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Jesus and the Reality of Spiritual Warfare

In yesterday’s post, we discussed how challenging it can be to believe in the reality of a spiritual realm in the modern world. Today, let’s look at how Jesus’ ministry relates to this spiritual reality.

While Jesus and his followers of course believed that God was the ultimate Lord over all creation, they clearly viewed Satan as the functional Lord of earth at the present time. Satan is depicted as possessing “all the kingdoms of the world”—to the point that he is able to give authority to rule these kingdoms to anyone he pleases (Luke 4:5-6).

Paul doesn’t shy away from labeling Satan “the God of the world” (2 Cor 4:4) and “the ruler of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). He depicts this entire present world system as fundamentally evil (Gal 1:4, Eph 5:6).

According to the NT, the central reason the Son of God came into the world was to drive out the “prince of the world” (John 12:31), to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil” in order to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (Heb 2:14-15).

Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them” (Col 2:15). In a word, Jesus came to bring a victorious end to the cosmic war that has been raging from time immemorial and to set Satan’s captives and all creation free.

The centrality of cosmic conflict in the ministry of Jesus is reflected in the first messianic prophesy given in Scripture which focuses on his victory over the serpent (Gen 3:15). Related to this, Jesus’ victory over the serpent and all other cosmic opponents pervades the NT. Psalm 110:1 celebrates the victory of God’s anointed one over his foes, which is the most referenced OT passage by NT writers and it always applies to Jesus.

The centrality of Jesus’s conflict with, and victory over, Satan and the powers is evident in the fact that salvation in the NT is portrayed not primarily as a matter of individuals being forgiven their sin but as humans and the whole cosmos being delivered from the power of Satan. Every aspect of Jesus’ life can be understood as part of his battle against, and victory over, the powers of darkness. Every one of Jesus’ healings and deliverances, for example, should be viewed as an act of war that advances God’s kingdom and diminishes Satan’s kingdom. Peter summarized it by saying that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” (Acts 10:38).

In this spiritual battle with Satan and the principalities, Jesus in principle won the war, struck the decisive deathblow, vanquished Satan, restored humanity, and established the kingdom; yet some battles must still be fought before this ultimate victory is fully manifested. Hence Jesus did not just carry out his warfare ministry; he commissioned, equipped and empowered his disciples, and the whole of the later church, to do the same. He set in motion the creation of a new humanity, one that again exercises dominion over the earth, by giving us his power and authority to proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom just as he did.

—Adapted from Understanding Spiritual Warfare, pages 136-137 and God at War, page 214

Photo credit: Ybrayym Esenov via Unsplash

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