Part of this comprehensive narrative concerns the malicious role played by Satan and demons in our civilization, society, culture, and personality. Satan would have us deny his existence. That way he can sow destruction and death much more easily. Satan would also have us deny the existence of Jesus. That way Jesus can’t bless us with creativity and life so easily. Sadly, even Christians and churches follow Satan’s lead in both these ways. Today, Jesus invites us to do better. We will do so by reflecting briefly on what Jesus tells us about Satan and his demonic minions through the Gospel according to Matthew.
Sometimes Matthew refers to Satan. The word Satan means Accuser or Spirit of Accusation. At other times Matthew refers to the Devil: the Divider or the Spirit of Division. Either way, Matthew refers to the same absurd power of evil.
We first meet the Devil when he tempts Jesus to be Son of God in an Olympian way (Matthew 4:1-11). He first tempts Jesus to be a materialist or at least to attribute greater importance to sensate reality than to his relationship with Abba (his heavenly father and ours). He then tempts Jesus to be Son of God by exerting control over that reality. Finally, the Devil tempts Jesus to prove he is the Son of God by controlling even Abba.
Each time Jesus is being tempted, Matthew tells us that it is the Devil who is confronting Jesus. It is that malevolent Spirit of Division which is seeking, with each temptation, to drive a wedge in the relationship between Jesus and Abba. After the final temptation, Jesus says, “Go, Satan!” (4:10, New American Standard Version, here and following). Matthew adds immediately that the Devil then abandoned him (4:11). We see, then, that division and accusation are two names emphasizing two aspects of this one parasitic power.
We do well, then, to stand with Jesus inside the biblical narrative which he continues to inspire. That way we may discern more clearly the aggressive and malevolent strategies of Satan as he seeks to use accusation and division to break our relationships with Jesus, one another, and God’s good creation.
We next hear of Satan when, out of jealousy, certain Pharisees imagine that Jesus only casts out junior demons by using the power of the boss demon himself. Jesus disagrees. “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?” (12:26). From this we learn that Satan is leader of a kingdom, we might say one of darkness, which, however absurd it may be, fights against Jesus and the Kingdom of God (12:28).
Satan may even inspire us humans to think and speak in Olympian ways. First Peter rightly confesses that Jesus is the Christ and Jesus calls him blessed (16:16-17). Then Peter wrongly forbids Jesus to go to Jerusalem to die and Jesus says, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (16:23). Within the biblical narrative, then, we learn that even today we may act in a satanic manner, or in a manner worthy of a minion of Satan, when we think as Olympians and place obstacles in front of fellow Christians seeking to live more unconventionally and so to witness more clearly to Jesus Christ.
The Devil personally confronted Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry. During that ministry, Jesus speaks of him twice more. The first is in the parable of the wheat and the tares (weeds) (13:24-30). In his explanation of that parable (13:36-43), Jesus says, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age” (13:37-40). By walking with Jesus within the biblical narrative, we may understand clearly that we might well live unknowingly as children of Satan—the evil one—to our harm.
Jesus speaks again of this harm when he tells us about the coming Day of Judgment. He warns us against being found as a goat on his left, for then he will say to us, “‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels’” (25:41). There will be no Devil in the age to come. If we ignore his existence and influence in our lives today, unwittingly becoming his minion with an Olympian personality formed in his image, then we risk ending up where he most certainly will.
In telling the story of Jesus, Matthew speaks of demons and demoniacs (humans possessed by them) 18 times. That’s too many times, in such a short story, to ignore their absurd reality.
Jesus himself is the presence of the Kingdom of God on earth and in our lives. Wherever he is present, he effortlessly routs the Kingdom of Darkness and its minions. Not only does Jesus preach the presence of the Kingdom. He demonstrates it by freeing people from the diseases that afflict them and the demons that possess them (4:24, 8:16, 8:28-34, 9:32-34, 12:28, 15:21-28, 17:14-18). He gives his disciples authority to do the same (10:8). May we follow their example.
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