A Prayer of Jesus I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
Jesus, John 16:33
The world acted to destroy Jesus as soon as he was born. Satan, who was the prince of this world, immediately recognized Jesus as his eternal nemesis and quickly marshaled his forces for a war unto death. The combatants in this cosmic struggle are the focus of this chapter. It describes their strategies, defines the essence of their warfare, and explains the ultimate victory of our Lord.
When Jesus was born, Satan's sub regent, King Herod, resolved to destroy the infant and when he learned the location of the birth, he dispatched a detachment of soldiers to destroy him. Not knowing the specific identity of the child, but only the place of birth, he resolved to kill every male infant in Bethlehem and its surrounding territory (Matthew 2:16). Jesus escaped this slaughter only because a dream forewarned Joseph to flee to Egypt, which was outside Herod's jurisdiction (Matthew 2:13). What we see here is the primary action in a conflict between the ruler of this world and the Son of God.
The Infant Invader
There is a prophetic passage that foretold this conflict. I refer to the Second Psalm, where we read: "Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us" (Psalm 2:1-2).
We are reading here of the hostility and bitter enmity that characterized the conflict between two opposing sets of allies. The Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, allied under the Kings of the earth and the rulers of Israel, are joined in combat with the Lord (God) and his anointed one (Jesus). The prime consequence of this is that the Messiah is to "break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel" (Psalm 2:6-9). Take note of the rod of iron.
Thus were the battle lines drawn from before his birth until the moment of his victorious death on the cross. Jesus lived within the world as an alien invader in a hostile land. He committed himself fully to the tasks of overthrowing its government and inaugurating a new administration that was wholly and radically contrary to the desires of all people. He viewed the rulers of Israel and of the whole world as the enemy – wicked, hostile and vicious – which had set itself to destroy him. It was not only the rulers whom he identified as the enemy. Taking his cue from the Second Psalm, which portrays the "gentiles" and "peoples" as plotting against him, he broadened the scope of his identification of the enemy to include all men. He appropriated the word, "men" as his generic term for the enemy. Listen:
The Battle Lines
Get behind me Satan, for you are not on the side of God, but of men (Matthew 6:23; Mark 8:33).These words, spoken as a rebuke to Peter at a crucial point in the war, show how Jesus defined the two opponents. On the one side we have Jesus and his Father, God. On the other is Satan, men, and . . . at that moment, Peter, all corresponding perfectly with characters in the Second Psalm. Jesus obviously saw himself allied with his Father in a conflict with Satan and men. Thus when Jesus refers to "men," he generally is defining a category of hostile opponents in alliance with Satan, as in the following examples:
To his disciples:
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the gentiles (Matthew 10:16-18).
But Jesus categorized those
few from among the ranks of men who desert to his cause as "the blessed."
He said to them:
Then he condemned the Pharisees because:
It was in this attitude toward men that he instructed the disciples in the Sermon on the Mount:
So also, when he foretold the final outpouring of the wrath of God on the wicked, it is men who are the recipients. He closed such prophecies with the phrase,
Jesus engaged in mortal combat with Satan during the wilderness temptations. There he acknowledged that Satan was the possessor of "all the kingdoms of the world" (Matthew 4:8-10; Luke 4:5-8). Had the case been otherwise, he would surely have responded differently when Satan offered them in return for his service. Jesus readily exercised power over demons, who characteristically fled his presence. His enemies explained his power over the demons by saying that he was their captain. They insisted that it was by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that he cast out demons (Matthew 9:34; 12:24; Mark 3:22). Jesus responded by saying:
And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:19,20).Jesus understood that this world was Satan's house. He pictured himself as the thief who has entered the "strong man's house" with intent to plunder his goods. What are the "goods" that he came to plunder? It is all those from among men whom he could steal away to the cause of the Father. It is all those whom he designated "blessed" (Matthew 25:34).
Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house (Matthew 12:29; Mark 3:27).
Jesus saw himself as the spearhead of God's invasion of the kingdom of Satan. More than that, he is the plunderer who set himself to loot the house (or land) of its treasures and transport them to his Father's house. In this he would follow the pattern of King David who had invaded the lands of the Ammonites, Amalakites, and Philistines and took much plunder back to the house of God (I Chronicles 18:11; 26:27).
