With all that is wrong with the world, the idea that Christians even have a chance at making significant progress over evil is preposterous to some. Where would we even begin to clean up this terrestrial mess? Rather than striving to answer that important question, we make excuses. By far the most popular one being that Satan is in charge of the spiritual status of the world. After all, isn’t he called the deceiver of the whole world (Rev. 12:9), the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4), and doesn’t he prowl around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8)? Satan is alive and well on planet earth, or so we’re told. But that statement is only half true. Satan is indeed alive but he is not well. It is the consistent teaching of scripture that Satan’s power as a deceiver and his earthly influence have been significantly diminished by Christ’s earthly ministry.
Satan’s defeat foretold and fulfilled
Genesis 3:15 contains what is perhaps the first explicit revelation of the Messiah’s victory over Satan. The passage has been commonly referred to as the protoevangelium (the “first gospel”) for its original proclamation of God’s plan to conquer and defeat the ultimate evil in the world. It is the grand scheme told and retold throughout the entire Bible of how God would bring about the Devil’s defeat through a human offspring, namely Jesus Christ.
The protoevangelium appears right after God pronounces Eve’s curse for disobeying Him in the garden after being deceived by the serpent. God then addresses how He would seek retribution for the serpent’s deception through the woman’s offspring, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15, NIV). The prophecy speaks of someone who is born from a descendant of Eve who will suffer a minor injury during the process of striking a harder blow to the serpent’s head.There is only one point in history where this prophecy could possibly have been fulfilled and that was during Jesus’ crucifixion on Calvary or Golgotha (the place of the skull) when Christ crushed the one who has the power of death (i.e., the devil) by becoming a sacrifice for mankind (Heb. 2:14). The details of the prophecy indicate two important reasons why its fulfillment had to have taken place during Jesus’ first advent. The text teaches that the one who crushes the serpent’s head is:
- human. We are told that he is the woman’s offspring, thus, the prophecy must be tied to the incarnation. Even Eve anticipated Satan’s conqueror would be human. After giving birth to her first son she explained, “I have gotten a man” adding “even the LORD” (Gen. 4:1) indicating she was expecting herself to give birth to the Messiah. Some translations add “with help of the LORD” in italics for the reason that the word “help” is not in the Hebrew texts nor the Greek Septuagint; thus, the former translation is more favorable and shows that Eve’s instincts about the coming Messiah were correct, but her timing was way off! Eve’s statement proves that even the earliest mortals ever to walk the earth knew there would be one to be born of mankind who would gain the ultimate defeat over the serpent.
- injured in the process. We are never told that Christ would be injured post-ascension. Such an idea is unthinkable considering that he is now in His glorified state (Jhn. 17:5), and seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places (Acts. 2:33; Eph. 1:20). However, we are told that he would be wounded during his first advent (Isa. 53:5). Thus, it is fitting to apply the crucifixion narrative as the fulfillment of the bruising of Satan’s head.
Satan was rendered impaired at the cross, symbolized by the bruising of his head. It was the hope of the Older Testament (OT) saints ever since its pronouncement at Eden. Throughout the OT, God reminded his people of his promise through typological shadow’s: first through the head impalement of Sisera by the hand of Jael (Jdg. 4:21; 5:25); next, the skull fractures of Avimelech incurred at the tower of Tevetz, (Jdg. 9:53, 54); and finally, the decapitation of Goliath by David, (1 Sam. 17:49-51). Each story serves as a reminder that God had not forgotten his promise which found its realization in the cross of Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews rightfully states in his epilogue of the promise:
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).
Satan is bound
Not only is Satan severely injured from the victory achieved by Christ on the cross, but Satan is now a bound creature. This is clearly expressed in Jesus’s parable of the binding of the strongman. What prompted Jesus to tell this parable was the Pharisee’s comment that he was casting out demons by the power of Satan. The Pharisees rightfully recognized that Jesus was defeating Satan’s kingdom, however, they wrongfully concluded that his ability to do so came from Satan himself (Mrk. 3:22). After Jesus pointed out the absurdity of the Pharisee’s way of thinking that Satan would want to be divided against himself (vs. 23-26), he then illustrates where the threat to Satan’s power was really coming from, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house (v. 27). Jesus is insinuating himself to be the one who binds the strong man [Satan] and plunders his house. Was Jesus able to cast out demons by his own power and not Satan’s? Yes! Then according to His illustration of the strong man, Satan is currently bound and Jesus is plundering his house.
