Satan. Part 1: Knowing Our Enemy
The conflict between good and evil is a major theme of the Bible. It can be traced from the temptation of Adam and Eve in the beginning of the Bible to the punishment in the lake of fire at its end (Gen. 3:1-7; Rev. 20:10,15). Let’s look at the source, course and destiny of evil.
Source Of Evil
Let’s begin by looking at the source of evil in our world. Many believe that Satan, or the devil, is just a myth, a superstitious belief from the pre-scientific age to explain things people couldn’t understand, such as disease and disaster. This belief is supported by mythic images of Satan as a red-horned creature holding a three-pronged fork. But the Bible says he’s a real, evil personality.
Jesus believed in a personal devil. He was tempted by him in the desert with clever questions (Mt. 4:1-11). In the parable of the sower, the birds eating the seeds illustrated “the evil one” snatching away the message about God’s kingdom (Mt. 13:19). Satan is not a myth, not a clever story about someone who doesn’t really exist! He is not even merely a “virtual reality” of computer games involving a battle against evil. Satan is a real personality, just as the Bible tells us.
The Bible indicates that he was closely associated with angels, and battled with angels in heaven (Job 1:6; 2:1; Rev. 12:7-9). Angels are God’s invisible agents created to inhabit the unseen part of our world (Col. 1:16). The Bible is our only reliable source of information about Satan and the unseen world. How did evil enter God’s perfect world?
We must understand that there is only one God – and disease, sin, death and the devil are under His authority. For example, God told Satan what He could and could not do to Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). Satan was one of God’s creations, who subsequently chose to oppose Him. This is the best explanation of the origin of evil. The personalities in God’s creation had free will. Angels and people had a choice; they were not clones or robots. God did not create evil, but He made creatures with free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
There are some clues in the Bible about the source of evil. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk. 10:18 niv). He said this probably as a warning to the disciples against pride and arrogance, as the Jews knew from the Old Testament that Satan fell because of pride (Isa. 14:12-15). In the future there will be a war in heaven between God’s angels and Satan’s demons (Rev. 12:7).
Two striking passages in the Old Testament also seem to refer to Satan. First, the doom of the city of Tyre was prophesied (Ezek. 26-28). It was an island northwest of Israel ruled by the Phoenicians – one of the richest, most luxurious, powerful and arrogant kingdoms. A parallel is drawn between the ruler of Tyre – described as proud and arrogant – and the king of Tyre – described in symbolic language as being created as a guardian angel (Ezek. 28:5-6,13-14). Then Ezekiel 28:15 says, “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.” This could indicate that Satan was created as a perfect angel who became wicked. The reason given was that “your heart became proud” (Ezek. 28:17). This passage also implies that the ruler of Tyre was influenced by Satan, as was Peter when he hindered the Lord (Mt. 16:23).
Second, the doom of Babylon is foretold in Isaiah 13-14. Babylon was a city of luxury and splendor on the Euphrates river. It was the largest city of that time. In this passage, the King of Babylon could also refer to Satan. His pride and ambition to be like God is illustrated in his statement that “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13-14). The five “”I wills” suggest that because Satan wanted to be like God, he rebelled against the One he originally served. As a result, he was judged by God (Isa. 14:15).
Tyre and Babylon were symbols of the power of Satan and his forces. They suggest that pride and ambition were the reasons for Satan’s revolt.
Course Of Evil
Now let’s look at the course of evil in our world. One way to look at this is to see how the Bible refers to Satan. His many names indicate his character and activity. Some of the angels joined him in his rebellion against God, and he continues to seek followers today. There is a continuing war in the unseen world, between God and Satan, for the allegiance of humanity.
Satan is described as the “prince of demons,” “prince of this world,” “god of this age” and “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Mt. 12:24; Jn. 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). These are powerful titles for a force to be contended with. Don’t be deceived – Satan has great power.