Now, the nature of the conflict required that Jesus become a man, engage Satan, and claim victory over him so that he could demonstrate the way to men. To do so as a God would not serve the Father's purpose. Therefore it was necessary that Jesus enter fully into the human experience, beginning with the usual birth and ending with the usual death. He was therefore exceedingly vulnerable, especially in infancy and youth. Without some special advantage, there was no means by which he could have survived because Satan was aware from the beginning that there was an intruder in his house. The record reveals that the Father compensated for this vulnerability by the "binding" of Satan, as Jesus suggested in this brief parable. The dream that warned Joseph to escape to Egypt with Jesus and Mary exemplifies this binding. After that, Jesus was incognito among men until the time of his revealing. The demons recognized him, so there is reason to think that Satan was always aware of his location and identity. This suggests another aspect of the binding: that it prevented Satan's revealing the identity of Jesus to men, who would have destroyed him before he could complete his work. Therefore, when Jesus was conducting his teaching campaigns and otherwise waging his war of Truth, it was so that he might succeed in plundering the house of Satan. God had already bound the latter so that he could not prevent it.
The Core of the Conflict
Jesus very early conceived and developed the strategy of his warfare and tenaciously held to his plan. He neither deviated from his planned course not retreated in disorder. The strategy, which the parable of the strong man's house also suggests, consisted of dividing Satan against himself. I will show how this developed, but first let us review the scene as follows:
Satan deceived all men (beginning with the first man, Adam) and bound them to himself through fear of death. They were in darkness as to the only fulfilling eternal life and vainly sought fulfillment in the temporal, earthly experience. Although, as the Scriptures state, what can be known about God was plain to them, they chose to believe a lie. This is the lie that says they can find fulfillment in the temporal setting. Their minds were darkened, and so it continued from generation to generation. They refused to reckon with the choices that the Father set before them and, by default, gave themselves to whatever was close – to earth and to time. Among them there was no one who understood or responded to the will of the Father by setting the heart and mind on the Father's glory, for which he had created them. Thus they brought themselves under condemnation. All life came to take its purpose and value from the earth experience. But since they were in the image of the Father, they never ceased their struggle to realize on earth all the conditions of life to which their hearts by nature inclined, due to the eternity that is in them.
Humanity's Vain Endeavor
Since the eternal Father finds pleasure in certain types of relationships and conditions of life (all eternal), men in his likeness have struggled vainly to develop here, on earth and in time, the like things for which he fitted them. What do they do who have left old England behind and journeyed to a new and virgin land? They build a New England! So men ceaselessly labor to render the earth their new heaven, wholly contrary to the purposes of God. Here all are misfits, and by seeking to conform, all render themselves unfit for heaven. Their hunger is, at its root, the hunger for divine, eternal glory – nothing less. Therefore the richest temporal goodies, doomed to pass away and therefore hopelessly bound to futility, can never be truly satisfying. But no one realized the significance of this unsatisfied hunger. Therefore there was no admission that the cause of the continuing dissatisfaction lay within themselves. Few would even acknowledge that the intense dissatisfaction existed. To do so would have undermined their desperate confidence in the only hope they knew. They all disdained the heavenly glory and the heavenly Father and relied instead on earthly fathers to supply all their needs. Consequently, the gates to True Glory became for them the Gates of Death, from which they recoiled in fear and dread. Thus the world . . . this dark, futile world . . . applies itself to capturing each new generation and convincing it of the wisdom of the fathers in seeking an earthly fulfillment.
Our Heavenly Father nevertheless continued to reach out to our forebears in eternal patience and love. He persisted in his intention to redeem them to his purpose. To this end he never permitted our predecessors to forget him, but manifested himself in many ways, peoples, and places. By the threefold processes of choosing individuals, preserving a remnant and founding a prototype kingdom in Israel, he prodded history along the ascending way toward its destined encounter with the Kingdom of Heaven. Finally, at the proper time, the Father dispatched his beloved son with the commission to be the light of the world. The world responded by fulfilling the Second Psalm. The nations conspired, the peoples of Israel hatched vain plots, and the kings and rulers took counsel together. They set themselves for battle to the end that they might throw off the last of the binding cords of heaven. All the forces of Satan and man combined and set themselves to fight against the Lord and his anointed one – Jesus! It is understandable, then, that Jesus, who knew his identity as the anointed one and understood these things, considered himself an utter alien in a hostile land whose citizens joined in common cause against him. He told a parable to illustrate his circumstances as follows:
The Combatants Defined
A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants, and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, that they should give him some of the fruit of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others who will give him the fruits in their seasons (Matthew 21:33-41; Luke 20:9-18).Now, the language of the second Psalm suggests that there must be the massing of great armies preparing to join in such a battle as would leave the world a desolation strewn with the bodies of the slain. But whom are such great armies to oppose? The Psalm presents all the human authorities as bound together against the numerically small alliance of only two – the Lord and his Messiah. Also, grand armies do not gather to do battle with spirits or with gods. No, there must be other grand armies for them to fight. Since the rulers of all the human forces belong to the same alliance, there can be no such battlefield carnage in fulfillment of this prophecy. There must be a different sort of warfare here – one in which the grand alliance of human forces and authorities, represented by the satanically inspired peoples and rulers of both gentile and Jew, unites for the single purpose of destroying the Lord's anointed.
