Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Angels: Satan)

Satan’s Reality

Satan’s Character

Satan’s History

Satan’s Power

Satan’s Schemes

Satan’s Servant Role

A Christian’s Defense

Satan’s Judgments

Satan’s Reality

The fact of Satan’s existence can be neither proven nor disproven by philosophical reasoning alone. Nevertheless, the incontrovertible existence of evil must have an actual perpetrator. Experiential claims by themselves cannot prove Satan’s reality because they lack any objective standard by which the alleged experiences might be validated.

However, a reliable historical account of human history would serve to establish the factuality of Satan if the author were credible. Actually, one such book exists—the Bible, whose author is the God of creation, the originator of truth without error, and the Creator of Satan. Thus, the Bible is the Christian’s only unimpeachable witness to the actual existence of Satan.

BASIC FACTS

The revelation of Satan’s existence is found in only eight Old Testament books, yet it is completely consistent with the more frequent references in the New Testament. The Hebrew word for Satan basically means “adversary” or “one who opposes.” Of the 27 Old Testament occurrences, 18 refer directly to Satan (once in 1 Chronicles 21; 14 times in Job 1–2; 3 times in Zechariah 3), while 9 refer to adversaries other than Satan. Additionally, 2 Corinthians 11:3 and Revelation 12:9; 20:2 testify to Satan’s reality in Genesis 3, where he is disguised as a serpent. First Kings 22:21–22 and 2 Chronicles 18:20–21 refer to him as “a lying spirit.” Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 allude to Satan as the power behind the kings of Babylon and Tyre, respectively.

On the other hand, New Testament references abound. The terms translated “Satan” or “devil” refer to “the evil one” on 74 occasions. Every New Testament writer mentions him, and he appears in nineteen New Testament books (Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, Titus, Philemon, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John excepted). An amazing 28 of 30 references in the Gospels involve either direct encounters with or mentions of Satan.

BASIC CHARACTERISTICS

Satan exhibits the three basic characteristics associated with personhood: intellect, emotion, and will. With his intellect, he tempted Christ (Matt. 4:1–11) and schemes against Christians (2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11; 1 Tim. 3:7; 2 Tim. 2:26). Emotionally, he exhibits pride (1 Tim. 3:6) and anger (Rev. 12:12, 17). The Devil also exercises his will against Christians (Luke 22:31; 2 Tim. 2:26).

Five additional personal qualities complete an elementary profile of this lying and murderous adversary. First, he is a created angel. According to Paul, God created all things (Col. 1:16), which includes angels. God’s response to Job equates “morning stars” with “sons of God” (Job 38:4–7; cf. 1:6; 2:1), the first-created angelic ranks who sang and rejoiced over the remainder of creation. The evil power behind the King of Tyre is referred to as the “anointed guardian cherub” (Ezek. 28:14, 16) who was created (Ezek. 28:13, 15). Originally created as a chief angel at the level of Michael the archangel (Jude 9), Satan now rebelliously leads a band of evil angels (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 12:9). Although he is an angel of darkness, he disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

Second, Satan is a spirit being (1 Kings 22:21–23; 2 Chron. 18:20–22; Eph. 2:2), although he appears at times like a physical person (Matt. 4:3–11), just like the holy angels (Mark 16:5). Whereas the writer of Hebrews refers to angels as “ministering spirits” (Heb. 1:14), Christ characterized demons as “unclean” (Luke 4:36) and “evil” (Luke 8:2) spirits. Such would also be true of the prince of demons.

Third, Satan possesses an extraordinary mobility. Both Job 1:7 and Job 2:2 portray Satan as “going to and fro on the earth,” as does 1 Peter 5:8, which refers to Satan as one who “prowls around” the world. Fourth, Satan can function both in heaven (1 Kings 22:21–22; Job 1–2; Rev. 12:10) and on earth (Matt. 4:3–11). Finally, God will hold Satan morally responsible in the end for his treacherously evil deeds (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).

BASIC CONTRASTS

The theological understanding of Satan reflects a studied contrast with the Lord Jesus Christ (see table 8.1). This surprises no one, since Christ is the Creator and Satan a mere creature.

Satan’s Character

Becoming acquainted with Satan requires a review of his various names and titles. Satan (“adversary”) and Devil (“slanderer”) are by far the most frequent terms used of Satan, but several others also warn of Satan’s intentions and activities. The following twenty-nine attributions offer glimpses into his diabolical character:

       1.    Abaddon (Rev. 9:11): This transliterated Hebrew word is normally associated with death and destruction in the six Old Testament texts where it appears (Job 26:6; 28:22; 31:12; Ps. 88:11; Prov. 15:11; 27:20). Abaddon and its Greek counterpart, Apollyon, refer to Satan as the angelic king with dominion over demons in the bottomless pit in Revelation 9:1. See “Angel of the bottomless pit,” “Apollyon,” “Beelzebul,” “Evil One,” “God of this world,” “King,” “Prince of the power of the air,” “Ruler of this world,” and “Star” below.

