When it comes to the “spiritual warfare” movement, I try to find a biblical balance between extremes. Some Christians (particularly of the Charismatic or Pentecostal persuasion) see demonic activity under every rock and in every shadow. If my car breaks down, it’s because it’s possessed by an evil spirit. If I’m sick, it’s because I have demon on my back. Others, as characterized by my own denominational background, tend to regard any treatment of this subject as crazy talk, and act as if all demonic activity stopped right after the Bible was completed.
The Bible, as always, presents us with a corrective to both parties. Yes, there’s spiritual warfare which goes on “behind the scenes” and of which we’re completely unaware. There are angelic and demonic forces which influence the world in which we live. But that’s not our main concern. It certainly isn’t the main concern of the N.T. Once you get out of the Gospels and Acts, there’s very little mention of what we'd call “spiritual warfare.” What’s the main focus of the Epistles of Paul, John, Peter, etc.? Simple, mundane things like loving and obeying Christ. Focusing on him and what he told us to do. Telling others about him and helping them to grow closer to him. There’s very little--and absolutely no commands--on facing down Satan and his minions, except through such mundane means as sharing the Good News with the lost, keeping in close communion with the Savior through prayer and the word, helping each other obey the Savior, etc. That’s how you hurt the Enemy. There’s not one word about us seeking “power encounters.”
Having said all that, today’s passage provides us with some good “behind the curtain” information. The first words of Jesus here have the distinction of being quoted by Lincoln. He was referring to America when he quoted Christ, making the point that a nation can’t stand for very long if it’s divided as ours was, and he was absolutely correct. Was he misusing Scripture by taking it out of context? I don’t think so, since the main principle still stands. And of course the same principle applies to any organization, including and especially a church.
Jesus’ argument was that if his power was coming from Satan, then Satan has a problem. Christ’s ministry was working against his interests. Christ was releasing people from Satanic bondage, not binding them further. This wouldn’t make any sense.
The second part of his defense was the exorcisms by disciples of the Pharisees. If Jesus’ actions were powered by Satan, then those others were illegitimate as well. In fact, if these are the same ones mentioned in Acts chapter 19, then Jesus’ exorcisms are far more legitimate.
By the way, it’s interesting to note that Jesus uses the same exact phrase (“finger of God”) that Pharaoh’s magicians used when confronted by the miracles done through Moses. I think the Master used this deliberately, since that was another time in which Satan’s power and God’s power collided in a real “power encounter,” with similar results.
Then Jesus comes to a very meaningful analogy for us. In case you didn’t figure it out, Satan is the “strong man” who guards his possessions. And Christ wasn’t kidding when he used this term for the Enemy of our souls. He’s far stronger than you and me, and in any direct confrontation between him and me, there’s no contest. Peter calls him a “roaring lion,” and there’s a special term for a fight between a lion and a man: lunch.
But the good news is that we aren’t meant to face this Enemy, at least not in our own strength. The “stronger” one is not me. It’s the Lord Jesus Christ. In a sense, this is what he came to do. He’s invaded Satan’s “house,” and he’s attacked, taken away the “armor,” and is in the process of taking and dividing up the “spoils.”
That’s you and me, by the way. We belonged to our own Enemy, and now Jesus has come to claim us as his own. With every soul who trusts in and submits to Christ, Satan’s kingdom shrinks.
So how do we apply this? Well, there’s one in the last verse. There’s a world war going on all around us, and there’s no Switzerland here. There’s no neutral territory and no neutral souls. As C.S. Lewis put it, every square inch of this universe is claimed by the Enemy and counterclaimed by Christ. Two questions—both for me and for you: Which side are you on? Which side are you helping most?
Lord Jesus, I belong to you. I know it and you know it, but my actions don’t show it all the time. I want my banner flying in the breeze, not folded up in a box. And with your help, it will.