What does it mean to “conquer” the Devil?1
We read in Revelation 12:11 that the saints “conquer” Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” What does this mean?
It does not mean we destroy Satan, for we know that will not occur until the return of Christ (see Revelation 20). In fact, it would appear that our victory over Satan in one sense only serves to intensify his wrath directed against the earth (v. 12)! So neither does it mean that we put a permanent end to his attack of us (cf. Jesus after temptation). We also know that you can conquer Satan at the same time he might kill you physically (through persecution; cf. Rev. 2:10; 6:9-11). So, here is what it does mean.
You overcome and conquer the Devil when you stand firmly in your faith in Christ and thereby find the strength to say No to sin. How is this done? Paul refers to the “the shield of faith” in Ephesians 6:16 that protects us against “the flaming darts of the evil one.” What are these “missiles/darts/arrows” that Satan launches against us?
We would have to include here the sudden and unexpected eruption in our minds of vile images and thoughts that shock and surprise us (such that are obviously and undeniably contrary to our most basic desires). Paul may also have in view words and pictures that disgust you and violate your God-given sense of propriety/morality. These often leap into your mind without warning or provocation. This may include blasphemous thoughts about Jesus; revolting images of sexual perversity; suicidal urges; compulsive thoughts of doing horribly violent things to family/friends; unaccountable impulses to rebel against God, against one's family, against one's church; subtle insinuations against God's character/goodness; and false feelings of guilt.
Frequently, people report these things to occur while reading the Bible (not newspapers or magazines), while praying and while praising God. This aggravates feelings of personal guilt and worthlessness, insofar as such occasions are regarded as spiritual (“What kind of person am I that I would have such thoughts/fantasies at precisely the time I should be loving and worshipping God?”).
So how does faith function as a shield of protection against these “flaming darts” of Satan? Several things should be noted. First, putting our faith in the superior pleasures of God extinguishes the flaming darts of Satan. For example, we read in Hebrews 11:24-26 that it was Moses' faith in the glory of the coming Christ and the rewards of obedience that enabled him to say No to the powerful temptation presented by the wealth and treasures of Egypt.
Second, there is faith in the steadfast promises of God. When Satan whispers, “God may have cared about you once before, long ago, but his interest in who you are is gone,” you lift up the shield of faith and say, “That is impossible. God is immutable. He cannot change. His concern for me is eternal. What he has promised to me he will fulfill.”
Third, when Satan whispers, “God doesn't love you anymore; not after you've failed him so many times,” you lift up the shield of faith and say, “That is impossible. God's love for me can't cease to exist, for he demonstrated it when he gave his Son to suffer in my place.” Thus, the shield of faith functions whenever we say to the enemy, “I'm going to believe God when he tells me that there is great gain in godliness and therefore I will not fall prey to your seductive temptations.”
The shield of faith functions each time we hold up the truth of the Scriptures under the onslaught of Satan's lies. Satan knows he can gain a major strategic advantage over us if he can sow the seeds of doubt in our minds concerning our relationship with God. In every instance of serious and sustained demonic attack that I have encountered, the individual was plagued with doubt concerning his/her salvation. Thus when Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:17 to put on the “helmet of salvation” he is instructing us to live in the knowledge and assurance of the truth expressed in Romans 8:1,31-38 and Hebrews 13:5-6.
There is nothing Satan can do to alter or undermine the fact that we are saved. Not “angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). But, what he can do is erode our assurance and confidence that we are saved. Our salvation, our standing with God, does not fluctuate or diminish with our success or failure in spiritual battles. But Satan is determined to convince us that it does.
So, by what means do we defeat our enemy? John answers this question by mentioning three things in particular. First, we conquer Satan “by the blood of the Lamb” (v. 11a). How is this done? It is done when we stand on the truth of Romans 8:1, that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. It is done when we proclaim the truth of Colossians 2:13-15 and Christ’s triumph over Satan and his forces by means of his cross. It is done when we declare and trust in the truth that the cross/resurrection of Jesus has secured for us the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the phrase “the blood of the Lamb” is simply a way of referring to Jesus in his capacity as Lord and Savior, the one who triumphed over sin and death.
Simply put, Satan’s only hope for victory in your life is the presence of unforgiven sin. But Christ’s blood cleanses us from the condemning power of our guilt, guilt incurred by our sin (1 John 1:7) and thus forever removes any and all grounds on which Satan might have a legal basis for launching his attack.
