Published September 6, 2011

Paul's Epistle...
"Kingdom Against Kingdom"

Have you ever had a familiar verse of Scripture – one you'd heard and read many times over the years – jump out and hit you in an entirely new way?

That happened to me recently when I came across one of those daily Scripture e-mails that simply quoted the words of Christ given in Matthew 24:7(a) where He said, "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom..." That's all that was quoted from this familiar passage which was part of Christ's answer to His disciples' question about when the "end of the age" would come, bringing the Lord's return.

Perhaps because just those two related phrases were given was the reason why it struck me. Christ said "nation will rise against nation." And then he said, "kingdom against kingdom." Was He simply repeating the same thought for emphasis, as was a common pattern in Hebrew? That is the usual interpretation of the verse, taken at face value. But was He saying something more here? Were the "nation...against nation" and "kingdom against kingdom" really two different things?

Are we in the end times? Well, nations certainly have been rising against nations around the world, and that's nothing new. There are many more wars happening than we ever hear about on the news – mainly because most of them simply don't directly involve us (Americans).

But it's the next part of the verse that struck me. (In my admittedly brief search I could find no commentaries that take this approach, so I'm on my own here.) I believe the "kingdom against kingdom" part of the verse refers to something different — spiritual warfare. So, interpreted this way, Christ is saying that international conflicts will mark the time of the end, but so will accelerated warfare between spiritual kingdoms.

That makes sense to me. This world is presently the kingdom of Satan. Jesus calls Satan "the ruler of this world" several times in John's Gospel (12:31, 14:30, 16:11). John said the "whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one." (1 John 5:19.) Paul referred to Satan as "the god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4) and the "prince of the power of the air" (a term with spiritual connotations; Ephesians 2:2). Satan, tempting Christ, said he would give Him "all the kingdoms of the world..." (Luke 4:5-6). He obviously couldn't give something that wasn't his. Christ didn't dispute this.

But, as Jesus told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36.) (The term "kingdom of God" appears 67 times in the New Testament.) Here we see two diametrically opposed spiritual kingdoms — the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God. And they are at war.

But please understand that there is something different about this war. God has already sealed the eventual fate of the devil, his angels and their human followers. Christ died on the cross "that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil..." (Hebrews 2:14.) Satan's already lost the war, even if he refuses to accept it. And God has already promised heaven as the eternal destination and reward for believers. We've won! Nevertheless, this spiritual warfare rages on in the here-and-now. And it is, for all practical purposes, all about the human race. It's all about us. Which side will we wind up on?

That's why this spiritual warfare spills over into the natural realm. Christians and non-Christians alike are involved in this warfare. Unbelievers have surrendered without a fight to their "prince." Believers have joined the winning side, thanks to the ultimate sacrifice of their Captain, but still find themselves living in enemy territory. We are daily faced with the in-the-natural manifestations of the war which Paul reminds us is not "against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12.)

You don't have to look far to find this war going on all around us.

It's why, here in America, all forms of religion are encouraged in some public forums – except one: Christianity. Why is that, do you suppose? Could it be that Christianity is the only true religion, and all of the others simply have the same "acceptable" quality — that they're not Christianity? Isn't it obvious that if all religions are encouraged but one, there must be something pretty special about that "one." (It's the "one" that the ruler of this world hates. All of the others serve his purposes of keeping people away from that "one.")

In the USA, persecution of Christians exists primarily in the form of ridicule. Hollywood regularly portrays Christians as "hypocritical hate-mongers with tendencies toward violence," according to Don Feder of the organization called Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation. It's true, too, even in the painfully obvious anti-Christian slant given in mainstream media "news" accounts. Just look at the sneering ridicule the media heaps upon any political candidate who dares (dares!) to admit to allowing his or her Christian beliefs to inform his or her worldview.

It's why persecution of Christians is so widespread around the world. An estimated 250 million Christians worldwide are facing persecution simply for following Christ — persecution defined as imprisonment, abuse and sometimes death because of their faith. Did you catch that number? 250 million! The official estimated population of the United States is just over 307 million – so we're saying that, around the world, nearly as many Christians are suffering persecution for their faith as the entire population total of the United States! This boggles the mind.

I'm paging through quite a stack of news accounts of similar persecution in India, Iraq, Iran, China, Burma, Sri Lanka and, especially, Saudi Arabia (where any Muslim converting to Christianity faces death and where Christianity is banned). Christ Himself warned us that we could expect such persecution: "Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you..." (John 15:20). And Paul wrote, "...all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (2 Tim. 3:12.) He said, "all!" But do you recall what Christ said would come of such persecution? "It will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony." (Luke 21;13.) That's where our "soldiering" comes into play. We have a mission. (See Ephesians 6:13-18.) Such is the physical manifestation of spiritual warfare.

Consider: What is our nation's greatest concern? Attack from another individual nation? Not anymore. We in Western society (not just the USA) are more concerned about attack by terrorists citing religious reasons for their hatred. They come from many nations. Meanwhile, several academic agencies report that the number of nation-against-nation wars underway around the world actually has been steadily declining since about 1992, according to a Knight-Ridder newspaper story. Warfare, even in the natural on a worldwide scale, is shifting from "nation against nation" to "kingdom against kingdom," just as Christ predicted (based on our interpretation), and in the order given in the Lord's prediction.

If you truly realize that Christians today are engaged in spiritual warfare – whether they realize it or not – then more of what you see happening around you and in the world at large makes more sense – or, at least, is more understandable.

All of this reminds me of Rev. 12:12 where it says, "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has [only] a short time."

That's both the bad news and the good news. The bad news is things will get worse. The good news is that the time is short until the Lord's return. Remember Christ's words and take heart: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:10.) And His promise: "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt. 28:20.)

- Paul

Note: This column first appeared Jan. 23, 2007. Some statistics and observations have been updated.

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