Mark 5:8 For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” (ESV)
In spite of the devil’s dangerous final thrashings, it is Christ who ultimately wins over the kingdom of darkness. He is the boss and forever will be. And if we are on his team, we will raise the victory banner, if not fully in the here and now, then soon enough. Jesus once said:
Matthew 12:29 How can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. (ESV)
In context the strong man refers to Satan, and Jesus was the one who had tied him up and was busy plundering his house. Just prior to making this statement, he had cast demons out of a man (v22) and faced the accusation from the Pharisees that he’d performed this exorcism by the power of “Beelzebul, the prince of the demons” (v24). Jesus responded to them in part by saying he was most certainly not in a pact with the dark forces. Rather, he had bound up the devil himself and was waging full-scale war against the kingdom of darkness.
Jesus, with a touch of divine wit, explained to the Pharisees that being in league with the devil’s kingdom would make his actions senseless and foolish: “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (v26).
Bombs in Berlin
To grasp what Jesus was saying there, imagine a scenario where a bright and capable man during World War II is detonating nuclear bombs in Germany (obviously, this didn’t really happen, but imagine). One day, he detonates a bomb that utterly destroys the entire city of Berlin. Afterwards, critics approach the clever bomber, saying, “It is only by the power of Hitler that this man bombs Berlin!” How would he respond to this accusation? Probably in a similar way Jesus did. He might say, “If I destroy Hitler’s kingdom by the power of Hitler, then Hitler’s kingdom is divided against itself and will never stand.”
You see, Jesus was not just slightly bullying the kingdom of darkness as he walked the earth, but he was razing it to the ground! Did the Pharisees really think the devil was hurling nuclear missiles at himself? Picture that! Jesus was plundering, bombing, and overthrowing the kingdom of darkness in powerful fashion.
In Mark 5:8, we see this plundering as he authoritatively commands Legion, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” This was no suggestion. He wasn’t giving the demons an option.
From the beginning of the Bible to its end, we can clearly identify the real victor of spiritual warfare. The decisive blow has been dealt to the serpent, and now it is merely a matter of time.
When fighting against the power of the devil, and the power of sinful flesh, and the influence of the antichrists who are in the world, the apostle John admonishes us to remember: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
The same apostle later assures us that Christ will win the final victory over the snake who would fang us to death if he could:
Revelation 20:1-3 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. (ESV)
After this thousand year period is over (your interpretation of the thousand years is irrelevant to who ultimately wins the battle), we read this:
Revelation 20:7-10 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (ESV)
My intent in this book is not to identify Gog and Magog and exactly what the thousand years means and so forth. Instead, I want you to see clearly who wins the battle. Satan’s head is crushed by Jesus, the Son of the living God! Christ Jesus is the victorious one over the devil and all his evil minions.
Whose Side Are you On?
The confrontation between Jesus and Legion inevitably evokes the question: Which side are you on?
It seems clear from this and many other passages that every person is either affiliated with Satan and his kingdom or with Christ and his kingdom. Those who say they have no affiliation are affiliated with Satan by default, since all people are sinners from birth:
Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (ESV)
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. (ESV)
Both of these verses reveal the horrid condition of our hearts from the moment our existence began. We come into the world wearing the jersey of Satan’s team. After all, it is our sin and rebellion against God that marks us as the offspring of the serpent.
In addition to these straightforward statements, Jesus’ parable of the Wheat and the Weeds implies the same truth. Namely, as difficult as it might be for many to accept, we come into the world corrupted by sin, and in our depraved condition, we side with the devil by default.
In the parable, Jesus says there was a landowner who sowed seed in his field. However, while his servants were sleeping, a rival landowner came and sabotaged the field by planting weeds among the wheat. Jesus explains the meaning of the parable this way:
Matthew 13:37-43 The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (ESV)
The field is the world, Jesus says. And all the people in the world either belong to Christ (“sons of the kingdom”) or belong to the devil (“sons of the evil one”). There is no middle ground, no neutral territory. And this either/or team affiliation will continue into judgment and eternity.
Jesus even starkly taught, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23; Matthew 12:30). You and I and every person who has ever lived is either with Jesus or against him. We are either on Jesus’ team or on the devil’s team.
