Christians recognize the reality of the spirit world. We certainly believe in God “who is a spirit” (Jn. 4:24) and in the Third Person of the Trinity, the “Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). We ourselves are compounds of spirit and body (Gen. 2:7; Jas. 2:26), so that when we die “the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ec. 12:7; cp. Mt. 10:28).
We also know angels are spirit-beings created by God to do His will: “Of the angels he saith, Who makes his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire” (Heb. 1:7). Some of these angels are holy, elect angels always serving God in righteousness (Lk. 9:26; 1 Tim. 5:21). Others are fallen angels who resist God, determined to do evil against us (Lk. 8:2; 1 Tim. 4:1). They have as their ruler Satan, the chief of the fallen angels (Mt. 25:41; Mk. 2:22).
When considering spiritual warfare in the Christian life, we must not ignore the influence of Satan in the world. The Scriptures portray him as the epitome of evil who always opposes God.1 He seeks to destroy God’s work by influencing men throughout the world (Mt. 13:38-39; 2 Cor. 4:4) to do his evil will (Jn. 8:44; 2 Tim. 2:26). He is a deceiver (Rev. 20:1) who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14) so that he “deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). He desires to draw away those who hear the Word of God (Lk. 8:12). In fact, he delights in working on those who not only hear the Word, but profess it (Ac. 5:3; 1 Tim. 5:15).
He is so determined to do evil that he even dares to tempt the Son of God: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mt. 4:1; Lk. 4:2). In desperation Satan later entered into Judas, moving him to betray Christ (Lk. 22:3; Jn. 13:2).
As Luther so expressively declared: “his craft and power are great.” Indeed, the Scripture itself urges us: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). How can we expect to win against such a supernatural foe who “seeks to work us woe”? What gives us hope against such a mighty opponent?
We conquer our fear with the victory cry: “He is risen!” (Mt. 28:6). Unfortunately, this glorious declaration is largely muted by the confused prophets loudly misleading many today. Too many Christians believe “Satan is alive and well on planet earth.” Though he is alive, he is not well. Christ has won the victory over him. Let us see how this is so, then note how we have hope for our personal victory over him.
In Revelation 20, a passage both confused and abused in popular Christian literature, we read of Satan’s binding, which insures the victory of Christ’s Kingdom: “He laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he should not deceive the nations any longer…. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:2-3, 6).
This dramatic imagery teaches that Satan has been “bound” so that he “should not deceive the nations any longer.” This allows all spiritually resurrected believers to “reign with Him (Christ)” in Christ’s Kingdom. Despite popular misunderstanding of this passage, this vision speaks of realities already established in Christ’s first coming, as we can tell from the following:
First, Christ informs us that He has already bound Satan: “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house” (Mt. 12:28-29). Whatever else we might think, Christ Himself declares He has bound this strong one during His earthly ministry so that He may spoil Satan’s kingdom while establishing His own. Here Satan’s binding and Christ’s kingdom are linked together by the Lord who was teaching John, who later penned Revelation 20.
Second, Christ also teaches that salvation by grace through faith effects a spiritual resurrection to new life: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live” (Jn. 5:24-25; cp. Eph. 2:5-6; Rom. 6:5-11; 1 Jn. 3:14).
This is the backdrop to the image of the “first resurrection” in Revelation 20. Christ teaches two resurrections, which John the author of Revelation records for us. The first resurrection is a spiritual one while we are in our present life (Jn. 5:25), the second a physical one after we leave this world at the end of history (Jn. 5:28-29; cp. Jn. 6: 39, 44, 54; 11:24).
Third, in the didactic introduction to Revelation, John declares that we are already a kingdom of priests, which he presents in dramatic imagery in Revelation 20: “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever” (Rev. 1:6). Note the past tense: “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests.” This historical reality, which already existed when John wrote Revelation, explains the symbolic vision of chapter 20 which declares: “they will be priests of God and of Christ and willreign with Him” (Rev. 20:6).
Fourth, Satan’s binding does not totally incapacitate him. His binding is for an expressly declared purpose: “that he should not deceive the nations any longer” (Rev. 20:3). This speaks of the “plundering of his house” (Mt. 12:29): Satan is bound by the First Century coming of Christ’s kingdom so that he may not deceive and dominate the nations any longer.
In the Old Testament era, only Israel knew God: “He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; And as for His ordinances, they have not known them. Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 147:19-20) “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth” (Am. 3:2a; cp. Dt. 7:6-7). This is why Christ did not dispute Satan’s claim when he showed Him “all the kingdoms of the world” and said: “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me” (Lk. 4:5-6).
It is only in the past that “in the generations gone by He [God] permitted all the nations to go their own ways” (Ac. 14:16 ). But now the whole world is open to release from Satan’s absolute dominion because of his having been bound by Christ. The Great Commission, therefore, confidently sends us out to “make disciples of all the nations” (Mt. 28:19)2 who previously were totally subject to Satan and “without hope” (Eph. 2:12 ). Jesus declares to Paul that He is sending him to open the Gentiles’ eyes “so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Ac. 26:18).
Christ’s victory over Satan is spoken of frequently, and under various images in addition to “binding”:
- “He said to them, ‘I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning’” (Lk. 10:18).
- “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out” (Jn. 12:31).
- “Concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (Jn. 16:11).
- “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).
- “And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” ( Rom. 16:20a).
- “He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (Col. 2:14).
- “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8b).
Christian, because of Christ’s triumph over Satan, the Scriptures promise you victory. As redeemed vessels of mercy, you must neither despair in your struggles nor blame Satan for your failures. Too many Christians pick up on the deficient theology rampant in trite maxims such as “I can resist anything but temptation” and “the devil made me do it.”
Remember that Christ has prayed for you: “I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (Jn. 17:15). He has taught you yourself to pray: “do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Mt. 6:13).
The Bible teaches you how to “put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11 ). You are directed to “not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:27 ). You can “submit therefore to God” so that if you “resist the devil… he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
Satan is a powerful foe, but he is a defeated foe. Otherwise such Biblical directives regarding victory over Satan would be meaningless. Christ has bound him so that he may not dominate us. The victory is ours if we but seize it.
1. For an excellent study of Satan’s work, see: Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Person, Work, and Present Status of Satan,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction 1:2 (Winter, 1974): 11ff. See also my article: “The Binding of Satan” available at: www.kennethgentry.com.
2. For a fuller exposition of the Great Commission, see: Gentry, The Greatness of the Great Commission (Tyler, Tex.: I.C.E., rev. 1993). Available at www.kennethgentry.com.