What happened to Satan when Jesus died? Did the Evil One win? Or was it the other way around? Jesus was victorious when he rose from the grave, right? But then why is there still so much evil in the world?
Have you ever wondered about any of that? Well you’re not alone. And hopefully today we’re going to find some answers.
We are in week 3 of our series, “At Last,” looking at the power of the cross and the empty tomb. Or, as my dad called it a couple of weeks ago, “the revolution that began on the cross of Jesus.”
All throughout this series we’ve been looking at one of the Bible’s most odd, mystical, poetic, and downright weird books: Revelation. To be totally honest, though, Revelation is a book I avoided reading for many years because it just seemed so crazy.
Dragons and seven-headed sea monsters and cities with walls 1400 miles high and rivers of blood and bottomless pits… It’s pretty nuts.
I was kind of embarrassed by the book. I mean, why can’t it just be a nice, theologically-minded letter like one of Paul’s? Or a friendly little narrative? Why do we have to have images of Jesus with glowing eyes and a sword coming out of his mouth?
For a long time I steered clear of Revelation, as I’m sure many of you have.
But… over the last few years, all of that has begun to change for me. In fact, the book of Revelation is now one I really enjoy studying.
What changed? Well, two things. Two perspective shifts that have to do with what the book of Revelation actually is.
First, I started to understand that the imagery used in Revelation is not just a bunch of codes to be deciphered.
Yes, there are definitely hidden meanings behind certain passages in the book. Some of the creatures mentioned are clearly references to individuals or specific nations, as Tim touched on last week. But it’s so much more than that.
Here’s what I’ve learned: the images of Revelation are attempting to depict ultimate realities, which human language will always fall short of describing. Ultimates that can only be captured in evocative, larger-than-life pictures. In images.
Eternity and evil and judgement and hope… these types of concepts are made to be felt deep in our gut, not simply described.
I’ll use a modern example. What’s the symbol of American patriotism? (Other than bald eagles with deep fried machine guns…) It’s the American flag, right? When you see it, it’s meant to stand for something deep.
Now, on one hand, it is a pretty straightforward object. The thirteen stripes represent the original colonies, the stars represent the 50 states, and so on. So that’s the flag as a literal sign.
But the flag carries with it so much more significance as symbol that goes beyond language. When it’s being waved at a patriotic rally or being burned in the street, the flag symbolizes an idea or a feeling that words just can’t.
In the same way, the word-pictures of Revelation help us to feel and understand ideas that go far beyond the limitations of language. They help us see truth with our mind’s eye.
So that’s number one. I’ll come back to this when we look at today’s passage in a moment.
The second idea that has helped Revelation come alive for me is something Tim explained in detail last week. The fact that it is a letter. It was actually written to people. It had meaning for the people who first received it.
When you read the book with that mindset, you can see that John was sharing his vision with people who were deeply afraid in a world set against them. They were facing persecution, hardship, and rejection.
This letter was a profound encouragement to people who didn’t know what the future would hold. The message of John’s vision is clear: have hope! Be encouraged. Our savior is victorious and he making all things new!
Ok, you with me? Revelation is a letter where John uses evocative imagery to explain the nature of reality. He was trying to answer the questions of his readers about why the world was the way it was.
Today we’re going to look at one of those questions. The one I started with. If Christ was victorious on the cross, why is there still so much evil in the world?
Think about it. Jesus was now the king, right? He had defeated death by rising from the tomb. He was now sitting on the throne of a new kingdom, wasn’t he? So why did it seem like the world was going to hell in a hand basket?
Why was persecution against Christ-followers getting worse, not better? Why was there still injustice and pain and sin in the world? Why did it seem like the Evil One still had so much power?
I think these are pretty legitimate questions. Don’t you? I mean, they’re still pretty legitimate today. Haven’t you ever looked around and asked yourself, “If Jesus is who he says he is, then why is this world such a mess?”
Well, a good chunk of John’s letter is dedicated to answering that specific question.
Let’s look at one of those passages. Revelation 12. [HOUSE BIBLES]
Revelation 12:1 Page _______
In Revelation 12 and 13, John paints a vivid picture which helps us understand why things are the way they are. But remember as we read this, he’s not writing some kind of theological textbook here.
