by Fr. Jack McArdle
To get an over-all backdrop to the story of salvation, it would help to read chapter twelve of the Book of Revelations. This is the very last book in the Bible (sometimes called the Apocalypse). These are considered to be a series of visions and messages received by St. John, the apostle, towards the end of his life. Chapter twelve describes the expulsion of Lucifer from heaven. There was a battle in heaven. Lucifer refused to obey, and he did battle with the archangel Michael. Lucifer was defeated, and was expelled. What is very significant from our point of view is that we are told that Satan was 'cast down to earth'. This phrase is repeated four times in this one chapter. In other words, Satan is not in a place called 'hell'; he is alive and well, and living on this planet earth, and anywhere that he holds sway is hell. The whole of chapter twelve is worth our consideration. It contains very powerful imagery. The woman is about to give birth, and Satan is waiting to destroy the baby as soon as he is born. However, as soon as the baby is born, he is placed safely beyond the reach of Satan. This leads to the war in heaven. Tradition has it that the idea of submitting to someone who became a human being was too much for the proud one, who was called Lucifer (bearer of Light) before his expulsion, and whom we now call Satan (the enemy).
When Satan was cast down to earth, a voice was heard across the heavens proclaiming the triumph of those who remained faithful to God. They defeated Satan because of the Redemption that Jesus was to bring, because of their testimony to that fact, and because of their willingness to live and die for that belief. In this is a wonderful example of one very important dimension of salvation history. God cannot be 'boxed' into time. In other words, anything God does can actually effect everything that ever happened, and everything that will ever happen. What is Now for God will also be Now thousands of years hence. I am trying to avoid complication here, while not wishing to glide over the core truth. Let me put it this way. I remember watching the movie Love Story. At the beginning of the movie, we saw the young woman die, and then we were brought back through the whole story to reveal what went before. The end result is that she died, even though we spent an hour or two following what went on while she was still alive. The end result is that Satan is defeated, even if we spend our lives in the struggle against him. Satan will never ever admit defeat, and so he will battle on till the very last moment. If, however, you and I accept the fact that he is already defeated, then he can have no power over us. The defeat of Satan is destined, as it were, from the moment of his expulsion, it is fully effected through the work and death of Jesus, and it is successfully completed through all of us who are willing to avail of the victory Jesus has earned for us. When Satan failed to destroy the child, he declared war on the woman. She too was placed by God beyond Satan's reach. This brought Satan to his final declaration of war. 'Then Satan became angry at the woman, and he declared war against the rest of her children - all who keep God's commandments, and confess that they belong to Jesus.' And now we can turn our attention to the part played by Jesus in this battle with Satan.
I remind myself again that Satan had been cast down to earth. When Jesus came he called Satan 'the prince of this world.' Satan brought Jesus to a high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of this earth, and offered them to him if Jesus would adore him. In other words, all of this belonged to Satan, he was still running the show, and he knew why Jesus had come. It is very significant that, at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, as soon as he came up out of the waters of the river Jordan, he was led by the Spirit into the desert, where Satan was waiting to take him on. The next stage of the battle had begun. Satan would do everything within his power to thwart the plans and the work of Jesus. It is evident that he travelled every step of the way with
Jesus, seeking every opportunity to trip him up. Even when Jesus encountered someone who was possessed, Satan cried out 'I know who you are; you are the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel'. At first, that seems strange, to have Satan bearing witness to Jesus, and to who he is. Jesus, however, would not fall into such a trap. Firstly, he would never accept Satan's assistance in proclaiming his mission. Satan's motives are always evil. If the people had heeded the testimony of Satan, they might have hailed Jesus as the Messiah, and the Holy One of Israel, without even listening to, or heeding the message he proclaimed. At one stage they did actually attempt to hijack his plans, as they wanted to carry him off, to proclaim his as king. If they had succeeded, then Jesus' plan for a kingdom not of this world, indeed his whole plan of salvation, would have been thwarted. At a later stage, just as Jesus was headed for Jerusalem, to complete the task entrusted to him by the Father, Satan made yet another attempt to stop him. This time it was through Peter, the leader of the apostles. Out of concern for Jesus' welfare, Peter advised Jesus against going to Jerusalem. On the surface, it seemed to be sane and common sense advice. Jesus, however, was fully alert to the wiles of Satan, and, while his words seemed to be directed at Peter, they were, in fact, directed at the source of Peter's suggestion: 'Get behind me, Satan....'