Table 8.1 Satan and Christ Contrasted

Satan  Christ  
temporal  eternal  
darkness  light  
death  life  
liar  truth  
counterfeit  authentic  
evil  righteous  
enemy  friend  
strong  strongest  
imprisons  releases  
accuses  advocates  
imitates  originates  
devious  honest  
oppresses  relieves  
slanders  intercedes  
prideful  humble  
enslaves  liberates  
sinful  holy  
destructive  constructive  
thief  benefactor  
hates  loves  
debilitates  heals  
murderer  Savior  

       2.    Accuser (Zech. 3:1; Rev. 12:10): Satan acts as the prosecuting attorney in heaven before God, as the one accusing (Heb. satan; Gk. katēgorōn) the high priest of Israel, Joshua (Zech. 3:1), and Christians (Rev. 12:10) of being unworthy of God’s grace in redemption and service. While some have identified the “accuser” in Psalm 109:6 as Satan, the context (109:4, 20, 28) seems to refer to David’s human accusers.

       3.    Adversary (1 Pet. 5:8): Satan’s adversarial role (Gk. antidikos) of opposing believers in Christ is portrayed as a ferocious, roaring lion stalking prey. See “Enemy” and “Satan” below.

       4.    Angel of the bottomless pit (Rev. 9:11): Much as Michael is the archangel of heaven (Rev. 12:7), so Satan is the “king” of the Abyss. There are demons on earth who do not want to go there (Luke 8:31). There are other demons in the Abyss who will be released by Satan for a short time (Rev. 9:1–2, 11). Some demons have been confined there for a considerable portion of human history and will not be released until the final judgment (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6), when they will be cast into the lake of fire with Satan and the rest. During Christ’s millennial kingdom reign on earth, Satan will be imprisoned in the Abyss (Rev. 20:1–6). See “Abaddon” above and “Apollyon” below.

       5.    Apollyon (Rev. 9:11): This name represents the Greek parallel to the Hebrew Abaddon, best translated “destroyer.” It appears only once in the New Testament. See “Abaddon” and “Angel of the bottomless pit” above and “Beelzebul,” “King,” and “Star” below.

       6.    Beelzebul (Matt. 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15): Jewish leaders accused Christ of casting out demons by the power of the leader (Gk. archōn) of the demons, whose name meant “lord, prince” and who had originally been the pagan Philistine patron deity of the coastal city Ekron (2 Kings 1:2–3). After arguing that Satan would not oppose demons because that would be self-defeating, Jesus acknowledged that while Satan was strong (Luke 11:21), he himself was far stronger (Luke 11:22) and would prevail. See “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” above and “Evil One,” “God of this world,” “King,” “Prince of the power of the air,” “Ruler of this world,” and “Star” below.

       7.    Belial (2 Cor. 6:15): This transliterated Hebrew word appears twenty-seven times in the Old Testament (see Deut. 13:13; Judg. 19:22; 1 Sam. 2:12; 1 Kings 21:13; Prov. 6:12) and refers to vile, wicked, and worthless scoundrels and troublemakers. It is quite possible that Nahum 1:15 uses this word to refer to Satan. Certainly, Paul intended the term to portray Satan as the most vile, wicked, and worthless creature, without peer or superior.

       8.    Devil (see Matt. 4:1–Rev. 20:10): This word appears thirty-eight times in the New Testament, referring to Satan in thirty-four instances. It is the second-most-used term for Satan in the Bible. In the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, Devil (diabolos) is used to refer to Satan in Job 1–2, where the Devil slanderously accuses Job of less-than-noble motives for serving God. He also slanders Joshua, the Jewish high priest (Zech. 3:1). The ultimate slander, however, is of God when Satan tells Eve that she will not die, even though God has said that death will be certain if she eats the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:4). Satan slanders both God to man and man to God.

       9.    Dragon (Isa. 27:1; Rev. 12:3, 7, 9; 20:2): John employs the figure of an apocalyptic monster thirteen times in Revelation 12; 13; 16; and 20 to picture Satan. This word (Gk. drakōn) unmistakably refers to Satan since both Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 identify the “dragon” as “the serpent of old,” “the devil,” and “Satan.” See “Leviathan” and “Serpent” below.

     10.    Enemy (Matt. 13:25, 28, 39; Luke 10:19): In the parable of the tares, Christ tells of the enemy (Gk. echthros), who planted darnel, a wheat-like weed, in the wheat field. Matthew 13:39 identifies the enemy as the Devil. See “Adversary” above and “Satan” below.

     11.    Evil One (Matt. 5:37; 6:13; 13:19, 38; John 17:15; Eph. 6:16; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 John 2:13–14; 3:12; 5:18–19): Apart from Satan and Devil, the Evil One (Gk. ponēros) is the third-most-frequent appellation used. Evil stands in contrast to righteousness (Gk. dikaiosynē) since Satan stands in diametrical contrast to Christ. The whole world lies in the power of the Evil One (1 John 5:19). See “Abaddon,” “Apollyon,” and “Beelzebul” above and “God of this world,” “King,” “Prince of the power of the air,” “Ruler of this world,” and “Star” below.

