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John Bradshaw - War in Heaven

John Bradshaw - War in Heaven
John Bradshaw - War in Heaven
TOPICS: Prequel of the Bible, Spiritual warfare, Rebellion

This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. The desert is a stark, harsh landscape. It's a beautiful yet an extreme environment. It's not the sort of place you want to get lost. There's never a lot of water, and there are plenty of creatures you want to be wary of encountering. It's here in the desert, in our series "The Prequel of the Bible," that we investigate an important story. It's not a well-known story, but it's a vital story. It was written over a period of 1,500 years, and it's not a story that fits together neatly. It's one you have to piece together. But unscrambling this story is essential if we're going to understand some of the most important questions that you could ever ask about our world and about God.

This backstory of the Bible gives us critically important information. It tells us what happened to God's original creation. The Bible says that this planet was intentionally and systematically created. God was so enthusiastic about it that in Genesis 1:31, He said that it was "very good". This was a world that reflected God's character. That perfect earth had lovingkindness as its organizing principle. Nothing hurt. Nothing destroyed. Nothing killed. The system upon which the earth was based was one of mutual giving, mutual blessing. Everything blessed and benefited everything else. It's a system so foreign to what we see today it's just about impossible to imagine.

The system we know, the one that we're surrounded by and immersed in, is one where taking, or selfishness, is the organizing principle. Look around. Just about every living creature in our world and virtually everything that we human beings do demonstrates this system. Consider the scorpion. It's an incredible thing. It stalks its prey and then grabs it with powerful claws and delivers an excruciating, deadly venom with the stinger on the tip of its tail. Its prey dies in agony. The venom is so powerful that some types of scorpion are capable of killing humans. And whether you are fascinated or revulsed by scorpions, I think we can agree they don't reflect the loving, giving, selfless character of God as described in the Bible.

In fact, a careful reading of the Bible tells us that God did not create this cunningly and intentionally designed creature as we now see it. And that raises some hugely important questions. And one of those questions is, if God did not create the earth and all of its lifeforms with selfishness as its organizing principle, then how did the world come to be overtaken by this system? And what does the existence of this creature say about God, whom the Bible describes as all-powerful? If in the beginning He created this world to be kind and gentle and only blessing, how did He allow it to become so twisted? To find out, we go to the prequel of the Bible. We'll start a little more than halfway through the Bible in the book of Ezekiel.

In Ezekiel 28 we find the beginning of a story about a high-ranking angel who was beautiful and full of wisdom and who led an extraordinary life. This angel was evidently adorned with the most beautiful jewels and gold. And as we're told in verse 14, he was the anointed covering cherub who was in attendance to God. Now, this was a very highly ranked angel, perhaps the highest ranking of all of the angels in heaven, first in authority and responsibility in God's government. The God of heaven is the Ruler and the Lord of this universe, and His administration is an organized system. Ephesians chapter 3 makes clear that God wants us to understand how that administration functions. He wants us to understand and appreciate how the universe operates. And He wants us to understand that even more clearly when we look at the life and the ministry and the death of Jesus. What's taking place here on the earth is very important to heaven. I'll have more in just a moment.

Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. The earth was created perfect. There was no crime, no violence, there was no selfishness, there were no thorns, and there was no venom. Way back then, there was a perfect angel. But he rebelled against God, against God's character, and ultimately against God's creation. Ezekiel tells us all about it in Ezekiel chapter 28 and verse 15, where he says that the angel was perfect in all of his ways until "iniquity was found in you".

Now, there was no excuse for his sin, no reason for his rebellion. There was no cause for his grievance against God. Verse 17 says that he became proud in his heart because of his beauty and that he corrupted his wisdom for the sake of his splendor. The story continues when we get to Isaiah chapter 14, verses 12 through 14. Here the rebellious angel is named. His name is Lucifer. And we get some real insights into what he's doing and thinking. It says, speaking of Lucifer, "You have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.'"

