Many think that Satan is a myth, but we know he is real. That is why we must stay awake and be on our guard against him.
Satan is our enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8 NIV). In a battle it helps to know the enemy. For example, when playing a computer game, advice from someone who has already played it can be a great help. After we have experience and know what to anticipate, we are more likely to be successful at the game.
In this article we’ll look at Satan’s power, his objectives, his strategies and our defenses against him. This is important because if we are not aware of his schemes he will outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11).
Although Satan has been cast from God’s presence, he is still powerful. He is the ruler of demons (Mt. 12:24). The demons are fallen angels who follow Satan and who oppose believers (Eph. 6:12). Satan is a great power in the unseen spiritual world. He is the ruler of the sinful world system (Jn. 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). He dominates unbelievers: “The whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). He has his own kingdom, a vast sphere of influence in our world. He is respected by angels. The archangel Michael “did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude 9). Likewise, we should take Satan seriously; he is no myth or joke.
Fortunately, Satan’s power is limited by God. In Job’s case, God controlled what he could and could not do ((Job 1:12; 2:6). Jesus prayed that God protect his disciples from “the evil one” (Jn. 17:15), so the devil can’t touch believers without God’s permission (1 Jn. 5:18). He has power, but God’s is greater.
Satan has a major influence in the world. His main objective is to oppose God and oppose God’s purposes. This started in the beginning and has continued through history. Even though Christ is victorious over Satan, he is still opposing God’s purposes in this world. His character is the opposite of God’s. He’s full of darkness, not light (Acts 26:18); he promotes hate, not love (1 Jn. 3:7-15); he brings death, not life (Heb. 2:15).
When we hear about the “forces of evil” in the world, undoubtedly Satan is still active today. Here are three of his more specific objectives. First, he works to deceive nations (Rev. 20:3,7). Apparently, he has been successful in this as he was able to offer Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” (Mt. 4:8-9). In fact, he “leads the whole world astray” (Rev. 12:9). Second, he works to control unbelievers. Satan uses his power to control unbelievers by trapping them and keeping them captive (Acts 26:18; 2 Tim. 2:26; 1 Jn. 5:19). Meanwhile, these people are deceived and unaware of his activities. Third, he works to destroy believers and Christianity. We do not fight against a human enemy, but against Satan and his demons in the unseen world (Eph. 6:12). Our enemy is the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to attack (1 Pet. 5:8). He wants believers to be ineffective.
Satan uses three strategies in his battle. First, he attacks God’s character and His control. From the beginning Satan misquoted God when he asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Gen 3:1-5). Then he denied that God had said they would surely die. He has denigrated God, Christ and the Bible throughout history.
Second, he prevents acceptance of the truth. Satan prevents others from accepting the truth by blinding their minds: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). In the parable of the sower, Satan “takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:12). He gives unbelievers a false sense of security. He is like an evil man who drugs his victims (Lk. 11:21).
Third, Satan promotes sin within our world. He “has been sinning from the beginning” (1 Jn. 3:8). Here are some of his weapons:
False beliefs: Satan deceives people so they believe lies, such as atheism, agnosticism, humanism and evolution (2 Th. 2:11). These often deny the reality of sin and evil.
False religions: In addition to denying the truth, Satan also promotes false religions, such as idolatry, the occult (Rev. 2:14) and all faiths not consistent with the Bible.
False lifestyles: Satan tempts people to follow the world’s sinful ways, including a self-centered lifestyle of pleasure, possessions, position and power (Mt. 13:22; 1 Jn. 2:15-17).
Demonic leaders: Satan uses powerful rulers for his ends. The Roman emperor Nero persecuted believers in the early Church. Some nations persecute Christians today. The anti-christ will persecute them in the future (2 Th. 2:3-12).
Destabilized society: Satan works to destabilize God’s plan for government, law and order (Rom. 13:1-2). He also works to breakdown marriages and families. God hates his activities (Mal. 2:16).
Satan also uses many strategies to divert believers from following the Lord (Lk. 14:27). Here are some of them: discrediting the Bible (Lk. 4:1-13); tempting them to lie, to lust, to seek human wisdom (Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 7:5; Mt. 16:23); pride (1 Pet. 5:5); doubt (Gen. 3:1-5); discouragement and depression (1 Pet. 5:7); denial (Lk. 22:31,57); division (Eph. 4:3; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:4; 6:6-7); false doctrine (1 Tim. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:1); false leaders (2 Cor. 11:13-15); persecution (2 Cor. 11:23-25). Satan reminds God of our sins and imperfections (Rev. 12:10). But Christ, “speaks to the Father in our defense” (1 Jn. 2:1).
Christians are told to “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:9-10). To withstand Satan we need to do four things: recognize, remember, resist and respond.
First, we need to recognize that our struggle is not against humans but against Satan and his demons in the unseen world (Eph. 6:12). We are warned to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:9). Many think that Satan is a myth, but we know he is real. That is why we must stay awake and be on our guard against him.
Second, we need to remember that while Satan and his demons are always on the prowl, Christ is already the victor. He is all powerful and has already defeated and judged Satan. He controls all things and cares for us. We also need to remember our position: seated with Him in heaven (Eph. 2:6). His work is finished and we are secure. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). And Christ prays for our protection from Satan (Jn. 17:15).
Third, we need to resist Satan and his tricks. “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes … stand your ground … stand firm” (Eph. 6:11,13,14). “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Our resistance needs to be active. This is war! Satan wants us to have a false sense of peace, but we are really on the front line. If we sleep, Satan will have us for breakfast!
Fourth, we need to respond, not with physical weapons, but with “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). Our spiritual weapons are listed in Ephesians 6:13-18. “Put on the full armor of God … the belt of truth … the breastplate of righteousness … your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace … the shield of faith … the helmet of salvation … the sword of the Spirit. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” to headquarters. To overcome the enemy, we need to be in constant communication with our Leader.
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
See the other article in this series:
– 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