On the cross, Jesus was victorious over sin, death, and the devil. While Christians often understand how Jesus was victorious over sin and death, we sometimes struggle with how Jesus defeated the devil. We must not think that between His trial and His resurrection, Jesus engaged in some sort of cosmic Western gun duel with Satan. It was not as if Jesus and Satan met on some dusty road in hell, each one squinting and grimacing at the other waiting to see who would draw first with the end result being Satan flat on his back in the dust, saying, “Wow, that was fast!” No, that is not what happened at all.
To understand how Jesus was victorious over Satan on the cross, we must first understand that Satan is an accuser. In fact, “Satan” means “accuser.” Satan’s accusations are in two directions. First, Satan accuses mankind of wrongdoing before God, and second, Satan accuses God of wrongdoing before mankind. We see this, for example, in Job 1 where Satan accuses God of showing favoritism to Job, and in Revelation 12:9-11, where Satan is called the accuser of the brethren. Even in the very first temptation in Scripture, the serpent accuses God of withholding blessings from Adam and Eve. In speaking to Eve, Satan awakens her desire to be like God by implying that God is reserving a certain kind of knowledge only for Himself (Gen 3:1-5). These sorts of accusations are based on the lies of sin, and such accusations lead us to kill others in the name of God. Later, after they have sinned, Adam and Eve learn the blame game, so that Eve accuses the serpent, while Adam accuses Eve (and implies that God is really the one to blame).
This sort of pattern continues all the way throughout Scripture. Whenever Satan appears, he is accusing God or humans of something, and whenever humans lash out against others in violence, it is because they first accused those others of wrongdoing. Frequently in Scripture, people also blame God for what goes wrong in this world. The tendency to accuse is closely related to the lies of sin and the desire to kill others in the name of God.
But this impulse to kill others in God’s name is not from God, but from Satan. It is the spirit of the accuser that tempts us to condemn, judge, and accuse others of wrongdoing that makes them worthy of death. But in dying as a clearly innocent person, Jesus exposed the spirit of accusation that is within us all, and showed us that we do not know how to judge rightly and so should leave all judgment up to God. When religion and government wrongly accuses Jesus in the Gospels, we come face to face with the sad reality that we almost always wrongly accuse others when we call for their punishment and death. And when we accuse others in this way, we are following the example of Satan the accuser rather than Jesus, the one who intercedes for us.
It is Satan, therefore, not God, who demands punishment for sin. It is Satan, not God, who says that there must be a penalty for rebellion. It is Satan, not God, who condemns, accuses, and calls for vengeance. On the cross, Jesus revealed the truth about God’s loving and limitless forgiveness, and so exposed the accusations of Satan as having nothing to do with God. The resurrection of Jesus proved that God did not support the death of Jesus and had nothing to do with it.
In this way, the resurrection blew the lid off the great scheme of Satan. From the very beginning, Satan has always used the name of God to carry out his own work. All the accusations and condemnations of the devil are done in God’s name, under the guise of sacred religion. Satan “casts out Satan” in the name of God through the practices of religious accusations and sacrificial violence. In so doing, Satan only strengthens his power and expands his kingdom in this world. Whenever one person condemns and kills someone else in the name of God and for the sake of righteousness, this is really the power of Satan at work. And since the killing of a victim does seem to bring peace to warring factions, it is often assumed that God was behind the sacrifice and desired it, even though He did not.
But after Satan tried to do this very thing to Jesus, Jesus came back from the grave to reveal how wrong it all was. No victim in history had ever returned from the grave, but Jesus did. And normally, while a returning victim would cry out for revenge and retaliation, Jesus continued to teach only forgiveness, love, grace, and mercy. In this way, the accusatory lies of Satan were exposed and defeated. Satan had always depended on the human need to accuse and kill in God’s name as the basis for his power. But when Jesus was raised from the dead, He revealed to the world that accusing and killing others in the name of God was never God’s desire or intention, but was instead the desire and intention of the Satan instead. In Jesus we saw that God was not the one calling for the death of our enemies, but it was we who wanted to kill our enemies, and we accused them and killed them in God’s name to justify and hide from our own evil actions.
“Kill or be killed,” Satan whispers. “Strike first; strike hard.” We are told that it is better for one to die than for thousands to suffer, and so must kill the one, even if that one is innocent. And when we use scapegoating violence, we become convinced that the problem is not in us, but in the other person. It is they who are guilty, not us, and so it is they who must die.
On the cross, Jesus exposed all these lies for what they are, and in so doing, was victorious over the devil by exposing his accusations for the lies that they are. The death of Jesus revealed that God is not angry about sin. Jesus revealed that God loves all people infinitely and extends forgiveness freely to all people unconditionally. On the cross, Jesus revealed that this forgiveness God extends to us is the only way to achieve peace and safety in our life. Jesus also revealed that if (because there is sin in this world) violence leads to death, it is better to submit ourselves to death than to seek the death of the other, for seeking to kill the other results only in a rapid escalation of violence that will threaten to kill and destroy all.
Through His death and resurrection, Jesus was victorious over the lies and deceits of the devil that had captivated and victimized all of humanity since the very beginning. Jesus exposed these lies as having nothing whatsoever to do with God, and in so doing, called us to withhold all judgments and suspend all accusations so that we too, like God, can extend love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness to all.
Jeremy Myers is a popular blogger and author at RedeemingGod.com. His newest book, The Atonement of God, helps people see that God is not violent at all, but He looks just like Jesus, who always loves and only forgives.