During the twentieth century, two wars caused such extensive devastation that they were called “world wars.” The name was well deserved, because each involved scores of countries fighting over vast territories, and the casualties numbered in the millions. World War I and World War II were some of the most horrible conflicts in all of human history.
Yet there is a war going on right now that is far more ruinous than either of these. Let us call it, for the sake of understanding its full magnitude, the Universal War. It has been going on since long before you and I were born—before, in fact, any of our human ancestors ever walked this earth. All the wars that human armies have ever fought are merely skirmishes in this war. We, as well as those who lived before us and those who will come after us, are all, in varying degrees, its collateral damage.
What’s particularly ironic about this Universal War is that most of us live our lives quite unaware of its spiritual battles that are raging about us.
A spiritual battleground
That future-looking book of Revelation records a significant bit of ancient history: “There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back” (Revelation 12:7). This story comes from a time before human existence, a time when the universe was peopled with angels, all of whom were a part of God’s retinue.
Though they’d been created to be God’s loyal army, He gave these angels the ability to make choices of their own. And one of them made the choice to nurture within himself a seed of jealousy. This particular angel was God’s highest-ranking associate, whom the Bible called a “guardian cherub” (Ezekiel 28:14). This designation placed him second only to God Himself!
This guardian cherub possessed remarkable qualities: He was “the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (verse 12). Speaking of him, God said, “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you” (verse 15). That wickedness was his ambition to take over the place of God Himself, for the Bible quotes this angel saying, “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14).
When competing leaders claim supremacy, conflict nearly always results. The all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe couldn’t allow a rival god to live in heaven—especially one He’d created in the first place!
The Bible quotes God saying, “I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub” (Ezekiel 28:16). This was the first battle of the Universal War, when God cast this rebel angel from heaven.
Satan went from the vice-presidency of heaven to heaven’s enemy number one! We, of course, know him as Satan, also called “the devil.” Revelation 12 pictures him symbolically as a dragon.
Satan didn’t fight God by himself. We know this because, speaking of this dragon, the Bible says that “his tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth” (Revelation 12:4). This appears to be a cryptic reference to his winning the loyalty of a third of heaven’s remaining angels.
This set the stage for a second battle in the Universal War. Satan had soldiers. Now he needed subjects. And so he took the battle to earth, to the first man and woman.
Genesis tells how Satan suggested to Eve that she eat fruit plucked from a particular tree—a tree whose fruit God had given express instructions never to eat. In this first temptation we see Satan’s marvelous cunning. To Eve’s protests that disobeying God would lead to death, Satan scoffed, “You will not surely die.” In fact, he argued, God is selfishly trying to keep a wonderful experience from you by placing you under an arbitrary rule: “God knows that when you eat of [this tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4, 5).
Behind the Universal War is this accusation: God is inherently selfish. God can’t be trusted. And so what’s on the line in this war is not only our loyalty to God but God’s own reputation, as well. Is He, or is He not, worthy of the universe’s confidence?
Adam and Eve’s wrong choice left their children and grandchildren, and in fact the earth and all of nature, open to Satan’s hurtfulness. Deviousness, audacity, and ruthlessness are characteristic of Satan’s methodology to this very day. Every temptation is Satan’s attempt to get us to trust him and distrust God—while causing as much devastation as possible in the process.
The decisive battle
Centuries passed during which an unbiased reporter might have doubted the outcome of the Universal War. The record of history, from ancient times to the present, demonstrates Satan’s battle tactics as amazingly effective. He rarely appears in person. Instead, he whispers dark but peculiarly compelling temptations into the minds of human beings. He not only encourages jealousy, selfishness, and hatred, but provokes us to act upon those feelings.
The consequences from our choices to follow his suggestions run from simple gossip and unkind words to theft, rape, broken families, violence, war, murder, and every other variety of human suffering and misfortune.
Fortunately, God’s victory ceased to be in doubt after a crucial battle in the Universal War. That battle happened about 2,000 years ago, when God sent an Envoy from heaven to take personal charge of the battlefront. His name is Jesus Christ, and Scripture describes Him simply as God’s Son. Jesus’ strategy couldn’t have been more unlike Satan’s. Where Satan accused, Jesus simply loved. He showered the world with kindness, healing sickness, speaking truth, restoring damaged reputations, and meeting human needs. And in one final stroke of ultimate goodness, He offered Himself, the Son of God, as a martyr, to prove beyond a doubt that His love for humankind was pure and disinterested.
When Christ died on the cross, He defeated Satan. His accusations couldn’t stand, for how could anyone make the charge of selfishness stick to One “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6, 7)?
As for God being untrustworthy, the very idea appears preposterous in light of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He so loved the world, and all of us in it, that He “became obedient to death” (Philippians 2:8). Through the Cross, He was able to “reconcile to himself all things,” including you and me, “by making peace through his blood” (Colossians 1:20). With mercy triumphing over justice, He set aside the inevitable results of breaking His law, “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).
Even in defeat, Satan continues to wage war against God—and against us. Though he himself cannot win, he battles with a wild and ferocious anger to take as many with him to eternal destruction as he can. But when all is said and done, he’s defeated. For Jesus has “disarmed the powers and authorities.” He “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). Satan and all who follow him are doomed.
Here’s how Revelation pictures the end of the battle, when the forces of Satan are arrayed over against the forces of God: “Fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (Revelation 20:9). With that tragic event, the Universal War will end, and the entire universe will be forever free of the taint of sin.
Only one question remains for you to decide: Whose side are you on in this Universal War? If you’re on Satan’s side, you’ll share his ultimate fate. If you’re on God’s side, you will spend a joyful eternity with Him in His everlasting kingdom.