Behind Enemy LinesBy Nathan Mates
One of the cliched war movie themes is a group of "good guys" who've been captured, shot down, or somehow loose in enemy territory. It's a setting that provides plenty of opportunity for action, excitement, and more-- the "bad guys" are in control of most things, but resourceful heroes can achieve great things from under the enemy's nose. Although this may seem like an unlikely condition for most of us to find ourselves in, there are some striking parallels for us as Christians: we are in some sense behind enemy lines all the time in this world.
First off, even though God is ultimately in control of all things, the Bible recognizes several times that Satan has certain latitude here on this world: "We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one." [1 John 5:19] Strong words there, but John is merely continuing what Jesus had said to the disciples years earlier just before his crucifixion: "I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. "Come now; let us leave." [John 14:30-31, also 16:11]
While the 'prince of this world,' aka Satan, has no hold on Jesus as Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus did acknowledge his position. Before, in a face-to-face meeting, this had happened: "Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"" [Matthew 4:8-10] Jesus did not dispute Satan's claims to the world-- or possibly even the souls of everyone in this world-- but responded that he would not break the first two commandments.
Even the apostles acknowledged some of the deeds of Satan: "For we wanted to come to you--certainly I, Paul, did, again and again--but Satan stopped us." [1 Thessalonians 2:18] This many Bible verses, though just one quote from Jesus should be enough, all point out the same thing: Satan has some level of power here in this world. It's all Adam's fault that death and sin (and thus Satan's instruments of power) are in this world-- Romans 5:12.
Once we accept this, the question becomes: what are we going to do about this? First off, realize that this does not in any way diminish God's power and sovereignty-- he's still in control. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." [Romans 8:28] There is no qualifier on 'all things', there is no conditions, no statute of limitations on God's power. God is still absolutely in control of everything.
God's sovereignty also extends to Satan's influence over our lives. In a clear example of this, consider Job. Satan wanted to make him sin, but could not do so without permission first from God: ""Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD." [Job 1:9-12]
Why did such a thing happen to Job? God knew from the beginning that Job would not curse him despite the horrible events about to take place in his life. Paul comments on this same issue: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." [1 Corinthians 10:13] So, in other words, God did not allow Job to be tempted beyond what he could bear, and the same is true in all of our lives. If we give in to temptation, it wasn't because Satan's too powerful, it's because we didn't try hard enough to find God's way out.
Also, consider that God does want us to be more like him in all ways, and that includes getting rid of the sin that comes from our flesh trying its best to resist God. [Romans 7:22-25]. When we do mess up and sin, that does hurt God, and God does have control: "And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?" [Hebrews 13:5-7] God may use various situations in our lives to force us to the point of relying on him more and more.
The Israelites also faced many instances where they'd been taken from a position of being close to God in their own nation to subject peoples under the world. This has parallels for us in that we're subject to many non-Christian influences in this world. The Israelites in captivity were not commanded to be rebellious jerks towards their captors. They were told to behave righteously: "This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."" [Jeremiah 29:4-7]
All of us want to prosper, all of us want peace. In the above quote, God tells us directly that the way to achieve that is to pray for general peace and prosperity of those around us. It is also a great witness to God that despite being in captivity, subject to unbelieving authorities, that God's people don't behave like spoiled brats having a temper tantrum. While it is true that God wants us to come to him like little children [Matthew 18:1-6], we are to act more maturely than children in this world.
Consider also Jesus's example in facing the injustices of this world. Jesus was arrested in secret, not in public, and called before the ruling council, the Sanhedrin. "The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree." [Mark 14:55-56] Instead of condemning those who gave false accusations at him (commandment #9), "But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer." [Mark 14:61a]
Only when the kangaroo court couldn't manage to provide any witnesses against him did Jesus open his mouth with the truth: "Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death." [Mark 14:61b-64] If Jesus was to die, it would be for telling the truth to those who had a violent allergic reaction to it.
What did Jesus do here? Quite simply, his last words on the cross detail what he'd been doing the whole time: "Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last." [Luke 23:46] Jesus fully trusted God to be glorified in all situations, and despite the injustices committed against him by the world, he knew he was still in God's hands.
We may be behind enemy lines, we may be subject to circumstances in a world that does have Satan present in it. But, instead of trying to act like a war movie where the point is to find much worldly weaponry and let the special effects crew go to town with explosions, we are to live differently. Jesus knew of this option, and specifically acknowledged it: "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"" [Matthew 26:53-54] In short, Jesus refused to take the path of beating up on his enemies, even when he had the right to do so.
Paul summarizes the way to fight this way: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." [2 Corinthians 10:3-5] So, despite being in the world, we aren't to fight like the world does.
Jesus provided our example for how to behave in the world: he didn't fight Satan directly, but rebuked him with God's word. When charged with false crimes, he told the truth. And he submitted his life to God so that God would be glorified. As Jesus said above, our strength does not come from within, but only from God, and we must fully rely on him at all times and in all circumstances.