     12.    Father of lies (John 8:44): Not only is Satan a perpetual liar, he is the originator of lies. The Devil, by deceiving Eve (Gen. 3:1–6; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14) into disobedience, has in a sense fathered the entire human race, characterized by lies, sinful children who walk in the footsteps of their primogenitor (Rom. 3:10–11, 13). This family imagery continues in Acts 13:10, where Paul calls Elymas the sorcerer a “son of the devil,” making crooked the straight paths of the Lord. John similarly identifies all who do not practice righteousness or love their brother as “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10). The “weeds” in Matthew 13:38 are branded “sons of the evil one,” that is, false believers. The Antichrist is called “the son of destruction” (2 Thess. 2:3), with “destruction” alluding to Satan as Abaddon (see above). The same is true of Judas (John 17:12). See “Liar” and “Lying spirit” below.

     13.    God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4): By God’s sovereign ordinance, Satan is the superior power but not the deity (Gk. theos, as per Ps. 82:6 [Septuagint]; John 10:33–36) of this age (1 John 5:19). This title comes by virtue of his position, not his nature. It all began in Eden and will continue this way until the curse is reversed (Rev. 22:3). Satan is ultimately behind all false religions (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). See “Abaddon,” “Apollyon,” “Beelzebul,” and “Evil One” above and “King,” “Prince of the power of the air,” “Ruler of this world,” and “Star” below.

     14.    King (Rev. 9:11): In context, Satan is the king over demons, just as he is the “prince of the demons” in Matthew 12:24. See “Abaddon,” “Apollyon,” and “Beelzebul” above and “Star” below.

     15.    Leviathan (Isa. 27:1): See “Dragon” above and “Serpent” below.

     16.    Liar (John 8:44): Christ is the truth (John 14:6), and Satan is the prevaricator. All of Satan’s messages and activities are built on global deceit (Rev. 12:9; 20:3, 8, 10). Satan is the “lying spirit” of 1 Kings 22:22–23 and 2 Chronicles 18:21–22. Elymas the magician was full of deceit and was thus called a “son of the devil” (Acts 13:10). This liar rules over deceitful spirits spreading the teaching of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). His first act of treason with humans was to deceive Eve (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14). He disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). From the beginning (Genesis 3) to the end (Revelation 20), Satan has opposed the truth of God with the lies and deceits of hell. See “Father of lies” above and “Lying spirit” below.

     17.    Lucifer (Isa. 14:12): Tradition, especially visible in the KJV/NKJV translations, has popularized this title. Literally, the Hebrew word (helel) is best translated as “light bearer” or “day star.” It seems more likely that this description is used in reference to the king of Babylon than to Satan in this context. Isaiah compared the king to a morning star heralding a new day but quickly giving way to the glory of the sun. See “Star” below.

     18.    Lying spirit (1 Kings 22:22–23; 2 Chron. 18:21–22): In keeping with Satan’s propensity to lie (John 8:44), God used him and four hundred lying demons to deceive Israel’s King Ahab to go into battle. As a result, Ahab was killed (1 Kings 22:37–38) according to God’s promise (1 Kings 21:17–26). Satan was used by God for a “strong delusion” (2 Thess. 2:11). See “Father of lies” and “Liar” above.

     19.    Murderer (John 8:44): Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning.” As a result of Satan’s lie to Eve, she ate of the tree, and God’s promise in Genesis 2:17 was fulfilled: “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Satan had poisoned Eve’s mind with lies so that she ate, and in eating, she immediately died—that is, she was spiritually separated from God. Later she would die physically, and apart from God’s redemptive grace, she would finally and eternally die to God. All her offspring followed in her footsteps, including Cain, who was of the Evil One and murdered his brother (1 John 3:12).

     20.    Prince of the demons (Matt. 9:34; 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15): See “Beelzebul” above.

     21.    Prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2): Satan rules over “the power” of demons, some of whom temporarily reside between God’s heaven and the earth. Paul expanded on this concept, writing about “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). See “Abaddon,” “Apollyon,” “Beelzebul,” “Evil One,” “God of this world,” and “King” above and “Ruler of this world” and “Star” below.

     22.    Roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8): See “Adversary” above.

     23.    Ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11): By God’s sovereign ordinance, Satan is the spiritual prince (Gk. archōn) of this world (Gk. kosmos). The term “world” is used here in the sense of the global system that is hostile to God under Satan’s dominion (1 John 5:19). This rulership began in Eden (Genesis 3) with evil results that will continue until the final judgment (Revelation 20). See “Abaddon,” “Apollyon,” “Beelzebul,” “Evil One,” “God of this world,” “King,” and “Prince of the power of the air” above and “Star” below.

     24.    Satan (Matt. 4:10–Rev. 20:7): This is the name used most often to refer to the Devil, appearing eighteen times in the Old Testament and thirty-six times in the New Testament. It basically means adversary, enemy, or opposition. From the time of Satan’s spiritual/moral fall (Isa. 14:12–14) to his final judgment (Rev. 20:7–10), Satan has been the chief initiator, instigator, and perpetrator of evil aggression both against and within the purposes and plans of God. See “Adversary” and “Enemy” above.

     25.    Serpent (Gen. 3:1, 4, 13–14; Isa. 27:1; 2 Cor. 11:3; Rev. 12:9; 20:2): Although the names Satan, Devil, and Evil One are not used in Genesis 3, the imagery of the crafty serpent of old (Gen. 3:1) is unmistakably identified with the Devil or Satan on four later occasions. See “Dragon” and “Leviathan” above.

