God's Triumph and the Devil's Defeat

How the devil must hate the Epistle to the Ephesians; he will certainly keep us from reading it if he can, for in no part of the Bible is his complete defeat so thoroughly exposed, and the riches of God's grace so fully revealed. It may be the knowledge of this that has made him with devilish subtlety make some of us believe that it is an epistle too deep and doctrinal for us. It is neither one nor the other; only let us be in the right state of heart before God and we shall exult in it, for the very reading of it will bless us, even if we are unable to fathom the depths that are in it. Who can do that but the Spirit of God?

The devil is probably the greatest of all the creatures that in the beginning God created, but he has fallen from his first and high estate and his heart is full of hatred against God; he is God's adversary — his name Satan means the adversary — and he has set himself deliberately and desperately to oppose and break up every purpose and work of God. When God created Adam and set him in Eden, and enriched him with everything that His infinite bounty could give, this great foe of God saw with envious eye that God loved the man He had made and delighted in him, and he plotted to ruin him and rob God of him; and how well he appeared to succeed. He probably reasoned: if only I can make that man whom God has favoured above all His creatures, doubt HIS goodness, and disobey His word, and rebel against Him, as I have done, then I can do with him as I will; I will strip him of his nobility, rob him of his peace and make him hate his Maker, and if I succeed in this desperate enterprise, God in simple justice will be compelled to turn him out of Eden and condemn him and his progeny to my doom in hell, and so shall I gratify a double spite: God will lose the man He has created and loves and I shall destroy the man whom I hate because God loves him.

The Triumph of God's Grace Towards us

He accomplished his purpose so far, and he must have wondered and exulted at the ease with which he did it, but what a surprise and a shock he must have got when first he read this Epistle to the Ephesian church, and discovered that some of the children of fallen Adam could say, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." The earthly paradise lost, yes, but the heavenly paradise opened; earthly blessing forfeited, yes, but heavenly blessing bestowed, and all those blessings not in a patched up Adam, who might fall a second time into the devil's snare, but in Christ Jesus, where the devil cannot touch them and where they can neither fail nor be lost.

The devil's purpose was to make man like himself, unholy in nature and unrighteous in act, and so bring down upon his defiled and guilty soul the wrath of God; what a surprise he must have got when he first read in this Epistle that God has chosen us in Christ, "that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love" (v. 5). Holy instead of sinful, without blame instead of guilty, in love instead of under wrath! What a triumph for God, what a defeat for the devil!

The devil's expectation was that man, when he had sinned, would be driven far off from God, as being for ever unsuited to His presence, every link of relationship with Him being broken, and that God would never have His purposed and longed for delight in the sons of men. What a jar he must have got when he read, "Having predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He has made us accepted in the Beloved" (vv. 5-6). "Accepted in the Beloved!" Not even an unfallen angel could have anticipated such grace towards men on God's part, and no sin-convicted sinner could have thought of it, and we may be sure that it never entered into the head of the devil that God would act thus. How could he have guessed that his temporary triumph over man would give God the opportunity of lifting man into a closer and more glorious relationship than ever Adam knew, for Adam did not know God as Father, and that they should stand in a favour that no creature, either fallen or unfallen ever stood in before, even the favour in which the Beloved stands! Accepted in the Beloved, brought as near to God as He is, and to abide for ever in the favour that rests upon Him! And this is to be not only a blessed secret for our own joy now, but it is to be publicly manifested; men, angels and devils are to see it, "That the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me" said our Lord Jesus Christ to His Father in John 17.

And suppose the devil had stood up and challenged God's right to bless us with these infinitely greater blessings than Adam lost by his sin, suppose he had said: "They are my lawful captives, slaves to sin and under the condemnation of death, and your enemies. You cannot bless them righteously and You must condemn them if You are still to be the just Ruler of the Universe." God's answer is, "in whom" [the Beloved] they have "redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of My grace" (v. 7). That is conclusive and final; there is no place now for discussion or argument; it is the last word, and the vindication of God in His mercy before the universe; and as to this matter the Accuser is for ever silenced. The blood of the Beloved answers every claim, it is the everlasting righteous and unassailable basis of all our blessings, and because of it God forgives with an eternal forgiveness and we are redeemed from all bondage with an eternal redemption, the devil is defeated and the exceeding riches of God's grace are fully disclosed.

The Triumph of Christ's Resurrection

Now, consider the great conflict between God and the devil from another side of it. The Son of God became man, sent forth into the world by the Father to be its Saviour, and having come into the world He had to meet the devil face to face. We may be sure that the devil resented His presence in the world of which he is the god and prince, and was determined if he could to ensnare Him as he had done the first man. The conflict had to be waged; and Jesus, the Son of God, met the great Adversary, who, flushed with 4,000 years of triumph over men, does not seem to have feared defeat. Jesus met him not with His Godhead authority and power, but in His manhood's lowliness and weakness and His dependence upon God. By man had come Satan's victory and by man must come his defeat. Let us watch this conflict, for the glory of God and our blessing hangs upon its issue. Satan chose his own time and battle ground, he appeared in the desert when Jesus was weak with hunger, having fasted forty days, but he could not prevail over Jesus; His deftest blows were parried and turned aside by one weapon only, the Word of God. Twice he was repulsed but he returned the third time to the attack, apparently confident of success, for he knew men well, and he probably thought, In the soul of the Son of God ambition must lurk as it lurks in the soul of every man. If he could only make the prize big enough, for every man has his price, he would surely gain his greatest and final triumph. So he offered all he had to offer: the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them, for one moment's homage. He would set the Son of God at the head of all things; he would give Him the highest station He should reach the pinnacle of glory by a short and easy way. All should be His, If He would but bow down before him and own him as the giver. And what was the alternative? It was suffering, and shame; scourging and spitting; it was death, even the death of the cross. And the Lord chose the alternative, for God and His glory were more to Him than ease and fame and exaltation, and to obey God was His very life.

