The End of War
100 years ago to the day, the guns fell silent. The war had lasted 4 years 3 months and 2 weeks during which time 70 million military personnel had been mobilised. 9 million combatants lost their lives during the hostilities and a further 20 million were wounded. Some 7 million civilians died as a direct result of the war.
In the decade that followed many were convinced that this war should be the war to end all wars.
But how wrong they were for course it didn’t turn out to be anything of the sort. Twenty years later the world was plunged into the catastrophic conflict of WWII where the death toll was to exceed 50 million.
Since the end of WWII wars have continued to be fought in many different parts of the world and fighting goes on today.
And yet that desire to see war despatched to the annals of history chimes in with the Biblical hope that one day wars will be over and all the machinery of war will be converted into the more productive processes of agriculture and gardening. We do have solid grounds for hope; we do not have to give in to a fatalistic and hopeless resignation.
War has been affecting the human race for centuries and shows no sign of disappearing from human experience any time soon. What are we to make of it all? How should we think about war?
Well this morning I want us to spend our time considering some of what the Bible has to say about war. It is important for us to do so because we want our attitudes and opinions to be well-
With war playing such a large and significant role in history we should not be surprised to find that the Bible has a great deal to say about war – and there are literally hundreds of references to warfare and to fighting with most of them being found in the OT. With war playing such a part in human life what else would we expect from a book that purports to be relevant to life as we know it? Yes, at first sight perhaps these records of battles in obscure places between unknown armies might seem rather remote from our everyday lives. But there are lessons that we need to learn and the Bible has been conveying those lessons to men and women consistently down through the centuries.
The Bible is a book for all people throughout time. And yet it is not a book about everything and everywhere. It is full of history and historical detail and yet the Bible’s interest in history is really very focused: it is interested in the events that determine and describe the relations that exist between God, on the one hand, and men and women, on the other. That means that the Bible is very selective in the material it contains. So why so much emphasis upon war?
From the earliest times, God has been determined to relate to mankind. After Adam, the representative man failed, God did not abandon his plan. The next phase of his plan was to work through one man, Abraham, and subsequently through the nation that issued from him, Israel.
What we find as we read through the first part of the Bible, the Old Testament, is that the choice of Abraham and the formation of this nation Israel and its establishment in the Promised Land occupy a very important place. This does not mean that the history of other individuals or other nations is unimportant it simply means that the history of these others does not have the same significance when it comes to how men and God relate to each other.
The formation of the nation of Israel is closely bound up with war. Israel, under Joshua’s leadership took possession of her Promised Land as the result of a military campaign of invasion. God used this military campaign to impose judgment upon the nations that were living in the land already. Those nations had lived in the land for a long time where they had been allowed to pursue their godless ways unrestrained. But the time came when God considered that their wickedness reached its limit and he determined to act; he did so by using Israel as his instrument.
It was by military conquest that the nation of Israel was established in the Promised Land. Then under the direction of its early kings, in particular King David, the nation expanded and that expansion was also brought about by military means. When that expansion ended Israel continued to know war – but now war was necessary to repel invaders and to enable Israel to maintain her existence.
God had used Israel as his instrument to carry out his own divine purposes but that did not mean that the instrument, Israel itself, was wholly innocent. Indeed Israel failed repeatedly to match up to God’s standards and would also be made subject to divine discipline as God used other nations to chastise and correct her.
That God, in pursuing his purposes, used Israel in warfare and disciplined Israel by warfare is clearly taught in Scripture but that does not mean that Israel or the nations understood what was God was doing. For example, in the time of Habakkuk, God used a nation that was far more wicked than Israel as his instrument of correction and that Israel found hard to understand. It prompted the question:
Hab.1:13 "You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and are silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?"
God’s answer was that every guilty nation would in due course receive its appropriate judgment because the nations were not concerned to do God’s will but to further their own interests. A hundred years earlier Isaiah had explained how the nations operated:
Assyria’s attitude was one of overweening pride:
v.13 "By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;"
And that is the attitude that dominates so much political thinking today. The 21 st century secular world in which we live in the West likes to think that man is in charge of everything, that man is the master of his destiny, that man is the master of his soul. God is either ignored or deliberately air-
The chaos of war and the seeming futility of armed conflict ought to make us stop and think but rarely does.
To say that does not imply that the believer automatically sees and understands precisely what it is that God is doing as he oversees the events and the conflicts of this world. We must be careful that we don’t claim to know more than we do! But the believer does know that there is a God in heaven who does whatsoever he pleases!
As we move out of the OT and into the NT there is of course a major development. Whereas God in the OT at times authorised wars of conquest to establish his people Israel in the Promised Land and to preserve them by force of arms the same is not true of the church of Jesus Christ in the NT. Jesus specifically declared to Pilate that his kingdom was not like the kingdoms of this world and because it was so different his followers would not try to promote its interests by the methods of this world:
Jn.18:36 "Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."
Military metaphors are useful and are used to describe what fighting the good fight as a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ is like but we must recognise that metaphors are just pictures. The apostle Paul, for example, was very careful to make it clear that the disciple’s weapons were spiritual rather than material in nature:
2Cor.10:4 "For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds."
It is my intention to return to this subject of spiritual warfare in more detail this evening. For now let us simply take note that in the NT war is no longer to be seen as a way of advancing kingdom interests.
The Latter Days
One of the ways we know that God is in control is his ability to foretell what will happen in the future. He is described in the Bible as being the One who declares the end from the beginning and that means he declares what will and what won’t happen. He even on occasion prophesies with minute and precise detail what will take place hundreds of years in the future. As it is written in the prophecy of Daniel:
Dan.2:28 "there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known ... what will be in the latter days."