     26.    Spirit (1 Kings 22:21–23; 2 Chron. 18:20–22; Eph. 2:2): Satan is clearly marked as a “spirit” in contrast to a human being.

     27.    Star (Rev. 9:1, 11): All angels are created beings (Neh. 9:6; Ps. 148:2, 5; Col. 1:16). Angels are pictured as stars (Job 38:7) who were created early in the creation sequence and sang praises throughout the following days. Unholy angels, that is, demons (or stars of heaven), were pressed into service by Satan (Rev. 12:4). Revelation 9:1 portrays Satan as a “star fallen from heaven” and 9:11 identifies him as “king” over demons, “the angel of the bottomless pit,” “Abaddon,” and “Apollyon,” (cf. Isa. 14:13). See “Abaddon,” “Apollyon,” “Beelzebul,” “Evil One,” “God of this world,” “King,” “Lucifer,” “Prince of the power of the air,” and “Ruler of this world” above.

     28.    Strong man (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21): While Jesus acknowledged that Satan was a “strong man” (Gk. ischyros), he asserted that he was stronger (Luke 11:22) and thus able to overpower the forces of evil that Satan ruled.

     29.    Tempter (Matt. 4:1, 3; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2, 13; 1 Cor. 7:5; 10:13; 1 Thess. 3:5): See “Father of lies,” “Liar,” and “Lying spirit” above.

Satan’s History

As we have seen, numerous biblical references to Satan, using a variety of names, titles, and descriptions, profile the Devil’s activities from the beginning of time to the end, but Scripture recounts very few specific historical events involving him. These few moments portray Satan either opposing God or focused on imitating God with counterfeits.

OPPOSING GOD

These limited scriptural references do not mean that the Devil has been dormant during the past two millennia. The few mentions are representative of a continued diabolical pattern involving the ever-active “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), who is constantly at work on earth during the present age. He not only “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8), but he is also involved in a host of other activities: he tells lies (John 8:44); he influences people to lie (Acts 5:3); he disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:13–15); he snatches the gospel from unbelieving hearts (Matt. 13:19; Mark 4:15; Luke 8:12); he holds unbelievers under his power (Eph. 2:2; 1 John 3:8–10; 5:19); he traps and deceives unbelievers, holding them captive to do his will (2 Tim. 2:26); he tempts believers to sin (1 Cor. 7:5; Eph. 4:27); he seeks to deceive the children of God (2 Cor. 11:3); he takes advantage of believers (2 Cor. 2:11); he seeks to destroy the faith of believers (Luke 22:31); he torments the servants of God (2 Cor. 12:7); he thwarts the progress of ministry (1 Thess. 2:18); and he wages war against the church (Eph. 6:11–17).

Much of Satan’s work is covert. But when the Lord Jesus appeared, he drew demons out of their hiding places within people. Satan and his demonic minions were most intensely engaged during Christ’s earthly ministry. Looking ahead, their maneuvering will reach a crescendo again during Daniel’s seventieth week, especially the last half. The following summary highlights individual satanic incursions over time.

Old Testament. Of the eleven Old Testament events, four (36 percent) deal with Satan’s creation, moral fall, deception of Eve, and the Edenic curse. Of the twenty-five total occasions in the whole Bible, these four in the Old Testament and six more in the New Testament refer to the beginning of time or the end of time (40 percent). The Old Testament events include the following:

       1.    Creation of Satan: beginning of creation (Neh. 9:6; Job 38:7; Ps. 148:2, 5; Ezek. 28:13, 15; Col. 1:16)

       2.    Moral fall of Satan: postcreation (Isa. 14:12–13; Rev. 12:4)

       3.    Deception of Eve: post–moral fall (Gen. 3:1–6; 2 Cor. 11:1–3; 1 Tim. 2:14; Rev. 12:9; 20:2)

       4.    Edenic curse: postdeception (Gen. 3:15; John 16:11; Rom. 16:20)

       5.    Accusing Job: ca. 2250 BC (Job 1–2)

       6.    Dispute with Michael: ca. 1405 BC (Jude 9)

       7.    Provocation of David: ca. 975 BC (1 Chron. 21:1)

       8.    Lying to Ahab: ca. 853 BC (1 Kings 22:1–40; 2 Chron. 18:1–34)

       9.    Influencing the king of Babylon: ca. 700–681 BC (Isa. 14:12–14)

     10.    Influencing the king of Tyre: ca. 590–570 BC (Ezek. 28:12–17)

     11.    Accusing the high priest: ca. 480–470 BC (Zech. 3:1–2)

Some have suggested that Psalm 82 relates to God’s rebuke of Satan’s or demons’ rulership. It seems best, however, to understand this psalm as involving God’s confrontation of earthly, human rulers because of (1) the nature of psalms; (2) the language being most naturally understood as human; and (3) Christ’s use of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34, which points to earthly human rulers, not spiritual beings.

