Friday, 12 November 2010

Has The Devil Retired?

C.S. Lewis famously said that there were two equal and opposite errors regarding the Devil. The first is to think too little of him and the second is to think too much of him. For some Christians who regard the Devil as very active today, fascination with his activity is an obsession. But there are some Christians who consider that the devil was removed from the spiritual landscape in the first century and is therefore not a player in today's spiritual battle.
¶ Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
Rev. 20:1-3
Depending on how you understand Revelation 20, you will either consider that the Devil has been bound and already thrown into a bottomless pit, or is frantically working at opposing God now - knowing that his demise to the bottomless pit is going to happen. There is another way of understanding this passage and therefore the role of the Devil and in a moment I will offer this view (which I consider to be Biblically faithful and experiencially verifiable). During the era of the early Church, the apostles were very aware of the Devil's attempts to withstand them and their mission.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
First Peter 5:8
But the apostles were confident that Christians had nothing to fear from the Devil unless of course they weren't really converted-
Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
First John 3:8
"Satan" means 'Adversary'
The Bible introduces the Devil in Genesis 3 who either took the form of or used a snake to deceive Eve and tempt Adam. The Old Testament gives fleeting references to Satan. Most notably, the Old Testament gives its clearest insights into the nature of Satan in the first two chapters of Job where he is seen to be completely under God's authority. He is referred to as the source of David's final public temptation and then finally as the one opposing Joshua the High Priest (in Zechariah 3).
It appears that the Devil was once a glorious angel, perhaps a cherub, or an Arch-AngelBased on passages in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, which both seem to refer to Satan while addressing earthly characters, Satan may well have tried to exalt himself above God. From these passages and Revelation 12, it would appear that the Devil conscripted a third of the angels to his cause. These newly fallen angels became known as "demons". It appears from Scripture and history that whenever and wherever God progressed His redemptive plan that there was demonic activity. Firstly, the Garden of Eden, where God commenced the earthly aspect of His redemptive plan. Then in the life of those who were particularly devoted to God (like, Job, David, Nehemiah, and Joshua the High Priest). Then there was the most demonic activity occurring at the time of the greatest redemptive act: the life - ministry - and death of Jesus Christ. Some one has noted this and continued to observe this phenomena throughout history. For example, when God moved in the early 1500s to reform the Church, several of the Reformers recorded their encounters with Satan and demonic opposition.
An etching of Martin Luther throwing ink at the DevilAlthough Martin Luther's reputation rests largely on his opposition to religious cant and superstition, he was no slouch when it came to these himself. In 1521, he claimed, he had a confrontation with Satan in which he threw an inkstand at the devil while he was staying in Wartburg Castle, where the ink stain is still to be seen on the wall. Or, so it is said.
Luther reported poltergeist experiences. Once he was brought a bag of hazelnuts; after Luther went to bed, the nuts jumped about in the sack and flew into the air. Later, though sleeping in a locked building, the great Protestant reformer heard a sound like a hundred barrels falling down stairs.
Others have noted in this vein that every time the Church has organised itself to surge forward in evangelism and mission there has come unprecedented distractions. For example, around the turn of the twentieth century there were several strategic missions conferences where plans were formulated to take the Gospel into territories previously unreached by the Gospel. Not long after this, World War 1 broke out and these missions plans were postponed. A similar thing happened through the 1930s. In particular, in Germany (a country I have a deep burden for) God was raising up a young man of God to shake the nation with the outrageous claims of Christ. Deitrich Bonhoeffer was regularly speaking to the people of Germany through Deutsche Welle Radio. People were coming to Christ. Then something dramatic happened that set Bonhoeffer's beloved Germany back spiritually: Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. History seems to confirm this redemptive pattern where God stirs and the Enemy opposes. By the way, history also reveals that God always triumphs and that this pattern is also revealed in the following manner: wherever there is demonic activity there is always a divine demonstration of godly power. (Therefore, wherever there is a lot of divine miracles happening there is probably simultaneously a lot of demonic activity occurring as well.)
I am proposing that Satan is bound. Since I've jumped ahead to one ahead of the conclusions I will make, I'll make another one:Satan is utterly defeated. To be "bound" is often thought of asbeing rendered completely inactive. But to be bound actually means to be restricted not necessarily to be rendered inactive. For example, you can be bound by illness (Luke 13:16), or you can bebound by an oath (Acts 23:12), or you can be bound by marriage (1Cor. 7:39). Each of these usages of the word "bound" conveys a sense of restriction not complete inactivity. Claiming that Satan is now bound is a claim the New Testament makes on the basis of Christ's atonement and the ending of the Old Covenant (with its elements being removed in 70AD with the destruction of Jerusalem). When Jesus died on the Cross and rose again from the dead, He defeated the Devil once and for all - "but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven" (Rev. 12:8).
¶ Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
Hebrews 2:14
After the end of the Old Covenant Satan's access to heaven was removed. He used to stand before God and accuse God's people. He used to be able to deceive people and nations virtually unimpeded. But now he is bound. Since Christ died and rose again and then ended the Old Covenant the devil has been unable to freely function in the way he did under the Old Covenant. Added to this, since the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh the devil's power to work deceit and destruction has been phenomenally (literally) curbed.
But this should not be understood as saying that there is no devilish activity in the earth today. To be sure, the devil could probably leave mankind to our own evil hearts and the world would be plenty messed up and wicked. Yet we probably need to grasp a greater a appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit through His people in countering evil, deceit, and hatred.

