Last week I was at a three day world prayer conference with a powerful input from Open Doors on persecuted Christians. These occasions are always enlightening and challenging. The world is getting “smaller” in the sense that increased information enables us to get a sort of “world feel”. I think that is crucial for Christians’, particularly as we learn of thousands of people across the world finding faith in Jesus every day that passes. “A light for the Gentiles” is Isaiah’s great prophetic word concerning Jesus, and this is being remarkably fulfilled in our times.
The Powers of this World
However, during those three days and for some time prior to that, my mind was also thinking about the governments and ruling powers of this world. I am realising more and more how deeply penetrated they are by the Prince of this world. One of the three temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness was the offer from Satan of the governmental rule of the world. We are told, “The devil showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of this world”, and he then offered Jesus their authority and splendour, saying, “I can give it to anyone I want to”. Jesus refused the offer of becoming such a world ruler, but did not refute the validity of the devil’s claim to be able to give it. Indeed his very use of the term “The prince of this world” in Gethsemane was something of an endorsement. Paul used a very similar expression of Satan, “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph 2:2). The fact is he has penetrated the governmental high places of the earth because his lust is for power and because humanity has opened the way. Consequently he has control in those areas.
The evidence of this penetration is everywhere, and its effect is deeply saddening. For instance we continue to watch the Syrian authorities massacring its citizens simply to retain “power” and “authority”. The cruelty, disdain of human life, callous attitude to children and the brutality all speak of the essentially dark spiritual source of this governmental action. We see an unresolved “power struggle” in Egypt, with oppressive militancy hovering in the wings. We see a lot of such hard line dictatorships in every continent of this world. Corruption, greed, deceit and oppression are the hallmarks of such rule. People suffer, and the poor are very poor. The mark of darkness is on them all.
Corruption in High Places
It is not simply among dictatorships, however, that such marks are to be found. The so-called democracies betray the same corruption in their high places and institutions. Wealth, corruption and ambition dominate the U.S. political scene, not to mention European politics. Russia is unbelievably corrupt – commonly agreed to be ruled by kleptomaniacs. The language of deceit continues to inform international relationships, as indeed it always has. History is in fact one long consistent lesson in the way that “darkness” has penetrated and ruled the kingdoms of this world. The men who have been labelled “great” have frequently been the perpetrators of the worst violence.
Against the Flow
It is no surprise, therefore, that the power structures of this world have invariably opposed genuine Christian witness; the insensate hatred and fear that the power thirsty dictators have toward Christian witness even in our own times is very evident. They recognise that a true Christian outlook is utterly contrary to and undermining of oppressive power. So, when Christian pastors speak out against drugs and corruption in Colombo they get shot. This is why Jesus warned his followers about persecution from councils and rulers. He knew the nature of the spiritual struggle that underlay world rule. One of the great tragedies of the history of the church has been the way in which it has succumbed to becoming one of the powers of this world. Once it joins forces with political power it loses its essential nature, moves over into another kingdom and actually persecutes true followers of Jesus.
And yet, Paul the Apostle is adamant that “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom 13:1), and urges that prayers be offered for “kings and those in authority” (1 Tim 2:1). He is not endorsing evil rule here, merely the fact that government is a function that has its origin in God. He is quite clear that God’s establishment of authority is essentially for the punishment of wrong and the encouragement of godliness and as such is to be obeyed, but he is not blind to the fact such authority has been usurped and that we need to pray much for the restraint of the Spirit on the present powers of this world.
Two facts are of great comfort when we contemplate this scenario. The first is that despite the enemy’s grip on the kingdoms of this world, God remains utterly sovereign and even in the evil machinations of its rulers he works out his own purposes. That was true of Babylon and Persia in biblical times and remains so today in the twenty first century. The second is that prophetic purposes of God are very clear; his king and prince, Jesus, is destined to rule the nations. The nature of that rule will be justice, righteousness and peace.