Luke 10:17-20 “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’”
This conversation between the seventy-two disciples and our Lord is on the theme of victory over the devil. You see the reference to ‘demons’ (v.17) and to ‘Satan’ (v.18) and to ‘snakes and scorpions’ (v.19) (which again is referring to demons – you remember how in the Garden of Eden the devil came in the form of a snake to tempt our first parents), and to the ‘enemy,’ (v.19) and to the ‘spirits’ (v.20). There are in all five or six references in our text to what Paul additionally referred to as ‘principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places.’ That is a lot of names for a vast and highly structured organization – the kingdom of darkness.
It has had enormous success in the past 150 years in achieving the world-wide collapse of historic Christianity in the older Protestant denominations. Our town, compared to the happy place it was during the 1859 revival, is a troubled place today and outside Aberystwyth the churches are closing down in all the villages, at least one a week. All this is heart-breaking proof of the skill and thoroughness with which the demonic hegemony has done its work. Paganism has been revived and swept through Europe; anything is believed except that Christ rose from the dead and has all authority in heaven on earth.
The professing church has largely given up belief in the devil. Then who is running the devil’s business today because expressions of his cunning and destructive malice are facts of everyday life? The sustained undermining of biblical congregations began well over a hundred years ago. The gospel preacher was marginalized by the promise of what Caesar and state power and the politician would do to control society and build a brave new world. This was the future, not looking back to Bunyan and the Five Points. Today the failure of that dream is evident to us all; what a nightmare state control has become. There is overwhelming cynicism about parliaments in Westminster, Cardiff and Brussels and a widespread conviction that our life is deeply flawed and our futures very uncertain and ominous. Secularism and state power has not delivered. It fails to face up to the reality of the prince of the power of the air.
Belief in the reality of Satan is not illogical; it fits the facts. I am referring to cosmic sickness; the history of the 20th century, the killing fields of Cambodia, the 60 million deaths in China, the two world wars in Europe and Japan, the Gulag Archipelago, Auschwitz and Belsen, the drug and alcohol and entertainment culture of Britain, the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. Not to believe in this evil power at work in our world is to put a telescope to the blind eye.
Of course, anyone to whom Jesus Christ is God incarnate must believe in the devil and his works. As we read the first three gospels we come across many people who are demon-possessed. These are not simply people who have physical ailments or some disintegration of personality. They are people who recognize Jesus’ identity and authority as the Son of God. All of them are hostile towards Christ, not to Caesar, nor to the Pharisees, nor the Sadducees, but their venom is focused on our Lord. This epidemic of demon possession was a unique problem when Jesus was on this earth. You take a honey pot out into the garden on a summer’s day and soon all the insects of the neighbourhood will be swarming around it. So as the Lord from heaven walked in Galilee, there was an infestation of demons in the land, as nowhere else in the world, but when you move on to reading the Acts of the Apostles that same phenomenon is absent. It is not completely missing but it is not as domineering a feature as it is in the first three gospels. There is nothing about demon possession in John’s gospel or in the letters of Paul and Peter. So the picture we have is this that the coming of the Son of God stirred up a great deal of demonic activity which subsided after his ascension. I have never come across it, and that is not because I am spiritually blind or immature or prejudiced. It is exceedingly rare.
If the pulpit ignores Satan and his devices then we put the whole people of God in jeopardy. Paul tells the early church that he and they were up to the devil’s tricks (2 Cors. 2:11). I must say the same; you must also be conscious of his designs because each one of us is personally at war with the devil. He has declared war with anyone who says, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” You are called upon to stand against the wiles of the devil. You have to put on the whole armour of God. The gospel invitation to you who are not Christians yet is not phrased like this, “Come and lie on a bed of roses.” It is this, “Come and join the fight with us.” Now the first rule in any battle is to know your enemy. That is why the verses before us are tremendously important; they enable us to know and assess Satan so that we may resist him effectively. He who has ears to hear let him hear.
