The Day Satan Ignored Mankind
Imagine what it would have been like on the original Good Friday. For the nine-hour period from 6:00am to 3:00pm, Jesus’ road to the cross was the entire focus of the Spiritual world. At 6:00am, Jesus was sentenced to die on the cross. Satan had just nine hours to prevent it. As believers – except for those believers directly involved in Jesus’ path to the cross – pursued their walks with God, for those brief nine hours Satan was not attempting to interfere. For nine hours, Satan's eyes had but a single goal: keep Jesus away from Calvary.
The Sense of urgency has been described as a tyrant. As the deadline for completing your goals approaches, all the debts you have accumulated through past delays and other misuses of time become due. All borrowed time becomes payable immediately. As Christmas celebration not done by December 24 must be completed that day, or it will not get done at all. The tyranny of the urgent robs you of normal activity and plans because whatever does not happen that day is forever escaped from opportunity. When Pilate caved, that day became Satan’s day or urgency. If Jesus dies on the cross today, then His goal of thwarting Salvation will be foiled.
I cannot imagine Satan misusing his time as we often do. But at about 6:00am that morning, Satan was woken up with an urgent text message: "Pilate Caved In to the Jews. Crucifixion This Afternoon."
Every contest of wills has its moments of desperation. In Game seven baseball, Hall-of-fame pitchers warm up in the bullpen. In football, it's the "Hail Mary." Basketball has the "Desperation Three." Hockey has the "Pulled Goalie." All regard to future consequence is discarded, and regardless of the harm it may cause, if the likelihood of success is higher than zero - even if vanishingly unlikely. It is the strategy of choice.
Satan knew about God's plan of redemption from the moment Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden. How much effort had Satan already expended in attempts to disqualify Jesus. Satan thought to keep the womb of Sarah empty; involve Judah in a prostitution scandal. He saw to it that David's four oldest sons were destroyed with disqualifying indictment. He turned Solomon's heart to do evil. He saw God choke off the line of Jeconiah, only to see God fulfill His covenant with David through another son in Nathan.
He saw the dispersion of the ten tribes, and the exile of the tribe of Judah; he worked to foil the effect of Cyrus' deliverance. He embodied himself in Antiochus for the purpose of destroying the remnant; he ordered a birth moratorium the season Jesus would be born. He tried to stone Jesus many times and was unsuccessful. He went to bed the previous night fully assured that his army of demons would work the Roman hearts so that they would never approve the death penalty for crimes against Jewish law. The crime of blasphemy against the God was a religious crime that Rome wasn’t concerned about.
And he woke up to the news that Pilate had caved in. In nine hours, Jesus would be hanging on the cross, dying for the forgiveness of sins for anyone who believes. What had eluded Satan for 4,000 years, he had nine hours to accomplish. Today's goal is to keep Jesus away from Calvary. Satan would personally block the road. Every demonic creature was summonsed to support. All other efforts were secondary. Let the followers of Jesus who are not involved in getting Jesus to the cross be left alone. Jesus must die on His way to.
It feels strange to consider that the forces of evil were opposing the sentence of crucifixion. But Satan knew the consequences if Jesus died on the cross. And descriptions of the path to Calvary always understate the infliction that Jesus bore. Isaiah 52:14 describes our Lord as "beyond human semblance." By the time Jesus arrived, He wasn't even recognizable as human.
I reason that He was so thoroughly beaten that He had internal organs hanging out His side. Anything short of that would retain Him as within the bounds of human semblance - particularly when we know that broken bones were off limits. The normal artist's representation of Jesus hanging in docility are blasphemous to Isaiah's account of "beyond human semblance." An underlying miracle not cited as a miracle is that Jesus made it to the cross alive. This was Satan's final opportunity to prevent Redemption. This was Satan's call of urgency. Nothing mattered except to kill Jesus before the cross was raised.
It is somewhat problematic to think that Satan actually understood the significance of the upcoming crucifixion when he was directly instrumental in the betrayal (Luke 22:3). And it is impossible to know exactly what thoughts were running through Satan’s mind at the time. But we do know:
1. Satan understands God when God speaks. Compare Genesis 3:3 and Genesis 3:4 to Genesis 2:17. The serpent's words matched the word of God better than Eve's words.
2. Isaiah 52:14 describes Jesus' physical appearance as "beyond human semblance." That is a pretty wretched standard, and generally speaking, contemporary visions of Jesus on the cross don't have the guts to be faithful to that standard.
3. (Building on #1) Jesus spoke about His death and the spiritual consequence of His death plainly enough to His disciples. Satan is crafty enough to understand where man fail to understand.
4. The wild card is that God places boundaries on Satan. Even a broken bone would have foiled prophecy, and Satan couldn't manage that. And God strengthened the man Jesus such that He remained alive. Mel Gibson (“The Passion of Christ") was criticized for being excessively gory in the walk to the cross. But if "beyond human semblance" is to be believed, the scene was not gory enough.
Satan's downfall is that he is deluded in his abilities. It seems reasonable to think that Satan thought he had a better chance of preventing the crucifixion of Jesus with Jesus in Roman captivity where due process would protect Him, than in Jewish captivity where a guerrilla movement might crucify Jesus themselves. That is just a possibility. I cannot say. I think that Pilate's caving caught Satan by surprise.
It's interesting that Caesar Tiberius was furious with Pilate, and had him imprisoned and sentenced to the "most disgraceful of deaths." Pilate pre-empted that by suicide, which can also be said to be the most disgraceful of deaths. In lieu of a burial, Pilate was tossed into a river. And I wonder: Was Pilate's death provoked by God's sovereignty; Caesar's wrath; or Satan's revenge? Is it possible that Pilate even survived Good Friday because Jesus was Satan's priority that day?
Now we all have our understandings of what the seven last words of Jesus were. But what - in this context only - is important is that Jesus spoke at all. It proved He was still alive. And from this point on, even if Satan had then killed Him, there was nothing Satan could due to prevent Him from dying the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
Of course, what He said is vital. Even hanging and beyond human semblance, His words were the words of God. Operation incisions are never so deep and so numerous, yet He took time to regard His mother, as well as a repentant thief. When He said, "I thirst," Satan took a squeegee and drained a spongeful of vinegar all over His body with cuts so deep, so numerous, raw nerves exposed. How can I not think that this was Satan's farewell shot; his "end-of-game handshake" for his defeat!
For nine hours, Satan was focused on Jesus and none other. Followers who were not directly involved were free to engage in prayer unobstructed, to worship unopposed, to fellowship without persecution. I wonder how that felt.