The devil is a terrifying adversary. Though the world of fiction has given us some odious villains—think of the ones that make your skin crawl, like Sauron or Voldemort—these are but shadows of the true villain. Satan truly embodies everything that opposes God, goodness, and life. He is hell-bent on destroying anything and anyone he can, and history shows his remarkable success.
Satan’s greatest weapon is and always has been death. Not that he just goes around killing people. That would be too simple and far less effective. No, Satan leads us away from what is godly, pulls us away from our benevolent Father, destroys us from within and without to the greatest extent possible, and then leaves us in our furious race toward a death for which we are utterly unprepared.
The Bible calls Satan the one who “has the power of death” and refers to the human race as “those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14–15). Death is the problem from Genesis 3 through the end of Revelation, and it has a hold on all of us because our terror of Satan’s greatest weapon keeps us enslaved.
Terrible though it may seem, Satan’s greatest weapon is actually utterly worthless. Death is still a problem that we all face at every moment, but Jesus has transformed death into something entirely different. Jesus defeated death. How did he do this? Through death. (I’ve always loved the title of John Owen’s great work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.)
[Jesus became human] “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14–15)
Through death, Jesus dealt death the deathblow (say that 10 times fast).
“’Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54–57)
In essence, Jesus took Satan’s terrifying WMD and turned it into a cap gun. Death still scares us, but only when we fail to understand what death now holds for us. For those who see Jesus as he truly is, death is nothing more than a transition into the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). Jesus has turned the weapon of death into a gracious gift that gives us the one thing we want more than any other (Phil. 1:21–23). Death is swallowed up in victory; its brutal claws have become cuddly paws.
Satan still roars, but Jesus has made us into those who call his bluff:
“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:15)
Satan still waves his orange-tipped cap gun furiously, like a four-year-old cowboy fighting a make-believe enemy. But those of us who know what death now holds can smile calmly and join in Paul’s taunt:
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”