You will see that after the remarks of the seventy-two reporting on their triumphant mission (v.17) all the rest of our passage is the teaching of Christ. You understand the significance of that? Our knowledge of Satan and his work today, and teaching about demonology, depends on our relationship with Jesus Christ. You can only see the truth about the devil in the light of the truth about God. In other words, evil is a lack of the good, or a perversion of the good, and you can know what good is only when you know who God is. Only through appreciating the goodness of the Almighty can you form any idea of the badness of the devil. If your thoughts of God are wrong then your thoughts of the devil will be wrong too. You will have the Hollywood film version of demons with loads of special effects and the make-up department working overtime. As J.I. Packer says, “If you imagine God as every man’s heavenly uncle, a person whose job (not always well done) is to help us achieve our selfish desires for irresponsible fun and carefree comfort, then we’ll think of Satan as merely a cosmic sour-puss whose sole aim is to thwart our plans and spoil our pleasures. But this is no nearer the truth about Satan then the celestial Santa Claus idea is to the truth about God” (J.I. Packer, God’s Words, IVP, 1981, p.85).
1. THE DISCIPLES DISCOVERED THEIR AUTHORITY OVER THE DEMONS.
We are told of the happiness of the seventy-two at the end of their mission. They came back making their eager report to Jesus and they were full of joy as they blurted out almost breathlessly, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” (v.17). There is a tangible excitement in their response. They seized on the one event that was most thrilling to them, not the preaching or the conversions but that they had met poor people who had been demon-possessed and they had actually delivered them. They had been able to do it; they had seen the change in these people, and the pathetic delight in their families at such glorious deliverances, their gratitude and joy. To be able to do this, and do it so easily! It was such unexpected success. There’d been no agonizings, rolling on the floor all night, costly Satanic battles with fiends that had put the disciples in rehab for months afterwards. No. They had addressed the demon-possessed people in the name of Jesus – as they had seen him speak to them on many occasions, and great calm had come over the victims; the strivings were over. The demons had gone! Many of the seventy-two were hardly out of their teens. What authority was in the name of Jesus! Satan-crushing power hadn’t come out from within them; it had come only through the Lord Jesus. So what a future lay before them. Some could have been thinking of this already. They might open a business in Capernaum or Korazin called “Deliverance Ministries”. They could go into partnership with the man whom they had been working with. What joy they knew!
We all want success; we want to see Satan’s kingdom pulled down and souls converted to God. The desire is right and good, but a time of success is a time of danger to the Christian. There is a certain kind of immature character who is easily depressed when things go against him and then gets gravely pompous in times of encouragement. There are few Christians like Samson who could kill a lion without telling others about it. Paul describes the qualities of a Christian leader to Timothy and he tells him, “Beware of being lifted up with pride or you could fall into the condemnation of the devil.” I personally have had probably as much success as my soul could bear. Few Christian can carry a full cup with a steady hand. Few can prosper in days of success. We are too prone to give ourselves praise for any victories that we’ve been involved in.
2. THE RESPONSE OF JESUS: “I SAW SATAN FALL.’
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (v.18). Our Lord does not speak in the future tense; it is not that one day he will see this happen. “I saw it,” he says, “Satan falling from heaven.” It has occurred. The Son of God had seen the heavenly reality which corresponded to the earthly victories won by the seventy-two. Let us look at some other words that establish this fall of Satan as one already having taken place.
i] “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house” (Matt. 12:28&29). You remember the situation in which Jesus said those words. The Pharisees could not deny that he was casting out demons. “Ah,” they said, “he is casting them out by the power of the devil. He is in league with the devil.” Jesus is answering them; “Satan does not cast out Satan. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand and this kingdom of darkness is standing and active. Jesus cast out demons by the power of the Spirit of God. This means that Satan the king in his seemingly impregnable castle has actually been bound hand and foot and all the doors are unlocked. The drawbridge has been let down, the portcullis pulled up, and all the prisoners have been freed and let out. All his possessions have been taken and he can do nothing to prevent it because he’s bound tight. So every time you see a person delivered from demon possession you know that Jesus has got Satan in a strait jacket.
ii] “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (Jn. 12:31). When was the casting out of Satan? “Now,” said Jesus. It was not waiting for the second coming. It was now. You remember the context of those words. There were Gentiles, men from Greece, coming and saying that they’d made the journey in order to see Jesus. They had heard so much about him and wanted to meet him for themselves, and for our Lord that fact was a blessed anticipation of the future when the gospel would break out of Israel and go out from Jerusalem and fill the whole earth, nations that until then had been blinded and dominated by the kingdom of darkness. Now the prince of this world will be cast off his throne and his reign over the Gentile nations comes to an end. That is how our Lord saw Golgotha, his death and resurrection was his spoiling of Satan and his hosts. He has made a public show of their defeat. Henceforward all men, not just believing Jews, but all men all the world over would be drawn to him when he was lifted up.
