We have seen how God promised that a descendant of Eve would defeat the serpent and wage war with his offspring. This conflict continued typologically throughout the Old Testament, intensifying as the Messianic plan narrowed down to one family—the line of David. After the exile, David’s descendants became poor until they had no special status in Israel.
During the 400 years between the close of the Old Testament and the coming of Christ, Israel languished spiritually. They had moments of national victory, such as when the Maccabeans succeeded in taking control of Israel, but by the time of Jesus, they had been completely defeated by the Romans. In the first century, Israel was considered a backwater province of Rome.
After the exile, Israel never returned to the idolatry that had corrupted their religion in the past, but their religion became increasingly distorted by unbiblical traditions that had become as binding as the Law of Moses. Originally, these traditions were well–meaning—they were intended to help Israel keep the Law. But over time, they began to overshadow and even contradict the Law of Moses. And because it was impossible to keep all these laws, it became an unbearable burden for the common people, and a tool of control that the religious leadership wielded over the people.
The Jews of the day eagerly anticipated the promised Messiah, but they had their own ideas about what he would look like. They expected a military leader like David, who would rid Israel of their Roman overlords and usher in God’s kingdom on earth, returning Israel to the golden age they had experienced under David and Solomon.
The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, a young woman descended from David’s son Nathan living in Galilee, to tell her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, even though she was unmarried—the child would be the Son of God, born with no human father. This would also make her Son truly “the offspring of woman”, because no man was involved in His conception. Mary displayed the faith characteristic of the line of promise when she accepted the angel’s message. Her song of praise recorded in Luke also displays a depth of biblical knowledge, as she references several prominent themes in Scripture.
Joseph, also a descendant of David through the royal line, initially planned to divorce Mary when he found out she was pregnant, but when an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him that she had not been unfaithful but had conceived as a virgin from the Holy Spirit, he married her. This showed that he also exhibited the faith of the line of promise, and as such God ensured that His Son grew up with a godly mother and step–father.
Because Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of the promise of the Offspring of the woman, his life was characterized by the conflict God predicted between the Offspring and the Serpent and the offspring of the serpent. And this conflict started very early in his life.
When Jesus was around 2 years old, wise men from the east, who were probably partially informed by Daniel’s messianic prophecies from hundreds of years earlier, came to Jerusalem seeking the new king. Herod the Great’s paranoia had led him to kill even his own son at one point to prevent a suspected coup, so he had no qualms about killing all the boys 2 years old and younger in Bethlehem to try to eliminate what he saw as a threat to his reign. But the angel warned Joseph beforehand, and the family fled to Egypt and escaped the slaughter.
For thirty years, Jesus appeared to be a common carpenter’s son. He didn’t do miracles; he didn’t even go through the rabbinical training that most aspiring rabbis would do. It seems like he was simply in Nazareth, perhaps providing for his mother and family after Joseph died.
Jesus’ cousin John, about 6 months older than Jesus, was a remarkable prophet—Jesus called him the greatest of all the men who had lived up until that day. He was filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he was in his mother’s womb, and he had been subject to the Nazirite vow for his whole life. John preached out in the wilderness, and he gained popularity because he called people to repentance and spoke out against the religious corruption in the Jewish system. But the main point of his message was to proclaim that the Messiah’s arrival was near. But this was not supposed to be good news to his entire audience.
He singled out the corrupt Pharisees and Sadducees who came along with the crowds to observe the spectacle of his sermons:
John’s call to repentance is also a warning for those who ignore it. Jesus will baptize those who believe in Him with the Holy Spirit, but there is another baptism awaiting those who reject Him—a baptism of unquenchable fire. The term John uses to describe them—brood of vipers—literally pictures them as the offspring of a serpent. So before Jesus’ ministry is even introduced, the offspring of the serpent are on the scene. And John’s warning that already “the axe is laid to the root of the trees” indicates that “already there is a beginning Messianic discrimination among the descendants of Abraham”.1 But at this point, there is still a call for them to repent and believe. We know a few Pharisees, like Nicodemus, eventually believe. But most of them will reject Him and ultimately plot to kill Him.
At Jesus’ baptism, God declares Him to be “my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Immediately afterwards, He is driven into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–13). Because the first Adam was tempted and failed, the last Adam had to be tempted, and succeed where the first Adam failed.
There are a number of contrasts between the temptation of Eve and the temptation of Jesus. The first Adam was tempted in a garden paradise, while Jesus was tempted in a barren wilderness after being without food for 40 days. Eve leaned on her own understanding of the situation when she talked to the serpent, and it didn’t take her very long to be deceived. Even though Jesus is God, He depended on Scripture to refute Satan’s lies (and so He is an example for us to also lean on Scripture). Adam and Eve became unfaithful to God, but Jesus stood firm.
