Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Kingdom of God is displayed in power

The Kingdom is displayed with power – Matt. 12.22-28

Context – Jesus heals a demon possessed blind and mute man. Crowds are amazed and want to know if Jesus is the “Son of David.” But of course, hatahs gonna hate. The say that Jesus’ power to drive out demons come from Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Jesus states that his ability to drive demons out of people is a sign that the Kingdom of God has come upon them.

Satan is identified by Jesus elsewhere as “the prince of this world” (John 16.11). Jesus showed in his exorcisms that the kingdom had broken into history. Jesus is invading Satan on his turf. Jesus does great damage to his territory. Jesus went around healing all of those who were under the power of the devil. 

How did Satan get this power?

For Jesus and the gospel writers Satan is the chief enemy of Jesus and the establishing of the kingdom of God. In Jesus’ ministry, especially in his exorcisms, Jesus gives evidence of the first stage of Satan’s defeat by casting out his servants from people.

We have to discuss, if God is sovereign (in control) and God is king, then why does Jesus call Satan the “prince of this world”? Why does he have power on the earth and the ability to terrorize God’s people (and those who aren’t God’s people).

There is not a real well developed outline of the origin of Satan and how he became the “prince of this world”. We see him in some form in the early days of creation. We find “the tempter” in Gen. 3.1-15 who distorts and contradicts God’s words to Adam and Eve (“Did God really say…”).
Question: what is he doing in the Garden of Eden? How did he get there? Like I said, nowhere does the Bible give a detailed account of his creation or his rebellion. There are some writings by Jewish theologians that speculate on where he came from and what his mission is.
In a writing called Wisdom of Solomon, it states “God…made man in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy (of man having this image), death entered into the world.
Another writing called The Life of Adam and Eve elaborates on Satan’s motive and his role in the fall of humanity. When one of God’s angels ordered Satan to worship the image of God in Adam and Eve, Satan answered, “I will not worship one inferior and subsequent to me”. Consequently God expelled the devil and his angels from heaven to the earth. Satan then explains to Adam “And immediately we were made to grieve, since we had been deprived of so great glory. And we were pained to see you in such bliss of delights. So with deceit I assailed your wife and made you to be expelled through her from the joys of your bliss, as I have been expelled from my glory”.
Other verses that have colored our view of Satan but are not explicitly describing Satan:
Ezek. 28.11-19 – This was a prophecy condemning the King of Tyre and predicting his downfall. The prophecy discusses his apparent greatness by describing his greatness and even his presence in the Garden of Eden. He is called a guardian cherub (angel like figure). He was expelled from the “holy mount of God” and thrown to earth because of his pride in his own beauty. He will eventually come to a fiery destruction.
In Isaiah 14.12-14 there is a prophecy condemning the king of Babylon. Again, this figure is has been cast down to earth. He is called the morning star (Latin: Lucifer). It was his pride (again) that was his downfall. He wanted to rule on a throne over God himself, he wanted to make himself like the “Most High.”
In both of these cases, this is a prophecy against foreign kings whose pride caused them to mistreat God’s people, they did not acknowledge God’s role in their rise. But you can see how these passages have colored the popular views on Satan’s origin and his original role in tempting Adam and Eve.

Satan’s role: Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, Satan appears to be this accusing presence that attempts to separate people from God.
1 Chr. 21.1 – “Satan rose up and incited David to take a census of Israel.” This act angered God because it was seen as a lack of faith. David was measuring his might instead of resting in the belief that God was the one who had given him all of his victories.
In two prominent passages, we see Satan in his role as “the accuser” which is what the term ha-satan means in Hebrew (or the adversary).
In the most famous passage, Job 1.6-2.7, Satan appears with the “sons of God” and opposes God by challenging the genuineness of Job’s right relationship with God, claiming that Job follows God because God has blessed him with wealth, family and good fortune. God allows Satan to strip Job of his wealth and kill his seven children. Job continues to follow and worship God, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” That’s not good enough for Satan, who accuses Job again. Job is now personally afflicted with a painful disease. And even though the rest of the book has Job questioning why God allowed this when Job has been so upright before him, Job does not lose his faith and continues to follow God. His wife believes that God hates Job and tells Job to “Curse God and die” already. Job’s reply shows his integrity: “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all of this, Job did not sin in what he said.

In Zech. 3.1-2 – we see Satan in his role as accuser. He tries to disqualify the high priest by accusing him of his past sins. But Satan’s accusations cause God’s goodness and glory to stand out, God has forgiven Joshua all of his sins despite the accusations of the accuser.

So if God is sovereign, and it appears from these passages (especially Job) that Satan’s power is limited to what God allows him to do, why is he still allowed to accuse and tempt God’s people? It seems that God allows this evil (and Satan’s accusations and his attempts to undermine him and his people) as a contrast to his goodness. And also, when God’s people remain faithful to Him, God receives even more glory as his people show themselves as committed to him. In the NT, Paul believes that Satan was allowed to torment him with a “thorn in the flesh” so that Paul would be reliant on God and his grace. His thorn made him in himself weak, but that forced Paul to lean more on God and his power than on his own strength. Therefore, Satan’s work actually gave God greater glory through Paul’s reliance on God’s grace.
So, perhaps God allows Satan to exist to test our faithfulness. If we remain faithful in spite of attack, God is glorified. When we encounter his opposition, we experience God’s grace and power when we rely on him for our strength and allow his power to work through us.

Now moving to the NT and specifically the ministry of Jesus, we see Satan as the adversary of Jesus. We see him tempting Jesus while he was fasting and praying in the wilderness (Matt. 4.1-11). He is the enemy of God’s work as he tries to snatch the word of God away from those who hear it (Matt. 13.39). He is called the “evil one” (Matt. 5.37; 6.13) and “the tempter” (Matt. 4.3). Jesus also calls him “the prince of this world” (John 16.11).

