Believing Is Seeing
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.” Although he probably referred to his military campaigns in which the human spirit overcame many obstacles, Bonaparte’s statement is applicable to the biblical sphere of spirits, which is an invisible realm that can be good or evil. And the only reliable information about this real yet unseen world is the Bible.
Jacob and the Ladder
In Genesis the Jewish patriarch Jacob encountered angels. Jacob had to flee his brother Esau’s wrath (Gen. 27:41–43). His future uncertain, he faced a hostile world alone. He needed encouragement.
On his journey north from Beersheba toward Haran, Jacob stopped for the night. Finding stones to use as a pillow, he lay down to sleep. As he slept, he had a dream. He saw a ladder with angels going up and down between the realms of Earth and heaven. The Lord stood at the top and spoke to him:
I am the Lᴏʀᴅ God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you (28:13–15).
The Lord assured Jacob of His promises, presence, protection, and provision. Jacob also saw an active angelic world doing God’s bidding. According to Jewish thought, the angels in “Jacob’s ladder” were messengers carrying out God’s will in earthly affairs. Thus Jacob not only received encouragement but also got a glimpse into the heavenly realm.
Elisha and the Chariots of Fire
The prophet Elisha slept soundly as the mighty Aramean army surrounded Dothan. By morning light, his young servant stepped outside their house only to see the city surrounded by a host of horses, chariots, and heavily armored soldiers. Terrified, he cried, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (2 Ki. 6:15).
The prophet answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). Then Elisha prayed, “Lᴏʀᴅ, I pray, open his eyes that he may see” (v. 17). When the servant looked up, he saw the mountain around them filled with horses and chariots of fire (v. 17; cf. 2:11).
Coming to their aid were God’s unseen, powerful, heavenly legions of angels. It was a revelation that God’s angelic army was in control. When God chooses, He dispatches His messengers to provide safety for those who see with the eyes of faith. “The angel of the Lᴏʀᴅ encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Ps. 34:7).
Isaiah and the Seraphim
Isaiah, too, saw angels. He also saw the Lord:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isa. 6:1–3).
Isaiah saw in a vision the awesome glory of God’s celestial Temple throne. It was a real yet unseen world that literally opened up before him. This amazing event reveals two facts: First, true protection and prosperity do not come from earthly kings but from the sovereign Lord of the universe. Second, God who dwells in the unseen world is Lord over all time and space in an unfailing eternity. Therefore, faith in a God who truly is there gives us confidence to live in an unstable physical world.
Jesus and His Legions
The flickering light of the lanterns and torches perforated the darkness. Led by Judas Iscariot, a detachment of armed Roman soldiers and Temple guards entered the walled grove of olive trees, determined to arrest Jesus.
As they prepared to seize Him, Peter, one of His disciples, swiftly drew his short sword and slashed off the ear of a servant of the high priest. But Jesus said to him,
Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus? (Mt. 26:52–54).
The size of a typical Roman legion varied throughout history. However, it has been estimated to contain as many as 6,000 soldiers. Jesus told Peter He had 12 legions, about 72,000 angels, at His disposal for His defense. The Jewish people who heard His statement may have thought of Psalm 68:17: “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands.” Or Psalm 104:4: “Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire” (cf. Heb. 1:7).
There was a spiritual war taking place. The Roman cohort would have been no match for God’s angels. But at that moment in history, God held back His angelic army because Scripture needed to be fulfilled. The Messiah was to be arrested, beaten, crucified, and resurrected from the dead.
And the victory in the great spiritual battle is when people receive salvation because they have placed their faith in what Jesus did for them when He took their sins upon Himself at the cross: “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10).
Jesus did not lie. The spiritual realm exists at His bidding.
Spiritually speaking, Napoleon was right. The spirit will always conquer the sword. A real but unseen world exists that is controlled by God. Though some maintain that seeing is believing, the opposite is closer to reality.