Each of the temptations is significant. First, Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread so He could eat. At a first glance, it might be unclear why this would be a bad thing. If someone developed technology that could turn rocks into bread, it would be hailed as a breakthrough that would solve world hunger. But Jesus never did a miracle to benefit Himself, and He never did a miracle without relying on the power of the Spirit. This is important, because Jesus’ perfect life also had to be a human life. If He relied on His divine power to ‘skip’ the discomforts and inconveniences of life, it would cease to be the sort of life that could be credited to us as righteousness. So Satan’s temptation was for Jesus to use His own divine power, and to cease to live a purely human life.
The second temptation was for Jesus to cast Himself off the Temple, so that the angels would keep Him from harm. Satan even quoted a Scripture that legitimately applied to Jesus to prove that it would happen. But this would have been putting God to the test in a way that is expressly forbidden in Scripture. Jesus completely and implicitly trusts His Father, but He refuses to put Him to the test in such a way.
The third temptation was for Jesus to take a ‘shortcut’ in His mission, and to rule the whole world and all its kingdoms by worshipping Satan. But this would have eliminated the Cross, the reason Jesus came. Jesus came to suffer on behalf of sinners who would believe in Him, not to enjoy power and wealth. Worshipping Satan would also render to Satan what only belongs to God. So Jesus refused.
Having ‘passed the test’, Satan left Jesus and the angels came to comfort Him. However, the battle had only begun. It says, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). While this episode was a critical battle against Satan, His whole life and ministry was an ongoing war against Satan.
Some people say that because Jesus is God, He could not really be tempted. Others say that it was not a real temptation because Jesus could not sin. However, this is not how the Bible presents Jesus. Jesus got hungry and tired during His earthly life—He experienced all the struggles of life in the fallen world, except that He did it all without sinning. And part of what He experienced was temptation—the Bible says He “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). That means that in His human nature, He really was tempted with every sort of sin, but never committed the slightest sin. He could not sin because He is God, but He resisted temptation as a man, so that His righteousness could be imputed to us. If Jesus’ righteousness was only the righteousness of God, it could not be credited to us—He had to have the righteousness of a perfect man so that we could be counted righteous.
Because Jesus was righteous as a man, His resistance of temptation and obedience to God is a powerful example to us as we follow Him.
God promised that the offspring of the woman would contend with the serpent’s offspring, as well as the serpent himself. So Jesus battled against two categories of Satan’s spiritual offspring.
The first are demons or “unclean spirits”. These are disembodied spiritual beings that wage war against people. They are under the command of Satan and they oppress humans by influencing them or even possessing them. The Bible sometimes attributes symptoms like convulsions, muteness, deafness, and even fever to demons.2 Demons may or may not speak through the people they possess, and can render them mad or give them unusual strength.
Jesus always cast out demons, everywhere He went. Mary Magdalene, who became one of Jesus’ most devoted female followers, was possessed by seven demons until Jesus delivered her (Luke 8:2). These demons always recognized Jesus and sometimes proclaimed Him to be the Holy One of God (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34), but Jesus always silenced them and cast them out.
The other offspring of Satan were the Jewish leadership—the sort of leaders John called “brood of vipers”. And one of the primary ways he combated this group is by flouting their extrabiblical tradition at every opportunity. He refused to ceremonially wash his hands before meals. His disciples did not fast at all—in contrast to the Pharisees and other sects of the day who corrupted the practice because they only wanted to look holy in front of others.
One practical example of Jesus’ war against the Pharisees’ traditions is His Sabbath healings. The Pharisees would say that it is a good thing to restore sight to the blind, to give strength to withered limbs, and to cast out demons—on the other six days of the week. Jesus, however, shows how hypocritical the Pharisees are when He points out that the Pharisees will circumcise a boy on the Sabbath if that is the eighth day after his birth, because that is what the Law requires. Circumcision in the tradition was thought to be a sort of ‘perfecting’ or ‘completion’ of the boy, as well as signaling his membership in the covenant community. Jesus points out the logical extension is that a healing, which makes a person more complete, is also allowed on the Sabbath. He also points out that the laws about the Sabbath allow a person to get a donkey out of a hole if it falls in, so He argues that it is also allowable to free people from diseases and conditions which afflict them.
Jesus accused the Pharisees:
This distortion of Judaism was as abominable to God as the idolatry that led to the exile, because it directed people’s attention away from true worship of God. And Jesus criticized them in the strongest language possible: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:33–36).
