Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. (Revelation 12:7–13; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated)
Demonic threats forced Joseph and Mary to flee into Egypt early in Jesus’ childhood. Spiritual warfare is very much a part of the life of Christ, including the Christmas narrative. Painting by Gentile da Fabriano, ca. 1423, from Uffizi Gallery [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When we began this series on spiritual warfare in September, I had no idea that we would reach the end just before Christmas. Yet, here we are: Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Tuesday, we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. I have a few friends who may refer to Santa Claus as “Satan Claus.” Other than that, most Christians do not want to talk about demons and spiritual warfare. The feel-good “holiday movies” on Hallmark Channel and UP TV are more pleasant.
However, Satan does not care about our calendar. He will attack whenever it is convenient for him. Life and hardship continue in spite of Christmas.
In fact, we cannot remove Satan or the demonic from the Christmas story. The passage above appears right after a vision that looks back on the birth of Jesus (Revelation 12:5). The passage focuses on Satan’s attempts to keep Him from coming into the world and fulfilling His mission of redemption. Whether the “woman” is Mary (as many Catholic commentators say) or the entire nation of Israel, the main point is that this is part of the war between the dragon (Satan) and the male child (Jesus). The “woman” is involved in the battle because of her relationship with Jesus, and so is anybody else who has a connection to Him.
In Matthew 2, we read how Jesus was threatened with death even as an infant or toddler. When the magi came seeking the newborn “king of the Jews,” Herod wanted to kill him. He viewed Jesus as a threat to his throne. When the magi did not cooperate with him by telling him exactly where Jesus was, Herod sought drastic measures. Joseph, as Jesus’ guardian, had to take drastic measures as well:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:13–16)
Satan, working through the paranoid heart and mind of Herod, would kill all of the babies in Bethlehem if that was what it took to kill Jesus. Revelation 12 may speak in very symbolic language, but Matthew 2 reminds us that spiritual warfare manifests in raw, real-world, life-and-death situations. People suffer; some die; families’ lives are uprooted and thrown into chaos.
So, with that in mind, I offer a few final thoughts about spiritual warfare:
First, to win the battle, we must be ready to believe God’s truth and not the lies of the world and the enemy. The entire account of Jesus’ birth, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, is about people who were willing to take unprecedented leaps of faith and trust God, believe His Word, and accept the call to be part of His plan to redeem mankind. Mary had to believe that God could bring forth life in her womb without the intervention of a human father; she also had to trust that He would take care of her so that all would succeed. Who would really believe her story that she was still a virgin, even though obviously pregnant? The sentence for adultery (including sex before marriage by a betrothed person) in the Old Testament was death by stoning; people might show even less compassion for a pregnant unmarried woman telling unbelievable stories accusing God of having sex with her (as her story would sound). Joseph had to believe the angel’s message, which came to him in a dream, was really the word of God and not his own made-up wishful thinking. Why should he risk his reputation and life for a baby that he knew was not his? Since he married Mary in spite of her pregnancy, people might have suspected that he was really the father, and was sexually immoral himself, thereby risking his own reputation. Was it worth it?
They could only accomplish their calling by believing God, even when the message defied all logic and the mission came with great risks and sacrifices. Make no mistake: Joseph and Mary were drafted into spiritual warfare from the moment of Christ’s conception. They had to do battle against their own doubts, their egos, the suspicions and accusations of their neighbors (and perhaps even families), and Satan himself.
Second, to believe God, we have to accept some uncomfortable inconvenient truths. The Bible says that there is a literal hell and people will suffer there for eternity. It speaks of a literal, real being named Satan. If you call yourself a Christian, you have to believe in hell and Satan. Not only are they taught in the Bible, but also most of what we know about them comes from the New Testament. Most of it comes from the lips of Jesus Himself! To not believe in a literal hell, real eternal damnation, or a personal entity named Satan is to accuse Jesus of being a liar.
This is a major reason why many Christians are living defeated lives, Christianity’s influence on American culture is in decline, and many young people are flocking to false religions like paganism and the occult. Many Christians and churches are spiritually impotent because they do not believe the truth about their enemy. They think spiritual warfare is about fighting their own personal apathy or fear. They think the devil is just a symbol representing evil. Before long, people mistake “evil” as a synonym for “discomfort or displeasure.” They think something is evil because it hurts their feelings, not because it is contrary to the will and nature of God. For them, spiritual warfare is a form of emotional shadow-boxing against an imaginary opponent.
In his classic The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis makes the following observation about demons:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
As we celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, and as we prepare for the New Year that awaits us, let us renew our resolve to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1–2) and, like Him, resolve ourselves to destroy the works of the enemy. The battle is real, but we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37) as we remain faithful to Him.
Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.