17. Breaking Through Satan’s Tight Encirclement
By Zhao Gang, China
It was bitterly cold this past November in Northeast China, none of the snow that fell to the ground melted away, and many people who walked outside were so cold that they stuffed their hands into their armpits and walked along cautiously, bodies bent over. The other day in the early morning the winds were blowing from the northwest, when I, my brother-in-law and his wife and about a dozen brothers and sisters were sitting in my home on the warm bed. Everyone had a copy of the Bible beside them, and in their hands everyone was holding a copy of the book of God’s words, Judgment Begins With the House of God. Two sisters from The Church of Almighty God were fellowshiping on the truth concerning God’s three stages of work. The two sisters were drawing pictures of the three stages of work as they fellowshiped: “God’s work for the salvation of mankind can be divided into three stages. From the Age of Law to the Age of Grace and then to the Age of Kingdom, each stage of work is higher and more profound than the previous stage. The work done in the last days is the final stage of work, in which God expresses words to judge and cleanse man….” We nodded our heads as we listened, and our hearts filled with light: Who would’ve thought that God’s management plan for the salvation of mankind would have so many mysteries! Besides God Himself, who else could speak of the mysteries of these three stages of God’s work so clearly? This truly is the work of God! We fellowshiped into the evening of the following day, and our whole group expressed a willingness to seek out and look into Almighty God’s work of the last days.
Afterward, the two sisters then fellowshiped on the truth regarding the significance of the incarnation of God, and the rest of us were listening attentively when, all of a sudden, our church leader Wang Ping showed up. As soon as she entered the house, she pointed her finger at the two sisters from The Church of Almighty God and asked me: “What are these two doing?” I spoke frankly: “They are Sister Zhang and Sister Mu—” But before I could even finish speaking, she said in an exasperated tone, “Who are Sister Zhang and Sister Mu? I can see they are preachers of Eastern Lightning, they are sheep-stealers….” After Wang Ping finished talking, we all sat there in shock. I thought to myself: “Sister Wang Ping has almost always talked about loving our neighbors as we love ourselves and about loving our enemies; why is it that today she comes in here saying such unreasonable things? Why is she judging and condemning these two sisters?” I was thinking this over when I heard Sister Zhang calmly say to Wang Ping, “Sister, there are no hidden intentions in us coming here today. The Lord Jesus has already returned. We just want to spread God’s gospel of the last days to you—” Wang Ping interrupted Sister Zhang and yelled out: “The Lord has returned? Not even those of us who serve as leaders know anything about the Lord’s return, so how could you know anything about it? That is not possible! The Lord Jesus said: ‘All that ever came before Me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them’ (John 10:8). You both need to leave right now and never come back here.” When I heard Wang Ping say this, I felt disgusted inside: Her sermons are usually always so reasoned and well-argued; how is it that she can be so compassionless all of a sudden? So I asked Wang Ping: “Sister Wang, it’s late. Where do you want them to go? The Lord teaches us that we must love our enemies, to say nothing of these two sisters who believe in God. If we treat these two in this way, we would in no way resemble believers in the Lord—” But before I could even finish what I was saying, Wang Ping anxiously grabbed the hand of my brother-in-law’s wife and said to her and her husband, “If Zhao Gang doesn’t want these two women to leave then let’s go. Don’t listen to them anymore!” She then furiously grabbed hold of these two and walked out.
