Notes on Toppling Strongholds


"Who is this who looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?" (Song of Solomon 6:10)

Dominion and control over our planet was originally given to our forefather Adam. But he lost it. In more ways than one. One only has to look around everywhere today to see clearly that we humans do a lousy job of caring for the planet, safeguarding our natural resources, living peacefully with one another, and managing the affairs of the household on behalf of the owner of the Planet (who is out of town for a season).

The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks God's plans for restoring man's lost dominion over the earth.

"For it was not to angels that God subjected the world [age] to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, "What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou carest for him? Thou didst make him [man] for a little while lower than the angels, thou hast crowned him [man]with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, [man] he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him."

The writer continues by describing the incarnation of the Son of God who was born into our race as a son of Adam. By His perfect life and sacrificial death, Jesus has regained the title deed to earth (as can be seen in Revelation 4), and He has purchased back (redeemed) from the slave market of sin those of us who now name His name as Lord.

"But [now] we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies [makes whole] and those who are sanctified [made whole] have all one origin [body]. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, "I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee." And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again, "Here am I, and the children God has given me." Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:5-18)

Colossians tells us that when He died on the cross Jesus not only paid for our sins, but in a cosmic court room He won a total victory over all visible and invisible powers of evil, annulling any claim they may have had to our lives or to the planet. Any alien force, or power, or entity (angelic or human) anywhere in all creation was dealt with, with finality, once and for all, on the cross.

"Jesus has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him" (1:13-22)

"And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him." (Colossians 2:13-15)

In our materialistic culture "educated" people don't talk about angels, nor discuss the invisible realm of the spirit. Actually the Bible describes the spiritual world as more solid, more substantial, and more permanent than the world we live in now. The physical, material world is actually embedded and immersed in the spiritual realm (i.e., "the heavenlies"). Earth is really just a small sub-domain of heaven. We live in a world of shadows, while all around us are eternal realities which can never fade away. Because our present bodies have not yet been redeemed we only perceive these invisibilities of the universe through the eyes of faith.

Notice that Hebrews 2:5 (quoted above) says that the age to come will not be subject to [the control of] the angels. By implication, this verse implies that the age we live in now IS managed by the angelic hosts. This default mode for the government of earth is part of what happened when Adam forfeited his Prime Minister's role over the creation. That is, angels took over. Chief of these spirit-beings was a very bad guy--Satan--known as "the god of this world [age]. He is not alone. The Bible mentions four tiers of angels (principalities, powers, world rules, and hosts of wickedness). One might be tempted to think that these malevolent agencies live somewhere beyond outer space. But the reality is they are deeply involved in all the social institutions of world cultures. For this reason what the Bible calls "the world" or "the world system" is fully opposed to God. (1) (The Christian's three enemies are: the flesh, the world and the devil, remember?) For many centuries now these evil angels have shaped molded and influenced every man-made organization on earth.

In the third book of his science fiction trilogy, "That Hideous Strength," C. S. Lewis depicts earth as the "Dark Planet" ruled over by a "Bent Angel." In comparison with earth, Lewis sees the rest of the universe as far less unscathed by evil.

Because evil has so thoroughly corrupted all of society, when Christ comes back it must all be overthrown. The writer of Hebrews says that everything which can be shaken will be. He talks about the overthrow of rulers on earth but also of a severe shaking of the heavens. Only what God has built directly or put into place through His people will remain.

"See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire." (12:25-29)

The prophet Isaiah made the same prediction 2700 years ago.

"Behold, the LORD will lay waste the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. Terror, and the pit, and the snare are upon you, O inhabitant of the earth! He who flees at the sound of the terror shall fall into the pit; and he who climbs out of the pit shall be caught in the snare. For the windows of heaven are opened, and the foundations of the earth tremble. The earth is utterly broken, the earth is rent asunder, the earth is violently shaken. The earth staggers like a drunken man, it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again. On that day the LORD will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth. They will be gathered together as prisoners in a pit; they will be shut up in a prison, and after many days they will be punished. Then the moon will be confounded, and the sun ashamed; for the LORD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before his elders he will manifest his glory." (Isaiah 24:1, 17-23)

Evil is society is concentrated in cities. This is a phenomenon that began after the Flood of Noah when Ham's grandson Nimrod built Babylon (and other cities) in the Fertile Crescent area. (Genesis 10:8-10). Nimrod's motives, his presuppositions, and his methods were in opposition to the ways of God. Since the Fall of Adam, and since the Flood of Noah, we have lived in a world where all falsehood and evil in society ultimately springs from wrong theology, from religious error. The well-spring of false religion and ideology which began at ancient Babylon has now spread throughout the world, infecting all of society everywhere, like a virus.

