Jesus Did Not Say That We Must Bind The Devil


Oh what a mess we make when we assume that Jesus said what He did not say!

He was on a mission to teach His disciples a valuable lesson.  He took them to Caesarea Philippi – to us only a name on an ancient map. But what did it mean to Jesus and His disciples?

It was Israel’s “red light district”, a no-go place for respectable and orthodox Jews. It was both a city built in honour of Caesar which had in it a temple dedicated to the worship of Caesar, and a region where there was the site of pagan worship of the worst kind.

A huge rocky cliff had niches carved into the base in which the images of pagan gods were placed for worship, the most prominent being the goat-god Pan, and a pagan temple. There was a grotto at the base of the cliff from which a spring flowed, joining the snow melt from Mount Hermon to form the source of the Jordan River.

Pagan worshippers believed that evil spirits used the cave as their portal through which they retreated into the underworld in the winter and returned in the spring. Their worshippers would entice them out by having sexual intercourse with goats. This cave entrance was known as “the gate of hell”.

It was there, in sight of these depraved and disgusting goings-on that Jesus asked His disciples the question, “Who do you say that I am?” The disciples’ response was crucial. If they acknowledged Jesus only to a prophet or a great teacher, as did many others, they would have missed the significance of His identity, and would have had no clue about the purpose of His visit to the region.

Their mission as His disciples hung on their understanding of who He was. If they saw Him as no more than another rabbi, what He came to do would have evaporated like a vapour because He depended on them to continue His work when He left them, based on the conviction that He was indeed the Son of God.

Jesus was elated when Peter, as spokesman for the group, assured Him that they recognised Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, even though Peter did not understand the full implication of his confession at that moment. It was on the strength of his confession, and in the environment of the worst of human depravity that Jesus commissioned them to bind His yoke on those who were destroying themselves by their ungodly lives because of the yoke of paganism that they had embraced.

. . . On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matt. 16: 18-19)

We must interpret Jesus’ commission in the culture and religion of the Jews, not from our western imposition on the text. What did it mean to “bind and loose” in the context of Judaism in Jesus’ day?

In His extended explanation of the character and behaviour of kingdom citizens (called “the Sermon on the Mount”) Jesus made it clear that His purpose was not to set aside the Torah but to fulfil it by living it out according to God’s intention so that His disciples would understand and do as He did. The foundation of the Torah was the character of God, expressed in His mercy – the weightiest part of His character. It was His intention that, in all their dealings with one another as God’s covenant people, they would treat one another with mercy.

The ancient rabbis with sh’mikah, those who were acknowledged to have the authority to make pronouncements on God’s intention regarding the details of His instructions, i.e., the Torah, had missed the point and piled rules upon rules governing their behaviour until the people were burdened with impossible expectations on how to “keep” or live a Torah-compliant life.

Jesus declared that He had the authority to dispense with all the rigmarole of His predecessors and take His people back to God’s original intention – mercy and compassion because these were the weightiest or most important aspects of God’s nature (see Exodus 33: 18-34: 7).

It was this yoke – the mercy and compassion of the Father – that would set people free from all other yokes, including the yoke of both paganism and Pharisaism, that would change people from the inside. At the very spot where the disciples witnessed what pagan beliefs led to – “on this rock” – Jesus declared that He would build His church – the visible representative of His kingdom, and nothing, not even the false beliefs about demons and hades, would be able to resist.

At that very spot where the disciples were witnessing the behaviour of idol-worshippers, Jesus gave His commission and the authority to “bind” His yoke on people and “loose” them from all other yokes which ensnared and enslaved them. No amount of useless “binding” the devil or demons can do what Jesus does in the hearts of people when they embrace the truth of who He is and allow Him to rule in their hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The city of Ephesus was a case in point. When Paul and his companions went to Ephesus, it was a city in the grip of Diana-worship, the many-breasted goddess of fertility who was worshipped by people interacting sexually with her temple prostitutes. After Paul had preached the gospel in that city, many Diana-devotees embraced the truth, brought their demonic paraphernalia and burnt it in the middle of the city.

So powerful was the yoke of Jesus that Diana lost her influence and had to be “defended” by the silversmiths led by Demetrius because they had lost their business making and selling “Diana”-relics. Their protest caused a riot in the city which almost cost Paul his life.

There is no evidence in Luke’s record of “Jericho” marches or prayer walks; of discerning of spirits or “pulling down” altars or strongholds; of “binding” demons and “loosing” the Holy Spirit or whatever people “loose” by their “spiritual warfare”! It was repentance (changing their minds), following Jesus and obeying the truth that set them free from the power of Satan.

Jesus died to defeat the devil.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2: 13-15)

We have only one response – to stand on the truth of what He had done.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armour of God so that, when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Eph. 6: 12-13)

God has not instructed us to wage war against the devil and his minions. Jesus did that and overcame him through the cross. We can add nothing to what He has done. He calls us to hold fast to the truth of the gospel and its effects in our lives (put on the whole armour of God), and to declare the good news of forgiveness and freedom in Christ to those who are ensnared by Satan’s yoke of lies in whatever form they are held captive.

Idolatry or even denominational yokes which have added to or removed anything from the yoke of Jesus, hold people in bondage. Only when we believe and embrace the truth of God’s mercy in Christ and the finished work of Jesus on the cross, can we be loosed from the yoke of bondage and set free to worship God in spirit and in truth without fear because perfect love drives out fear.

How much time is wasted in useless so-called “spiritual warfare” praying instead of preaching the gospel to those who have never heard because it is the power of the cross that is able to save and deliver men and women from the devil and his snares! True spiritual warfare is done by telling people the truth and allowing them the opportunity to respond in faith. It is the work of God to set them free.

For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1: 13-14)

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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