Hebrews 2:14 – The Triumph of Divine Justice
… He Himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil.Hebrews 2:14b
In explaining to the readers why the Lord Jesus became man, the writer of this letter outlines how the Lord Jesus had to become man and die in the flesh in order to destroy the devil and his power. The salvation of man includes the defeat of Satan. Yet the writer leaves us with the question exactly how the death of the Son effectively destroys the devil's works. What kind of a contest was this? And how is Satan effectively disarmed?
The term that this passage uses for Christ's act "to destroy" the devil and his power gives us the answer. Literally this term means, "to nullify, to bring to naught, to make powerless, or ineffective," and so it is used with regard to death in several places in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 15:26, 2 Timothy 1:10. The term shows that Satan is not overpowered by sheer divine strength, but simply "played out." At a certain point, he simply has no further right to act. And once his right of action is removed, then – and only then – does his judgment come.
All this makes sense when we recall that Satan has no absolute power over death. His power is given to him by God, who sets and determines the limits of all His creatures, including the disobedient angels. Satan's right to act, his freedom of movement and speech, is strictly determined by the original covenantal terms laid down by God. It was the LORD who first announced death as the punishment to man in case of disobedience in the covenant. Satan, as one who loves and cherishes death, only administers and carries it out. His power comes from his right; his right is dependant on God's established word, the word of the covenant, Genesis 2:17.
As long as Satan retains his right from God, he also may exercise his power over death. So we see him in the Bible as the "accuser" of the brethren, Revelation 12:10, an enemy who has access to heaven and convicts men of sin before God's throne, for example Job. 1, and who disputes with the faithful messengers of God concerning the lives of the saints, Jude 9. Why does God allow it? Could He not have immediately destroyed him with the breath of His mouth? Again, the LORD delivers His people by right and not by force. Satan has a right to a fair trial, and he is only eliminated from the field by due process of law.
Here is where a man is required, as the writer says. Our forefather, Adam, was placed in a position of lordship, having rule over all creation, standing even above the angels, Psalm 8:5, 6. Although they were closer to God and thus belonged to His realm, the angels were also "ministering spirits" called to serve man in his office in creation. According to the sovereign terms of the covenant, man was, in part, lord of the angels, and they were sent to do his bidding. However, sin overturned this wonderful order of paradise, and we became slaves to Satan, misled men who were trapped into his schemes, his plans, hopes, and dreams for this world. No one is able to escape this power in himself. Satan took control, and every man is bound to him. And as long as he has man in his control, he freely accuses man before God's throne. To break the power of accusation a man is required, who, in accordance with the sovereign covenantal terms laid down by God in the beginning, effectively passes judgment on the accuser! Only then is his right removed.
And where we cannot find a man among us, God grants us the Man, the Righteous One, Jesus Christ! He is the "right Man on our side," who, taking the form of flesh and blood, allows the accuser to spend all his arrows of temptation on Him in full strength, and still perseveres victoriously. Indeed, Satan wields his divinely given power of death against Him. But He stands victorious! In and through death, He holds fast to the Father, and never compromises the position of lordship and authority given to Him. He never becomes Satan's willful slave – even in the supreme sacrifice.
Therefore, God raises Him from the dead. And now the court case can begin! With the righteous Man present. Satan's trial can proceed. Now Satan stands speechless before the divine tribunal. For here is a Man, perfectly righteous, altogether divine, who reverses the judgment, turning the tables on the ancient accuser! And here, according to the established ordinances, God and Man together, by fair trial, pass judgment on Satan's lot. So Paul says,
He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in Him.Colossians 2:15
Therefore the church can shout with joy today – even in sorrow and persecution. The basic court case has already taken place! Satan has been dethroned, and his fate is sealed! We only wait for the last man to stand up, and be fully ingrafted in the Son! Then the heavenly court case will pass on to earth, and then the new mankind, washed and cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, renewed to lordship through the power of His Spirit, will stand before the throne, and with the Father make the final judgment, 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3. Then death and hades will be thrown into the lake of fire, their power perfectly broken, and we will live in the light of life forever!