New Testament. Of the fourteen New Testament events, five deal with Christ’s life from birth to crucifixion, and six describe the end of time, together accounting for nearly 80 percent of the New Testament entries. The New Testament events include the following:

       1.    Birth of Christ: ca. 5–4 BC (Rev. 12:4)

       2.    Temptation of Christ: ca. AD 27–28 (Matt. 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13)

       3.    Debilitating a woman: ca. AD 29–30 (Luke 13:16)

       4.    Sifting of Peter: ca. AD 30 (Luke 22:31)

       5.    Defection of Judas: ca. AD 30 (Luke 22:3; John 13:2, 27)

       6.    Influencing the lie of Ananias: ca. AD 31–32 (Acts 5:3)

       7.    Hindering Paul: ca. AD 51 (1 Thess. 2:18)

       8.    Inflicting Paul: ca. AD 55–56 (2 Cor. 12:7)

       9.    Final banishment from heaven: middle of Daniel’s seventieth week (Rev. 12:7–13)

     10.    Empowering the Antichrist and the False Prophet: middle of Daniel’s seventieth week (Rev. 13:2, 4)

     11.    Performing false signs: last half of Daniel’s seventieth week (Rev. 16:13–14)

     12.    Millennial incarceration: Christ’s millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:1–3)

     13.    Final battle: end of Christ’s millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:7–9)

     14.    Final judgment: end of Christ’s millennial kingdom (Isa. 27:1; Rev. 20:10)

IMITATING GOD

Satan operates as the unrivaled master of disguise (Gk. metaschēmatizō, 2 Cor. 11:13–15). He makes the bad appear good. He decorates sinful behavior to look righteous. His lies sound attractively better than the truth. He compellingly preaches the perversion that wrong is right and right is wrong. He remains the messenger of darkness while masquerading as an angel of light. He falsely gives a polished appearance of authenticity to all that is spiritually counterfeit.

The Devil substitutes the worldly things that give people instant pleasure for the holy things that bring God eternal glory. He camouflages his diabolical lies to be so appealing to people that they reject God’s truth. He elevates thoughts about self to such a height that people then worship the creature rather than God the Creator (Rom. 1:25).

Satan mimics and imitates the holy things of God, while all along, his cheap substitutes continue as the abominable things of the prince of darkness. Preachers during the Reformation period called Satan “God’s ape,” who mimicked God by disguising the false to appear genuine, thus luring sinners to himself and away from God.

The major counterfeits of Satan listed in Scripture include the following:

       1.    The Trinity, as (1) dragon/Satan (Rev. 13:4), (2) Beast/Antichrist (Rev. 13:4), and (3) the False Prophet (Rev. 13:11; see 16:13)

       2.    The kingdom, but actually the “domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13 NASB)

       3.    Angels (Matt. 25:41; 2 Cor. 11:14; 12:7; Rev. 12:7)

       4.    The throne (Rev. 2:13)

       5.    Churches (Rev. 2:9; 3:9)

       6.    Worship (Rom. 1:25; Rev. 13:4) 7. Workers (2 Cor. 11:13, 15)

       8.    Christs (Matt. 24:5, 24; Mark 13:22; 1 John 2:18, 22)

       9.    Prophets (Matt. 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22; 2 Pet. 2:1)

     10.    Apostles (2 Cor. 11:13; Rev. 2:2)

     11.    Teachers (2 Pet. 2:1)

     12.    Believers (Matt. 13:38, 40; 2 Cor. 11:26; Gal. 2:4)

     13.    The gospel (Gal. 1:6–7)

     14.    Theology (1 Tim. 4:1)

     15.    Mysteries (2 Thess. 2:7; Rev. 2:24)

     16.    Miracles (Matt. 7:21–23; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 16:13–14)

     17.    Communion (1 Cor. 10:20–21)

Satan’s Power

Satan possesses the highest power of created beings, but his power does not begin to compare with God’s, who is omnipotent (Jer. 32:17), omniscient (Ps. 139:1–6), omnipresent (Ps. 139:7–10), immutable (Ps. 102:27), sovereign (1 Chron. 29:11–12), eternal (Ps. 90:2), immortal (1 Tim. 1:17), great (Ps. 135:5), and self-existent (Isa. 44:6). Satan possesses none of these divine attributes, which belong uniquely to the Creator.

Satan’s power can at least be equal to that of Michael the archangel (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7). No human being possesses the supernatural power that belongs to Satan. He is powerful in heaven (1 Kings 22:19–23; 2 Chron. 18:18–22; Job 1–2; Zech. 3:1–5; Rev. 12:7) and on earth (Job 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:8).

Satan clearly strategizes (Gk. noēma, 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:3). He is a master tactician (Gk. methodeia, Eph. 6:11). And he excels at deceiving and entrapping (Gk. planaō, Rev. 12:9; 20:8; pagis, 1 Tim. 3:7; 2 Tim. 2:26).

Satan rules (Gk. archōn) this world’s sinful system (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Eph. 6:12; Rev. 13:2, 4–5, 7). He is also “the prince of the power of the air,” that is, the ruler (Gk. archōn) over his demonic host (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 12:7, 9) who primarily dwell in the realm between earth and the third heaven. In heaven, Satan constantly accuses believers before God (Rev. 12:10). During the latter half of Daniel’s seventieth week, Satan will lend his power to do false signs and wonders by the hands of the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:9–10) and also by the False Prophet (Rev. 13:13–14) and demons (Rev. 16:13–14).

