It is striking how there is perfect peace in four chapters of God’s word. You see it in Genesis 1-2 and in Revelation 21-22, in the original creation and in the new creation. Sandwiched between these two bookends of perfect peace, lie nearly twelve hundred chapters of raging, all-out warfare. The Lord’s promise that there would be a Son who would be bruised and who would deal a skull-crushing blow to the ancient serpent (Genesis 3:15) is the first statement of the gospel, but it is also a declaration of war. Those whom the church sends out to the nations are sent out as soldiers into this battle. They face a dark and daunting battlefield with many dangers, and yet the tremendously encouraging truth from God’s word is that, much like ancient Israel’s campaign against those Ammonite cities which the Lord had promised to have already given into theirhand, missionaries go out into the battle from a place of having already been given the victory.
With the coming of Jesus, a significant redemptive-historical shift takes place. Missionaries arenot deployed with swords to deliver God’s judgment upon the nations and take their animals and spoils as plunder. The battle is more cosmic and more glorious than that. We contend, as the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” As we wage war in a cosmic battle that has already been decided, our plunder is not cattle and silver. Rather, our plunder is people from every nation, tribe and tongue, as we gather from a plentiful harvest of God’s elect.
A passage from Matthew’s gospel helps us to see this plundering aspect of our spiritual warfare. Matthew 12:22-29 relates the story of specific spiritual battle within the larger cosmic war in which Jesus rescues a person from the spiritual forces of evil. Following the victory, Jesus gives significant insight into the nature of his mission and, thus, our mission.
“Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.’ Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.’”
When someone is despised, that person can do no right. That is the category in which his enemies had put the Lord Jesus. They hated him, and their hatred seems most enflamed when he does great miracles of mercy. They try to slander Jesus by saying that he is casting out demons through being in league with demons.
Demons are fallen angels, and they are powerful and have the ability to oppress people physically. The particular demon at work in this man had closed off his eyes and had closed off his vocal chords, so that the result of our Lord setting this man free of the demon is that the man now spoke and saw. Some people are saying, “He’s the Son of David; he’s the Christ, the Messiah of God,” but others are asserting, “No, rather he is casting out demons by the prince of demons.” So here is the strongest possible division of opinion about who Jesus is. Either Jesus is the long-awaited Son of David or he is the representative of Satan.
Jesus sees the hatred behind their accusations. So knowing their very thoughts, Jesus simply mentions a principle here, that you cannot have a kingdom divided against itself. The point is that it is nonsensical for Satan to work against himself, because Satan has a kingdom to protect and his kingdom will not stand if Satan is divided against himself. Since the Fall, Satan had been at work amassing a kingdom. When Satan tempted Jesus to bow down and worship him, he did so by offering to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. This was a legitimate offer. All the nations were his possession. Satan had this kingdom and so obviously he is not going to work against himself. He must be dealt with in order for his kingdom to fall. Jesus must conquer him, which is what he came to do. He says, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.”
Here is one of the greatest statements about the ministry of Jesus found anywhere in the New Testament. Jesus says that his authority over demons gives evidence that the long-awaited kingdom of God has come. It gives evidence that the defeat of Satan had commenced. It gives evidence that Genesis 3:15, the skull-crushing victory over Satan, was being fulfilled. So contrary to the false accusations of the Pharisees, Jesus shows something marvelous about his triumphant mission, that he did not come to work with Satan, but rather he came to attack him, overcome him, disarm him and plunder his house.
It is sometimes hard to imagine what the world was like before the resurrection of Jesus, before the gospel went out from Jerusalem and outward in every direction toward the ends of the earth. It is hard to imagine a world totally enveloped by spiritual darkness and utterly deceived by Satan, where there was no lamp, no witness to the truth, no special revelation from God except to a little tribe of people on a small strip of land in Palestine. It is hard for us to imagine that, but the parallel account in Luke’s gospel paints a picture of it. Luke 11:21 says, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe.” That is a picture of the nations prior to the mission of Jesus: Satan in his strength, fully armed, guarding his palace, all the kingdoms of the world, keeping all his goods safely deluded and deceived.
And so Jesus paints that bleak picture and then makes clear that he did not come to work to further that, but he came as a conquering king to attack Satan, overcome him, take away his weapons, and plunder his house. As the apostle John puts it in 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” In the parallel account in Mark’s gospel, Jesus makes clear that he ushered in his kingdom in order to bind Satan and to plunder his house. John makes it evident in Revelation 20 that Jesus has bound Satan for a symbolic thousand years. The nature and purpose of that binding of the strongman is “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer.”Jesus calls Satan a strongman. He says that he has come to plunder the strongman’s house, and these spoils that Jesus has come for are his elect in every nation who have been held in captivity by the evil one, deceived by Satan.
This great conflict with Satan is at the heart of the Bible story from Genesis to Revelation, and it is at the heart of our own personal story as well, because all of us were part of the goods of the strongman’s house. Every person either has been or needs to be plundered by the Lord Jesus. That is the mission—to go and to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near, plundering the spoils that you find in the house of the strongman. The reason that the harvest is now plentiful is because Jesus has bound the strongman so that he cannot deceive the nations any longer. The victory is already won. You get to go out into that victory and plunder the strongman’s house. It is a battle. It is dangerous and hard, just like earthly battles are dangerous and hard, but it is a guaranteed success. You fight from a place of victory, because the battle is already won.
*This article was originally printed in To Every Tribe’s September 2015 edition of Ekballo Magazine.