Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134
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Sermon on the Mount
Gustav Doré, 'Satan Descends upon Earth' (1866), engraving, illustration for Milton's Paradise Lost.
"17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.' 18 He replied, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.'"
Pretty heady stuff when demons obey your commands!
The Seventy disciples have returned, 35 or 36 teams of two who had fanned out into the villages of Judea to heal the sick and preach that the Kingdom of God is at hand. And now they return, pair by pair, and the common theme from group after group during their informal debriefing is: "Wow! Even demons submit to us in your name!"
"The seventy-two returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.'" (10:17)
When you think about it, this is pretty exciting. We know that Jesus had given explicit power to cast out demons to his Twelve Apostles (Matthew 10:1; Mark 3:15; Luke 9:1). But this is a different group. These aren't just the select group of Twelve; these are other followers with a different calling, yet they are invested with authority over demons, too.
Sometimes you hear the argument that miraculous powers were reserved to Jesus and his Apostles, and when the last Apostle died, miraculous powers died out, since they were for another age in order to establish the faith. Now that the New Testament is written, these teachers contend, we don't need miracles, and that is why we don't see them in our day. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) neither the Bible nor church history over the last 2,000 years supports this. Certainly, Apostles were known for their signs and power (2 Corinthians 12:12), but miracles were seen among other disciples and preachers in the New Testament age. The Early Church Fathers are peppered with credible accounts of miracles. And if some of the accounts in the Middle Ages and in our own day seem a bit farfetched, many others are sound, credible, factual, authenticated accounts of God's miraculous power.
The power is not in the individual but in Jesus. What the Seventy disciples discovered was that "demons submit to us in your name." That is, when they command demons using the name of Jesus, the demons obey them, in the same way that they obeyed Jesus when he had commanded them to be silent or to come out.
If I were to go to a billionaire's New York bank, stand in line for a teller, and when it was my turn ask for $1 million dollars from the billionaire's account, the teller would say (politely, I hope), "Sir, I have no authority to give you those funds. I am sorry." But if I removed a check from my pocket signed by the billionaire himself, she would smile wanly, excuse herself for a few minutes to make sure the check was authentic, verify my identity, and then give me $1 million in cash. The difference is in the authorization granted by the billionaire's signature, power to transfer funds "in his name."
A Power of Attorney is similar. A number of years ago my elderly mother granted me a Durable Power of Attorney to make legal and financial decisions on her behalf. Her witnessed signature at the bottom of the document grants me authority to act on her behalf, in her name.
The Apostles had been upset when someone who hadn't been travelling with their band had begun to cast out demons in Jesus' name (9:49). Now the Seventy found they could exercise power in the spirit-world in the name of Jesus.
One of the most delightful stories in the Book of Acts is set at the gate of the temple in Jerusalem about 3 pm one afternoon. There, next to the gate, sat a man crippled from birth who begged there, hoping to find people going to or coming from worship, who might be in a particularly benevolent mood. He was an aggressive beggar, not content to sit silently. One day when Peter and John came to pray, the cripple asked them for money. They looked his way and made eye contact. From experience, the cripple knew this was a good sign. Eye contact meant intent to give alms. He could almost feel the coins in his outstretched palm.
But then Peter told him, "We don't have any silver or gold to give you. But we'll give you what we DO have: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." At that, Peter took him by the right hand and helped him up. And the man, finding his legs suddenly strengthened, began to walk -- he had never in his life walked -- and jump -- he had never before jumped.
One of the lessons we disciples must learn from this is that there is power in the spirit world in the name of Jesus. Peter and John had learned this. We must learn it, too.
"He replied, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'" (10:18)
Though the tense of the Greek verbs is of some interest here,376 the real issue is whether Jesus is speaking of a vision he has seen of Satan's fall or is speaking symbolically. Though this is a subject of intense scholarly debate, we can simplify it by observing that nowhere else does Jesus experience ecstatic visions, so it is likely that he is speaking figuratively.377
Jesus seems to be referring to the same event of casting out Satan from heaven that John records in his Revelation:
"And there was war in heaven. Michael and his
angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But
he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 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
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.'" (Revelation 12:7-12)
This is a complex allegory of the Fall of Satan couched in the terminology of the Archangel Michael defeating the great dragon.
