Who Is the Adversary?
Passover is here again, the time we commemorate Israel’s redemption from Egypt and remember the sorrow that turned to joy. Surely at some point in their enslavement the Hebrews must have tried to resist Pharaoh’s tyranny, yet history makes no mention of it except the midwives’ temporary success in saving some of the male newborns. Whatever their efforts, the Hebrews failed until God himself moved against the adversary. Today, God still turns sorrow into joy. He still frees the enslaved and fights his people’s battles. Yet some don’t know they are enslaved, and others don’t realize they are embattled.
The church faces adversaries as determined to destroy it as Pharaoh was determined to destroy the Israelites. In proclaiming God’s cause, we struggle against supernatural powers whose best weaponry often comes from the unbelieving world around us and from our own human nature. Often these human weapons” do not realize that they are being used to thwart God’s purposes. They might even think they are serving God rather than opposing him. But God does fight for his cause, and he does prevail.
The Jews for Jesus ministry, which is an arm of the church, has often been embattled, and not by our own choice. In order to survive, we have had to define who our adversaries are and find Gods way of dealing with them.
Our adversaries are not necessarily those who accuse us of a wrong position. That kind of confrontation might well be an honorable admonition. Our adversaries are those who seek to delegitimatize our position, invalidate our efforts or otherwise prevent us from accomplishing what God wants us to do. Our adversaries are those who instigate prejudice against us by publicly declaring us to be liars or unworthy of a hearing before we have even spoken.
We Jews for Jesus must identify our adversaries, not to fight them, but to survive and serve God. All too often our adversaries seek and gain association with ministry friends, allies and co-laborers to whom we look for emotional and material support. They count on Christian courtesy and sometimes pretend friendship and openness. Then they slowly drive a wedge to delegitimatize us and our ministry, and in good faith some of our friends unknowingly assist in hurting us.
Another kind of adversarial situation occurs when a new Jewish believer in Jesus is asked by his or her family just to visit a rabbi to hear what he has to say. That individual must meet with the rabbi on the rabbi’s terms, and as soon as that happens, he has entered a potentially self-defeating situation. Any rabbi will say that it is his job to teach and to judge what is true or false doctrine in Judaism. Those who attempt to teach or persuade him in matters of faith will be seen as arrogating his position to themselves. Because no rabbi can ever allow that, interaction with him is impossible.
The rabbis see absolutely no legitimacy for any Jew ever turning to Christ. Because we believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that faith in him is an honest position for a Jew, real dialogue or interchange of ideas would be impossible between one of us and any rabbi who wanted to maintain his rabbinic standing.
Furthermore, rather than being a witnessing situation, a meeting with a rabbi would signal capitulation to him and to the rest of the Jewish community. If one agrees to meet with an adversary, it is presumed that the purpose is reconciliation. In this case, the only possible reconciliation would be for the believer to renounce Christ. When a rabbi says he merely wants to talk and find out why an individual believes in Christ, the believer’s story is scrutinized, not for its credibility, but for its weaknesses, and the believer has entered the rabbi’s process for dissuading him from following Christ.
The chief Jewish defense against Christianity is that faith in Jesus is not Jewish (even though Jesus is a Jew); that believing in the New Testament is heretical (even though it was written in the same manner and under the same moving of God’s Spirit as the Hebrew Scriptures); and that telling Jews that the promised Messiah has come is a dishonest and illegitimate activity. Moreover, it labels all such efforts as “proselytizing,” which is deemed a dishonorable endeavor.
Identifying this defense as an adversarial situation enables us to respond lovingly but wisely, while keeping all interests in balance. We can even show respect to some adversaries for the noble or good causes they represent without letting them harm our faith. Adversaries may be likeable, but we cannot allow ourselves to be misled by their pleasant demeanor or confused by their disinformation. We must behave cautiously toward those whose avowed purpose is to disallow our faith or negate our ministry.
Correct response to an adversarial situation depends much on what one might lose if the adversary were effective, or what one might gain if the opposition were neutralized.
For example, if a three-year-old runs out and shouts at a pedestrian, “You can’t go here!” the proper response is to smile and continue walking. But if five gladiator types appear obviously ready to enforce their declaration of “You can’t go here,” whether they are legitimate police or some self-appointed patrol, the situation demands a serious, carefully considered response.
