Who’s the Boss? Drowning Swine, Ch. 6

Mark 5:6-7 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” (ESV)

In these verses, the minions of Satan, who easily overpower mere humans, appear puny and weak. Rather than a demonstration of power and strength, Legion cowered in fear and terror in the presence of Jesus Christ. The dark side is incredibly powerful, and we should never underestimate it, but next to Christ, dark beings seem like ants facing a crushing boot heel. They aren’t near as intimidating when Christ is around.

During my sixth grade year, a bully named Russell began threatening bony little me. Russell was a fighter who didn’t mind detentions, suspensions, a paddle, or any other form of punishment our school dished out. He was an intimidating, husky pile of cornbread-fed muscle. So I asked my brother, Chris, to help (the same one who punched my lights out in the yard), and he agreed.

Russell had appointed the following morning before school as the time he would end my life. When he saw me, he kept his promise and began chasing me across the campus and into the lunchroom. I remember terror filling my soul as I fled, thankful I was a little quicker on my feet than hefty Russell. That’s when Chris came through. He had seen us enter the lunchroom, and he darted in behind us with an angry look in his eyes.

Russell was big and tough, but Chris was older, bigger, and tougher. When Russell saw that bony Jason had Big Brother looking out for him, he knew he was beaten. He yielded to Chris’ threats and never bothered me again. When facing him alone, Russell was a mountain of power, but next to Chris, he flinched and shrunk to a molehill of whimpers.

In the same way, dark spiritual beings seem daunting, threatening, and unbeatable when we attempt to face them alone. But when Christ comes to the rescue, suddenly they seem tiny and pathetic.

When Legion saw that the Son of the Most High God was nearby, he ran up from quite a distance and fell down before him. The Greek word translated “fell down” (Mark 5:6) is proskyneo, a word that literally means to show great reverence for someone. It is often used of people who pay homage to God or worship him. For example, the Wise Men used this word when they described to Herod why they were looking for the newborn king of the Jews: “For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2; see also Matthew 4:9 and John 4:20).

From the first moment of their meeting, the demon knew his place was bowed low before the Creator. Of course, Legion did not worship Jesus, nor did he have a pure heart when he fell before him. Rather, he recognized the power of the Son of God and cowered beneath it. He knew that if they were to tangle, he would quickly lose.

Legion Cowers

In Mark 5:7, we hear the voice of Legion channeled through the man’s mouth. With screams and shouts and great cries of terror, he identified his greatest fear as “Jesus, Son of the Most High God.” In his angry alarm he worried that Jesus was planning to immediately torment him, and he pathetically begged to avoid this fate.

Legion, it seems, had some working knowledge of the Word of God regarding his own future judgment. He was aware that his ultimate doom was coming. Matthew adds the informative detail of the demon asking, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (8:29). Before what time? The unclean spirit knew clearly that at some set point in the future, the Son of God would torment him for all eternity, and nothing could stop that time from coming. He was struck with terror about that day, thinking it might be upon him right at that moment.

Mark records him saying, “I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” How interesting that he begged Jesus by the very name of God the Father, as if he was appealing to the timetable he knew God had already laid out for his upcoming torture. His argument went something like this: “You know God’s plan! The time has not yet arrived for my torture. So by God’s name, don’t torment me yet!”

Legion knew his future punishment was already determined by God, and he dreaded it. He knew he would never escape it, because he was too weak and puny to successfully win a victory over almighty God. Therefore, he made an attempt to put his torture off as long as possible, appealing with a wretched whimper to his worst enemy’s timetable. He had no other argument except: “God says not yet.” Legion was in a truly helpless position, cowering beneath the power of Christ.

The book of Revelation vividly describes the future torture of Satan and his army (19:20; 20:7-15). More time must yet pass before that great Day of judgment comes. Even still, Jesus was in a land of darkness to do business with these evil minions, not yet to cast them into their deserved eternal punishment, but to show them and the world the mighty strength of the real boss. When he came, his bright glory – the imposing light of the very Son of God – terrified these cruel creatures, making them shake and tremble in fear.

The crushing defeat of Satan and his kingdom by the Son of God is one of the major plot lines of all Scripture. Never is there any doubt who will ultimately be the victor of this cosmic war. Even the demons know it very well. Though Satan does have his victories, winning some battles along the way, we discover that it is actually God who gives him the freedom to work his terrible deeds. He can only bring destruction and chaos into human lives when God permits it. And God only permits it when it fits within his good purposes, according to a bigger plan (Romans 8:28). More on that topic later. For now, it is enough to understand that Satan’s reign of terror is temporary. He is not the boss.

Crush the Head

The first known recording of conflict between Jesus and Satan comes in the form of a short line of prophecy early in Genesis, now known as the proto-evangelium, or the first hint of the gospel in a primitive format. In context, God had confronted Adam and Eve about their sinful choice to eat the forbidden fruit, and then he pronounced curses over them as a result of their disobedience. At the same time, God also pronounced a curse over the serpent, who is Satan (see Revelation 12:9), and it was this curse that included the proto-evangelium:

Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (ESV)

In this statement we learn that some child born from the line of Eve (her “offspring”) would wage war against the serpent and his demon and human followers (his “offspring”). The serpent would be permitted to snap a painful bite on the heel of the warrior Son of Eve, but in the end, the Son would strike his head with a defeating blow.

Though there is debate over the true meaning of the proto-evangelium, many theologians see it as a prophecy of the crucifixion, and I believe they are correct. Of course, their cosmic conflict predates the cross. The war between God and his community (both angels and humans) and Satan and his community (both demons and humans) is seen throughout the Old Testament. There were constant strikes at the heel of God’s people by the serpent’s team. Likewise, God’s community frequently stomped at the head of the snake, sometimes with great success, as in the epic battle between Moses and Pharaoh recorded in Exodus 1-14.