When the time of the great final battle drew near, Satan's strategy was exposed. Victory over the Lord's anointed one must be realized by tempting him to save his life in this world. None of the peoples or rulers understood this; if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord.
Satan understood the warfare, yet Jesus deftly maneuvered him into the condition of being divided against himself, and by that he was defeated. The supreme spirit powers joined in the climactic battle for control of the world. For Satan, victory was to be won by enticing the Son of God to save his life by delivering himself from the threat of imminent death. Only thus could he put out the light that Jesus had sparked in the world and retain his hold on the allegiance of all men. As Jesus revealed in the parable of The Wicked Tenants quoted above, the Father had planted this vineyard, the world (or, in Jesus' immediate purview, the nation of Israel) for the sole purpose of receiving the harvest of its fruit. He had never yet received his harvest, because Satan had kept it all. Satan knew he was about to lose all this unless Jesus could be tempted to save his life on earth like other men.
Remember, now, that this conflict is a matter of the individual human will. To become fruit for the Father one must will, or desire from the heart, to go to him. Alas, they did not, they do not, have this want. Instead, men seemed universally to will to save their lives on earth, thus aborting any harvest that the Father might have anticipated. The fear of death was their condemnation and the seal of their continuing bondage to the Prince of this World.
Contrarily, for the Father and for Jesus, victory must be secured by the initiation and continuation of the delivery of a harvest of souls. To this end, two primary things must occur: the seed must be planted in the world so as never to be uprooted, and the Son himself must burst forth from the vineyard as the first fruits of the harvest. It was only thus that he could blaze a trail for others to follow.
The Savior's Strategy
Now the word is the seed, as Jesus elsewhere declared in parables (Luke 8:11). So it was first necessary for him to plant the word in the world such that it would never pass away. This objective he confidently defined by the following statement:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away (Matthew 24:35;Having done that, he must win the final victory, as a man, by luring Satan to destruction through the offering up of his own life on earth. Jesus was the bait! By this offering, he would receive the eternal glory that, through him, the Father extended to all who follow. Only thus could he break the bonds of Satan that the fear of death imposed. By no other means could he deliver his harvest to the Father in its season.
Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).
The moment of this victory also would be the moment of the consummate coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth, for then Satan's enslavement of men would be broken forever. Thereafter the earth would continue under the rule of God. It would respond to the will of God that is . . . this one thing only . . . that it deliver up its continuing harvest of souls to the Father's glory.
If we look at the scene from Satan's perspective, we see that his purposes would best be served by avoiding the final confrontation. His first effort to this end was to destroy the infant Jesus before he could come to maturity. He sought to do this through his servant, Herod, but could not because God had bound him. After that, no one except Mary, Joseph, and of course in time, Jesus himself, knew the lad's identity. Satan must use human agents to destroy him. These agents also would become aware of Jesus identity. They might, in this knowledge, turn to worship Jesus instead of destroying him. There was no one as vicious as Herod on whom Satan could fully rely, and so he trusted no one. He dared not reveal to them the identity of the person he sought to destroy. He was therefore bound again – to keep his terrible secret. So he watched, helplessly, as Jesus grew to maturity and to the knowledge of his identity.
Of course, if the young Jesus would only commit some offense worthy of capital punishment, Satan would have his way with him. This Jesus was not about to do. Instead, his behavior was admirable and praiseworthy. Satan was so securely bound that he could not even advance a credible lie to convict Jesus by false accusation. So Jesus had a kind of protection in the world due to his incognito, and thus he grew up to manhood. Then Satan's strategy necessarily changed. Knowing the nature of this strange conflict and that Jesus was set to overcome him and to take away his kingdom, Satan assayed to salvage whatever he could by bargaining. He offered it all to Jesus if only he would enter the service of Satan as a sub regent. This is the significance of the temptation in the wilderness in which Satan offered Jesus "all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them" (Matthew 4:8). It also explains why Jesus absolutely refused to accept glory from men. Satan's failure thus to buy Jesus is well known to all readers of the New Testament. Thereafter he temporarily retreated from the field of battle, but he did not surrender. He could not; he had no choice. The circumstances compelled him to continue to do battle in every way, no matter how desperate his plight. Jesus would accept no conditional surrender.
