All who desire to fol­low Jesus are called into the peace­able war of the Lamb against all prin­ci­pal­i­ties and pow­ers. Like any war­fare, it is waged on all fronts at once — inward and out­ward, per­son­al and social, indi­vid­ual and insti­tu­tion­al. The perime­ter of its con­cerns embrace three hun­dred six­ty degrees. Inward­ly the Lamb of God seeks to con­quer all forms of pride, lust, greed, hate, fear, envy, and every­thing that stands against life in the king­dom of God. 

But Jesus, our con­quer­ing King, refus­es to stop with the pri­vate sec­tor of life. All kinds of injus­tice, oppres­sion, hatred, big­otry, cru­el­ty, tyran­ny, bru­tal­i­ty, and any­thing else opposed to the way of God are legit­i­mate bat­tle­grounds in this spir­i­tu­al warfare. 

Con­quest by suffering 

In Rev­e­la­tion 5 the Apos­tle John is told that the Lion from the tribe of Judah has con­quered sin and is wor­thy to break open the scroll that con­tains the mys­tery of human des­tiny. John turns, expect­ing to see a majes­tic Lion but instead of see­ing a Lion, he sees a Lamb — a Lamb split from ear to ear on the altar of sacrifice. 

It is Jesus, the sac­ri­fi­cial Lamb of God, who has con­quered by suf­fer­ing and to whom all heav­en’s host pros­trate them­selves in wor­ship, declar­ing, You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood.” 

In chap­ter 14 we see this same Lamb atop Mount Zion with all the redeemed gath­ered around him, and in chap­ter 17 we are told that the nations will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will con­quer them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings.” 

Final­ly, in Rev­e­la­tion 19 this Lamb is described in a strange mix­ture of metaphors as a con­quer­ing king astride a white bat­tle stal­lion. He wears the roy­al crown, his eyes are like a flame of fire, and out of his mouth issues the sharp, two-edged sword. This con­quer­ing King/​suffering Lamb makes war on all who oppose the rule of God. 

God’s mis­sion

This great end-times vision of the Lam­b’s war is a straight­for­ward descrip­tion of the total mis­sion and strug­gle of the pil­grim peo­ple of God. In it we can see a won­der­ful com­bi­na­tion of the tran­scen­dent lord­ship of Jesus with the suf­fer­ing ser­vant Mes­si­ah, of con­flict and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, of crown and cross, of coura­geous, mil­i­tant action with com­pas­sion­ate, redeem­ing love. 

In the Lam­b’s war we have an attack on evil in all its guis­es, over­com­ing it with good. There is broth­er­ly love, rad­i­cal shar­ing, wit­ness with­out com­pro­mise, and an obe­di­ent, dis­ci­plined, freely-gath­ered, mar­tyr peo­ple who know in this life the life and pow­er of the king­dom of God. Such peo­ple are com­mit­ted in rev­o­lu­tion­ary faith­ful­ness to Christ’s ever­last­ing rule in an eter­nal king­dom of peace, not only immi­nent on the hori­zon but already com­ing to birth in our midst.

This is the vision of the con­flict of the Lamb. We are called into this army with the Lord Jesus Christ as the com­man­der-in-chief who leads his faith­ful peo­ple through all of his­to­ry, con­quer­ing evil at every turn and estab­lish­ing a total, new love rela­tion­ship among all peo­ple until the end of the age.

Pow­er­ful weapons 

The weapons of our war­fare are mighty to the pulling down of strong­holds,” as Paul puts it (1 Cor. 10:4). But they are not rec­og­niz­able as weapons by modem soci­ety — includ­ing most con­tem­po­rary Chris­tians. They are the weapons of love and peace, of truth and integri­ty, of prayer and faith. 

I have always been moved by the weapon­ry list which Paul gives in Eph­esians 6 — truth and right­eous­ness and peace and faith and sal­va­tion and the word of God. As you know, Paul uses the metaphor of Roman mil­i­tary garb, but when his metaphor gives out, he keeps on adding weapons, espe­cial­ly prayer: Pray at all times in the Spir­it with all prayer and sup­pli­ca­tion” (Eph. 6:18).