iii] “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb’” (Rev. 12:9-11). The picture is of a wrestler who has been striving with a powerful opponent, but then he gets him in a grip, picks him up and hurls him to the ground in victory. Christ has done that, overcoming principalities and powers on his cross; he has triumphed over them there. Golgotha has become the divine guarantee of Christ’s ultimate coming triumph at the day of judgment.
iv] “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations any more until the thousand years were ended” (Rev. 20: 1-3). This great messenger coming down from heaven is Christ, and the key he has is ownership and authority over the Abyss, the bottomless pit. The great chain in his hand is the restraining power he exercises by which Satan is bound. Our Lord has already bound and cast down Satan from his lordship over the whole dark Gentile world.
What does this binding of Satan mean? We are told in the third verse of Revelation 20. It is that which keeps Satan from deceiving the nations any longer. That’s what it means when these various pictures are used of the restraints upon on his actions – that he has been driven out of his throne dominating the nations of the world, that he has been bound with a great chain and thrown into the Abyss, that he is locked and sealed up there. Until Christ came the Egyptians were worshipping the sun, while the Greeks and the Romans were worshipping all their gods on Mount Olympus. In India and China and in Peru the various nations of the world were worshipping such things as crocodiles and the huge idols that they had built. Behind all of that was Satan, the god of this world, keeping the people in darkness. In Wales there were the druids, and human sacrifice, and faith in healing stones, and in the moon and in trees and so on. The people of Wales were deceived by the prince of the power of the air. Then Christ came and throughout his life he was casting out demons and declaring that he has more power than all the powers of hell. He can send out the seventy-two young men and to their amazement they can easily deliver men and women from the power of demons; “they submit to us in your name” they cry.
So the first Phoenician sailors who were Christians and traders sailed across the Mediterranean and up the coast of France and into the Irish Sea and came into Cardigan Bay. They moored their ships near where the harbour is today in Aberystwyth and here they bought skins and gold from the local people and sold to us wine and silk material, and in the evening these first Christians within twenty years of the resurrection of Christ were telling people about 400 yards from where I am standing about the love of God in sending his own Son to be our Saviour. I am talking about the year 50 A.D., nineteen hundred and sixty years ago. That is how long the gospel has been heard in this town. Before that time it was in darkness; Satan was deceiving the Welsh and all the nations of the earth, but after Christ rose he sent his disciples into all the nations of the earth and promised that he would go with them. Today we are unafraid of the power of Satan. In Hollywood they are afraid for he is utterly triumphant and poor people are destroyed by him. But in our text he is like a little poisonous snake whose head you crush, or like a scorpion that you stand on and kill. “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and overcome all the power of the enemy: nothing will harm you” (v.19).
Now someone here protests; he feels that if this is true, and we have such power over Satan, if the devil were really bound and had fallen from heaven, down and down into the Abyss, then he would have no influence whatsoever in the world and over individuals. Yet, my objecting friend says, “Look at the situation everywhere, such evil actions and influences wherever you look, corrupting and defiling humanity.” I reply that you are misunderstanding the significance of the binding of Satan and his falling down and down and down. Consider the letter of Jude and verse six; “the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home – these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.” Our Lord has not killed them; he has not annihilated them; they are not yet cast into the lake of fire. They are considerably restricted, imprisoned and bound in chains. They certainly have not ceased their activities. They are like a cunning master-mind criminal ensconced in prison. He has secreted a mobile phone there and he is directing his activities from within the jail. So too these demons continue their work in their chains, but they are constantly restrained by our Lord. Here is a little Christian boy and he is following the Lord Jesus and Satan wants to destroy him and some old devil is getting too close to the child, and Jesus yanks the chain! John says in his letter that the evil one ‘does not touch’ a child of God.
So let us see the great picture: Satan was at one time the greatest angel in heaven. In Paul’s letter to Timothy we read that his downfall came about through his pride. He rebelled against God and influenced other angels to rebel against God. Since that time, he and his demons have hated God and all that is good and pure. He has worked without ceasing for the destruction of mankind and the enlargement of hell. The great ambition of Satan is to destroy the souls of men and to prevent them from being saved. He is constantly seeking to persuade men to sin. Remember how he did everything he possibly could to cause Job to renounce his God. In the wilderness he even tempted the Son of God to renounce God the Father. We know from the word of God that Satan is sometimes influential in bringing about sickness, financial loss and death. He does trouble the church today, even individually and personally.
