“One Little Word Shall Fell Him": What the Cross Meant to Satan

Colossians 2:15

March 14, 1999 | Ray Pritchard

By 6:00 p.m. the party had started in earnest. It was Friday evening and that meant the party would probably last all night and perhaps even into the next day. Everyone who heard the news could hardly believe it, but they knew that if it were true, this would be the party to end all parties. So they came one by one, then in groups of five or ten, finally a crowd so large no one could begin to count them all.


It was the usual Friday night madness, with loud music, raucous laughter, off-color jokes, and plenty of booze for those who wanted to indulge, which was practically everyone. From time to time their host rose to make a speech to the cheers of the teeming throngs. He exuded the calm confidence of a man who has won his greatest victory. It was hard-fought to be sure, and until the last moment he was nervous, but then it happened, and when it did, he knew he was the victor at last.

Hours passed and the music grew louder. They danced and sang and drank and cheered and laughed the night away. By Saturday morning, when you would have expected the crowd to thin, it actually grew larger–and louder–and even more raucous. If anyone had gone home, his place was taken by ten other happy revelers. And their host graciously stayed and partied with them. By Saturday night people from distant realms had joined them, making for an even merrier celebration. A few speeches were given, followed by one toast after another. Then more dancing, and in the darker corners, wild behavior.

Then it happened. No one knows the precise moment, but in the early hours on Sunday morning a messenger arrived and whispered something in the ear of the host, who seemed to grow faint at the news. Recovering quickly, he ordered several of his top men to check it out. A nervous murmur fell over the crowd. Within a few minutes the news had been confirmed.

Just that fast it happened. The music stopped, the dancing ended, and on Sunday morning the party in hell was over.

Hell’s rejoicing was short-lived. The party that started on Good Friday had ended on Easter Sunday. What seemed like Satan’s greatest victory turned into his decisive defeat. How did it happen? What did the cross mean to Satan? A survey of the biblical evidence suggests six answers to that question.

First, when Christ died on the cross, Satan’s head was crushed. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This is the first promise given after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It is also the first gospel sermon ever preached. Theologians call it the protoevangelium–or first gospel. These words spoken by God contain the first promise of redemption in the Bible. Everything else in the Bible flows from these words in Genesis 3:15. As the acorn contains the mighty oak, so these words contain the entire plan of salvation. The English preacher Charles Simeon called this verse “the sum and summary of the whole Bible.” [1] Although you may not see it at first glance, Christ is in this verse. He is the ultimate Seed of the Woman who would one day crush the serpent’s ugly head. In the process his “heel” would be bruised on the cross. In short, this verse predicts that Jesus would win the victory over Satan but would himself be wounded at the same time. When Christ died on the cross, Satan struck his heel. Where on his body were the nails pounded in? His hands and his feet–right through his heels. On Friday about sundown, when they took the dead body of Jesus down from the cross, it appeared that Satan had won the battle. On Sunday morning, the true Victor walked out of the grave, alive from the dead.

Listen to these colorful words of Spurgeon:

Look at your Master and your King upon the cross, all distained with blood and dust! There was his heel most cruelly bruised. When they take down that precious body and wrap it in fair white linen and in spices, and lay it in Joseph’s tomb, they weep as they handle the casket in which the Deity had dwelt, for there again Satan had bruised his heel… The devil had let loose Herod, and Pilate, and Caiaphas, and the Jews, and the Romans… That is all, however! It is only his heel, and not his head, that is bruised! For lo, the Champion rises again! [2]

Satan delivered a terrible blow to Jesus on Good Friday. No doubt he thought he had thrown a knockout punch. But he was wrong. All he did was strike Jesus on the heel. As painful as it was, that suffering was nothing compared to what Jesus did to Satan.

