Our enemy is known by many titles: "the evil one" (MAT 6:13; 1JO 2:13); "a murderer ... a liar ... the father of lies"JOH 8:44); "the ruler of this world" (JOH 12:31); "the god of this age" (2CO 4:4); "the prince of the power of the air" (EPH 2:2); "the great dragon ... the serpent of old ... the devil and Satan ... who deceives the whole world" (REV 12:9).
The world in which we live—the cosmic system—belongs to Satan. We—believers in the Lord Jesus Christ—are guerilla soldiers placed by the Almighty God in the middle of the enemy's territory as an offensive force.
Our enemy is bigger, meaner, quicker, smarter, and smoother than any mere human who ever lived. He is a master strategist who has had thousands and thousands of years to hone his evil skills. He stalks about this planet "like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1PE 5:8). He can break a man or woman physically, mentally, and emotionally—as effortlessly as we might wad up and throw away a piece of paper. But he is no match for God—or for the believer who knows how to stand in the power of God.
Ignorance of the nature of our enemy and of his strategy is one of Satan's greatest weapons in this war. God intends that we understand what is going on and who it is we are fighting. In the Word, He tells us all we need to know about Satan and his troops.
There are more than 200 references to angels in the Bible, spiritual beings created apparently long before man and superior to man in power and intelligence (HEB 1:14, Heb 2:7; 2PE 2:11). Biblical evidence points to the fact that these beings were placed by God in ranks and orders not unlike military ranks. The most common New Testament word for these beings is aggelos, which means "messenger" and is usually transliterated "angel," but they are also referred to as thronos, "thrones;" kuriotes, "powers;" archon, "rulers;" exousia, "authorities;" and dunamis, also translated "powers."
The word translated from ISA 14:12 as "Lucifer" in the King James and "star of the morning" in the New American Standard is the Hebrew helel, "the shining one." The name "Lucifer" comes through the Latin lucere, "to shine," from lux, " light."
EZE 28:11-15 tells us that Lucifer was the greatest—in power, in beauty, in rank—of all the angels God created. He was called "the anointed cherub who guards," and his responsibility related directly to the Throne Room of God. The Greek diabolos, from which we get "devil," and the Hebrew satan both mean "adversary" or "accuser." How did the most beautiful creature to come from the hand of God turn into a murderer and liar and deceiver, the author of all evil? With two words: "I will."
Satan, who like the other angels had free will, rebelled against God. He became enamoured with himself and in his pride and arrogance, he decided he wanted to be independent from and equal to his Creator.
Under his leading, one-third of the entire angelic host revolted against God (REV 12:4). God convicted and passed sentence on Satan and the fallen angels: eternity in a "lake of fire" (MAT 25:41). Though the sentence has been passed, it has not been carried out yet. Satan has been cast out of his original position in Heaven, but at present he holds power over this earth.
Apparently Satan appealed his sentence, contending that God's judgment was not fair. To question God's divine judgment is to slander His character. God will not tolerate this, and so He put into motion a plan for refuting Lucifer's accusations. This plan centers around man.
What is going on in human history resembles a duel. Satan challenged God by maligning His character. God has determined to show all creation that He alone is just and righteous, that apart from Him there is no good, and He is going to do this by letting Satan attempt to prove otherwise in combat.
But how can there be a fair fight between an omnipotent God and a created angel? In the human realm, a strong man challenged by a weaker man might level the ground by fighting with one hand tied behind his back. That is exactly what God is doing. He tied His own hands by limiting His power so that it could become operative only through the free choice of a creature inferior even to the angels: God created man for the purpose of resolving the angelic conflict (HEB 2:7; ISA 43:7).
The resolution of this conflict centers on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Long before man was even created, God knew that he would fall to temptation, and so He provided a way of salvation for all men. In this He simplified the angelic conflict by narrowing man's options in every circumstance to two possible choices. Man could choose for the plan of God—which is to take the side of grace and truth by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, or he could choose against the plan of God—which is to take the side of evil and lies by relying on himself.