Satan has the power of death, but Christ has rendered him powerless for believers in Christ (Heb. 2:14). Satan has the power of deceit (2 Cor. 11:3, 14–15), but Christ has exposed him (2 Cor. 2:11) and destroyed the effect of his work (1 John 3:8). Satan has the power to imprison people (Rev. 2:10), but God’s Word cannot be imprisoned (2 Tim. 2:9). Satan can dwell in a city (Rev. 2:13), but only God can dwell within a believer (1 John 4:4). Satan has the power of personal accusation and defamation (Rev. 12:10), but Christ is the believer’s advocate at the right hand of God the Father (1 John 2:1), continually making intercession for those who believe (Rom. 8:33–34; Heb. 7:25). No power of Satan, regardless of how great, will separate a true believer from the love of God (Rom. 8:35–39). Satan is strong (Luke 11:21), but Christ is stronger (Luke 11:22).

God at times even limits Satan’s power (Job 1:6–12; 2:1–6). Christ rejected his power and authority (Matt. 4:1–11). Christ healed those who were oppressed by the Devil (Acts 10:38). Paul was empowered to enlighten the minds of unbelievers so that they would turn “from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). Believers can overcome his power (James 4:7; 1 John 2:13–14). Ultimately, the Devil’s power will be revoked permanently (1 Cor. 15:24; Rev. 12:9–10; 20:1–3, 7–10).

Satan’s Schemes

Satan has sinned (1 John 3:8), deceived (2 Cor. 11:3), and murdered from the beginning (John 8:44). While God stood for light, life, and truth, Satan represented darkness, death, and deceit. Satan’s modus operandi has been to deceive the entire world throughout all history, from the beginning with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1–24) to the end of time (Rev. 12:9; 20:3, 8).

Scripture uses three words to describe how Satan functions: (1) “snare” or “trap” (Gk. pagis), such as a hunter would use to capture and then kill an animal (1 Tim. 3:7; 2 Tim. 2:26); (2) “designs” or “strategies” (Gk. noēma), that is, the battle plan of a skilled military commander (2 Cor. 2:11); and (3) “schemes” or “specific tactics” (Gk. methodeia), which soldiers would execute in an actual battle (Eph. 6:11). Using lies and deceit, the Devil attempts to bring the world around to his perverted thinking and away from the pure truth of God.

Satan rules as the commanding general of the opposing army. He attempts daily to outwit or outthink believers in spiritual warfare. Deviousness colors Satan’s character and conduct. He is a guerilla warrior who disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). To make the battle more difficult, Satan wages an invisible spiritual war using the most deceitfully clever tactics ever devised. He stands committed to spiritual espionage. He appears as a friend on the outside, but inside he remains the deceiving enemy. His lying statements, garnished with truth, are poison to the soul. His servants falsely present themselves as advocates of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15).

While this all sounds daunting, even overwhelming, Paul writes to the Corinthians that we should “not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 2:11). Exploring the schemes of the Devil helps prepare us to resist him.

SATAN’S TARGET

Where does Satan aim his fiery darts (Eph. 6:16)? Paul gives a clear answer in 2 Corinthians 11:3: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

The Greek words translated “designs” in 2 Corinthians 2:11 and “schemes” in Ephesians 6:11 both refer to Satan’s manipulation of the mind. Satan plays mind games with Christians. Human minds are Satan’s chief target. The Christian’s thought life becomes the battlefield for spiritual conquest. This truth is reinforced by the Bible’s frequent statements on the importance of believers possessing spiritually strong minds (Matt. 22:37; Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:4; 10:5; Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:2; 1 Pet. 1:13).

Since Satan aims at the Christian’s mind, what does he want to accomplish? Before answering this significant question, consider two scriptures:

For as he thinks within himself, so he is. (Prov. 23:7 NASB)

As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. (Prov. 27:19)

Who one is on the inside determines who one is on the outside. Thus, Satan attempts to corrupt minds so he can corrupt lives. Satan’s chief activity in the lives of Christians is to cause them to think contrary to God’s Word and thus act disobediently to God’s will. The seventeenth-century Puritan preacher Thomas Watson put it this way: “This is Satan’s master-piece …; if he can but keep them from believing the truth, he is sure to keep them from obeying it.”

Every military leader devours intelligence reports on the enemy before he enters battle. The intelligence report on Satan is in the Bible. Therefore, ignorance of the enemy will never be a valid excuse for defeat. God has given Christians a decided edge in the contest with advance information on the enemy.

SATAN’S FIERY DARTS

Satan will reach his goals by employing several well-chosen, unholy strategies in the Christian’s life. Satan has four major objectives against the Christian. If he can accomplish one or more, he is moving toward his goals. It is important to understand these objectives, because Satan’s attacks will fall under one or more of these four broad areas.

First, Satan will attempt to distort or deny the truth of God’s Word. That’s how Satan tripped up Peter in Matthew 16. Jesus had earlier called Satan’s bluff, however, and the Devil failed in his attempt on Christ (Matt. 4:1–11). Satan will even deny unbelievers access to the Word of God, as illustrated by the seed falling on hard ground in Christ’s parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3–4, 18–19).

