Finally, in regard to this first myth of God and Satan’s reputed battles, I would like to conclude by considering the commonly-used statement: Jesus defeated Satan on the cross. Scripture never actually states that Jesus defeated Satan on the cross.
When we say that Jesus defeated Satan, we make it sound as if Jesus and Satan were in a battle, which implies that God is not all-powerful and that Satan was not already under the complete authority of God. There are more biblical ways of describing what happened to Satan when Jesus gave His life on Calvary. For example, Scripture tells us that through His death, Jesus rendered “powerless him who had the power of death” (see Heb. 2:14-15).
To what extent did Jesus render Satan powerless? Obviously, Satan is not completely powerless now, or else the apostle John would never have written, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19, emphasis added). According to Hebrews 2:14-15, Satan was rendered powerless in regard to “the power of death.” What does that mean?
Scripture makes reference to three kinds of death: spiritual death, physical death, and the second death.
As we learned in an earlier chapter, the second death (or eternal death) is referred to in Revelation 2:22; 20:6,14; 21:8, and it is the time when unbelievers will be thrown into the lake of fire.
Physical death occurs when a person’s spirit departs from his body, which then ceases to function.
Spiritual death describes the condition of a human spirit that has not been born again by the Holy Spirit. A spiritually dead person has a spirit that is alienated from God, a spirit that possesses a sinful nature, a spirit that is, to some degree, joined to Satan. Ephesians 2:1-3 paints for us a picture of the spiritually dead person:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
Paul wrote that the Ephesian Christians were dead in their trespasses and sins. Obviously he was not referring to physical death because he was writing to physically alive people. Therefore, he must have been saying that they were dead, spiritually speaking.
What killed them, spiritually? It was their “trespasses and sins.” Remember God told Adam that in the day he disobeyed, he would die (see Gen. 2:17). God was not speaking of physical death, but spiritual death, because Adam did not die physically on the day he ate the forbidden fruit. Rather, he died spiritually that day, and did not die physically until hundreds of years later.
Paul continued by saying that the Ephesians, as spiritually dead people, had walked in (or practiced) those trespasses and sins, following the “course of the world” (that is, doing what everyone else was doing) and following “the prince of the power of the air.”
Who is “the prince of the power of the air”? He is Satan, who rules his dark domain as commander-in-chief over other evil spirits who inhabit the atmosphere. Those evil spirits are listed by various ranks in a later chapter of Ephesians (see Eph. 6:12).
Paul said that dark prince is a “spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” The expression, “sons of disobedience,” is just another description for all unbelievers, emphasizing that their nature is sinful. Paul later said that they “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3, emphasis added). Additionally, he said that Satan was working in them.