With this very brief introduction in mind, perhaps the apocalyptic language concerning "Mystery Babylon the Great" in the book of the Revelation will begin to make sense? In Chapters 17-18, the Prophet John describes all aspects of society as ripe for judgment at every level. (2)

For 2000 years, God has been planting small colonies of people among the nations. These people are sons and daughters of the old Adam, but they have been reborn and re-created in Jesus the Last Adam. It is through these small groups of people drawn from every nation, (Christ's true church), that God has plans for the recovery and total rehabilitation of the planet. The church of Jesus Christ should really be thought of not only as a place of refuge from impending judgment, but as the beach head landing force of God's coming liberation army. Her weapons for warfare are unconventional by ordinary military standards (see below), but enormously powerful even against overwhelming odds. The church will not win the battle single handed--that will take place when Christ returns--but meantime small numbers of Christians following what God has called us to do can make a world of difference. (3, 4)

Lots of local churches today act like retirement communities or country clubs. They provide a refuge from the world, safe forms of entertainment and a sheltered environment. This seems to be the default mode of many churches today. These churches are really quite harmless, and pose no real threat to the devil's work.

A smaller group of churches is savvy enough to perceive they the local church was intended by our Lord to evangelize the surrounding community in every generation. This mean the members are to thoughtfully and actively interact at all levels in their community to the end that people in the surrounding community clearly understand and respond to the gracious offer of God's salvation and so are added daily to the Body of Christ. (Actually spiritual warfare [5] is very much involved in the salvation of individuals and in their subsequent growth into maturity in Christ).

A third, rarer type of local church takes seriously the clear call of the New Testament to be actively busy assaulting the strongholds of evil in society. It is in the society around us that the angels of darkness hold sway, rarely challenged by anyone. Spiritual warfare in its broadest sense includes protecting oneself and one's church from the devices of the god of this age, while aggressively assaulting, attacking and pulling down these dark towers in the culture and infusing them with the light of truth and love. It makes all the difference in the world how the church engages in this deliberate assault of the world system.

The Apostle Paul sums up the nature of the church's call to attack the world:

"For though we live in the world [flesh] we are not carrying on a worldly [fleshly] war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly [fleshly] but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

We live in a world governed by theories, ideologies and philosophies. Each social institution began with presuppositions or assumptions which may be compared to the foundation of a castle. Human pride, human ambition is the core motivation of fallen men living under the control of Satan in a fallen world. But because the ways of the world are actually diametrically opposed to God's intentions for the human family, each organization or entity in the world system has to be shored up with arguments and rationalizations so that the core selfish ambition and pride is not obvious.

On the above passage Ray Stedman says,

Paul says we do not employ the weapons of the flesh. What are those weapons? What does the world use to try to solve the problems it recognizes in society? Well, you know what it uses: Coercion, manipulation, pressure groups, compromises, demonstrations that ultimately result in raised voices, in clenched fists and outbreaks of conflict, boycotts, pickets and strikes, in attempts to pressure people into doing what others want. These are the weapons of the world. It does not have any others. So it is understandable why those who are governed by the flesh would seek to employ fleshly weapons to get things done. But the universal testimony of history is, these do not work. We still have the same problems we have had for centuries. We never will get rid of them. We only rearrange them by these methods so that they seem to take another form for a little while but soon we are right back with the same problems, if not worse. That has been the unbroken experience of history. No one can deny it.

Well, then, what are our weapons? Paul makes it clear that they are not those. Christians are not to use coercion, manipulation, pressure groups, compromises and conflict to oppose the evil in our midst. We have other weapons, he says. They are mighty, they are powerful, they accomplish something. They will "destroy strongholds" of evil, he says we do have spiritual weapons that are mighty against these forces of darkness.

The one we would put first, I am sure from the Scriptures, is truth. The Christian is given an insight into life and reality that others do not have. We know what is behind the forces at work in our society today, and we ought to know how to go about overcoming them. As Paul put it in Ephesians, "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood," (cf, Ephesians 6:12a KJV). Our problem is not people, much as we identify, like the world around us, with people as the problem. Scripture says, "No, it is not people," but rather, "principalities, powers and wicked spirits in high places, the world rulers of this present darkness," (cf, Ephesians 6:12b RSV). We wrestle with spiritual powers behind the scenes. We need to understand that.

That is what truth is all about. Truth is realism. The wonderful thing about the Word of God is that, when you understand the world as the Bible sees it, you are looking at life the way it really is. I do not know anything more valuable than that. That is why it is so important that we understand the Scriptures, that we refresh our minds with them all the time, for, in this constant bombardment with illusion and error that we face every day, it is easy to drift back into thinking the way everybody around us thinks. Unless we are finding our minds renewed by the Spirit, and refreshed by the reminder of what life is really like and what it is we are really up against, we will find ourselves acting just like everybody else. So, the first and greatest weapon of all is truth: Truth as it is in Jesus.

