The devil must be stupid. He takes Jesus to a high mountain, shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and says, “All these things I will give to you if you fall down and worship me.”
Does he know who he’s talking to? Jesus created the world. What does Satan hope to gain by offering something that he doesn’t have to the one person that would know better and might take offense?
But Jesus doesn’t argue. In fact, he actually affirms the reality of Satan as “ruler of this world” in John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11. Paul agrees. He goes so far as to call Satan the “god of this world” in II Corinthians 4:4. John claims that “the whole world lies under the power of the evil one” (I John 5:19).
Before you go back to the Old Testament and start pulling verses to defend the absolute sovereignty of God, take a moment to respect the witness of Christ and the apostles. Then take a look around. If Satan truly is the ruler of this world, that would explain a whole heck of a lot.
Left to ourselves, we make a pretty good mess of things, but with an invisible overlord, armed with a genius mind and millions of demons, what hope do we have? We should expect a world that has been remade into the image of its tyrant king, a world full of liars and murderers (John 8:44). Sounds about right.
This perspective can be a relief in a way. If we recognize the true source of depravity and death in the world, we can stop wondering how God can be so good and the world be so bad. According to Jesus, there is light and there is darkness, and the lines are clearly drawn.
There is also hope: The Son of God appeared for this purpose: that he might destroy the works of the devil. (I John 3:8b)
To say that Jesus came to die for our sins would not be wrong, but it would be extremely short-sighted, sort of like saying that an exterminator came to a termite-infested house just to clean the toilets.
Think of Jesus as a single light bulb in an absolutely dark world. Within the sphere of his light there was righteousness, the way things were supposed to be. Truth was spoken. Bodies were healed. Demons were cast out. Even death was reversed. He was not just revealing his divine power, but offering humanity a vision for the world, a world without sin and death, a world without the devil.
In order to take back the people of the world, Jesus had to bind the “strong man” that governed them (Matt. 12:29). I wonder if the devil had a sickening moment of insight when Jesus was being raised up on the cross, realizing that it was a serpent that Moses raised in the wilderness, not an eagle or a lion. The devil’s efforts to get Jesus off the earth would ultimately result in his own expulsion (Rev. 20:10).
But Jesus did not destroy the works of the devil by simply completing a divine transaction, but by starting a human revolution.
When he came out of the tomb, he was not the spirit being that he was before the incarnation, or the human being he was before the crucifixion. He was something that no one, not even the devil, had anticipated—the first resurrected man.
Think about the implications. This man, who remains a biological descendent of David, is considered worthy of a position of authority above all created things. He takes his position of authority at the right hand of the throne of God, and there is no sin or disease or threat of death that can touch him. The devil has absolutely no grip on him. (Phil. 1:8-11, Rom. 6:7-10)
Then, as promised, Jesus sends his Spirit to his disciples that they might share his righteousness and authority, continuing his mission on the the earth (Matt. 28:18-20). If they die, they get to share in his resurrection as well. Sin has lost its power. Death has lost its sting.
Think about it this way: Jesus lived year number 33 in his own body, and year number 34 in Peter’s and John’s and Phillip’s and Mary’s and thousands of others. For better or worse, he’s living year number 2016 in mine. And many of yours.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself up for me. Gal. 2:20
We are temples of the living God (I Cor. 6:19). A branch to a vine (John 15). A body to a head (Col 1:18). And what connects our heads to our bodies? The central nervous system. When it comes Christ and his Church, the Holy Spirit is our nervous system, the divine person who “will not speak on his own initiative, but whatever he hears, he will speak . . . He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and will disclose it to you.” (John 16:13-14)
How must Satan have felt when Peter and John went to the temple and healed that lame beggar? Jesus was dead and gone, right? But when the two disciples were dragged in front of the religious leaders they basically said, “You crucified Jesus. You buried him. But he’s back. And he’s not just in one or two of us. He’s in thousands!”
That’s why in John 14:12, Jesus said: “He who believes in me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works.” Greater in quantity, not quality.
Jesus was back, but not like he was before. As a resurrected man, he had earned an authority that could retake the world from the ground floor, working in and through his people. Because of Christ, humans could finally get past that flaming sword, back into Eden where they belonged.
But we’re not there yet, not all the way. The mission that began at the incarnation continues today, and there are still as many casualties as there are victories. If you claim Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have made yourself available to God’s global effort to take back the world from the devil. That is our mission. That is our responsibility. Each of us.
From the teenager that takes a stand against lust, to the mother who teaches her children to tell the truth, to the father who fights off his daughter’s abusive boyfriend, to the social worker that strives for freedom and equal rights, to the politician who lobbies for justice, to every pastor, evangelist, counselor and prayer warrior—we are all in this together, and we can’t do it properly without the indwelling life of of the risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament writers were anxious for the coming of a Spirit-filled son of David who would rise up in Israel, initiating a kingdom that would ultimately become a light to all the Gentile nations. But they had no idea what God really had in mind. They were not allowed to know (Col. 1:26, Eph. 3:5). Maybe God wanted to keep his solution a secret from the devil. Maybe he just wanted to blow their minds.
Either way, Jesus came. And when he came, he expanded and clarified our understanding of spiritual realities. Without Jesus, we would not be talking about the Trinity, we would not be talking about heaven or hell, and we would certainly not recognize the reality of the spiritual forces that surround us, or the tools at our disposal to engage with them. If we minimize this reality, dropping our weapons because “God is in control” and “everything happens for a reason,” we play right into the devil’s hands.
It’s time that the Church sees it’s salvation as part of a two-thousand-year-old effort to destroy the works of the devil by the authority of the risen Christ. We need to continue to pray for the coming of the kingdom, that God’s will would be done on earth as it is heaven, rather than assuming it already is. We need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling that we might say with Christ, “the ruler of this world is coming, but he has nothing in me” (John 14:30), looking forward to the day when Christ will return, the tyrants are removed, and the meek will inherit the earth.