Now see the result as revealed in our Epistle. The lowly Man of Sorrows had said, "that the world may know that I love the Father, and as He has given Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence." And that hence was to Gethsemane, Gabbatha, Golgotha and death. But God has answered that great obedience and has acted in mighty power towards Christ. He has reached down into the depths of death and has "raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and has put all things under His feet and gave Him to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all." The devil hoped to sway this universal sceptre himself by subjugating Christ to his will, but having failed in his bold and impious design he now finds that the One who refused to be lured from His obedience to God by his wiles, has been set infinitely above him; He has received from God a higher honour and a greater glory than the devil was able to offer Him. He has been made head over all things.

We may be sure that Satan would like to hide this fact from men, he does not want them to know that the Lamb of Calvary is Lord of lords and King of kings, the sceptre of Whose throne is a sceptre of righteousness; he knows that this exaltation of Christ to the highest place in the universe is the sure and certain pledge that all his works will be undone, that his authority over men will be for ever broken, and that he himself will be finally condemned to the lake of fire. Ephesians 1:19-23 is hard reading for the devil, but it is a most blessed revelation to us who have been delivered by the Father, even now, "from the authority of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (Col. 1:12-13).

The Triumph of the Church's Formation

And what of the church which is here spoken of as the body of Christ? It is made up of those who were once dead in trespasses and sins, of you and me, and our like, who were children of disobedience, who walked according to the will of the prince of the power of the air, and were children of wrath even as others (chap. 2). The devil held us for a while in his power by the delusion that God was against us; that He was a hard and austere master, to be dreaded and shunned; which had been the devil's lie from the beginning. But that darkness has been dispelled and we have been delivered from that lie, for, "God who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins has quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved: ) and has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (vv. 4-7). "Rich in mercy," "His great love," "the exceeding riches of His grace," and "His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus," describe for us what there is in God for us; we may have but poorly apprehended what these words describe, yet they are words surely that make our hearts glow, and they have most thoroughly exposed what the devil is. He has been defeated in his efforts to hold us in everlasting darkness by this revelation of the mercy, the love and the grace of God to us through Christ Jesus. And being enlightened and quickened, and redeemed, and sealed by the Holy Ghost, we, with all believers, are now the body of Christ. He is the Head, we are His members, and we share in His victories, for even Satan himself shall shortly be bruised under our feet by the God of peace (Rom. 16:20).

When we come to chapter 4 we learn that Christ has ascended up on high, but that He first descended into the lower parts of the earth, He went down into depths beneath which there was nothing, and has gone up to the highest heights of glory. There is no realm through which He has not passed triumphantly, and which He will not fill with the glory of God. Satan has bitten the dust, he has not been able to hold any realm against Christ. From the place into which He has gone, having led the whole power of the enemy captive, He has given gifts to men, and this for the building up of the body of Christ, for the deliverance of its members from every lie of the enemy, for their development in the knowledge of the Son of God, and their unity and increase in love. And this is a present triumph, for in this world where hatred and sin abounds, there are men and women who once belonged to it, but are now no longer of it, but are members of the body of Christ, united to Him their glorified Head, and in them His character is shining out in the darkness, and they are edifying one another in love. Think of the triumph in that.

The Triumph of the Churches Rapture

Thoughts of the church bring that vivid passage as to it in chapter 5, to mind, and I cannot pass it by. It tells us, "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (vv. 25-27). Verse 31 is a quotation from Genesis 2 regarding the bringing of Eve to Adam, and our passage carries the mind back to that event. It is well known that Adam in his deep sleep is a foreshadowing of Christ in death; and as the woman was the product of that sleep so is the church a product of the death of Christ. But the devil succeeded in beguiling Eve through his subtilty and she dragged Adam down in her fall; she dragged him so low that he not only disobeyed God, but cast all the blame of the tragedy upon her whom he ought to have protected with his very life. "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat," said he. He had become a disobedient, selfish, cowardly sinner. What a contrast to Adam is our Lord Jesus. He said to His Father, "Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost" and they, and all who have believed through their word, are the church, and for it Christ gave Himself. He took all the blame of their sinfulness and guilt, and bore the judgment of it all, and He is still keeping His church, and sanctifying it and cleansing it by the word, and waiting for the day when He will present it to Himself, all glorious in the glory.

How will this come to pass? "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:16-17). We shall meet Him. But why in the air? The air is the seat of the devil's power; he is the prince of the power of the air; it is from thence that he rules the darkness of this world and organises its spiritual wickedness, and it is there that we are to meet our Lord. Could anything prove more conclusively how complete is his defeat? Christ will meet His church in the very seat of Satan's authority and carry it triumphantly through to His glory. That will be the day of Christ's supreme joy on which He will receive to the embrace of love that passes all knowledge, His ransomed and glorious church. Satan has sought to corrupt the church as he corrupted Eve, but Christ has kept her and will keep her. And the presentation day, the day of the marriage, will celebrate His triumph and the devil's defeat.