Satan never withdrew the offer of the kingdom. He continued to press it upon him in other ways, even working through the people of Israel to force Jesus to accept a position as his sub regent. To this end he inspired the many admirers of Jesus to mount a movement to force the scepter upon him. We read of this in the Gospels also, and of Jesus' response (John 6:15). He removed himself from the people who were seeking to enthrone him and went out into a solitary place to restore his exclusive commitment to the eternal treasures and glory.
Satan's IncentiveKnow you not that I must be in my Father's house (Luke 2:49)?With these words the twelve year old Jesus revealed that his was a singleness of devotion to the glory of God, his only Father. He made the choice that is also God's will for all and he maintained this devotion with great tenacity. Earth and Satan try, and try again, but cannot claim him. His spirit is always free to make its departure from this world to the Father. He needed only to complete his work, and to that end he looked and labored with eager anticipation.
Satan had always used the fear of death to secure his power over man. How can one set the heart on God's glory, or have any genuine love for God, when one recoils in fear from the one experience that leads to God?
Jesus was no exception in that the strait gate of death also stood between him and his restoration to the Glory of the Father. Therefore he was free of Satanic dominion only while he did not fear death. If only Satan could cause him to fear death, he would fall into evil's grasp like the rest of mankind. It appears that, until his encounter with Jesus, Satan's success rate in imposing this fear on men was one hundred percent. With this solid experience on which to build, Satan now resolved to deal with Jesus as with any other man – by imposing this fear upon him. In consequence, Jesus would not want to go to his Father because of the fear of death, and would find himself in Satan's power. He would act to save his life, and so lose it!
Jesus' perspective was no less clear. First he must speak the word in such fashion that it would take root and grow among men. It would be of no use if, after his departure to the Father, the Truth did not remain securely implanted on planet earth. (The continuing operation and maintenance of the Word on earth is therefore all the evidence we need of the operation on earth of the rule of God.) Second, he must become the personified expression of the Truth by conquering the fear of death in the face of death. By thus maintaining his commitment to the Father's Glory under the most difficult circumstances, he would be eternally victorious. Finally, he must engage Satan (and man) in battle and defeat him and his human servants. This defeat would end Satan's reign and initiate the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. It is obvious that one cannot establish a new government without dealing with the already established authorities!
When his hour came, he claimed victory through refusing to yield to all temptations to love and to save his life, and by dividing Satan against himself. The result was sure. Satan's kingdom fell. Only one thing had ever been in doubt – would Jesus fear death in its hour? When he did not yield to fear, he resolved all issues and sealed Satan's doom. He broke, forever, the chains of the fear of death. He did it for himself and for all who follow him. He delivered us from bondage into the freedom of the Kingdom of God.
No one should suppose that the way to the Father was easier for him than for others. Some do when they speak of his advantage as the pre-existent Christ through whom the world was made. They reason that he came from the Father's Glory and thus knew by prior experience of the reality of eternal life, but we do not. We can know it only by faith, having never seen or experienced it. But recall that we all are the seed of Adam, who, like Jesus, also came from God, an eternal spirit breathed into the clay. We therefore have the same primeval heritage.
Whatever advantage Jesus might have had due to his pre-existent state was more than offset by his disadvantage. He knew that he must confront Satan as a man among men. He also knew that no man before him had ever succeeded in breaking the bond of evil that is the fear of death. He must therefore also have known how slim were his chances. Statistically speaking, he had absolutely no chance of victory. I can well imagine my despair had I been in his place. I would have concluded that the assignment was impossible. Doubtless I would have found it most convenient to accept the Devil's offer of all the kingdoms of the world.
The mere humanity of Jesus lacked nothing. He entered the world as a babe like the rest of us. Everything he knew, he had to have learned like the rest. If he had clearer consciousness of his eternal, glorious origin than do we, it must only have been because he, as a man, never failed to maintain his commitment to the Father's Glory. This was in spite of the formidable array of demonic/human forces mustered against him. How alone he was!
Looking at him in this light one is impressed, not by his advantage, but by his great disadvantage. No man has ever had to face and defeat such a concentration of evil power as converged upon this one man. Yet, as a man, he persistently maintained his devotion to the Father and the resulting fellowship transcended the limitations of ordinary sensibility. Still, if any one of us were to maintain a similar, sinless devotion, our assurance of Glory and our consciousness of the Eternal would be no less intense than his. Jesus won the battle with Satan and man as a man. It was as a man that he died, crying out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)?
His choices were human choices, and his resources are no less available to us than they were to him. He spoke from experience when he said, "The gate is narrow" (Matthew 7:14).
