The Serpent-Conquering Last Adam and True Israel
In that first great prophecy of biblical revelation, God promised to send a Redeemer who would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). In keeping with the fulfillment of this promise, Jesus faced off--at the beginning of his public ministry--with the devil in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). After that initial victory, He went around the Promised Land casting out demons--giving men and women their lives back from the oppression of the evil one. In this way, the Lord Jesus was "binding" the evil one. He is the last Adam and true Israel, coming to take possession of the inheritance by expelling all of the enemies of God who had illegitimately taken possession of God's people. Jesus stepping out of the waters of the Jordan and into the promised land to be tempted by the devil was a picture of what he had come to do as the last Adam and true Israel. G.K. Beale explains:
"Jesus’s victory over temptation appears to have prepared him to conquer the one who was the ultimate satanic prince of the Canaanites and of all wicked nations and to conquer the land in a way that Israel had not been able to do. His very resistance to these satanic allurements was the very beginning of his defeat of the devil. Jesus’s ministry of casting out demons continues his holy warfare as the true Israel. His exorcisms were an expression of his incipient, though decisive, defeat of Satan, who had brought creation into captivity through his deception of Adam and Eve. This is perhaps part of the significance of the parable of the binding of the strong man (Matt. 12:29 // Mark 3:27). By casting out the devil and his forces, Jesus was accomplishing the latter-day defeat of Satan that Adam should have accomplished in the first garden."1
Immediately after explaining to his opponents that he was casting out demons by the power of the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:22-30), Jesus made this remarkable statement: "How can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house" (Matt. 12:29). He was, of course, referring to the binding of Satan--whose works he had come into the world to destroy (1 John 3:8). Jesus came into the world to conquer the one who had conquered man--and to set men free from from the one who held them under the captivity of his sway (1 John 5:19).
At the cross, Jesus "crushed the head" of the great Serpent of old, and "disarmed principalities and powers...making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them" (Col. 2:13-14). The death of Jesus was the exorcism of all exorcisms--namely, the casting out the evil one (John 12:31-33). From the wilderness to the cross, Jesus was showing himself to be the long-awaited Redeemer who came into the world to "destroy the works of the devil." But, the question remains, "If Jesus conquered and bound Satan at the cross, why does the New Testament speak of his ongoing destructive work in the world?" "In what way can we say that Jesus has 'bound' the devil?"
In his excellent book, The Momentous Event, W.J. Grier made the observation that the "binding of Satan" is to be considered as part of the already of eschatology. This understanding of the binding of Satan does not mean inactivity--but limited activity. Grier gives the illustration of Al Capone, who, while in prison for his crimes, nevertheless, still ran the streets of Chicago from behind bars. In the same way, the New Testament talks about Satan as already being bound (Matt. 12; Rev. 20) as well as about him "walking about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8).
In addition to his tempting schemes, the devil is said to be the accuser of the brethren. When believers sin the devil is there ready to cast condemnation on them. "How could you do this? You're not a Christian. A believer would never do something like this. You have surely out-sinned the grace of God." These, and such, accusations, the devil hurls at believers. Sinclair Ferguson puts it so succinctly when he says, "Satan trades in accusations."2 However, just as Christ took away the devil's power to hold men under the bondage of the fear of death, he takes away the devil's power to paralyze believers under his condemning accusations. Carl Trueman captures this truth when he notes how Martin Luther dealt with the devil's attacks:
"It is well-known that in his writings in table conversation Luther would often refer to visits from the Devil, how the Devil would come to him and whisper in his ear, accusing him of all manner of filthy sin: "Martin, you are a liar, greedy, lecherous, a blasphemer, a hypocrite. You cannot stand before God."
To which Luther would respond: "Well, yes, I am. And, indeed, Satan, you do not know the half of it. I have done much worse than that and if you care to give me your full list, I can no doubt add to it and help make it more complete. But you know what? My Saviour has died for all my sins - those you mention, those I could add and, indeed, those I have committed but am so wicked that I am unaware of having done so. It does not change the fact that Christ has died for all of them; his blood is sufficient; and on the Day of Judgment I shall be exonerated because he has taken all my sins on himself and clothed me in his own perfect righteousness.
Luther knew what temptation looked like; he knew his own wickedness; but he also knew the all-surpassing perfection and grace of Christ."2
In the death of Jesus, the evil one has been bound and conquered. Our Savior has taken possession of his eternal inheritance by overcoming the evil one. We are now called to "go into all the world and make disciples..." (Matt: 28:18-20). We are to gather the spoils of the One who destroyed the works of the devil by his death on the cross. While we await the full manifestation of this victory (Matt. 25:41; Rom. 16:20 and Rev. 20:10) we are to be confident in the Satan-binding nature of the death of our Savior. We live in light of the freedom we have from his condemning accusations and the fear of death that, for far too long, held all of us in bondage. As the hymn-writer so powerfully put it:
"When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there who made an end of all my sin; Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free, for God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me."
1. Beale, G. K. (2011). A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (pp. 419–420). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
2. An exceprt from Sinclair Ferguson's sermon, "No Accusation, No Condemnation."
3. Carl Trueman, "Thank God for Bandit Country" (Reformation21, June 2009).