In World War II, in 1942, General Jonathan Wainwright became a prisoner of war when the fortress island of Corregidor fell to the Japanese. As he was held in a concentration camp, he became a broken, crushed, hopeless and starving man. But in August 1945, a Japanese colonel told him that the war was over, he was free and he was in command. So, as he returned to his living quarters, he met the same old guards who attempted to mistreat him again. But he met them with a completely unexpected reaction, as he declared with authority, “No, I am in command here! These are my orders!” And so he used his now legitimate authority as he was released from cruelty and bondage to command those who had previously tormented him.
This is part of the good news for believers in Jesus Christ: they are in the winning side, with the victory that has come for them through Jesus Christ. And so Jesus himself has delegated authority to us by which our own former deceivers and tormentors must yield.
In the depiction of spiritual warfare in the gospels, Jesus exercised his own rightful sovereign authority as the Son of God over every kind of demonic manifestation. But when he ascended into heaven after his resurrection, he left us his authority as well, an authority which continues today the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ and his people continues in warfare against the kingdom of this world under Satan and his minions. It’s not always as blatant as it is in the gospels, with demonic possession and demons speaking openly through the mouths of the possessed, but the same terrible issues remain in this conflict. The lives and eternal destinies of real men and women remain in the balance, whether to remain in sin and death by the deceit and oppression of the determined and cunning enemy of our souls, or to come to life and liberation by the power of God in Jesus Christ.
What Jesus has to say is the reason for believers in Jesus to be confident in this warfare. We are in possession of an authority which has been delegated us from the Son of God himself, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all. But even more, the exercise of this authority is also assurance of an even greater fact, that we have received and possess the greater gift of salvation from sin and death to eternal life through the Son of God. And yet as we approach spiritual warfare, it calls us to a wise and serious consideration of what the scripture has to say, not only because of the subtlety, power and deception of the enemy, but also for the quiet confidence that comes to us in the power of Jesus to conquer through us. So even in this world, the way is open for the believer in Jesus Christ to share and enforce the victory which Jesus gives through his death for sin and his resurrection and through his endless and unchallengeable sovereignty. So in Jesus, by the authority of his name, by the possession of eternal life through faith in him, there is the victory for us to be received, possessed, shared and won.
So here is what Jesus had to say to us about the authority which he has given to us: “And the seventy two came back with joy as they said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I was watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and by no means will anything hurt you. Only don’t rejoice because the demons are subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been written down in heaven.’” (Luke 10:17-20)
Jesus has given his people the authority to defeat the enemy. The use of the authority of the Son of God in the name of Jesus is delegated to the believer to conquer the wicked deeds of the enemy. So the genuine, born again believer is assured the victory in Christ on that basis. The same authority which was delegated in the past is still effective today.
So this is where this authority was first demonstrated beyond just Jesus and the apostles: “And the seventy two came back with joy as they said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I was watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning.’” The seventy two were a group of disciples of Jesus from his earthly ministry that did not include the apostles. The number that he had chosen is significant, since it was the same number as the elders of Israel under Moses. And Jesus had earlier given this group a short term missions project, and for that project he gave them practically the same authority and directions that he had given to the apostles when he gave them the same kind of mission to the villages of Galilee. So they returned beaming over their success, and their experience of success stood out to them especially in their authority over demons n the name of Jesus only. So they had experienced an unprecedented authority in their lives which had not been available to anyone beyond Jesus and then the apostles. Moreover, Jesus recognized their victory on the spiritual plane as it was happening. What he said about “ . . . watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning . . .” was probably describing the defeat of the enemy as they exercised the authority Jesus had given them on their mission.
So, the reality of this authority over the power of the enemy has been a part of the demonstration of the reality of the gospel throughout this world. Wherever those sent out by Jesus on his mission to communicate the gospel, they have also often had to exercise his authority. This has happened whenever and wherever believers in Christ have encountered such works of the enemy, and very often – in fact, almost invariably – wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed in a place and among a people for the first time.