Second, we conquer Satan “by the word of our testimony.” This starts with the confident proclamation of our identity in Christ. One of Satan's primary weapons is the lie. He is committed to deceiving you into believing you are not what, in fact, you are, and that you cannot do what, in fact, you can. Satan will try to persuade you that you are: a failure, a fool, of no use to God or other Christians, worthless, an embarrassment to Christ, that you are wasting your time to confess your sins (God won't listen), that you are inferior to other believers, destined always to fall short of their successes, that you are a hopeless victim of your past and helpless to change your future, that you are a pathetic excuse for a Christian, that you are owned by Satan, that you are now what you will always be (there’s no hope for improvement), that you are stupid and beyond the reach of prayer, etc.
You must respond to such deceitful, destructive slander by remembering and standing firmly on the truth of 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-7; 5:8; 1 John 3:1-3; etc.
The “word” of our “testimony” is also expressed when we engage in heartfelt, passionate worship of the Son of God. The power to repel the enemy, the authority to overcome, is not to be found in the physical elements of music per se. I.e., volume, melody, rhythm have no inherent spiritual power. Power to repel and overcome the enemy resides in the truth of what is sung or played and the heart of the singer/player.
The devil pays no attention to decibels or sweat or physical gestures. But he is compelled to submit to the proclamation of truth and the presence of the Spirit and the authenticity and intensity of heart devotion to Jesus. Intimacy in worship (God’s love and ours) together with our adoration, declaration of God’s power, grace, kindness, justice, etc., as well as the affirmation of our commitment to Christ, do more to repel the enemy than anything. That is warfare worship. Nothing will do more to drive away demons than the intensity of intimacy with Jesus!
The “word” of our “testimony” is also expressed in prayer. This involves praying for ourselves and others to be given insight and understanding into who we are in Christ and what is ours through faith (Eph. 1:15ff.). There are also prayers of resistance and rebuke of the enemy. E.g.,
“Satan, I rebuke you in the authority of Jesus Christ. I declare your works in my life destroyed. Jesus triumphed over you in the wilderness, on the cross, and in the grave. His resurrection has sealed your fate. I triumph over you now in the strength of his name. I resist and rebuke your efforts to oppress, afflict, or deceive me. I remove from you the right to rob me of the joy and fruit of my salvation. Through the power of the blood of Calvary, I command all powers of darkness assigned to me, sent to me, or surrounding me now, to leave. Go where Jesus Christ orders you to go, never to return” (Tom White, 116).
Third, and finally, we conquer Satan by not loving our lives “even unto death.” What is being described in this little phrase is a value judgment, a prioritizing that affects every aspect of our lives. It means we love Jesus more than our earthly welfare, more than earthly pleasures, more than earthly convenience, more than peace, prosperity, comfort, etc.
Here he means the willingness to give up good things for the sake of better things; the willingness to sacrifice all in life, even life itself, because life isn’t the most valuable thing to us; they would rather die than yield one inch of their hearts to the world or Satan; no earthly pleasure was worth denying Jesus. No promise of peace or power was deemed of greater value than the value of remaining steadfast. We read in Hebrews 10:34 – “For you . . . accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.” They had refused to let anything in life get a grip on their hearts in such a way that it might diminish their devotion to Jesus. “Jesus is more valuable to us than anything life can offer. Jesus is greater treasure than life itself. We will gladly die before we renounce him!”
Don’t you see that Satan has absolutely no chance of winning when he confronts a heart like that! Simple, unqualified, unconditional, devotion to Jesus! That is why even in their death they overcame him (Rev. 2:10).
Satan only wins when we love our lives more than we love God. When we allow our hearts to be captured by earthly comfort and find that we would do anything and everything to procure more, preserve what we have, promote it, make it comfortable, insulate it, etc. Too many of us love our lives illegitimately; there is a good and legal love of life (I’m not talking about that; celebrate life, enjoy it, etc.). This is an over-protective concern for personal comfort and convenience and peace and prosperity and the resultant energy and life-style designed to perpetuate it. Satan wins whenever we treasure anything more than Jesus.
So, how does this perspective on life overcome the enemy? When you prioritize your life so that nothing means more to you than Jesus, you deprive Satan of any legal right to your heart or mind; you undermine and short circuit his power to influence your soul. How? If this (Rev. 12:11) is your life, what can he possibly latch hold of? What is there in your life to which he can affix himself? To what can he appeal in your soul that would give him a power base from which to operate?