This current global darkness | Christianity today
War is terrible. My wife and her family remained in her country of origin, Congo-Brazzaville, for eighteen months, and the socio-political forces that caused tens of thousands of deaths there can only be described as diabolical. The Great Lakes War that claimed millions of lives in neighboring Congo-Kinshasa expands the evil to another scale. The obscurity of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich eclipses understanding.
Now, in 2022, the war in Ukraine is once again bringing violent evil to the fore and threatening to reshape our global future in ways we can only imagine.
Human selfishness and greed are among the sins that cause wars: “Where do wars and strife come from? Is it not your desires that make war on the members of your body? (James 4:1). Collectively, however, the magnitude of human suffering at the hands of others also seems to imply a dimension of cosmic evil that defies even our recognition of human depravity.
There are reasons for this. The book of Daniel is not just about a succession of world empires, but about the spiritual forces behind them. The angelic prince of Persia delayed an answer to Daniel’s prayers until Michael, the prince of Israel, intervened; the angelic prince of Alexander’s empire would follow (Dan. 10:13, 20-21; 12:1). God had sovereignly allocated times in history for various angels and their empires, but his angelic and human servants continued to work for his purposes until he made them prevail.
The Greek translation of Deuteronomy mentions that God appointed angels over the various nations, and Jewish thought increasingly recognized these heavenly rulers and authorities – what the rabbis later called angels over the nations. These beings were generally hostile towards God’s people, but in the end God would give the kingdom to his persevering people.
Because our king, Jesus, has already come, Satan has been defeated. His exaltation corresponds to the heavenly triumph of the angel Michael over the dragon (Rev. 12:7).
To explain this story, scholars often invoke the World War II analogy between D-Day and V-Day. On D-Day, the success of the Normandy invasion decided the outcome of the war, and the defeat of the Nazi regime and its allies was only a matter of time. Yet until Day V – the final surrender of the Axis powers – the battles continued and casualties mounted.
In the same way, all the enemies, including the last, death itself, will be subdued at the return of Jesus (Ps, 110: 1; 1 Cor. 15: 25-26), but his servants will face incessant battles until then.
In Ephesians, Paul points out that Jesus is already enthroned above heavenly rulers and authorities (Eph. 1:20-22), and we are spiritually enthroned with him (1:22-23; 2:6). In a letter that strongly emphasizes the unity between Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ, this enthronement above the angels of nations and empires means that our unity in Christ is greater than all ethnic and national divisions fomented by many such angels. Believers are no longer subject to the prince of this world (Eph. 2:1-3).
For Paul, this triumph over divisions has spiritual warfare ramifications, even for the interpersonal dimensions of our lives. In Ephesians 4:27, for example, denying the devil an opportunity means having integrity and controlling our anger (4:25-26). In Ephesians 6:10-20 it means taking on the defensive armor of truth, faith, and righteousness, plus a weapon to invade hostile territory: the mission of the gospel.
I have sometimes seen brothers and sisters try to engage in spiritual warfare by rebuking and commanding heavenly leaders. However, this activity ignores our role. We are enthroned with Christ, and yes, one day we will judge the angels, but we cannot confuse D-Day with V-Day. ), pointing out that even their fellow angels can only confront them by divine permission (2 Peter 2:11; Jude 9).
Trying to overthrow celestial powers is different from casting demons out of those they afflict on earth. We are the ground forces, not the air forces. This does not mean that we do not have a vital role in spiritual warfare on a cosmic level. It just means that our modern taste for instant results will not be satisfied.
In the book of Daniel, God’s own response was immediate (Dan 10:12). But Daniel persevered in prayer for three weeks before has received his response (Dan 10:2-3). God showed him that empires would rise and fall, but the future was not theirs.
Revelation offers the same picture: Satan stands behind the beast of a world empire, Babylon the Great. But the future does not belong to Babylon the harlot but to New Jerusalem, the bride.
The Bible reminds us that not all spiritual forces are wicked. God is at work even in the world today, and the scriptures lead us to expect that prayers can make a difference in times of war and conflict.
Before Jacob had to face his brother Esau’s armed band, he wrestled all night with an angel. Although later rabbis thought it was the guardian angel of Edom, it was the Lord himself (Hosea 12:3-5). But the rabbis were right, at least, that winning the spiritual battle first made the difference to the impending earthly conflict. The same lesson appears when Moses’ uplifted hands determine the battle against the Amalekites (Exodus 17:11-13).
Indeed, on the cosmic level, the forces of God easily outnumber the hostile forces. Elisha’s apprentice learned this lesson when God opened his eyes to see the mountain full of chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:16-17). On this occasion, the Lord miraculously blinded an entire army to allow a peaceful resolution instead of a costly human battle (6:18-23).
In another story of warfare, God gave David victory in battle once he heard the celestial armies of the Lord marching for him (2 Sam. 5:24; 1 Chron. 14:15). Joshua also achieved victory after meeting the captain of the Lord’s host (Joshua 5:13-15).
In other words, God hears us when we pray. In the book of Daniel, arrogant nations appear as nothing more than pawns in God’s larger plan for history. Instead, the angel announces that Daniel, the man of prayer, is precious to God (Dan. 10:11).
Here’s why this common theme matters: the end result is already decided, but in the meantime, earthly battles continue and individual lives hang in the balance. The prayers of a righteous person count more before God than the plans of arrogant powers in heaven. or on earth.
I confess that were it not for my faith in the scriptures, these statements would seem pretty hollow to me in these times of massive suffering. But because I believe in the Bible, I take courage for the future. Likewise, it was my wife’s faith in Christ and the Word of God that nourished her hope and enabled her to survive the war in the Congo.
In the current war in Ukraine and in other conflicts around the world, we do not yet visibly see all of Jesus’ enemies under his feet, and casualties remain high. But Jesus’ exaltation over angels, authorities, and powers (1 Peter 3:22) has already decided the final outcome of the cosmic war of the ages. We can rest in this truth.
Craig Keener is FM and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is the author of Christobiography: Memories, History and Reliability of the Gospels.