These weapons and this war­fare, Paul tells us, is not 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” (Eph. 6:12). In say­ing this he does not mean that flesh and blood are unim­por­tant; only that behind the flesh and blood and con­trol­ling the flesh and blood are pow­ers and prin­ci­pal­i­ties of a spir­i­tu­al nature. The aim of our attack is to defeat the prin­ci­pal­i­ties that con­trol and incar­nate them­selves in flesh and blood.

Spir­i­tu­al warfare 

This is a spir­i­tu­al war­fare we are engaged in. Our world is with demons filled,” as Mar­tin Luther under­stood so well. And, if, in our social jus­tice efforts we do not speak to the deep issues of the spir­it, we will trade only one form of demon­ic oppres­sion for another. 

For exam­ple, when we approach absen­tee land­lords of ghet­to apart­ments, we speak to the prin­ci­pal­i­ty of avarice that con­trols them. When we con­front polit­i­cal pol­i­cy mak­ers or cor­po­rate exec­u­tives, we do so with an inward strength born out of prayer and fast­ing, seek­ing to defeat the spir­its of vest­ed inter­est and covetousness. 

What we so often fail to under­stand is that these weapons of ours are incred­i­bly pow­er­ful — more pow­er­ful than B‑1 bombers and Tri­dent mis­sile sys­tems and Strate­gic Defense Ini­tia­tives. Pow­er­ful, that is, if we will train our­selves to use them effec­tive­ly. No weapons sys­tem is effec­tive unless sol­diers are trained in its use. 

In Acts 13 we are told of the first mis­sion­ary ven­ture of Paul on the island of Cyprus. He was hav­ing such a good and pow­er­ful work that the gov­er­nor of the island sum­moned him to speak at the palace. 

But the local magi­cian, Ely­mas by name, did­n’t like Paul crowd­ing in on his ter­ri­to­ry, and so he tried to oppose this good work. As you recall, Paul turned to him and, in the pow­er of God, declared, The hand of the Lord is upon you and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time” (Acts 13:11). Pow­er­ful weapons indeed!

George Fox, a 17th-cen­tu­ry British Chris­t­ian, was once preach­ing the gospel with great pow­er, when a drunk­en sol­dier came up to him, pulled out his sword, and placed it at Fox’s throat, demand­ing that he stop preach­ing or he would run him through with the sword. Fox looked straight at the man and, in the mighty pow­er of God, said to him, Hack away, your sword is noth­ing to me but a straw!” 

With that dec­la­ra­tion the pow­er of God fell upon that man, and he stag­gered back­wards, fell to the ground and was con­vert­ed to Christ. Strong weapons of the first order! 

No polit­i­cal agenda 

Now, when we try to under­stand the social impli­ca­tions of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we run the very great dan­ger of politi­ciz­ing” the gospel mes­sage. This has been attempt­ed fre­quent­ly by both Left and Right in all cen­turies of the Church, includ­ing our own — per­haps espe­cial­ly our own.

Let me state as unequiv­o­cal­ly as I can that the war­fare of the Lamb is not a social or polit­i­cal stance. Its aim is not even to cor­rect soci­etal ills. That is the result, to be sure, but almost nev­er in the way in which we imag­ine it. 

The king­dom of our God and of his Christ is of anoth­er real­i­ty alto­geth­er, and while its effects are to pull down the king­doms of this world, it does so only as a con­se­quence of a deep­er reality.

Those peo­ple who are tak­en over by a new pow­er to do right, who can­not be bribed or manip­u­lat­ed or flat­tered, who are brought off of a bondage to oth­ers, will bring down (by their very pres­ence and actions) those struc­tures sus­tained by greed and pride and fear. Those peo­ple who have been dis­ci­plined in the Lam­b’s Army so that right­eous­ness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spir­it” are part of their deep­est habits will attack struc­tur­al evil with divine author­i­ty and with­out compromise. 

