The Devil’s Defeat
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:8)
Satan seems to be very active these days. Pastors and counselors encounter people with memories of Satanic ritual abuse. These people recall that when they were children, some adults forced them to be involved in rituals involving blood and black magic and Satan worship. They may even remember being offered to Satan as his property. In many cases it’s hard to prove if these things actually happened or if the memories are false. No doubt some people were victims of occult abuse, while others may be victims of horrid illusions planted in their minds by evil powers. Either way, these people feel torn, confused, and in bondage to the powers of darkness.
Other people run up against Satan in a different way. They experiment with the occult and toy with horoscopes, tarot cards, Ouija boards, and séances. They may do it out of curiosity or to get a thrill, and in some cases, it’s more of a game to them than anything serious. But some get more than they bargained for. They sink deeper and deeper into the grip of dark powers that are beyond them, and they can’t shake themselves free. In the Bible God strongly warns against fortune telling, sorcery, omens, witchcraft, spells, mediums, psychics, and séances to contact the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-11), but many people ignore the Lord’s warnings. People have told me how they got into these things almost as a game at first, but they ended up feeling trapped and terrorized by evil forces.
A disturbing number of young people commit suicide after mixing occult practices with drugs and alcohol and music that focuses on demons and death. Also, some of the most vicious serial killers have been fascinated with the demonic. This can even happen on a political and national scale. There’s considerable evidence that Hitler, Hess, Goebbels, and Himmler were deeply involved in occult practices, and so were many other people in Nazi Germany at that time. A number of murderous tyrants were communists who acted in the name of Karl Marx. They claimed not to believe in God or Satan, but they did a lot of Satan’s work. There are strong hints that Marx himself sensed the touch of demons. When Marx rejected God, he wrote,
The hellish vapours rise and fill the brain
Till I go mad and my heart is utterly changed
See this sword? The prince of darkness
Sold it to me.
In another poem Marx wrote,
Thus heaven I’ve forfeited
I know it full well
My soul once true to God
Is chosen for hell.
After Friedrich Engels first met Marx, he described him as “a monster possessed by thousands of devils.” Was all this talk of being moved by demonic powers just a poetic figure of speech, or was it a hellish reality?
Satan’s Many Methods
Satan doesn’t just work through occult practices and witches and demon worship. Some of his deadliest schemes are carried out by people who don’t believe the devil even exists, who don’t resort to black magic or voodoo or rituals involving blood and bats’ wings. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “I like bats much better than bureaucrats… The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of iniquity’… It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”
Perhaps the only thing more dangerous than Satan worshippers are those who don’t believe Satan exists. They are educated, sophisticated, efficient—and unaware of who is really calling the shots for them; unaware of the damage they are doing in the service of Satan. To sacrifice a child as part of a demonic ritual in some dark room is no more pleasing to Satan than to abort a child in a well-lit clinic full of stainless steel. To place someone under a voodoo curse is no more pleasing to Satan than to use the finest textbooks and computers to educate a child to think and act as though God doesn’t matter.
Satan is equally pleased by those who are obsessed with his power and those who deny his power. In some parts of the world, people live in such fear of demons and witchcraft and magical powers that they will do anything to please those dark forces. In other areas, Satan doesn’t have such an easy time scaring people into his service, so he uses the opposite strategy. He keeps a low profile and convinces people that there is no Satan—and maybe no God, either.
That works for a while, but many people find it hard to go on without any religion at all. They feel an urge for something spiritual and supernatural. Satan is waiting to fill the void. He offers an array of non-Christian religions and pagan gods and goddesses and occult practices. He offers New Age ideas that aren’t really much newer than Satan himself. When people in nations that were once largely Christian forsake Christ and the Bible, they may at first swing to the extreme of not believing in a spiritual realm at all. But soon many swing to the other extreme and believe in paganism or pantheism.
Satan is very powerful and very tricky. Sometimes he uses witchdoctors, and sometimes he uses corporate executives to do his work. Sometimes he controls people by sheer intimidation, and other times he tells sweet little lies and lures people into temptations and habits they can’t seem to break. Sometimes he attacks the church through vicious persecution, and other times he sneaks into the church through false teaching and tries to destroy it from the inside. Satan has many methods but always one goal: to cut people off from God and destroy them.
I’m not saying all this because I want to focus on Satan. I want to focus on Satan’s conqueror, the Lord Jesus Christ. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). The devil is real. We need to know his schemes and realize that he’s dangerous. But we also need to know that he’s defeated.
How does Jesus defeat the devil and destroy his work? Shortly before Jesus was arrested and crucified, he said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:31-32). By being lifted up on the cross, Jesus would drive Satan back, break the devil’s hold on us, and draw people of every kind away from Satan and into relationship with Christ.
