I’m amazed by the stupidity of Satan in dealing with the Son of God. I make that statement advisedly and circumspectly, mindful of Jude 9-10. And yet, it is true, Satan was profoundly dumb when he came “face-to-face” (as it were) with Jesus Christ. Here’s what I mean:
Maybe you recall the incident in which Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness of Judea, just before Jesus began his public ministry. Both Matthew (Matthew 4:1-11) and Luke (Luke 4:1-13) describe the event in some detail, though with a slightly different order between the two gospels. What fascinates me most at the moment is the second effort of Satan as recorded in Matthew, the third as recorded in Luke. In this case, Satan took Jesus to a high place on the temple in Jerusalem and quoted Scripture, saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and, ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Luke 4:9b-11, ESV). Satan couldn’t have said a stupider thing to living Son of God. Why? Because he chose to quote for Jesus from Psalm 91!
The words that Satan quoted for Jesus come from Psalm 91, specifically verses 11-12: “For he [meaning Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel] will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Satan, apparently, forgot what Jesus did not. He forgot that Psalm 91 continues with verses 13-16, and especially verse 13! Jesus, steeped in the Scriptures…Jesus, the Word incarnate…did not forget the rest of the Psalm. Here then is Psalm 91:13-16, with verse 13 highlighted in bold: “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (ESV).
Now, it must have been that when Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12 to him, Jesus’ mind continued through the rest of the song. It must have been that verse 13 rang in Jesus’ thoughts with a special clarity, calling to mind other truths…like, for instance, the first promise of a Messiah as spoken by Yahweh to the serpent (Satan himself) in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” It must have been that when Satan quoted Psalm 91, and Jesus thought of verse 13, he contemplated truth that would later reflect in Peter’s words from 1 Peter 5:8-9a: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith…” Do you see what happened? In quoting Psalm 91:11-12 to Jesus, Satan spurred Jesus’ mind toward verse 13 (and following), which then reminded Jesus of his role as the snake crushing Messiah, and also helped him to see Satan for what he was (and is): a lion’ish devouring adversary of God who cannot stand before the faith of God’s people! Satan made a blundering tactical error on the day he tempted Jesus, and in the end it cost him the battlefield (not that he ever stood a chance of winning in the first place). I love it!
We should note here…and it’s important to note…that Satan’s tactical error didn’t happen by chance. Jesus forced him into this stupid move. How? By simply applying God’s Word to the temptation of the moment. When Satan met Jesus with temptation, Jesus met Satan with God’s Word. I can imagine that Satan, in exasperation, finally thought, “Okay then, if you’re going to use Scripture against me, then I’ll use Scripture against you!” How well did that work out for the evil prince of demons doomed to Hell? Jesus – God embodied, the GOD-man, divinity-in-humanity – used God’s Word against his adversary as a weapon of war (see Ephesians 6:10-18a, especially verse 17). If that’s how Jesus did battle with Satan and Satan’s temptation, should we who follow him do any less?
Brothers and sisters, perhaps Satan isn’t nearly so stupid in dealing with us as he was in dealing with the Son of God. Perhaps he isn’t so prone to tactical error when coming against our sinful flesh as he was when tempting the sinless Messiah. But you know, as Christians, we’re not supposed to think of ourselves except as people in union with Christ. By God’s grace we are united with Jesus in a “one-flesh” union as it were (see Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:25-27), through faith in him as Lord and Savior. So, in the truest sense, when Satan comes against us, he again comes against the Lord Jesus Christ. We have available to us the same sword of the Spirit that Jesus picked up for battle. We can rest assured that when we wield it against the adversary, Satan will make the same stupid errors he did in the past; the same tactical, battle-losing errors as before. It may not happen immediately, but the moment will come when Satan overplays his hand. When he does, we’ll be left in possession of the field, victorious in the day of struggle, all to the glory of Christ!
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed, His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” – Martin Luther