As evidenced in the famous Reformation hymn he wrote, Martin Luther was one person who did not have to be convinced of the existence of the devil, nor of the great danger that Satan poses to the souls of men. The monstrous nature of our old evil foe is aptly depicted in Revelation 20, where he appears as a dragon: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (1-3).
Two things to notice about the dragon are the expanded description of who he is, and what has happened to him because of Christ. In Revelation 12 we see the dragon as a monster on a warpath of destruction. He tried to destroy Jesus when He was just an infant. When that didn’t work, he went after the Church through an onslaught of persecution. When that didn’t work, he set his sights on individual believers, which still makes him a threat to us all. But he doesn’t actually appear as a monster. He disguises his dragon self so that he can set a trap. The trap often comes as a lie of some kind—just as Satan did through the serpent, lying to Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Sometimes the lie gets us to think that this sin or that sin is OK for us to do. Sometimes the lie tricks us into thinking that we don’t need to repent, that we’re fine just the way we are. Sometimes the lie comes from the other direction, tempting us to think that we have sinned too much, that we are past the point of being saved. In that way the dragon-serpent lives up to his name, Devil and Satan. Devil means “false accuser” and Satan means “enemy.” Satan is the enemy looking to accuse us before God, and he has six thousand years of experience in setting the kind of trap that works on so many people. First he tricks the person into doing something contrary to God’s will. Then he leads the person to feel guilty about it and run away from God’s presence.
If the clash came down to you, a sheep, versus Satan, the dragon, you would simply be another devoured victim in a long line of victims. But you have the Good Shepherd on your side, the conquering King, who slams the door shut on the devil. Because of Jesus, the dragon is locked up, waiting for the day of his eternal condemnation. Because of Christ who died and rose, the traps won’t work on us. Satan’s two best ploys—the guilt of our sins, and the fear of death and judgment—are decisively overturned by the Savior. His sacrifice has removed all our sins from God’s sight, so that the devil’s accusations are empty and overruled by the God Who forgives His people completely. As for the problem of death, which for many is still a monster, the risen Christ has turned it into heaven’s doorstep and a temporary separation of the soul from the body.
That is our victory won by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, Who beats the dragon for us. That is our victory to be claimed by faith in the gospel. The devil can’t touch you when you follow the Good Shepherd, who says: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life. And they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).
Steven Sippert is president of Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.