Most of the Jewish leadership did not repent, and started to antagonize Jesus. Nicodemus, early in Jesus’ ministry, told him that the leadership knew He was from God, “for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). However, they opposed him, and when he was able to cast out demons in a way no rabbi had ever done, they simply attributed that to the power of the devil himself. Jesus refutes them summarily, saying that if the power of Satan casts out Satan, he would be divided against himself (Matthew 12:26). But this ridiculous, blasphemous statement revealed that the Pharisees were so hardened against Jesus that they would never believe, even given the evidence of miracles that could only be from God. So Jesus repeats John’s name for them:
In one encounter Jesus took John’s analogy one step further. Jesus told the Jews:
This time, near to the close of His earthly ministry, He calls the Pharisees sons of Satan, outright. To refuse to believe in Christ after seeing all the miracles, all the healings; after hearing the truth day in and day out, was such a grievous sin that it was indicative of someone completely given over to Satan.
The final part of the promise that Jesus had to fulfill was that He would be wounded by the serpent in the act of crushing him. Jesus had been predicting His crucifixion for some time, but they did not seem to understand what he was saying. Even Judas did not seem to know that he was helping to fulfill Scripture by betraying Jesus to death.
The two traits that always typify the serpents’ offspring is that they lie and murder. And the ultimate offspring of the serpent will commit the ultimate murder—they will kill God Himself. When the traitor Judas betrayed Jesus, the Jewish leadership convicted Jesus in an illegal trial with false witnesses, and then gave Him to the Romans on trumped–up charges to be crucified. It was a legal and moral travesty—but it was necessary for Scripture to be fulfilled. Satan himself was behind it—Scripture says Satan entered Judas when he was about to betray Jesus. But Jesus’ death would ultimately lead to Satan’s defeat and Jesus’ eternal glory.
Many studies on the Crucifixion focus on the excruciating pain of the nails, or how agonizing it would be to draw a breath, or how the flogging made the rough wood even more unbearable. However, none of this is the real horror of the crucifixion, as least not when we’re talking about Jesus’ death. The thing that made Jesus so distressed that His sweat was like great drops of blood rolling off Him was facing God’s wrath for sin.
Jesus had never sinned. He had never failed to obey God fully in anything, big or small. He had never experienced a moment in all of eternity when He was not in full and complete fellowship with the Father and the Spirit. But when Jesus was crucified, He took on Himself the sins of everyone who would ever come for forgiveness of sins. And in order for God to treat us as really righteous, God had to treat Jesus as if He was really sinful. God poured out His wrath on His beloved Son and turned His face away when He cried out. The pain of the nails was nothing compared to the weight of the Father’s judgment for sin.
After Jesus withstood God’s full judgment, He died and was buried. It looked like Satan won—the very Son of God was dead. But because He was righteous and sinless, death could not hold Him. God raised Him back to life to prove that He really was the Saviour and the Son of God.
Jesus appeared to His disciples and others for 40 days, and then He ascended into Heaven. We know that today in Heaven He is interceding with the Father on behalf of those who have trusted in Him. He is like a ‘defense lawyer’ for us. He also sends the Holy Spirit to minister to believers, and He is preparing our eternal home with Him.
While Jesus won the decisive victory against the serpent at the Cross, the church still battles the serpent and his offspring. The Jewish leadership’s opposition did not end with the crucifixion; they started the rumor that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body to claim that He was raised, and they started persecution against the Church. The church grew in spite of this persecution, which actually spread Christians out to the surrounding areas and caused it to grow even faster. God even converted one of the most zealous Pharisees opposing the Christians, Saul (whose Roman name was Paul), and turned him into an apostle to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles.
But the serpent soon tried to corrupt the Christian religion from within, just as he did Judaism. Paul exhorts the Romans:
Like the serpent, these false teachers make Christians question the word of God by appealing to human appetites and through “smooth talk and flattery”. But it is ultimately a deceptive message. Paul wants the Romans to be “wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil”—a reference to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Paul promises that if the Romans are faithful to the Gospel, God will reward their faithfulness, and that He will “soon crush Satan under your feet”. So Christians also have a role to play in the defeat of Satan, as the body of Christ.
The Book of Revelation tells us about God’s final judgment of sin, and the final defeat of Satan, culminating in the resurrection of the dead and the creation of a new heavens and earth in which there will never be anything sinful. The battle where Satan is thrown out of heaven is depicted in Revelation 12, where he is called “the great dragon … that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). These terms come back when Satan is finally defeated (Revelation 20:2 says he is chained for 1,000 years, presumably so that the world will be free from his influence). While various positions debate on the timing and exactly what happens in these passages, it is clear that a major part of what Satan is being punished for is his deception, starting in the garden—hence he is called ‘the serpent’.
After Satan and his spiritual offspring are consigned to eternal separation from God and everlasting punishment, God creates a new heavens and earth where His resurrected people will live forever. Like the first heavens and earth, it will be a perfect paradise. But unlike Eden, there will be no chance for a second fall—believers are promised that we will dwell with God eternally.