Comeuppance. Since childhood this has been one of my favorite words. Payback, justice, moment of truth—they all have their place. But none stand out to me like comeuppance. I have even passed on this word to my kids, and it is now guaranteed that whenever we watch some epic Disney movie, one of them will excitedly ask, “Dad, when do you think they’ll get their comeuppance?”
In the ongoing battle between good and evil—whether it’s on film, in fairy tales, or in thrillers—the evil character is so deplorable, so “punishable,” that it seems that the very reason for his presence in the story is to set up a great comeuppance moment. Naturally, then, in a book on Satan, we would ask, “When does the Devil get his comeuppance?”
Of course a logical guess would be at the end of the story. And there is a comeuppance moment found there. “And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur . . . tormented day and night forever and ever” (rev. 20:10).
What a fitting end for the great adversary of God. The Serpent that slithered through human history for one grand purpose—to keep people out of God’s presence—finally will be contained in an inescapable prison forever. Never again will he tempt, afflict, or accuse God’s people. Satan will be carried out to the eternal landfill and dumped there. In light of this “end of the story,” would it surprise you, then, that Jesus says the Devil’s true comeuppance moment came thousands of years earlier?
Does Satan Actually Run The World?
In John’s gospel, Satan is called “the ruler of this world” (john 12:31). Such a powerful title raises an alarming question. Does Satan run the show? Is this his world? The thought is troubling on a number of levels. If the Devil is in charge, then how can we ever feel safe in this world? More importantly, what does this say about God’s authority and power? When we sing “This Is My Father’s World,” are we wrong?
Thankfully the Bible does not leave us in the dark on such questions. While it is true that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 john 5:19), the phrase “the whole world” has a unique meaning here. John tells us that all that is in the world—“the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life [in possessions]—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 john 2:16). Thus, pride, evil desires, and base lusts compose the world over which the Devil presides. That is why in the verse just before this description we are commanded, “Do not love the world” (1 john 2:15).
The world that Satan runs is not a reference to plants, people, or places. “Viewed as a people, the world must be loved,” writes John Stott. “Viewed as an evil system, organized under the dominion of Satan not of God, it is not to be loved.”1 There is a kind of environment that exists in the world that is similar to air. We live and breathe in a thoroughly anti-God atmosphere that Satan enjoys managing.
But how did God’s wicked adversary come into such a position of power?
Isaiah offers an answer to this question, shedding light on how the world that Satan rules came into being.
“The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed the laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth,
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt.” (isa. 24:5-6)
Because mankind has blatantly defied God’s law, God himself ordained that “the creation was subjected to futility” (rom. 8:20). In other words, the evil world we inhabit is a world of our own making, and God is allowing Satan to rule it for a temporary period.
This is a profound truth and it is crucial that we understand it: Any power the Devil has is only because God gives it to him for a season. But one day this usurper’s power will be taken away.
The Hour Has Come
Millennia before the day Satan’s comeuppance is carried out, whenever that day will be (which only God knows), Jesus made a cosmic announcement: Satan is already finished.
“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (john 12:31).
Jesus speaks of Satan’s expulsion from power as something just about to happen, so He could not have been speaking about the Devil’s plunge into the lake of fire. The Savior saw something happening in His own ministry that would, in effect, seal the Evil One’s doom. Adding to the power of this announcement is the sad and somber tone of Jesus’ words just a few sentences earlier: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (john 12:27). In a moment of transparent tenderness, He lets us know that He is carrying a tremendous emotional burden—the burden is His “hour.”
Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus refers to His “hour”—the time of His suffering and death. It hangs over His whole life; He is never unaware of it. In this instance, Jesus has just portrayed His death in heartbreaking imagery: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (john 12:24). Christ is the grain of wheat that will soon perish, and He knows that His hour has finally come.
There is something hauntingly sad about the way the term my hour or his hour is used here. Think about the way we use that word today. An Olympic runner who comes from behind and surges to victory in the last moment is said to have had her “finest hour.” Parents sit in a concert hall and fight back tears as the audience around them is spellbound by the pianist’s skills. Mom and Dad have known the exceptional talent of their son, but now the world sees it; it is his “finest hour.” For us “the hour” is the moment of success, fame, or hard-earned recognition. For Jesus it was the moment of His suffering, death, and rejection.
Who would ever expect an announcement of victory in such a sad context? Yet even though His soul is troubled, even though He must now face an unimaginable period of torture and pain, Jesus issues the declaration: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (john 12:31).
Jesus understands that the cross will topple Satan from his throne of power. Satan feared such a turn of events.
The Cross Is The Verdict—
Hell Is The Sentencing
As a young Christian I was taught that the Devil wanted Jesus to be crucified, that he delighted on the day his wish came true, and that Satan and all of his minions celebrated from Friday through early Sunday morning when their party was crashed by Jesus’ resurrection. But the picture of Satan partying seems far removed from what we find in Scripture.
Consider the moment when Jesus first tells His disciples that He is going to Jerusalem to be crucified. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (matt. 16:21).
Such a grim destiny does not sit well with Peter. After all, he has given up everything to follow Jesus—his family, his business, his comfortable routine. Has he given up everything to follow a Messiah who is going to die?
No, Peter will have none of this, and he decides to talk some sense into his friend. “Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you’ ” (matt. 16:22).
Before we are too tough on Peter, however, let’s look at it from his perspective. Isn’t he simply trying to act the way any good friend would? Imagine a dear friend telling you he is taking a trip to a place where he knows a bloodthirsty crowd is waiting to kill him. What kind of a friend would you be if you didn’t try to stop him? Peter’s expression is the natural, loving reaction of a good friend. Yet Jesus sees it as pure evil.
How stunned Peter must have been when Jesus turned to him and sternly said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (matt. 16:23). Without realizing it, the fisherman-turned-apostle has just become Satan’s mouthpiece. The Devil is using Peter’s well-intentioned words as an attempted roadblock to the cross.
The cross was the key to “the ruler of this world” being “cast out.” Jesus saw His death looming large in the hours before Him; and while it would be vicious in its brutality, He could see through to the victory. It would be His hour that finally brought Satan’s hour to an end.
The apostle Paul makes this point clear when he says that Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (col. 2:15). The “rulers and authorities” are those demonic forces that get their comeuppance at the cross. Paul’s words paint a picture of a great military general whose valor in battle has secured a great victory for his people. Now he marches these enemy soldiers forth as prisoners of war to be openly mocked and ridiculed.
“The Lord Jesus Christ has done everything for his people, fought their battle, won their victory, and, on their behalf, celebrated the triumph in the streets of heaven, ‘leading captivity captive.’ What more, then, do we want? Surely Christ is enough for us.”2
Satan’s final destruction—being thrown into the fiery lake—is something we can eagerly await. But Jesus has already secured the victory, striking the deathblow to the Devil and his dominion by going to the cross. Satan’s descent into hell is just the carrying out of the verdict issued at Calvary.
Many see the cross as a temporary setback and the resurrection as the delayed victory. But the significance of the resurrection is that it confirms the soul-saving, Satan-crushing work of the cross. John Stott says it concisely: “The cross was the victory won, and the resurrection the victory endorsed, proclaimed and demonstrated.”
Like the resurrection, the final punishment of our enemy just confirms the success of the cross. So while we must endure the Devil’s activities for now, we are facing an enemy who is already mortally wounded. This is what our Savior has done to Satan by dying on the cross for us.
1 John Stott, The Epistle of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1964), 99.
2 C. H. Spurgeon, “Death and Its Sentence Abolished,” The Spurgeon Archive, http://spurgeon.org/sermons/2605.htm, accessed on December 2, 2010.