The Other-Worldly War
A look at the Evil One’s attempts to spoil God’s plan—and why he never will
Being a Christian has never been easy. We find ourselves at odds with the world. More often than not, our values, ethics, and morals directly conflict with those held by the majority.
The reality is that genuine believers in Jesus Christ are caught up in a war that is raging all around us. Although this warfare manifests itself in the physical realm, it is best understood as an “other-worldly” conflict—a spiritual war. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
No one who has ever walked this planet understood that battle better than Jesus.
The Conflict Begins
After Satan coaxed Adam and Eve to rebel against God, Satan won what we could call the “title deed” to planet Earth. That is why Jesus called Satan “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31) and why the apostle John wrote, “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Satan wants to dethrone God and rule the universe. His plan has been simple: (1) prevent Jesus from coming, (2) prevent Jesus from dying on the cross, and (3) prevent Jesus from returning.
After the fall of humanity, God warned Satan He would send a Redeemer who would make things right: “He [the promised One] shall bruise your [Satan’s] head, and you [Satan] shall bruise His [the Redeemer’s] heel” (Gen. 3:15).
This declaration compelled Satan to do everything in his power to prevent the promised Redeemer-Messiah from coming to Earth, and the Evil One’s nefarious attempts to do so run the length and breadth of the Hebrew Scriptures. God’s Chosen People faced relentless, satanic assaults aimed at destroying or corrupting them. These attacks hit full stride after the promised Messiah made His entrance into human history through a Jewish woman in a little town named Bethlehem.
Informed by the magi that the “King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2) was born, Herod the king determined to kill Him. Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, took the Child and fled to Egypt.
At the outset of Jesus’ ministry, Satan attempted to corrupt Him: “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (4:1). Satan showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” and told Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me” (vv. 8–9). The creature was asking his Creator to worship him. Jesus, of course, refused.
At the core of the conflict is Satan’s insatiable desire to “be like the Most High” (Isa. 14:14). He wanted to be God in the Garden of Eden, and he still wants to be God today.
In an attempt to accomplish this feat while Jesus was on Earth, Satan tempted Jesus in the three greatest areas of human vulnerability: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—the same areas in which we are tempted. Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, thwarted each temptation using God’s Word.
Though Jesus was fully God, He also was fully man; and that was the nature Satan attacked. Yet Jesus remained sinless and pure—“a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19).
Failing to corrupt the Messiah, Satan then tried other tactics to keep Him from going to the cross and thus completing His mission of redemption, which would spell Satan’s defeat. In one instance, Jesus returned to His hometown synagogue in Nazareth, and people forced Him from the building and led Him “to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff” (Lk. 4:29).
Yet Satan failed to precipitate Jesus’ premature death, as Jesus passed “through the midst of them” and “went His way” (v. 30).
Timing and Intensity
When that tactic failed, Satan tried to precipitate Jesus’ premature installation as King, outside God’s plan. As Christ continued His ministry throughout the Galilee, He saw “a great multitude coming toward Him” (Jn. 6:5). Andrew, the apostle Peter’s brother, found a young boy who had “five barley loaves and two small fish” (v. 9). Jesus’ miracle of taking such a meager lunch and feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children, got the masses’ attention.
“This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world,” they said (v. 14). “Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed…alone” (v. 15). Just as Jesus’ premature death would have ruined God’s plan of redemption, so too would His premature kingship. Bible commentator Edwin Blum explained:
This marks the highpoint of Jesus’ popularity and a great temptation for Him. Could He have the kingdom without the Cross? No. Jesus’ kingdom would be given to Him by the Father (cf. Ps. 2:7–12; Dan. 7:13–14). It will not come from this world (John 18:36). The path of the Father’s will lies in another direction. Before He can be the reigning Lion of Judah, He must be the Lamb who bears the sin of the world (1:29).1
The closer Jesus came to the cross—to redeeming lost humanity by delivering the death blow to Satan—the more intense became the demonic attacks He was forced to endure.
Shortly before the Roman soldiers arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had a season of prayer that was anything but sweet: “‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me.’ And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Lk. 22:42, 44).
We will never fully grasp the nature or depth of Christ’s spiritual battle. Was Jesus actually sweating blood, or was His agony so intense His perspiration felt like blood? Commentators differ. We may not know the answer, but we do know Jesus was already beginning to suffer for lost souls because an angel was dispatched to strengthen Him physically and spiritually.
Later the wife of Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect in Jerusalem who ordered Jesus crucified, sent word to her husband, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him” (Mt. 27:19). Who or what was behind her dream? Her torment probably did not come from God because Christ came to Earth to die as humanity’s final sacrifice for sin. This seems like yet another satanic ploy to derail God’s plan.
Victory in Jesus
As Jesus hung on the cross, His assailants taunted Him: “If He is the King of Israel let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him” (v. 42).
If Jesus had abandoned the cross even for a second, Satan would have been the victor. Today we would be without hope, dead in our trespasses and sin, with no one who could rescue us from the awful and permanent consequences of God’s righteous judgment.
But Jesus endured the shame of the cross. He submitted to the plan established before the foundation of the world and gave up His spirit: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Lk. 23:46). He allowed Himself to be crucified because of His great love for us.
Satan made one last attempt to defeat Jesus. The chief priests and Pharisees told Pilate that Jesus had promised, “After three days I will rise” (Mt. 27:63). They received a detail of soldiers to guard the tomb, which was blocked by an enormously heavy stone and certified with the legal, official seal of the Roman Empire—all to no avail.
Satan’s attempt to thwart the resurrection failed miserably. Today he is trying to keep Jesus from returning, so he is working tirelessly to destroy the Jewish people because without them there can be no Davidic Kingdom for Jesus to rule.
But God will not be thwarted. He says in Isaiah, “I work, and who will reverse it?” (43:13). Satan could not reverse God’s plan of redemption in those days, and he cannot reverse it now. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, people everywhere may receive forgiveness of sin and everlasting life by placing their faith in the One who took their punishment on the cross. Christ, indeed, arose; and though this world lies under the sway of the Evil One, faith in Jesus—and in Jesus alone—gives us the victory “that has overcome the world” (1 Jn. 5:4).
- Edwin A. Blum, “John,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 2:294.