At 7:48 a.m. on December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, with some 353 aircraft, launched a surprise attack against the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu. The attack led to the US. officially entering into WW II the next day. Japan also led coordinated surprise attacks against U.S.-held Philippines, Guam and Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malay, Singapore and Hong Kong.
The U.S. Navy suffered major damage at Pearl Harbor. All eight of the battleships there were damaged and four were sunk. Other Naval vessels were sunk or damaged, including three cruisers, three destroyers. A total of 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Dec. 7, 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy.” The attack happened without a declaration of war and without explicit warning.
We too, as believers, have an enemy who carries out “surprise attacks,” hoping to catch us “asleep at the switch.” Thus Scripture is full of warnings to “be alert,” For example, Peter wrote: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Pet. 5: 8). The warning was not only to young Christians, but also to the elders (I Pet. 5:1). Satan works hard to cause Christian leaders to fall, destroying not only that leader’s influence for Christ, but also giving occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme (II Sam. 12:14). The devil will gulp down his victims like a lion, but doesn’t always come as a roaring lion, but rather as a deceiver, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Mt. 7:15). The Apostle John, in The Revelation given to him while in exile on the Isle of Patmos, wrote of a time in the future when “the great dragon (will be) thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world…(Rev. 12:9). The Apostle Paul warns us that our adversary, Satan, “disguises himself as an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14), appealing to our pride or our appetite or our desire for material things—whatever he discerns might usurp the preeminent place of Christ and His Word in our lives and then tempts us with a convincing rationale that will cause us to let it do just that—and we don’t see it coming. It is a very subtle, surprise attack—“I didn’t see that coming!”
Satan is deceptive and powerful. Paul encourages us to “…be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything to stand firm…in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one” (Eph. 6:10-17).
Our enemy knows our weaknesses and when we are most vulnerable. He will often carry out his “surprise attacks” accordingly. One of those times seems to be when we have just had a “spiritual high” in our lives, like just after we committed our lives to Him for salvation or for service, or we have seen God work in a special way and have had a “mountain-top experience.” Jesus, remember, was fully God AND fully man. A high point for Him in His earthly mission and ministry had to be His baptism by His second cousin, John the Baptist, for when He came up out of the water, “…behold, the heavens were opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold a voice out of the heavens, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’” (Mt. 3:16,17). The very next verse tells us, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mt. 4:1). First, however, Jesus “fasted for forty days and forty nights” (v. 2) during which time He undoubtedly spent much time communicating with His Father, preparing for His upcoming public ministry. At that time Jesus hunger pains would have returned and He would need to eat to keep His body alive. “And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If (since) you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread’” (v. 3). Satan planned His attack at the moment when Jesus, reveling in the high of His baptism and the voice from Heaven and time spent with His Father, was now desperately in need of food. Satan’s first temptation? “Since You are God, just turn these stones into bread”—and Jesus could have. But He resisted Satan’s temptation by quoting from Scripture (Deut. 8): “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (v. 4). Jesus was prepared for Satan’s “surprise attack” by knowing “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph. 6:17). Jesus had such a high regard for the integrity, authority and power of Scripture that He quoted from it 39 times in Matthew’s gospel alone.
We too need to be prepared—always—for Satan’s attacks (often after a spiritual high or spiritual commitment), “in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (II Cor. 2:11). The best way to be prepared is by staying in the Word, studying, memorizing and meditating on Scripture. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…” (Col. 3:16).“… Be on the alert…” (I Pet. 5: 8), “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Take away the enemy’s element of surprise!