Peo­ple who have expe­ri­enced deeply that all-inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty of lov­ing per­sons which knows Christ as its prime sus­tain­er and most glo­ri­ous inhab­i­tant will no longer han­ker after the com­pet­i­tive, ego-dom­i­nat­ed rat race of con­tem­po­rary society. 

Those peo­ple who, as a fixed pat­tern of life, walk by the great com­mand­ment of love of God and neigh­bor will trans­form our per­son­al, social, insti­tu­tion­al, and polit­i­cal world almost beyond recog­ni­tion by their sim­ple non-coop­er­a­tion with the bat­tles, oppres­sion, prej­u­dice, and class strife of mod­ern culture.

Are­nas of action 

The con­tem­po­rary bat­tle­fronts of the Lam­b’s War are many and diverse. I men­tion only a few. 

1. The Lam­b’s peo­ple are to pro­vide a gen­uine alter­na­tive to the pre­vail­ing pow­er struc­tures. We are to say no to the world’s games of pro­mo­tion and author­i­ty. We are to reject all titles and degrees as des­ig­na­tors of sta­tus. We do so because Jesus com­mand­ed us to do so (Matt. 23:8 – 10). 

All human des­ig­na­tions — Dr., Pro­fes­sor, Rev­erend, etc. — fail to guar­an­tee the abil­i­ty, and so let us obey Jesus Christ and place our hope in divine autho­riza­tion alone.

We must, of course, go beyond mere ver­bal gym­nas­tics. How easy it is to reject the lan­guage of the pow­er struc­ture and con­tin­ue to jock­ey for position. 

But we are called to anoth­er way. We are called to love one anoth­er with­out qual­i­fi­ca­tion. We are called to for­give freely. We are called to receive one anoth­er as broth­ers and sisters. 

Most impor­tant­ly, our lives are to be char­ac­ter­ized by a con­cern for the poor and the defense­less. We can­not live with God for long with­out being com­pelled to care for our neigh­bor. And, like the good Samar­i­tan, we soon dis­cov­er that our path leads us to the bleed­ing and the bro­ken of human­i­ty. As this hap­pens, we become the voice for the voice­less, plead­ing for the dis­ad­van­taged and the dispossessed. 

Like Amos, we are com­pelled to speak truth to those who oppress the poor, who crush the needy” (Amos 4:1). We, too, are to call for jus­tice to roll down like waters and right­eous­ness like an ever­flow­ing stream (Amos 5:24).

2. The Lam­b’s peo­ple are to pro­vide a gen­uine alter­na­tive to the pre­vail­ing idol­a­try. It is time to say no to all the isms” of manip­u­la­tion, oppres­sion, and prej­u­dice — nation­al­ism, racism, sex­ism and more. At the core of all these arro­gant and demon- inspired dog­mas is the belief that we are bet­ter than oth­ers sim­ply because of who we are.

Nation­al­ism says we are bet­ter than oth­ers because of our cul­tur­al roots. Racism says we are bet­ter than oth­ers because of our eth­nic stock. Sex­ism says we are bet­ter than oth­ers because of our gender.

Who is will­ing to accept as an equal in the right­eous­ness of God any­one who only does jus­tice, loves mer­cy and walks humbly with God” (Mic­ah 6:8)? You see, peo­ple are always bet­ter if they are like us in ways oth­er than these.

But among the Lam­b’s peo­ple there is to be none of this. There can­not be Greek and Jew, cir­cum­cised and uncir­cum­cised, bar­bar­ian, Scythi­an, slave, free­man, but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11. See also Gal. 3:28). God accepts them all, the Greek as freely as the Jew, says Paul, and, of course, these were shock­ing words to first-cen­tu­ry Jews. Those Greeks, those uncir­cum­cised Greeks — God accepts even them.

But Paul goes fur­ther and says that God also receives the bar­bar­ian. Who were the bar­bar­ians? The bar­bar­ians were the uncul­tured, uncouth Romans. Now, it is one thing to accept the Greeks who at least had good man­ners, but the Romans were unciv­i­lized bar­bar­ians! Does God embrace the out­landish, unpol­ished, untu­tored bar­bar­ian? Yes, he does, and Paul goes even fur­ther. Not only does God wel­come the Greeks and the bar­bar­ians but also the Scythi­ans. Who were the Scythi­ans? The Scythi­ans were those wild peo­ple from the north. Those fero­cious, law­less, sav­ages that the first-cen­tu­ry Jew could only won­der about and from whom many of us are descend­ed. Yes, God accepts even the Scythians.