To die fearlessly or to live fearfully was the issue in the cosmic spiritual struggle between Jesus and Satan. I have shown how, at first, it served the purpose of evil to seek the death of the infant. Even as late as the riot at Nazareth, the simple death of Jesus would have served its purpose of aborting this divine incursion into the realm of men and demons. But after Jesus had succeeded in consolidating his ground by implanting the Word of Truth on the earth, his simple death no longer served evil's purpose. It was essential to Satan to discredit the implanted word, and he could only do this by discrediting the planter. The word declared thatHe who loves his life loses it, but he who hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal" (John 12:25).Now, if only Jesus could be caused to manifest a love of life, his soul would be captivated by evil, and his words discredited. What a victory that would be!
So therefore it became essential to the purposes of Evil to keep Jesus alive under the threat of death, by causing him, in the face of death, to fear death and to avoid it. This required for its accomplishment that Jesus face the threat of impending death. But actually to kill him? No.
If Jesus accepted death without fear, then he would have credited the Word, so that this would become Satan's defeat. The latter would lose his kingdom beyond all retrieval. Jesus understood, then, that his victory could be won only by suffering a fearless death at the hands of men in a human struggle with the Prince of demons. Such men have, as their motivating forces, the love of life and the fear of death. He knew that all human rule and authority was rooted in this fear and its corollary, the love of life. Therefore, men everywhere bond together and submit to rulers only to protect their earthly treasure and preserve their incarnate lives. The human establishment throughout the world exists to this sole end. Therefore, the struggle of Jesus was also with the establishment. It was in bondage to Satan through the same fear of death by which the demons would have bound Jesus to themselves. So, the time of the final and climactic battle, the New Testament "fullness of time," came when the primary establishment authority was centered in one ruler – the Roman emperor. God had permitted the Empire to assemble for this very purpose.
Jesus understood how the men of the world, in the bondage of their universal fear of death, are easily threatened by anyone who advocates ideas contrary to their geocentric value set. Such a person always arouses hostility when he speaks against material wealth and advocates alien values such as "treasure in heaven" as Jesus did. Men saw him as a threat to their establishment and to their earthly lives and treasures. "See," they said, "how the whole world has gone after him" (John 12:19).
The Human Bondage
They suspected his motives and feared his influence in the expectation that he intended to take over political and military power. The idea that Jesus was no threat to their establishment was far beyond their fear bound powers of comprehension. Neither could they conceive that their only valid fear was fear itself – the fear of death.
Jesus did not want their positions, their wealth, their earthly security or the glory of men – but they could not but think that he sought them. When he refused to cooperate with the establishment but spoke in the harshest terms against the rulers, and that publicly, they could only assume, in that revolutionary country packed with zealots, that Jesus was plotting messianic revolution. Their conclusion, and their fear, was that "The Romans will come and take away our place and our nation" (John 11:48).
This expectation of Roman intervention was realistic. The threat was always present and the Romans were acutely aware of the rebellious spirit of the Jews and took every appearance of seditious activity very seriously. Being themselves also bound by the fear of death and its corollary, the love of life, they also responded to the dictates of their particular geocentric interests.
Jesus deliberately proceeded to use these circumstances to his advantage, to the end that he might present the demonstration of a fearless death while engaged in a struggle with men motivated by that same fear. He was in complete control of events from beginning to end. As the climactic battle approached he carefully chose both his enemies and his friends, and pronounced a blessing on all who were not offended in him (Matthew 11:6; Luke 7:23). He skillfully arranged details to comply with prophecy and when his hour came, it was Jesus who commanded the action when he said to Judas,
Preparations for BattleWhat thou doest, do quickly (John 13:27)!After that, he was punctual to the minute for his appointment across Kidron, in Gethsemane. There he remained in command most peculiarly, even giving orders to his captors, which they obeyed. When he said, "Let these men go" (John 18:8,9), they could only let those men go. To one disciple he issued the command, "Put your sword into its sheath!" and he did so. He exposed the essence of the drama by saying to Pilate, the Procurator,You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above (John 19:11).He was never for a moment in their power. They were in his power, to do with them as he would. He could at any moment have delivered himself, and he said so:
Do you not know that I could call upon my Father and he would send twelve legions of angels and destroy all these people (Matthew 26:53)?
This was precisely the temptation that would have destroyed him had he yielded to it, for then he would have saved his life, and so lost it forever. That is the essence of evil and the only barrier on the way to God.
