The Finished Work of Christ: The Temptations of Christ Pt. III

The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the Devil — so did He finish the job or not?

Luke 4:5-8, 13

Then the devil led Him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. “I will give You authority over all these kingdoms and all their glory,” he said. “For it has been relinquished to me, and I can give it to anyone I wish. So if You worship me, it will all be Yours.” But Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’” 

When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. 

Now, this last temptation of Christ in the desert is the third according to Matthew, but in the account from Luke we just read, this temptation is the 2nd. There is also another thing different about Luke’s account. Whereas Matthew and Mark tell us that the angels come to minister to Jesus after he is tempted, Luke tells us that the devil leaves Jesus — “until an opportune time”.  

The writers of the gospel are kind of like sports commentators. They’re up there watching the game, relating all the action as they see it. Sometimes, they’ll finish each other’s sentences because they’re saying the same thing. Other times, one will call for an instant replay because he saw something the others didn’t. In this way, all four gospels compliment each other. 

These little differences in the account of the Temptations in the desert are actually pretty important, because they give us the big picture of God’s story for us. 

Similarly, when we’re looking at these tales of Temptation, and talking about the Devil, we want to be careful in how we talk about the Devil, because we don’t want to mislead anyone into doubting the finished work of Christ.  

So today, we’re going to look at these special clues that the Evangelists gave us to remind us that the work of Christ is finished, and the devil has been defeated by the power of God. And God did this by working through his Son in three stages, three victories: in the Desert, in Judea, and at Calvary. 

Victory in the Desert: the binding of Satan 

“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.” Matt. 12. This question has a double meaning, as many of our Lord’s most convicting parables and rhetorical questions do. Because if the house is the house of Israel, then Jesus is saying that the Devil has possession of everything because the strong man, the person charged to guard the house, has been bound by Satan. This is a severe indictment against the “shepherds of Israel.” 

But even more powerful an indictment is the more obvious meaning: that the strong man is Satan, and that the house of Judea is the house of Satan, and all of these demonic possessions are proof that Satan is the possessor of the house. What a serious charge! And yet, if Jesus can steal these possessions, and redeem the lost sheep for his own flock, then it is proof that he has bound the strong man. And this is what he accomplished in the Desert. 

Now, some people argue whether this binding of Satan corresponds with the binding of Satan recorded in Revelation: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the Abyss, holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.”  

Remember, Revelation wasn’t just about the future. John was told, write  about “the things you have seen, the things that are, and the things that are about to take place after these.” Much of what he saw revealed to him was a heavenly vision of things that he had witnessed earlier in an earthly manner.  

This scene described in Revelation does in fact describe what Christ accomplished in the Desert, since the rest of scripture and all of Christian history testify that Christ and his followers continue to have this miraculous authority in the spiritual world. If this moment in Revelation describes something in our future, it would imply that Satan is not bound, which would make our teaching false. 

But throughout all the ages the Church preaches the finished work of Christ. And as we will see, the binding of Satan was just the beginning.  

Victory in Judea: Satan cast down to earth 

Now, some people might be familiar with John Milton’s Paradise Lost, where Lucifer, the Devil, is thrown down from heaven. This story takes from a handful of Biblical images. But the name Lucifer is only ever found in Isaiah 14:12, “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!”  

But these words aren’t about the Devil. Just a few verses back, God tells our prophet Isaiah that these words are a “song of contempt” that the children of Israel will sing about the King of Babylon when they are delivered from the captivity he was foretelling – hundreds of years before Christ. 

But in two places, we really do see Satan fall from heaven. We see it in Revelation 12, when John the Revelation sees the dragon hurled down to earth, and we see it in Luke 10, when Jesus sees Satan fall from heaven like lightning. These passages refer to the same thing. And it isn’t too hard for us to figure out how. 

In Revelation, John sees a vision in heaven: a woman gives birth to a child that will rule the nations with a rod of iron, and the dragon swoops in devour it. But he fails, and there is war in heaven, and Michael and his angels hurl the dragon down to the earth. 

Who is the woman and the child? Some people like to say it’s Mary and Jesus, and these are appropriate symbols. But if scripture seems vague in one place, there is always more clarification in another part of scripture. Scripture interprets scripture.  

