Temple-Building and Divine Warfare: Two Important Themes to Understand Ephesians 2:11–22

ihor-malytskyi-226011In his illuminating book Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, Jeffrey J. Niehaus argues convincingly that a regular and repeating pattern of salvation occurs in the ancient Near East (ANE).  This pattern follow this basic order:

A god works through a man (a royal or prophetic figure, often styled a shepherd) to wage war against the god’s enemies and thereby advance his kingdom. The royal or prophetic protagonist is in a covenant with the god, as are the god’s people. The god establishes a temple among his people, either before or after the warfare, because he wants to dwell among them.  This can mean the founding (or choice) of a city, as well as a temple location. The ultimate purpose is to bring into the god’s kingdom those who are not part of it.[1]

Developing this basic schema, Niehaus demonstrates how the Old Testament and New Testament follow this eschatological temple-building motif.[2]  Or better, so-called gods used God’s own pattern to establish their false temples, which in time God would recover and employ to defeat all competitors who have sought to build their temples in opposition to his. Indeed, as many biblical scholars have observed (see below), this pattern temple-building and divine warfare fills the Scriptures and helps us to understand its message.

Therefore, in what follows, I will trace temple-building and divine warfare to make sense of Ephesians 2:11–22. This glorious passage is a key New Testament example of temple-building. In it, God is seen restoring all creation through his Son’s cross, which then creates a new people (the church), but that people as God’s Spirit-filled temple become a visible witness of his victory over his enemies. Continue reading

What are the ‘Powers and Principalities’ in Ephesians?

wtsIn his overview of Ephesians, Guy Prentiss Waters, nicely summarizes what the spiritual powers are in that letter and in the world. Moreover, he explains what the presence and growth of the church means to the devil.

What does Paul understand the “powers” to be in Ephesians? He has several ways of describing them. They are “the rulers,… the authorities,… the cosmic powers over this present darkness,… the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:12). Paul mentions them in the same breath as “the devil” (6:11; cf. 4:27) and expressly sets them apart from “flesh and blood” (6:12), that is, human beings (cf. Gal. 1:16). We are therefore to regard these powers as unseen and angelic beings in league with and under the authority of Satan (cf. Eph. 2:2). They are not impersonal but personal. Paul locates them and their activities “in the heavenly places” (6:12; cf. 3:10), even as he documents their unceasing activity in the affairs of humanity.

Paul describes these powers in three ways.

  • First, they are malevolent (“evil”) and therefore hostile to Christ and his people.
  • Second, they possess an authority or power that is not localized but is universal (“cosmic”). The word “darkness” indicates a demonic authority that extends to all unbelieving persons, whether Jew or Gentile. “‘Darkness’ is the sphere in which these believers formerly belonged (Eph. 5:8)… and from which they were rescued by the Lord (Col 1:13).” It is, therefore, an authority that Paul associates with “this age” (Eph. 1:21; cf. 5:16; 6:13), the present Adamic order characterized by sin, corruption, curse, and death.
  • Third, the plurality of these demonic powers and their designation by terms of rank (“rulers,” “authorities”) suggests a gradation within their numbers. Earlier in the letter, Paul stresses that the “prince of the power of the air” is “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh” (Eph. 2:2–3). Satan therefore stands at the head of a host of demonic powers who govern and influence all those who are in Adam (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4).

The “powers” constitute a genuine threat to believers’ well-being (Eph. 6:11–12). Even so, Paul is insistent that the Ephesians understand that these demonic authorities have been brought into subjugation to Jesus Christ. In his exaltation, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, was “seated… far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet” The cosmic, mediatorial dominion of Jesus Christ encompasses “all things,” even the Devil and his angelic allies.

The “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,” furthermore, are perpetually reminded of their defeat and subjugation (3:10). The “manifold wisdom of God,” which denotes the eternal purpose of God to redeem sinners by the death and resurrection of Christ and to gather the redeemed into a united people under the benevolent reign of the Lord Jesus, is ever proclaimed to them. The instrument through which God makes this wisdom known to the powers is “the church.” The very existence of the church, in other words, is standing testimony to the powers’ defeat and subjugation to the Lord Jesus Christ. “Ephesians” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Revealed (ed. Michael J. Kruger; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 272–73. Formatting mine.