It is with this worldview of Satan and his power that Jesus came and announced that God’s kingdom had come. It was one thing to announce it, but Jesus displays evidence that it has come. He does so by attacking Satan on his turf.

Now we see Jesus displaying God’s power by casting out demons. And Jesus connects this display of power to the coming of God’s kingdom. How does it display this?
Like I’ve already said, Jesus has called Satan the “prince of this world.” We’ve seen what his role is. Jesus displays God’s power over the servants of Satan and tells a brief little parable that pictures Satan as a heavily armed man (prince) hoarding his possessions. His possessions are those who have been created in God’s image. This is consistent with the rest of the NT.
1 John 3.8-10 - The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
Prior to our life in Christ according to Eph. 2.1-3, it seems that we followed “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” and Satan’s spirit was at work in our disobedience. This made us deserving of God’s wrath.
And the writer of the letter to the Hebrews (2.14-15) states that Satan has a limited period where he holds the power of death. He uses this power keep us subjected to him as, prior to our new life in Christ, we had a fear of death. We can see this as Satan distracts those who fear death with instant gratification (pursuing earthly pleasure) as a way to distract us from the pain and certainty that death provides (if we have no hope of eternal life that we receive from Christ.)

But these episodes, like Jesus casting out the servants of Satan reveal that not only was God’s Spirit and power working through Jesus but they were evidence that God’s kingdom had come to them and that Satan’s rule has been weakened (and in fact, Satan was becoming powerless over the people who belong to God’s kingdom).
In Acts 10:38 – Peter discusses how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
This was shown in him casting out demons (like this episode) but it may have shown itself in illness – Jesus offers freedom to a woman who had been tormented by disease by stating:
Luke 13:12, 16 – Woman, you are set free from your infirmity…Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
God’s power was displayed to in his ability to attack the devil and it was a sign that the power of God was with him (see Acts 10.38). Jesus is battling Satan on his turf.

These victories over Satan and his “spirits” show Jesus to be the Son of God. In fact the people want to know if Jesus could be “the Son of David”?
What did they mean by Son of David? This was a royal title. The messiah, or the great king who was going to rescue his people was to be a descendant of the model king of Israel. Their deliverer would be from his line. By asking this question about whether Jesus was the “Son of David”, they were wondering, could this man be the deliverer we have been waiting for? They were under the power of the Roman Empire. They could not understand why God’s chosen and holy people were under any kind of oppression. They eagerly expected deliverance. And that deliverance would come from a “son of David.” As you read through Matthew’s gospel, he definitely points out that, “Yes, Jesus is the son of David. He is the one who will deliver us.” But Jesus’ deliverance will not be from Roman occupation. It will not lead to a new government and an earthly king on an earthly throne in Jerusalem. The deliverance that Jesus will bring is release from the power and captivity of our sin and a rescue from Satan’s power.

NT Wright – Jesus is letting the people know that Israel’s God is powerful and active in and through Jesus. Jesus is showing that he has engaged Satan in battle. The exorcisms are not only the release from bondage for a few possessed people. For Jesus (and the gospel writers) they signaled something far deeper that was going on. Ministry was head-on war with Satan. Jesus regards his exorcisms (and the healings of those whose condition was attributed to the work of Satan) as a sign that he was winning the battle, though it had not yet reached its height.
On one level Herod Antipas is still in charge of Galilee and the Romans are the overlords of the entire middle east, but there is a different oppressor who is receiving a devastating blow and who will so be conquered.

If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. This tells a story: Israel’s God will one day be king; the establishment of that Kingdom will involve the defeat of the enemy that has held Israel captive; there are clear signs that this is now happening; Israel is really being liberated.

What does this mean to us? Jesus has defeated Satan on his turf. It doesn’t always look like it, but he came to deliver us from the power of sin and death (both domains of Satan).
This all comes back to the fact that Jesus is the king. Those who submit to King Jesus find themselves no longer bound by Satan’s power. We no longer have to fear death. These are two of the areas of Satan’s power that Jesus has overcome on our behalf.
Col. 2.15 – Jesus disarmed “the powers and authorities (of Satan), he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Eph. 1.21-22 - Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand have placed Him “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion…God place all things under his feet…”

Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has already won the decisive victory over Satan. But, the battle still continues. The total separation between good and evil comes at the end. In the meantime, Satan’s goal is to keep people under his rule or to distract God’s people from giving glory back to God.
He snatches the word of God’s kingdom from hearts before the grasp its truth and submit to it (Matt. 13.19).
2 Cor. 4.4 - He blinds the minds of unbelievers “so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ…”
He will increase the intensity of his attacks on God’s people when he realizes how quickly his time is running out (Rev. 12.12).

Fortunately, Jesus has won the battle and has given us tools at our disposal to overcome Satan’s attacks.
Paul tells us that we need to put on the armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes. That armor includes: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, our faith, our salvation and the word of God.
We are to call upon the power of the Spirit that our submission to Jesus gives us to actively resist Satan (see James 4.7 and 1 Peter 5.9).

We need to take comfort in knowing that as powerful as Satan is, he can do nothing apart from God’s permission (as we have seen in Job’s story). And perhaps we can learn from these episodes like Paul who saw that Satan’s attacks were opportunities to rely more fully on God’s power and grace so that God could get even more glory from Paul’s service.

We can perhaps learn from the early churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), who were undergoing intense persecution. They were encouraged by Jesus himself to be faithful and he promised great blessings to those who overcome the attacks of Satan through relying on the victory of Jesus.


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