The devil is the powerful enemy of God’s people. It is essential for Christians to know about their enemy and his tactics and aims. John begins his comments on the devil by stating that there is a clear-cut distinction between those who follow God’s way and those who follow the devil’s way. The mark of the followers of God is righteous living and the mark of the devil’s followers is sinful living. Both groups imitate their particular master: Christians imitate Jesus and others imitate the devil.
In verse 8, John says that the devil has been sinning from the beginning. He has been sinning in many ways since he fell from God’s favour, and one area in which he endeavours to sin is in targeting the church of Christ, with the aim of getting its members to sin.
What advice does John give to his readers as he reminds them of the enemy’s tactics? He tells them to focus on the work of the One who came into the world to destroy the works of the devil. John is reminding his readers of a very basic principle of the Christian life, perhaps the most important principle of the Christian life, which is that we should always ask, in any matter, what has Jesus done about it or what is he going to do about it?
It is obvious that John does not mean that Jesus obliterated the works of the devil because we know that he has succeeded with many of his temptations and strategies at any given time. So John means that Jesus will ultimately nullify the longterm intentions of the devil and will yet crush him completely and banish him permanently from the creation.
At the cross, Jesus destroyed the works of the devil by providing a basis for sinners to be forgiven and liberated. One of the devil’s works was to turn the earth into a vast prison in which humans are chained for their crimes, and in which the devil functions as a jailor demanding their punishment. On the cross, Jesus dealt with those accusations and demands of the devil by paying the debt due by his people and, at a stroke, removed from the devil his ability to accuse them effectively. Instead, for all who trust in Jesus, his death opened wide the prison doors and they are set free. That work of the devil has been destroyed.
In the present, Jesus destroys the works of the devil in the lives of sinners when they become Christians and go through the lifelong process of sanctification. Prior to their conversion, the devil tempted them to sin, and each sin became uglier, and how worthless they seemed when they came to Jesus for pardon. In the process of sanctification, Jesus removes the consequences of sin in their lives, delivers them from the effects of the devil’s influence on them, and so destroys his intentions of making them so ugly by sin that they would have to be punished. Today, Jesus is destroying the works of the devil.
In the future, Jesus will remove from the universe all evidence of the works of the devil. The varied activities and consequences of thousands of years of sin will be removed when Jesus announces, ‘Look, I am making all things new’ (Rev. 21:5). Today, the earth is like a wilderness full of wild beasts and weeds; in the future it will be Paradise restored, with nothing but beauty all around. On that day the redeemed multitudes will cry out in wonder, ‘The Son of God has destroyed the works of the devil!’