Second, Satan will try to discredit the testimony of God’s people. This strategy succeeded with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11). Satan has also tried it on Christian leaders (1 Tim. 3:7).

Next, by depressing or destroying the believer’s enthusiasm for God’s work, Satan will assault one’s soul. The roaring lion of hell attempted this on both Paul (2 Cor. 12:7–10) and Peter (Luke 22:31–34).

Fourth, if Satan can dilute the effectiveness of God’s people, he will be moving toward his goals. David (1 Chron. 21:1–8) knew the pain inflicted with this type of attack, as have new converts to the faith (1 Tim. 3:6).

For each strategy, Satan employs a variety of tactics or specific spiritual warfare techniques to achieve victory. The Bible identifies over twenty tactics in the historical narratives and teaching portions of Scripture. If believers think as God thinks and thwart the schemes of Satan, he will not take advantage of them. Victory is promised if Christians let the Word of God richly dwell within them (Col. 3:16).

The Bible exposes the devilish mindsets that Satan has attempted to foist on various people throughout time. Note carefully that they are all very much a part of current secular thinking. The tactics of Satan as revealed in the Bible are listed below and personalized, organized under the Devil’s four major strategies. For each poisonous tactic designed to deceive, the antidote of God’s truth is given.

The Adversary’s First Strategy. Satan will attempt to distort or deny the truth of God’s Word.

       1.    Sensualism: Attractiveness and desirability have replaced God’s Word as my standard for determining God’s best in my life (Gen. 3:1–6).

God’s Mind: 2 Timothy 3:16–17

       2.    Sensationalism: I believe that immediate success is more desirable than success in God’s time (Matt. 4:1–11).

God’s Mind: 1 Corinthians 1:18–25

       3.    Universalism: Because we live together in the same world with the same kind of imperfections, we will live together in eternity (Matt. 13:24–30).

God’s Mind: John 1:12–13; 3:36; 5:24

       4.    Rationalism: I will substitute human reason for simple childlike faith anchored in the Word of God (Matt. 16:21–23).

God’s Mind: Isaiah 55:9

       5.    Existentialism: I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul (2 Cor. 4:4).

God’s Mind: John 3:16–21

       6.    Illusionism: I believe that everything that appears or claims to be of God is of God without further investigation (2 Cor. 11:13–15).

God’s Mind: Deuteronomy 13:1–5; 1 John 4:1–4

       7.    Ecumenism: I believe that all sincere religions involve valid expressions of worshiping the true God (Rev. 2:9; 3:9).

God’s Mind: Acts 4:12

       8.    Humanism: I alone can defeat Satan without God’s help (Jude 9).

God’s Mind: John 15:5

The Adversary’s Second Strategy. Satan will try to discredit the testimony of God’s people.

       1.    Situationalism: I believe that God’s Word is flexible enough to bend when I judge that the situation demands it (Acts 5:1–11).

God’s Mind: Psalm 119:89

       2.    Individualism: My chief marriage responsibility is to satisfy myself, not my partner (1 Cor. 7:1–5).

God’s Mind: Ephesians 5:22–25

       3.    Isolationism: My reputation will have an effect on no one else but me (1 Tim. 3:7).

God’s Mind: 2 Samuel 12:14; 1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:5

       4.    Hedonism: Because God has removed my home responsibilities, I am free to satisfy myself while the church supports me (1 Tim. 5:14–15).

God’s Mind: 2 Thessalonians 3:10

The Adversary’s Third Strategy. Satan will seek to depress or destroy the believer’s enthusiasm for God’s work.

       1.    Materialism: I prize material and physical blessings more highly than my spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ (Job 1:1–2:13).

God’s Mind: Matthew 6:33

       2.    Defeatism: Because I have failed, I am no longer useful in the King’s service (Luke 22:31–34).

God’s Mind: Psalm 32:1–7

       3.    Negativism: My weakness prevents me from being effective for God (2 Cor. 12:7–10).

God’s Mind: Philippians 4:13

       4.    Pessimism: The difficult circumstances in my life cause me to doubt that I will ever accomplish anything significant for God (1 Thess. 2:17–3:2).

God’s Mind: Psalm 37:23–24

The Adversary’s Fourth Strategy. Satan will aim to dilute the effectiveness of God’s people.

       1.    Egotism: I will attribute what I am or what I will achieve to my own accomplishments rather than to God’s activities in my life (1 Chron. 21:1; 1 Tim. 3:6).

God’s Mind: Jeremiah 9:24–25; 1 Peter 5:6

       2.    Nominalism: Because I am saved and my sins are forgiven, my present lifestyle is unimportant (Zech. 3:1–5).

God’s Mind: 1 John 2:1–6

       3.    Cultism: My salvation will be based on works rather than on faith in Jesus Christ (Luke 22:3–6).

God’s Mind: Ephesians 2:8–9

       4.    Uniformitarianism: My relationship with trespassing believers will remain the same despite their repentance and change of heart toward God (2 Cor. 2:5–11).