This authority is then delegated from Jesus to those whose faith is in him for their eternal salvation. It’s there for the continued exercise by believers in Christ when they still face conflicts in this world with the spiritual agents of darkness and evil. And understanding this authority in the light of the scriptures is crucial for it to be properly and wisely wielded under the guidance and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In verse 19, Jesus goes on to say, “See, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and by no means will anything hurt you.” There are no textual difficulties in this verse. There are no historical or exegetical difficulties in extending this to the entire church and especially to the eldership of the church, because otherwise all promises that Jesus made during his earthly ministry to his disciples would have expired at the end of his earthly ministry. The ‘you’ here needs to be understood in the light of the promises that Jesus gave to his disciples during his earthly ministry as applying to all his disciples in all places at all times until his return. It cannot be understood as applying to the world at large, or even to a merely nominal Christian, but to those who have truly repented of their sins, trusted in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation, and who have been born again of the Spirit of God. In other words, those who truly have the right to use his name in prayer (John 14:13-14) are the same ones who have the right to use his name in authority over the forces of spiritual darkness in this world.
In support of this point, that believers in Christ only have the right to use the name of Jesus with authority over the demonic, we need only see what happened in scripture when a couple of people who did not have the right tried to use it. This is what happened during the time of the ministry of the apostle Paul, in the Greek city of Ephesus, on the west coast of what is now Turkey: (Acts 19:13-16): “Some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had wicked spirits as they said, ‘I exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ These were ‘The Seven Sons of the Jewish High Priest Sceva.’ But the wicked spirit replied, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but WHO ARE YOU?’ And the man who had the wicked spirit in him jumped on them, overpowered them and sent them running from the house stripped and beaten.’” We may contrast this with the time in Philippi when the apostle Paul clearly commanded the girl with the evil spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus to come out of her!” (Acts 16:18), and it came out of her at that moment.
Moreover, we need to see the great extent of this authority: it is over all the dominion of Satan and over all his malicious spiritual emissaries, in whatever works that they may do. The metaphor of serpents and scorpions are the fallen angels who already met with defeat and who will be continually defeated by the authority which Jesus has delegated until the time when they meet their final defeat in the hell which has been prepared for them.
And Jesus also has given us this great assurance with the delegation of his authority: this authority can be exercised without any fear of personal counterattacks by the enemy while the disciple wields this authority. There is no need to fear immediate demonic vengeance that may try to come against the believer, so that the faithful have no need to be fearful and intimidated when they see the power of the spiritual enemy when they may face them openly. This is no small assurance whatsoever: while the demons themselves may stir up human opposition to the gospel and the servants of God, yet the believers in Christ have no need to be intimidated if they face the naked power of a wicked fallen angel during the time of their ministry. The enemy may gibber and threaten, but the promise of Jesus himself is that none of the demons may use the power that they possess fallen angels against his servants.
But even more, we need to see that there is a special meaning to the fact that this was given to the apostles and then to a group which corresponded numerically and most likely symbolically to the elders of Israel in the Old Testament. I think that we can see a special level of delegation to those in the body of Christ who have truly the levels of spiritual character, experience and discernment to wield this authority. We need to recognize that this will not come to a person who has merely managed to get the votes to be elected an elder in a local church nor to a person of such spiritual pride to arrogate to himself or herself the position of an elder. Rather, I think we need to see that the character qualifications of I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are also qualifications for those who are to wield this authority with the greatest spiritual confidence in Jesus and capability through Jesus as well as the greatest humility and servantlike heart as possible. And so as well, this also is a stark reminder that spiritual authority in the body has responsibilities and capabilities far beyond discussions about financial statements and church infrastructure. It’s not going to come to someone who has strong opinions and a vocal, argumentative and overconfident personality. Rather, that person would be probably among the most vulnerable when faced with the most severe cases of demonization (see I Timothy 3:6). The ministering elders of the church should rather be those of such deep humility, Christlikeness and faith that they can deal with the most severe cases of demonization with unity of spirit, deep prayerfulness and spiritual confidence.