His disciples were utterly bewildered by the events preceding the crucifixion – this even though Jesus had repeatedly impressed upon them that this death was to occur as they saw it, and that it was the will of the Father that it be so. We have after all seen a like thing in our time – the adherents of Christianity who betray him with a kiss, uncomprehending of his Truth. This they do though they have read the Words of Truth repeatedly during their study of the Gospels. It was in the first disciples to quarrel which of them was the greatest (Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46; 22:24). They also were "pyramid climbers" as they shuffled for the key positions at his right hand and his left (Matthew 20:20-24; Mark 10:35-44). They had not the ears to hear Jesus' frequent assertion that he was to be delivered into the hands of men to be crucified (Matthew 16:21; 17:22; Mark 9:31; Luke 9:44). They objected to this prospect, as Peter did when he said, "No, Lord, this shall never happen to you" (Matthew 16:22; Mark 8:32). Jesus immediately recognized this as a barb from Satan and responded to Peter accordingly.
The Bewildered Disciples
They were all convinced of Jesus' messianic identity, much as are the vast majority of modern disciples. Now, as then, we hear the refrain, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!" Then, as now, they saw the messianic office as created according to their geocentric imagery. This vision inspired their patriotic fervor and moved them to battle heroically for the realization of their earth-bound dreams for themselves, their children, and their nation. This was the fervor that inspired Peter to declare, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death" (Luke 22:33). Yes, and he was ready. He would have done it, but for the wrong reason. He was in bondage to an earthy hero complex that paradoxically inspires life loving, death fearing men to die for an earthly cause. They do so knowing that they will yet live on in the hearts of their countrymen as heroes and martyrs and that their deaths may enrich the temporal lives of their survivors.
Such heroism is no victory over death. It is defeat instead, because they lose . . . both this life and the next. Their commitment to die is not for the sake of anything beyond death, and such soldiers are therefore seldom trained in the art of dying. Instead, they are skilled at killing. Their aim is to put the enemy to death and save this life for themselves.
Peter revealed his true ilk a short time later when, in fear of both prison and death, he denied the Lord three times, saying, "I do not know the man" (Matthew 26:70-75; Mark 14:66-72). Can this be the same person who had shortly before made so fearless a confession of loyalty?
Yes, the very same, and there is no contradiction. When he made the confession, he could not conceive that the messiah should suffer thus. He must have considered the occasion to be a test designed to elicit just such a response. Nor was he being insincere; had events proceeded according to his idea of victory, he would willingly have become a martyr and a hero through death. But when he saw Jesus seemingly hopeless to combat the enemy, he retreated to his basic life saving stance. He was not about to lay down his life for a man who appeared to have deceived him.
When Jesus rebuked him for using the sword in his defense (he had brought it according to Jesus' command), and when Jesus even healed the enemy's wound, Peter must have felt that Jesus had denied him the privilege of becoming a hero. No wonder he felt confused and betrayed; there was ironic truth in the words of his denial, "Woman, I do not know the man." He had spent years as a disciple of Jesus, but still he did not know him. He did not even know himself!
Peter and all the apostles were both blind and deaf in that hour. When one sees how they responded to the crucifixion, one thinks at first that Jesus must have utterly misjudged them in saying:Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear (Matthew 13:16).Jesus' knowledge of them must therefore have extended beyond the crucifixion. He saw that the resurrection would open their eyes so that they would both see the Kingdom and hear the Word. And so it came to pass. First, however, they had to endure trauma such as would render them receptive to the light. Then, the light did dawn within them and they understood why they were not permitted to fight in defense of their Lord. They also realized what he meant when he addressed the following words to Pilate:My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world (John 18:36).In the dawn of his understanding, in radical repentance and overwhelmed by tears, a different kind of Peter was about to emerge from the fleshly cocoon. The new Peter would confess his love and rise to take up his cross in response to a new commandment, not "to slay my foes" but "to feed my sheep" (John 21:16,17). This way of the cross would seal his earlier commitment, for it would lead him both to prison and to death – and, finally, to Glory.
The New Testament disciples were forgiven their lack of comprehension and slowness to believe before becoming witnesses to the resurrection. After all, the Word presented a new and unique wisdom to them and to the world, and they had absolutely no precedent for the ideas of Jesus. Not so the men and women of modern Christendom. We are without excuse who serve Christ for earthly gain or who entice others into the fold by the promise of temporal rewards. We have always before us the resurrection testimony made sure by the convincing power of the Holy Spirit who teaches and counsels us. We gain absolutely no earthly advantage through service to Christ and his Kingdom and all are without excuse who seek or promise such. We have instead been called to experience sufferings and hardships in this life precisely because we follow the Lord.
