Once Jesus laid down his life, the devil’s stranglehold on the lives of men was broken.
Jesus came into the world as a heavenly commando sent by God to destroy the works of Satan single-handedly. The devil holds men in bondage through the singular sin of the love of life; the foundation of all sin. We steal, cheat, fight, kill and commit adultery in order to save our lives. God required Jesus to call us to repentance and tell us about his kingdom. He would then demonstrate that our fear of death is baseless by laying down his life and then rising from the dead.
Hebrews says of Jesus: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Exposed secret agent
But how can Jesus survive in Satan’s kingdom on earth when his arrival as a baby is broadcast by angels? How can he survive when wise men from the East are foolish enough to make enquiries about him in the king’s palace? Herod’s response on hearing of the birth of a rival “king of the Jews” was to kill all the infants in Bethlehem. However, God was always one step ahead of Jesus’ adversaries. An angel forewarned Joseph to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt for refuge. Thereafter, the devil was bound and rendered powerless for the duration of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus was not secretive about his mission on earth. He preached about the establishment of his alternative kingdom everywhere he went. He also validated his message with supernatural signs. He cast out demons; demonstrating the overthrow of the kingdom of Satan. He raised the dead; signaling the triumph of life over death. He healed the sick; announcing the end of human suffering. He multiplied loaves of bread; pointing to the satisfaction of all physical need. He stilled the storm; heralding the emergence of peace on earth. And he forgave sins; proclaiming the dawning of righteousness.
Recognising Jesus’ superior authority and powers, the devil quickly sought an unholy alliance with him. He appealed to the pride of life in Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the world, if he would join his rebellion against God. He said to him: “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” (Luke 4:6-7).
But when Jesus refused the offer, he resorted to his time-honoured strategy of employing the fear of death against men. He threatened Jesus’ life; knowing Jesus could easily save it. But if Jesus saved his life, he would be entrapped by the word of God which says: “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it.” (Luke 17:33). The devil even attempted to use one of Jesus’ disciples against him. When Jesus revealed that God’s plan was for him to be killed and then rise from the dead, Peter objected, saying this should not happen to Jesus. But Jesus rebuked him sharply. He said to him: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23).
A house divided
In Satan’s camp were the Jewish pastors who were incensed that the more Jesus preached, the more he exposed their ungodliness. If he were to continue unabated, they feared they would soon lose their meal-ticket; the goodwill of the people. They were also concerned that Jesus’ popularity would grow into a revolutionary fervor against Roman occupation; prompting Caesar to crush it with characteristic ruthlessness. Since this would jeopardize their privileged position under Roman rule, they decided to save their lives by accusing Jesus to the Roman authorities of plotting to overthrow Caesar; a crime punishable by death.
However, Jesus knew Satan had no interest in killing him; he only wanted him to save his life. Satan knew he could not kill Jesus. Any attempt to kill him would prompt the rescue of angels. Satan said to Jesus: “It is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6).
But Jesus was determined to allow himself to be killed so that Satan’s captivity of men through the love of life and the fear of death would finally be broken. When Satan realised this was Jesus’ resolve, he decided to call the whole thing off at the last minute. Pilate, another one of his agents, looked desperately for a way to free Jesus, declaring him innocent. He said to Jesus’ accusers: “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 19:4). He then sought to release him through a clemency order in honour of the Passover.
However, the pastors, Satan’s other agents, would not consent to Jesus’ release, insisting he must be crucified. In effect, Jesus’ non-resistance divided Satan against himself. Jesus says: “Every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25). In order to save his life as Governor by avoiding a riot, Pilate had to succumb to the demands of the pastors.
But Satan had one last gambit. He engineered the rulers of the Jews as well as passers-by to mock Jesus, hoping to provoke him to jump down from the cross and save his life. They taunted him, saying: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” (Luke 23:37). “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35). Even God had to restrain himself from saving Jesus when Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
However, the love of God for man ensured Jesus was forsaken on the cross. Jesus paid the full Satanic ransom of laying down his life as a man. Thereby, he pioneered the fulfilment of the word of God that says: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25). This ushered in a new era of the resurrection of the dead unto eternal life with God. (John 6:38-40).
Thus, Jesus’ defeat was paradoxically his greatest triumph. Once he willingly laid down his life for God, the devil’s stranglehold on the lives of men was broken for the very first time. With Jesus’ resurrection, all the righteous dead began to rise from the dead: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:52-53).
By overcoming the love of life and the fear of death, Jesus opened “the gates of righteousness,” that men may thereafter follow his shining example. Thanks to Jesus, we are no longer held captive by sin and Satan: “Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:7-8).