In its coming and powerfulness, the kingdom of God centres paradoxically upon the one-act of ultimate weakness – the cross of Christ. The kingdom comes in power, yet the kingdom comes in great weakness.
The NT expounds a climatic clash throughout the complex realms of creation. It agonises like a mother about to give birth to a baby. There is pain in renewed hope.
The created world has in some special sense been apportioned to a whole spiritual hierarchy of angelic beings, according to the Bible. Christ came to a world where people were —
“…used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.” – Ephesians 2:2
Satan himself is exposes as head of this hierarchy. The last book of the NT prophesies that —
“This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.” – Revelation 12:9
Until then, the devil claims the whole of humanity for his parish. The universe of folk-Islamic thought is only slightly removed from the picture presented in the Bible.
With Christ’s advent, this evil claim to authority is fundamentally challenged. Both in its unfolding and in its wake, that conflict brings immense suffering.
The birth of Christ is heralded by the activity of the Holy Spirit, by angelic visitations and by cosmological signs. Equally, there follows an ugly display of the powers of darkness, as Bethlehem mourns the slaughter of the innocents.
The miracles of Jesus are full of significance in the arena of spiritual conflict. The Synoptic Gospels describe the wonders of Jesus as dunameis, foretaste of the powers of the coming age. Jesus’ specific reference to the finger of God in His exorcising shows us His view of His ministry as a battle. Nevertheless, wonderful healing for men and women is inextricably connected with stripes for Christ.
The cross provides the pivot of the conflict. It is His very death, the apex of His suffering which unleashes those contortions of the created universe; the unimaginable suffering of the abandoned Christ makes up the definitive victory over the kingdom of darkness.
The resurrection and ascension become the unchallengeable statement of Christ’s achievement in this conflict.
“What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.” – Hebrews 2:9
Victory and suffering are closely linked for Christ, and in some mysterious way they are also linked for His church.
Christ’s call to Saul of Tarsus is to conflict and suffering. He confides to Ananias that the transformed Pharisee is —
“…my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” – Acts 9:15-16
In turn, the apostle passes on the same message. He writes from prison to the believers whom he has founded in the faith —
“For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.” – Philippians 1:29-30
The koinonia of believers embraces those who rejoice and those who mourn, those who live in plenty and those who suffer for Christ’s sake. It is in pressured moments that power encounter is actually provoked. And out of the power encounter, as much with evil human structures as with spirit beings, comes the cross for the church of the Saviour. Sometimes, power encounter results in victory, sometimes in disappointment.
As exposition of the world of popular Islam, if it does nothing else, surely demonstrates the reality of the kingdom of darkness. A fuller recognition that ‘witness’ (marturia) includes nuances of suffering lends biblical holism to the understanding of mission among ordinary Muslims.
One of the visions of Christ left with His hard=pressed disciples as the canon of the NT closes, depicts exactly this paradox of immediate suffering and ultimate victory. A Lamb that is —
“… slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth.” – Revelation 5:6
Wounds of the cross single out the world’s greatest missionary; marks of death transformed into tokens of triumph in the profoundest power encounter of all time.
Isaiah 53:5; Luke 11:20; Acts 5:29-30; Hebrew 2:20; 6:5