In the book of Revelation we see the binding of Satan described from a heavenly perspective:
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended…” (Revelation 20:1-3, ESV).
Some eschatological schools of thought push this prophecy far off into the future as something that is accomplished during Christ’s second advent. Caution is advised against this position for the reason that we were already told that Jesus bound Satan during his first advent and earthly ministry (Mrk. 3:27; Mat. 12:29). The issue is then raised concerning the “thousand year” time period in which Satan is bound. Careful consideration of God’s use of the term “thousand” lead us to the understanding that the term is meant to convey completeness or an indefinite large unit of measurement, in this case, time period. Let’s compare God’s previous uses of the term “a thousand”:
- “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9).
- “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psa. 50:10).
- “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psa. 84:10).
None of these passages intends on specifying an exact unit of measurement, for instance on how many generations God keeps his steadfast love with, how many hills He owns, or how many days are better than one day in His courts. Similarly, the time frame of Satan’s bondage is not the center point here, rather the focus of this passage is on the implication of his bondage, that he might not deceive the nations any longer (v.3).
Ruler of this world cast out
Christ’s resurrection and ascension is also linked to Satan’s defeat: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (Jhn. 12:31-32). Was Jesus lifted up from the earth? Yes He was! So then the ruler of this world has been cast out. The result of Satan’s casting out is that Christ, now being exalted, would now draw all people to himself. Satan would no longer be in a position to deceive the nations in order to keep them from drawing near to know and receive Jesus as their true King.
Jesus graciously lets his followers share in his conquest over Satan. In Luke’s gospel he announces that Satan undertook a serious defeat by the ministry of the seventy-two disciples. After they returned from their mission and reported that the demons were subject to them in Christ’s name, Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightening” (Lk. 10:18). Like thunderbolts, Satan fell to the earth quick and swift. His defeat was instantaneous. Jesus’s followers were able to overcome Satan and his evil forces because he had given them “authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy…” (v.19).
Again, we see this very same theme of Satan’s fall by the participation of Christ’s followers recapitulated in Revelation:
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” (Rev. 12:9-11).
Some see this passage as looking back at Lucifer’s fall. Others see it as describing Satan’s ultimate destruction at the end of time. More likely, it refers to the victory Jesus and his followers shared over Satan during the early stages of the christian church. This must be the case for the reason that in this passage Satan’s fall is contemporary with the coming of Christ’s salvation (Lk. 19:9-10), power (Eph. 1:21), kingdom (Mrk. 1:14), and authority (Mat. 28:18). Furthermore, it is by the “blood of the lamb” by which the brothers were able to conquer Satan, a reference to Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. Since this passage occurred during the early church, we should now think of Satan as thrown down to the earth, residing positionally in the lowest place in all the cosmos.
Prince of the power of the air
Satan is also referred to as the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). This term is probably synonymous with “ruler of this world”. The Greek word archōn can be used for both “ruler” and “prince.” The reference to “air” might be regarding the atmospheric region which could imply the world. We were already told in the gospel of John that Christ’s ascension meant that the ruler of this world would be cast out and that Christ would draw all people to himself (Jhn 12:31-32) so there is no new threat being introduced in this title for Satan. Furthermore, Paul tells the Ephesians that Satan’s work as the prince of the power of the air was overturned in them by God’s rich mercy and great love (Eph. 2:4), demonstrated by making them alive with Christ and saved by grace (Eph. 2:5).
We also see another title, Beel’zebul the name given to Satan, and found only in the New Testament (Mat. 10:25; 12:24; 12:27; Mrk. 3:22). It is probably the same as Baalzebub (q.v.), the god of Ekron, meaning “the lord of flies,” or, as others think, “the lord of dung,” or “the dung-god.” (Elwell, 1997). Not a very flattering name, and certainly not a name that carries the connotation of great power and authority.
