The phrase “rope-a-dope” refers to a boxing tactic of pretending to be trapped against the ropes, goading an opponent to throw tiring ineffective punches.
Muhammad Ali popularized this technique in his 1974 boxing match against George Foreman. Ali allowed Foreman to angrily swing away at him against the ropes, leading Foreman to eventually punch himself out in the process.
It recently occurred to me how this boxing technique is a lot like what Jesus did on the cross. On the cross God absorbed all the sin of the world, allowing evil to do its worst to him (1 Jn 2:2). The devil unleashed his fury on God’s Messiah and he thought he had punched his lights out.
The “ruler of this world” thought it was all over. No contest.
In the gospels we read how Satan went to work on Jesus from the moment he is baptized in the Jordan to his last breath on the cross. The devil was swinging for Jesus’ gut in the wilderness, maneuvering him into the corner with the sinister traps laid by the Pharisees, and had Jesus up against the ropes in his mock trial, dehumanizing torture, and brutal execution by the Romans.
A dead Messiah is no Messiah. It means God loses. Right? Wrong.
Just as it seemed like the Father had lost the struggle of good over evil with the death of his Son on the cross, the victorious Christ came bursting forth from the darkness of the tomb.
The apostle Paul marvels at this upside-down wisdom of God when he writes:
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Col 2:15 NIV).
This seemingly foolish response to the horrific violence Christ endured on the cross was the counter-attack of heaven. In this way, Jesus smashed the head of the serpent and brought the devil down from his high place, falling from his lofty position like lightening (Lk 10:18).
The enemies of God never even saw it coming.
The demons shrieked, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matt 8:29). The dark powers were oblivious to the divine strategy that was being used against them.
Jesus told the Pharisees, “If I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Matt 12:28).
They would thus seek to kill him. In their demonic state of delirium, they set out to unleash hell on Jesus of Nazareth. Knowing this, Jesus readied himself for the relentless blows of the unseen principalities and powers.
The devil would inflict pain on Jesus by the hands of men, those whom he loved. But Jesus recognized this tactic and spoke over those crucifying him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing” (Lk 23:34).
It was the devil’s work the Son of God came to destroy (1 Jn 3:8b). It was the real and ultimate battle for the salvation of humanity, and for the promised renewal of all things (Eph 6:12; Rev 21:5). And Jesus accomplished it.
It was the fight of the ages… when the lamb defeated the dragon. It will forever be remembered as the time when Satan punched himself out.
And that’s how Jesus rope-a-doped the devil.
So the next time your enemies come swinging at you and have you up against the ropes, remember that the real enemy is unseen. If you will wait on the Lord, new life will come forth out of what appears to be your defeat.
Let your accusers punch themselves out. Let the Father raise you from the dead. You may have to take some hits, but the victory belongs to the Lord.
D.D. Flowers, 2016.