St. Paul says, “the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” That is, the heavenly Jerusalem is the woman in heaven, and the church is her child. Both St. Paul and Revelation 12 refer to Isaiah 66, a prophecy about the heavenly Zion, “Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before she was in pain, she delivered a boy. Who has heard of such as this? Who has seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be delivered in an instant? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children.” 

So Revelation 12 describes the birth of the church first, and immediately following this a war erupts in heaven led by Michael and his angels. But these figures are none other than Jesus and his disciples, his messengers.  

First, Michael means “the one who is like God,” and there is only one like God the Father – the Son. Jude 1:9 tells us that Michael tells Satan, “The LORD rebuke you” — but elsewhere, Zechariah says of the same that it is the LORD who said “the LORD rebuke you.” This is one of many examples of a Christophany – an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament, before He came in the 1st century A.D. — where Christ appears in the form of an angel, sometimes called the Angel of the Lord, the Angel of the Presence, and in this case, the Angel who is like God – Michael. 

It is not that the Son of God is an angel, but that he was called an angel before he was known as the Son. There is much more written about this in the Book of Hebrews for anyone interested. But moving on. 

Second, having identified Michael as Christ, who are his angels? Angel, malek, means “messenger” in Hebrew. In the Old Testament, the same word malek, is used to describe both divine as well as human messengers. Luke 9 tells us that Jesus sent his messengers ahead of him from town to town. In Luke 10, he appoints 70 messengers to go before him throughout Judea – the Lord of the Harvest sounds out his laborers. He gives them the authority to work miracles, and Lo and behold, when they return, they celebrate, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 

What does Jesus say? Luke 10:18, “I was watching! I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” 

And so we see that Satan was cast down from heaven to the earth as Christ and his messengers spread the good word – that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Nonetheless, this was not a full victory yet. These messengers were charged only to go to the Jews – that is, Judeans. Christ forbade them from preaching to Samarians or gentiles. The time for that had not yet come. Jesus knew that Satan was waiting for one last “opportune time” to strike. 

Victory at Calvary: Satan thrown into the Abyss (the harrowing of Hell) 

At last, we come to the victory of Calvary. This was the final showdown of Jesus vs Satan. The “opportune time” that Luke told us about. 

Now, when Jesus enters Jerusalem in the final year of his ministry, he is greeted like a king. Even the Greeks and Gentiles want to worship him. Remember how Jesus’ second victory came with the people of Judea coming to God? Now the gentiles are beginning to turn to Jesus, also. This is a clue that we are approaching the next stage of victory. And Jesus alludes to what must come next. Even though he is being greeted like a King, he says his soul is troubled: “and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it is for this purpose that I have come to this hour.” 

He was downcast because he knew that this hour was to be the hour of his Passion, which began with this glorious reception in Jerusalem. 

Do you remember what Jesus says to the crowd of priests, soldiers, and Judas when he was arrested? “This hour belongs to you and to the power of darkness.” Indeed, Luke and John both record that it was just before the Last Supper when the Devil returned for this “opportune time”, this opportune hour.   

Luke tells us that as Jesus was making his grand entrance to Jerusalem, “Satan entered Judas Iscariot, who was one of the Twelve. And Judas went to discuss with the chief priests and temple officers how he might betray Jesus to them. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. Judas consented, and began to look for an opportunity to betray Jesus to them in the absence of a crowd.” 

But little did the Devil know that he was acting to destroy himself. At that very time when the devil was entering into Judas to plot against Jesus, Jesus declares to the people of Jerusalem, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw everyone to Myself.” 

How amazing is that? At the very moment that the plot to kill Christ begins, Christ declares that the prince of this world will be cast out. You’ve got to catch the power of this! At the victory in the Desert, Christ binds Satan; at the victory in Judea, Christ casts him down to the world; and now, Jesus declares, at the victory of the cross, I am going to cast the devil out of this world! 

This, then, is the fulfilment of the second part of Revelation 20: 3, where it says that after he is first bound, Satan is then thrown into the Abyss. Revelation 20 also places this triumph at the time of the first resurrection – and, lo and behold, Matthew 27:52 describes this first resurrection: “The tombs broke open, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised after Jesus’ resurrection. When they had come out of the tombs, they entered the holy city and appeared to many people.” 

Our ancient Church tradition has always held that these saints were released from the Abyss by Christ during the time between his death and resurrection. This is called the Harrowing of Hell. Zech 9:11 foretells it: “Thou also by the blood of Thy Testament hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of the Abyss.” 1 Peter 4:6 tells after the fact how Christ preached to the spirits in prison;  Eph. 4 describes how he led the captives out.  

