The political violence and hate demonstrated in Charlottesville over the weekend was as predictable as it was tragic. One person was killed, and dozens others were injured, and hateful rhetoric continues to be spewed back and forth between the different sides. In a society where politics is seen as the answer to almost every problem, battle lines are frequently drawn, goodwill is quickly eroded, and the very worst in people is often brought to the surface.
When such battle lines are drawn it is dangerously easy to over simplify matters of good and evil. It is dangerously easy to condemn Antifa with its violent left wing rhetoric. It is dangerously easy to vilify the alt-Right, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and fascists. Everyone is expected to pick a side. It is dangerously easy to turn certain politicians into the devil, or to turn the media into a slew of demons. It is dangerously easy to typify “those like us” as basically good and “people like them” as basically evil. We tend to turn ourselves into angels and our opponents into Satanic forces of evil. It is easy to think this way and far more convenient than having to step back from the rhetoric we continually see on social media and think clearly about right and wrong.
The Real Enemy
Jesus was born into a society where thoughts of revolution and war were brewing. Political violence was becoming more and more common. Israel thought of themselves as the “good guys.” After all, they were “God’s chosen nation.” The Romans were the bad guys. People longed for a “Messiah” who would raise an army and throw off the yoke of gentile oppression once and for all and thus usher in the promised “last days” and “age to come.” Every few years a self proclaimed “Messiah” would come along, gain some support, and try to do just that – usually resulting in crucifixion and bloodshed at the hand of the Romans.
Then comes Jesus. Jesus was also ready to fight a battle, but it wasn’t the battle people were expecting Him to fight. It wasn’t even the same kind of battle. In fact, based on the Sermon on the Mount we see that fighting itself, in the normal physical sense, was precisely what Jesus was not going to do. Jesus was fighting against a different kind of enemy all together.
Jesus saw Himself as fighting a battle against Satan and his evil spiritual forces.
And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan. – Mark 1.13
What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him. – Mark 1.27
He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who he was. – Mark 1.34
Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was. – Mark 3.11-12
The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul”… “And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand… But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.” – Mark 3.22-27
Immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him…He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”…
And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea. – Mark 5.1-20
And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. – Luke 10.18
And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day? – Luke 13.16
Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat. – Luke 22.31
The devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him… After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. – John 3.2, 27
For all the things I don’t understand about Satan, unclean spirits, and demons, one thing is certain: Jesus recognized the reality of dark spiritual forces at work in the world.
If we will take a moment and recognize the existence of Satan and his spiritual forces, and if we consider that Satan is capable of influencing “us” as well as “them”, then our focus should shift. In all four gospels, Jesus only directly addresses Satan by that name two times. The first time was during the wilderness temptations (Mt. 4.10). The other was when he was rebuking one of his closest friends for resisting God’s plan (Mk. 8.33).
When we see conflict between two parties, it is not a simple as just picking a side. If we will learn to view the world in light of this spiritual reality, the battle lines shift. It is no longer a battle between “us” and “them”. The battle is between God and Satan.
With this new reality in view, enemies can be seen as within reach of God’s blessings. And our allies, those whom we have always thought of as fighting on the “right” side, suddenly need to be examined a little closer.
The Real Battle
Jesus recognized that He came to fight a war. It wasn’t a war of independence from the Romans. It wasn’t a revolution against King Herod. He didn’t join a fight for national freedom. He didn’t go to war against oppressive and hateful political powers. He didn’t seek to overthrow corrupt local leaders.
The real battle was far deeper, far more significant, and far more important. Jesus was in battle against Satan himself. And though Satan certainly used the Romans and influenced the Jewish leaders, Jesus continually remembered that Satan was not one to be identified with any of these.
It was necessary for Him to keep his mind set on this truth, for had Jesus turned and identified the Romans or the Jews as his enemy, and opposed them rather than opposing Satan, He most certainly would have lost the real battle.
The Real Victory
If Jesus saw Satan as the real enemy, how did He suppose the battle would be won? Early in His ministry in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had pointed forwards to how this battle was to be won. The enemy would be defeated, not by a political victory over his opponents, but rather by turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and demonstrating love towards his enemies (Mt. 5.38-48). This is how the Kingdom of Heaven would be established and the victory would be won.
Of course the end result of such so-called “foolishness” is predictable. Everybody knows what happens to people who don’t fight back: the bad guys win and the good guys lose. The fact that Jesus ended up being crucified should strike us as no surprise.
And yet, it was in this “loss” to his so called “enemies” that the real victory over the real enemy was secured.
By refusing to resist evil, Jesus refused Satan. By resisting the opportunity to revile his enemies in return, Jesus resisted Satan. By withstanding any desire to threaten his enemies, Jesus withstood Satan. When Jesus overcame the cross, He overcame Satan. By his willingness to “lose”, the real victory was won. “By His wounds, you were healed.” (2 Peter 2.22-23).
What this means for Charlottesville
What does all of this mean for Charlottesville, and all the other political conflicts we see in the world? It means that it is time for us as Christians to fight. Or as Peter put it: “arm yourselves!”
Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with this same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. – 1 Peter 4.1-2
Or consider the way Paul summed up this warfare:
Stand firm against the schemes of the devil, for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Put on the full armor of God! – Ephesians 6.11-13
We are at war. But it is eternally important that we recognize who the real enemy is. We are in a battle against Satan. To defeat Satan we must arm ourselves, but not with just any weapon of our choosing. The weapon we must take with us is the mindset of Christ. The armor we must put on is the armor of God.
If we go to war against the wrong enemy, we will of necessity have to take up the wrong weapons. If matters are oversimplified, the only path to victory over hate, is with hate; the only victory over violence, is with violence; the only victory over political power is to seize political power. If we seek to win the battle against the wrong enemy we will lose the war against Satan.
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in Spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for this very purpose – 1 Peter 3.8-9