Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12)
More often than not, pastors and Bible commentators divide the book of Ephesians into two major sections. The first three chapters, they say, are doctrine. They teach the gospel. They teach how God has saved us and brought us into his family, the church. The last three chapters, then, are duty or practice. Now that we are saved we must learn how to act, how to behave ourselves in this world.
I’ve always agreed with that summary of the book, but there’s a word in this passage that makes me reconsider. It’s the word, finally (Eph 6:10). It’s as though Paul says, “You’ve heard everything that I’ve said. You’ve read what I’ve written. But I have one more subject I want to address.” It’s the kind of transition we see in only one other place: the start of chapter 4. Paul moves seamlessly from one subject to the next except for these two places, leading me to think this part of the book deserves its own heading.
I have discovered a few Bible commentaries that do divide this letter into three parts. One uses the headings, “Wealth,” “Walk,” and “Warfare.” Another describes them as “Sit,” “Walk,” and “Stand.” In my opinion, either one is appropriate. The point is, we have every reason to treat Ephesians 6:10-20 as a distinct section of this book worthy of emphasizing rather than merely tacking it onto the end of a list practical duties for the Christian person. Our spiritual warfare is practical, but it also deserves our focused attention.
I guess I make this point because we’re nearing the end of the book. We can see the finish line. I remember when I ran cross-country in high school. There was nothing sweeter than seeing the finish line at the end of a three-mile race. My adrenaline would increase, and I’d expel every last ounce of energy to get to that finish line as quickly as possible. But I don’t want us to do that here. In fact, I want to spend possibly five or six more weeks in the remainder of this chapter before we move on to our next study. I believe this passage deserves our time and attention.
For just a moment, let’s go back to Ephesians 1. I want us to consider where we are in redemptive history. In the very first chapter, Paul writes:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)
Notice that Paul speaks of our salvation in three ways. In one sense, our salvation has already been accomplished. He speaks of it in the past tense by describing what both God and Christ have done. Obviously, it’s also a present reality. It’s in the present tense. We are saved. We currently possess the guarantee of our inheritance (Eph 1:14). But Paul also talks about our salvation as though it’s yet to come. You … were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit … until we acquire possession of it (Eph 1:13-14). Our redemption is not complete. Our salvation has not been fully accomplished.
When do we reach the end of redemptive history? When will our salvation be complete? I believe the book of Revelation answers that question for us. While Revelation may contain lots of fantastic imagery and metaphorical symbols, its core themes remain clear enough. Here’s what we read near the end of the book:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 20:11-5; 21:1-8)
What is going to happen according to John’s vision of the future? First of all, Christ returns and seems to consume this world. By world, I mean the natural world, the earth and all of the physical elements. The earth and sky flee from his presence (Rev 20:11). Later, John says the first heaven and the first earth had passed away by the time Christ creates a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1). The world ceases to exist.
Then, we read of judgment where everyone is judged by two criteria. First, books are opened (Rev 20:12). These books contain everything everyone has ever done. In other words, they list our works in this life. By this time, Christ has pulled everyone out of Death and Hades, that is, the grave, so he tosses Death and Hades into the lake of fire (Rev 20:13-14). He destroys death itself.
Assuming you’re still with me, you may be concerned about Christ judging us on the basis of our works or, as John puts it, “according to what they had done” (Rev 20:12). But notice—I’m in Revelation 20, by the way—though everyone is judged by what is written in that first set of books, no one is thrown into the lake of fire unless his name was not found written in the book of life (Rev 20:15). This is a different book which doesn’t list our works. Instead, it contains names. Whose names?
Revelation 13 contains a call for the endurance and faith of the saints (Rev 13:10). John describes the world committing all kinds of blasphemy against God and worshiping the beast (Rev 13:5). He says, “All who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Rev 13:8). That pretty much says it all.
Those in the book of life (1) do not worship the beast, (2) were put in the book before the foundation of the world, and (3) belong to the Lamb of God, who—does what?—takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). He was slain to save sinners. If your name is in his book, the book of life, I won’t say what is recorded about us in the other books doesn’t matter, but you won’t be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15). If your name is in the book of life, you get to be a part of what John describes next, that is, a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1).