As all creation watches, the angelic conflict plays out in the souls of men on planet Earth. God will let it run just long enough to prove absolutely that His justice and grace are perfect. In The Invisible War, Donald Barnhouse describes it this way:
War has been declared. The great, governing cherub had become the malignant enemy. Our God was neither surprised nor astonished, for, of course, He knew before it happened that it would happen, and He had His perfect plan ready to be put into effect. Although the Lord had the power to destroy Satan with a breath, He did not do so. It was as though an edict had been proclaimed in heaven: "We shall give this rebellion a thorough trial. We shall permit it to run its full course. The universe shall see what a creature, though he be the highest creature ever to spring from God's Word, can do apart from Him. We shall watch this experiment, and permit the universe of creatures to watch it, during this brief interlude between eternity past and eternity future called time. In it the spirit of independence shall be allowed to expand to the utmost. And the wreck and ruin which shall result will demonstrate to the universe, and forever, that there is no life, no joy, no peace apart from a complete dependence upon the Most High God, Possessor of heaven and earth." (Donald Grey Barnhouse, The Invisible War, Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Publishing House, 1965, p. 51.)
Satan, of course, was vitally interested in what choices would be made by the first two humans God placed under his nose. Master strategist that he is, he stayed away from Adam, but he heartily encouraged Eve to do something with her life, to develop her full potential as a human being. That the first words out of his mouth were designed to destroy her confidence in the Word of God seemed to escape her notice. At any rate, she ate the forbidden fruit. And, as Satan must have believed he would, Adam followed the woman. Satan became the ruler of this world.
At this point Satan surely assumed he had won the conflict, but his glee was short-lived. God invaded Satan's earthly domain with the promise of the Savior who would come from the seed of the woman (GEN 3:15) and a demonstration—by sacrificing an animal to clothe them—of His substitutionary death (GEN 3:21).
From the instant God's promise was given, Satan made every effort to nullify it by preventing the birth of Christ, which would have proved that God could not keep His Word. He tried by inciting Cain to murder his brother Abel (Gen 4), the first man born with an old sin nature to believe in the Savior. He tried by sending fallen angels to infiltrate the human race (Gen 6), knowing that if mankind could be totally corrupted, the Christ could not come as a man. He tried by repeated attacks on the nation of Israel, knowing that if Israel were destroyed, there could be no promised seed of Abraham (GAL 3:1). But he did not succeed, and Christ was born. God had come in the flesh. Satan's attempt to have the baby Jesus killed by way of Herod's decree failed as miserably as everything else he had tried up to this point (Mat 2; REV 12:1-5).
Now all of Satan's opposition, all of his attacks could be focused on one Person—the Lord Jesus Christ. Every step of the way, from the cradle to the cross, our Lord was opposed by the enemy in every conceivable way. Not only was the Lord tempted in all points as we are (HEB 4:15), but He was also opposed in ways we will never understand. Still Jesus accomplished His task; He fixed His face like flint and went to the cross in our place.
At the crucifixion, Satan thought for a second time that victory was his. After all, the Savior of mankind was dead. But then came the resurrection. When the Lord Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Throne of God according to the prophecy of PSA 110:1-4, it was clear He was the Victor in the angelic conflict.
The statement made here by God the Father, and repeated in HEB 1:13, is crucial to our understanding of the work of God the Holy Spirit. The Father, fully accepting the work that Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, declared that He would be seated until His enemies were made a footstool for His feet. At the seating of Christ, a new age was introduced—the Church Age, which would become a reality at the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.
With the onset of the Church Age, the most amazing plan began to unfold. It was something Satan could never have anticipated or prepared for, something he absolutely could not defeat. Before the cross, Satan had had to square off with the one Person on earth in whom was the omnipotence of God—Jesus Christ. But now, every person who placed his faith in the Savior, would carry within him that same omnipotence by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Suddenly instead of one Man to contend with, Satan had 11; soon the 11 become 120, and before he knew it, there were 3,000, and then a million, and all of a sudden everywhere all over the world every believer in Jesus Christ is walking around with the same power that God in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, had.
