When people talk about Jesus, whether they are non-Christians or professing believers, they rarely if ever describe his coming to earth in the way John spoke of it in 1 John 3:8.
You will hear them say things like: “The reason that Jesus appeared was to bring justice to the world,” or “The reason that Jesus appeared was to model for us love and kindness,” or “The reason that Jesus appeared was to reconcile us to God.” Of course, the latter statement is true, but how many times have you ever heard people say, as John the Apostle has said, under divine inspiration, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the Devil” (1 John 3:8b)?
One doesn’t have to look far in our world before coming face to face with the undeniable reality of demonic activity and the horribly ugly and destructive things that Satan and his demons attempt to do to those who bear the image of God. Unfortunately, when we come across incidents of demonization or oppression in the Bible, many are embarrassed. And I don’t just mean the man on the street. I have in mind preachers and teachers of God’s Word. They don’t know what to do with passages that describe Satanic attack. They typically just avoid saying anything about such texts for fear that if they actually take them seriously and explain them and call upon their people to respond to them that the door will open up to all sorts of weird things in their churches. And many, if not most pastors, have one primary aim: Keep the peace! Don’t rock the boat! Avoid controversy! And whatever you do, for heaven’s sake don’t say anything that might offend the people who give the most money; you don’t want to drive them away!
Let’s think for a moment about what John is saying in 1 John 3:8. The word “destroy” means to loose, to unbind, to unravel, to dissolve. Thus, Satan’s works are conceived as chains that bind us, which Jesus now breaks. His works have a coherence, an inter-connectedness, being somehow intertwined, as if a tapestry of sorts. Jesus came to undo and dissolve the enemy’s efforts. The coming of Jesus, notes Stephen Smalley, “was concerned with unpicking the net of evil in which the devil has always attempted to trap human beings” (170).
What are Satan’s “works”? Morally, he entices us to sin. Physically, he inflicts disease and seeks to destroy those who bear the image of God. Intellectually, he seduces us into error. And spiritually, he blinds the minds of unbelievers lest they see and believe the gospel.
So, how did Jesus “destroy” the works of the devil? Without going into too much detail, we can answer this by pointing to several things.
First, we should look to his life and ministry. By this I have in mind his perfect and exhaustive obedience to the Law of God, fulfilling on our behalf what we could never live up to. I have in mind his teaching of truth and thus his exposing of error. He destroyed the works of the Devil when he successfully and sinlessly resisted the Devil’s temptations. He also delivered people and drove out demons and set people free from their bondage to him.
Second, Jesus also destroyed the works of the Devil by means of his death. The principal goal of Satan is to thwart the principal goal of God. God’s principal goal is to glorify himself. Insofar as the cross of Christ glorified God, it defeated Satan. When Jesus died as God’s judgment against sin, against that which belittled God’s glory, Satan’s principal goal was thwarted. Satan has come to vitiate God’s glory. Jesus has come to vindicate it. Satan seeks to undermine God’s glory. Jesus aims to uphold it.
Satan’s aim is to keep men and women in their sin, under its penalty, held in bondage to its power, suffering mental and emotional defeat from its guilty accusations. Insofar as Christ’s death secured redemption from sin and its guilt, Satan has suffered defeat (see Col. 2:13-15).
As long as Satan can keep people in their sin, he can torment them with the fear of death, for death is sin’s penalty. Yet we read Hebrews 2:14-15 that “since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14-15).
Third, Jesus defeated and destroyed the works of Satan through his bodily resurrection from the dead and his exaltation to the right hand of the Father. As my spiritual mentor, S. Lewis Johnson, used to say: “The resurrection was the Father’s ‘Amen!’ to the Son’s ‘It is finished!’” By raising Jesus from the dead and exalting him to the right hand of the majesty on high, God the Father ratified, confirmed, and openly proclaimed the sufficiency of the cross (see Rom. 5:8-11; 1 Cor. 15:16-17; Eph. 1:18-23; Rev. 1:17-18).
In light of all this, you may be asking the question: if Jesus so thoroughly defeated the Devil and his demons through his life, death, and resurrection, why should we have to worry about them today? Why is there still a war on-going?
It is true that Jesus has sealed Satan’s ultimate defeat and demise. The legal ground on the basis of which he seeks to undermine our relationship with God has been overturned. We wage war against a defeated enemy! But he is still our enemy and he is still active, out on bond, if you will, before his ultimate and eternal imprisonment, and his primary aim is to convince us that he still has authority and power over our lives. And to the degree that we open the door to his presence or grant him access to our lives, he can still wreak havoc. But he doesn’t have to.
Simply put, you don’t have to suffer from Satan’s debilitating presence or yield to his temptations or experience the shame and paralyzing guilt that he tries to inflict. The consistent testimony of Scripture is the victory of Christ over the demonic and the authority and power that is ours if we believe, if we take our stand in the name and authority of the risen Christ, “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).