He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). Salvation doesn’t stop at Christ redeeming our souls. He does that, of course, but he also redeems our bodies. Paul says:
We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)
Our bodies, though, are not the emphasis in Revelation 21. When Christ says, “I am making all things new,” I believe he means all things (Rev 21:5). Where do our redeemed souls and bodies go once our glorification is complete? Obviously, we dwell with God, and he dwells with us, but where? The answer is a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1). To be more specific, we’ll live in the holy city, new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from God (Rev 21:2). In other words, Christ essentially redeems the whole planet. He creates a whole new world for his people.
Needless to say, we’re not there yet. We have the guarantee of our full inheritance to come, but we haven’t acquired it yet (Eph 1:14). In Ephesians 2, Paul says we’ve been changed. Christ has recreated us, but we’re still trapped in sinful flesh and a sinful world. Our salvation is not complete because Christ has not redeemed all things, not yet (Rev 21:5).
Before we get back to Ephesians and where we are in the grand scheme of redemption, I want you to see one more thing in the book of Revelation, chapter 20. Just before Christ judges mankind and recreates the world, something happens which I believe is relevant to our text in Ephesians 6. If you’ve turned to Revelation 20, glance down at verse 7.
By the way, it would easy for us to get off into the weeds here. Any mention of the millennial reign of Christ could spark of a lot of discussion and possibly debate, but that’s beside the point regarding our study today. Let’s focus, instead, on what takes place following this reign.
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:7-10)
John describes a seemingly dire scene here. Satan is released from his prison, deceives the nations, gathers a massive army, and surrounds the camp of the saints (Rev 20:7-9). God’s people are left huddled together while Satan’s army has them completely surrounded. There’s seemingly no way for them to escape. But then something incredible happens. Fire comes down from heaven and destroys Satan’s army. The end. The devil is no more because he’s thrown into the lake of fire where he will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:10).
I want you to see the grand conclusion to the story because it helps puts our current circumstances in perspective. First, I want you to realize Satan and his army are real. I suppose every Christian pays lip-service to the reality of the devil, but we may not view him as an actual threat in our life. Second, I want you know that we are currently in a spiritual battle against the devil, and he is an unrelenting enemy. He knows how the story ends. He knows his time is limited. He knows judgment is coming. But he will do as much damage as possible, fighting to the very end.
Matthew 8 tells the story of two demon-possessed men confronted by Christ (Mt 8:28). In the presence of Jesus, the unclean spirits cry out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Mt 8:29). Before the time of what? Jude tells us, “The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling,” that is, fallen angels, “Jesus has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day (Jude 6). The demons in Matthew 8 were afraid Jesus might punish them before the time of their ultimate punishment which they know is coming. In the meantime, they will fight and do as much spiritual harm as possible until the very end. Revelation 20 proves that.
I’ll read one more verse before returning to Ephesians 6. In his first letter, Peter writes, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe 5:8). That analogy gives us great insight into the devil’s mind. He’s like a roaring lion. A wild animal such as a lion doesn’t have complex motives. He’s not overly methodical about choosing his victims. He wants food. He wants flesh. He wants to destroy, and he’ll take whatever he get. His only impulse is to devour.
You and I are walking among lions. These lions are trying to destroy as many people as possible in the time they have left. By the end, they will have essentially taken out many people who may have once called themselves Christians. Jesus warned, ”For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24). He told the parable of the farmer sowing seeds in his field, but only one of four groups actually hears the word … understands it and bears fruit (Mt 13:23). The rest fall away and remain unfruitful.
Again, Revelation 20 seems to describe a scene where the saints are few in numbers, perhaps fewer than we currently think of as saints.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
When Jesus preached those words, he went on to say, Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 7:21). We could probably spend a lot of time discussing eternal security and how these warning passages of the Bible fit, but again, let’s not get off into the weeds. The point I’m trying to make is that we face very real spiritual threats. Yes, the child of God has eternal security. Paradoxically, though, the Bible teaches us to live as though we don’t. Peter says:
Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities [which you can read in 2 Peter 1] you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:10-11)
I’ve heard it said we should believe like a Calvinist and live like an Arminian. I can go along with that. You can be absolutely sure that God’s elect people will be saved, but Paul adds, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test” (2Co 13:5).
