THE STRONG MAN BOUND
We have seen that the incarnation of the Son of God for the purpose of redeeming the world has produced a new situation in which the Gentiles are now brought fully into the picture. That they were always in the picture so far as the divine intention is concerned is shown by the promise given to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed, and from the numerous predictions of the prophets that God’s grace would flow to all the families of mankind. God’s purpose of universal blessing is described by Paul as a mystery which has become fully clear only with the coming of Christ — for by this use of the term “mystery” the apostle speaks of an age-old purpose of God, which for centuries has remained hidden or but partially disclosed, but now is plainly revealed for all to see. Through the shedding of Christ’s blood the Gentiles, who previously were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise,” in short were far off, have been brought near. Christ is “our peace,” who has made Jew and Gentile one, because “he has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” In him, accordingly, the nations are “no longer strangers and sojourners,” but are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:11ff.). This is the mystery now made known by revelation —
And “this was according to the eternal purpose which God has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:3ff.).
When the scribes accused Jesus of being “possessed by Beelzebul” and of casting out demons by “the prince of demons,” he responded by pointing out that this amounted to an absurd proposition, namely, that Satan was casting out Satan. The only reasonable conclusion, which they were unwilling to draw, was that it was by the Spirit of God that he was casting out demons, and therefore that the power of God was manifestly at work in their midst. Did they really think that Satan could be fighting against himself? And then he added: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house” (Mk. 3:22ff.; Mt. 12:24ff.). Christ’s casting out of demons was an evidence not only that the strong man’s house was being plundered but also that Satan had been bound. Christ is the one who is stronger than Satan, and that is why, when the seventy whom he had sent out returned rejoicing that even the demons were subject to them in his name, he could say to them: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy” (Lk. 10:17-19; 11:21f.). That is why, as he approached the ordeal and the victory of the cross, he could declare: “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn. 12:31f.) — for the binding of Satan that he should deceive the nations no more makes possible the casting of the gospel net over all men. That is why, again, the risen Lord can encourage his apostles and commission them with these words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:18f.). With Satan effectively bound, and all authority concentrated in Christ, their evangelical charge is one that leads them to all the nations of the world.
Paul writes to similar effect in the Epistle to the Colossians, when he says that God “disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in Christ’s cross” (Col. 2:15); and in the Epistle to the Hebrews there is, if anything, an even more explicit statement where the writer asserts that in the incarnation the Son of God partook of our human nature, “in order that through death he might render ineffective him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb. 2:14f.). There is also a passage in the Revelation which seems to have a bearing on this interpretation of the binding of Satan. It is generally agreed that this passage (ch. 12:1ff.) refers to the birth, death, and exaltation of Christ and to the overthrow of Satan which these events effected. John sees a woman in the pangs of childbirth and a dragon waiting to devour her child when it is born; she gives birth to a male child “who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron,” but the dragon fails in his design because “her child was caught up to God and to his throne”; there follows an account of war in heaven in which the dragon and his angels are defeated, “and the great dragon, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, was thrown down to the earth,” and his angels with him; and this calls forth the joyful proclamation: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come!” His mission to earth completed, the Redeemer of mankind assumes all authority as the ruler of “all the nations,” while Satan, “the deceiver of the whole world,” is overthrown and the peoples of the world are released from his domination. Or, in the words of Revelation 20:21., “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan,” has been “seized” and “bound” and “thrown into the pit,” which has been “shut and sealed over him,” “so that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years are ended.” At the end of that period, we are advised, “he must be loosed for a little while.”
Philip Edgecumbe Hughes was Visiting Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia and Associate Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church, Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania. His other works include Theology of the English Reformers, Commentary on II Corinthians, But for the Grace of God, and Confirmation in the Church Today.
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