So Lucifer set in motion a plan to take God's place and usurp God's authority. It wasn't enough for Lucifer to occupy an important place in the government of heaven. He wanted to be the emperor. The story continues in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, and in chapter 12, what we find is absolutely riveting. Satan launches an attack, Satan rebels against the government of God, and he convinces other angels to follow him. According to verses 3 and 4, 1/3 of the angels of heaven are recruited by Satan to stand on his side in the rebellion.

Now, of course, when it comes to recruiting angels, Satan has something of an advantage by dint of his authority and the respect that he has among the angels. But even so, you have to wonder what he could have said to convince the angels to follow him. They were in heaven, after all. And they were rebelling against God. But something he said convinced a third of the angels of heaven to stand against God and with Lucifer. The picture becomes clearer in verse 7, where it says, "And war broke out in heaven: Michael and His angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought". So there was a war in heaven. Now, not a war with weapons, as we understand them. In the original Greek language, the word translated as "war" is the word "polemos," from which we also get the words "polemics" and "politics," which are contests of ideas. There's also the idea of bustle and commotion attached to that word. So when we read about war in heaven, what we're reading about is an intense and passionate war of ideas.

Now, I mentioned to you that there are some creatures you want to be wary of encountering in the wild. And this is one of them. Well, it is, and it isn't. That is, the beaded lizard isn't found in the United States, so, if you're in the US, you have nothing to worry about. He's found in Mexico and throughout Central America, but even then you don't have much to worry about. They're not likely to tangle with you unless you get tangled up with them. They are venomous, but they don't really deliver that venom very easily. You've got to give them a really good reason to want to deliver the venom, and even then, he does so with some considerable effort. Beautiful creatures! They're called beaded lizards because they're covered in these amazing beads. Now, we'd agree that toxic venom probably was not God's "Plan A" for creatures. Except even today, the toxic venom has properties that are used in pharmaceuticals. So, the venom, while it's a negative, is also a real positive and benefits human beings.

So the question, of course, is, does this creature reflect the character of God? Does it reflect lovingkindness, peace, and mercy? Does the creature fundamentally give as the basis for its existence? Does it pass on a blessing to every other creature it interacts with? Well, if it doesn't, why does it not do that? Obviously, with a creature like this, we can see real positives, and we can see some things that we might say, hmm, probably wasn't intended to be this way in the beginning at the creation.

So to really answer this question, to try to decipher this riddle, we've got to go back, back to the prequel of the Bible. We go back to the story of Lucifer. What Lucifer did was attack the government of God on a political level. He ran history's first ever political campaign. And if it was anything like the political campaigns that we're familiar with, he no doubt smeared the character of God while taking the opportunity to present his own character in the best possible light. While attacking the government of God, he was attacking the character of God, because the government of God was set up to run on principles consistent with God's character.

Now, political campaigns don't stop with simply character smears and misrepresentation. There's always some kind of platform. Lucifer wanted to be like God. He wanted to be above God. Essentially, he was running for the position of the administrator of the universe. He was saying to the angels in heaven, "I have a better organizing principle for the universe than that which God has". He couldn't simply say, "I'm a good guy, and my opponent isn't. Join me". He offered a better way forward for the universe. So what was Satan's better way? I'll tell you in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. Rattlesnakes are found across North America, and you know you've found one when you hear one. That distinctive rattle sound is well-known. Now, they're especially common here in the desert, and they're venomous. So if you come across one, you don't want to tangle with it. It's best to show them respect and then leave well alone. Dr. William Hayes is a professor of biology at Loma Linda University in southern California. He's an expert on these creatures. He knows just how dangerous they are and why human beings are so terrified of them.