Within 70 years of Christ's resurrection, the written Word of God was completed. Imagine how Satan felt when he realized that the truth of the Word of God and the grace of the Spirit of God would be available without measure to every believer on earth.
This is why the Lord could say in Matthew 16, "on this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." Notice that the Lord's idea was not that the Church would hopefully hold out a few faithful and brave souls against the onslaught of Satan. Instead, He envisioned the Church on the offensive, constantly pounding the gates of hell. In the ancient world, the gate of the city was where all major decisions were made; it was the place of power and authority. Jesus was saying that the power and the authority of hell would never prevail against the onslaught of the Church. That was the plan of God, and it remains the plan of God to this day.
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome tile world—our faith. And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (IJo 5:4-5)
As finite beings with all kinds of human limitations, we are pitted against an enemy superior to us in wisdom, in strength, in power, and in numbers. We have to understand that on the cross, Jesus Christ won the strategic victory. This means that the tide of war has turned. When God sent His Son into the world, He paid the penalty for our sins; He broke the back of the devil; He broke open the gates of his P.O.W. camp called the world.
But the war is not over, and we are still on the battlefield. Whether we as individuals win the tactical victory will depend on whether we can apply to our lives the things gained through Christ's strategic victory. If we want to win day by day, we have to utilize the assets that God has provided for us and follow the game plan that He lays out for us in the Word. Without a clear and accurate understanding of the Word, it is impossible for any believer to stand up to the strategy of Satan.
When the Apostle John talks about those who are "overcomers," he uses a military term. Nikao refers to peace achieved by military victory. What does it mean to "overcome the world"? It means to have peace through victory. John is talking about the spiritual peace that comes through spiritual victory.
In 1JO 5:4, the apostle makes a declaration of fact. The neuter "whatever" states a principle: whatever is born of God is victorious over the world. Period. The realm of flesh is always conquered by the realm of the Spirit. "Overcomes" is the present, active, indicative of nikao; it pictures continuous victory in an ongoing struggle. The key to this victory is "our faith," which John says has overcome the world. This time, nikao is an aorist, participle. In Greek, the aorist tense refers to something that takes place at a point of time. The aorist participle in Greek always precedes the action of the main verb.
What that means in this sentence is that the momentary victory of faith in Christ (for salvation) provides the basis for the ongoing victory in the life of faith. Salvation is the once-for-all victory; spirituality is the ongoing victory. To be overcomers means that we live in a realm of peace—not an external, but an internal, realm. John's two-fold development here is much like Christ's invitation in Matthew 11.
In MAT 11:28-30 when the Lord offered to the disciples—and to us as believers—peace as a birthright, He was not offering a tranquil physical environment; He was offering peace with God and personal rest of soul. In the passage, He talks about two different kinds of rest. One is the rest that Jesus gives: "Come to Me ... and I will give you rest." The other is a rest that we find: "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me ... and you shall find rest for your souls."
The rest that He gives to all who come to Him and the rest that we find through study are two different things. One is a rest of position; the other is a rest of practice. One is a rest that is eternal; the other is a rest that is moment by moment.
One of the reasons Satan hates us so much is that in our position in Christ we are higher than the angels (EPH 1:3; COL 3:1). All the things he tried to achieve through his arrogance and rebellion are given to us when we believe in Christ. If he cannot keep us from accepting eternal life, he will at least do everything he can to keep us from enjoying the riches of God's grace while we are on earth.
But we can overcome the enemy; we can share in Christ's victory over Satan day by day by remembering His triumph. When John uses the present tense and the active voice for the verbs "overcomes" and "believes" in 1JO 5:5, he is telling us that the one who chooses to keep on believing is the one who will keep on overcoming the world.
Faith, exercised moment-by-moment, brings spiritual victory, which brings peace to the soul. But that faith must always be in the person and work of Christ. If we lose sight today of the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross, if we do not apply today the meaning of the cross to our lives, then we will not have inner peace and the enemy will have won another round in the tactical war. All victory is found in Jesus Christ (JOH 16:33; ROM 8:37; 1CO 15:56-58; 2CO 2:14).