But when does this event take place? When was Satan cast out of heaven? When was Satan bound? (Matthew 12:29) By the time of Jesus' temptation? Or at the Sending Out of the Seventy? At the death of Jesus? (John 12:31; 16:11; cf. Hebrews 2:14). At Jesus' resurrection when he conquered death and the grave?
I don't think we can precisely place the Casting Out of Satan chronologically, but affirm that this was the purpose of Jesus' whole ministry.
"The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." (1 John 3:8)
Rather than single out the Return of the Seventy as the time Satan was cast down, I think we can conclude that Jesus sees in the successful mission of the Seventy an evidence of the defeat of Satan.
Jesus sees them as part of the battle against the evil one. The decisive action may have taken place when Satan was cast down, but the war isn't over. The air war is won, but the ground war is still very real, and the ground troops are continuing to mop up scattered forces of demons.
"I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you." (10:19)
Snakes and scorpions, of course, were ever present dangers, especially in the Sinai desert.
"He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions" (Deuteronomy 8:15)
Of the 25 species of snakes found in Syria and Palestine, four are deadly poisonous, five are somewhat poisonous, and the rest are harmless.378 There are twelve species of scorpion found in Palestine. All scorpions have front pincers like a lobster, and a curved tail that can be whipped forward, tipped with a stinger containing a very painful (and occasionally fatal) poison.
Together, serpents and scorpions represent the dangerous and poisonous power of Satan's forces. Satan himself appears in the first book of the Bible as a snake in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3), and in the last book of the Bible as the defeated serpent foe (Revelation 12:9; 20:2).
Jesus' disciples can trample (Greek pateō) on these serpents and scorpions. The verb pateō means "to set foot on, tread, walk," then to tread heavily with feet, with implication of destructive intent, trample."379 In each case it used in the New Testament, it refers to the activity of the conqueror, trampling on the defeated city (Luke 21:24; Revelation 11:2), or trampling the winepress, which is symbolic of the enemy's blood spilled in battle (Revelation 14:20; 19:15). This warfare and trampling of the serpent by man is prefigured in God's judgment on the serpent in the Garden of Eden:
"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:15)
The point of the verse is the authority (Greek exousia) Jesus has given his disciples to trample (Greek pateō) on and over all the power (Greek dunamis) of the devil. While it is acknowledged that the devil and his forces have power, that is, ability and means, Jesus' disciples have exousia, which is, "potential or resource to command, control, or govern, capability, might, power."380 Jesus' disciples have the absolute backing of God Almighty for their part in this war. That is what "authority" means in this case.
The verse concludes, "... and nothing shall by any means hurt you" (10:19b, KJV). It promises that nothing shall hurt the disciples in this conflict. The verb is Greek adikeō, "do wrong or unjustly," but with the specific meaning of, "to cause damage to or mistreat, injure."381
Even stronger is the Greek construction. This clause contains a double negative, Greek ou me. With a double negative in English, one negative cancels out the other, and the clause becomes positive. But in Greek, a double negative intensifies the negative and states denials or prohibitions emphatically.382 I think this double negative is well rendered by the KJV's rendering, "nothing shall by any means hurt you."
But in what sense are disciples protected against the vicious attacks of their temporal and spiritual enemies? In what sense shall nothing by any means harm them? Jesus says a similar word in the context of being witnesses in the last days of terrible persecution.
"You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life." (Luke 21:16-19)
These three verses seem to contain a contradiction. How can a disciple be put to death, and still not have a hair on his head perish? Jesus is speaking about spiritual safety. The disciples may suffer injury and death, he seems to be saying, but nothing can really harm their essential being.383
What a promise! We can come up against principalities, and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places, and though they may be able to kill our bodies, they cannot sever us from God. Our protection is absolute. Satan is not out of control and all powerful, but bound; he can do no more than God allows.
Two other passages along this line have brought much comfort to believers in the midst of spiritual warfare. The first is the firm promises found in Psalm 91, and though you'll be blessed by the entire Psalm, note these verses:
"If you make the Most High your dwelling --
even the Lord, who is my refuge --
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
'Because he loves me,' says the Lord, 'I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation.'" (Psalm 91:9-16)
The other passage is from the Apostle Paul, who, as a witness for Christ had faced imprisonment and death on many occasions. He didn't pretend he was invulnerable; he just magnified the power of Jesus' love:
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or
sword? As it is written:
'For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)
Though our bodies are mortal, our spirits are fireproof in Jesus!
