There is a good reason the Jews of the first century expected a conquering king as their Messiah. Many Old Testament passages promised just such a king! From Psalm 2 (“You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel”) to Psalm 110 (“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool”) to Zechariah 14 (“Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle”) passage after passage in the Old Testament assured Israel that a king would some day come and fight for them.
And yet when Jesus came and presented Himself as the fulfillment of this grand prophetic hope, the people immediately questioned His credentials. Notice the exchange that took place during His first recorded sermon:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:16-22)
Why did the people struggle with accepting Jesus as the Messiah? Why could they not get past the fact that He was Joseph’s son? The answer to this question lies in the identity of the enemy that Jesus came to conquer. His true adversary, Israel’s true foe, all of humanity’s true enemy, was the one whose very name means “the adversary” – Satan. And to conquer this foe would require a much different kind of warfare than most of the people in Israel were prepared to accept. To deal with this ultimate nemesis, Jesus attacked the devil on all fronts.
One front in this cosmic battle was disease. For example, in Luke 13 we are told of a “woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years…[who was] bent over and could not fully straighten herself” (v. 11). Jesus healed this woman on the Sabbath, a day not only meant to recall God’s rest from creation, but also designed to remind Israel of its rest from bondage in Egypt (see Deut. 5:12-15). When questioned by the Pharisees, Jesus explained: “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (13:16). Jesus’ ministry of healing was a direct assault on the evil one’s work in causing disease and disability.
Sometimes the diseases Jesus confronted were directly connected to sin, such as in the case of the paralytic in Luke 5. Astonishingly, Jesus claimed to have the power to forgive sins, and demonstrated the power of spiritual healing by an amazing display of physical healing.
“Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today” (Luke 5:23-26).
This deep and dark struggle is also vividly displayed in another front, Jesus’ exorcisms. In the account of the Gerasene demoniac the militaristic nature of this conflict comes to the forefront.
When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. (Luke 8:28-30)
A “legion” was a Roman military unit consisting of six thousand men at full strength. This poor man had been overwhelmed by a demonic army, but despite its great numbers it was no match for God’s anointed, and just like the “horse and rider” of the exodus they were cast into the sea (see 8:31-33).
On all fronts – disease, sin, demonic possession – Jesus waged an intense campaign against the sinister forces of the devil. So that there could be no mistaking His purpose, Jesus explained His ministry like this: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (Luke 11:20-22). In His preaching, His healing, His forgiving, His casting out of demons, Jesus was waging war on Satan, binding and plundering the strong man, freeing captives and taking the fight to the devil who had done his worst for too long. Jesus delivered the first blow in His dramatic victory at the temptation, and continued to press the advantage in His ministry and that of His disciples. When they returned from the “limited commission” and recalled their successes in the field against the demons, no wonder Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).
But there was a climactic battle yet to be fought.