After they left, Sister Mu turned to us and asked: “Brothers and sisters, how do you all feel about the scene that we just witnessed? Let’s discuss this together.” The brothers and sisters all turned toward me, without anyone saying a word. I said frankly, “Sister, through our readings of the word of Almighty God over these past two days, and through listening to your fellowship, I firmly believe that Almighty God’s words are the truth, and that Almighty God is the returned Lord Jesus. However, the things that Wang Ping said aren’t without reason. After all, she is our leader and she has had faith in the Lord for a long time. She is well-versed in the Bible and she has always busied herself and expended herself for the Lord. If the Lord has returned, she ought to be the first to know.” Sister Zhang replied kindly, saying, “People believe that God’s return should first be revealed to leaders who then tell believers about it, but is there really any basis in the Lord’s words for this kind of thinking? Does it conform to the truth and to the facts of God’s work? The Lord Jesus said: ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me’ (John 10:27). ‘He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ (Revelation 2:7). The Lord Jesus clearly tells us that when He comes, He will surely utter words and express the truth, and that all who hear God’s voice and then seek and accept it will welcome the Lord’s return and be raised up before God. Did the Lord say He would enlighten any leader with the knowledge of His coming when He returns? No, He didn’t. Therefore, this view that people have simply misleads and confounds people, and if they wait for the Lord to enlighten them in line with this statement, then they are just waiting passively for the end to come. Let’s look at what it says in the words of Almighty God. Almighty God said: ‘There are even more who believe that whatever the new work of God might be, it has to be substantiated by prophecies, and that in each stage of such work, all those who follow Him with a “true” heart must also be shown revelations; if not, such work could not be the work of God. It is already no easy task for man to come to know God. Taken in addition to man’s absurd heart and his rebellious nature of self-importance and self-conceit, it becomes all the more difficult for him to accept God’s new work. Man neither gives careful scrutiny to the new work of God, nor accepts it with humility; instead, he adopts an attitude of contempt as he awaits revelations and guidance from God. Is this not the behavior of those who rebel against and resist God? How can such people gain God’s approval?’ (“How Can Man Who Has Delimited God in His Notions Receive the Revelations of God?” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). From God’s words we realize that, in the matter of the coming of the Lord, if people blindly hold to their own conceptions and imaginings and do not seek the truth or focus on hearing God’s voice, but instead merely wait for God to enlighten them, then they will never be able to welcome the return of the Lord. Only those who take care to listen to God’s voice are able to welcome the appearance of the Lord. In fact, not even one out of the people who followed the Lord Jesus in the Age of Grace was enlightened by God prior to following Jesus. They heard someone else bear witness to the Lord Jesus, or they heard the Lord speak or give a sermon, and they followed Him only after recognizing the voice of the Lord. Although Peter gained the enlightenment of God and recognized the Lord Jesus to be Christ and to be the Son of God, that only happened after he had followed the Lord Jesus for a time; only after he came to have some knowledge of the Lord from His words and work did he gain the enlightenment and illumination of the Holy Spirit—this is a fact. Now in the last days, the incarnate Almighty God expresses the truth, and does the work of judging, purifying and saving mankind. Many people accept and follow Almighty God, but there is not one among them who gained the enlightenment of God prior to following Him. God is righteous and He certainly does not favor anyone. God takes joy in kind-hearted people who thirst to seek out the truth. It’s just as the Lord Jesus said: ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled’ (Matthew 5:6). ‘Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God’ (Matthew 5:8). Almighty God also said: ‘God seeks those who long for Him to appear. He seeks those who are able to hear His words, those who have not forgotten His commission and offer up their hearts and bodies to Him. He seeks those who are as obedient as babes before Him and do not resist Him’ (“God Presides Over the Fate of All Mankind” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). This allows us to see that, so long as man loves the truth and thirsts for the truth, regardless of whether or not he has any status, regardless of how much he understands the Bible, God will enlighten and guide him, and He will allow man to hear His voice and witness His appearance. If those who serve as leaders think that God must first enlighten them when He returns, then this shows that they do not have any understanding of the work of God and they do not know God’s righteous disposition. It also reveals them to be very arrogant. It is said in the word of Almighty God: ‘And so I say that those who claim to “fully understand” God and His work are an inept lot; they are all overweening and ignorant. Man should not define the work of God; moreover, man cannot define the work of God. In the eyes of God, man is as insignificant as an ant; so how can man fathom God’s work? Those who like to spout, “God does not work in this or that way,” or “God is like this or that”—are they not speaking arrogantly?’ (Preface to The Word Appears in the Flesh). God’s almightiness and wisdom are unfathomably profound. People are just tiny creations. Our minds and our thoughts are limited, so how could we fathom the work of the Creator? So, as we wait for the Lord to return, we ought to keep reverence for God in our hearts and search and investigate carefully. We ought not to use our own conceptions and imaginations to confine God and judge God arbitrarily, for this will offend God’s disposition, and it will also ruin our chances to attain true salvation.”
After hearing God’s word, I understood that we are so insignificant in the presence of God, more insignificant even than an ant. Furthermore, we have been corrupted by Satan to the point that we are full of the corrupt disposition of arrogance and conceit. We love to always rely on our imaginations and conceptions to confine God, and whenever God’s work does not conform to our conceptions, we even deny God, condemn God and resist God. Apparently, if man does not understand the truth and does not have a single speck of reverence for God in his heart, then he will dare to do whatever he wants. It’s so dangerous! This made me remember that the Lord Jesus once said: “I thank You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Your sight” (Matthew 11:25–26). It wasn’t until today that I saw that this really is how things are! The revelation of God’s word and Sister Zhang’s fellowship allowed me to recognize that this idea that “leaders ought to be the first ones to be enlightened to the knowledge of the Lord’s coming when He returns” is false and absurd, it simply does not conform to the truth, and it totally hails from the conceptions and imaginings of man. In reality, only those who thirst for the truth and seek the voice of God will have the opportunity to receive God’s work and His guidance and be brought before God. This gave me a new understanding of God’s fairness and righteousness. Thanks be to God!