But not only did Christ lead captives out; he locked Satan in. An early writer of the church named Nicodemus, writes in, “the King of glory seized the chief ruler Satan by the head, and delivered him to His angels, and said: With iron chains bind his hands and his feet, and his neck, and his mouth. Then He delivered him to Hades [the Abyss], and drew Adam to his glory”. 

So not only the Bible, but also the traditions of our church are flush with testimony about this Harrowing of Hell, this final victory over the Devil.  

So What Does This Have To Do With Me? 

So that’s it for our short Bible Study. Now, you gotta ask, “what does this have to do with me?” 

I’ll tell you what it has to do with you. First of all, your faith is bulletproof. The enemy is now under the authority of Jesus Christ. In three and a half years, Jesus hurled him down from heaven, then to the earth, then locked him up in the Abyss. “The accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down” so “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?…neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Second, have confidence in the finished work of Christ and preach it that way. There’s an old saying that at Church you hear more about the devil than you do about Jesus. “The devil wants you to do this; the enemy wants you to do that!” But what does the Friend, our Brother and Lord and Master and God, want for us? The devil is not our problem – Jesus made that problem his own, and took care of it for us, so that we could live in the glorious freedom of God. And this freedom is to the end that we spread wide the net of the Kingdom of God, as fishers of men – ministering reconciliation and Christ’s love to everyone we meet. And we have the promise that before God, we have no accuser, no enemy any longer. God gave us his Son so that all the enemies of His people would be put underfoot. “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” 

This is the meaning of what Isaiah foretold, that there will be no end to the increase of God’s kingdom – there is no one who can stand against us any longer. They can and will try – but how can they, if God is for us? In all things, God will make a way. God in Christ has lifted every curse, and we are free again to live by His very first command: be fruitful, multiply, and have dominion over this life. This applies to every aspect of your life: your bodily health, your mental health, your job, your finances – God is happy to give you His heavenly kingdom, so why wouldn’t he be happy to give you your earthly needs as well? He knows them better than you – so seek first His Kingdom and its righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. 

This is the Kingdom we preach. We preach a light yoke. We don’t preach the burden of the Lord, prophecies of doom and gloom and God’s punishment and the triumph of the devil! “The burden of the LORD you shall mention no more,” it says, because the “head of prophecy was cut off with John the Baptist.” The least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist. So we don’t go around making false prophecies and saying, God is hiding his face from us, he is turning away from his people, the Devil is doing such and such in such and such a nation or with such and such a King, as if somehow God has not already trampled the Devil underfoot – Jesus says that type of prophecy ended with John the Baptist. But now, in the Kingdom of God, the spirit of prophecy is Christ – so we preach Christ crucified, the finished work of Christ.  

And this is what it means when it says, “No longer will each one teach his neighbor or his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their iniquities and will remember their sins no more” — our accuser is cast down, so even when we are in sin we may turn to God in repentance and know Him fully even as He knows us fully. He hasn’t hidden Himself from us, as he used to do when his people disobeyed, but He has revealed himself fully in Jesus Christ, never to hide His face from us again. “It is finished! The mystery of God is fulfilled!” 

This is why Paul was so eager to “leave the elementary teachings about Christ” — like repentance, baptism, all these things that deal with our sin — “and go on to maturity”. It is so common for Christians and Christian preachers to get caught up repeating these same messages over and over, that many leave with the impression that Christians are a people for whom sin and the devil are problems that God hasn’t solved for them yet, rather than long ago finished works of our Lord. 

So, let us go on to maturity. The finished work of Christ is our foundation – for our individual lives, and for His Kingdom in which we are both subjects and conquerors and a royal priesthood.  

The nations of the world like to walk in the victories of their own fathers, and America’s patriots walk in the victories of America’s founding fathers – as for us, the victory in which we walk is the victory of Christ; and while all other nations have come and gone, and will keep on coming and going, we know that the nation which was born in a day, the Kingdom of God, will increase forever – God has blessed us to be fruitful, to multiply, and to have dominion in this Kingdom.  

So, let us arise and go forth with confidence in the finished work of Christ, as Christ arose from his temptations in the Desert; as Christ arose in the cities of Judea; and as Christ arose from the dead, and let’s walk in the victory which he has won for us. Amen. 

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