It is not nice to be accused. When I was a boy I was accused of stealing from a shop. To be sure, I was a brat, and not above such behaviour, but on that particular occasion I was not guilty. When I was in the army I was accused of stealing ammunition. I had temporarily mislaid five bullets, but I certainly had no intention of stealing them, and was deeply hurt, not to say scared, at being accused of such a serious offence.
The great accuser
Accusations are not pleasant, especially if we are innocent. Satan is described as ‘the accuser of the brothers’ (Revelation 12:10; the word ‘brothers’ includes all Christians). We are familiar with his work of tempting and persecuting, but perhaps not so conscious of his accusing activities. However, this work is not just a sideline for the devil, but one of his chief occupations. In the same verse we read that he ‘accuses them day and night’. He is simply being true to his name, for the word ‘devil’ means ‘accuser’ or ‘slanderer’.
What kind of accusations does Satan make? Just consider for a moment the One before whom the accusations are made. The verse says he accuses them before God, the all-knowing One, before whom all things are open.
The theological word for this is omniscience. God knows everything – our deeds, words and even our thoughts. He knows everything that has happened, and everything that will happen. Satan knows this truth about God’s knowledge better than we do.
Is it possible, then, that Satan will accuse us of things we have never done? Will he accuse me of assassinating John F. Kennedy or planting the bomb that killed twenty-nine people in Omagh? Hardly. But he may well accuse me of unkind words to my wife, or of neglecting prayer, or of failing to witness to my neighbour. And, of course, he will hit the mark. I am guilty. Of what might he accuse you? Of gossip, lying, pride, or lustful thoughts? We can be sure that whatever Satan accuses us of, we are guilty as charged.
How shall we plead?
There is another way in which Satan’s accusations come – to our own consciences. At the same time as he accuses us before God, he makes sure that we are aware of our own failures. There are times when the Lord himself convicts us of sins, but if we have truly confessed and grieved over them, we ought to have peace. But this is just the time that Satan will accuse our consciences and make us feel that God will not forgive us.
How then shall we respond to his accusations? Shall we deny them? That would be foolish, for God knows the truth. We would simply add lying to whatever else we were accused of. Should we plead our former record? If Satan accuses us of neglecting prayer during the past few weeks, we might plead that we had previously been very consistent in that exercise! But how would that alter the present? Would it be an adequate defence? Of course not.
How to overcome
How does the text of Revelation help us? Although there is no denial of the charges brought against the brothers, we find no sadness here either. This is a victory song. We read, ‘They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony’. Although those accused were guilty of the charges brought against them, yet they are not defeated by such accusations, but rather triumph over them. How can that be? What does it mean to overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb?
Picture a courtroom. The judge is hearing a case and the accused stands before him. The accuser lays his charges before the Court. The judge considers the evidence – it is overwhelming. The accused is guilty on all counts but, amazingly, the case is dismissed.
We sometimes hear of situations like that. Someone is arrested, perhaps caught red-handed. There is no doubt about their guilt. Yet when the case is brought to court, the charge is thrown out. How could that be?
It may be that the accused was not informed of his rights when arrested. Perhaps evidence was obtained illegally by an unauthorised wire-tap. Or the case was thrown out on some other technicality. The situation is similar here. The Judge is Almighty God. A Christian is in the dock accused by the devil of some offence of which he or she is clearly guilty. Yet the case is dismissed. How is that possible? Because of the blood of the Lamb!
The blood of atonement
That may be a strange concept to twentieth-century English people but, to those familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures, a lamb spoke of one thing – sacrifice. In the Jewish temple, lambs were offered as sacrifices every day, with extra offerings on Sabbath days, new moons and other occasions. The lamb would be killed, its blood collected, and the animal and its blood disposed of in various ways, depending on the kind of sacrifice. The lamb was seen as a substitute for the one who offered it. They deserved to die for their sins, but the lamb died in their place.
At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist pointed him out as ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). Jesus was the fulfilment of all the Old Testament sacrifices. Of themselves, animal sacrifices could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). Sin could be forgiven only as people put their faith in the coming Messiah, who was the reality to which those animal offerings could only point. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is called ‘the Lamb’ some twenty-four times. It is through his shed blood and atoning sacrifice that sin can be forgiven.
How does it work?
Those whom Satan is accusing are ‘brothers’, that is, Christians. Their sins have been forgiven, but whenever they are accused by the devil, they must still overcome him by the blood of the Lamb. How does that work?
They remember Jesus’ work upon the cross. They know that although they are guilty, yet the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has already died for the sins of which they stand accused. The full penalty has been paid, and they know that God will not demand double payment. Although they are humbled by their sins, they are still assured of fresh cleansing through Jesus’ blood. They cannot be condemned, because there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).
Zechariah illustrates the point graphically. He sees the high priest, clothed in filthy garments, standing before the Lord. Satan also stands there, to accuse the miserable priest. The filthy garments represent his sins and those of God’s people, and he is without excuse.
Yet it is the Judge himself who says, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan. The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’ Then the Lord calls for the filthy garments to be removed, saying, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes’ (Zechariah 3:1-5). Those clean rich robes are, of course, the righteousness of Christ, imputed to chosen sinners plucked from the fires of judgement.
Need for balance
There is need for balance. We must never get complacent about our sins. They should grieve us, because we know that they grieve the Father. We should confess our sins with broken hearts. We should determine to get victory over our sins. But at the same time we know that our acceptance with God is not based on our personal holiness or sorrow for our sins, but only on the blood of the Lamb. Our sins need to be before us, but the cross also needs to be before us even more. There is no victory over Satan’s accusations through our sorrow. But there is victory through the blood of the Lamb.
Just in case we do get casual about forgiveness, and think that holiness is not important, there is a second means of victory over Satan’s accusations – ‘By the word of their testimony’. Our behaviour is important, for without holiness no one shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14), but so is our faithful witness to Jesus Christ. Our holiness and testimony do not earn salvation, but they do give proof of the reality of our salvation. These people were willing to lay down their lives for the Saviour: ‘they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death’.
Both these things are important – the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of believers. But the order is crucial – it is primarily by Jesus’ blood that we overcome Satan’s accusations.
Are you troubled by the devil’s accusations? Don’t try to defend yourself. There is One at God’s right hand who can do a much better job than you can. See the wounds in his hands, feet and side – the unmistakable evidence of his death upon the cross. When Satan tells you that you are not fit to be a Christian, agree with him! But also point to the wounded Lamb who knows your failures and has already atoned for them. Overcome him by the blood of the Lamb!