And we, too, are to receive all peo­ple in the grace of God, with­out qual­i­fi­ca­tion, with­out reser­va­tion, with­out pre-judg­ment. We are to love ene­mies as freely as friends. We are to pray for those who hurt and abuse us. We are to break the law of com­merce which says, You scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back.” We are to break the law of retal­i­a­tion which says, You gore my ox and I’ll gore your ox.” We are to live in a new pow­er that enables us to return love for hatred and in all ways to over­come evil with good.

3. The Lam­b’s peo­ple are to pro­vide a gen­uine alter­na­tive to the prevail­ing lifestyle. Mod­ern cul­ture is sick. To be well adjust­ed in a sick soci­ety is to be sick. A new lifestyle is needed.

Mod­ern peo­ple are plagued by the pas­sion to pos­sess. The lust for afflu­ence in con­tem­po­rary soci­ety has become psy­chot­ic: it has com­plete­ly lost touch with real­i­ty. Fur­ther­more, our fran­tic pace only accen­tu­ates our sense of being frac­tured and frag­ment­ed. Climb, push, and shove is the lan­guage of today.

And we are strained, hur­ried, breath­less. The Lamb of God calls us away from our com­pul­sive extrav­a­gance and speaks peace to our fran­tic spir­it. We are to live sim­ply and ful­ly, freed from what William Penn called cum­ber.” We are to val­ue peo­ple more than pos­ses­sions. We are to seek sim­pler, more human ways of living. 

We are to turn away from the nar­cis­sism of the age. Peo­ple are run­ning amuck today because of this com­pul­sive, exces­sive self-love. Abor­tions are ram­pant because of our lust and self­ish­ness. Divorce is ram­pant because of our lust for good feelings.

But Jesus has taught us anoth­er way — the way of the cross, the way of the foot­wash­ing tow­el. Esteem­ing oth­ers, encour­ag­ing oth­ers, serv­ing oth­ers is a goal wor­thy of our high­est efforts. We are to expe­ri­ence the many lit­tle deaths of going beyond our­selves. And we find this dying to our­selves to be life-giv­ing — a kind of los­ing of our­selves in order to find ourselves.

4. The Lam­b’s peo­ple are to pro­vide a gen­uine alter­na­tive to the pre­vail­ing moral­i­ty. We are to know and expe­ri­ence the pow­er of God to free us from pride and greed and sex­u­al promis­cu­ity. We are to wait togeth­er in the pow­er of God until the good ris­es up and the evil recedes. We are to be a com­mu­ni­ty where grace and mer­cy are extend­ed, where our deep­est fears and most gnaw­ing temp­ta­tions can be revealed, where con­fes­sion and for­give­ness and heal­ing prayer can flow freely.

Know­ing Christ as our life, we are to pray down our lust for glo­ry, defeat our han­ker­ing for sta­tus, stamp out our dri­ve for promi­nence. We are to seek God’s rule over our sex­u­al lives so that deep with­in we long to shun all immoral­i­ty, all infi­deli­ty, all promiscuity.

We seek a sim­plic­i­ty of speech in which our yes means yes and our no means no, where truth­ful­ness and hon­esty are the dis­tin­guish­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of our words. When we live in this way peo­ple will know that we tru­ly have come into the light of the glo­ri­ous gospel of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4).

Jesus, our com­man­der and our chief, calls us into a spir­i­tu­al war­fare that will pro­found­ly impact the social order on every con­ceiv­able lev­el. May we be faith­ful to his call.

Pub­lished in Equip­ping the Saints (Spring, 1989).

Originally published February 1989

Join the 2020-21 Renovaré Book Club

An inten­tion­al way to read for trans­for­ma­tion not just infor­ma­tion. Cur­rent­ly under­way and runs through May 2021.

Learn More >