After the Pharisees had accused Jesus of working with the prince of darkness (Matthew 12:24), Jesus indicated that their illogical assumption was really a blaspheming of the Holy Spirit. Then he labels them a “brood of vipers,” whose words condemn them (vv31-37). They are snakes, he says, just like their team captain. On another occasion, Jesus blatantly identifies the Pharisees as being members of Satan’s team: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44).
Of course, the Pharisees were not aware of their affiliation with Satan. They viewed themselves as holy and pleasing to God because of their religious activities and social positions. They were offended to the highest degree that Jesus would associate them with the evil one. But aware or not, they were born into this affiliation, just like everyone else. And they had refused the only person, Jesus, who could change their affiliation. It did not matter how religious they were, how hard they tried to look holy, or how well-respected they were as spiritual leaders in the community. Without a saving relationship with Jesus, they were sons of the devil.
The same is true for people today. You may deny you have ever been affiliated with the kingdom of darkness, but such a denial betrays spiritual blindness. All of us are born as members of Team Satan. Apart from a relationship with Jesus, you are still a member of his team.
Hardly anyone just comes right out and says, “I belong to Satan, and I cheer for his team.” Certainly, the Pharisees would never have said anything like that. But just because a person is not consciously and vocally pro-Satan does not change the fact that they are identified with his side. There is no middle ground. Every person is either a citizen of Christ’s glorious kingdom of light or is affiliated with Satan’s vicious kingdom of darkness.
Team Transfer Through Regeneration and Conversion
However, people can change teams. This is the beautiful reality that all believers celebrate. The demoniac of the Gerasenes had the great honor and privilege of receiving grace from Christ, and that grace was one more example of the head of Satan being smashed. On the day the missionary Jesus showed up, the demons trembled because the boss was in town, and this man changed teams. He went from loser to victor, from condemned to free, from death to life.
Colossians 1:13-14 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (ESV)
John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (ESV)
Team transfer is possible and does happen, but unless you have encountered the risen Savior, and have received his recruiting grace and willingly joined his team, you remain on the devil’s side. Indeed, team transfer happens only for those who have been chosen, born again, and converted.
First, God chooses his people and works to recruit us on his team. Simply put, he says, “You’re mine.” In fact, God does this for Christians long before we ever came into existence:
Ephesians 1:4 He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (ESV)
Then, on the basis of his sovereign choice, he graciously begins the process of opening our eyes so we can see our sin and his grace. The Bible speaks of this stage of redemption as regeneration or the new birth – when God imparts new spiritual life and awakens the soul. Biblically, to be “born again” means to be given a new heart. It is a radical alteration, transforming people into new creatures on the basis of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (ESV)
Once a person has been born again, he or she is eternally secure as a citizen in Christ’s kingdom. In this position as a child of God, victory over the devil and darkness is certain. The boss is now the born again person’s closest friend.
People affiliate with Satan’s team at birth (Psalm 51:5), but people affiliate with Jesus’ team at the new birth. I have heard it said, “If you are born once, you die twice. If you are born twice, you die once.” Being born twice (physically and spiritually) is the only way to obtain a spot on the winning team. The new birth is an absolute necessity and prerequisite for true conversion to Jesus. Transferring to the kingdom of Christ happens in no other way:
John 3:3 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. (ESV)
In providing the new birth, God gives us eyes to see and ears to hear (Acts 26:18; Matthew 11:15). We then come to realize that we are his children, and we begin the process of ordering our lives for his glory. Indeed, we fall in love with him. This part of the process of redemption is our response to his grace and love and is rightly called conversion.
For the man in the story, it appears his regeneration and his conversion happened at virtually the same time. Jesus acted to open the man’s eyes by casting out the demons and giving him a new heart, and then the man realized immediately that he needed to consciously choose to follow Jesus and live for his glory.
In regeneration, God imparts true spiritual life to us and gives us a new heart. We are born spiritually dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:5), but God causes us to be born again into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). When this happens to a person, it is final, complete, and eternal in duration. It cannot be changed because it is an act of God who cannot fail and who loses none of his children.
