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    The Lord's Prayer

    The Defeat of the Evil One (Mt. 6:13)

    by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith (1999)

    The heart of covenantal prayer is the appeal to God's promises. In prayer, we ask God to do what He has promised He will do. We remind Him, so to speak, of His own words. In so doing, of course, we are also making a commitment to keep His commandments. The Lord's prayer calls upon God to manifest the glory of His name, to bring in His kingdom and to lead men to do His will on earth. These requests embody the promise of the kingdom that was given to Abraham, Moses, David, and the Jews returning from Babylon. When we pray the Lord's prayer, we are asking God to remember these covenant promises and to fulfill them.

    In the same way, the petition to deliver us from the evil one is a petition to fulfill the promise of the Gospel, for the Gospel is a message of liberation from the power of the evil one: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:14-15).

    The Defeat of Satan by Christ

    Though it is true that Satan still influences men and the affairs of this world, it is utterly false to imagine that everything is fine in Satan's kingdom. The real situation is quite different. Jesus gave us a picture of this age that should inform our view of the Christian warfare and labor. When Peter confessed his faith in Jesus as the Christ, our Lord answered: "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Mt. 16:18). This much misunderstood and abused passage of Scripture actually gives us the picture of our present age. The metaphor is mixed. First, Jesus proclaims that He will build His Church. The notion of the Church as a building is used often in Scripture. The important point here, however, is the builder. It is Christ Himself and He shall surely succeed.

    Second, changing to a military metaphor, Jesus speaks of victory against the forces of Hell. The picture is often, if not usually, misinterpreted. Jesus is not picturing the Church here as a besieged city that will somehow endure to the end. On the contrary, it is the kingdoms of Satan that are the besieged city. Jesus is leading His people in an assault on the city gates and He promises that the gates will fall. That is the metaphor that we should remember when we ask what is going on in the world today.

    It is true, as Satan suggested, that the kingdoms of this world are de facto his. That is why he was able to offer them to Christ (Mt. 4:8-9). But Satan's power over the kingdoms of this world is now being confronted by Jesus' legitimate authority over the kingdoms of this world (Mat. 28:18-20). First Jesus defeated Satan on the cross: "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (Jn. 12:31; cf. 16:7-14). Paul says that Christ "despoiled" the "principalities and powers" by His death on the cross and triumphed openly over them (Col. 2:15). Because the cross judged sin and defeated death, it robbed Satan of his power. Satan can neither accuse nor destroy through death those who have been freed from sin (cf. Rom. 8:28-39).

    The apostle John offers us another metaphor for the present age. He saw a vision of Satan, the old serpent and dragon being bound with a great chain and cast into the abyss and shut in prison for a thousand years. Now, Satan is not actually a snake or a dragon. He cannot be bound by chains. And there is no literal prison for angels. The language is figurative and the meaning of the figure is clear. Satan has been defeated and his influenced in world affairs has been curtailed. What this vision actually means in terms of real history is expounded by other passages of Scripture, chief among them being those which proclaim Jesus' victory over Satan through the cross.

    The Defeat of Satan by the Church

    When David went out to meet Goliath, there was no one else in Israel who would dare face the Philistine giants. But some years after he killed Goliath, we discover that David has a whole host of mighty men who perform feats as great as David had done (2 Sam. 23:8-39). So, too, our Lord has not only defeated Satan, He also paved the way for us to gain the victory against him and provided us with the armor we need for the battle (Eph. 6:10 ff.). Jesus leads His army to victory.

    Thus, we are told to "stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph. 6:11). We should be able to "quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one" (Eph. 6:16). The spiritual warfare is real and Satan does have influence. He has his own "apostles" and "ministers" (2 Cor. 11:13 ff.), who pretend to be ministers of righteousness and do great harm to the church (cf. Ac. 20:28 ff.). Paul himself was hindered in his ministry by Satan (1 Thess. 2:18), as were the churches in Asia Minor (cf. Rev. 2:9, 13, 24; 3:9).

    But none of this suggests that the church will lose the conflict. Our position is precisely similar to that of Christ. Just as in bruising the head of the serpent, Jesus suffered injury to His heel, so also the Church suffers injury in its warfare with Satan, but the victory is sure. This is what Paul meant when he paraphrased the well-known promise of the Messiah's victory over Satan and applied it to the church: "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Rm. 16:20a).

    James tells us the same thing when he writes: "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (Jms. 4:7). It is not Christians who should fear the devil and run. If we obey God's word, we have the power we need to defeat Satan. Our Lord responded to Satan's temptations by quoting Scripture and by obeying it. The exact same weapons are ours. Therefore, if we will submit to God, Satan flees. Satan may be, as Peter said, like a roaring lion, but even that does not mean we are supposed to run. Rather, we are told to resist. "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist stedfast in the faith" (1 Pet. 5:8-9a).

    Every New Testament metaphor of Satan speaks of a foe who is dangerous and powerful, but whose defeat is determined. The Church shares in the victory of Christ and, through the preaching of the Gospel, spreads that victory throughout the world. Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers, but he cannot prevent the Gospel seed from bearing fruit. When the Church abides in Christ, she has power to overcome evil with good (Rm. 12:21). John, therefore, speaks of true Christians as victors (Rv. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; cf. 12:11). They have overcome the world because the One who is in them is greater than the one who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4; cf. 2:13-14). Whoever is born of God, conquers the world by faith (1 Jn. 5:4-5).

    Victory is so prevalent a theme in the New Testament and so essential to the Biblical idea of Jesus' redeeming work -- "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 Jn. 3:8b) -- that it is amazing that so many Christians today think that the Church cannot stand against Satan. They assume that the nations cannot be converted by the Gospel and that the Church cannot fulfill the great commission: "disciple the nations".

    The Lord's prayer teaches us otherwise. To pray it rightly means to pray for victory against Satan on the basis of Christ's victory. When we seek victory in prayer and resist the devil by submission to God, we will see the kingdom of God grow.

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