A theme that underlies the entire ministry of Jesus Christ is the apocalyptic assumption that God is battling Satan for all creation and the souls of all mankind. Jesus understood Himself to be the one in whom this battle was to be played out in a decisive way. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and establish God’s domain. This objective was accomplished when God the Son allowed Himself to be crucified (Heb 2:14) as the only possible sacrifice to generate the reconciliation, expiation and propitiation that took place between God and His creation and God and the souls of all mankind. The death of Jesus Christ occurred at a specific time and place (John 19:30); but the consequences of this substitutionary atonement instantly exploded throughout Heaven, Hell, and the universe, throughout all that has been, all that is and all that ever will be.
For the purpose of discussion, the objectives of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ can be somewhat artificially separated (see also Section 1.24 of Theology Corner):
- Theory 1: The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ secured God’s victory in the great war between the forces of good and the forces of evil. This atonement satisfied God’s requirements for redeeming all creation from the bondage of evil and offering redemption from the bondage of sin to all mankind. This atonement guaranteed the ultimate victory foreseen in 1 John 3:8, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”
- Theory 2: The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ was a vicarious sacrifice that satisfied the demands of God’s justice upon sin. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for the sins of mankind, bringing redemption, forgiveness, justification, adoption, regeneration, sanctification, reconciliation, unification and glorification to all who will receive the great gift of salvation. The intellect, will and heart, of every person, have been corrupted by sin and we are all totally depraved and spiritually dead. Christ’s death paid the penalty for our sin and, through confession of sin, remorse, repentance, faith and obedience, we can accept Christ’s substitutionary atonement as payment in full.
Did Satan have advanced knowledge regarding what was about to transpire? Certainly, he knew about the prophecy of Isaiah (See also Section 1.5 of Theology Corner). Seven centuries before Christ, the person of Jesus and His mission of atonement were revealed to Isaiah, by the exhaustive definite foreknowledge of God, in a story about the suffering and glory of the ‘Servant’ (Isa 52:13 – 53:12). Here is a part of that story (Isa 53:4-6):
Surely He took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The punishment that brought us peace
was upon Him,
and by His wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on Him
the iniquity of us all.
Perhaps no greater prophecy has ever been written. No language can be plainer than that He bore the punishment due our sins, and hence His sacrifice was vicarious and expiatory. He was stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed and wounded – language which can only indicate that His sufferings were penal inflictions for our sins. Since, by His wounds, we are justified and healed, His death must, in the truest and deepest sense, be regarded as propitiatory.
Satan must have been on the lookout for this person for 700 years. But did Satan know when this mystery person would appear and how subsequent events would transpire? According to Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, some things were hidden from Satan.
Mary’s virginity was hidden from the prince of this world; so was her child-bearing, and so was the death of the Lord. All these three trumpet-tongued secrets were brought to pass in the deep silence of God. How then were they made known to the world? Up in the heavens a star gleamed out, more brilliant than all the rest; no words could describe its luster, and the strangeness of it left men bewildered. The other stars and the sun and moon gathered round it in chorus, but this star outshone them all. Great was the ensuing perplexity; where could this newcomer have come from, so unlike its fellows? Everywhere magic crumbled away before it; the spells of sorcery were all broken, and superstition received its deathblow. The age-old empire of evil was overthrown, for God was now appearing in human form to bring in a new order, even life without end. Now that which had been perfected in the Divine counsels began its work; and all creation was thrown into a ferment over this plan for the utter destruction of death. (Staniforth, p 81)
When did Satan realize that the theanthropic Jesus Christ was the human incarnation of God the Son (see Section 1.23 of Theology Corner) who came to implement the substitutionary atonement? We will never know this side of heaven.