.
We are dedicated to Jesus Christ, because the Church is His. ‘I will build my church’. The church isn’t ours, but it’s His. Jesus is the Builder and the Maker, the Lord over the Church. And thus we find our identity in our relationship to Jesus Christ. The Church is to be about what Jesus is about because we bear his image and are His body!
‘On this rock I will build my church’. Jesus builds his Church on a firm, strong and lasting foundation. There is much debate about what Jesus exactly means by saying this, but I won’t go into that discussion. At least we can say that the church is built on Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. In the confession we see Jesus’ identity: he is the Christ, which in Hebrews is ‘Messiah’. All the ‘alarm bells’ of the Jewish believers would ring in hearing the title ‘Christ’ – it would immediately remind them about the prophecies in their bible; the OT! Peter declares that Jesus is the prophesied and promised Messiah! The anointed One, who would bring God’s salvation on earth! The anticipated Messianic King, who would redeem and restore the people of Israel and establish the Kingdom of God (e.g. Ps. 2, 89, Is. 9:6-7, Dan. 7:13-14)! And Jesus is the Messianic King – not just for Israel, but for all the nations!
Jesus is the Christ, and He is the Son of the living God. This speaks about Jesus unique and intimate relationship with God the Father. He is the one and only Son; no one knows God like the Son does for the Son is one with the Father (John 14:6-10). He’s the Son of the living God. The God that we worship isn’t dead. Or he didn’t pull back from this earth.
He didn’t let go of His creation. Instead, our God is alive, active and at war against all evil that has taken root in the earth. That’s why he had sent his Son (Col. 1:19-20)!
The church is not a hotel. Sometimes I get the impression that Christians seem to see the church as a hotel. Church is optional and they come as they like. There is no further commitment. But the church is not a hotel. The church is the gathering of the new people of God, who are called out of this world, set apart from it, to form a messianic community. A community gathered around the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of the living God’! This is our identity – and this defines who we are, how we function and what we do!
It’s very important, to have a clear understanding about ‘what makes us church’ – about our identity, also as a local church. Change your mind if the church is more like a hotel to you than a messianic community, the body of Christ – because only then we will altogether experience our Christ given power and authority.
The Church: on power
Jesus continued saying: ‘…and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’. Now, what does that mean?
The Hades is the biblical thought of ‘the underworld’ which is ‘the place of the dead’ and ‘the realm of darkness’ (Job 38:17, Ps. 107:18, Is. 38:10, Math. 11:23, Luke 16:23, Rev. 1:18, 6:8, 20:13-14). The ‘Hades’ stands in the opposite of ‘Heaven’ which is ‘the place of the living’ and ‘the realm of light’. Here Jesus may refer to ‘Hades’ as the whole of the Satanic Kingdom.
Jesus makes clear that:
- The Church has enemies that fight against it. The gates of Hades are the powers Satan’s kingdom, the Leviathan, and is at war with the Jesus and his offspring (Rev. 12:17). Satan is out to ruin the church. Persecution is a sad example of this attack, disunity in a congregation is another.
- Although these powers are strong (symbolized by the Gates); they will not prevail against the church (prevail is a better translation than ‘overcome’). In other words, Jesus promises to preserve and secure the church when it is build. Jesus is stronger than the powers of Hades, in fact; he holds the key of death and Hades (Rev. 1:18).
- Jesus builds his church in a stronghold as the instrument of God’s Kingdom. It means that the ‘ecclesia’ of Christ is to be involved in the same work that Jesus himself was involved with. Jesus was on the attack of Satan’s kingdom (Math. 12:28-29)! Rescuing people from the powers of death! Healing them, releasing them, restoring them. Jesus gives the church power to be ‘on the offensive’. As a theologian commented: ‘God is the aggressor; Satan is on the defensive. It’s the kingdom of God which attacks the kingdom of Satan’ (G. Ladd). The church is the means by which it is to be done, for the Church is the instrument of God’s kingdom – advancing His rule and reign in a world that has fallen prey to evil and decay. Healing, releasing, restoring people, societies or environment is all part of that calling!
The same power that worked through Jesus, is at work through us – as His ‘ecclesia’.
The Church: the keys of the Kingdom
But based on what are we to ‘exercise kingdom power’? Well, based on our identity; we are the church of the Christ, the Son of the living God. And based upon the ‘authority’ that Jesus has given the Church to exercise power. ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ – Jesus continued.
The keys refer to ‘spiritual authority’. Jesus gives us the keys of the kingdom of heaven. It means that on behalf of Jesus we may exercise kingdom authority. On a pastoral level this speaks about the government of the (local) church. The first apostles where authorized to set the rules and life for the new messianic community. But on an apostolic and missional level it means that the church is given spiritual authority over the Gates of Hades, the satanic and evil powers at work among us.
It’s an authority to ‘bind and loose’, that is ‘to shut and open’. Again, following the ministry of Jesus, we are authorized to lead people in through the door of the Kingdom (e.g. Acts 2:28-39, 10:23-48, 15:7-9); announcing forgiveness, binding up demonic forces and setting people free into the kingdom of light (John 20:23, Mark 16:15-18, Col. 1:13).
We exercise Kingdom power, based upon our identity as ‘ecclesia’ of Christ and ‘spiritual authority’, ‘the keys of the Kingdom’, that Jesus has given us as His church. It’s quite impressive, isn’t it?
Closing: binding evil
I will close off with a practical implication. In my previous message we saw that two ways of responding to the reality of evil are: proclamation and prayer. Today I would like to add ‘demonstration’ to that as well. Proclamation, Prayer and Demonstration.
The teaching of Jesus provides in a blueprint of what the ‘ecclesia’ of Christ is to be about: as local church we are to be about what Jesus was about. As such the church is the instrument of God’s kingdom, called to carry out Jesus ministry on earth. In response to the ‘reality of evil’ it means that we are called to aggressively break down Satanic fortresses wherever we find them. In people’s lives, in families, in the church, in society and nations. In politics, economical systems, ecological environments etc.
As Gregory Boyd says in his book ‘God at War’: ‘For Jesus and his disciples, ‘the problem of evil’, is simply the problem of overcoming evil by the power of God. It is the task of setting up the Kingdom of God in a warzone where it is resisted’ (Boyd. 1997. God at War. The bible and spiritual conflict. Page 236). We are called to live out a ‘theology of revolt’ and join in with God who is at war against the powers of Hades.
It simply means that wherever there is destruction, hatred, injustice, pain or hopelessness, we are to respond in Kingdom power and authority; speaking the words of Jesus and doing the works of Jesus. It can be in ‘big’ things; like what Sam and Karin do in India, or Evert Sulman with the refugees in Groningen. Or organisations like ‘Compassion’ or ‘Mercy ships’. But it could also be done in ‘small things’. In the way how you do your work or in joining politics. In helping your disabled or injured neighbour; in praying for your sick friend or buying food for that homeless guy in front of the Hema. Feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned – they’re all works of ‘compassion’ and ‘mercy’; done for Jesus Christ and through which we set up the Kingdom of God in a warzone (Math. 25:35-40). This is our part in spiritual war. Proclamation. Prayer. Demonstration. May the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, equip us to do so.