The Great Leadership Challenge

Posted: November 19, 2014 by J in Bible, Theology

I find myself thinking about leadership challenges and power struggles, lately. In particular the leadership challenge mounted by Satan. Reading Genesis and Luke, I’ve been thinking about the role of the evil one, the Satan, in world history. And I think I’ve identified one of those structural things where the whole drift of my thinking doesn’t mesh well with the Scripture story.

I think I’ve always seen it as essentially a challenge to God’s position as sovereign. Milton’s Paradise Lost, and all that. Satan seeks to rule heaven itself. Challenged God, lost, was cast out into Hell with the angels who followed him. That sort of thing.

Well, not sure how much of that might be true, and how much folk-mythology. But it strikes me that as a contender for God’s throne, Satan is a bit of a fizzer. I mean, for one thing, he’s created. The most fundamental distinction in the universe, between Creator and creation – and he’s on the wrong side of it. Wrong, that is, if you want to be God.

No, I can’t see that Satan was ever going to mount an effective leadership challenge against God. Kind of like my basil plants attempting a coup and taking over our house. Just not likely in the nature of things.

As I read Scripture, it dawns on me (slowly), that the real leadership challenge was directed at US. We are the ones Satan is contending with for rulership of the world. We were given that role, but he has usurped it. From us.

That was always the challenge, right from the start. It was the serpent vs Adam and Eve. It was Adam and Eve’s offspring who was supposed to crush the serpent’s head. But Adam’s heirs always prefered to fight against God (cf the name ‘Israel’: ‘he wrestles with God’) – we had the wrong adversary all along. And so, not knowing our rightful opponent, we always got crushed instead of doing the crushing.

For a long time the evil one seemed to be winning every bout hands down. It was like the old days of the America’s cup yacht race:  theoretically anybody could win, but when Alan Bond came along as challenger with the Australia II, the US had won it every time since 1870. In practice it was always the same outcome, every challenge: Satan – 1 , Adam and family – 0.

The amazing significance of Jesus’ incarnation and his life and death and resurrection is not so much that God could defeat Satan. No surprises there! God could surely have flicked Satan out of existence any time he pleased. It’s still glorious and worth celebrating when God does conquer his enemies. But if I’m reading it rightly, the amazing, unexpected, world-changing thing about Jesus was that a man stood up to the evil one. He repented of our habit of fighting against God (his baptism), and got on with the job of wrestling with the real adversary (in the temptations in the wilderness). And Jesus defeated him. He took back the leadership. He entered the ‘dominion of darkness’ and started turning it into his own kingdom (cf. Colossians 1:14).

John, Mark and Luke portray the Jesus story as one of conflict with the demonic powers. They all see that conflict coming to a head in Jerusalem at the passover, as Jesus faces the final challenge of the cross – and emerges victorious: “It is finished!”. The Father, as a good umpire, raises the hand of the victor through resurrection.

Now a man is on the throne again. The leadership challenge has been settled decisively, once and for all: ‘The kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdom of God and of his Christ’ (Revelation 11). Not just the victory of God, but of God and his appointed man. And not Jesus alone ruling: Jesus as the Christ, as our representative. And because Jesus, we also. We are invited, indeed called, to take up that rule again, in him. “Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6). Here judgement is a leadership role, much like governing. It involves taking charge and setting things to rights, restoring right order in the creation. The good news is, that is once again mankind’s destiny:

if we endure,
we will also reign with him. (2Tim. 2:12)
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev.5:10)..

Once mankind is restored in Christ, our future is one of leadership again:

They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev 22:5)

And that leadership over creation will bring about its final restoration. When we ceded control of the world to Satan, we left it in the hands of a destroyer. But Jesus took back the reins. He restored the whole created order by undoing the original cause of its distress: the fall of man from his role as leader.

Would it be pushing things too far to suggest that the great question of world history was not, who will conquer, God or Satan? It was ‘who will conquer, man or Satan?’ And that question has been answered finally at the Cross. The demons will not always have free rein. In Jesus, mankind conquers at last, reclaims his ancient birthright, and begins once again to rule as God appointed him to.

Praise God for his Son, the man, King Jesus!

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