For this purpose was the Son of God manifested: that he might destroy the works of the devil.
1 John 3:8
The nations raged, but thy wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, for rewarding thy servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear thy name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.
If we understand sin merely to be a transgression of a divine law, salvation and forgiveness of sin would then merely entail a release from the demands of the law. Salvation would be an acquittal, an exoneration from punishment deserved. To a guilty humanity, among which no one is sinless, such an acquittal would indeed be good news. But is this the Good News of the Gospel?
The English word “gospel” derives from the Greek euagellion, meaning “good news.” But it is not just any good news. Being informed of a job promotion, of passing an exam, of a wedding, or even of an acquittal from punishment is not the kind of news that technically is eugellion. In the ancient world, when someone came bearing eugellion, he came bearing a message of victory. For an example, in 2 Samuel 18:19, we read, “Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, ‘Let me run and take the news to the king that the Lord has vindicated him by delivering him from the hand of his enemies.’” Looking at the pre-Christian Greek Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, “news” here translates the word euagellion.
Far from merely a change of legal status before God, the Good News of the coming of Christ is the news of the coming of a king, of the King, and his eventual defeat over the enemies of mankind. People who are not nice are not the real enemies of mankind. I’ve met a number of very nice people who are wholeheartedly committed to idolatry and evil. Rather, our true enemies are sin, demons who hold us in bondage, and death itself—a life oriented towards chaos, meaninglessness, and nihilism.
In the advent of Jesus Christ, the Creator has come to reclaim his own, and has won a decisive battle not only through his ministry of exorcism and healing in the Holy Land, but chiefly through the cross, his harrowing of Hades, and his rising from the tomb. His Apostles, the chief generals of the King, have been sent into the world bearing news of this victory. They have not done this so that we can all chill out and have a beer on the King’s behalf. They do this so that we might be emboldened to join the King’s army and enter the fray. This is what it means to reign with Christ, the promise given to those who would be saved.1For example, see Revelation 2:10, 26. In the mind of Christ, reigning is not lording it over others, nor congratulating ourselves about being saved, nor feeling ourselves somehow to be above authority. To co-reign with Christ indicates our joining the ranks of the faithful heavenly host in the earthly Church, the presence of heaven on earth, to do the work of exorcism, to lay siege to Hades, and to destroy man’s bondage to demons. If nothing else, we must engage in a serious effort of cosmic housekeeping. The battle and the cleanup begin, and are conducted most intimately and sorely, in our own hearts.
When a citizen hears that his king has won a major victory, he is encouraged and hopeful for his people, for the peace and safety of his homeland. But a pivotal battle won is not necessarily the end of a war. The good news, the glad tidings of the victory of the King, should move and embolden us to take action, to join his army that we may assist him in routing his enemies once for all. In this instance, since the King is him by, through, and for whom all things are created, the enemies of the King are the enemies of creation, which destroy and disfigure life in all of its natural forms.2Hebrews 2:10; Revelation 11:18. This is why Christians renounce lusts and passions, and the mammon that comes through an economy of greed, sex, death, and exploitation advanced through the misuse of technology and scientific data. Such an economy is a destroyer of human persons and the whole creation. It is the handiwork of demons.
Because becoming Christian is joining an army, there is training involved. Soldiers train. They must prepare for service in the field. A soldier hones his concentration. He is watchful. A soldier has charge over his thoughts, his desires, and his body. A soldier must come to know the landscape in which he is serving, in this case a spiritual landscape. A soldier remains faithful through thick and thin, through suffering and trails. A soldier is obedient and ready to follow orders. He ensures that he understands his orders correctly. He does not willfully do his own thing or push himself to the fore, but works in concert with the whole army of God. He does not ask others to follow him, but he rather follows for the sake of all in allegiance to the King. He gathers and rallies, and does not divide. Otherwise, he would risk bringing failure upon the mission. Of course, our King remains unaffected by our straying; the failure is our own.
I realize that many people are uncomfortable with military metaphors for the Christian life. We like to see Jesus as a sweet guy, everyone’s friend, but such a Jesus has little to do with the Jesus of the Gospels and the Old Testament (for example, the Psalms). Such a Jesus has nothing to do with the Christ worshipped and glorified by the Church in her liturgy. Jesus is friends with the repentant sinner, but he is no friend of demons and death. Love he does, and always, but what is this to the obstinately unrepentant? What is his cross to the mocking thief?
Jesus is a King, he is God, and he has come to destroy the works of the devil.31 John 3:8. This is supremely good news! He has come to vanquish the foe on our behalf and on behalf of his beloved creation. The military talk is not a metaphor. To be a Christian is to be in an army. It is to enter into company with the heavenly host and all the saints. It requires profound training, concerted engagement; it requires us to take the campaign in which we are called to assist quite seriously. The enemy is advancing in these latter days, because he knows that he has little time, and that ultimately there is no hope for his designs,[Revelation 12:12.[/ref] though he can be the eternal ruin of many. Let us not be found among, or mingling about, his fetid ranks, either willfully or by sloppiness and carelessness.
I bring you Good News: the King is risen! He has thrown open the gates of death! All authority has been given to him.4Matthew 28:18. It is time no longer to be a slave to the powers and principalities and the spiritual forces of wickedness.5Ephesians 6:12. Join the army. Join us in storming the darksome strongholds to free mankind from her captivity!