Jesus seemed to have no trouble with demons. Read through the four Gospels, and you will see how commonplace it was for Jesus to encounter and cast out demons. In the Gospels (NIV translation) there are 86 mentions of demons, counting also “impure spirits”—as they are often called. In every encounter with a demon-possessed person, Jesus effortlessly cast out the demons, apparently sending them into the Abyss, so that they troubled people no more. Even a Legion of demons was no challenge for him.
Jesus’ human opponents once claimed his power over demons to be Satanic. In response, Jesus spoke truth: “…if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house” (Mark 3:26-27). Jesus is the one who ties up the strong man. This is proven every time a demon is cast out, and every time a sinner is set free to new life in Christ. Good is good, evil is evil, and God is always good.
If overcoming evil demons is so easy for Jesus, why then does his face-to-face encounter with Satan, in the Temptation, have a very different feel? Is it that Satan’s power is so much greater than that of rank-and-file demons? Has Jesus finally met his match in the prince of demons? No! Something else must be happening in the Temptation of Christ. What is it?
We know that Jesus, to accomplish his redemptive mission on earth, had to be both True God and True Man. Our catechism says, “It was necessary for our Savior to be True Man in order that he might fulfill the law for us, and suffer and die in our place.” Then it quotes Romans 5:19, “for just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Satan’s temptation of Christ was part of Jesus’ successful obedience in the realm where we who are born sinners have failed.
But Jesus also faced that tempter with the very same weapons that we frail followers of Christ have at our disposal today. First, he was led into his temptation by the Spirit of God. I don’t know that the Spirit leads us into temptation today, but this same Holy Spirit may lead us out of our temptations—if we will listen, and respond to him in obedience. And second, the Word of God, wielded so brilliantly by Christ, is the same sword given you and me. Jesus spoke truth, and so may we.
Stronger than the strong man, Jesus can plunder the strong man’s house—that is, deliver us poor sinners from the power of sin, death, and the devil, and carry us into his own kingdom.
Rev. Brent Juliot is Contributing Editor of F&F magazine and Pastor of Living Hope Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.