Spiritual Warfare – How Christ Disarmed Satan

The early Christians often seem to have viewed their experience in terms of warfare. Military terminology is liberally sprinkled through the pages of the New Testament. Faith was “the good fight.” Protection was seen in terms of “the armor of God.” The word of God is likened to “a sword.” Satan’s attacks are “fiery darts.” 

Although the Mediterranean littorals were enjoying at this time what came to be known as the Pax Romana, these lands were garrisoned by Roman soldiers, giving a military atmosphere to the whole of life. 

But the war the Christians talked about was not “against flesh and blood.” The weapons they wielded were not “carnal.” It was spiritual warfare. It was a battle against “the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”. And that is what this article [book] is all about. 

This same spiritual warfare goes on today. It will increase as the end of the age draws nearer, and Christ’s return becomes imminent. The basic New Testament principles of spiritual warfare remain the same, even though Satan dresses himself up in new disguises. 

Far Above All

Posterity shall serve him; men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, that he has wrought it (that it is finished, [Amplified Bible]).

Psalm 22: 30-31

With the coming of Jesus Christ we see the perfect demonstration of what this article [book] is all about. For he exposed the enemy and drew him into open conflict. Then he defeated him utterly and completely. The twilight of the pre-Christian era gave way suddenly and dramatically to the noon-day sun of the glory of Christ. 

Jesus was under assault throughout his earthly life. He was a marked man. The enemy constantly tried to destroy him, or divert him from his divinely appointed pathway of life. The moment he was born a determined attempt was made on his life, and only the intervention of an angel and a hurried journey into Egypt saved the young child from death. During his public ministry there were several sinister plots and at least one attempt at assassination, which proved abortive. His encounter with Satan in the wilderness, at the start of his ministry, was only the prelude to many other attacks. In the end they came through. his own disciples – first Peter, who tried to prevent him from accepting the road to Calvary, and then Judas, whom Satan finally entered and used to betray his own master.

But the initiative was not always Satan’s. For wherever Jesus went he upset and overthrew his kingdom. He healed those who were oppressed by him (Act 10:38), loosed a woman who had been bound by him for eighteen years (Luke 13:16), and on numerous occasions delivered those whose personalities had been invaded by his evil spirits. 

This was all part of the purpose of his coming. Jesus himself declared, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives … to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). So he fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah. A new day had dawned, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” as Zechariah described it (Luke 1:79). But when this light shone into the darkness there were often sharp reactions. “Do not torment me” shouted the demoniac at Jesus (Mark 5:17). For a being that habitually lives in darkness, the coming of light can be torture, not blessing. And this is what the coming of Jesus to this earth meant. As Merrill F. Unger has described it: 

It was the unavoidable collision of the unhindered power of the Holy Spirit manifested through a sinless life with the opposing power of Satan. It was impossible for the Son of God to be in the vicinity of evil power, and not expose it and challenge it. Shadows of twilight and the curtain of night only temporarily hide what the brilliance of the noonday sun reveals. 

But a new and important stage had been reached in the age-long battle against the powers of darkness. Before Christ came the light was to be preserved within the boundaries of God’s chosen people, the Jews. But Christ proclaimed its future effusion the gospel to every nation, and to those who were in a special way under “the commander of the spiritual powers of the air,” the spirit then at work “among God’s rebel subjects” (Ephesians 2:2 NEB). No longer were the people of God to live a life of national separation. They were to move out into all the world, and so they were to need in a new way power to deal with the spiritual wickedness that they were going to encounter. So Paul conceived his mission to the Gentiles in terms of turning them “from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 6:18). The apostle John looked out on a world, the whole of which was “in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). 

But before this mission could begin, the enemy had to be defeated and disarmed. Jesus achieved this on the Cross. It is most important to see the dual purpose of that death. It is summarised perfectly for us by John in his first epistle. “He appeared to take away sins …the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy (literally ‘undo’) the works of the devil” (1 John 3:5 and 8). At the Cross, man’s sin was cleansed and Satan’s power broken. To use some of the imagery of Charles Wesley’s hymns-sinners lost both their guilty stains and their heavy chains. Satan’s strong grip on the world was slackened, and the way was opened for the church, in the power and authority of the Spirit, to deliver millions of prisoners Satan had in chains throughout the world. 

