There is a cosmic conspiracy against Christ.
We must be careful that we are not unconsciously part of this conspiracy.
In 1983 Iranian pastor Mehdi Dibaj was arrested and put in prison because he had converted to Christianity. Bishop Haik Hovspian Mehr leaked the news to the world resulting in the release of Dibaj after eleven years in captivity. Both of them were abducted and killed within a few months of each other in 1994. A wave of persecution followed and continues to the present.
As Christians, how should we understand persecution of our brothers around the world? How shall we think about the 2000 years of Christian martyrs who gave away their lives for the spread of the gospel?
When laws are written to prevent the spread of the gospel or the printing and distribution of the Bible; when missionaries are kicked out of the countries God called them to or their visas are not renewed; are these isolated incidents or is there a unified strategy to destroy the work of God?
Jesus warned his disciples that they will be arrested, jailed, beaten and even killed. He told us that he sends us as sheep among the wolves. He did not hide the fact that the world will hate us as they have hated him.
In my four decades of ministry to Muslims, I have observed a number of strategies emerge among missionaries which were designed to soften the gospel in order to avoid persecution. Fear of persecution has caused many to be secretive to avoid being “discovered.” Christian agencies have chosen secular names or changed their obviously Christian names to sound neutral.
Wisdom often calls for caution and discernment but never for compromise. When wisdom stifles the gospel, it turns to unbelief. For faith in the power of God and his protection must motivate us to be bold witnesses no matter the cost.
Succumbing to intimidation by the enemy is accepting defeat and falling into the trap of the enemy who is the author of all conspiracies against the gospel of Jesus Christ.
God is at war. Satan is the obvious enemy. How he works is not as obvious to many. False religion, cults, idolatry and deception are some of the obvious strategies of Satan. One of the most destructive strategies that is more sly and less conspicuous is the conspiracy of the nations.
The conspiracy is against Christ. God’s people are the battle field. Jesus warned us to be alert and watchful. Are we?
Conspiracy of the Jews and Romans
Frequently, in the gospels we read about the pharisees conspiring. In several stories the Jewish leaders were plotting against Jesus to catch him and have him killed.
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.”But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” Matthew 26:3-5
By killing Jesus, the Jewish leaders thought that they had defeated him. “Surely the leaders of the fast growing movement could not survive seeing their master hanging on the cross,” they must have reasoned. Not long after, some “unschooled, ordinary men…” (Acts 4:12) were causing the same kind of trouble their master did.
In the early chapters of the book of Acts we see that two of the apostles of Christ, Peter and John began to cause the same kind of trouble they had seen their master get himself into.
One day, a man crippled from birth was healed by Peter and John. The crowds were amazed. The Jewish authorities were deeply disturbed. The Sanhedrin, the highest court of the Jews held an emergency meeting to deal with this resurgence of the followers of the movement they thought they had eradicated.
So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men? To snuff the movement they jailed and flogged the two apostles, threatened them, and “commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” Acts 4: 15-18
Peter and John did not bow down. They confronted the authorities: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” v 19
“After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.” v 21
When Peter and John were freed from prison, they went straight to the brothers who had been praying for them. After much joyful celebration they held one of the most powerful prayer meetings recorded in the scriptures.
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.”
“…the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
A look at the content of their prayer reveals a very significant missiological truth: Nations are not innocent toward God. The disciples did not see the action of the Sanhedrin as political or religious. They viewed it as a part of a global conspiracy against God and his anointed Son, Jesus.
“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.” (v 27)
In their prayer, the Apostles quoted Psalm 2:1-2
“Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the LORD
and against his Anointed One.”
Conspiracy against Paul:
One of the greatest enemies of Jesus and his Church was Saul of Tarsus. He played a huge part of the conspiracy to exterminate Christianity. This is the reason for his trip to Damascus.
“Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. Acts 9:2-3
One of Saul’s first experiences after his conversion was a conspiracy by the Jewish leaders to kill him when they realized he had defected.
“After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, (Paul)”Acts 9:23
Throughout his life, Paul was the target of conspirators who wanted to silence him, stop him from preaching and even kill him. We never see him cave in or shrink back. Even before judges and kings he continued to witness to the work of God in his life. He was often beaten, expelled and taken to court. He faced persecution with more boldness and faith and never allowed danger to change his missiology.
Paul understood well the nature of the battle and he knew it was not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil. Ephesians 6:11 ff.
He also understood that Christ will win over his enemies.
“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” I Corinthians 15:24
John the beloved disciple of Jesus also understood the nature of the spiritual battle when he wrote:
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 1 john 3:8b
Conspiracies in the Old Testament.
Conspiracy against God did not start with the New Testament. It goes back to pre-creation when Lucifer rose against God’s authority in rebellion.
Conspiracy of Lucifer:
“How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
“You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.”
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
– Isaiah 14:12-14
Checking several translations of these verses, I find total agreement that the nations have been laid low or brought down, or weakened by Satan who worked to drag down with him the human race.
Lucifer’s conspiracy against God had two stages.
- Pre-creation: Before the creation of man, Lucifer’s conspiracy was to become like God and even raise his throne above Him. This implies that Satan’s goal was to rule the nations and become the King of Kings. He failed and instead he has fallen from his position in heaven.
- Post-Creation: Lucifer deceptively appearing in the form of a serpent conspired to bring down humanity with him and hijack the nations to bring them low. (Isaiah 14:12b). He solicited Eve and Adam and conferred with them against God so that they too might become like God by rebelling against God. This was to drag all of humanity into a state of fallenness from God’s presence. Humanity fell as well.
Paul was aware of this when he wrote.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 2:1-2
The effects of the corruption brought by Satan have three applications:
- Personal: “you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world”
- Political: “and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air,”
- Spiritual: “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”
This fall resulted in this fact:
All have come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
The disciple whom Jesus loved, John was very clear about the spiritual battle. He declared that the reason the Son of God came was to destroy the work of Satan. 1 John 3:8 We are part of the warfare and there is no escape. The gospel is the means by which we can derail the conspiracy and defeat the arch conspirator, Satan.
Satan was not going down without a fight. This is why he has been given permission to deceive even the elect:
“For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible.” Matthew 24:24
Nations and Authorities:
Therefore, the fall of man in Genesis 3 is not just a rebellious act by the first human couple. It was a conspiracy of Satan who with corroboration from Adam and Eve, dragged the nations down with him.
Otherwise how do we explain the history of wars against the children of Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the new? Many nations, empires, political and religious systems have stood against God’s people. God’s people both in the Old and New Testaments have and continue to be targeted from within and without.
What does it mean that the nations have been brought low? Is this relevant today?
The blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the church. Many nations, empires, political and religious systems have stood against God’s people. The Jewish nation experienced many attacks and defeats. The church has and continues to be targeted by her enemies. The Roman Empire, Islam and communism are some of the most powerful systems who have conspired against Christ and his church.
In 2009, a little publicized meeting of Arab ministers of interior conspired to snuff missionary work. This has resulted with a clamp down in Morocco and other Arab and Muslim nations against missionary activities and national believers. Iran leads the countries who are trying to stomp out Christianity from the Middle East. Indeed Satan is still conspiring against God and his Anointed One.
Could it be that the uprisings in the Arab world is a counter attack by God who has mobilized freedom seekers to rebel? If so, I am hopeful that the future of the church in the Arab world is greater than it has ever been.
Culture, the Greatest Conspiracy
Conspiracy stories fill the pages of the Scriptures. The people of God have always been targeted by other nations. These conspiracies are not just events scattered throughout history. They are part and parcel of the greatest conspiracy of all, the cultural conspiracy against God, his people and their lifestyle.
My purpose for this article is to introduce a biblical view of culture to replace the more recent view based on theories from Anthropology and other social sciences.
Let us now try to define culture. There have been many attempts at defining culture. Having looked at dozens of these definitions I have constructed my own definition that sums them all up.
Culture is the vehicle by which a people transmit their common heritage from one generation to the other. This heritage constitutes values, customs and traditions, and religious beliefs and practices.
Missiologists agree with anthropologists that culture at the core includes values and beliefs. It follows that if the values and beliefs are contradictory to the word of God then the entire culture is contrary to God and his will. Indeed Lucifer brought down not only man as individuals but the nations as a whole as well.
If every man is a sinner before God, how can the sum total of many sinners be any less sinful? In fact the sum total of the sins of all men have a compounding effect making culture even more sinful than the individuals in any social or cultural group.
It is all in the opening chapters of Genesis. The continuous saga of conspiracies begins with the fall of man in Genesis 3. It was not about disobeying God by eating a fruit. At the core, Satan attacked our first ancestors in their belief system and values which led to behavioral rebellion. The issue was about God, his nature and purposes. Who is God? Why did he restrict Adam and Eve from eating that tree? Is he a good God? Can he be trusted?
The God Satan depicted was not the same God who spoke to Adam in the previous chapter. Satan presented a God who is selfish, self seeking, unloving, oppressive, controlling and not trustworthy. Satan’s conspiracy against God was to turn him into a distant God who is out there and does not care. The conspiracy worked. It sparked the great schism between God and man. Adam and Eve’s theology turned upside down. The truth became a lie and the lie became true; the friend became a foe and the foe became a friend. God and man were no longer compatible and sin became a wall of separation between light and darkness, holiness and sin, God and the human race.
Cain and Abel
The repercussions of this cosmic tragedy were disastrous. As part of the curse resulting from sin, Adam’s nuclear family became dysfunctional. Jealousy, hate and murder destroyed their peaceful home. Cain became separated from his brother and from his parents. Why did God reject Cain’s offering? After all Cain did not reject God. He did not defect to idol worship. He acknowledged the God of his Father Adam. He and his brother worshipped the same God.
Like yeast sin spread and expanded to permeate every aspect of man’s individual and social life.
Culture of Noah’s Times:
There is nothing more revealing of how God views culture than this passage from God’s word.
“The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Genesis 6:5
This is a judgement not only on a few people but the entire human race. Only Noah was exempt from this judgement. Man’s mind and heart are wicked all the time. This leaves no room for any goodness in the entire society. No doubt people did some good things, such as a mother take care of her baby. But what God was looking at was the heart and if the heart was evil that the whole man is evil. This is the theology of anthropology. i am
Paul echoes this truth when he looked at himself and declared: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Romans 7:18
Paul did not always think this way. Before meeting Christ he thought he was OK,
“5 …circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” Philippians 3:5
The culture of the Pharisees was in every way good in man’s eyes. But in God’s sight “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6)
If every member of society is a sinner all the time before God, can the sum total of all members be good? The fact is, the sum total of the sins of all men have a compounding effect making culture even more sinful than the individuals in any social or cultural group.
Tower of Babel:
Now we come to the most significant story in the history of the nations. The story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. This is the first explicit record of the greatest conspiracy of the nations. The Bible uses these words:
They said to each other, ‘come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly’ ….‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’ Genesis 11: 3-4
This is not some casual meeting, it is a coming together of an entire culture with plans to create their own “door to God” (Bab + El) The language is clear. The People of Babel conspired against God to draw attention to themselves away from God and cause people to come to them to reach heaven. The word babel in Hebrew is a composite of two words: bab and El which means the door to God. They wanted to unite all people around them. They had devised a strategy to accomplish this by creating their own religion and making a name for themselves. They sought self glorification and greatness apart from God. Why was God angry with such a plan? They are not denying him. They are still acknowledging El-ohim as their God. They are gathering the people together to “reach the heavens.” They seem religious and devoted to their religion.
Just as Eve and Cain fell into the trap of being “god” to themselves and deciding their own plan of “salvation” so to speak, the people at Babel failed to approach God on his own terms.
God’s response was: “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” Notice God’s words “nothing they plan to do.” This is about planning, conspiring to do what they see right in their own eyes apart from God. They wanted to make a name for themselves and become a united and powerful culture. God did not like their plans. Why? He wanted to be at the center of their lives. They were not willing to give up their own plans in favor of his own plans.
The punishment was severe. God scattered them and defeated their plans. God did not see this as an innocent or ignorant action. He saw it directly as part of the cosmic plan to destroy his Kingdom and marginalize him just as Adam, Eve, Cain and Noah’s culture did.
Islam along with many other man made religions is guilty of the same sin of the people of Babel by designing a way to God that is man made and man centered. Muslims do not deny God. They are zealous in worshipping the one true God. But they have devised their own concept of who God is and rejected God’s salvation through his Son.
In fact, Islam is a conspiracy to divert people away from Jesus by designing a way to God other than the “way the truth and the life.” John 14:6
People who try to reach God in their own way, will not reach him. God comes out always a winner to derail their plans and confuse them.
A healthy biblical view of culture sees culture as evil at the core. Notwithstanding all the good things that can be found in all cultures, when man’s core beliefs, values and aspirations do not put God in the center of their lives.
The most seemingly innocent aspects of culture are sinful when God is marginalized and his plan of salvation is rejected. If it is true that our best good is like filthy rags, it follows that he best of culture is no less filthy.
Cultures need to be redeemed not conformed to. Every aspect of human life including culture needs to be held captive to Christ. This requires that missionaries aim to transform cultures with the powerful message of the gospel. This transformation begins with the heart but then it spills over to every aspect of their lives. No one touched deeply with the gospel will continue to live like everyone else. A transformed life demonstrates behavioral changes that will become known to their family members and friends. The new life becomes a testimony louder than words.