The pedestrian must ascertain whether the adversary has authority to make those demands. Even if someone has merely arrogated authority, yet has the power to impose his will, the pedestrian must deal with that. How he responds will depend on how much he needs to walk down that particular street.
If an officer says he may not proceed because of a parade or an imminent police action or some other event and he wants to walk down that street badly enough, he can wait until the thoroughfare is reopened for traffic. If he encounters the five bullies, it may cost him more than a delay to walk down that street. His response will depend on whether he wants to risk a beating, submit to any imposition they have in mind or call another authority who has declared that street an open thoroughfare.
Probably the best way of dealing with that adversarial situation is to avoid it. The pedestrian might be able to get where he wanted without using that particular street. In that case, his next step once he was confronted still would be to avoid the controversy by finding a way around the obstacle, objection or obstinate person.
As Jews for Jesus, we have discovered that the best strategy is to achieve what we want without a fight, but there is such a thing as Christian combat. Sometimes we have no choice but to take a stand and endure the consequences. When we cannot avoid conflict and must contend for the faith, we seek to act on Christian principles. First we prayerfully ascertain that we are not acting out of pride or personal interest. Next we draw a close perimeter of defense—the area we will defend. On that perimeter we take our firm stand.
In Jews for Jesus we do not defend ourselves against careless charges. We draw our perimeter of defense tightly around only two matters: the right to proclaim the gospel and the honor of Jesus Christ.
Once we have determined that an individual or group is in an adversarial position, we seek to agree quickly with our adversary while we are “yet in the way with him” (Matthew 5:25), i.e. while the confrontation is in progress and the situation is still developing.
We offer to settle quickly if we can afford it, but the key word is “afford.” When acting on principle, we cannot afford to reformulate our beliefs or our calling to serve God. We compromise only where we see that there ought to be an exception this time, but not a continuing exception.
For example, when we are passing out tracts and a policeman asks us to move to another place and the other place is as good as the first, we may choose to compromise. We tell the officer we’re glad to comply if this is a request, but if it is a demand, we cannot comply, and we must insist on our constitutional rights to avoid setting a bad precedent.
When we are ready to respond, we help our adversary know how to handle us so as to avoid conflict. We seek to agree. We treat our adversary as though there were a reason to his cause. Nevertheless, some things are not negotiable, and we let him know the difference.
Our own Jews for Jesus reputation is negotiable. We will not take a stand merely because we are slandered. The reputation of God never is negotiable. We take appropriate action to show our adversaries that we have the strength to endure, and to warn them of the consequences they face, which are defeat of their wrongful intentions and rectification of any harmful inattention.
Ultimately God’s answer to any adversarial situation is our Advocate, Jesus Christ. He is our shield and defender. From him we know what to expect. In serving him we expect to encounter pain and disappointment as he did! Many will misunderstand us as they misunderstood him, because their minds are clouded with their own sinful nature and selfishness.
From Yeshua’s life we know the true meaning of opposition. Matthew 16:22, 23 records that when the time came for Yeshua to face his ultimate purpose—the passion and the cross—when he needed most to be strengthened—Peter, one of his closest disciples, who had previously declared, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” opposed him, saying of the cross, “this shall not be unto thee.” Jesus, looking at him, responded, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”
When we face opposition and things get rough, even those closest to us sometimes advise us to avoid the painful confrontation. In that moment, they unknowingly and unintentionally join our adversaries in encouraging us not to face what we know we must.
Even so, we are not discouraged. God’s answer to all adversarial situations is Yeshua, the Counselor prophesied in Isaiah 9:6. In Bible days, counselors deliberated and helped rulers resolve issues. They also advised on defense and helped devise battle plans. The Lord Jesus is our counselor and adviser to whom we can turn for wisdom in our defense. We can trust him to show us how to handle our adversaries—when to advance and when to retreat. In Jesus we find all we need for any adversarial confrontation.
So the most important question is not who is our adversary, but who is our advocate. When we commit ourselves to serve God, he is on our side. And if God is for us, who can be against us?