Paul put both aspects of the cross very graphically when he wrote to the Colossians how Christ had “cancelled the bonds which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” He dealt thoroughly with our sins and our just condemnation. But we need to read on. “He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it” (or “him”, which is an alternative reading), (Colossians 2:14-15). As Ronald Knox puts it in his translation, “He robbed the dominion and powers of their prey”. The same truth is expressed clearly by Paul in his address in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:38-39). Through Jesus there is not only forgiveness of sins but freedom from everything “from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses”. 

But in Ephesians Paul takes the triumph a stage further from the Cross – by linking it also with the resurrection and the ascension of our Lord, and expressing what these events mean in terms of victory over Satan. Speaking of Christ’s new position, he writes of it as, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:21-23). And in quoting from Psalm 68: 18 he refers again to Christ being far from all, after he had “led captivity captive” (A.V.). 

And he is still there – far above all! What confidence this should give us in our warfare against Satan! Now the Church can penetrate the dark jungles of the world, protected from danger and able to tame them in the power of Jesus” name. 

Here we are dealing with the bed-rock of any successful ministry in the field of spiritual warfare. We dare not enter into battle without a firm confidence in the efficacy of the death of Christ, and a firm trust in the power of His new position in the heavenlies. 

As we read the Gospels we not only come into a new realisation of the reality of Christ’s victory, but also a new understanding of the nature of those malevolent forces working under their supreme commander. Not only is Satan exposed by the light of Christ’s coming, but so also are the evil spirits, of which we read so little in the Old Testament. Here we are able to learn very much more about their nature and mode of operation. 

We know from the New Testament that these spirits are not the souls of dead people. They are rather fallen angels, who were evicted from heaven at the same time as their commander, Satan. In Revelation 12:7 there is a reference to Satan and his angels fighting with Michael and his, and Satan is thrown down to the earth with his angels. In Matthew 25:41 Jesus uses the same description in referring to “the devil and his angels.” In Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 there is a reference to fallen angels and their fate. It seems clear too that in Romans 8:38 the angels referred to are not God’s angels but Satan’s, for God’s would hardly be described as separating us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

It may also be true that in the rather obscure text which refers to women wearing veils “because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 2:10), it refers to Satan’s angels, not God’s. 

These evil spirits are personalities, like God’s angels, not impersonal influences. They are agents working under the authority of Satan. They can speak (Mark 5:9, 12), believe (James 2:19), exercise their wills (Luke 2:24), and they know about their future fate (Matthew 8:29) and recognise Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 1:24), and so clearly possess intelligence. But, like Satan, they ultimately only operate within the permissive will of God, and on occasions they fulfil his will (see, for example, Psalm 78:49).

Sometimes these beings are called demons in the New Testament, the usual Greek word being daimonion, the diminutive of daimon. But in six places they are called “evil spirits” (ponera), and in twenty-three “unclean spirits” (akatharta). They desire to possess living organisms – human beings, but also animals. In the Gospels, for instance, we are told how they entered into pigs (Mark 5:13). They sometimes exert a physical influence on people, either enduing them with superhuman strength, as in the case of the demoniac who “broke his fetters in pieces” (Mark 5:4), or affecting one or more of their organs. In a later chapter we shall be analysing the various areas of satanic attack, and giving examples of how these attacks can be recognised and dealt with accordingly. 

We see Jesus completely in command of the situation when faced with satanic power. “Begone, Satan!”, he tells him in the wilderness; “get behind me, Satan!” he says to Peter. He silenced and rebuked the evil spirits, and cast them out with a word. They came cringing to him when they had been cast out of the demoniac, begging him to let them go into the pigs. Only when permission is given are they able to enter in. Throughout the Gospels Jesus reveals his complete authority and mastery over these unseen forces of evil. 

The life of Jesus is our perfect example of how to conduct spiritual warfare. Before his coming, the law had only one answer to entrenched evil-the death penalty. But from Pentecost onwards the Church was able to wield a new weapon – the all victorious name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. So what Jesus had so successfully accomplished throughout the brief period of his earthly ministry, was to be enacted many times over in the years to come. Because Jesus had gone to the Father and released the full power of the Holy Spirit, Christians are able to do even greater works. The success and failure of the Church in this matter is the subject of the next chapter. 

This excerpt is from the Introduction and from Chapter 3, Spiritual Warfare: Defeating Satan in the Christian Life, © 1970 by Michael Harper. Used with permission. The book was originally published in 1970 by Hodder and Stoughton, London, UK and by Logos International, Plainfield, New Jersey, USA. 

Top image above: The temptation of Christ on the mount, [cropped] painting by Duccio (1255–1319), in the Frick Gallery, New York. Image in the public domain.

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