Satan’s influence is limited
Satan currently exercises his influence and deceit but it is limited and does not compare to the power Jesus is currently exercising (Jhn. 1:1; 14:30). Even Peter’s discussion of the fiery trial to come upon the church through Satan’s walking about like a roaring lion is bracketed with reference to Christ’s mighty dominion (1 Pet. 4:11; 5:11). Satan is indeed a dangerous creature, one who Christians should be on guard against. However, the type of caution we should use when dealing with Satanic activity is not the same as one uses when dealing with a great subjugator, but rather the prudence one employs with a shackled rabid animal. Chained beasts can still be a danger if one falls into its range of mobility, but they are still chained and as long as wisdom is used, a bound creature poses no real threat.
Sometimes individuals are handed over to Satan’s torment for severe immorality. On one occasion, Paul had instructed the church to deliver an incestuous person to Satan for the “destruction of the flesh” in order that his soul might be saved (1 Cor. 5:5). He also himself had handed over two individuals to Satan with the expectation it would teach them not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). On both accounts, Paul used Satan for judgment on extremely disobedient people who had made a “shipwreck” of their faith in hope they would later be restored. The activity Satan had over these individuals was not on his own terms but Paul’s and ultimately God’s. Much like a zoo keeper, Paul delivers a slab of meet to a caged beast for him to devour. Satan was only able to exercise activity over the aforementioned persons because they had been delivered to him.
It is true that Satan is a deceiver and a liar, but those who fall for his craftiness do so because they make themselves susceptible through unrighteousness and unbelief. In 2 Thessalonians we are told that Satan’s activity comes with “all power, and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception” (2:9). However, this trickery is only reserved for “those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2:10). The same idea is conveyed in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4 where Paul says, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing” adding “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” Both passages indicate it is those who are already perishing to be the ones who are deceived by Satan. The first group are those who refuse to love the truth (1 Thes. 2:10), and the second group are those whose minds are hardened, and so veiled to the glory of Christ in the New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:12-17; 4:1-4). Satan does exercise power and deceit but is limited to those who insist on rejecting the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The god of this world (age)
The phrase “god of this world” found in 2 Corinthians 4:4 deserves special attention for the reason it seems to be the premier passage quoted by those who would ascribe more power and influence to Satan over the physical world than he really deserves. This phrase is often used to denote that Satan has been given the ability to exercise control over the spiritual status of the world, but a closer look at this passage defeats this understanding.
Firstly, when something is described as a god, it does not mean that it contains power but that it receives worship. Paul mentions those whose “god is their belly” (Php. 3:19). Satan does not possess any more divine power than a good appetite does. The phrase “god of this world” intends to communicate that Satan is inadvertently worshiped.
Secondly, “god of this world” is an inaccurate translation. The Greek word used here is aiōn which means “age” and not kosmos (world). Thus, the phrase is better understood to be “the god of this age.” what age was Paul referring to? According to the context of chapters 3 and 4 it is the Old Covenant age (3:14). It is the age which was becoming obsolete, growing old, and ready to pass away (Heb. 8:13). Those who were blinded by the “god of this age” refused to see Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament writings because of the hardness of their hearts which were veiled (3:15). The blindness and veiling of their hearts are certainly not good enough reasons to credit Satan with great deceptive power, for all they needed to do in order to have the veil removed was to turn to the Lord (3:16). Clearly, the veiling and blindness were voluntary, brought about by their hardness of hearts.
As we see from a closer look, the term “god of this age” does not carry the connotation that Satan is the dominant force in the world.
Jesus now has all authority, power, and dominion over earth
Contrarily, as Satan was cast down, King Jesus was simultaneously lifted up and exulted! He currently posses all power and authority in heaven and on earth (Mat. 28:18). It is Christ who is “above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21). And to Lord Jesus is now accredited with “glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jud. 25). As a result of Christ’s exultation, the Gospel has more power to open people’s eyes to the light of Christ than Satan has to keep them in darkness (Acts. 26:18). Christ now shines in a dark place, but the dark cannot overcome him (Jhn. 1:1).
Five centuries ago Martin Luther wrote these words concerning the prince of darkness:
“And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.”
Can we sing those words today? do we have enough courage not to tremble at the thought of Satan? Can we find security and encouragement in the power, authority, and dominion of Christ our Lord? We can! The Bible assures us of that. Because of Satan’s desperation and God’s judgment we still see his influence today, but only as a bound, cast out, thrown down, and head-injured creature. He is no threat to Christ’s kingdom or commission to the church to disciple the nations .
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