Jesus at War with the World
This is Part 3 in an ongoing series by PhD graduate Jon Cheek. Click here for earlier posts in the series.
The enmity between the seeds intensifies in the NT with the advent of the Messiah, when the serpent and his seed oppose Jesus’ ministry on earth. The serpent continues his work to prevent his own destruction by working to (1) eliminate the seed of the woman and (2) to gain the spiritual allegiance of the seed of the woman. During Jesus’ ministry, the serpent continues working directly and indirectly through his followers to defeat the Seed of the woman.
Jesus at War with the Serpent
The Gospels speak of Satan’s role in this world as the head of a kingdom (Matt 12:25–26), in which Satan rules over those who reject God. Satan’s kingdom stands in opposition to Christ’s work in proclaiming and establishing the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14–15).
Satan first seeks the spiritual fall of Jesus in the temptation account (Matt 4:1–12; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 14:1–13), which portrays Satan working to tempt the Son to submit to him instead of the Father. If Jesus submits to the serpent, then Genesis 3:15 cannot be fulfilled. In contrast to Adam’s failure in the garden, Jesus is victorious over the serpent. In fact, Jesus’ responses to Satan represent the responses that Adam and Eve should have given to Satan:
|Parallelism in the Temptations of Eve and Jesus|
|Temptation of Eve||Temptation|
|Jesus’ Exemplary Response|
|“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat?’ “(Gen 3:1).||Make bread to eat.||“Man shall . . . live . . . by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4)|
|“You will not surely die” (Gen 3:4).||Risk your life and expect divine protection.||“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt 4:7).|
|“You will be like God” (Gen 3:5).||Worship Satan and receive great authority.||“You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matt 4:10).|
The serpent also works through Jesus’ disciples to oppose Jesus. Satan “enters” Judas, who immediately begins plotting with the Jewish leaders to betray Jesus (Luke 22:3–6; John 13:2, 27). Additionally, when Peter speaks in opposition to Jesus’ plan of redemption, Jesus addresses him as “Satan” (Matt 16:21–23).
Throughout the Synoptics Jesus performs numerous exorcisms, demonstrating his authority over the spiritual world and the inability of the demons to resist the authority of Christ. Mark summarizes Jesus’ early ministry of “preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39) as an inevitable consequence of his proclamation of “the kingdom of God” (1:14–15).
Jesus at War with the Seed of the Serpent
Throughout Jesus’ life human political leaders reflect the serpent’s character by seeking to kill Jesus. King Herod seeks to kill Jesus upon hearing of the birth of a new king (Matt 2:19–33). Herod Antipas puts John to death, and he wants to kill Jesus (Luke 13:31–32). Later, Antipas participates in Jesus’ trial, and the Roman leader Pontius Pilate delivers Jesus to be crucified. Peter cites this political opposition to Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 2:2 (cf. Acts 4:26).
The primary opposition to Jesus, though, comes from the Jewish religious leaders who prove themselves to be seed of the serpent. More often than not, Jesus’ words in the Gospels recount his intense arguments with the religious leaders. Jesus makes his attitude plain toward the Pharisees in his woes against them in Matthew 23. He accuses them of shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces (v. 13) and of making people children of hell (v. 15). Jesus concludes his lengthy denunciation by identifying the Pharisees as “serpents” and a “brood of vipers” (v. 33; cf. 3:7; Luke 3:7). Chris Keith aptly summarizes, “Matthew 23’s Jesus is not a vacation Bible school Jesus or seeker-sensitive Jesus. . . . His message ends not with a head pat to a child and an aphorism about the kingdom, but with tales of murder and bloodshed” (Jesus Against the Scribal Elite, 5).
In John 8, Jesus again denounces the Pharisees as seed of the serpent. The Pharisees are not true children of Abraham because they do not do “the works Abraham did” (v. 39). The true seed of Abraham would not seek to kill Jesus, a man who speaks God’s truth (vv. 37, 40). Instead, Jesus declares that their father is the devil, since they fulfil his desires in their opposition to Jesus (v. 44). Their subsequent attempt to kill Jesus gives further proof of their true identity as seed of the serpent.
When Jesus confronts the seed of the serpent, he does not come peaceably indulging the Pharisees with friendly dialogue. He consistently expects them to repent of their false teaching and turn to him. Though he occasionally pleads gently or less directly with the Pharisees to repent (e.g., Luke 7:39–50; 15:2–32), Jesus often engages in a harsh war of words in which he identifies and chastises them as agents of Satan. The fact that the religious leaders were the primary agents of Satan’s opposition to God’s redemptive plan in Jesus’ day should cause the religious leaders of our day to examine themselves. The same spiritual warfare with the world continues today, and we must take care to ensure that we are taking a strong stand on the right side.
The political and religious opponents of Christ get what they want. The culmination of their opposition to Jesus is in the predicted heel-strike—nailing the seed of the woman to the cross to eliminate Jesus. Jesus, though, delivers his crushing blow to the head of the serpent by triumphing over death through the metamorphosis of resurrection.
Jesus Overcomes the World
Jesus identifies the source of the cumulative opposition to him during his ministry as “the world.” The world does not know Jesus (John 1:10) or the Father (17:25), it hates Jesus (7:7; 15:18; 17:14, 16), and the serpent is its ruler (12:31; 16:11). In spite of the intense opposition from the world, John affirms that God’s love for the world caused him to send Jesus to give his life for those who will believe in him (3:16). Because the world is under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19), Jesus sends his disciples into the world that the world might believe in him (John 17:18–21).
Jesus can confidently claim, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus declares that through his work on the cross and his resurrection, judgment is on the world and, in particular, its ruler (12:31; 16:11). Scripture speaks of Jesus’ defeat of Satan as past, present, and future. Jesus pronounces that his death would accomplish judgment on the prince of the world, who would be cast out, or “exorcised” (12:31–33). Paul explains that Christ triumphed over “the powers and authorities” through his death, breaking their rule on this earth (Col 2:15). Though these powers continue to oppose Christ’s kingdom in this world (cf. Eph 6:12), Christ’s ultimate victory is certain. Christ will consign Satan and his angels to eternal fire at the judgment (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:7–10). The Seed of the woman will ultimately defeat the serpent.