I have been reading a book of letters of a former professor at my old seminary in Philadelphia. His name was Jack Miller, and this is what he wrote to a missionary in Uganda. “Don’t fear the devil as though he had sovereign power. Such fear is dangerously close to worship. Just move your whole trust to God alone; resist the devil by humbling the heart, and he will flee from you. Let me open my own life on a most personal level. Many years ago I experienced a direct demonic attack. It happened early one morning. I was sleeping and a dark cloud appeared at the bedroom door. It rushed at me with intent to destroy or possess. It struck my left side near my heart, and, though I was sleeping, I have no doubt that this was an attack of a demon that was real. Immediately I cried out to God for help, and he heard my cry. Again I knew instantly from the Spirit what God wanted me to do. The message was, humble yourself, and the devil will have no power over you (James 4:6&7). I did. I humbled myself and, at that moment, was completely delivered from this violent assault on my person. I had claimed the power of Christ for cleansing from my pride and self-centredness, and I was left astonished at the powerlessness of this messenger of Satan. To this day I stand in awe of the gospel working in the life of the broken and contrite. I had at least glimpsed the truth that demons are defeated enemies and simply no match for those who humbly rely on the gospel and God alone. The demonic attack is to get us to think God’s control is not good, really stifling or unpredictable. Satan and his cohorts hit here again and again, and the proud in heart are easily carried away with this deception” (C. John Miller, The Heart of a Servant Leader, P&R, 2004, p.157).
So, I am saying to you that Satan today is the ruler of the kingdom of darkness. He has under him principalities, powers and demons, a well organized defeated enemy. Satan is called the god of this age – the prince of this world. This does not mean that he has complete power over this creation. It is over the evil world that he has power. It is over such who are termed the ‘children of disobedience’ that he has his control. He is definitely limited when it comes to the children of God. He cannot touch them to their destruction. He can tempt and annoy them, but he cannot conquer them. I have received these convictions from some things Marcellus Kik has written.
Dr. Kik goes on to say, “It is the common conception that Satan rules over hell. It is thought that the great function of the Devil and his angels is to torment the dwellers in hell. That is not so. Satan and his angels are themselves to be tormented in hell. Hell was made for them and all those who ally themselves with the forces of evil. Satan and his demons fear hell even more than does mankind for they know the torments of it. They do not rule but are subject to the fires of hell” (J. Marcellus Kik, Revelation Twenty, P&R, 1955, p.22).
So here is the picture of a group of young men sent out on their first mission. They have never preached before. They have not suffered at all for Christ. They are not very knowledgeable or experienced, but he sent them out and they obeyed, and then to their surprise and delight they enjoy God’s blessing in a considerable way. Their message is listened to and received; they heal and help men and women, “Even the demons submit to us in your name” they cry (v.17). Of course, Jesus had given them that authority. They could trample on the heads of those serpents, that is a metaphor for their casting out demons. All the powers from the pit could not destroy one of those whom Christ had sent out. It was then that Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
It is a marvelous biblical symbol. Where has Satan fallen from? From heaven, from his rule high over the nations over the world, over Egypt and Babylon and Africa and Wales. What has he fallen into? Into the Abyss. Into the bottomless pit. In other words, he is still falling today and falling always. He fell in every miracle of our Lord, when he raised Lazarus from the grave, when he healed the man born blind, when he turned water into wine then Satan fell. When the apostles went into the world, and Saul of Tarsus was converted on the Damascus Road Satan fell. When he later spoke to the women in Philippi and Lydia’s heart was opened and she believed, then Satan fell. When Peter preached in Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost and 3,000 men believed then Satan fell like lightning from heaven. Whenever God’s word is preached in power and Christ is exalted it happens, but Satan fell most of all, I say again, when the Son of God was obedient to death, even the death of the cross. There Christ triumphed over the god of this world. When he rose from the dead on the third day Satan fell like lightning.
When Augustine was converted in the Garden in Milan Satan fell, and when Luther and John Newton and Spurgeon were converted in different centuries in storms at sea and storms on land and storms of snow, then Satan fell. Every time any sinner turns his back on unbelief and puts his trust in Jesus Christ then Satan falls. Satan is always falling down and down into the bottomless pit. The church of Jesus Christ goes forth conquering and to conquer, overcoming all the power of the enemy, trampling on the little snakes of those who hate the gospel and persecute the people of God. Our hope today is that Satan will fall even further as many of you turn to Jesus Christ and believe on him.
