Into the Jaws of Death from Wikimedia
On D-Day – 6th June 1944 – Allied forces landed on the Normandy beaches and began their great final advance towards Germany and victory over the Nazi war-machine. The Allies possessed overwhelming superiority in men and machines. From D-Day onwards, the final outcome of World War II was never in doubt. But many battles lay ahead. In our spiritual conflict, ‘D-Day’ has taken place on the Cross. There Jesus sealed Satan’s doom. Battles may still lie before us, but we’re on the final push to victory. Jesus’s triumph assures us of victory in the war against the kingdom of darkness.
God defeated Satan on the Cross. But although Satan is defeated, God has not yet removed him from creation. Satan still fights against God and His people. Satan’s prime target on planet Earth is individual believers, local churches, and the worldwide church. In this session, we’ll look at our battle with Satan, and how – through the resources that God provides for us, and through our obedience to God – we may live a life of victory over Satan. We’ll also look at the emergence of the Antichrist and the final rebellion against God that will – it seems clear from Scripture – occur at the end of this age.
We’ll also look at the history of the worldwide Church from the first century AD to the present time. Throughout its history, the Church has always faced attack from Satan. And there have been times when the Church has fallen into error and moral decline. But God is sovereign. We’ll see how he led many people to bring restoration to the Church. And we’ll see how, in recent centuries, God has brought revival to His people in many places. Though the Church still faces attack from Satan, and persecution in many places, our own period of history is an unprecedented time of opportunity for the Church and the Gospel!
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Summary of part 15
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The final push to victory
Through His death and resurrection, Jesus disabled, disarmed and bound Satan. The woman’s Offspring crushed Satan’s head (see Genesis 3.15). Christ Jesus is now enthroned at God’s right hand. As the Divine Son, Jesus always ruled creation. But now He rules as a Man, a Member of our human race, too. And He has enlisted us, His people, in His final ‘push’ to victory. Through His Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered people, God is advancing His Kingdom across the globe, plundering Satan’s domain and making disciples in every nation.
Satan continues a fierce rearguard action. But our victory is assured. The Church appears by worldly standards small and weak. Yet, in Paul Billheimer’s words: “Through the use of her weapons of prayer and faith”, the Church “holds in this present moment the balance of power in world affairs” .
We face a subtle enemy: Satan uses sabotage, trickery and subversion. On our own, we’re no match for him. But in Christ we do have power over him. We’re to “be strong in the Lord” and stand fast, clad in God’s armour (Ephesians 6.10-18). We’re to wield “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” . And we’re to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” .
God commissioned mankind to colonise the whole Earth, subdue it and make it a paradise where He could live among us. We were to be culture-builders, completing God’s work of forming and filling the Earth. Satan wants to be like God. And so he’s trying to do what God plans to do. Satan’s goal is ‘paradise’, too – a counterfeit paradise. He’s inspiring fallen mankind to build a godless civilisation on Earth, a global economic, ideological, cultural and political system united in rebellion against God.
History is littered with attempts to create paradise through human effort. Cain’s sophisticated, violent culture was the first. The city and tower of Babel was another. In recent times, philosophers and revolutionaries of all shades have reached out for Utopia. A watershed was the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, a period of philosophical and social radicalism. It was believed that humanity could gain knowledge, freedom and happiness through human reason. Satan and his evil principalities and powers lie in the background, guiding people and civilisation forward along this path to godlessness.
Satan’s last-ditch attempt to build a brave new world centres on the Antichrist. Antichrist is an imitation Christ, and thus Christ’s opponent. In John’s day, “the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4.3) worked in many people. They were heretics who, we can deduce, were denying that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son, Who became a real human and died to atone for our sin. In 1 John 2.18, John refers to “many antichrists” as well as a single “antichrist”.
We must expect a final climactic revolt against God before Jesus returns. The Bible calls this “the rebellion” (2 Thessalonians 2.3). It seems that this will be a great political and religious revolt against God that crystallises around the leadership of “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2.3). This satanically controlled man is undoubtedly the same as the antichrist. In Kim Riddlebarger’s words, he “will exercise his reign of terror through state-sponsored heresy” and act as if he were God Himself.
In Revelation 17.1-6 the angel shows John “the great prostitute”, who is “Babylon the great”. She’s the Satanic counterpart to God’s pure Bride, New Jerusalem. She sits on a fearsome scarlet beast. This beast (which we also see in Revelation 13.1-8) represents anti-Christian political power that will one day, we assume, be headed up by the person called Antichrist. Babylon is closely associated with this anti-Christian power pictured by the beast.
But, until now, something has been hindering Satan from raising up the Antichrist and bringing world rebellion to a climax. In 2 Thessalonians 2.6-7, we discover that the restrainer is both a force – “what is restraining him” and a person – “he who now restrains”. The Bible doesn’t identify them exactly.
Many people expect a period of intense tribulation before Jesus’s return. The “great tribulation” of Revelation 7.14 is most probably the sufferings of God’s people from Jesus’s ascension to His return. But as the battle between the forces of evil, and God and His people, rises to a climax, so we may expect tribulation to rise to a crescendo as Jesus’s return draws near.
Heresy and hierarchy
Corruption, lovelessness, lukewarmness and error afflicted the Church even in the first century (see Revelation 2.1-3.22).
In the early days, all kinds of heresies arose. The doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation were special areas of dispute. But heresy also forced the Church to define its beliefs accurately. The early theologians handed down the fruits of their labours to us in a number of ‘creeds’, such as the Nicene Creed.
There were also great changes in how the Church met and organised itself – resulting in a mainstream Church very different from the one Paul knew. The leaders (‘clergy’) became distinct from ordinary believers (‘laity’). An authoritarian hierarchical leadership structure formed, with (eventually) the Bishop of Rome (who became known as the Pope) in the Roman Catholic Church and the various bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Church at the top.
The clergy began to dominate the meetings. Liturgies replaced the Spirit’s leadership of the meeting. The ministry of the leadership eclipsed the ministry of each member of the body as led and gifted by the Holy Spirit.
People began to think that baptism imparted salvation. The Lord’s Supper became a ritual token meal. People came to believe that the bread and wine became Jesus’s actual body and blood. Links were forged between Church and State. Saints and relics began to be venerated; images began to be used in worship. Immorality, materialism, and abuse of power plagued the Church.
Reformation and renewal
Over the centuries, many opposed the unbiblical doctrines and corruption of the institutional Church. One key figure was John Wycliffe (died 1384), whose ‘Bible-Men’ travelled in England to preach. He led the translation of the first complete English Bible. Reformers such as Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509–1564) protested against unbiblical beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. This was the Protestant Reformation, whose backdrop was the era of intellectual and artistic revolution known as the Renaissance (nominally dated from the 14th to 16th centuries). Printing (developed during the mid 1400s) enabled Bibles and other books, and thus ideas, to be disseminated in a way undreamed of before. A key endeavour during the Reformation was to get Bibles into the hands of ordinary people in their own languages. This was aided enormously by the availability of the original Hebrew and Greek texts in printed form. For example, Luther produced his first complete German New Testament in 1522; William Tyndale (martyred in 1536) produced his first complete English New Testament in 1526. Both were translated from the original Greek.
Protestant churches returned to Biblical doctrine. But they didn’t go the whole way in restoring local church life. This was left to a more radical group (dubbed ‘anabaptists’, meaning ‘rebaptisers’) to attempt in the 1500s. Though this diverse group included extremists and heretics, many were true believers who insisted on, among other things, new birth and holiness of life, the Holy Spirit’s leading, and ‘every-member’ participation in their meetings.
Another problem was schism – Protestants and other dissenters began separating over specific doctrines and practices.
But time and again, God’s Spirit burst through stagnation and difficulty, and brought renewal. A key reforming thrust after the Reformation was Pietism, which emphasised personal spiritual life and holiness, and preaching from the Bible; believers gathered in homes for Bible study and mutual upbuilding. The First Great Awakening in America and the Evangelical Revival in Britain during the 18th century were tremendous moves of God. Key leaders were Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley. The Second Great Awakening in America followed, from the 1790s to the 1840s.
In the 19th century, revivals occurred in the US, in Britain and Ireland, and in other places. The holiness movement was one revival stream of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Major revival movements of the 20th century were the Pentecostal movement and, later, the charismatic movement.
And over the centuries, different groups have sought, to varying degrees, to follow a New Testament pattern of church life – for example, the Anabaptists (whom we’ve already met), the Plymouth Brethren (formed in the 19th century) and, more recently, the British New Church Movement (associated with the charismatic movement).
The revival flames of the 1700s kindled a new and world-embracing missionary endeavour to bring God’s good news to every part of the globe; it gained momentum towards the end of the 1700s and continues to this day. Now, through radio, TV, the Internet and other channels, the gospel is penetrating political and geographic barriers alike. The Bible is being translated and circulated as never before. We sense that God’s Great Commission is well on its way to fulfilment, heralding our Lord’s return.
Bible passages and questions
?Read Matthew 28.16-20; Genesis 1.26-28, 2.15. How does Jesus’s ‘Great Commission’ relate to Adam and Eve’s commission?
?Read Matthew 4.1-11, 6.13; John 17.15; Romans 8.1,31-39; Ephesians 4.26-27, 6.10-18; Colossians 2.13-15, 3.1-17; 2 Thessalonians 3.3; James 4.6-10; 1 Peter 5.8-9; 1 John 2.13-14, 5.4-5,18-19; Revelation 12.7-11. How does Satan attack us, and how do we resist him?
?Read Revelation 7.2-17. Who are the people described in Revelation 7?
?Read Matthew 24.23-24; 2 Thessalonians 2.1-12; 1 John 2.18-23, 4.1-6; 2 John 7; Revelation 13.1-10, 17.1-18. Who and/or what is Antichrist?
?Read Revelation 13.11-18. What does the second beast of Revelation 13 represent and what is the ‘mark of the beast’?
?Read Revelation 17.1-18 again, 18.1-24, 21.1-3,9-27, 22.1-5,14-15 Babylon is a perverted image of the New Jerusalem. How? What’s the significance of this?
CREDITS ► Text copyright © 2017 Robert Gordon Betts ► All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.