Paul has been warning the Roman Christians against false teachers. We know that Satan is ultimately behind all the attempts to turn people from the truth, both in the church as well as outside of it (2 Cor. 11:13-15; Eph. 6:10-20; Jn. 8:44). It was the reason for the fall of man in the first place: Adam and Eve listened to the voice of the snake in the Garden and in doing so rebelled against God. But this was not just any snake: it was Satan in the form of a snake. We know this because in other places in Scripture he is called the old serpent, “the deceiver of the whole world” (cf. Rev. 12:9; 20:2). He was in the very Garden of Eden tempting people away from God. And he is in the church tempting people away from God.
And he does this through false teachers. He may not come to us in such an obvious costume, but he comes to us through “smooth talk and flattery” (Rom. 16:18). He comes to us through slick and sneaky teachers who do all they can to make their soul-killing doctrines look plausible. And the fact is that he is often successful. Thus the apostle warns Timothy: “But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting [“overthrow” KJV] the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:16-18). Previously, he had given this warning: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:1-2).
The fact that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8), the fact that he is often prowling in the church itself, and the fact that he is often successful makes it a daunting task to withstand his attacks. And then when we consider our own weaknesses, how can we stand?
All this, I think, is behind the comfort which the apostle offers in verse 20: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” We need to be encouraged and given hope in the fight of faith. And that is what the apostle is doing here. He is setting us upon the firm foundation of God’s promise and upon this foundation we will find our footing in the combat against the devil.
What is this encouragement which is given? Paul is taking us all the way back to Genesis 3, to the fall of man and to God’s pronouncement against the Serpent who deceived Adam and Eve. Satan had been successful in leading Adam and Eve away from obedience to God by eating the forbidden fruit. But God would not let him have the final word. He comes into this world which is now haunted by human rebellion and stinking with spiritual and physical death, and says that it will not always be this way. And the main reason we know this is because God says the devil will be destroyed through the Seed of the woman. Here is what he says: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The fact that the Seed of the woman bruises the head of the serpent indicates that this is a crushing blow whereas the bruising of the heel of the woman’s Seed indicates this is a wounding blow. Satan does his damage but he is the one who will be destroyed in the end.
This is what Paul is referring to here. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” We know it will happen because the Seed of the woman – Jesus Christ – has come. Satan did indeed bruise his heel: he was the instigator behind the crucifixion. But he did not win that contest for our Lord conquered death and in conquering death he conquered the devil. On the cross, our Lord “disarmed the [demonic] rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15). Or, as it is put in the epistle of Hebrews, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14-15). Through death, he destroyed the devil who brought death into the world in the fall of our first parents. And he ensures the final destruction of the devil in the Lake of Fire.
Because of our Lord’s victory over death through death – I love the title of John Owen’s great book on the atonement: The Death of Death in the Death of Christ – we can have true victory over the devil. “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:10-11). Here were Christians who found the courage to remain faithful to death, and the roots of that courageous faithfulness are to be found in our Lord’s victory over the death and the devil.
There are three things in this promise here. First, that God will crush Satan. Some people present good and evil in eternal combat. But that is not so: as Martin Luther once put it, Satan is God’s Satan. He has a beginning and his reign of terror will have an end. Second, God will do this under the feet of the faithful. In other words, we will enjoy the sweetness of God’s victory over Satan. It is a victory in which God’s people will participate. I think this is why the apostle describes God as “the God of peace.” God will bring peace to a world which is riddled by evil and death and it will be a peace enjoyed by all of God’s people. Satan will lie vanquished under our feet! And third, God will do this speedily. I know that some want to use this to argue that God did this in 70 A.D. I find that preposterous. And it muzzles this promise. Satan is a defeated foe to be sure (not at 70 A.D. but around 30 A.D!), but he is still going about like a roaring lion on a destructive rampage. There is coming a day when that will no longer be, and that day has not come yet, even 2000 years after the apostle wrote this. Why then say that God will soon do such a thing? This is true because from the perspective of eternity all of this earth’s history will seem like a vapor. There is coming a time when the trouble the devil now causes will be faint memory.
Now the question I want to ask of this text and these truths is this: how should we use the assurance provided in this promise to be inspired to persevere in our faith? For that is clearly the intended purpose in this promise which is given here. To that end, I propose the following propositions.
First, we are reminded that God’s final victory over Satan is sure.
Note how it goes: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan.” Consider the distance between the promise given in Gen. 3:15 and Rom. 16:20. It was initially given thousands of years ago in the Garden of Eden. As the millennia passed, surely people wondered if this promise would ever be fulfilled. Then Jesus came and on the cross he gave Satan his crushing blow and in his resurrection he conquered death. And this is the sure basis for our final deliverance from death and from Satan’s malign influence. We are reminded that God never forgets his promises and always keeps his promises. And in particular he keeps the promises that he makes for and to his people. We can bank on it. There is no passage of time that will wear out the promises of God or make them less effective.