We Now are Without Excuse
The intensity of Jesus' suffering during the last hours remains far beyond our comprehension. We focus attention on the objective ordeal of extreme physical pain and underrate or little consider the subjective ordeal that raged within his heart. He not only had to endure an agonizing death at the hands of evil men, but he also had to endure the disappointed entreaties of his closest friends. Finally, he had to endure their abandonment as they all forsook him and fled.
How wonderful and how mysterious the hour when the suffering Messiah, in lonely agony, forsaken and outcast, was yet the only one who understood the cosmic significance of the event and controlled it from the beginning to the end. No one else suspected the real significance of that high drama. He truly pleaded the ignorance of all parties to the crucifixion in his petition for their forgiveness:Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).We can understand how Jesus divided Satan against himself only by first acknowledging that it was not Satan's intention to put Jesus to death. His sole purpose was to force the fear of death upon him, for only by this could he ensnare the man Jesus in the bonds that held all other men captive. Satan's victory required only one result – that Jesus default before God by saving his life. By this he would discredit the word of God that Jesus had planted in the world. Simultaneously, he would destroy the Son of God by bonding him to himself through the fear of death. To this end he must orchestrate the most fearful threat of death imaginable to maximize the temptation of Jesus to save his life. It was the demons of Satan who inspired the people to cry out for the sentence of death. It was the minions of Satan who inspired men to testify against Jesus before every judge. Yet Satan was mustering all his forces only to orchestrate his own destruction. Thus Jesus divided Satan against himself, and beguiled him into managing the events that were to issue in his eternal defeat.
Satan Divided Against Himself
Satan had good reasons to feel secure. He could lose only if Jesus offered no resistance to death. All other men had resisted without exception, and Jesus also would surely fall. Satan was further divided against himself in that he was compelled to tempt Jesus to save himself by coming down from the cross. This was counter to the desires of those who also served Satan by putting Jesus on that cross. Satan knew that Jesus could come down if he would.
He made the temptation most extreme by inspiring the spiteful taunts and derision of the spectators to the crucifixion. They mocked Jesus, spat upon him, and braided a crown of thorns and pressed it upon his head ( Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:17; John 19:2). They then committed the supreme mockery by bowing to him in mock obeisance and saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" and "He saved others; he cannot save himself!" Yet others said, "If you are the king of the Jews, come down from the cross!"
What person among all who have ever lived on earth could have endured such taunts? He could have come down. He could have saved himself. He could have exalted himself in the sight of his foes . . . he could have destroyed every one of them with a word, and Satan knew it! That is precisely what Satan was risking everything to cause Jesus to do and thus he was putting forth his forces as sacrificial pawns. He knew that his own power and person could be saved only by the destruction of those persons loyal to him – and so in this also he was divided against himself.
Yet there on the cross Jesus remained – tortured, agonizing, alone, and forsaken. Yes, he was absolutely forsaken, not only by his friends, but also by his God and Father. This also Jesus acknowledged by crying out in the words of a familiar Psalm,My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)?Satan not only counted on succeeding in tempting Jesus the man to save himself and come down from the cross; he also hoped to move the Father himself, in his infinite love for his dear Son, to intervene and to deliver him from the hands of evil men. But Satan did not reckon on the force of the Father's love for all men. If the Father had intervened, he would have aborted the redemption of the world and left all men in bondage to Satan forever, without freedom and without hope.
Jesus faced the ordeal as a solitary human individual. He must fight the battle as a man if he was to win the battle for men. Therefore, the Father did not help him. He could not without forever condemning all others. The crucial struggle was confined to the will of the man, so that at last a man might do the will of God on earth. The Father could not intervene in any way, not even to console and comfort, without compromising the freedom of the will of Jesus the man.
Now we can better understand the significance of the words:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but might have eternal life (John 3:16).There was only one thing that would move the Father to intervene – the outcry of the dying Son. If Jesus had called upon the Father to deliver him, he would have done so. The battle would already have been lost.
Jesus knew that he must die a solitary man. He understood that the Father could not intervene to save him. Still, he was only human and so cried out as though he did not understand,My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)?Yet he did not cry out, "Save me!" and so we can be saved.