Early in the morning on the third day, after Sister Zhang and Sister Mu had left, my fellow Brother Guan, a co-worker from the upper echelons of our church, came to me and asked: “Brother Zhao, I heard that you both now believe in Eastern Lightning?” I told him earnestly, “Yes, I’ve accepted Almighty God’s work in the last days, because through the words of Almighty God I have come to understand many truths that I previously didn’t understand, such as the mysteries of His three stages of work and the significance of the incarnation of God. I see that the words of Almighty God are ‘what the Spirit says to the churches’ as prophesied in the Book of Revelation.” Brother Guan glanced over at me and said, “Brother Zhao, are you really going to follow what these people believe? Do you know what kind of people they are?” I said, “I see that they all have a great human nature and that they fellowship about the truth very clearly. Everything they discuss has to do with the truths of God’s work. I truly have gained a lot these past two days.” Brother Guan said to me angrily, “How can you be so stubborn? Hebrews 6:6–8 tell us: ‘If they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes oft on it, and brings forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God: But that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is near to cursing; whose end is to be burned.’ You are a preacher, you enjoy so much of the Lord’s grace, but not only are you not leading brothers and sisters to believe in the Lord, but instead you are leading them to leave our church. Aren’t you afraid of being punished? If you do not turn back, you will lose the Lord’s protection, and you will not live a happy life. Your previous sicknesses will recur, and your two children will not have good jobs….”
After brother Guan left, I felt a little nervous, and I thought to myself: The things he said seem to have some reason to them, so what should I do just in case my faith in Almighty God causes me to lose the Lord’s grace? When I thought about this, I felt my heart grow weak, so I hurriedly got down on my knees and prayed to God: “Almighty God! Brother Guan’s words have made me feel a bit weak. God! Are the things he said actually true or not? I really don’t know what to do now….” As I was praying to God, my wife came back, and I told her about what had just happened. After hearing this, she said nervously, “Is that really what he said?” I nodded my head, and my wife said worriedly, “He has been a major leader who has believed in the Lord for many years, and he’s well-versed in the Bible. I don’t think he would tell lies. If it’s really going to be like what he says, then what should we do?” Just then, I suddenly thought of the truth of God’s three stages of work that Sister Zhang and Sister Mu had fellowshiped about: God’s work for the salvation of mankind is divided into three stages, but all three stages of work are carried out by one God. As I thought about this, it suddenly became clear to me, and I blurted out to my wife: “What Brother Guan said doesn’t seem right. He said that by accepting God’s work in the last days we are leaving the way of the Lord and betraying the Lord Jesus, but the words of Almighty God that we have been reading these last few days are truly God’s voice and Almighty God is the returned Lord Jesus. By following Almighty God, we are actually following the footsteps of the Lamb. We are the ones who are the wise virgins. Why would the Lord punish us? …” We were in the middle of fellowshiping about this when Sister Zhang and Sister Mu came in …
My wife told the sisters what Brother Guan had said when he came to our house, and Sister Zhang asked me how I felt about this whole thing. So I told the sisters about the weakness that I had felt and about the understanding that I had just reached. Sister Zhang smiled, saying, “Thanks be to God! This is such a pure understanding, and this is God’s enlightenment and guidance!” My wife asked, confused, “Since we haven’t gone astray, why is Brother Guan saying those things? He is a major leader who has believed in the Lord for many years!” I looked at my wife and said: “He just wants us to come back to our former church!” Sister Zhang smiled and said, “Right now, all that we can see is their outward appearance, but we haven’t looked into the substance of their nature! The Lord Jesus once said: ‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering to go in’ (Matthew 23:13). ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like to white washed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness’ (Matthew 23:27). Judging by their outward appearance, the Pharisees were very loyal in their service to God. In people’s minds, the Pharisees were devout servants to God, and they were the most trustworthy of religious leaders. However, when the Lord Jesus came to carry out His work, the God-resisting nature of the Pharisees was revealed. It was these Pharisees who frantically resisted and condemned the work of the Lord Jesus. They fabricated all kinds of rumors and bore false witness to deceive the common people. They said that the Lord Jesus had cast out demons through Beelzebub, the prince of the demons. And once the Lord Jesus was resurrected three days after being nailed to the cross, they bribed soldiers to spread rumors about the Lord Jesus’ body being stolen away by His disciples, among other things. The Pharisees fabricated all kinds of lies and used all the tricks at their disposal to block people from seeking out and investigating the true way. Their goal was to ban the work of God so that they could forever hold dominion over God’s chosen people. Although they appeared devout on the outside, in essence they were antichrists who hated the truth and who stood as enemies to God. The Lord Jesus said when He exposed and condemned them: ‘You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?’ (Matthew 23:33). So now, let’s think about it: Are these religious leaders of today any different from the Pharisees?” The sisters then asked me to read a passage of Almighty God’s words: “There are those who read the Bible in grand churches and recite it all day long, yet not one among them understands the purpose of God’s work. Not one among them is able to know God; still less can any one among them accord with God’s will. They are all worthless, vile people, each standing on high to lecture God. They willfully oppose God even as they carry His banner. Claiming faith in God, still they eat the flesh and drink the blood of man. All such people are devils that devour the soul of man, head demons that deliberately get in the way of those trying to step onto the right path, and stumbling blocks impeding those who seek God. They may appear of ‘sound constitution,’ but how are their followers to know that they are none other than antichrists who lead people to stand against God? How are their followers to know that they are living devils dedicated to the devouring of human souls?” (“All People Who Do Not Know God Are People Who Oppose God” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). The sisters gave us a detailed fellowship according to these words of God, dissecting all the actions of religious leaders along with the substance of their nature, until finally I came to realize that they persistently disturb and obstruct us from believing in Almighty God, and even threaten and intimidate us, not in order to protect us, but rather so that they can hold dominion over God’s chosen people, so that we worship and enshrine them as if they were God. So actually, they are just like the Pharisees. They all are antichrists who hate the truth and resist God. God has come to save us, but they think up every possible method to stop us from accepting God’s work and to stop us from reading God’s words. Aren’t they pulling us down into hell by doing this? They truly are so malicious! If it weren’t for Almighty God’s words revealing the substance of how these people resist God and fight with God over man, then I would have nearly fallen for their tricks, ruining my own chance of attaining true salvation. Just then, my wife said in astonishment, “It turns out that they are here to do harm to us! These people really won’t quit until they’ve dragged us down into hell! I will no longer believe what they say.”
Sister Mu then read us another passage of God’s words: “In every step of work that God does within people, externally it appears to be interactions between people, as if born of human arrangements or from human interference. But behind the scenes, every step of work, and everything that happens, is a wager made by Satan before God, and requires people to stand firm in their testimony to God. Take when Job was tried, for example: Behind the scenes, Satan was making a bet with God, and what happened to Job was the deeds of men and the interference of men. Behind every step of work that God does in you is Satan’s wager with God—behind it all is a battle” (“Only Loving God Is Truly Believing in God” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). Then Sister Zhang started fellowshiping: “Through God’s words we can see that, whatever happens to us, though from the outside it may appear to be done by man, in reality it is Satan making a wager with God behind the scenes. It’s just like when Job was tempted by Satan. His wife asked him to abandon Jehovah, but Job was able to see through Satan’s trickery. He relied on his faith in God and he stood witness for God, and Job reprimanded his wife for being an ignorant and stubborn woman. Job’s experiences inform us that, for everyone that God wants to save, Satan will always frantically tempt and disturb them and pull out all the tricks at its disposal to attack them so that they forsake God and betray God, and ultimately lose their chance to attain true salvation. Since Satan wants to control and devour man forever, it really doesn’t want man to attain God’s salvation.” Sister Mu also fellowshiped: “It’s true. Time and time again, Satan uses leaders to attack us and intimidate us, with the goal of making us deny God, betray God and abandon the true way. This is the trickery of Satan. We must be able to clearly see this fight that is going on in the spiritual world.” After listening to the fellowship of these two sisters, I mulled things over for a while, and then said, “So Satan is making a wager with God, and it is through the things that leaders say that Satan attacks us where we’re weak, and it wants us to abandon the true way and leave God because of our cowardliness! Satan truly is treacherous!” Then my wife also said, “Satan is so repulsive! If we didn’t listen to God’s words and your fellowship, then how could we have known that this was one of Satan’s schemes?” I said with delight, “Now that we understand these things, we need to rely on God to break through Satan’s tight encirclement, stand witness for God, and shame Satan with our practical actions!” Sister Zhang then said cheerfully, “Brother, sister, from now on let’s come together more often to fellowship about the word of God. Only in this way can we equip ourselves with more of the truth so that we can someday soon be certain about God’s work in the last days and lay down a foundation in the true way, and then we will no longer be deceived by all manner of Satan’s rumors and outright lies.” I said, “Great! It would be great if you could come fellowship with us more often.” Sister Mu smiled and said, “Then that’s what we’ll do.”