Yes, kings and nations will rise and fall but they will all do so because God is on the throne and in control and we should take great encouragement from this fact. Although we might live through turbulent times when events on the stage of history just seem to tumble one after the other with no apparent logic and for no apparent reason we can be confident for we are not at the mercy of fate for we live in the world which is in his safe hands.
The expression we’ve just read "the latter days" refers to a time sometime in the distant future and means something like "the future beyond the horizon". It was a phrase that was popular with the prophets in the OT and was often understood as referring to the time when the Messiah would exercise his reign.
Isaiah and his contemporary Micah both used the expression in virtually identical declarations as they looked forward to a time when war would indeed be over and when universal peace would reign. Isaiah began his prophecy with a strong challenge as he addressed the wickedness of the people of his day but then as he moved on he spoke of better things to come. Listen to what he wrote in:
The nation of Judah had been threatened by war for most of its existence but now Isaiah predicted that the triumph of biblical faith would bring about a peace the world had never known. The destructiveness of war along with its apparent futility would be brought to an end and replaced with more productive alternatives.
Amongst the titles that Isaiah ascribes to the Messiah is that glorious title "Prince of peace" (Is.9:7). His description of the Messiah’s reign in (11:1–10) develops this theme of peace following judgment. There Isaiah attributes the activity of judging and deciding disputes to the Messiah in order to show that God will exercise this rule through his Messiah. Down through the ages men have taken up these words and used them to express their longings for that time when there will be freedom from war, for that time when the nations will seek to follow the "ways" of "the God of Jacob" (Is. 2:3), for that time when it won’t be mere human authority but the Lord Jesus himself who shall judge the nations.
The longing expressed after WWI that that war was to have been the war to end all wars is indeed in partial harmony with this Biblical hope of peace. Where it went wrong was in its failure to appreciate that peace would only be brought about by him and not by men however much some might wish it.
As we look towards the future we can do so with confidence that one day this wonderful peace will no longer be a dream but it will become a reality. We may well have to live through dark days before that time comes but come it will and we must live our lives in the light of this vision of wonderful hope.
And this is precisely the way in which Isaiah wanted his hearers to react. He told them what was going to take place in the far off future but he didn’t expect them to treat the information with some sort of academic indifference. He expected this vision of hope to produce a reaction in the here and now:
Is.2:5 "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the L ord."
Because he is in control we should not panic but reflect on who he is!
Ps.46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"
What Does this Mean for Us?
The fact of ongoing wars and conflicts is no reason for us to lose our faith or to imagine that Bible promises will never be completed and fulfilled.
Indeed as we turn the pages of our Bibles and come to the NT there we find Jesus instructing his disciples that wars and reports of wars will continue right up until the time of the end:
Yet, because we know that God and not man is in control we can face the future with confident expectation.
This does not mean however that life will automatically be easy. Living through times of war will be painful and involve suffering and the Christian will not necessarily be protected from such suffering.
If truth be told the Christian may well be amongst those who suffer more for the simple reason of being a Christian after all, at the end of time, Satan and his allies will deliberately make war on the church seeking to destroy it.
The book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible and the one that speaks most about events at the end of time, was written to encourage Christians facing difficulty, persecution and opposition – it is a manual for the suffering church. In that manual we are told that the enemy plans to go to war in a desperate final campaign against the Lamb and his saints. This will be the final effort of Satan who has been trialling his antichrists for centuries. Were we to examine history we would find sufficient examples of his appalling prototypes to be left in no doubt that the end will be a difficult time for believers.
In the OT the book of Daniel also serves as a manual for suffering believers and it contains a description of one of Satan’s antichrist prototypes. In chapter 11 Daniel saw down a very chaotic history and spoke about one of these awful models. He described him as "a contemptible person" who would nevertheless be able to exercise a considerable influence for a certain amount of time. This man was Antiochus Epiphanes and the chances are you’ve never even heard of him. He was thwarted in his expansive military plans by the might of Rome and turned in anger to avenge himself upon the Promised Land and the people of God. He embarked upon a religious venture and was intent upon eradicating biblical faith from the area – it wasn’t easy to hold the faith in those days! He brought in the death penalty for circumcising a child, for offering sacrifice to any other but Zeus, for keeping the Sabbath, and for possessing copies of scripture.
And Daniel went on to say that another after him at the end of time would be worse, much worse.
But Daniel also knew that God was in control and he knew that those who knew their God would be enable to stand firm and to take the necessary action when it was called for. After all Antiochus Epiphanes was just for a time.
But what about the worse one to come, the end of the ages antichrist? Yes, he will be awful and cause great alarm but, and what a but it is:
Dan.11:45 "Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him."
The greatest of all Satan’s emissaries and he’s despatched with just a few words! God’s victory is assured. As with all his previous attempts his final effort will fail too but for those living at the time it will not necessarily look like that – it will rather appear, at least for a time, that he has won.
Living in the West we have grown so used to not having to face much in the way of suffering that we fail to realise how exceptional our current circumstances are. And even here in the West there are the early signs that things are changing for the worse. In other parts of the world there are many believers who understand the reality of suffering for their faith only too well.
To know that we live in God’s world should be an encouragement for us all.
And you can be right with this God right now. Jesus Christ has come, the One Mediator between God and man, and you can be reconciled to God. You too can know God and be enabled to stand firm whatever Satan may throw at you. You can be safe for eternity if only you belong to Jesus!
And you, believer, know that God is in control – wars and rumours of wars will continue right up till the end and he will be in charge of every one. Life may not be comfortable and indeed it may become downright difficult but know your God, stand firm and do the exploits he expects of you. And having done all stand firm!
And to God be the glory.