Yet still we must also see this promise as applying to every believer in Christ, from the most recent convert, to the youngest child, and to the elderly and infirm. The ‘you’ of Jesus generally applies to believers as a whole throughout the scriptures where it is a promise that came first to the apostles and the first century disciples and then to the church for all ages. So this is also a promise that can also be used against the common, everyday onslaughts of the enemy that all believers in Christ usually face throughout their lives on a regular basis. Many times there are those times when someone of greater or even average spiritual experience are not physically available when the enemy unleashes a spiritual onslaught against a believer. Many times believers may find themselves in situations where they are unwittingly isolated or even alienated by a sudden onslaught of human opposition, but still the believer has this authority from Jesus available. In fact Tertullian, one of the leaders of the early church who lived a little over a hundred years after this promise was given, thought that it was so important in his day, where there was naked paganism and occultism, that any Christian who did not know how to exercise this authority in the name of Jesus should be put to death! Doubtless that was hyperbole, but it does show that there were those in other ages that thought much, much more of this authority than so many in our day.
So understanding this authority which has been delegated by the Lord Jesus is essential to gaining and sustaining victory over the works of the enemy around us. It is necessary to understand it and to use it when necessary. It is necessary to be able to use it in a wise and mature way, as it was advised in the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization some years ago: “Never go looking for demons, but if one appears under your feet, step on it!”
Since this authority is delegated and effective in Christ, it calls us to be submissive and obedient to Christ and to be full of the Holy Spirit and walking in the Spirit. This is the key to be someone who is properly serious and discerning yet cautious, to be assured and confident through faith in Christ and trusting in his Word. And it calls us to use the authority which he has given us when we face different aspects and degrees of the work of the enemy, from deception to temptation to influence to oppression to possession. And certainly the most serious cases are then to be referred to those who are the most spiritually mature, to be faced with fasting and prayer (Mark 9:29). In our own lives as we know the authority that Jesus has given to us, we need to face the enemy with determined resistance, as determined as an eight year old girl once showed when a short, stocky man attempted to grab her: “I bit him, then I stomped on his feet. I hit him twice with my knuckles. I gave him a bloody nose.”
So then , Jesus has given us this great authority to use in this world, but that is by no means the full impact of this passage. Being able to use the authority of Jesus over the enemy is a sign of the even greater blessing of salvation in one’s life. The use of the authority is not as important in any way as much as whether a person has the presence and assurance of salvation in this life. The infinitely greater benefit is simply salvation in Jesus.
Salvation is greater than the authority over the enemy, and therefore it is something that believers need to consider as a greater reason for joy and celebration. This is what Jesus himself did, to redirect to the joy of the seventy two to the greater reality in their lives: “Only don’t rejoice because the demons are subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been written down in heaven.”
Take another look at how Jesus describes salvation here, as their names have been written down in heaven. They have been recorded as God’s own through faith in Jesus. They were already in possession of salvation. They would learn even more of what it was they possessed: they had passed from darkness to light, from sin and death to eternal life and glory. This was what they were to take joy in. And we can take this also as part of a greater principle: that salvation from sin to eternal life in Jesus is a greater good and blessing than any outward manifestation in this world. There will be healings and miracles of provision also, but the new birth is always more important, and more to be a center of our joy than the outward blessings. Jesus told us this so that we would keep the authority he has given us in proper perspective, that it is a benefit of having received salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
So with what Jesus has said, we can avoid brazenness and undue fascination with the authority that he has given us. I’ve heard some of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters in Christ describe this as “ . . . seeing a demon behind every rock.” In this world we neither need to go looking for trouble nor to try to use it when the situation may be merely inconvenient or uncomfortable and not a definitely demonic work of evil in this world. There is a greater reason for joy, the joy of salvation, the joy of the knowledge and assurance of eternal life in Christ. There is the reason for gratitude and joy in the Lord, in being in fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, in the security of his presence and love for all eternity.
So, for us now, so many years later, we can also recognize that the decisive victory for us has already come for us through Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection has already brought the conquest of sin, death and Satan, and first of all, we can have through Jesus pardon for our sins and acceptance with God, eternal life, namely, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And this also assures us now of victory in spiritual conflict with the forces of darkness.
Soberly take the authority which Jesus has given us for our present battles and struggles where we meet spiritual evil. Keep it in remembrance for all that we may yet have to face, and keep a clean heart before God and man for the purity and spiritual stamina necessary for the proper use of the authority. But again, remember that salvation in Jesus Christ is a far greater reason for joy than authority over the enemy.