Luke 10:17-20 - Christ’s Victory Over Satan
On Reformation Day we commemorate with gratitude to the Lord our God the return to the Scriptures as the sole source of authority for faith and life. One thing that we remember in particular is that on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed on the church door at Wittenberg his Ninety-Nine Theses as a challenge to debate the abuse of indulgences and other Roman Catholic doctrines. The struggle of Martin Luther and other Reformers to return to the sole authority of Scripture was not an easy one: it led to severe persecution. Remember how Guido de Bres was martyred simply because he wanted to preach from the Bible to God’s people. Did this terrible life and death struggle discourage the Church of the Reformation? We see the answer in Martin Luther’s well-known hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. As God’s people struggle for faithfulness to His Word, even amidst great hardships, they develop the unwavering assurance that nothing would be able to separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus their Lord.
Our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrates how he protects and defends His Church in the passage of Luke 10:17-20. In Luke 9:51 we read, When the days drew near for Him to be received up, he set His face to go to Jerusalem. Our Saviour was entering into the final phase of His earthly ministry where He set His face firmly on Jerusalem and His death on the cross. Knowing that His time was short, and burning in love for the lost sheep of Israel, our Saviour appointed seventy additional disciples to go out two by two, into the towns and villages where Christ wanted to come, to preach the good news of the kingdom of heaven. After the seventy have carried out their ministry, they return to Jesus Christ with a full report of what had happened. We read their report and the response of the Lord Jesus in Luke 10:17-20:
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
The seventy were able to cast out demons in the name of Jesus Christ. The implications of this are profound, as Christ explained, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. There is quite some debate among commentators of this gospel as to the meaning of Satan falling like lightning from heaven. But one of the obvious conclusions must be how sudden or precipitous is Satan’s fall from heaven. Even as lightning can suddenly and unexpectedly flash down from the heavens, so Satan had his footing jerked from under him, and he came tumbling down from heaven.
One wonders, what was Satan doing in heaven at this point in time? After the original rebellion in heaven, Satan and his fallen angels were cast out. And yet, Satan does still have access to God in heaven as we read, for instance, in the example of Job. In the words of Revelation 12:10, he comes there as the accuser of the brethren. Satan can come to God and demand that God abandon or release sinners into the hands of Satan. After all, God has made clear that he will not have communion with sinners. Satan outlines a man’s sins and demands that God surrender all sinners into his dark dominion. Therefore in the fullness of time when God sent His Son to be born of woman, Satan became desperate to do everything he could to consume and destroy this child. He tried to have the child killed in Bethlehem; he tempted Jesus when He started His public ministry; he tried to counter Jesus’ ministry by sending his demons to possess more people than ever before; indeed Satan did everything he could to stop Jesus Christ from going obediently to the cross and laying down His life for sinners. However, Christ triumphed by remaining faithful to the will of His Father and making atonement for the sins of His people. Thus we read in Revelation 12:7-9:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
This is symbolic language but the message is clear: the war which Satan loses is the war with Jesus Christ; once Jesus Christ completed substitutionary atonement on the cross, Satan has lost his case, he can no longer accuse the brethren of deserving death; they now belong to Christ and His Father; and so Satan is cast out of heaven as the decisive proof of Christ’s victory. Satan fell like lightning from heaven.
Therefore when Jesus Christ announces to the seventy that he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven, that is tantamount to saying that the kingdom has come and salvation has dawned upon the people of God. It is in the casting out of demons by the seventy that Christ’s final victory is particularly demonstrated. For what does it mean to cast out demons? Think of what Christ said in Luke 11:20: But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
And also Matthew 12:29: Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.
The casting out of demons demonstrates the powerlessness of Satan before Jesus Christ. Satan is the “strong man” who is bound by the power of Christ. Now Jesus Christ can freely move about what was once Satan’s domain, He can take sinners who were enslaved by Satan and wash them by His blood and Spirit, and so make them obedient citizens of His kingdom. There they will live to the praise and glory of God in their new found joy and liberty! Therefore as the seventy are casting out demons in Christ’s name it became clear that Satan’s doom is sure. He had a sudden and spectacular fall from heaven. His kingdom is crumbling and the kingdom of heaven rises gloriously.
However, no one should think that with Satan’s fall from heaven he is entirely finished off. He is with us till the last day. We read for instance in Revelation 12:12 after Satan is cast down from heaven:
Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!
Similarly when Jesus Christ says to the seventy that He sees Satan fall like lightning from heaven, there is in this a sense of great danger: when lightning strikes the earth, it can do great damage. Now Satan prowls the earth like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour and he mounts a scorching campaign against all men, in particular, those in the Church of Jesus Christ who want to remain faithful to their Lord. Satan knows that his time is short and therefore he is very aggressive to do whatever he can to sabotage Christ’s church gathering work. One would be very foolish to ignore the attacks of Satan. Just as no one would walk carelessly through a field of poisonous snakes and scorpions, so no one should walk carelessly and ignorantly through a life where the flaming darts of the evil one are continually being cast.
Satan’s work is evident everywhere in daily life. Through his demons, Satan is active in the temptations of alcohol and drugs, the pursuit of material possessions as the highest good, the destruction of the traditional family, sexual promiscuity, violence, rape, murder, disrespect for authority, and so on. Much of our society has been caught up in this dark dominion of Satan. And sadly, Satan and his demons have also made inroads into the Church of Jesus Christ by seducing members with these ungodly desires and practices. In addition to the temptation, there are also the persecutions of Satan, the ridicule and oppression of the world against those who want to see their faith and life governed solely by the infallible Word of God. Satan is on the prowl; his demons are busy; the smoke of his scorching campaign fills the air; the evidence is everywhere.
Does this mean we have no hope when Satan attacks? Now that would make no sense in the light of redemptive-history: Christ is the victor and that should have positive benefits for his Church. And it does. Christ says to the seventy, quoting from Psalm 91: Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you.
Again this does not mean that Satan can never attack the Christians, that there will be no serious temptations and persecutions. Think only of the time of the Reformation: people lost their families, possessions and lives because they clung in faith to Jesus Christ and His Word! But ultimately Satan cannot really hurt God’s people. He can no longer act as accuser of the brethren for we have a defender of the brethren seated at the right hand of God. Who or what can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord? Since God has loved from before the foundation of the world and since Jesus Christ has laid down His life for us, there is no longer condemnation or everlasting danger for those who believe in Him. Christians fall from time to time because of the temptations or persecutions of Satan, but through the Spirit of Jesus Christ they will be led to confess their sin, to receive forgiveness, and to be strengthened by the Spirit and Word to a renewed warfare against Satan. And so the body of Christ will be preserved by Word and Spirit, and will actually be able to offer strong resistance, treading upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.
In this context Christ says to the seventy, rejoice that your names are written in heaven. He is referring here to the Book of Life which is God’s heavenly register containing the names of the citizens of the New Jerusalem. He is saying: understand the implications of my victory over Satan. This means I have saved you and confirmed your name in the Book of Life. Your names have been written there in the ink which is my blood. Rejoice that there is no more an accuser of the brethren who can separate you from the love of God. For those who believe in me and walk in my ways are more than conquerors over Satan and his power.
Thus the Church of Jesus Christ can continue to sing with assurance the words of Martin Luther, A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing. Of course, our brothers and sisters have been singing these words throughout the ages, as we see in Psalm 46,
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble... The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.