The Parable of the Strong Man
When congregations at Christmastime sing, “Peace on Earth and mercy mild”, they are expressing only one aspect of the Christmas story. Our Lord’s birth at Bethlehem involved war as well as peace. It was part of an age long conflict between God and Satan, a war that was declared in Genesis 3:15. You and I are not merely spectators – we must be participants. This is one war in which it is impossible to be neutral. We are either with Him or against Him.
Consider the stages in Christ’s war against Satan.
Christ Invaded Satan’s Territory
When the religious leaders accused Christ of casting out demons by the power of Satan, He refused their statements with two arguments. First, He pointed out that if Satan is fighting against himself, that is the end of his kingdom. Their statement was illogical, for no enemy fights against himself. But He also pointed out that their statement was inconsistent, for this would mean that “their sons” (other Jewish exorcists) were also casting out demons by the power of Satan. Of course, the scribes were not prepared to admit that.
Jesus’ reply reveals that Satan has a kingdom and a house. This present world system is Satan’s kingdom. The Bible uses the word ‘world’ in several different senses. There is the world of ‘people’: “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). There is also the world of ‘matter’: “God, who made the world and all things in it” (Acts 17:24 NASB). But there is also a ‘world system’ behind the visible world that we see, and it is this world that Satan rules. “Now is the judgement of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). Jesus called Satan “the prince of this world” (John 14:30 and 16:11).
This does not mean that Satan runs the material world, for this is in God’s hands (read Psalms 147 and 148), but it does mean that Satan rules in the lives of people who have never been born again. Paul called Satan “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). The Apostle John wrote, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of [literally, “in the lap of”] the wicked one” (1 John 5:19).
Satan not only controls individuals, but he has an evil influence over nations. Daniel 10:13 names “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” as an adversary of God, one who tried to keep God from answering Daniel’s prayer. World history is not simply a record of man’s politics; it is also a record of the battle going on in the spirit realm between God and Satan.
Did Satan know that Christ was one day going to come and invade his kingdom? Of course! God’s promise of a Redeemer in Genesis 3:15 was proof enough. Satan did all he could to keep the Saviour from being born. He incited Cain to kill Abel so that God has to continue the messianic line through Seth. The mixing of the godly and ungodly in Genesis 6 (some take this to be an invasion of the evil angels) was another satanic device to hinder the coming of the Messiah. Every attack on Israel in the Old Testament, such as that of Haman in the Book of Esther, was an attempt to wipe out God’s people and the messianic hope.
When Jesus was born, Satan tried to kill Him (Matt. 2:16-23). Throughout our Lord’s earthly ministry, His enemies repeatedly tied to arrest Him and even slay him. Satan entered Judas (John 13:27), who then sold Jesus to His enemies. But the Cross was not Satan’s victory, it was Satan’s defeat (Col. 1:13-14, 2:14-15).
It is important to note that, when Jesus took upon Him a human body, He permanently became a part of the battle on Earth. And since His children are united to Him through the Spirit; He is able to empower them in their battle against Satan.
We must be careful not to press a parable too far, for a parable is given to illustrate doctrine, not to declare it. But the fact that Christ talked about Satan’s “house” (vv. 17, 24) and his “palace” (v. 21) suggests to me that there is more here than just the scenery of a play. Certainly, Satan’s “house” must be the body of the person who is being used by Satan to accomplish his evil deeds. The Greek word translated “palace” can also be translated “the court of a prince.” It is used this way in some of the papyruses.
The picture given in this parable is that of Jesus Christ invading Satan’s kingdom (the world system), coming right to his court, and setting free the people Satan had been guarding. This was the first stage in our Lord’s war against the devil.
Christ Overcame Satan’s Power
Satan is pictured as “a strong man armed” (v. 21). J.B. Phillips, a noted British scholar, translated this phrase: “a strong man armed to the teeth.” Satan does all he can to protect his kingdom from the Lord’s attacks. Never minimize the power and the anger of Satan. He is a strong being with great power to do evil.
In verse 15, Satan is called “Beelzebub, the chief of the devils.” One of the heathen gods in the Old Testament is Baalzebub (2 Kings 1:2, 6, 16). That name means “Baal, the prince.” Beelzebub (or Beelzebul) is variously translated “lord of the height, lord of the flies, lord of the dung.” But many students think it means “lord of the dwelling.” This fits right in with the picture we have in this parable of Satan guarding his kingdom and house.
Each name that Satan wears teaches us something about his personality and his work. The name Satan means “adversary” (1 Peter 5:8). Devil means “a slanderer”. (There is, of course, only one devil but there are many demons and Satan is their prince.) Satan slanders God’s people and accuses them (Rev. 12:7-11). He is pictured as a dragon (Rev. 12:7), a lion (1 Peter 5:8), and a serpent (2 Cor. 11:3). While Christ is at work in this world seeking to “gather,” Satan is hard at work “scattering” (see v. 23), Christ puts things together, but Satan tears things apart.
Christ met Satan in the wilderness and overcame his every temptations (Matt. 4:1-11). That was the beginning of the victory. During His ministry on Earth, Christ overcame Satan’s power by healing the diseased, releasing the demon-possessed, and even by raising the dead. Jesus’ greatest victory was on the cross, where the “prince of this world” was “cast out” (John 12;31-33). Even though that “hour” belonged to “the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53), Christ won the battle and came forth in resurrection glory. He is now seated in heaven “far above all principality, and power, and might” (Eph. 1:21).
Christ Destroyed Satan’s Weapons
What are some of the weapons Satan uses to keep his kingdom under subjection?
1. Pride (1 Tim. 3:6). Pride turned Lucifer the angel into Satan the adversary. He was not content to be a creature worshipping God; he wanted to be God and be worshipped by the other creatures. (Read Isa. 14:12-15). Satan even asked Jesus Christ to bow down and worship him (Matt. 4:9).
In every aspect of His life on Earth, Jesus rebuked pride. He was born in a humble village and laid in a manger. He willingly laid aside His own glory and independence to come to earth as a servant (Phil. 2:5-11). Lucifer the creature wanted to become the Creator, while Jesus the Creator willingly became a creature. Lucifer said, “I will,” but Jesus said, “Not My Will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
2. Fear (Heb. 2:14-15). Fear is said to be one of the strongest emotions in human life. Certainly, there is a right kind of fear, including the fear of the Lord, but Satan uses a fear that leads to bondage and suffering. The fear of death is one of his chief weapons. No doubt this fear motivates much of the pagan superstitious religion in the world today. It is a good thing to have a healthy fear of death, otherwise you would not live very long. But a superstitious fear that cripples the mind and heart is a weapon of Satan to control and destroy a person.
Jesus Christ has abolished death (2 Tim. 1:10). Abolished means “to make inactive, to render useless.” Death is still on the scene, of course, but death does not frighten the Christian because Jesus has defused death and it cannot hurt us. The fear of death should not be a problem to the Christian, so Satan cannot use that as a weapon to fight Him.
In His life and ministry, Jesus sought to take away fear. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). Fear and faith cannot live too long in the same heart. As we trust Christ, we can face life unafraid.
“Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoils with the strong” (Isaiah 53:12).
©2003 WWW All rights Reserved
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).