Disentangling Metaphors and Similies

And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20 ESV)

One of the teaching techniques I use is pretty cheap and easy.  In fact I use the term “technique” rather loosely.  What I do is try to use a completely different setting or circumstances to explain a concept I’m trying to teach.  The trick is to pick a new setting or circumstance the person understands better than the one I’m explaining, and to describe the concept  with the scant understanding I have of their setting/circumstance.  I have to say the results are mixed.  Usually I accomplish a thorough revealing of how ignorant I am of something in which they spend most of their lives.  So picking a workable metaphor or simile is difficult.  Jesus did it a lot, but for us today it’s not really that easy to follow, sometimes.

In this passage I see two or three things that immediately jump out at me and one which forms Jesus’ main point.  First, the seventy were so effective that they got Satan’s attention in a bad way.  Second, they have more power and protection than they knew, and third, and more important, their lives are secure with God in heaven, so they can safely risk everything and lose nothing.

Now, the thing that draws me into this passage, arrests my attention and captivates my mind is the reference to Satan.  It’s a statement that includes a simile, but is it itself a metaphor, or maybe it isn’t.  Did it actually happen right then?  If it did, what does that reveal to me about this enemy?  If it didn’t, what does that reveal to me about this enemy?

Here’s the problem: Jesus says He “saw” in the ESV, NIV and NLT, “was watching” in the NASB, “watched” in the HCSB, and “beheld” in the KJV (of course).  The problem is that the Greek tense here is the “perfect” tense.  Usually what this means is the action has completed, but still has a present and possibly future effect.  So, did Satan fall while the seventy were running about or way before during the war in heaven?  How far back did the fall happen?  It happened in the past, but so did the work of the seventy.  I believe Jesus referred to a recent past “falling” of the enemy.

“Why do you ask?” you ask. Or as my wife often puts it, “So what?”   But the timing is a valid question. The simile compares the enemy to “lightning” which is bright, but merely a flash and is gone.  The statement is in response to the joyful return of the seventy, so timing of the fall is important to make sense.  And lightning is an earthly event, so Jesus’ point of view to make the simile work would be earth, not heaven.  In other words, the way in which Jesus uses and times His statement about this enemy gives the distinct impression that it happened while He was waiting for them to return.

You may find Satan tramping about heaven difficult to accept, but this enemy seems to wander heaven at times accusing the people following God whenever the sons of God come meet in heaven for a council (see Job).  Paul mentions that our “fight” is against the “spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms” which means that enemies of God seem to exist in heaven, including Satan.

Here’s why I think Jesus may have said this with a very amused grin or laugh.  If this enemy, in response to the work of the disciples, has to “fall like lightning from heaven”, then it would seem he got caught with back door open or something.  Something about what the seventy were doing was so damaging to this enemy kingdom that he had to rush back to repair the damage or bolster his defenses.

Can you imagine what it would be like if this were happening a lot through our churches across the world?  What if some activity we were doing were so damaging to our enemy that he had to rush back to help fight?  When’s the last time you’ve heard of something that impressive being done by churches, especially in the Western “First World”?  Sometimes I get the impression that, in America, the churches are sort of “behind enemy lines” in a way.  We’ve capitulated the territory and don’t even notice any more, fooling ourselves that “we’re okay”.  What would have to happen to get Satan’s attention here instead of in those Third-World countries where the dead are being raised in Jesus’ name?

I would think one of the best things we could do to support our brethren in these oppressed regions is be so on fire here and so diligent in working in the power of the Spirit here, that we get the enemy’s attention off of them for a bit.  They’d probably really appreciate the break, however long it might last.

What do I need to do to do that?  Perhaps letting my faith replace my fear would be a good place to start.  On the other hand, I think the obedience of the seventy preceded their faith.  Go fearful and let my faith be grown.  I wonder.  I think I may need to go talk to my neighbors, I feel some grilling and “fellowship” coming on.

What’s your view through the knothole?

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Matt Brumage

Educated for Christian ministry, but currently working in the business world.

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