And that is the point of Jesus' final saying to his disciples in this context:
"However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (10:20)
The Seventy returned from their mission all excited and abuzz about their power over demons. But Jesus helps them put the whole matter in perspective. Power over demons, as wonderful as it is as a harbinger of the Kingdom of God, is nothing compared to the immense privilege the disciples have of salvation.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matthew 7:21-23)
God is not nearly as impressed with miracles as we humans. The very greatest value is belonging to God. Our abilities, our deeds, our spiritual gifts gain us no standing with God. Rather, Jesus says, "Rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
Throughout the Bible we see references to God inscribing his people's names in his book (Exodus 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3; Daniel 12:1; Hebrews 12:23). But in the New Testament we see the wonderful phrase, "the book of life," that is, the book that contains the names of those who have been granted eternal life (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8). One of the most awesome passages in the entire Bible occurs near the end of the Book of Revelation:
"Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:11-15)
The issues are very much life and death. There is no in between. We are not to gloat or pride ourselves on our relation to God. It is a gift -- grace, pure and simple. And our relationship of forgiven and adopted children of God has been purchased at a very great price, by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. This gift is so simple that we may well take it for granted. We may be entranced with the demonic or the power-gifts of the Spirit, and turn our eyes from this gift.
But the greatest gift of all is for my name to be written down in "the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:27). My name is in his trophy book, bought by his blood. I am secure now in the Father. My name has been recorded for Life.
How about you? Jesus died for your sin, but have you believed in him as your exclusive and only way to God? Have you received him and his words? Have you decided to follow Jesus -- no turning back? If so, then a wonderful thing happens. He forgives your sin -- wipes it away, never to be held against you again! His Spirit enters you and ignites spiritual life within you. And he directs that your name should be inscribed in his book, the Lamb's book of life.
That is what is of supreme value, dear friends -- your name written in his book for Life. There's an old gospel hymn about this: "There's a New Name Written Down in Glory."
If you're not sure that your name is written in heaven, then why don't you pray, and ask God's forgiveness for all your sins. Ask him to cleanse you, come into your life, and make you one of Jesus' disciples all your life. If you haven't done this, do it right now -- and then contact me384 and tell me about it.
Dear Lord, I am so thankful for your mercy. Help me never to get so sophisticated in my Christianity that I miss the most important thing -- your absolute grace to me in writing my name in your book, in cleansing me, and letting me stand next to you as one of yours. Thank you! In Jesus' powerful and awesome name, I pray. Amen.
"Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:20)
- (10:17) If the demons were subject to the Seventy's command in Jesus' name, should they be subject to our command today? Why or why not? What did the Seventy have that we don't? What do we have that the Seventy didn't?
- (10:18) Why did the disciples' report of their power of demons prompt Jesus to recall the Fall of Satan from Heaven?
- (10:19a) What does the "authority to trample on snakes and scorpions" entail? What does it lack?
- (10:19b) What does Jesus' declaration, "Nothing shall by any means hurt you," include? What does it mean here? Is it to be interpreted physically or spiritually, literally or figuratively?
- (10:20) Why should we rejoice that our names are written in heaven? What does that mean? Why are we often tempted to rejoice over much lesser things?
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 The grammar of his verse is puzzling. The verb "I saw" is in the Imperfect tense in Greek, indicating either continuous action in the past tense, or the beginning of an action that continues. The word for "fall," however, is the Aorist tense, single-time action in the past tense. This sentence might read, then, "I was seeing (or began to see) Satan fall (suddenly) like lightning from heaven." However, the imperfect may be used only because the Aorist was not in common use (Marshall, Luke, p. 428).
 George Eldon Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom (Harper & Row, 1964), pp. 150-154. This book has been revised under a new title: Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (Eerdmans, 1996 reprint).
 Alfred Ely Day and Gregory D. Jordan, "Serpent," ISBE 4:417-418. See also my comments on Luke 3:7 above.
 Pateō, BDAG 986, 1-3.
 Exousia, BDAG 352, 2.
 Adikeō, BDAG 20, 2.
 H.E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Macmillan, 1927, 1955), §242. It is used here with the Aorist subjunctive.
 Marshall, Luke, p. 769, cites Plummer, p. 480 and Creed, p. 256.
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- Christ Powered Life (Romans 5-8)
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- David, Life of
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- JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
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- Lord's Supper
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- Moses the Reluctant Leader
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- Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
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