The Defeat of the “Strong Man” (Arnold)

Powers of Darkness: Principalities & Powers in Paul's Letters by [Arnold, Clinton E.] When Jesus was answering the Pharisees’ diabolical accusation that he cast out demons “by the ruler of demons” (ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων) he gave an illustration:  “…No one is able to enter a strong man’s house and steal his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly plunder his house” (NET).  That is a powerful illustration of Jesus’ power over the kingdom of darkness.  Here’s how Clinton Arnold nicely explains it:

From the context of Jesus’ words it is clear ‘the strong man’ is a reference to Satan, and his ‘house’ corresponds to his kingdom.  ‘Possessions’ [or property] are Satan’s greatest value and are not things, but people. Satan holds unbelieving humanity in bondage.  Christ has come to engage this ‘strong man’ and plunder his house; that is to release the captives in Satan’s kingdom.

This passage thus becomes a very important testimony to Jesus’ mission.  It provides additional clarification to the nature of the atonement. Jesus came not only to deal with the problem of sin in the world but also to deal with God’s prime supernatural opponent – Satan himself!

Jesus’ many exorcisms clearly demonstrate his power over the evil one.  They also provide numerous examples of Jesus’ ability to ‘bind’ Satan and ‘rob his house.’  In Mark’s account of the Gerasene demoniac, a man plagued with perhaps thousands of demons, it is highly significant to note that ‘no one could bind him’ (Mk. 5:1-20, esp. v. 3).  With only the concise command, ‘come out of the man, you unclean spirit,’ Jesus freed this man from horrific demonic influence.

The exorcisms, however, were not adequate by themselves to deal in any decisive way with the devil and his powers; that is, to ‘tie him up.’  They can only foreshadow an event of much greater importance.  Early Christian tradition uniformly looks to the cross/resurrection event as the point of fundamental significance in Christ’s conflict with the powers (Jn. 12:31-33; Acts 2:34-35, [etc., etc.]).  It was through this event that Satan and his hosts were dealt the fatal blow that spelled their final doom.  The strong man was defeated.

Clinton Arnold, The Powers of Darkness, p. 79-80.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

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