As we read the Gospels, we see that Jesus is a man who understands life. He does not act like anybody else because he really sees what is happening. He ignores much of the visible symptoms and strikes right at the heart, at the cause of certain events. That is why what he did was so different from the world around. If we are going to follow him, we will not adopt these methods, and fall heir to some of these fatal approaches to problems. We will begin to see things differently.

And, everywhere in Scripture, the Word of God links truth with love, "speaking the truth in love," (Eph 4:15). Love is a powerful weapon. When you begin to treat people with courtesy instead of anger, when you accept them as people with feelings like yours, and understand that they too are struggling with difficulties and see things out of focus as you yourself often do, when you begin to treat them as people in trouble who need help -- that is what love is -- then you change the whole picture. Love is a mighty force. We pay lip service to it in quoting First Corinthians 13, but how often do we put it into practice?

Then linked to that, everywhere in Scripture, is faith. Faith is the recognition that God is present in history. He has not left us alone to stumble on our own way. God is at work. The Lord Jesus sits in control of all the nations of earth. "He opens and no man shuts. He shuts and no man opens," (cf, Revelation 3:7 RSV). Faith believes that, and expects him to do something. In the 11th chapter of Hebrews we have the great record of the plain, ordinary men and women like you and me who found, by faith, that they could stop the mouths of lions, open the doors of prisons, and change the course of history. Faith is not a religious entity merely for churchgoing people. Faith comes right down and lays hold of ordinary, human events and changes the course of history through them.

Linked to faith is prayer. The power of prayer is everywhere held before us in Scripture. We are constantly exhorted to expose the situations in which we find ourselves to the prayers of believing people, both individually and corporately, praying together that God would move in and change things. Again and again the record testifies that events have been drastically altered by Christians who pray.

With that we would also link loving service. Scripture says, "Do good to those who hate you; pray for those who despitefully use you," (cf, Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27-28); and minister to those who treat you wrongly or misuse you. Do something good back. When is the last time you did that? That is what changes history, when Christians act differently. You will never find non-Christians doing that. Their demand is to get even, to demand justice. Christians are to remember that if we had justice all of us would be in hell. Therefore, mercy is what is required. To return good for evil is a potent weapon that we can employ.

Paul uses a very vivid word to describe the errors that we are attacking. He calls them "strongholds." That is a word taken out of the military life of the time, and it is used only once in the Scriptures. It describes a castle with its moats, its walls, its turrets and its towers...defended by a handful of resolute, determined men. History records that many times a castle like that has held out for weeks and months and years against an attacking force because it was so difficult to dislodge its defenders. So that word vividly describes some of the evils we are talking about this morning. Why is it so difficult to handle the homosexual issue today? Why do we find it so hard to get hold of this matter? The break-up of the home and the rising divorce rate is another stronghold of evil. Drug traffic is another. What do you do against these things? Paul describes in Verse 5 some of the things that lend strength to these powers of evil. He says,

We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. {2 Corinthians 10:5 RSV}

The first is arguments ("reasonings" is literally the word). It means the rationalizations by which a point of error is supported and defended. Have you ever noticed that when you get upset about some of the things that are happening in our day and you decide to do something about it, you are soon confronted with arguments that the other side uses to defend itself which sound almost unassailable?

Paul says that is what the truth and love and prayer and faith will do. They will reveal that behind these arguments are vain suppositions, unrealistic assumptions that are not true. That is where a Christian can come with a loving touch, and a truthful word, and point out that that is exactly the case. That is what the Lord Jesus did with the woman at the well at Samaria. He dealt with her unending search for happiness in marriage by showing her that she was on a wild-goose chase that could never end in anything but utter frustration. But he had the true gift of satisfaction that he would give to her if she would take it. That is the Christian approach. It destroys these arguments, these reasonings.

The second thing Paul mentions is, "proud obstacles to the knowledge of God." Do you know what they are? If you read the writings that defend error in our day you will see, every now and then, some arrogant statement of the ability of man that is far beyond reality. You will read claims that men are smart, that they understand life, that they can handle all their problems, and do not need any help. These arrogant assumptions of right, or might, are what Paul is referring to, this strange insanity that makes men think they can handle the world, and handle life, without any wisdom beyond their own. Again and again you run into this, and people get offended if this is attacked in any way.