Ever wonder why the church is under constant attack from devil and his minions? It reminds them of Christ’s Lordship, their defeat, and coming destruction. Hence, the church which is loved by God is hated by Satan. For that reason we must press into the Lord and the power of his Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Warfare Worldview of Ephesians

kingWhen was the last time you prayed against the devil? Or, attributed your physical pain or emotional vexations to a demonic spirit?

If it has been some time (or never), it’s probably because you live in the 21st Century America, where the evils of the world—moral and natural—are explained by biological factors and scientific calculation. But if you lived in 16th Century Europe, it would be a different story.

In the Medieval period, ghosts and goblins, spirits and demons were regularly blamed for spiritual and physical tribulations. In that world, God and the angelic realm were not excluded from visible world. Sovereign over all spirits, God ruled the world and nearly every struggle in life could be connected to spiritual realities. Today, faith in God, especially Christian faith has demystified. Religion is a private affair. And God, in the public square and in the halls of learning, is an unwelcome guest.

As a result, Bible-believing Christians must fight against the prevailing, scientific worldview handed to them by television and education. Whereas leading scientists once gazed into the heavens to worship God, now scientifically-minded man is blind to the enchanted world in which we live. This is not to say we should go back to pre-scientific age of vain superstitions, but as Scripture testifies, we should see that the event on earth are part of God’s cosmic conflict with evil.

This fall, as we remember the Protestant Reformation, the supernatural makeup of the world and the spiritual warfare that the God’s Word invites is but one unified truth we need to recover. As John Calvin commented in his words to King Francis, “When the light shining from on high in a measure shattered his darkness, . . . [Satan] began to shake off his accustomed drowsiness and to take up arms.” Indeed, faithful preaching of God’s Word will be met with spiritual opposition, and thus we who seek to make Christ known must be steeled by the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit.

For that reason, we come to the book of Ephesians and the faithful examples of the Protestant Reformers. Continue reading

A Meditation on the Cross (Matthew 27): How Penal Substitution, Christus Victor, and Christ’s Moral Example Lead Us to Preach the Cross, Resist the Devil, and Imitate the Lord

crossWhen the Spirit led Jesus into the Wilderness, Satan tempted him three times. He questioned the authenticity of Jesus’ Sonship, tempting him to prove his power and his place as God’s Son. In perfect obedience to God and his Word, Jesus did not assert himself, but trusted that his earthly mission was one of absolute humiliation leading to honor, not a powerplay to gain honor for himself.

On the cross, the fury of Satan’s accusations returned, only it came not in the voice of the Serpent but in a salvo of accusations launched at Jesus while nailed to a tree. Physically speaking, no form of punishment has ever been more de-humanizing. Still, for all the physical a pain delivered in crucifixion, it was the Spiritual abandonment that was the greatest punishment. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was the cry of a man who had never known sin or the judgment of God’s abandonment. Moreover, in identifying himself with his sinful people, Jesus assumed in his flesh the fullness of their sin, which in turn invited the fullness of God’s wrath. He drank the cup, until the fury of God was extinguished.

And this is not all, the crucifixion, as Matthew describes it, is neither a testimony to the pain of crucifixion, as Mel Gibson sought to frame it in his movie The Passion of the Christ. Nor does Matthew ponder the horrible realities of God’s spiritual judgment. Rather, he records a bevy of Satanic accusations offered by Roman soldiers, Jewish leaders, nameless spectators, and the convicted criminals bleeding next to Jesus. After describing the mockery of Herod’s soliders (27:27–31), Matthew recounts the acts (vv. 32–37) and speeches (vv. 37–44) which Satan hurled at Jesus as died on the tree.