Now how does this keep us faithful? For that is the question we are considering here. It is important to remember God’s faithfulness to his promises because we are so often confronted with circumstances that give the appearance that God’s promises will not go through. We can find ourselves in the position of Abraham, that possessor of God’s great promises, and yet who had to wait many years for their accomplishment. In the 25 years of waiting, Abraham’s faith was sorely tried. He even tried to help out God. But he needed no help, and in due time his promise was fulfilled. We are between the cross and the resurrection of Christ and our own resurrection from the dead. As we journey through this world, we are confronted with many reasons to doubt. We might be tempted, like Abraham, to help God out, as if he is not able to do what he has promised. We are surrounded with death and tragedy and apostacy and evil and many other instances of Satan’s apparent triumph. But we must remember that it will all end. God will crush Satan. And we are in an infinitely better position than Adam to believe this, for we not only have the promise of Gen. 3:15 but we have the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He defeated Satan for us and one day we too will participate in this victory, which is what Rom. 16:20 is all about.
This is important because God’s promises for us are mainly future. There are also many promises for the present of course! We are promised grace in trial and the presence of our Savior to the end of the ages. Our God is not a God afar off. He is near to those who are in Christ. But there are great and precious promises that await the future. And our hope, and therefore our endurance, depends upon God’s faithfulness to those promises. If our hope in Christ is limited to the present age, said the apostle Paul, we are of all men most to be pitied. You see that in our text. God will crush Satan. Not has crushed, but will crush. This is something that is certain, yes, but it is also in the future. It hasn’t happened yet. We await with hope God’s promise to us.
Satan’s reign has not yet ended. His prowling times are not yet finished. He is still deceiving the nations. And we are daily exposed to his rampages and his darts and fiery arrows. Against them we lift up the shield of faith, faith in the promises of God and in the God who never lies and always keeps his word. That is what Paul is reminding us here. God is faithful.
Second, we are reminded that God’s final victory over Satan will be complete.
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” We are not only reminded of God’s faithfulness but also of his omnipotence. Satan was defeated at the cross. But he is not yet destroyed. That day is coming, however, for God will not only suppress the devil but crush him and destroy him forever. There is coming a day when he will descend into the lake of fire never to ascend again. God will once again restore peace to a world that is groaning under the effects of sin and death.
We need to be reminded of this because there are times in the present when it looks as if God is nowhere to be found. It often looks as if the devil is gaining the victory. Look around you in the present. Evil is ascendant everywhere. Ideologies that are completely contrary to the truths of God’s word are pressed upon us. Those who subscribe to God’s truth are looked upon not only as ridiculous but as evil! Real persecution is imminent. There is therefore a great temptation to give in to the pressure to conform to this world. Who wants to be hated? Who wants to be despised? Who wants to lose their security in this world? Who wants to be persecuted? No one, of course, and the devil knows this. If he can’t seduce you through the pleasures of this world he will threaten you with its persecutions. And in those moments we need to remember that for all the rage of the devil, he will one day be destroyed. The final victory does not rest with the enemies of God’s people. We need to remember that.
And we need to remember that just as God’s people will participate in the peace that God brings in his victory over Satan, even so will those who are deceived by Satan participate in his doom: “And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angles and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and however receives the mark of its name” (Rev. 14:9-11). Now why is this written? Why the reminder of the doom of these followers of Satan? It is the same reason Paul is reminding the Roman Christians of the final crushing of the devil. It is for the purpose of perseverance: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).
Third, we are reminded that God’s final victory over Satan will be sweet.
I see this in the phrase, “the God of peace.” Real peace will not come until the devil is finally vanquished. That day awaits. But it is worth waiting for, and that is the point. This world can give you a sort of peace. It can fill your pockets with money and your body with pleasures and your ego with the praises of man. The psalmist talks about people like this: “For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind” (Ps. 73:3-5). Like the psalmist we can look with envy upon those who enjoy the peace that this world gives. In fact, he says that “my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped” (73:2). He is saying that he had almost fallen away from the faith.
How did he recover? He recovered, not only by remembering the sure doom of the wicked (ver. 17-22), but also by remembering the sweetness of God’s goodness towards his people: “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever… But for me it is good to be near God” (23-26, 28).
I am reminded of what our Lord told his disciples shortly before he left them: “Peace I leave with you my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). The peace of this world is not the peace that Jesus gives. It is peace that is infinitely better. It is better because it is eternal and it is better because he will bring true peace and wholeness by restoring the image of God in us in which we are intended to exist and live. It is better because it involves a restoration of our relationship with God and the enjoyment of his fellowship and blessing. It is better because it deals with our guilt instead of suppressing it.
When we are tempted to give up on the faith, it is because we are tempted to give up what it infinitely precious and sweet for temporary peace and pleasure. And when we endure through trials, it is because we remember that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet. Like Moses, we can choose “to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” Why? Because “he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” (Heb. 11:25-26). We endure because we know that we have “a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34). The following words of exhortation are still relevant: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (35-36).
Fourth, we are reminded that God’s final victory over Satan is a gift of grace.
Note the following words: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” It is no mistake that the promise of the God of peace is linked with the grace of his Son Jesus Christ. God’s final and triumphant peace does not come to us because we have made ourselves worthy of it or because we maintain ourselves in a state of merit but because of God’s grace which comes to us through Christ. The outcome of God’s final victory and our participation in it does not rest upon our own righteousness or accomplishments. It rests upon the gracious work of Christ.
Which means that the one critical question for each of us is this: am I in Christ? God’s grace to us comes through him. He is God’s greatest gift to us. Because we cannot save ourselves. We are sinners and worthy only of God’s judgment. But Christ kept God’s law perfectly and he substituted himself on the cross and absorbed God’s wrath that we deserved so that those who trust in him will receive God’s righteousness and acceptance and pardon. The peace of God comes through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-21). With the apostles, “we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor. 6:1). For “now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).