We are in a hard spiritual battle. Ignoring this fact won’t help. Satan is not about to call a truce. There are no timeouts. Getting back to Ephesians, Paul says, “We … wrestle … against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Maybe we’re not up against the full army of Satan, not yet anyhow, but we do wrestle. That word is not descriptive of a battlefield where arrows or bullets are flying back and forth. Wrestle implies hand-to-hand combat. It’s a real struggle back and forth between opponents.
I’ll point out three things about this fight according to verse 12. First, it’s a supernatural fight. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12). In other words, the enemy may come to us in many different forms. The enemy may come to us as a distraction. He may come in the form of laziness. He may come in the form of a particular sin. He may disguise himself as something as seemingly trivial as impatience. Regardless, this is the same enemy who’s trying to destroy us. He’s the same enemy we are supposed to fight in hand-to-hand combat.
Second, this fight is personal. Satan’s army is not standing on a literal battlefield, so it’s not as though we can march together and attack all at once. A lion attacks his prey one at a time. According to the book of Job, the devil moves to and fro on the earth (Job 1:7). His attacks are highly personalized as he moves from one person to the next. The word wrestle, again, implies the fight is mano a mano (Eph 6:12). It’s one man against another. In other words, your fight against the spiritual forces of evil may look a little different than mine.
Third, we can’t win this fight alone. John Calvin said of this fight:
[Paul] means that our difficulties are far greater than if we had to fight against men. Where we resist human strength, sword is opposed to sword, man contends with man, force is met by force, and skill by skill; but here the case is very different, for our enemies are such as no human power can withstand. (Calvin’s Commentaries)
When we talk about the devil or spiritual forces of evil, what image comes to mind? (Eph 6:12). Do you a picture a small, red demon with horns and a pitchfork? You can throw away that mental picture. It’s worthless because it’s wildly inaccurate. Listen to these descriptions from other passages in the Bible and consider the kind of immense power Satan has in this world. John says, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1Jn 5:19). Paul says, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2Co 4:4).
Do you ever watch the news? Do peruse the internet? Do you ever go out in public? You’ve seen the evil that surrounds us. You’ve seen the injustice and oppression. You’ve seen the lack of godliness. You’ve seen, as Paul writes to Timothy, lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2Ti 3:2-4). You’ve seen the chaos. You’ve seen the moral indifference. Who do you think is behind it?
For example, I’ve noticed many, many people celebrating the so-called courage of Bruce Jenner. He’s depicted as a hero on the cover of magazines because he decided he wants to be a woman. Our culture not only condones his actions, but also praises him for following his sick delusion. Then, people praise him some more because he found the love of his life, a man who also believes himself to be a woman, not to mention young enough to be his grandson. Everything about Bruce Jenner’s story is twisted.
As far as I’m concerned, Bruce Jenner is irrelevant, but he does show us something about the world in which we live. First, he illustrates the depravity of man. Second, he illustrates the profound influence of the devil. Human wisdom is contradicting itself all over the place. The world constantly makes arguments on the basis of evolution and nature, yet men can violate nature by pretending to be women. Nature also teaches that men are supposed to be with women, yet men are marrying men. The world is arguing against their own beliefs and principles. We’re not just talking about immorality here; it’s pure madness.
What chance do we have to stand against the god of this world? (2Co 4:4). How can we compete with that kind of power? Paul makes the answer very clear here: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph 6:10). If we rely on ourselves, we will fail.
Practically speaking, though, what do we do? How do we rely on the Lord’s strength and might? Paul says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11). In the remaining verses of this passage, Paul describes that armor in detail, and we’re going to look at it over the course of the next three or four weeks.
Until then, I’ll leave you with some words from Martin Luther. I believe Luther understood the power of Satan. More importantly, he knew the power of God through Christ is even greater. He wrote:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
The Prince of Darkness grim.
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure.
For lo, his doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.
Put another way, Satan can’t withstand even a single word from Christ should Christ choose to destroy him once and for all.