When we think about God’s kingdom in relationship to other kingdoms (see previous post on the question of whether the gospel is anti-imperial), the focus is only secondarily on visible political kingdoms in our world. The primary kingdom Jesus confronts and overthrows is the kingdom of Satan. How did Satan claim a kingdom in the first place, and what is Jesus doing about it?
1. Satan claims the kingdom that was rightfully ours, as humans. In Genesis 1:26-28 (see also Psalm 8:4-8), we read that God originally created man and woman in his image, with the authority to rule over the rest of his creation. God, the ultimate creator and king, appointed humans to reign on his behalf over the rest of the world. But in Genesis 3, the Serpent enters the picture and deceives Adam and Eve into taking their cues from Satan instead of from God. Ever since, humans rule the earth by answering to Satan and carrying out his plans instead of God’s plans. So in a sense, Satan has usurped the authority to rule that was given to us. He now acts as ruler of this world, because we surrendered this right to him.
2. But God promises that Satan will not have the last word in this matter. In Genesis 3:15, God declares that in the ongoing struggles that humans have with Satan, the offspring of Eve will ultimately prevail over the offspring if the Serpent: “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
3. Jesus, the divine Son of God, arrives on the scene as one who is fully human. Would he too be subject to the rule of Satan, since Satan rules over the world and the people of this world? No – Jesus never surrenders his rightful rule, as the rest of humanity has. We see this most directly when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by Satan. In Matthew 4:1-11 we witness a power struggle, with Satan striving to tempt and deceive Jesus into abdicating his right to rule the world. Satan wants to establish the same chain of command with Jesus that he did with Adam and Eve, with Satan calling the shots and Jesus following Satan’s lead (“tell these stones to become bread,” or “throw yourself down and let the angels rescue you,” or most directly, “bow down and worship me”). Unlike Adam and Eve, and the rest of humanity, Jesus resists Satan’s schemes and continues to carry out the Father’s agenda instead. The offspring of Eve strikes his first blow against Satan.
4. Satan’s wilderness failure is the beginning of his kingdom’s downfall. Because of Jesus’ ongoing resistance to Satan’s manipulations and his faithfulness to the Father, Jesus can affirm that “the ruler of the world has no hold on me” (John 14:30), and that “the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:11), and that he “will be driven out” (John 12:31). Jesus also demonstrates his dominion over Satan every time he casts out a demon. Satan tried to bring Jesus under his control, but Jesus carried out God’s perfect plan instead, which included a march towards the cross for the sake of all other humans, who were still captive to Satan.
5. In Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection he wins a victory for humanity as the Son of Man, the true image of God. Unlike other humans, Jesus never surrenders his God-given right to rule. But he doesn’t stop there. He makes a way for the rest of us to be delivered from Satan’s kingdom to God’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13). Jesus “disarmed” Satan and his minions, making “a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). His victory as the Second Adam and as our true representative secures our victory, when we are united to him, with him, and in him through faith.
6. The fatal blow to Satan’s kingdom has been struck. Through Christ, believers are released from slavery to Satan and his rule. We now answer to Jesus our King, the Head of the Body of Christ, no longer following “the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph 1:22-2:2). One day, Satan and his kingdom will be destroyed completely: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet,” says Paul in Romans 16:20, adopting the language of the promise in Genesis 3:15. The book of Revelation describes this dramatic downfall of the “ancient serpent” of Genesis 3 (Rev 12:9; 20:2). At that time, after Satan’s defeat, we as believers in Christ will “reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 5:10; Rev 22:5), reestablished to our rightful place in God’s order – forever ruling on God’s behalf over the rest of his works of creation (this time, in a new creation, a new heavens and earth).