Who else could have endured such taunts? I must shamefully admit that I would have come down from the cross. I would have cried out for the twelve legions of angels. I would have exalted myself in the sight of my foes. I would have done all these things – but not Jesus. He confronted the combined forces of the greatest concentration of evil the world has ever known, yet he remained true to the end. Thus he perpetuated the Word that his enemy sought to discredit and destroy:
Whoever would save his life will lose it; but he who hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal (John 12:25).Satan's division against himself consisted of his being put in the untenable position of trying to kill Jesus on the one hand, while trying to move him to save himself on the other. When he realized that he was losing the battle – that it was Jesus who had lured him into the battle under that particular set of conditions and that Jesus was not going to yield and save his life in this world, he then sought to call off the whole thing until "a more convenient season." He did this when Pilate said, "I find no fault in the man; I will chastise him and release him!" His control over Pilate had been his "ace in the hole" as Satan contemplated beforehand the possibilities of the conflict. One can well imagine him pondering, and concluding, "If he should refuse to save his life, I will inspire Pilate to call off the dogs."
We now know this did not work. Satan did not anticipate the insubordination of those human forces that he himself had set in motion, and thus did not imagine that he would lose control. As it turned out, nothing could check the rage of the Jewish rulers and people. Pilate could not control the outcome and therefore Satan could not control it. As for the people, "they knew not what they did."
Who was really in control? Obviously, Jesus. The victim was the victor, and the erstwhile ruler of the house saw it divided and tumbling about him in ruins. One is almost moved to pity Satan. Jesus adroitly maneuvered him into a battle in which he used his own power to destroy himself and his authority over the kingdoms of this world. It is to this very day and hour and moment of the death of Jesus on the cross that the scriptures consistently bear witness as the time of victory. Jesus said, after his resurrection:
The Victorious Victim
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matthew 28:18).The crucifixion seems paradoxical, like so much in the experience of our Lord. The natural eye saw a miserable preacher executed for crimes according to due process of law, disgraced before his countrymen and discredited among his followers. In Truth, however, he was winning the critical battle of the spirits for the salvation of mankind. The very moment of his death was the point at which the men who crucified him considered him to be utterly vanquished. It was, in Truth, the moment of his eternal victory! I do not suppose that we can ever fully realize the significance of Jesus' suffering and death. The more I dwell upon it, the more I am amazed by the eternal consequences of that stupendous event, clothed as it was in the garb of a public execution. The Lord was under attack by a vast alliance of foes, both from within and without. He struggled inwardly with the tempter, whose forces were immeasurable because of the paradoxical nature of the struggle. For him to die was . . . to live. For him to live was . . . to die! To suffer a human defeat was eternal victory for himself and all who follow him. To win a human victory was to suffer an eternal defeat, for himself and for all mankind.
Summation and Conclusions
Outwardly, the assemblage of foes included the nations (gentiles), the peoples (of Israel), the rulers (of Israel), and the kings of the earth (Herod, Pilate, and Caesar), all as listed in the Second Psalm. Thus all men, both Jew and gentile, both small and great, stand over against Jesus in the battle in which the prize of the victor is the authority to govern the earth. It was necessary that Jesus overcome the power of kings and rulers to take the rule unto himself. Also, those kings and rulers must be the representatives of supreme human authority so that Jesus might secure to himself the supreme authority over the world.
Satan offered to give it all to Jesus on the sole condition that Jesus would use it in the service of Satan as other rulers had done (Matthew 4:8,9). What Satan offered on that condition, Jesus by force of spirit took without condition. He stripped the vanquished devil of authority and placed him and the whole world in subjugation to himself.
The Scriptures bear consistent witness that our Lord is now ruling all things, both in heaven and on earth. Consider his post resurrection testimony, that all authority, not only on earth but also in heaven, has been given to him (Matthew 28:18). Seeing therefore that absolutely everything is now under his control and that he is the sole head of all authority, he can be nothing less than the absolute monarch of the universe.
His strategy called for and produced total victory for himself and for his brothers and sisters and total defeat for the adversary. The immediate consequence was the consummation of the Kingdom of God upon earth as it is in heaven. This was the answer to the "Lord's Prayer" that Jesus had instructed his disciples to offer on his behalf. The Kingdom has fully and finally come, and all who refuse to acknowledge it stand on the side of the Adversary. Only through maintaining men in ignorance of the Kingdom's coming and power can he retain any influence over the destiny of men.
The preachers stand on the side of the defeated Satan whenever they lead their congregations in the recitation of the "Lord's Prayer." How is this so? Because to pray for the Kingdom's yet coming is to teach by implication that it has not yet come. It also follows that whenever anyone maintains the realization of the Kingdom in consciousness, that person is delivered from the power of Satan through perception of the truth that he has no power. That is why the Gospel of the Kingdom is such wonderful good news to all men. Thanks be unto God that Satan no longer has any power on earth or over any one of us, except only that power that we give him through ignorance of the Truth.
I remind you yet again of Jesus' wonderful, but conditional, promise:
If you abide in my word, you will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free (John 8:31,32).
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