Destroy the Devil’s Work

Sunday’s sermon dealt with the question “Why Did Jesus Come?” The speaker listed 8 or 10 citations from Scripture that answer that question, and invited people to talk to him after the service if they found he had forgotten one.

I do not wish to take anything away from his message, which was timely, Biblical, and challenging. But I did manage to buttonhole him after the service and said, “You did miss one, you know…”

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.  1 John 3:8

The destruction of the devil’s empire, his four-thousand-year-long project of subjugating and abusing the human race, officially began when Jesus “appeared.” The first item on his agenda was to resist temptation, to show perfect obedience to God the Father and to fulfill His word:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Matthew 4:1-11

This passage teaches us three things about the devil’s work – the work that John tells us it was Jesus’ purpose to destroy.  The devil has been working on this project for centuries. It must be taken apart in order to liberate Mankind and bring us the eternal life that was always envisioned for us. Thankfully, we are not unaware of the devil’s plan:

…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.  2 Corinthians 2:11

We have the Word of God to delineate the issues for us, to clarify what is going on in this fallen world. What the devil is the devil up to? Returning to Matthew chapter four:

First, the devil’s work is physical, of this world only. It operates from the basis of the physical appetites.  For years the devil has been teaching children that they are nothing more than animals, with no spiritual dimension. If people consistently think this way, they will be driven to addiction and despair – the ultimate destination of all those who pay attention to the devil. That is where he chauffeurs people.

Second, the devil’s work is political. It exists in the realm of earthly, political power. That is why Jesus immediately follows his encounter with the devil by making the proclamation, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). The kingdom of heaven stands in opposition to the kingdom of this world. And make no mistake: The political system on earth is part of the devil’s system, not God’s (whilst always, of course, being subject to God’s absolute sovereignty).

Third, the devil’s work is self-exalting. The devil loves to be honored and worshiped, and those who follow him (wittingly or unwittingly) take on the same attributes. Exaltation of man, or angels , or any created thing, constitutes robbing God of His rightful glory.

The devil is a  proud spirit, whose rebellion against God had something to do with his horror that the humans – the race of mortal beings – would somehow be exalted in God’s sight, redeemed for all eternity. Humans would therefore experience something that angels cannot even fathom.

This was too much for Lucifer, the proud angel. This he could not tolerate. He rebelled and took a large company of the angels with him, to begin the alternative project that we see around us today – a system that exalts the devil over against God, and gratifies his need for adulation. As Martin Luther — probably the most knowledgeable person in the realm of warfare against Satan — once said,

The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.

He exists to be worshiped by humans. He loves the adulation. He loves the reversal of God’s economy in the Eighth Psalm:

[W]hat is man that you are mindful of him,

    the son of man that you care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

    and crowned him with glory and honor.

Psalm 8:3-4

The devil, one of the greatest of the “heavenly beings,” wants to keep mankind in that “little lower” state. But God’s plan through Jesus is not merely to destroy the devil’s work. He actually wants to humiliate the devil, to firmly and finally put him in his place.

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.  Colossians 2:15

The amazing part is that he does not do this by himself, or merely by the action of Jesus, or the work of the unfallen angels. He does it through us:

…to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Ephesians 3:9-11

And we have this remarkable promise:

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  Romans 16:20

That is to say, the ultimate place of the redeemed human race is superior to the devil, in fact standing on the neck of the devil to dispatch him finally. That truth is captured in Jesus’ very strange parable about the traveling king:

A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ He was made king, however, and returned home…

‘But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

Luke 19:12-15, 27

I have deliberately left out what most commentators would consider the heart of the story – the part where the returning king finds out how his servants have managed his affairs during his absence. What I want us to see here is the final triumph of the king over the subjects in the distant land. This is a parable. The king is Jesus himself. The distant land is the “heavenly realms,” the place inhabited by angels, and specifically by Satan and his band of fallen angels. The “delegation” is this company of fallen angels, resenting the authority of Jesus over them (see 1 Peter 3:22). Eventually they are doomed to perish; Revelation tells us of a “lake of fire” awaiting the devil and his angels. But the point here is that the king – representing Jesus – doesn’t do the “dirty work” himself. He commands his loyal servants – that is, the church – to do it in front of him. The final triumph over Satan is accomplished by the redeemed people of God, in obedience to Jesus’ command. Thus the “devil’s work” will be finally destroyed, and the manifold wisdom of God made plain to all creation. This is the “eternal purpose,” a project which is already underway, having begun with the Cross, continued through the Resurrection and (specifically) the Ascension, and now in the establishment of the Church.

The reason the Son of God came: to destroy the devil’s work.

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