Second, When Christ died, he destroyed the works of the devil. I John 3:8b says that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” The word “destroy” doesn’t mean to annihilate, it means to “render powerless.” Like a mighty machine that has lost its power, when Jesus died on the cross, he “pulled the plug” on Satan. In this present age Satan seems to be very powerful, but he can do nothing without God’s express permission. He is like Samson shorn of his locks, unable to do anything on his own. The day is coming when his utter impotence will be revealed to the universe and those who followed him will discover that they were following a toothless lion.

“Death Stinks”

Third, when Christ died, Satan’s power of death was broken forever. Hebrews 2:14-15 expresses this in beautiful language, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Of all the fears that grip the hearts of modern men and women, none is greater than the fear of death. We don’t like to talk about death, and in fact we will do anything to change the subject. That’s one reason we turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, pleasure, and the pursuit of power. It’s also one reason why we become fanatics about our health. Down deep in the human heart there is a fear of death that Satan uses to keep us enslaved. Don’t mistake the point. Satan has no power to kill you or anyone else. He can do nothing without God’s permission. But he plays upon our fear of death to keep us in the chains of sin. That’s why the Bible says the sting of death is sin (I Corinthians 15:56). When the unsaved die, they die with their sins still upon them, like a heavy burden, a vast weight bearing them down to hell. They die miserable, angry, frustrated, and fearful because they don’t know what to do with their sins.[3]

What a difference it makes to die having your sins forgiven. This week the mother of a dear friend died on Thursday night. The next morning my friend made a comment I have heard many times: “What do people do who don’t know the Lord?” Death is hard enough to face if you are a Christian, but it is intolerable without the Lord. And yet every day countless thousands march into eternity with the leaden weight of sin hanging around their necks.

A few days ago another friend who has seen a loved die recently said it succinctly in just two words: “Death stinks.” Yes, it does, which is why the Bible says that death is the last enemy that shall be destroyed (I Corinthians 15:26). John Wesley used to say of the early Methodists, “Our people die well.” Dying well is a lost art, but in the old days Christians spent much time preparing for their own departure. They understood that the way you die is a final opportunity to give a strong testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ. I do not mean to say that death is a friend or that death is a natural part of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Death reigns because of Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12-14). But now through Jesus Christ we have his infallible Word that “whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). Like most pastors I have quoted those verses often during funeral services. I like to do it when the dead person is in the casket right in front of me. After all, that’s when the full impact of Jesus’ words really hits home. Do we believe Jesus or not? John Stott comments that for the Christian, death has become a “trivial episode,” a minor inconvenience and nothing more.[4] If we know Jesus, death is like closing our eyes and one moment later opening them in heaven.

Unbelievers don’t have that privilege nor do they understand our confidence as we enter death’s door. For them death is the end–or so they think. For us it is the next step in our eternal life with God.

The Harrowing of Hell

Fourth, when Christ died, the devil’s prisoners were released. Luke 4:18 tells us Christ came to set the captives free and to release the oppressed. Who are the captives Christ came to set free? We have already seen that the lost are enslaved to the devil through their fear of death. Christ came to open for us those prison doors and set the captives free.

It is possible that there may be even more to this. In his fine book I Believe in Satan’s Downfall, Michael Green speaks of the ancient doctrine called the “Harrowing of Hell.” In the early church many people believed that between his crucifixion and resurrection, Christ went to the regions of darkness and proclaimed his victory over the devil and the demons.[5] Some suggest that Christ liberated the righteous souls who were in the “paradise” part of Hades and thus “led captivity captive” (See Ephesians 4:8-10). That particular line of teaching has never seemed very likely to me. I think that the “captivity led captive” might refer to the public humiliation of the demonic forces mentioned in Colossians 2:15. But the general concept seems valid to me. I can find no scriptural objection to the idea of the harrowing of hell, which might even be referred to in I Peter 3:18-21, a notoriously difficult passage to interpret. The only caveat I would issue is that this doctrine must not be used to suggest that Christ offered some kind of post-death salvation to people in hell. That simply is not a biblical idea. “Behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:1-2). It is appointed to all of us to die once and after that to face the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

Setting aside speculation, the larger point remains. The death of Christ brought startling changes in the spirit world, most of which remain hidden to us. I think the Bible gives us hints and glimmers of the truth, just enough to let us know that something monumental happened “behind the scenes” as a result of Christ’s death.

Heaven’s Victory Parade

Fifth, when Christ died the demons were disarmed. Colossians 2:15 declares that “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” To “disarm” someone means to take from them the means by which they might hurt you. If a man has a gun pointed at you, he’s not disarmed until you take the gun away from him. As long as he has the gun (and sufficient ammunition), you’re in big trouble. When Jesus died on the cross, he took the guns and the ammo out of the hands of the demons. And he publicly humiliated them. Picture the Roman legions returning from a successful war. As they enter the city, vast throngs of woman and children line the streets. On and on they march, a seemingly endless parade. Then come the victorious generals, each one accompanied by singers, dancers, and musicians. Finally at the end of the procession you spot a long line of weary, dirty, emaciated men. Their hands are tied, they shuffle one after another. They are the defeated soldiers, now brought back to be displayed as proof of Rome’s invincible power.

When Jesus died, something stupendous happened in the spiritual realm. Although it was invisible to the naked eye, it was seen by all the angels and the Old Testament saints. They watched as Jesus, like some conquering Old West hero, entered the infernal regions and disarmed the “bad guys” one by one. Then he marched them in full view of his Heavenly Father so that every created being would know that he had won the victory.

This means that although demons have great power, they have been disarmed and cannot harm us unless we “re-arm” them by our sinful compromise. Though they attack us, if we will use the “shield of faith” provided for us, every fiery dart will be quenched. Some Christians live in unnecessary fear of the demonic realm because they have never understood the victory Christ won for them. On the other hand some believers suffer oppression because they nurse wrong attitudes and dabble with evil. That’s like giving the devil a loaded gun and saying, “Why don’t you go ahead and shoot me?” He’ll always be glad to oblige you.

Finally, we learn that as a result of the cross Satan’s doom is now guaranteed. In John 12:31 Jesus declares that “now the prince of this world will be driven out.” In John 16:11 he adds that the “prince of this world now stands condemned.” We learn of Satan’s final end in Revelation 20:10, “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur.” There he will be tormented “day and night for ever and ever.”

Lo! His Doom is Sure

That brings us to the end of the story. At the cross Satan was disarmed, disgraced and defeated. The words of Martin Luther tell us what this means:

And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;

One little word shall fell him.

What is that “one little word” that brings the devil down? It is the name Jesus. He fought the fight, he stood his ground, on the cross he utterly defeated Satan, and proved it by rising from the dead.

If you have been following my sermon thus far, there is only one question left unanswered, but it is a big one: If Christ defeated Satan, why is there so much evil in the world? In the words of a popular Christian book, Satan is alive and well on planet earth. He doesn’t look very defeated to me. Certainly the devil seems to be having a field day. How else can you explain a woman suffocating her own children? How else can you explain three white men dragging a black man to death in Texas? How else do you explain evil in the White House, Satanism on the rise, and pornography like a filthy river flowing over the Internet?

He’s Out on Bail

If Satan is defeated, he either doesn’t know it or else he’s taking the news very well. I put the matter that way because the New Testament presents the truth about the devil in two different ways. On one hand, we are told over and over again that at the cross Satan was defeated as completely as anyone can be defeated. On the other hand, we are warned about the devil who roams about as a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). And we are told to put on the armor of God so we can stand in the evil day (Ephesians 6:10-17). Is this not a contradiction?