When Jesus died on the cross, he defeated Satan and broke the chains of sin and death that held humanity prisoner. All through the time of Jesus’ public ministry, he battled with Satan and cast out demons, but those encounters were just skirmishes compared to the decisive battle that was fought at Calvary. On the cross, Jesus drove Satan back and won the victory that decided the outcome of the war once and for all.
It didn’t look that way, however. To all appearances, the cross was Satan’s greatest victory, the triumph of evil over good. And in a way that’s true. It was the devil’s hour. But Christ took Satan’s finest hour, his greatest victory, and turned it into a devastating defeat. What happened that made Jesus’ death such a victory for Jesus and such a defeat for Satan? The Bible describes a number of blows that Jesus dealt to Satan at the cross.
The Tempter Disregarded
First, Jesus disregarded Satan the tempter. The Bible says that Christ was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Early in Jesus’ ministry Satan tempted him to take a shortcut to glory. He promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, if only Jesus would worship him. No suffering, no humiliation, no need to follow the hard path laid out by God—just instant power. But Jesus refused. Later, Satan spoke again, this time through Jesus’ friend Peter, again urging the Lord to follow the path of power rather than humility and suffering. But Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan.”
Finally, the tempter pulled out all the stops as Jesus neared the end. The horror of death and hell loomed in front of Jesus. Would he finally cave in and disobey his Father’s plan and take the easy way? Jesus said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (John 12:27-28). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Satan’s temptation to take the easy way instead of God’s way hit Jesus with even greater force, but Jesus prayed, “Father, not my will, but yours be done.”
Another of Satan’s temptations is to hate and seek revenge on those who hurt us. But again, Jesus disregarded the tempter. Jesus’ tormentors slapped him, but he didn’t fight back. They mocked him, but he remained silent. The soldiers nailed his hands and feet, but did Jesus give in to hatred? No, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). When the onlookers mocked him and told him to come down from the cross, Jesus could have come down then and there and called on thousands of angels to destroy his tormentors. But Jesus knew he had to obey his Father and fulfill the Scriptures, not seek revenge. There at the cross Jesus faced Satan’s toughest temptations and disregarded the tempter.
The Liar Disproved
A second blow Jesus dealt Satan at the cross was that he disproved Satan the Liar. Satan would like us to think that the way of this fallen world is really better than God’s way, even though it’s rooted in sin and disobedience. But at the cross Jesus exposed the world system for what it is: utterly evil and deadly. How did he do that? He stood before the chief priests (representing the world’s most advanced religious system) and the Roman governor (representing the world’s most advanced legal system), and he brought out the worst in them.
Satan has always wanted the systems and peoples of this world to approve of business as usual, to think they’re in touch with true wisdom. At the cross, however, Jesus exposed the fact that they are completely out of touch with true spiritual wisdom. “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8).
Sometimes we maintain a mask of politeness. Things look okay on the surface, and we’d like to think there’s nothing wrong with the way things are. We may even think we’re in tune with God. But when God actually showed up in the form of a man, we attacked and killed him. Jesus forced the pretenses to fall away, and at the cross the world, its people, its religious system, its legal system, and the devil who calls the shots were all exposed as enemies of God.
That means big trouble for Satan. He specializes in deception. He doesn’t want us to admit our sin or think that there’s anything seriously wrong with a world under his domination. He’d like us to believe the lie: “I’m okay, you’re okay. Don’t worry about what God says.” But at the cross Jesus disproved that lie once and for all. If the world is okay, it wouldn’t have killed Jesus. If I’m okay, and you’re okay, then why did Jesus have to die? At the cross Jesus disproved the great Liar and exposed sin for what it is.
The Accuser Dismissed
A third blow Jesus dealt to Satan at the cross is this: he dismissed Satan the accuser. Satan specializes in extremes. He tries to get you to believe the lie that sin is no problem and evil is okay, but if that strategy doesn’t work, he tries to drive you to the other extreme. Satan tries to make you think your sins are so horrible and you’re so rotten and worthless that there’s no hope for you. But at the cross Jesus wrecked that strategy of Satan.
Satan the accuser likes to turn God’s law against us and torment us with our guilt and frighten us with the punishments required by the law. But Jesus took the curse of the law upon himself. The Bible says, “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). Jesus suffered the punishment we deserve. His blood wiped the record clean. Now when Satan tries to accuse me or drive me to despair, Jesus defends me. All Satan’s charges, all the evidence he can bring up about how rotten I am—it’s all thrown out of God’s courtroom.
