He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)
For nearly three decades a great wall of concrete and razor wire divided East and West Berlin, a quite visible boundary between two opposing domains. West Berlin was a small island of relative freedom in the midst of a vast empire of tyranny. Millions of oppressed souls longed for the freedom of the West, but for most it was only an impossible dream. Still, a few courageous ones overcame almost insurmountable obstacles and escaped through tunnels under the wall, through which they had to crawl on their hands and knees. They could take nothing with them — only the clothes on their backs — but they were happy to leave everything behind for the hope of starting a new life.
Although only temporal, the example of the Berlin Wall can help us to “see” the unseen but very real barrier that separates the domain of darkness from the kingdom of light, and understand what it takes to get from one to the other.
The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.1 All men are born under his sway.2 Although all men have a free will, and a conscience by which they know good from evil,3 they are alienated from God due to Adam’s sin and must strive to make their own way in this world.4 Their ingrained insecurity and self-interest make them easy prey for the evil prince of this world, whose chief occupation is to lead them astray.5 Were it not for the conscience, human society would probably have ended long ago, but now the restraint of conscience has given way to the insatiable demands of self to the point that the very foundations of morality have all but crumbled.6
Such is the nature of this world. It runs on the engine of self-interest. The souls of men — their intellect, will, and emotions — are consumed with their own needs and desires, with advancing their own careers, causes, and reputations, and with maintaining and building up the systems of this world order.7 Their conflicting desires and ambitions are the cause of immeasurable human misery and the looming destruction of the very planet they grudgingly share. Their eyes cannot see any way out of the cycle of sin and death they are trapped in. Even their religion does not set them free, but only comforts them in their prison. They sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.8
Onto the battered landscape of human history walked an ordinary-looking Man with an extraordinary message:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)
From the day that He severed Himself in baptism from the fallen religious system of His day,9 He spoke of nothing but the gospel of the kingdom.10 He filled His disciples and all who would listen with the vision of a new social order based on love — the direct opposite of the self-interest that fuels the domain of darkness. For by love He did not mean merely an emotion, but rather the deliberate activation of one’s will to seek the welfare of another without regard for one’s own benefit or loss.11 He did not envision occasional heroic deeds of love adorning the typical routines of life in this world. He lived and died to bring about a whole society of people who take no thought for themselves,12 but spend their lives every day serving one another. That is what He meant by seeking first the kingdom of God.
The Master had absolutely no expectation of this new social order filling the earth in this age. He did not commission His disciples to make the world a better place by infiltrating the world’s society, industry, or government.13 On the contrary, He called them to come out of that fallen system,14 even at the cost of their family ties,15 in order to follow Him. Together they would form a “city” set on a hill; together they would be a light to the world around them.16 Their “cities” (communities) would be islands of refuge in the midst of a world in bondage to the evil one17 — a foretaste of the fullness of Messiah’s kingdom that will fill the whole earth in the next age when the evil one is bound.18
However, that foretaste of the coming kingdom could not come about until the Messiah had died as a ransom for all19 and risen from the dead and ascended to His Father in heaven. Then His Spirit could be released to fill the waiting disciples and empower them to do everything the Master had taught them about the kingdom of God.20 It is no accident that the very first thing that happened when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them was that they spoke the gospel of the kingdom with boldness, and three thousand men responded to the call to “be saved from this perverse generation” by utterly forsaking their old lives to live a common life together.21 It was the normal and only fitting response to the good news of the One who had died to ransom them from the clutches of the evil one and his dark domain. Their common life of love and unity was the witness of the kingdom22 — the evidence that He was actually ruling in their midst.23
Although the book of Acts tells this story in only a few sentences, each of those 3000 men had to overcome his own personal obstacles to surrendering his life. There were many wives and children, parents and siblings, farms and businesses, employees, possessions, and debts to be considered. Probably not all of their families and friends were overjoyed at the decisions they made that day to give up everything to follow this resurrected Messiah who could only be seen in His people. It took great courage for those men to walk out the confessions of faith they made that day, at any cost.24
The barrier that holds men captive in the domain of darkness, although invisible, is every bit as real as was the Berlin Wall. Instead of concrete and wire, it is woven of fear, shame, insecurity, intimidation, anxiety, peer pressure, emotional attachments, pride, and countless worldly entanglements. When someone is truly weary of his servitude to the evil prince of this world and the weight of his own guilt, and hears the voice of the Righteous One through His servants, and is drawn to the light emanating from their camp, he or she will inevitably come face-to-face with this barrier. All manner of obstacles will bar the way — an unwilling spouse, rebellious children, financial responsibilities, the pleas, promises, threats, and warnings of family and friends... The tentacles of the unseen realm of darkness will reach out through every earthly tie to tighten their grip on any who dare attempt escape.
It is not that the blood of the Son of God was insufficient to pay the ransom for all, but all are not willing to do His will.25 All are not thirsty enough to overcome every obstacle that keeps them from drinking the water of life:
I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and sexually immoral and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:6-8)
Those who are too cowardly to overcome the obstacles betray the fact of their unbelief. Preferring the pitiful comforts of their captivity,26 they show contempt for the blood that was shed for them and become guilty of it, classing themselves as the worst of criminals.27
There is no toll gate at the entrance to the kingdom of light. The abundant life of the Son of God is freely given. But just like that tunnel under the Berlin Wall, the way of escape that leads to the kingdom is narrow and difficult, and few are they who even find it.28 Nothing of the old life can pass through it, which is why only those who hate their life in this world will be able to make the passage.29 They are the only ones who will be united with Him in the likeness of His death, and serve Him where He is.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:5-7)