In conversion, we repent of our sins and place our faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Responding to the new life that has been given to us, we decide that based on who Christ is and what he has done for us, we will follow him, worship him, honor him, and live for him. By our exercise of faith, God legally justifies us and adopts us into his family (Galatians 2:16; Romans 8:23). We then progressively become more like him as we live our lives. We become more sane, more joyful, more peaceful, more loving, and more content as God sanctifies us day by day. In a word, we become more holy, as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Regeneration and conversion always go together. No person will convert unless God causes him to be born again first. Likewise, every person God causes to be born again will also convert. That is, God’s choice of us always leads to our choice of him. We love him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). There will be no unregenerate converts in the new heavens and new earth, nor will there be any regenerated people who did not convert to Jesus (assuming they have the capacity to convert, which some, such as infants, do not – but that is a topic for some other time).
Fan or Team Member?
To be on Jesus’ team, people need to be born again, and they need to convert. Often, however, something different takes place.
For example, some people genuinely like Jesus, or at least they say they do, but they have not received the new birth. They give Jesus lip service, but are still affiliated with the kingdom of darkness. Many people, I am sure, do not have a new heart and have not been born again, but they look over at Jesus and say, “Now there is a good guy with a lot of power.” They are aware that Jesus is boss, but they have refused to trust him and find new life in him. They have refused to repent of their sins and idols. And so, though they may be a fan of the victorious one, they are not affiliated with him, remaining a default member of Team Satan.
To illustrate, I’m a fan of the Atlanta Braves, but I’m not a member of the team. While daydreaming I might imagine myself on the team, but in reality I’m not. Fans often feel like part of the team, but it can be easily proven that they’re not truly affiliated. For example, if I attempt to enter the Braves’ clubhouse just before a game, I would quickly discover that I’m not a member of the team (as security guards escort me out of the park). Or if I attempt to jump the fence and run onto Turner Field during the middle of a game, my lack of affiliation would become very clear as large, strong men wrestle me to the ground. Only team members can be in those places. As a mere fan, I am excluded. (I’m grateful to Kyle Idleman for this terminology. See his Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus).
So it is with Christ’s team. You may really like him, and even cheer for him, but are you on his team? Do you wear his jersey, and can you enter his clubhouse and playing field in a way that shows you are truly his? The only way this type of affiliation can happen is through the new birth. Without it, you will be excluded.
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (ESV)
This could very well have been the spiritual condition of Nicodemus during his famous talk with Jesus recorded in John 3. Likely, this was the spiritual condition of Judas as he travelled with Jesus for three years of ministry. Both were fans of Jesus to some degree but not members of Team Jesus. It is imperative that people know the difference between fandom and team affiliation.
Just speaking well of Christ does not mean a person has eternal life. Merely believing that Jesus exists, or that he is strong and powerful, or that he is morally upright does not mean that a person is in a right relationship with him. Legion believed all those things, too, and he trembled in Christ’s presence because he was not in a proper relationship to him. Whose side are you on?
Jesus Christ rules and reigns supreme over everything and every person. His power far surpasses the power of the evil one and his minions. He is the victor, the champion, and the Lord of all. His team wins.
In order to join his team, the first thing you need to do is talk to him. Since he is alive, you can pray right this moment, and he will hear you (Psalm 65:2). Ask him to reveal your true spiritual condition and to show you if you are merely a fan. With all your heart trust him to save you from your sins.
Psalm 9:10 And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. (ESV)
Repent of everything in your life that you have put in his place, and willingly give your heart and life to him. Once he truly has your heart, you will know it! The fruit of his presence will blossom in your life, providing clear evidence that you belong to him (Galatians 5:22-23).
Now, in the next two chapters our focus will shift from the fact that his team wins to how he wins – at least, how he wins in the here and now. Since the battle is with our sinful flesh, a fallen and broken world, and a snake that refuses to die, his strategies must be effective. Plus, though he is the main fighter, we will see how he fights through us. That means he gives us the weapons, techniques, and the inner power to fight, but that we must be fighting. One good place to start is by naming our demons.
This post is Chapter 7 of the book Drowning Swine.
Read Drowning Swine Online
Click the chapter links to read now
- Jesus the Missionary
- Here Be Demons (and Pigs)
- Darkness Is Dark
- Among the Tombs Crying Out
- Darkness Kills Itself
- Who’s the Boss?
- Team Affiliation
- Naming Your Demons
- Fighting Fire with Consuming Fire
- Why God Made Pigs
- The Idolatry of Economy
- Holiness, Sanity, and Missions
Appendix: Synoptic Harmony