What does the Bible really say about spiritual warfare? Is there a biblical back story to all this that will help me to better understand this supernatural battle?
Satan’s rebellion and humanity’s fall
According to the Bible, angels are spirit beings created by God to serve his purposes. However, one angel became proud, which is the root of much sin, and preferred to be his own god rather than worship and obey the real God (Isa. 14:11–23; Ezek. 28:1-12). We now know him by various names such as Satan, the Dragon, the Serpent, the Enemy, the Devil, the Tempter, the Murderer, the Father of Lies, the Adversary, the Accuser, the Destroyer, and the Evil One. Tragically, one-third of the angels sided with Satan to declare war on God.
Their rebellion culminated in a great battle against God and his holy angels. Satan and his demons lost and were kicked out of heaven without the possibility of ever being forgiven or reconciled into a right relationship with God (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6).
After the great war in heaven, continuing on with the story of Scripture, the scene shifts to a new battlefield—earth. Here, Satan attacked our first parents, our father Adam and mother Eve. Satan lied to Eve and tempted her to sin, just as he did each of us. Adam, whom God appointed to love and care for Eve, failed to protect her, and knowingly joined her in sin.
God promised Eve that Jesus would be born of a woman and would grow to be a man who would battle with Satan and stomp his head, defeat him, and liberate people from their captivity to Satan, sin, death, and hell.
Both Adam and Eve chose lies over truth, pride over humility, folly over wisdom, death over life, and Satan over God. Subsequently, each of us, as descendants of our first parents, is conceived with a sinful nature marked by a disposition to follow in their tragic footsteps. Furthermore, as sinners we have experienced the same painful consequences as our first parents. Because of the sins we have each committed and the sins that have been committed against us, we were alienated from God and hide from him in shame.
But then the first promise of Jesus, as the victor over Satan, came to our first parents. In Genesis 3:15, God preached the first good news—the first gospel—of Jesus to our mother Eve, who, like us all, was a broken, shame-filled, guilty sinner. God promised Eve that Jesus would be born of a woman and would grow to be a man who would battle with Satan and stomp his head, defeat him, and liberate people from their captivity to Satan, sin, death, and hell.
Jesus endured spiritual attack—and won
Years later, Jesus was born to his mother, Mary, as promised. Satan’s attack on Jesus commenced when he was only a boy. King Herod, who was a descendant of a demonically influenced family line of evil dictators, decreed that all firstborn sons be put to death in an effort to murder Jesus as an infant. Satan was, in fact, working behind this plot because he rightly knew that Jesus had come to conquer him and liberate his captives. But God warned Jesus’ parents of the plot, and they fled to Egypt as refugees, so Jesus’ life was spared.
As a young man, Jesus was again attacked by Satan, who offered him a much easier life than the one planned out for him by God the Father. God the Father sent Jesus to earth on the mission of living a sinless life and going to the cross to die for sinners. In contrast, Satan offered a kingdom without a cross and promised that Jesus could rule in glory and power without any opposition or crucifixion so long as he bowed down in honor to Satan. Satan set forth his proposal with a simple friendship offer of food, of breaking bread with Jesus, all while Jesus was very hungry from forty days of fasting. Jesus wisely rejected this “gift.” Like Jesus, it is very wise for us to be suspicious of spirits bearing gifts, even if they appear to be good things. This is why discernment is so vital to living out our faith in Jesus each and every day.
Jesus hid his victory in defeat, hid his glory in shame, and hid our life in his death.
Leading up to the cross, Satan entered one of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas Iscariot—who was, in reality, an unbeliever—and conspired with him to betray Jesus and hand him over to be crucified. Through the cross, Satan and his demons thought that they had finally defeated Jesus. If we picture the Lord Jesus hanging on the cross, bloodied and dying, it admittedly appears in every way that Jesus was hanging his head in defeat at the hands of Satan. On this point, the great Reformation pastor Martin Luther was fond of reflecting on Isaiah 45:15, which says of Jesus, “Truly, you are a God who hides [yourself], O God of Israel, the Savior.” Luther’s point about this verse is that, on the cross, Jesus hid his victory in defeat, hid his glory in shame, and hid our life in his death. Satan and the demons did not see this because they lacked the sight of faith and did not understand the humility of Jesus.
Jesus’ victory on our behalf
Nonetheless, on the cross Jesus bled and died for you. And by faith, as you look to the cross, you will see the great lengths he has gone to in order to conquer your Enemy and liberate your life. Consequently, Jesus’ words, “It is finished,” from the cross are his heralding of your liberation. Crucifying Jesus was the biggest mistake the Devil ever made. Had he understood what was happening, he would never have killed Jesus, as it says in 1 Corinthians 2:6–9:
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
My favorite portion of Scripture on the victory of Jesus over Satan, sin, and death is Colossians 2:13–15:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Thankfully, the Lord Jesus came to rescue you and me. Unlike us, he resisted all of Satan’s temptations and lived the sinless life that we have not lived. Jesus then went to the cross to die the death we should have died. On the cross, Jesus died in our place for our sins.
The battle for our souls is real, and like captives in a war (Col. 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:25–26) we have been tortured and brainwashed. But the good news is that Jesus came to rescue us. Jesus himself confirmed this fact in Luke 4:18 when, at the beginning of his earthly ministry, he said he had come to set captives free. There is no way that Satan would have released us from his captivity, and no way that we could liberate ourselves, so Jesus came as our triumphant warrior and liberator.
*Portions of this blog post were adapted from Who Do You Think You Are? (2013, Thomas Nelson), by Mark Driscoll, Death By Love (2008, Crossway), by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, and Doctrine (2010, Crossway), by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears.