"..on earth is not his equal.."
This phrase from "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" expressed a very personal reality for its composer, Martin Luther. As an intense monk, before salvation, he took his vows and their implications incredibly seriously. He would take hours in the confessional, combing his conscience for the slightest infraction to confess, lest he experience an incomplete absolution. Later in life, he would acknowledge that the extreme to which he took fasting during those days, affected his health adversely to the end. These practices (and many more) he endured in his efforts to please God, whom he hated (by his own admission).
Having experienced the Lord Jesus' salvation, Martin was no less intense in his determination to live a holy life. Now, however, it was not God who was his enemy, but Satan and his forces. And, as with so many things, he took the battles very personally... at one point becoming so incensed at his foe that he threw a bottle of ink at his presence.
Now, through the centuries, people in general and believers in particular, have struggled with what to think of Satan. Assuredly, the whole spectrum has been covered: from those who deny that he exists at all...to those who are consumed with every aspect of his person and ways, seeing his activity in everything. These are the two extremes... denying his influence at all, or practically attributing to him omnipotence and omnipresence.
The biblical portrayal of the Lord's archenemy is balanced between these extremes. God declares that Satan exists and is incessantly active (Job 1:8; I Peter 5:8). He was originally created as a beautiful angel ("the anointed cherub"), "blameless" in his ways (Ezekiel 28:14, 15), until unrighteousness was found in him, which lifted up his heart and corrupted his wisdom (vv. 15, 17). The unrighteousness was pride (Isaiah 14:14; I Tim. 3:6), manifesting itself in his desire to make himself like God, with a throne "above the stars of God" (Isaiah 14:13). This passage also describes his fall (vv. 12, 15), from which the Lord Jesus quotes (Luke 10:18) during His ministry. Revelation 12:7--9 also narrates Satan's fall, adding that "his angels (a third of the angelic host, v. 4) were thrown down with him." These became the fallen angels, or demons, mentioned in the New Testament. Satan has the earth as his domain, being the "prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), and his power is sufficient to cause Michael, the archangel, to call upon the Lord to rebuke him (Jude 9), rather than doing so himself. Yet, being a creature, he is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent. Moreover, he is a defeated foe. By virtue of His substitutionary, atoning death, His hell-conquering resurrection, and His glorious ascension, the Lord Jesus Christ "has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet." (I Corinthians 15:24b, 25). Until then, the devil "knowing that he has only a short time, (has) great wrath, making war with (those) who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus," (Revelation 12:12, 17b). Thus, what Luther no doubt discovered (as evidenced by the phrase in his hymn) is that, in our human strength alone, the enemy is far and away too much for us. What are we to do?
One of the keys to defeating him is found in Rev. 12:11, where we're told "...they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death."
Another is found in James, "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you," (vv. 7,8a).
Finally, we are to put on the armor mentioned in Ephesians 6:10--18, enabling us to "stand firm against the schemes of the devil," (v. 11).
Oh, that we would so live in the light and application of such truth, as to walk in a manner worthy of the God who called us to faith... persevering until we see Him face to face!