The hardest war to fight is the one without a front line. Christian conflict is always like guerrilla warfare. “The whole world,” John writes, “is in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). We are fighting in enemy-held territory. Satan snipes at us from every direction. There are enemy agents everywhere. The enemy has immense power and resources, and numerous allies.
We need to be made very much more aware of the subject of “the Kingdom”, for it figured prominently in the teaching and work of Jesus. The word means “authority” or “the rule of God”. When the noble man, in Jesus’ parable (Luke 19:11 ff), went into a far country to receive “a kingdom” (AV), it does not mean an area of land, but authority to rule. The RSV correctly translates the word “kingly power”. According to Dr H. Ridderbos, the expression originated “with the late-Jewish expectation of the future in which it denoted the decisive intervention of God, ardently expected by Israel, to restore His people’s fortunes and liberate them from the power of their enemies” [quote from New Bible Dictionary, IVF 1962).
God’s world has been taken over by enemy troops. His concern is for its liberation. We are His troops fighting a non-stop and ruthless war, recapturing one stronghold after another from the enemy. This is what Jesus meant by the Kingdom. It is interesting that in the New Testament it seems at times to be almost synonymous with a word we are very much more familiar with: Gospel. For instance in Luke 9:2 Jesus commissioned the Twelve “to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal”. They obeyed, yet in verse 6 we are told that they went through the villages “preaching the Gospel and healing everywhere”.
It seems as if the Gospel and the Kingdom are different aspects of the same thing – the reclaiming of the world for God, and the rescuing of men and women from the hands of the enemy. Jesus put these two words together in the expression “the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matthew 24:14). But if we do not link the Kingdom to our thinking about the Gospel, then we are losing something that is vital. For whereas the word “Gospel” signifies that it is “good news” that we proclaim, the adjunct “Kingdom” signifies what happens when we proclaim it – people are set free from the power of Satan.
The message that Jesus preached was centered on “the Kingdom”. He was concerned with delivering people from the power of Satan. He was sent to “proclaim release to the captives and…to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). As He moved from town to town it was like the passage of an army of liberation. There was the woman “bound by Satan for eighteen years” whom Jesus released (Luke 13:10 ff.). There were the poor madmen out of whom He cast demons, so that He could say “the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). Disease and even death departed before the authoritative word of the Son of God.
The disciples also were given power and authority to do the same when they were sent out by Jesus. They too healed the sick and cast out evil spirits. They were told by Jesus that as they healed they were to declare, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9). They came hastening back to the Lord with enthusiasm saying, “Even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17). Paul and the other apostles had similar experiences after Pentecost. Paul himself was commissioned with the words, “I send you to open the eyes of the Gentiles, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:17-18). He reminded the elders of Ephesus of his “preaching the Kingdom” in their midst (Acts 20:25). He was still preaching the same message the last time we hear of him in the Acts of the Apostles (28:31).
It is for this task that the power of the Holy Spirit is chiefly given.
It is fashionable to say that “the Church is Mission”. We are soldiers in an army of liberation. If we are true Christians, we have ourselves experienced the joy of release and freedom which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. So, with a deep sense of our own gratitude, we join hands with others in the task of liberating the captives of Satan. Our enemy is a past master in the art of psychological warfare. He is the father of lies. He has infiltrated into the Church, and persuaded many to believe in his lies – even that he does not exist!
Paul describes Satan’s work as “blinding the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The activity of Satan is massive and powerful in preventing people from believing the truth. He has succeeded in closing a third of the world’s population to unrestricted missionary work. He has sent confusion into large areas of the Church so that few are clear as to what they should be preaching, and fewer still have any confidence in the Word of God. He has dangled enticing “red herrings” before the Church, so that some have become so preoccupied with these that they have almost completely neglected the primary task of the Church: evangelism. Then even amongst those that are most active in evangelism, he has succeeded in blinding many to the full-orbed ministry of the Holy Spirit, without whom evangelism becomes a heart-breaking chore rather than an exciting adventure.
One of the most important purposes for the baptism in the Spirit is that we might have power to be witnesses to Christ. It makes possible our initiation into the strategy of the Spirit. Just as He was the inspiration behind the effective evangelism of the early Church, so He will be today.
We are not preaching to neutral forces, waiting to hear the Word of God before believing, but to people who are Satan’s captives, although unconscious of it. It is the function of the Holy Spirit, working through channels that trust Him, to break these chains and deliver the prisoners. It is He, for instance, who convicts a person of sin, righteousness and judgement, words which modern man laughs at. It is the work of the Spirit to make Jesus Christ real to people – as the Son of God and Lord of all. Only then will they acknowledge His deity and surrender to His Lordship.
But the Spirit is not only concerned about the preparation of the listeners – He wants also to be the guide and director of the evangelists. It was He who moved Philip from a city to the desert, and called Paul and Barnabas to leave Antioch. It was He who told Peter to go to the Gentiles in Caesarea and directed Paul and Silas to Europe rather than Asia. As we wait on God the Holy Spirit will direct us in remarkable ways. Is there not too much man-centred evangelism today? May this not be the reason for the pitiable results so often? Is it not time for us to trust the Holy Spirit more?
Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would give them the words that they would need to speak in different circumstances (Mark 13:11). Expository preaching and courses on evangelism are important if the Word of God is to reach those for whom it is intended. But however faithful the exposition may be, and however good the training course is, they should never be substitutes for the Spirit. We need at all times the anointing power of the Spirit upon the words that we speak, if they are to be like “sharp two-edged swords” to our listeners.
But evangelism without compassion will never be really successful. Here again it is the Holy Spirit who helps us. He will give us that divine love which transforms evangelism into such a joyful work. He disturbs the complacency that is so often born of unbelief in the power of God into a fiery concern for the unconverted and unconvinced.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is also related to those who are sick in body and mind. Jesus did not divide people up as meticulously as some do today. His Gospel was for the whole man. He was concerned about their bodies as well as their souls. His salvation meant health to the whole personality. His Kingdom meant the overpowering of Satan in the realm of the body and mind as well as the spirit.
Even if we have had little or no interest in divine healing, the baptism in the Spirit brings us immediately into this sphere of conflict with Satan. Jesus was as indignant over sickness and disease, where it had been caused by Satan, as He was over sin and hypocrisy. He yearned to dismiss Satan from his position of authority in this realm as well as in every other. But He was careful not to form a healing cult around Himself. He forbade many of those He healed to tell others, and He related this healing power to every other part of human life. To one He forgave the sins before He healed the body, and to another He warned, “Sin no more that nothing worse befall you” (John 5:14).
The early Church continued to heal the sick and regarded it as part of the message of the Kingdom. And they did not regard it as a prerogative of an apostle. Stephen and Philip the evangelist, for instance, were much used in this ministry, and in the Epistle of James it is the elders of the church who are to be called by the sick man to pray and anoint him. It is important too to notice how often the Holy Spirit used the power of healing to arrest people and bring them to faith in Jesus Christ.
When the early Church was forbidden to preach and teach, it is most significant that their prayer included both a request for boldness to preach the Gospel, and also that the hand of God might be stretched out “to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:30). Or again, it was the miracle of tongues at Pentecost, and the healing of the lame man at the gate of the temple shortly afterwards which drew the large crowds, thousands of whom were converted and added to the Church. Or again, in Samaria we are told that the people “gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did” (Acts 8:6).
When Peter healed Aeneas at Lydda, the people who lived there “turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35). The same results followed the raising of Tabitha – “it became known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42). How can we neglect, as some do, this important ministry, when it has such enormous potential in communicating with the unbelieving world around us?
We surely need to have the same compassion towards the sick and indignation about illness as our Lord displayed during His earthly ministry. This is another area of spiritual warfare. Satan may sometimes trespass into God’s territory here, too, and needs to be boldly and confidently evicted in the name of Jesus.
This is not to say that all illness is the work of Satan. We will need discernment to know how to act. Healing raises many problems, particularly concerning those who are not healed in spite of believing prayer. There is not space here to go into this in any detail. But it is easy to be glib about it all, either by dismissing this area from consideration and leaving it entirely in the hands of the medical profession, or by presuming too much. Nevertheless, it is important to discern the enemy in this field as well as others, so that he may be defeated and God’s Kingdom ushered in.
Jesus specifically related the Kingdom to His ministry of exorcism, and we should do the same. He said, “if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). Part of Satan’s power over this world and its people is through the agency of evil spirits. When Jesus sent out the Twelve and the Seventy He commissioned them to cast out demons as well as heal the sick, and this seems to have been part of the normal ministry of the early Church.
In recent years there has been a growing interest in this subject. Some of this has led to very real and successful exorcisms of people and places. However, it is a field of ministry into which we should only move with great caution. There are signs of a dangerous lack of balance by some who claim to have this ministry. This includes an exaggeration of the function of exorcism, and encouragement to some to take a morbid interest in the subject, bringing them into superstitious bondage, which can be spiritually harmful.
This is no ministry for amateur demon-chasers, as the sons of Sceva discovered to their cost (Acts 19:13 ft). It calls for much prayer and self-discipline as the disciples found to their shame when they failed so signally in their attempt to deliver a young boy from demon power (Matthew 17:14 ff). It calls for careful discernment, and much harm has been done already by irresponsible though sincere Christians, who have had very little experience in this field, claiming to discern evil spirits in people where there are none. This has been encouraged by some who teach that straight forward sins of the flesh, such as pride, anger and lust, are due to evil spirits. While this may be so in some cases, there is a need for the balance of the New Testament to be seen, where exorcism does not have the dominant place that some modern teachers would like to give it.
There is much more emphasis on holiness and the life of self-discipline in the New Testament than on exorcism. A story is told about someone who met the devil in the street one day outside a church and he was weeping copiously. When asked what was the matter, he replied, “Why, it’s these Christians, they blame me for everything”.
Demon-possession takes place when the personality is “invaded” by an evil spirit, which remains there, at times overpowering that person. There may be more than one spirit involved. These attacks come in different ways. In some cases there may be physical manifestations – such as epilepsy. In others there may be abnormal or immoral behaviour, when the will of the person is completely bound. The evil spirit needs to be discerned, and if the person is willing to be delivered, the spirit should be cast out in the name of Jesus. Let it be repeated, this ministry can be dangerous, and is not for everyone. If in any doubt, it is best to find someone who has had experience in this field, rather than tackle the problem ourselves, which could do more harm than good. The after-care of a victim of evil spirits is essential, for there are counter-attacks to be dealt with, or the room which is “swept and garnished” can be repossessed by other spirits. The empty void must be filled with the Spirit, if the person is to survive further attacks, and the loving prayers of friends are all-important, as Satan is resisted, and the reclaimed ground defended.
But there is a similar ministry which is very much more common than demon-possession. This concerns dealing with what we might call “bondages”. This is satanic power over some area of the life of a person. It may arise during early childhood, when an emotional crisis results in repression, with later psychological or even physical bondage. It may manifest itself in a variety of ways, such as irrational fears, shyness, indecisiveness, evil habits, depression, insomnia, etc. Satan has gained a foothold in the life, and it may well take the prayer of faith to dislodge him. It is wonderful to rest assured that any such spiritual bondage can be defeated and overthrown. Jesus said “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). He gave His disciples authority to loose people from every kind of bondage in His name.
Part of this healing may involve the memories. Some need these to be cleansed and healed, otherwise Satan can use them to bring God’s children into bondage, and cripple part of their spiritual life. Agnes Sanford has some very sound advice on this aspect of the subject.
There are many who view the theology of the Kingdom almost exclusively in terms of social concern. The roots of this can be traced to the Christian Socialism of F. D. Maurice, Charles Kingsley and others in the nineteenth century. It is fashionable to jibe at pietism as so “other wordly” that it fails to be deeply concerned with the real problems of life, such as racialism, war, hunger, etc. On the other hand modern exponents of the social gospel tend to be oblivious altogether of those aspects of the Kingdom outlined in this chapter,
True pietism, however, has in the past been deeply concerned with social matters, and their prophets have attacked social injustice and exalted social righteousness. The roots of modern British socialism stretch down to the seed-beds of Methodism, for instance.
Every one of us should be passionately concerned about justice, public morality, and the plight of the under-nourished and under-privileged, and a balanced spirituality should reflect really deep commitment to the cause of man’s physical as well as spiritual well-being. The Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles was constantly destroying racial barriers, and reconciling deeply entrenched prejudices. It is important to notice too that in 1 Corinthians 12:13 the baptism in the Spirit is seen in this context. We often forget those words which follow the phrase “baptised into one Body”– “whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free” (AV).
How we shall act in order to fulfill this concern is another matter and not within the scope of this book. But if we are to speak and act with authority in the sphere of social concern, then we not only need an accurate knowledge of the facts, but also prophetic insight and power which only God can supply.
If we are to be the children of the Kingdom in the fullest sense, then we should be those who know the liberating power of the Spirit ourselves, so that we can serve in the Kingdom of Christ. Then we are to proclaim to all the message of the Kingdom, and through prayer and the Word we shall see other lives delivered from the hands of Satan. We have seen the wide scope of this ministry. It is in this context that the gifts of the Spirit are so important. Without them we shall never be fully successful. We need particularly the gifts of discernment, the discerning of spirits, and the words of wisdom and knowledge, as well as the gifts of healing. But whether directly through their operation, or indirectly through the edification they bring to us, these gifts are weapons in spiritual warfare – and we need to be armed with them.
This excerpt is from Walk in the Spirit, Chapter 5, © 1968 by Michael Harper. The book was originally published in 1968 by Logos International, Plainfield, New Jersey, USA, and reproduced from the Great Britain Edition by arrangement with Hodder and Stoughton, London E.C. 4.
See other articles and books available online at the Father Michael Harper Foundation.
Top image of Jesus sending out 70 disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God with power to heal and set captives free, painted by James Tissot between 1886-1894, now at the Brooklyn Museum, New York City. Image is in the public domain, source from Wikimedia Commons.
Archpriest Father Michael Harper (1931-2010) was a world-renown leader in the charismatic renewal movement. He was a minister in the Anglican Church for 40 years. He joined the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1995, and was appointed Archpriest of the Antiochian Orthodox Deanery of the UK and Ireland.
He and his wife Jeanne formed the Fountain Trust in 1964, which organized charismatic conferences all over the world at which he addressed thousands of people. Jeanne co-edited the songbook, Sound of Living Waters, which is still used by many charismatic churches today. Harper also founded Soma (Sharing of Ministries Abroad), which was committed to sharing ministries between the developed and developing world.
He was involved for many years with the World Council of Churches. He spoke at several Catholic meetings. He met Popes Paul VI, John Paul and John Paul II.
He also edited Renewal, the longest-established charismatic magazine in the world. He wrote 18 books, including the bestseller Equal and Different, which set out his views on women’s ordination and the gender debate. Colleagues remember him as a man with the ability to build friendships across the Christian traditions. A gentle and humble man, Harper was nevertheless a dynamic speaker and networker, able to draw people in, whatever their background or differences from himself. He is survived by his wife, Jeanne.