The things Satan does are indicated by his names. Revelation 12:9 contains four of them: “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” “Satan” is an Aramaic word meaning adversary, opposer or enemy. “Devil” means accuser, slanderer. The other descriptors are metaphoric: he is deceitful like a “serpent” and awesome like a “dragon.” He also causes terror like a “roaring lion” and can disguise himself as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14; 1 Pet. 5:8). He is a “liar,” “tempter,” “accuser,” “deceiver,” “murderer” and “destroyer” (Mt. 4:3; Jn. 8:44: Rev. 9:11; 12:10; 20:3). What a picture of evil! Indeed, he is “the evil one” and the sinful world is under his power and control (Jn. 17:15; 1 Jn. 5:19).
The Garden was the perfect environment, a paradise. Here God gave Adam and Eve one test: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16). As a subtle tempter, Satan, disguised as a snake, encouraged disobedience to God to get people under his control. He attacked the body, the mind and ambition. Hunger is a natural desire, and Eve was tempted when she saw that “the fruit of the tree was good for food.” He also asked, “Did God really say …?” arousing in her mind curiosity and confusion so she would doubt God’s word. Then he sowed the seeds of ambition: “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:6,1,5).
As soon as Eve succumbed, the battle was lost. In this first encounter with mankind, evil prevailed. The consequence was that sin spread to Adam and his descendants. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God; they were afraid; they blamed others and God for what happened; judgment was given to the snake, the woman and the man; and the penalty was death and separation from God (Gen. 3:6,8,10, 12-13,14-19).
Jesus is compared to Adam and referred to as the “second man” (1 Cor. 15:47). This was Satan’s chance to tempt someone without a sinful nature. Their confrontation occurred in the desert (Mt. 4:1-11). The tempter didn’t need to disguise himself this time, because both parties knew what was happening. Jesus’ mission was “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8), while Satan’s was to get Him to disobey God’s will.
Satan’s attack was similar to that in Eden: he attacked the body, the mind and ambition. Knowing Jesus was hungry, he asked him to change stones into bread, and use His divine power to satisfy His need. Then he urged Jesus to jump to fame from atop the temple. Satan even quoted Scripture (Mt. 4:6). Jesus replied that this would be testing God, not trusting God. Finally, Satan offered Him the world’s kingdoms – a shortcut to dominion. This aspiration was the source of Satan’s fall; he wanted what God had. He offered Jesus the kingdoms without going the way of the cross or the way of the servant.
We can learn much from our Lord’s victory over Satan. He did it in the power of the Spirit (Lk. 4:1). Satan’s names show that he has great power, but Jesus demonstrated that God’s power is much greater. Jesus also showed trust, obedience and unselfishness. He used the Scriptures and was not afraid of Satan. He was decisive, and didn’t negotiate.
Christ’s victory over Satan was finalized at the cross where He died and rose again (Jn. 12:31). He was obedient as a humble servant (Phil. 2:6-8). In taking upon Himself the sin of the whole world, Christ righted the rebelliousness of Adam and Eve, and all mankind (Rom. 5:12-21). He defeated death by the resurrection: He too shared in our humanity, “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). So believers no longer need to fear death.
The victory has been achieved over Satan and he is condemned, but God’s judgment has not yet been administered (Jn. 16:11). The enemy is still active. He still opposes God’s ways and causes much suffering in our world – and he often seems to have the upper hand.
Destiny Of Evil
Satan’s destiny is sure. He is a defeated foe who will be dealt with by God’s angels and evicted from his place in the unseen world (Rev. 12: 7-12). Later he will be bound by an angel and unable to deceive anyone for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3). Then we read of Satan’s final attack, when he is released for a time and allowed to deceive the nations and to prepare to attack God’s people (Rev. 20:7-10). But finally evil is judged and Satan is “thrown into the lake of burning sulfur” to be “tormented day and night for ever and ever.” This is the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). Anyone whose name is not recorded in the Book of Life, is also thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). All who follow Satan will share in his doom.
The history of the battle against evil began with Satan as an angel serving God. He let pride and ambition fill him. He wanted to be like God. Then he tricked Adam and Eve into disobeying God, which led to a world of sin, disease and death. Christ came as the only power stronger than Satan. His death and resurrection destroyed Satan’s plan to dominate the world. The final judgment for Satan and his followers is eternal torment.
The good news for those who trust Christ is that “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). The triune God is greater than Satan and is the only source of victory over evil.
Published: July 2004
Also see: Satan. Part 2: Knowing his strategies
Where are Satan and demons?
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