Furthermore, the battle between the powerful Son of Eve and the slimy serpent didn’t end at the cross. They continue to fight to this day! There is constant spiritual warfare between their kingdoms. If not, there would be no need for a book like this one! Nor would there be need for biblical guidance like this:

James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (ESV)

So the victory Christ secured at the cross didn’t end the battle altogether. But the reason the proto-evangelium refers primarily to the cross is because there Christ guaranteed the doom of darkness forever. As Christ died (and it became crystal clear when he rose again) he was demonstrating to all parties involved who the ultimate winner would be.

To be fair, the devil did achieve something of a victory at Calvary. After all, he successfully had the Son of God put to death at the hands of people under his influence (John 8:44; 13:2). Nails were brutally driven into Jesus’ hands and feet. A fanged snake bite full of poison entered his heel – a deadly strike, bringing Jesus to his last breath. It was Satan’s most powerful attack against the “offspring of the woman.”

But in his seeming victory at the cross, Satan unwittingly ruined himself, as darkness always does (remember the previous chapter). The devil’s defeat was proven forever when Jesus arose three days later.

Romans 1:4 [He] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (ESV)

As a risen Savior, he brought about the reality of grace and the forgiveness of sinners, legally speaking. Of course, what this means is that the devil’s plans have been totally foiled, and he has been squarely beaten. He can only devour guilty sinners if they are unforgiven, unloved, and unprotected. The legal forgiveness of sinners in God’s court of law has forever pulled the rug out from beneath the devil’s feet.

Hebrews 2:14-15 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (ESV)

The saving death of Christ to redeem sinners by grace was the crushing blow that smashed the skull of the serpent. Here is how Jonathan Edwards put it in his sermon The Excellency of Christ (updated to a more readable format):

In his final sufferings, Christ destroyed the very foundations of Satan’s kingdom. He conquered his enemies in their own territory, using their own weapons to obtain victory over them. He was like David, who cut off the head of Goliath with the giant’s own sword. The devil had seemingly swallowed up Christ, like Jonah was swallowed up by the whale. But in swallowing Christ, he also ingested something toxic to him, a poison (so to speak) that caused a deadly internal wound. He soon became sick from his food and was forced to vomit it up! To this day the devil is sick in his heart from what he swallowed as prey! The foundations of Christ’s glorious victory are laid in his sufferings. He has already obtained his victory over Satan. He has already overthrown the heathen kingdom of the devil.

Notice the statement, “He has already obtained his victory over Satan.” Now that is wonderful news! In the most important sense, Satan is completely and totally defeated. We can be absolutely certain of that truth, and we can live in victory because of it.

But Edwards also says, “The foundations of Christ’s glorious victory are laid in his sufferings.” If it’s the foundations that are laid, this means the victory is assured, but not yet fully realized. The final victory is being built upon the sure foundation, but we are in the interim period before the final victory is brought to completion. We hope in and await Christ’s Second Coming when we will see the glorious Day of the Lord. On that great Day, the head of the snake will be crushed with full finality: “The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10).

But until then we must beware, for a defeated Satan is not content to be an inactive Satan. He is doomed, and surely he is aware of his future condemnation as the story of the demoniac indicates, but it seems he is furiously attempting to take as many souls with him as he can.

Snakes Die Slowly

Perhaps an illustration will help understand how this works. Snakes (here, I mean the animal) are known for their lack of willingness to die. A friend of mine recently recounted an incident where he had shot several bullets into a water moccasin who had taken up residency under his boat. But the stubborn predator continued fighting for hours. It just would not die. The bullets, though they guaranteed its eventual death, just seemed to make the serpent very angry!

Likewise, if a farmer takes his boot heal and pounds the head of a rattlesnake, he can mortally wound it. If hit hard enough, there will be damage to the skull of the serpent such that its life will soon end. It is a victorious stomping, if you will, but the snake still has some vitality and venom left. Furthermore, a stomped (or shot) snake is a mad snake. In a last ditch effort to survive, it will strike out haphazardly, seeking to inject his poison into whatever he can reach. Though beaten, he will not die without a fight.

This is similar to the current condition of the devil and his kingdom. He is a stomped and defeated snake with a crushed head that will not be healed. Nevertheless, in his death throes he haphazardly strikes and injects his venom into his enemies. “Lo, his doom is sure,” but he will not go without thrashing his deadly fangs about. He has lost the war, but he continues to struggle, aimlessly fighting for a lost cause.

For the Christian, these are truths we should constantly bring to mind. Satan is not the boss and never will be. Our Lord is the boss and always will be. But even still, we must beware the thrashing fangs of an angry, dying snake.

As we conclude these thoughts, I must ask a shocking and difficult question: Are you on the serpent’s team? Would you consider the possibility that you might be, yet are unaware of it? Of course, nobody in their right mind would want to team up with a stomped snake who is gasping for air. But in spite of his fatal injury, the devil is still a successful liar and deceiver. He can still convince people they are not on his team when they actually are. In the next chapter, we will take up this question of team affiliation.

This post is Chapter 6 of the book Drowning Swine.

Read Drowning Swine Online

Click the chapter links to read now

  1. Jesus the Missionary
  2. Here Be Demons (and Pigs)
  3. Darkness Is Dark
  4. Among the Tombs Crying Out
  5. Darkness Kills Itself
  6. Who’s the Boss?
  7. Team Affiliation
  8. Naming Your Demons
  9. Fighting Fire with Consuming Fire
  10. Why God Made Pigs
  11. The Idolatry of Economy
  12. Holiness, Sanity, and Missions

Appendix: Synoptic Harmony