Dr. William Hayes: Why are so many people terrified of snakes? That's a real good question. Some of that is going to be a history of interacting with snakes that, it's probably been built into our genes where we recognize this is something dangerous. We see this in primates, for example, in areas where there's venomous snakes, they are instinctively fearful. In areas where they don't have venomous snakes around, they're not so frightened. So there's probably some genetic basis to this, an instinctive basis in humans. But, um, to a larger extent, I think there's a lot of conditioned fear. We're taught to fear them when we're young. A lot of times that fear is inappropriate. So these are designed to kill. You know, they've, they've got the triangular head that has, they have a large gland on each side, a venom gland.

John Bradshaw: Yep.

Dr. William Hayes: And they've got a pair of fangs, and, uh, those are going to inject the venom into their prey or, when they're defensive, into an antagonist or a predator. So they're really effectively designed to kill. When it comes to us, uh, for the most part, they have no desire to do that. They don't want to be around us. They're frightened by us. Their heart rate will actually start beating really rapidly when they encounter us. The only time they would come our direction is when they have a place of retreat that's behind us that they're trying to get to. If we just let them go their way, um, they're not going to chase us down; they're not going to harm us.

John Bradshaw: You sure?

Dr. William Hayes: I am positive. So when you see a snake in the wild, uh, I always recommend: Leave the animal alone; admire it from a safe distance. For something venomous, that should be two or three steps away or more. But, uh, we certainly can admire the beauty. I mean, God didn't make junk. And, uh, uh, but we don't need to kill it. Uh, that animal has a place in God's creation.

John Bradshaw: Should we be worried that he's, uh, rattling?

Dr. William Hayes: No, we're okay.

John Bradshaw: Oh really?

Dr. William Hayes: This one's a pussycat. I could probably put him around my neck, which I would never do. But this one's very gentle.

John Bradshaw: But knowing this snake as well as you know it, you describe him as a "pussycat", knowing how to handle snakes as well as you handle them, you'd never take a risk?

Dr. William Hayes: No, I don't want to get bit. A bite is really, really dangerous.

John Bradshaw: But even though you might know the guy, and you're saying, "Ah, he'd be fine," you'd still, you just wouldn't push your luck then?

Dr. William Hayes: Nope. My odds of survival are very good. In the U.S. it's going to be 99, about 999 out of 1,000. Uh, there's only about five deaths a year in 5,000 bites. But I could run up a half-million-dollar hospital bill, and I might wish I was dead.

John Bradshaw: Yep, yep.

Dr. William Hayes: So, uh, here at Loma Linda, we find that 80 percent of the bites are to males, like you and me. Forty-five percent of the time they're interacting with the snake, they're playing for it; they're asking to get bit. Twenty percent of the time there's alcohol involved.

John Bradshaw: Oh really?

Dr. William Hayes: So, yeah, snake bites are associated with the two most dangerous chemicals in the world, testosterone and alcohol.

John Bradshaw: Hmmmmmm.

Dr. William Hayes: Now, even though these guys are designed to kill, their venom can be used by humans to save human lives. There are a number of medications that are, are designed from their venom, and there's research actually showing that if you inject the venom into somebody several days before their surgery, they should have less bleeding during the surgery, because the venom provokes bleeding; the body tries to stop that bleeding.

John Bradshaw: Mmm.

Dr. William Hayes: So during surgery, you've got that reduction of bleeding that, uh, is a benefit from the venom. We can rest assured that these animals were very different before sin came into the world. Uh, the best understanding we probably have is looking at Isaiah where we're told what snakes will be like in heaven, where, uh, a child can sit next to the nest of a cobra, and a child does not have to fear. So we know they weren't harmful. There's been a lot of change that's happened since the creation. Uh, I would say that's God creating in life the ability to change, the ability to adapt to a, uh, a sinful world where there's death. And, um, and it's led to amazing biodiversity where animals become uniquely adapted to many different environments. The, the richness of different lifeforms that we see, it's extraordinary. The years that I've spent studying these snakes has given me a lot of insight into the natural world, a, a better understanding of, uh, I would say, God's concern about, uh, the natural environments. I think that, uh, snakes have a special place in nature. God's kept them there, and, um, it's taught me to be a lot more respectful. I don't want to be one that goes out and injures nature. And, um, it's also because of the, the danger to humans, which is sometimes overstated, but, but very real. Um, I, I've, I've gained a better recognition of the fact that healthy humans need healthy environments. We can't just go removing this species or that species to make it a safer place for us, because it's all working together in an amazing way that God has put together, and we've been given responsibility to take care of it, even the snakes.