The work of Jesus was manifold. It was to teach, to preach, to heal, to drive out demons. This latter part was a very specific area of his ministry. Towards the end of his ministry, as he was sending his disciples to go forth in his name, he told them: 'These are the signs that will accompany those who believe: They will drive out demons in my name....' There is a very interesting case in the gospel where the apostles failed to drive out a demon. A man brought his son to the apostles, and asked them to free him from a demon. They failed to do so, and when Jesus arrived on the scene, the man asked him for help, and his son was freed. The disciples asked Jesus why they had failed to drive out the demon, and he rebuked them for their lack of faith. He had told them that they were to do this in his name, but they obviously forgot where the power was, or they failed to fully accept that fact. St. Paul wrote: 'There is no other name given us on earth whereby we will be saved... God gave him a name above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.' Satan proclaimed that Jesus was God, but it certainly wasn't to the glory of God the Father.
Earlier in this chapter I spoke of Satan being alive and well, and living on this planet earth. It would be a great mistake to imagine that Satan is locked up somewhere called hell. In the words of Peter, Satan 'wanders around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.' At the end of time Satan will certainly be bound, locked up, and be in such a condition that he will never again be able to oppose God, or attack any of God's children. There is a story in the gospel that shows Satan's fear of that final reckoning. A possessed man lived in a cave, and there were so many demons in him, that Satan called himself 'legion', because many of his demons lived within the man. When Jesus was about to drive them out, Satan begged Jesus not to cast them down into the abyss. This was a strange request, as if Satan's time for being cast down had not yet come. It is equally strange that Jesus granted the request. Jesus ordered the demons to leave the man, and he permitted them enter a herd of pigs that grazed close by. The pigs immediately went crazy, ran towards the cliff and hurled themselves down to their destruction. The very presence of Satan was a presence of death. Later in the gospels we are told that 'Judas took the morsel, and Satan entered into him', and he then went out and hanged himself. Jesus came 'that we should have life, and have it to the full'. Satan is the harbinger of death, and nothing of what is his can possibly be life giving. Jesus said the truth would set us free. Satan is the father of lies, and lies are always destructive. Whenever I am authentic I mediate life to others, and when I am not authentic I am mediating death.
Jesus came to redeem the world. The word redeem literally means to buy back something or somebody that is sold into bondage or slavery. In earlier ages there were groups of Christians whose apostolate was to redeem captives from slavery, by buying them from their owners, and then giving them their freedom. Whenever the gospels speak of Jesus healing people, it also says that 'he drove out demons from those who were afflicted'. His work was one of reclaiming for God that which was God's. 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's'. He tells the story of a farmer who sowed good wheat in his field. After some time, weeds appeared among the wheat. His workers went to him to report this fact, and to ask 'Was not that good wheat that you sowed. Where did the weeds come from?' The farmer told them that 'an enemy (Satan) has done this.' They asked if they might pull up the weeds, and he told them that he himself would do this, because in attempting to pull up the weeds, they might damage the wheat in the process. Many of us have seen movies portraying false prophets being involved with exorcisms, and the story generally shows the destructive results of such human attempts to do something that only God can do. At the end of his ministry, Jesus announced that Satan's days were numbered, and that 'the prince of this world has already been judged (and condemned, and exposed)'.
'All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth' Jesus announced. He then went on to make the following extraordinary statement 'I have given you full authority over all the power of the evil one; nothing shall harm you'. When his disciples returned to report on their mission, they announced that 'even the demons obeyed when we spoke in your name'. Jesus brought them one step beyond that when he told them 'But don't rejoice just because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered as citizens of heaven.' Once I enter into kingdom living, I owe nothing anymore to Satan, and he no longer has any claim on me. Satan is exceedingly cunning, however; hence, Jesus tells us to 'watch and pray, lest you fall into temptation.' He speaks of a demon that was driven out. The demon wandered through lonely places. After some time he returned to the house out of which he had been driven, and found it clean, tidy, and empty, so he went off, got seven more demons. They returned in strength, entered that house, and 'the last state of that house was worse than the first'. Satan is more than willing to fill any empty spaces within the human being. That part of us can be filled by God alone, and all attempts to fill it with anything else is fraught with danger. We all know of the dangers of trying to fill that inner emptiness with material goods, with pleasure, or any of the other false gods. In being willing to acknowledge our false gods, we must also be willing to name, claim, and tame our own demons.
I said earlier that Satan was so proud that he refused to obey, and, especially to accept a God who would stoop so low as to take on human nature. Satan was like a poison or an infection in our humanity, so God created an antidote or an antibody for that, and that person was Mary, who was everything that Satan was not. At the time of the Fall God announced 'I will put enmity between you and the woman. She will crush your head, and you will lie in wait for her heel'. The child that is mentioned in chapter twelve of Revelations would destroy Satan, and put an end to all his 'works and pomps' (his display of power and splendour). The victory over Satan's 'NO' was effected through the YES of the woman, that made it possible for Jesus to come among us, and to redeem us. The victory was complete. All that remains now is for us to make use of that victory, and to live with the freedom of the children of God.
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'Jesus: The Man and the Message' copyright © 2004 Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.