“How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!” – Isaiah 14:12a
I’ve won.” The whisper escaped from the mouth of The Accuser. The plans he had set in motion so long ago had finally been completed. With those deliciously painful words, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” still ringing in his ears, Satan knew it was finished. As he took a glowering look over the world he had claimed, he was proud.
How long had it been since he first realized the truth? God had created him to rule over this universe of his. He was rightfully the firstborn of creation. Why else was he eternal? Why else would he have been created long before these fragile bags of dust he calls “people”? A smile spread across Satan’s face as he recalled the time when he first shared his “good news” with Adam and Eve. They had to know that they, too, were created to be like God; to ascend to the highest places and rule over creation. But God—cruel, unloving, pernicious God—was withholding from them their rightful place. “The earth, and everything in it, is mine,” thought Satan as he invited this weak, subservient woman to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had kept his precious humans from the knowledge they needed, but Satan knew better. This was what they truly needed. They needed their eyes opened to become like God, just as he himself desired.
But oh, the arrogance! Just for wanting to take their rightful place as gods, this Creator calls Adam and Eve sinners and pronounces the judgment of death on them. Well, what of it? Even in death I will rule over them. As condemned sinners, God has turned his back to them and left them to die. “But I am still their lord,” Satan said to himself, grinning as the pathetic disciples pulled Jesus’ lifeless body off the cross.
“Was this how the seed of Eve was going to crush my head?” God’s promises never looked so contemptible. For millennia the prophets had been harping about this Messiah who was supposed to set everything right, bring God’s forgiveness to the world, and lead his children out of bondage to sin and death. Such lofty and ambitious claims, when all Satan needed to do was whisper in the ear of Judas, and Jesus would stand before a seething crowd calling for his death. As they laid him in the tomb, Satan laughed, “Well, I’m still here, and you’re not, you ‘eternal’ Son of God!”
Satan looked proudly on his people as they rushed to get Jesus buried. They were all working so hard to follow the laws of God, and the Sabbath was approaching quickly. After all, you can’t become like God if you don’t behave like God, so he had further taught these people his “gospel”—you can become like God and avoid his wrath if you just follow the rules. It is as simple as that. God claims to be the only one who is perfect, but Satan was sure that, with the law, they too could become perfect.
Now, Satan had to admit, this Jesus had done better than anyone before him. He’d stood toe-to-toe with Satan and resisted all his best temptations. Satan’s brow furrowed as he thought back on the life this Jesus had lived. He couldn’t now recall a time when Jesus had actually broken one of God’s commands. Something didn’t add up here. Why, then, had God punished Jesus so severely? Satan had never seen such wrath poured out on a single person before. It was as if, after millennia of patience with sinners, God had had enough. He’d loosed all his judgment—and then some—on this pitiful man. Satan shook his head. “What does it matter? These fools thought this man would reverse the curse of death, and now he’s as dead as anyone.”
But oh, how some of them loved this man! The men were beside themselves with grief over losing their beloved Christ, and the women were wringing their hands waiting for the time when they could go and properly finish the burial. Not a very restful Sabbath for them. Truthfully, it was not a very restful Sabbath for Satan either. He just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
Looking for reassurance, Satan thought again of Jesus. “How ridiculous that they’re watching over a dead man!” Satan chuckled nervously. Already he could sense the icy grip of death reaching for Jesus, longing to pull him into an eternity away from God. Sense it, but not see it. What is going on here? This has never happened before. This Jesus is dead, but death hasn’t claimed him. How can this be? Death was reaching out to this man, but it couldn’t hold him. Impossible! With mounting terror, Satan could feel death’s grip, reaching, reaching but never grabbing. Frantically, impotently grasping for something it could not hold, as if it were a man trying to grab hold of the last light of day. Satan’s eyes widened in shock as he saw glorious life return to the body of Jesus, flooding his vision as he beheld the only begotten from the Father.
“No!” Satan screamed. “This is impossible!” Eyes clamped shut against the radiance of Christ, Satan raged at the divine flesh and blood that now stood before him. “I watched you die! I have defeated you and all your Father’s plans to bring humanity back under your lordship. Why won’t you stay dead?”
Calmly, Jesus turned to Satan. “You have never been more wrong. Because of your unbelief, you never saw the obvious answer right in front of you.”
“The answer that reconciles my Father’s judgment for sin and his great love for humanity. I am the answer. You have done nothing but try to rule this world and keep people away from God, but I was never yours. I never sinned, and therefore death couldn’t hold me. And when I died the death of a sinner, I took from every person—every person who will ever live—the sin that separates them from God. My Father executed perfect judgment at the cross. It fell on me, for I became sin. You think you won the victory when I died, just as you think you won the victory when you plunged mankind into sin and death in Eden. But now you know that I have power over death. All who believe in me will live, just as I now live. And now, you are finished—for I have swallowed up death in victory,” said Jesus.
Rev. Jeremy Wilson is Pastor of Lutheran Brethren Church of Nampa in Nampa, Idaho.