Then the final thing is a very personal matter, the thoughts that come into our own minds and hearts. We learn to, "take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ." The word Paul uses and the reference he is making here is to the imaginings of our minds. These are the fantasizings we indulge in, the daydreams of power and of accomplishment that we feed upon endlessly, the lustings by which we attempt to satisfy inward sexual desires by feeding upon pornography, mentally if not openly. You will never win the battle as long as you allow yourself to indulge in those kinds of fantasizings. That is why the apostle, with all realism, faces us with the fact that we must bring these things captive unto Christ, and no longer permit them to engage our minds and hearts. These are conquered by truth, by love, by faith, by righteousness, by prayer and service. These are the weapons of our warfare.

Now, once these things are conquered, once we really face up to them, and no longer permit them to govern our lives because of the truth that God has shown us, then we must be quick and alert to maintain a promptness to deal with the return of any of these evil things. That is what Paul is referring to in Verse 6:

...being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. {2 Corinthians 10:6 RSV}

That means that once you have been delivered from your inner weaknesses which make you unusable in the spiritual warfare of our day, then you must maintain an alertness to deal promptly with any return of these things. I do not know anything more practical than this. Many people struggle for years against weaknesses in their lives and wonder why they can get nowhere. But they are trying to stop the act, not the inward thought that precipitates it. They permit themselves inward dalliance with ugly and hurtful things, ambitious projects where they see themselves as the hero on the white horse, always riding out to deliver the damsel from distress, winning the attention of all the multitudes around, or giving way to lust and playing it over on the record player of the mind. Then they wonder why they are so weak when an opportunity comes to indulge in an act. The battleground is our thought life, that is what Paul is telling us. When we win that battle then we must be careful to punish every disobedience after our obedience has been made complete, after we have learned what it takes to walk with God.

The problem is not the world. It is the church, isn't it? It is we who do not use the weapons at our disposal. Instead, we give way, and go along with worldly approaches, using pressure-group tactics, and petitions, to seek to overcome with legislation the wrongs of our day. May God help us to understand the nature of spiritual warfare. The weapons of our warfare are not those kinds of worldly tactics. They are mighty. The cause is not hopeless. We are not helpless; there is much we can do. Let a single Christian begin to act along the lines of the revelation of Scripture in this regard, and things will begin to change. Any one of us can begin to change things, in our lives individually, in our homes, in our communities, where we work, whatever. Let us begin to learn the truth about life from the Scriptures, to act in love instead of in rivalry and competition, to trust God that he will work as we work in faith, to pray, and to join others in prayer, that he will do so. Let us begin to live righteously ourselves, to see that we maintain integrity in the midst of these deviations, and lovingly serve those who are opposing us. We will find tremendous changes beginning to occur quickly as God allows these weapons to destroy the strongholds of darkness and evil around us. Do you know anything more challenging for our day and time than that? God has placed in our hands the opportunity to change our nation, our communities, our homes, wherever we are. May God grant that we will do it. You are the salt of the earth, (Matthew 5:13a RSV). You are the light of the world, (Matthew 5:14a RSV). ­Ray C. Stedman, Our Secret Weapons,

In times past the Christian church was more vigorous and more faithful in her calling to confront and oppose and destroy the strongholds of evil in the world. But, for many decades now the church has lived off the spiritual bank account of accumulated by our forefathers. As a result we are now fighting a merely defensive battle, or in most cases not fighting at all. Because of this cop-out one can look around on all sides and see major battles that have been lost (at least for now). The darkness has encroached and the enemy has rebuilt his fortresses. A few examples on my list of areas where the church has "lost" or has refused to fight are:

The public school system.

Universities and colleges, private and public

Theological Seminaries.

Anti-Family values.

Movies, television, news reporting

The Pornography industry

In addition to saving individuals, God is saving a church, His bride, who will be "without spot or blemish." He has special plans for the nation Israel with whom He has an ongoing covenantal relationship (Romans 9-11). God also saves (blesses) individual nation-states when they emulate the relationship which God has established with Israel as His model nation. Therefore Christians, "God's secret government" in society (4) must be involved in government and the institutions of culture.

At this time in our history we are now suddenly aware that a world-wide war of religious values has come upon on from the other side of the planet. The church now needs to actively engage Islam. Allah is not the God of the Bible, the Quran is not a Holy Book and the teachings of Islam run counter to the Biblical revelation at many crucial points.

In embarking on spiritual warfare, which is part of our clear calling as Christian soldiers, our war is never against other people. Men are not our enemies. We fight against invisible demonic foes who imprison men and hold them captive. Whether all men are saved is not the only issue. The entire planet belongs to our coming King Jesus (5) and we are supposed to be working with His purposes not against them.

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

Additional Reading:

1. The Elements of the World System,

2. The Dragon Lady, Revelation 17-18, by Ray C. Stedman,

2. There's a War On, Folks! (The Church and the Tribulation)

3. The Strongholds of Inner Space,

4. Spiritual Warfare Series by Ray Stedman,

5. A New Creation,
December 23, 2001