He’s describing cosmic, universal truths with evocative and mind-bending imagery. Images given to him by the Holy Spirit.
Ok, so let’s read this story and I’ll stop along the way to offer some comments.
Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.
Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.
Ok. We’ve got two characters introduced into this story: a woman and a dragon.
It’s natural to see a pregnant woman here and think about the virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, but when you look at the whole context of this passage, you realize this woman is more than that. She’s a group of people.
At first, the symbolism of the twelve stars makes us assume she represents the twelve tribes of Israel. Later on, though, she clearly represents the Church.
So I think our best bet is to understand this woman as a representation of the people of God as a whole. She is the community of faith throughout history, groaning in pain to bring a child into this world.
Now the dragon here clearly represents the Evil One - Satan. But John is doing something interesting. Instead of just picking one image or name for this adversary of God, he’s kind of combining all of them.
He’s drawing from Roman conceptions of evil and Hebrew ones. He’s referencing the ancient chaos monster Leviathan in Job and Psalm 74, and even the serpent from the Garden of Eden.
In other words, this dragon is the adversary of God from all times and from all nations. And he is on a mission to devour this child of God’s people. But who is the child? Let’s keep reading. Verse 5.
She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.
So the woman - the people of God - gives birth to a child. And we know who this child is. It’s Jesus. The messiah.
But this birth here is more than just Christmas morning. The child, it says, is “caught up to God and to his throne,” and that happened to Jesus after he was raised from the dead. In other words, the imagery of this birth represents the entire life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
This is what the Evil One was desperately trying to stop. What the dragon wanted to devour. But we can have hope because the Evil One failed in his mission. Look at verse 7.
Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.
The cross and the tomb of Jesus did far more than just offering salvation to a few individuals.
The death and resurrection of Christ broke the power of the Enemy.
Christ is victorious. The chains of our sin and shame have been broken. Our adversary - the deceiver, the accuser - has lost the war.
So… Why is there still evil in the world? If Satan was defeated, then why is he still around?
Well, let’s keep reading. Verse 10.
Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,
“It has come at last - salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth - the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony.
And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.”
Ah. Now we can start to get an answer.
Yes, Satan has lost the war, but he is not going down without a fight. Like a cornered snake, he is lashing out.
The Evil One knows he is living on borrowed time. Every day the kingdom of God advances and grows. Followers of Christ are spreading around the globe, making disciples of Jesus and launching them into the mission of God. Healing the six broken places of the world.
The forces of darkness are in retreat, Satan’s power has been broken, but he isn’t going quietly. That’s why the world is the way it is. We’re living in the final days of evil’s existence.
For those of you who are World War II buffs, this is the Battle of the Bulge, our enemy’s last desperate offensive. But our victory is assured.
It’s only a matter of time.
Alright, so the story of the woman and the dragon goes on, but for the sake of time let’s land here and talk about what we can take away from the passage we’ve read so far.
How does it actually affect us? Well, I’ve got three takeaways for you.
The first is just this: We can have hope.
I mean, look. The early Christians who first read this letter faced persecution and poverty and violence. Their world was a mess. Knowing that their savior had actually defeated the power of evil was a source of tremendous encouragement.
We need that same hope.
When we see gas attacks in Syria and mass starvation in South Sudan and terrorist bombings and police shootings and even endless political vitriol, it can be so easy to think that the Evil One still stands a chance at victory.
But this passage helps us understand that the evil we see in our world is just the wild thrashings of a cornered snake. Satan’s days are numbered. The kingdom of God cannot be stopped and we can have hope knowing that Christ is on the throne.
We are on the winning side.
The cross and tomb have broken the power of the Enemy, so we can have hope.
The second takeaway here is more of a caution.
Yes, Satan’s destiny is written in stone. He has lost the war. But a cornered snake can still draw blood. Until the last battle is over, until the new heaven and new earth are finally here, We must stand strong.
The apostle Peter, in one of his letters to the early Church, said this:
1 Peter 5:8-9
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith.
We have no room to be sloppy. The Evil One is furious in the humiliation of defeat. He’s vengeful. And he wants nothing more than to lead us astray.
In fact, that’s all he has left. He can’t win the war, but he can do his level best to mislead and corrupt and confuse those Christ came to save.