For us who find life in Jesus’ death, seeing Jesus’ humiliation teaches us what our sin deserves and what great lengths Jesus went to save us. At the same time, because Christ’s cross is exemplary for those who trust in his penal substitution, there is profit in seeing Satan’s accusations, that we might recognize the tempters accusations and continue to carry with faith the cross God gives to us. With this in mind, let’s consider Christ’s example of humiliation, that we might follow in his steps, by trusting in his substitutionary death, and his victory over Satan. Continue reading

The Veracity and Violence of God’s Word

I ran across a one-sentence commentary on the sometimes delayed, but always effective power of God’s Word (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9; Hebrews 4:12).  Consider it a word of hope about the veracity and violence of God’s Word.  Charles Scobie quotes E. Jacob saying,

“God’s word, ‘is like a projectile shot into the enemy camp whose explosion must sometimes be awaited but which is always inevitable.'”  Jacob continues to relate God’s word to God’s governance of history, and these explosions are the events of history [i.e. the exodus and the cross of Jesus Christ] (E. Jacob, The Theology of the Old Testament [New York: Harper & Row, 1958], 131; quoted in Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003], 370).

May we pray for God’s word to explode in our world, and may our preaching, like the prophets of old, launch an arsenal of sin-defeating, Satan-assailing, captive-freeing, gospel missiles into enemy-occupied territory, until Christ returns as king.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Intimate Allies (pt. 1): Marriage Means War

Why does the bridegroom stand on the right side of the bride? 

The legend goes:

Long ago, the right arm was considered the sword arm of most fighting men. If a man had to protect his bride, he would hold her with his left hand, and fight off attackers with his right arm.  The reason that men may have had to fight off others was because quite often women were kidnapped. Family members naturally wanted to rescue the stolen brides. Sometimes even during the wedding ceremony, the grooms had to fight off other men who were desirous of their brides, along with the bride’s family members. So having his right arm free was an important strategy.  This tradition is followed today by when facing the officiant, having the bride stand to the left, and the groom stand to the right.  (HT: Wikianswer).

This kind of readiness to defend makes sense in a time and place when marriages were threatened by violent thieves.  But what about today?  In light of the Scriptures, it still makes sense.  Such a posture illustrates the twin realities of love and war, and whether or not we consider marriage to be a violent affair, spiritually speaking, it is.  Marriage is warfare!

In their book, Intimate Allies: Rediscovering God’s Design for Marriage and Becoming Soul Mates for Life, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman make this very important connection.  Love is war!  And for Christian marriages to be strong they must participate in cosmic conflict against the enemies that seek to destroy their marriage.  Concerning marriage and warfare, they write:

The language of a battle may disturb many readers, but life is a war.  And marriage, at times, requires war if the battle of life is to be fought well.  But are our spouses non-combatants, people disengaged from the real battles of our life?  Or worse, are our spouses enemies whom we fight daily?

God’s intention is for our spouses to be our allies–intimate friends, lovers, warriors in the spiritual war against the forces of the evil one.  We are to draw strength, nourishment, and courage to fight well from that one person who most deeply supports and joins us in the war–our soulmate for life.  Husbands and wives are intimate allies (Intimate Allies, xvi).

Clearly strong marriages are not engaged in internecine conflicts, but they are drawing battle lines and contending with external threats.  From the foundation of the world, Satan has been seeking to kill, steal, and destroy (cf. Gen. 3; John 10:10).  He is the accuser, the robber, the murderer, and the home-wrecker.  He loves to pervert and destroy all things that God has created good, and he takes specific aim at marriage, sexuality, and the familial relations of the nuclear family.  One aspect of redemptive history is to re-establish the home.  This is evident in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where the fruit of the Spirit-filled life results a properly functioning marriage, where husbands lovingly lead their wives and wives respectfully submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-33).  In a return to the properly alligned marriage in the Garden, it seems evident from God’s Word that Spirit-led marriages are in cosmic conflict with the spirit of this age.  Allender and Longman elucidate this point:

What is the basis of the war between the sexes?  It is ultimately, of course, the war between God and his adversary, Satan.  We ought never to be naive.  The deepest struggles of life will occur in the most primary relationship affected by the Fall: marriage.  No one on earth will have more potential to do harm or to do good than your spouse.  Consequently, no relationship will be imbued with more desire and danger than your marriage.  No wonder most couples soon settle down into a distant, parallel existence in which the pain and the joy are kept at a minimum (287).