Satan leads us into sin. He keeps track of every sin that marks each of us as his property. But when Satan tries to bring charges against us before God, Jesus’ blood wipes the whole record clean. That’s what happened to the criminal on the cross next to Jesus. Satan had lured that man into a lifetime of crime and wickedness. This man could say nothing in his own defense, and Satan could accuse him of everything in the book. And yet, in the end, this man looked to Jesus, and suddenly there were no more accusations, no more condemnation, just paradise and eternity with God. What a defeat of Satan’s strategy! A life-long criminal, home free! The blood of Jesus neutralizes all Satan’s work and all his accusations. Every time another person looks to Jesus on the cross and finds that a lifetime of sin is cancelled, the accuser from hell must howl with frustration.
And heaven rejoices. According to the Bible, a loud voice from heaven shouts: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:10-11). The blood of Jesus shed on the cross—that’s what takes away our guilt and defends us against Satan the accuser.
The Killer Disarmed
Let’s look at a fourth blow the devil suffered at Calvary: Jesus disarmed Satan the killer. Satan is like a terrorist, holding us hostage to our fear of death. Death is his most fearsome weapon. But at the cross Jesus disarmed the killer. Jesus entered into death “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery to their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
The disarming of death became evident the moment Jesus died. “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life” (Matthew 27:52). Poor Satan! One moment he was holding death as the ultimate weapon, and the next moment Jesus had disarmed him. Graves were popping open! And now, every time a person dies in Christ, he or she wakes up not in Satan’s clutches but in glory, with a splendid resurrection body guaranteed. Satan can’t intimidate us through persecution or fear of death any more. We can live our lives in the certainty that neither demons nor death nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).
The Mocker Disgraced
Still another aspect of Jesus’ victory over Satan is that Jesus disgraced Satan the mocker. Satan’s original sin is pride, but at the cross Jesus made the proud prince of this world look utterly ridiculous. The Bible says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).
Satan always mocks a “goody-goody.” He makes evil seem so daring and exciting. But Jesus turned the tables, and Satan was the one who ended up being disgraced. At first almost everyone was mocking Jesus as he hung on the cross. But then what happened? After Jesus died, a sense of shame descended on the people when they began to realize what they had done. “When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away” (Luke 23:48). Right there, in Satan’s proudest moment, his servants were filled with shame and disgrace.
That was just a glimpse of the shame Satan was enduring in the spiritual realm. The devil had given it his best shot and failed. Jesus disregarded the tempter, he disproved the liar, he defended against the accuser, he disarmed the killer, and in the process he disgraced the proud mocker.
The Tyrant Dethroned
A final blow Jesus inflicted on Satan at the cross was that Jesus dethroned Satan the tyrant. Satan’s power is broken. Now his defeat is sure. The war isn’t quite over, but the decisive battle has been won. Satan’s power is crumbling. The Bible shows that when Jesus died, Satan’s victims were liberated one after another. The thief on the cross beside Jesus went from sin to paradise. The mockers went away ashamed of themselves. The officer who supervised the execution suddenly exclaimed, “Surely, this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). Then two rich politicians who were interested in Jesus but afraid to identify with him—Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea—refused to hold back any longer. As they saw Jesus’ body hanging there, they stepped forward to be counted among Jesus’ friends, and they placed Jesus’ body in a tomb. They decided they would rather die with Jesus than live with Satan’s way of operating. And what happened out in the cemetery? Graves were popping open!
From there it only got worse for Satan. A few days later, Jesus rose from the dead. He ascended to the throne of heaven and poured out his Holy Spirit on his followers. He sent them out to tell others of his victory, “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). The news has kept spreading ever since. The devil is defeated. Satan can’t win.
But, you might wonder, if that’s true, why are there still so many troubles and horrors in the world, such as those I mentioned earlier? It sure seems the devil is alive and well. But the Bible explains: Satan “is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12). He’s doomed, so he’s doing all the damage he can in the time he has left.
Satan is still powerful and dangerous, but he is defeated. He’s living on borrowed time. There’s no way he can survive what Christ did to him at the cross. Satan is already restricted in what he can do, and in the end, God will cast him into the lake of fire.
In the meantime, don’t let Satan bluff you. He’s not winning. He’s already lost. He’s not the greatest power in the universe. Jesus is. Maybe you’ve been in the grip of occult or voodoo or demonic powers, but those powers can’t hold you when you look to Christ and his cross. Maybe you’re in the grip of habits that seem unbreakable, but don’t despair. Jesus has broken Satan’s power, and he can set you free. Maybe you think the outlook for the world is hopeless, but think again. Trust Jesus. He has already won the victory by his death and resurrection.