Sometimes he uses brute force - demonization, evil spirits, etc. (and if that’s something you’re dealing with, come talk to us. Our prayer team and pastors can help you). Sometimes Satan fights directly. But he’s also incredibly good at the more subtle forms of opposition.
He has no strength, but he’s a fantastic liar. And one of his greatest techniques is to get you just a little bit off track. Not to try turning you into a war criminal or something, but just to nudge you ever so slightly in the wrong direction.
I once heard John Ortberg call this our “Shadow Mission”
Shadow Mission: Your mission, 10 degrees off.
I’ll use myself as an example. I believe God’s given me a mission to use my skills and gifts as a servant in helping to shepherd this congregation.
But what if I started thinking that my mission was to become an influential and well liked pastor?
That wouldn’t be inherently bad, would it? There’s nothing wrong in having influence.
But imagine how far astray my life would get if I followed the shadow mission of trying to become influential and appreciated. If that was my goal, it wouldn’t take long before I was really far from where God wanted me to be. And the Evil One would be overjoyed.
Satan is so crafty. He’ll lie and manipulate and do whatever it takes to change my course. And he’ll do the same for yours.
What is your shadow mission?
If you don’t know, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you. You might be surprised at the subtle deceptions you’ve bought into.
We’re on the winning side, but this is no time to let our guards down.
The cross and tomb have broken the power of the Enemy, but we must stand strong until the end.
HOLD YOUR HEAD HIGH
So. We can have hope that the battle is ultimately won, but we must stand strong in the meantime. Satan is going to try and knock us off course. He’s also going to whatever he can to make us doubt our status with God.
And that’s what the final takeaway here is all about: the Devil’s number 1 job: accusing. In fact, that’s what the word “Devil” literally means. “Diabolos.” “Accuser.”
A similar thing is true for the word “Satan,” which comes from the Hebrew. It literally means “adversary.” One who stands against.
So “the Satan” and “the Devil” not really proper names. They’re job descriptions. The Evil One’s sole mission has always been to stand against the purposes of God and accuse His people of their sin.
But something changed when Christ rose from the grave. When the people of God gave birth to the Messiah. Look at the second part of verse 10 again.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth - the one who accuses them before our God day and night.
The image painted here is that the Evil One used to stand in God’s presence, hurling accusations about the sin and disobedience of humanity. And he had every right to do it, because we were lost. We were slaves to sin!
Ah, but now Christ is at the throne and the accuser has been cast down. God doesn’t hear his accusations anymore, because the cross and the tomb have broken any power he once had. Christ is interceding on our behalf.
So what does the Devil have left? Only the accusations he can hurl at us directly. The lies and deceptions he can whisper in our ear. But friends, these lies have no power.
Look at verse 15.
Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon.
I love that imagery. Satan spews out a tidal wave of accusations against the people of God, but creation itself stands in to defend us. The very dust we were doomed to return to at the fall of man has become an ally.
The accuser of God’s people is impotent.
So what does this mean, practically?
It means that you don’t have to buy the lies anymore. When Jesus died on that cross he took your guilt. He took your shame.
That little voice telling you that you’re not good enough? It’s a lie.
The accusations that you should be ashamed of who you are or what you’ve done? They’re empty.
The nagging feeling in your heart that you are not worthy of love, that nobody wants to be your friend, that your sin disqualifies you from God…
All the whispers in your head that you are
· or awkward
· or broken beyond repair…
· that your addictions are too messy
· that your past is unforgivable
· that your anxiety will never end
· that God doesn’t love you…
ALL of it is garbage. Worthless, pitiful lies from an enemy who has already been defeated.
You can hold your head high in the presence of your Creator. You can stand unashamed in this community of redeemed sinners.
Forgiven. Healed. Loved. YOU.
Jesus took your shame down into the grave when he died, and when he rose again, it stayed there!
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
Our accuser has no power anymore.
The cross and tomb have broken the power of the Enemy, so you can hold your head high.
Why is the world still so broken? Because the Evil One is lashing out in the death throes of defeat. But we can have hope because his destiny is assured.
He can sputter and lie and deceive, but I will tell you one thing for sure. Our enemy trembles at the name of Jesus.
Christ is victorious. His kingdom is advancing. And the gates of hell will not stand against it.
Have hope. Stand strong. And hold your head high.
For our enemy has little time.