Now let's continue to follow our story. Lucifer is in open rebellion, and at this point God changes his name to Satan, meaning "enemy" or "adversary" or, fittingly, "opponent". In Revelation 12:7 and 8, we're told that Satan and his angels lost the war in heaven, and they were evicted from heaven and cast to the earth. So Satan is on the earth, having lost the war in heaven, but he hasn't given up his claims against God. He attacks God by attacking what was created in the image of God. He attacked humanity: Adam and Eve. Satan approached Eve using a snake as a medium. And he stuck to the message he disseminated in heaven. Look at what he says to Eve, and it'll give you an idea of what he said to the angels in heaven.

In Genesis 3:1-3, the serpent "said to the woman, 'Has God indeed said, "You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?"' And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat [of] the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, "You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die".'" Now, look at what Satan says in verses 4 and 5: "Then the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'" Now, did you notice that? Satan called God a liar. God said that they would die if they disobeyed, and Satan said, "You will not surely die". Then he said that if they ate the fruit, they would become like God, which meant that God was selfish and was keeping blessings from them, and that the way to become like God was through unbridled self-interest.

Satan said that God's system was designed to keep power and achievement away from people. A third of the angels believed the lie, and so did Adam and Eve. Satan won the second battle, and the consequences were not only enormous and immediate, but they continue to impact you and me daily. One of the terrible consequences of Adam and Eve's sin was a change in the management of the earth. God had given Adam and Eve dominion over the earth, but when Satan conquered them, he took what was theirs as the spoils of war. Revelation 12:9 says that Satan and his angels were cast down to the earth. The earth was not given to them. But when we next see Satan in the book of Job, he's attending a meeting of the sons of God, and he's there, evidently, as the representative of this earth.

Jesus in John 12 and John 14 referred to Satan as "the prince of this world". But the really critical thing is what Satan did once he usurped our dominion. This fallen angel, incredibly powerful, stunningly intelligent, immediately began to twist the earth and everything in it into a system that was based on his organizing principle, the system of selfishness. And the end result is the earth in which we live. This is a world where God and His system based on love is pitted against Satan and his system based on selfishness. So why did God let Satan continue to exist after his rebellion in heaven? And why would He let Satan pervert the earth and put his system of selfishness in place? How does this campaign end? And how does all of this relate to Jesus?

What we're going to see more and more clearly is that selfishness is a terrible, terrible system for running the earth. We see the evidence for that in the world all around us. So what do we do, living in a world that's full of selfishness and sin? We can't get out. So what can we do while we're here? Paul made an interesting statement in Romans 6 in verse 16 when he said, "Know ye not, that to whom [you] yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants [you] are to whom [you] obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness"? In this world of sin, we get to choose who we're going to serve. If you wish, you can choose to serve sin, and you know who you'd be serving if you did that. Or you can choose to serve God, to serve obedience, to serve righteousness.

The right choice to make is obvious, but it might not be easy, and that's because our heart, affected by sin, leans in the direction of sin. We can war with ourselves, but you can make the choice and invite the God who made a perfect earth, and who is one day going to remake this sin-affected earth, to remake your heart today. After a disastrous fall into sin, David prayed and said to God, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me". That's Psalm 51 in verse 10. And God did. And what God did for David, He'll do for you. And that means, even though this world has been hijacked, even though the government of the universe has been dramatically impacted, you can have peace, and you can know that eternal life is yours.
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