Early in the morning a few days later, I got out of bed and looked out the window to see that there had been a big snowfall, and I started unconsciously rubbing my hands together. Then, I put on a wool cap and cotton gloves and went into the courtyard to sweep the snow. When I had finished, I went back inside and opened the top of the stove to stoke up the fire while my wife was tidying up the house. At this time my wife’s older brother and his wife came in, and as soon as my sister-in-law came in, she said in an anxious voice, “Leader Wang and Co-worker Guan came here and spoke so much to you, how could you not listen to them? They specifically asked us to come here today to try to persuade you once again. Do not believe in Eastern Lightning anymore. It is our leaders who take responsibility for our lives!” After hearing her say this, I said firmly, “If they truly take responsibility for our lives, then they ought to lead us to study Almighty God’s work in the last days and welcome the Lord’s return!” My wife then said bluntly, “They’re not doing this for our sake. They fear that if we all believe in Almighty God then there will be no one left to listen to them.” My sister-in-law became somewhat irritated upon hearing this and said, “How can you both say such things? They haven’t asked you to do anything else. Don’t they just want you to return to the church? Listen to me. Do you think I could mean you harm when our two families are so close?” My wife’s brother continued. “Think about how I’ve treated you over the years. Do you know how much we’ve done for you? Do you really have the heart to separate yourselves from us? Do you not feel guilty?” After hearing the two of them say these things, I felt very upset, and I thought to myself: “They really have helped us a lot, and now they see that we are insisting on following Almighty God. Surely, they feel deeply hurt, but what can be done? They may ask me to abandon the true way and to betray God but I cannot possibly do that, for I know that Almighty God is the returned Lord Jesus. But if I insist on believing in Almighty God, then what will they think of me? Will they say that I am ungrateful?” I felt upset just then, like my heart was being pulled in two different directions. I prayed to God in silence, asking Him to give me a way out. Suddenly, I thought about these words of God: “Everything that happens to people happens when God needs them to stand firm in their testimony to Him” (“Only Loving God Is Truly Believing in God” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). Then I thought back on the words that Sister Zhang and Sister Mu had fellowshiped with me a few days before: Everything that happens to you relates to the fight that is being waged in the spiritual world, and it is Satan making a wager with God. I was thinking, “Today my wife’s brother and my sister-in-law tried to use our kinship to urge us to betray God and return to religion, but this is one of Satan’s tricks. If I were to betray God in order to protect my private feelings, then that would truly be ungrateful and would show that I lack conscience. If I don’t want to let my brother-in-law down, then I should share with them God’s gospel of the last days so that they too will have an opportunity to attain God’s salvation. This is the only way to show the compassion that I ought to possess.” As I thought about this my heart suddenly filled with light, and I said: “Brother, sister-in-law, I know that you two have been good to me, and it’s because of this that I need to tell you that Almighty God really is the returned Lord Jesus. Only by following Almighty God’s work in the last days will we be able to attain God’s salvation! Otherwise, our faith in the Lord all these years will have been in vain, and we will gain nothing! Here, let me read to you a passage of God’s words, and after hearing it you will know whether or not these words are the truth, and whether or not they are God’s utterances.” I picked up my book of God’s words and was just about to start reading from it when my sister-in-law instantly stood up and said unhappily, “We came here today to try to persuade you, but instead of changing your minds, you even try to spread this gospel to us, but we will not listen to you.” After saying this, she grabbed her husband and stormed out in anger.
I followed them out into the courtyard until I got to the entryway, but I saw that they had already gotten quite far away. Feeling helpless, I stood there shaking my head. It was at this time that I saw that the weather had cleared up, and that a warm light was shining upon a pine tree outside of the courtyard. The snow that had accumulated on the pine tree started to melt, as if at that very moment the tree had just undergone a baptism. In contrast to the snow-covered ground, the straight and tall tree appeared especially verdant. I felt very happy, as if, like the pine tree, I had also experienced a baptism of wind and snow, and had grown from the nourishment of the sunshine. I knew that it was God’s words that had led me to break through this tight encirclement and stand witness for Him. Thanks be to Almighty God!