Satan a Strong Enemy, Christ a Stronger Saviour
Never was a more bitter or blasphemous accusation made against the Lord Jesus Christ than the one reported in Luke 11:15: ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.’ During Jesus’ ministry the attitude of the religious authorities towards him had mushroomed from curiosity, to annoyance, to rivalry, to envy, and now to bitter hatred. We can imagine them saying, ‘this Jesus breaks the Sabbath by eating grain and healing sick people. This Jesus gathers great crowds around him, and they love to hear him. This Jesus teaches by his own authority in a way that we scribes and Pharisees don’t and can’t. He heals the sick, the blind, the lame, and even raises the dead in a way that hasn’t been done in Israel since Elisha! He touches lepers, eats with tax-collectors, and he allows women of dubious character to wipe his feet with their hair!’
We need to see that this was the most malicious and poisonous accusation that could ever have been made against Jesus. It was a breathtaking claim. By ‘Beelzebul’ the scribes and Pharisees meant no-one other than Satan himself. Here it is, then – the accusation is that Jesus, who has gone about Galilee doing mighty works of love and mercy, and has done one such work right now, is doing so by the power of Satan, the prince of demons, the evil one. Isn’t this what we increasingly observe among the Jews who opposed Jesus? Horrible, evil accusations of the most blasphemous kind. On three separate occasions in John’s Gospel, they tell Jesus that he is demon-possessed. And don’t we see it above all on the cross? ‘He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him’ (Matt. 27:43). And the clear implication is that God doesn’t desire him; Jesus is accursed by God.
Wasn’t a big part – if not the whole part – of their envy just this: they knew Jesus was better than they were? He was humble and they were pompous. He was sincere and they were hypocritical. He was kind and they were cruel. He really knew God whereas they could only claim that they knew God. There is nothing our sinful souls hate more than to feel that someone is better than us. Not necessarily more successful, nor more capable, but better, more righteous.
But let us not think that only first-century Jews responded in this way. So will anyone with an evil heart who comes face to face with the real Jesus. There are people who think they are Christians, who might be outwardly religious – but when they come across the spiritual, Christ-centred gospel they hate and reject it. ‘I thought there might be something in Christianity before – but now that I’ve seen what it’s done to you, I certainly don’t want it for myself.’
Notice that Jesus doesn’t retaliate, he doesn’t satisfy his enemies’ longing to make him react. But in particular, let’s see how he applies simple logic. He says in effect, ‘let’s look at what you are saying: It’s well-known, isn’t it – a household or a country that is at civil war, war between its members, will eventually fragment and be destroyed. If you are right, if I am casting out demons by the power of Satan, then how can Satan’s kingdom possibly stand? If you are right, Satan, working through me, is all the time undoing his own work.’ It’s worth noting that Jesus accords Satan the honour of having a kingdom. We need to reflect soberly on this. In the Bible Satan is called a prince, and not for nothing. He has been a powerful and successful prince for thousands of years. He has succeeded in imprisoning the whole of Adam’s race deep within the dungeon of sin and unbelief. Isn’t the very proof of it right in front of us? Here are scribes and Pharisees, those who sit in Moses’ seat, vehemently blaspheming the Son of God by telling him that he works by the power of Satan? What more evidence could there be of the extent and scale of Satan’s kingdom?
Here is the devil, so apparently invincible and unassailable. Look at this description; he is not only very strong, but he is fully armed, as William Hendriksen puts it, ‘armed to the teeth’. A strong man is formidable enough, but a strong man who is armed with many powerful weapons is someone you’d be inclined to respect. I remember my sight of an American cop in JFK airport; well over six feet tall, about twenty stone, and well-armed, not with batons and truncheons, but with what looked like an M16 semiautomatic assault rifle, though I didn’t get that close! This strong man, Satan, guards his palace. He keeps the unbelieving world under lock and key. He’s on the lookout for anyone that might rob him of his precious possessions – souls that he has duped and mastered. And while there is no-one stronger than he, Satan keeps his goods in peace and safety. He’s mastered and subdued all human flesh that has ever tried to mount an assault against him. He always will, until someone stronger turns up and mounts a challenge.
In JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Pippin the hobbit looks through the palantir, the seeing-stone, at the Great Enemy Sauron. The sight turns him into a quivering mass of jelly. But Aragorn, the rightful king of Gondor, is able to use the stone to look at Sauron and draw his eye away, to overpower him. One stronger than Sauron has come to overpower him!
Isn’t that just what we see here? The only strength that is stronger than Satan is one which is not human, but divine. Here is a proof, if one were needed, that Jesus is no mere man. To cast out demons, to heal the sick, raise the dead, still the wind and waves – and to pronounce the forgiveness of sins – these are not human activities! Here is Jesus, disarming the weaponry of Satan and carrying off his spoils. This expression ‘the finger of God’ points us back to the time of Moses, when the people of Israel were still in Egypt, and in particular to the third plague, the plague of gnats. In Exodus 8:18-19 we read that ‘the magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.’
The Egyptian magicians recognised that God was on the side of Moses and Aaron, and that he was against Pharaoh and Egypt. This was no ordinary magic; this was not courtroom enchantment. This could only be explained by the determined and direct intervention of God. But do we see how horribly ironic Jesus’ language was in this situation? Pharaoh, though he had seen these signs and had been made most aware that the cause was the very finger of God, yet hardened his heart. These religious Jews who were speaking such evils against Jesus were in the same doomed position as Pharaoh. Hard-hearted, unbelieving, unable and unwilling to recognise that the kingdom of God has come upon them in power. Yet they could not plead Pharaoh’s pagan ignorance; for these men were Jews, well-versed in Scripture! Here indeed was David’s son, Abraham’s offspring, Isaiah’s prophecy, the seed of the woman, the hope of Israel and of all the nations – the Messiah himself! But ‘he came to his own, and his own received him not’. Indeed this passage is surely designed to demonstrate to us that the great evil, the evil which is most difficult to remove, if you like, is not the evil of demons but the implacable evil of the human heart which is set against God and against the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now the finger of God has moved. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come, and he is mightier than Satan. He has demonstrated this right in front of these people on this very occasion. He has been doing so throughout his ministry. He has given full and unmistakable proof of his authority over the devil. Jesus is stronger than Satan. He caused Satan to slink away from him in the wilderness. A furious assault from Satan will later take place in Gethsemane and at Calvary, but our Stronger Man, our Saviour, will prevail. He will defeat Satan at the cross. He will make it known throughout heaven and earth that he has decisively won this contest.
Paul Yeulett is Pastor of Shrewsbury Evangelical Church.
Living in the World 6 November 2020
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