Satan’s Attack, Turned Back
A few people stand out during the last few days of Jesus’s life.
There is Peter, the brash disciple who denied his Lord three times. We remember Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, the hand-washer and crowd-pleaser.
And what would Jesus’s last days be without Judas Iscariot? This disciple is infamous for his greed and disloyalty. For the price of a common slave, Judas volunteered to hand over the Lord whom he had followed for three years. And this traitor met a fitting end. After Jesus was arrested and condemned, Judas was stricken with guilt, and he went and hanged himself.
It’s hard to forget Judas. He was a faithless traitor who, in the end, got what he deserved. But is it so simple? Was the Iscariot just a wicked unbeliever who at first followed Christ, but whose heart turned against his master?
When we study Scripture, we shouldn’t just look at the persons on its pages, seeing only their individual characters and stories. But we remember the cosmic conflict always playing out, the battle between God and Satan. This deadly conflict is seen in the lives of ordinary people—people like Judas, and Peter, and you and me.
The satanic dynamic of Judas’s activity is seen in John 13:26-27, “Having dipped the bread, Jesus gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him.”
The Gospels tell often about the poor souls possessed by demons. Servants of Satan would enter and torment a person and cause grievous harm. But here the prince of demons himself gets to work, and even enters one of the followers of Christ!
This means the betrayal of Jesus isn’t just a sad story about broken friendship or the dangers of greed. Those things are part of it, but it’s vital to see that Judas doesn’t act alone. He has help from below. He has been supernaturally empowered so that he can carry out a vile work.
Satan enters him when the moment is right. For after a third year of ministry, one marked by growing opposition, Jesus has finally come to Jerusalem. The hatred of the leaders is reaching the boiling point. By now they’ll do anything to get rid of Jesus.
So Satan recruits someone to make possible his arrest. Judas was useful, because he’d be able to keep an eye on Jesus’s whereabouts during the Passover feast when there were big crowds in Jerusalem. Then at the end, Judas could point out the desired prey to the hunters.
And as planned, Judas reports to the leaders that Jesus will be in the garden at night. Then in the darkness and confusion of Gethsemane, Christ is betrayed.
After the betrayal, things happen quickly. Christ is put on trial, found guilty and sentenced, crucified until He’s dead, and buried. We all know this is far from the end of the story, for three days later, He resurrects in triumph. Our salvation is born out of the anguish of Good Friday and it matures in the joy of Easter Sunday.
Yet it all started with a betrayal. Before the saving cross could be lifted up, Jesus needed to be handed over. So it is striking and not a little ironic that Satan had a hand in this. He lit the fuse on the event that gives the gospel its explosive power. What was Satan thinking?! He certainly didn’t want the cross to become a tree of life for millions. Satan’s whole raison d’etre is to stop God’s plan and ruin Jesus’s work.
In his desperation to sabotage salvation, Satan had arranged for Jesus to be betrayed. Through this strategy, Satan must have hoped that Jesus would stumble.
Perhaps Jesus would command a battalion of angels to rescue him. A friend’s betrayal is more hurtful than any enemy’s attack, so maybe Jesus would turn against his betrayer with an unholy wrath and do something vindictive. Jesus had never yielded to temptation before, but perhaps now he would. Perhaps the betrayal would break his focus or move things too quickly for him to handle. If Jesus would sin or stumble, just once, God’s plan would collapse in failure.
But it was not to be. Satan enters Judas and moves him to begin the worst day of Christ’s life. Yet Jesus knows about it long before it happens. Already in John 6:70, He said to his disciples:
Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?
There would be no surprise attack. Jesus knew his betrayer and he recognized the kingdom-struggle being played out around that Passover table. Satan was at work there, but God was also at work.
This is another moment which puts the spotlight on Jesus’s dedication to his mission. If Jesus had wanted, he could have pointed out his traitor, and Judas would’ve met his end in short order. As the servant Malchus found out in the garden, the disciples were not afraid to use their swords. But even around the Passover table, Jesus protects Judas. He shares out the bread, then quietly sends Judas on his way: “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27). ‘Judas, do what you must—so that I can do what I must.’
For a few hours, it looked like Satan was about to score the victory. But his attack is turned back. The devil tried to stop God’s work, but only advanced it. This is the great power and perfect providence of our God, and it is the certainty of our redemption! What can Satan ever do against God and Christ? Even when wicked people do their worst, our God reigns.
Today we see many victories by those who oppose God and hate his people. The devil is hard at work, trying to ruin your faith with his lies. With all the mess of this world, he is trying to break your focus, wanting you to react with anger, fear, or despair. The short-term forecast seems bleak for Christians.
But God takes the long view. He sees every outcome—even Christ’s final triumph. The devil has inspired many hostile movements and godless trends, but all will crumble even as the foundations of God’s kingdom remain firm.
Just remember what happened when Satan attacked at a moment when salvation hung in the balance. He failed!
The devil’s power is always less than the perfect strength of God.
The devil’s knowledge is always less than the perfect wisdom of God.
So know that the devil’s plans will always come to nothing, while God’s plan is accomplished fully: his people saved, his creation renewed, and his Son glorified!