In reading differing views on the nature of the powers and principalities, I’ve noticed quite a few common points; it’s clear that both views stem from the same texts, and represent differing emphases rather than completely different theologies. Both views see the Powers and Principalities as spiritual powers created by God with good purpose; one side sees them as fallen angels, and the other side sees them as the spiritual elements of fallen earthly institutions. Satan was created by God, and is a servant of God, yet has fallen in his attempt to usurp God’s authority and position – whether as a chief of demons or as the representative of an entire system of socio-economic domination. And what is clearly shared by both views, something that no Christian would ever deny, is that Christ defeated Satan, and with him the rest of the powers and principalities, on the cross.
But what does this look like? By the first view, the fallen angel Satan had a plan to destroy Christ, and this plan backfired and caused Satan to lose his spiritual power over humanity: Satan’s spiritual power is now limited. By the second view, Christ exposed the injustice of the governing institutions, causing them to lose their moral authority, and thus their social power over humanity. This is beautifully and thoroughly described by John Howard Yoder in The Politics of Jesus.
But what does this really mean? We still see the evidence of Satan’s power over humanity all over the place, and the very fact that we engage in spiritual warfare says that Satan isn’t beaten yet. I find the constant explanations of “already but not yet” unsatisfying. Is Satan beaten, or not? If the cross was such a resounding cosmic defeat of Satan, why is he still around? How can we say that he is beaten at all?
Satan is beaten because he has lost his authority. Satan has lost his spiritual power over humanity because Christ has provided a remedy to sin and death: resurrection! Satan (in the form of unjust institutions) has lost his social power over humanity because Christ has exposed it as being unjust and showed us the true, just authority, in God’s Kingdom. We are no longer slaves to sin because, by dying to sin we are alive in Christ; we are no longer slaves to empires and authorities because, by willingly taking up our crosses we expose the injustice of the system and show that it is unable to coerce us any longer. Both of these are possible because we, like Christ before us, are willing to die.
Christ died in our place so that we may live free from sin and death, by fulfilling the Law that made sin so utterly sinful and taking away the finality of its penalty, which is death; Satan is defeated in the battle for our souls. We recognize that Christ died in our place, and say that our sinful selves died with him; we are spiritually resurrected, though our bodies have yet to follow.
Christ died in our place; now we die in his, as his representatives on earth. We are the body of Christ; when we die (as martyrs – that is, standing against unjust authority in the name of Christ) it is Christ who dies, and Satan is defeated in the battle for our physical selves. Our bodies are as whole burnt offerings, given to God alone and unable to be destroyed by evil. We can give up our physical lives, just as Christ did, because we know we will be resurrected.
But why do we need to die at all if Christ has died on our behalf? Because God, in his grace, includes us in his plans. We are not a passive audience to watch his plan unfold, nor are we puppets to carry it out unwillingly. Instead, God has given us his very self, in solidarity through Christ and more directly through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. We are able to participate not only in his doing (standing against unjust authority to proclaim the Kingdom of God) but in his very being, by bearing both his image and, more distinctly, his Spirit. When we do as Christ did, in a sense we are Christ. We do not have to die; we are privileged to die, crucified with Christ, to proclaim his lordship over all and in so doing expose Satan’s defeat. But if we do not die, then we live to proclaim Christ’s lordship over all, and in that we also expose Satan’s defeat by the very way that we live. So that in all things, whether we live or die, we embody Christ and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and the overthrow of Satan – an overthrow that occurs every time we proclaim the once-for-all death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection.
It is not that Satan must be overthrown more than once, but that his defeat must be made known to every person; it is the knowledge of our freedom that truly makes us free. Those who believes themselves to be in bondage are not free, even though their chains are broken. Those chains have been broken by Christ, but their imprints still hold people in bondage, people who still feel those chains against their skin. Christ leads us to follow in his death because in our willingness to die for what is right, Satan’s defeat is exposed: we learn the truth of the matter, that he has no power over us. “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free; sin’s curse has lost it’s grip on me!” The Law of sin and death gave him spiritual authority, and the fear of death gave him earthly authority, but when we embrace death with Christ both of these are broken. So in this way, in death there is life.
What I am trying to say is that it is by Christ’s death that this is accomplished, yet he did not tell us to take up our crosses for nothing. I do not believe that we can follow him without cost, whether it be personal cost through our spiritual dying-to-self or ultimate cost of physical death through martyrdom. This is how we incarnate Christ, by doing what he did, and what he did was die. This is how we incarnate the Kingdom, by showing that we live and die by a higher authority than this world. This is how we bear witness, but this goes beyond mere evangelism; by living (and dying) the Kingdom we live in reality while the world lives a lie. By doing this we truly are heirs and brothers to Christ, because we embody the true authority to which the powers and principalities are accountable. “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” This is the scandalous grace that has been given to us, that where we were justly condemned to die we have instead been raised up, glorified with Christ as we embody him; yet to embody him, we die. So it is by the one death of Christ that we are saved (and thus Satan is defeated, both physically and spiritually), yet the knowledge of that salvation leads us to die with Him spiritually, live for him physically (as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God), and proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes again, even (especially) if doing so costs our physical life. This is how Satan is defeated, and praise God that we are a part of it!
Sorry for the rambling; in short, thank God for the resurrection!