Sadly, their point is too often the case.  Couples, young and old, settle into patterns of coexistence rather than mutual edification.  Instead of conforming themselves into God’s intimate ideal for marriage, couples accept the luke-warm tensions of marriage, and make it up as they go.  In so doing, they ignore the marriage-transforming power of the gospel, and allow Satan to strip away the joys of marriage.  Yet, it does not have to be that way.  Allender and Longman contend that married is an environment for sanctification, spiritual growth, and gospel-empowered grace.  The battle that closes in on the home provides incentive and opportunity for the God’s power to be made manifest within the marriage, so that the flaming arrows of the enemy become refining fires that illumine and eradicate sin as Christ’s atoning work is applied to each act of sin.  They continue with optimism:

Our marriages are the ground for change.  It is the place where exposure of our need for the gospel is most profound; therefore, it is the relationship where depravity is best exposed and where our dignity is best lived out.  Marriage is the battleground of sin and the place where the Cross is revealed as the only hope for life and joy.  In the midst of the Curse, God promises that redemption will come as the seed of the woman crushes the head of the serpent.  [Therefore], the curse is a friend that drives us to the hope of redemption.  Marriage is the sweet wine and rich meat that heralds the final day and the wedding feast of the Lamb (288).

The first marriage was ruined by the slithering voice of the serpent, yet it was restored by the promise found within the curse: “the seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpent.”  Adam believed the promise and named his wife Eve, the mother of all living, and thus marital hope was restored, if only partially.  The same kind of redemptive hope is available for every marriage today, and in even greater ways since we know the rest of the story.  Sin still tears at marriage, but through the gospel of Jesus Christ, as depicted in marriage itself (Eph. 5:32), we know that the power of God can restore and reinforce every marriage under threat from sin and Satanic attack.  “Where sin has increased, grace has increased all the more” (Romans 5:21); and “the Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).  Consequently, the attacks of the enemy can in turn become the God’s means for mutual sanctification, as husband and wife humbly cry out to Jesus to come and work wonders in their marriage. 

This is not a civilian’s work (cf. 2 Tim. 2:4).  Picking up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and believing the promises of God takes courage and tenacity.  Putting to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Spirit is an act of war against the one to whom we were once held captive.  It is war, and it is the kind of war that is fueled by love (for God and for our spouse).  Perhaps it is counter-intuitive, but it is absolutely essential that every strong Christian marriage must employ a constant patrol on enemy activity encroaching against their marriage.  Every husband must stand guard, ready to go to war to protect their marriage by destroying every argument and [knocking down] every lofty opinion rasied agsint the knowledge of Christ; just as, every wife must combat Satan through prayers intercession for her home and for her husband.  Marriage is war!

Married people confront life as a battle.  As intimate allies, they push back the chaos.  With the power of God, marriage is an awesome calling and at times a delightful prelude of heaven.  But no matter what joy of what sense of meaning is found in marriage, it is always involved in a war.  At times marriage itself is part of the war… A successful marriage is one in which two broken and forgiving people stay committed to one another in a sacrificial relationship in the face of life’s chaos.  We are intimate allies in the war.  We rejoice together in our victories and cry together as we ecnounter setbacks.  But even in the setbacks, we can have joy because we know that the final victory is ours.  We look forward to the ultimate Wedding, which our own weddings only faintly reflect (346-47).

The pervading thesis of Intimate Allies is that marriage means war.  Once we realize this truth, it will re-adjust how we think of our own marital commitments.  It will re-allign the patterns of our daily interaction.  Our marriages require the daily posture of a pugilist–always ready to embrace our spouse with grace and forgiveness so that the devil does not get a foothold (Eph. 4:26-27).  Simultaneously, we are ever-ready to fight all those who would rend asunder what God has joined together.   Intimate Allies alerts us to the biblical reality of spiritual warfare attacking our marriages, and it implores us to put on our armor because the devil is coming to kill, steal, and destroy.

May the Lord grant us courage to fight sin, Satan, and the spirits of this age that would love to undo our marriages. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss