When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19, KJV).
Here are words from the prophet Isaiah as he faced the worldwide challenge of evil 2,700 years ago. Like the prophet, we too may discern the unseen and supernatural “enemy” who lies behind recent murderous attacks—in Manchester, Paris, London, Nice, San Bernardino and elsewhere—when the enemy seemed to come in like a flood, threatening and unprincipled.
Recent atrocities have repeatedly been described as “senseless,” but no, they are not senseless. There is a worked-out rationale behind any such group, religious or political, whether the Ku Klux Klan, the IRA, the Baader Meinhof Gang, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, al-Qaida, the Taliban or ISIS. Christians are frequently on the receiving end of these actions. At times, evil may appear to come at us like a flood. Yet, historically, all these groups must eventually disappear—destined to end up coughing in the exhaust of the ongoing church.
The conflict between good and evil is about power. We see this in Christ’s wilderness temptations. It is the cross that supremely demonstrates two completely opposite approaches to power. With the devil, it’s grab; with Jesus, it’s grace. With the devil, it’s hate; with Jesus, it’s love. With the devil, it’s the taking of power; with Jesus, it’s the yielding of power and the shedding of blood. It’s the blood of Christ that Satan cannot stand—and it’s this that undermines the powers of darkness.
This is what can give us confidence, despite our grief and anger, when—in the name of religion—a godless heathen attempts to behead one of London’s Grenadier Guards, or when a young British-born convert to an alien ideology deliberately targets children and young people.
It is as we hold to the message of the cross that we can outface evil—and discover that even former murderers can be redeemed under the beckoning love of Christ.
People will argue, “Why doesn’t God wipe out evil with a single stroke?!” But if that happened, what are the chances that you might be wiped out with it?! No, humanity is still being given time to take sides. What we see at present is the empire of evil in its enraged, thrashing death throes (Revelation 12:12). The church of God has the advantage of “the long-term”—buoyed up by the support of “the standard” that the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up.
What is this standard? Isaiah himself gives us the answer. About the distant future he writes, “In that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. … He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth” (Isaiah 11:10, 12).
The “standard” is a Person, the “root”—the ancestor—of Jesse, father of King David, head of the Messianic line culminating in Jesus. Jesus stands so big in Scripture that He is both the origin and the “Offspring” of David, the son of Jesse, the very Banner to draw people from every nation to Himself (Revelation 22:16). His “lifting up” would be represented supremely at the cross (John 12:32). It is around Him that we gather in our daily witness to a dying world.
And a standard is a symbol of battle. As one hymn puts it, “The Son of God rides out to war, the ancient foe to slay. His blood-red banner streams afar—who follows Him today?” It is the once-crucified Christ who represents our standard in the spiritual battle with evil.
A standard is also a symbol of unity. Combatants, aware of how weak they are on their own, will flock to a standard they love and recognize. Our resurrected Leader is able to unite—under His banner of love—recruits from every nation on earth.
Third, a standard is a symbol of conquest. Originally the cross looked like a symbol of defeat. But no longer. Through the cross, Christ “disarmed the powers and authorities [and] made a public spectacle of them” (Colossians 2:15).
Lastly, a standard is a symbol of direction. It says: “Forward, march!” Come under Christ’s banner, and we can be sure that we are part of a Kingdom that will outlive all others.
Faint not under the evils of today. Instead, let us search our own hearts, lest we have pockets of evil that we are accommodating.
We shall—and we must—stand firm. ©2017 Richard Bewes
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version. The verse marked KJV is taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version.
Richard Bewes is a preacher, broadcaster and hymn writer. He serves on the board of BGEA in the United Kingdom and is the former rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London.