3. THE RESPONSE OF JESUS: “REJOICE THAT YOUR NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN HEAVEN”
“Do not rejoice that the spirits were subject to you,” Jesus said. Men had been delivered from horrible attacks by Satan. Should that not be a cause of rejoicing? Are we not told to rejoice with them that rejoice? Clearly we should, and so these words are not a new law given by Christ so as to say “When there is deliverance from sin and Satan you are not to rejoice.” No. It cannot mean that. Let’s be careful to put such phrases in their context or there will be frowns and rebukes at innocent joys. What the Saviour is telling them is that there are greater blessings than those that they have experienced, which they were ignoring. It was an honour and a privilege to be allowed to cast out demons, and the disciples were right to rejoice, but there are far higher privileges. What are these? Being converted, becoming true Christians, receiving pardon for all our sins, being justified freely through the grace of God, to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ, to be adopted into the family of God, to be made a joint heir with Christ, to be joined to Jesus Christ for ever – such blessings are far greater than being enabled to cast out demons.
What is Jesus telling them? That grace is a greater blessing than gifts. If I were a wonderful orator, and spoke with the tongues of men and of angels, but if I lacked the grace of love then I would be a sounding gong. I might be able to accomplish many religious works but in the last day Christ will say to many like me, “But I never knew you. Depart from me.” An ounce of saving grace is greater than a ton of gifts, says Jesus. Judas could preach and heal and cast out demons, but Judas was a lost man. You can have such gifts as mental vigour, a great memory, striking eloquence and lucid presentation, but without grace they are nothing. Satan himself has all those gifts. But grace as fine as a spider’s thread will join us to Christ for ever and will take us safely over the bottomless pit and put us down in his presence with exceeding joy, however unlearned and uneloquent we may appear to be. Don’t be content with the knowledge of the Bible you have, or the experiences you have had. Such things are all very well in their way. They are not to be undervalued, but they are not the grace of God. Don’t be satisfied until you know that you are washed, and your are justified, and you are sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God.
What does the Lord say here? “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v.20). This is a biblical picture. Moses interceded for the children of Israel, offering his life for their sins, saying, “Please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Ex. 32:32). Daniel later told the Israelites, “Your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (Dan. 12:1). It is a picture of a written record of all the people who belong to God kept safely in heaven. Paul wrote of those “whose names are written in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3). Everyone knew at that time of such lists. Joseph took his pregnant wife Mary to Bethlehem to be registered in the census. When I go to vote in our polling booth the officials check that my name is registered with them, looking through a great print-off of all the registered voters in our electoral district, and finding my name they permit me to cast my vote.
God knows those who are his. He remembers them that we belong to him. Christ has gone to prepare a place for us. We have a right to all the privileges of heaven before we get there. We have the guarantee of God that eternal life is ours. Jesus says, “I will never blot his name out of the book of life” (Rev. 3:5). It is a picture of our security through the omniscience and omnipotence of God, but in order to bring our affections comprehensively to this truth the word “book” or the fact that “our names are written in heaven,” is vividly mentioned. God will never forget we belong to him because he has written our names in the book of life in the indelible blood of his Son. We know that when the roll is called up yonder we’ll be there.
We show the greatest discernment and maturity when we rejoice in that. God in his grace wrote our names in his book. I know a little Christian boy who when he prayed that God would receive him through Jesus Christ went down on his knees once again and he said to God, “Make sure you write my name in your book.” I am saying that it is by believing upon the Lord Jesus Christ as he is offered to us in the gospel that we have eternal life and our names are written in heaven.
Gifts are temporary things. Judas and Demas had them for a while and then they disappeared. Grace is a permanent gift sustained by the God of love. Death itself cannot destroy it. Iain Murray was visiting Dr. Lloyd-Jones at the end of his life and expressed his sympathy to him that he was now too ill to leave the house, that he was unable to preach any longer. The Doctor was instant in his reply, “I did not live to preach. You remember that the disciples returned to Jesus rejoicing that the demons were subject to them, but Christ told them not to rejoice in that, but rather that their names were written in heaven.” May we all be enabled by grace to think of the wonder of the grace of that reality, that our worthless names are written before the throne of God in heaven as his people.
7th February 2010 GEOFF THOMAS