I think the answer is no, but we need to do some careful thinking at this point. What happened at the cross was indeed the total defeat of Satan. In legal terms he was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to ultimate, eternal destruction. However, that sentence has not yet been executed, although there is no way for Satan to escape it (Lo! his doom is sure.) Perhaps we should say that Satan is currently out on bail, wreaking havoc left and right, waiting for the day when he will be cast into the Lake of Fire once and for all. Until then he is destroying lives, breaking up homes, and disrupting God’s work as much as he can. [6]

If you would prefer a military analogy, the cross was D-Day in World War II. Once the Allies came ashore in Normandy, the German defeat was certain. Although much fighting would ensue, and many soldiers would die, the Allies won the war on December 6, 1944. Satan’s D-Day happened when Christ died on the cross. Since then his defeat has been certain, his ultimate surrender guaranteed. Meanwhile, he fights on in his desperate battle, a defeated but still dangerous foe.

He still holds people hostage through fear and superstition. In less than two weeks our high schoolers are traveling to Haiti to work with Caleb Lucien and the good people of the Jerusalem Baptist Church in Pignon in the north central highlands. Haiti is witch doctor country. Approximately 90% of the people practice some form of voodoo, which is essentially devil-worship. Why would we expose our children to such potential spiritual danger? Precisely because the witch doctors are liars. They seduce people into worshipping the devil who can never help them and can only enslave them. But Jesus has conclusively defeated Satan, and therefore when you go in Jesus’ name, you can go with complete confidence.

Dealing With the Devil

If Satan is defeated but still dangerous, how should we deal with him? Here are a few quick suggestions:


Stand and fight. Ephesians 6:11-17 tells us to “put on the whole armor of God,” and lists each piece of our personal equipment. We are to put on this armor by faith so that when the day of battle comes, when temptation stares us in the face, when we feel like quitting, instead we can stand our ground, and “having done all, to stand,” meaning to stand victorious at the end of the day.

Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7). This is both a command and a promise. If we will submit to God (the first part of the verse), we may be sure that when we resist the devil, he will flee from us. We have no power in ourselves against the devil, but he has no power to use against us when we fight with God’s power. By ourselves we can’t win; with God’s help, we can’t lose.

Use the weapon of prayer. My mind goes to that moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus wrestled with his fate. Knowing that he would soon bear the weight of the sin of the world, he prays in agony, sweating as it were great drops of blood. So great was his abhorrence of sin that he even asks God to take the cup from him. But even as he said the words, he knew that his Father could not grant that request. Then came the great relinquishment–”Not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus won the victory in the Garden precisely because he poured out his soul to God. Let us not think that our battles will be won any other way. If the Son of God must agonize in prayer, how much more must we cry out to God.

Renounce the Devil and confess Christ openly. Perhaps this is part of what Christ meant when he promised that whoever confesses him openly, he will acknowledge before the Father in heaven, and whoever denies him he will deny before the Father (Matthew 10:32-33). In the early days of the Christian church, baptismal candidates were asked, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works?” That same question is still asked today in many churches before a believer is baptized. It is entirely biblical and should be asked of ourselves on a daily basis. While I do not believe in praying to the devil or “rebuking the devil” verbally (that is better left to the Lord Jesus Christ, in my opinion), I do believe it is entirely proper that when we pray we should renounce the devil and pray for God’s help. Is this not what we mean when we pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One” (Matthew 6:13)?

There is great hope at the end of the day for all those who struggle against sin. On Easter Sunday morning the word came down from heaven to the devil and all his demons: Turn out the lights, the party’s over. Do you feel defeated? Stand and fight. Do you feel discouraged? Stand and fight. Have you been tempted to give in? Stand and fight. Are you wavering between right and wrong? Stand and fight. Remember this. The Captain of our Salvation has already won the battle. Satan can harass you but he cannot destroy you. Lo! His doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.


1. Charles Simeon, from his Sermon Outlines, vol. 1, p. 36.

2. Charles Spurgeon, “Christ the Conqueror of Satan”, p. 666.

3. The best book I have used on the person and work of Satan is Erwin Lutzer’s hightly readable Serpent of Paradise (Moody Press, 1996).

4. John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p.244.

5. Michael Green, I Believe in Satan’s Downfall, pp. 213-214.

6. Erwin Lutzer uses the “out on bail” analogy in Serpent of Paradise, p.98.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?