The main weapon of the Devil and his minions is: temptation to sin (see 1Corinthians 7:5 as an example). "Sin is anything", said Susanna Wesley to her son John, "which obscures your sense of God..."
¶ "Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself." 
Susanna Wesley
Most of the temptation we have to deal with is because of our own sin nature. But it is surely a little more than merely coincidence that whenever we make a concerted effort to reach out or go deeper in dedication to God that we are often confronted with temptations (distractions) we had not been, up until then, having to deal with. To a lesser extent it appears that Devil can inflict sickness, sadness, or tragedy. Jesus rebuked the attitude of His critics after He healed a woman whom He described as having been bound by Satan for all these years and Paul the apostle wrote of beingbuffeted by Satan. But there is a good case to be made that much of this Satanic ability ceased after the close of the Old Covenant in 70AD. This would help to explain Paul's statement to the Romans-
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Romans 16:20
Paul wrote to the Corinthians about being aware of the Devil's schemes to bring disunity and friction to a congregation (2Cor. 2:11). Note how often a church congregation makes a decision to reach out and evangelise their community, or call their church to special prayer - and then some fight/problem/crisis/moral failure suddenly prohibits that church from fulfilling its intention? Satan may be de-fanged but it appears that he can use his gums! He can still scheme, tempt, distract, incite, deceive, and lure away. Apparently a lion doesn't actually need teeth to roar!
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
First Peter 5:8
None of this may convince you that the Devil and his schemes are still a force to be reckoned with. But it is my hope that my recommendations will be seen as a wise by those on both sides of this debate.
1. The Enemy's main tactic is distraction therefore godly spiritual warfare calls for focus. It takes focus on our personal devotions; focus on guarding the unity of their church by overlooking offences; and focus on reaching out as a faithful witness to those who are not reconciled to God.
2. Church's should make intentional plans to reach out and expect spiritual opposition, therefore godly spiritual warfare calls for submission and cooperation.
3. The Enemy wants us to chase after him therefore godly spiritual warfare requires strong (focused) leadership which unites people in worship of God even in the midst of difficulties. This kind of worship is achieved through beholding the revelation of God in His Word.
4. The Enemy wants us to use his tactics to return fire therefore godly spiritual warfare calls forChrist-like behaviour which is marked by loving kindness and grace. When we are slandered and reviled we return fire by blessing our slanderers, wrote Peter (1Peter 3:9).
The Enemy wants to destroy lives, relationships, marriages, families, churches, and nations. God's response to the Devil's attacks is: His Spirit-filled Church. We need to be ever vigilant to be a united, worshiping, evangelistic, Word-devoted, Spirit-led, passionate church!
Oh God, rekindle our passion for You, Your Glory, and Your Cause. May our hearts pound with Your love for others. Ignite afresh the dreams we once held to make Your Name famous in our generation. Fill our spiritual vison with a picture of what we can achieve for You. Help us to be a church that changes this world by bringing people into Your Kingdom. Give us a deep love for others and help us to care like Christ for their welfare.
Eph. 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ps. Andrew

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