God’s Mind: Ephesians 4:32

       5.    Assertivism: It is healthy for me to vent my anger frequently for lengthy periods of time (Eph. 4:26–27).

God’s Mind: James 1:19–20

THE PROTOTYPICAL ASSAULT

The most massive and far-reaching assault Satan ever launched was the initial one on Adam and Eve. Although it involved only two people, the episode affected the entire human race throughout all time, as everyone since then has been born dead in sin (Eph. 2:1–3). That is why Jesus referred to Satan as “the father of lies” and a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). This was the mediate or indirect cause of all sin, which leads to the immediate or present course of contemporary sinful activity.

That greatest of all hoaxes with the most devastating effect on humanity is recorded in Genesis 3. Satan, the master of deceit, conned Eve into rejecting God’s truthfulness and then acting independently of him. The first parents, Adam and Eve, were deceived by the Devil’s trickery, and every person thereafter has suffered the consequences. The five aspects of that assault have constituted Satan’s prototypical method for attacking humanity ever since.

Disguise. In Genesis 3:1, Satan arrived, craftily disguised as a serpent. The word “crafty” can be used positively or negatively. From the context here, it is used in a negative sense. The same word is used in Joshua 9:4 of the Gibeonites, crafty people, who tricked Joshua and the leadership of Israel. In the same way, Satan came disguised as a serpent to Eve.

Dialogue. Satan spoke to the woman. At first glance, it seemed like an innocent, religious discussion, but Satan was out to deceive. Satan in effect said, “Just one question, Eve. I want to make sure I have it right. Did God really say you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” What she did not know was that she was doing battle with the greatest guerrilla fighter ever.

By the end of Genesis 3:1, Satan used three tactics on Eve that later proved fatal. First, he divided in order to conquer. He did not take Adam and Eve on as husband and wife. He singled out Eve, and he entered into an apparently innocent dialogue with her. This points to the high premium God places on the oneness of husband and wife, because they strengthen, encourage, edify, and build up one another.

Second, he surprised Eve with an unscheduled and obviously spectacular encounter. That is, he did something that was so surprising and unexpected that it threw her off balance. Eve at this moment was not practicing the presence of God, for had she been, she would surely have understood the danger.

Third, he made a seemingly innocent inquiry. He came with an apparent need to know what God had said. The Hebrew construction, though, suggests that the question he asked was not a research question but rather a question of ridicule. It might be better phrased, “Is it really true that God has said …?” A modern-day paraphrase would be, “You’ve got to be kidding, Eve. God didn’t really say you can’t eat from any tree in the garden, did he?”

Doubt. This question is easy to answer because the answer is recorded in Genesis 2:16–17. God didn’t say that they couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden. As a matter of fact, God created a pristine environment for them to live in; everything was absolutely perfect. There was only one prohibition.

However, in her paraphrase of God’s original words, Eve had begun in her own mind to question the certainty of death and judgment. One can see the masterful stroke of Satan, who planted a seed of doubt and watched Eve cultivate it. Soon, it became a blatant denial of the truthfulness, applicability, and trustworthiness of God.

Denial. In Genesis 3:4–5, Satan fed Eve five lies disguised by partial truth. The first lie claimed that Eve would not die. As the Hebrew text highlights, Satan very emphatically denied that eating from the forbidden tree would result in death. The truth of the matter is that when they ate, they did not die immediately in a physical sense. However, they did immediately die spiritually in their relationship with God. Death means separation. Adam and Eve thought only in the physical realm. Nonetheless, when they ate, they were spiritually separated from God by their sin. That spiritual death led them to their later physical death.

The second lie can be inferred from Genesis 3:4. Satan implied that if God said they would die but they did not, then God’s word was unreliable. If it was unreliable, then there was no good reason to believe or live by it. With doubt rapidly translating into denial, Eve moved decisively to abandon the authority of God’s word. In so doing, she changed the course not only of her life and her family but of the whole human race.

Then came the third lie: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Most of what Satan said was true, but he left out one important fact. Adam and Eve were not unchangeably holy in nature like God. Rather, they were susceptible to sin if disobedience was a part of their life. They disobeyed and ate of the fruit. They sinned and God judged. They were cursed along with the Serpent and the world. Ever since then, all humanity has been cursed with sin. They and everyone else have known “good” and “evil” by experience. The ultimate intent of Satan’s lie was to humanize God and deify man, to say that God can become like man and man can become like God. That lie still exists in many cults today.

The fourth lie also appears in Genesis 3:5. Satan tried to pry open the mind of Eve with the thought that God wished to jealously maintain his uniqueness, that he wanted to maintain his deity and not share it with anyone. Satan implied that this was bad, not good. Further, God was not really protecting man’s sinlessness by his prohibition; rather, he was protecting his deity.

A final untruth has proven to be the lie among lies: “I, Satan, have your best interest at heart. Believe me, not God.” That is the bottom line in this discussion. In all five lies, Satan has woven together an immense assault to pummel Eve with the thought that God’s Word is untrue and unreliable and that, therefore, she ought to follow the desires of her own heart rather than the dictates of God’s Word.

Deliberation. The scientific method did not surface in the nineteenth century. It did not originate with the industrial revolution. Rather, its roots go back to Genesis 3, when Eve concluded that the only way that she could decide whether God was right or wrong was to test him with her mind and senses. Autonomous empirical research originated with Eve in Eden.

Paul put it this way in Romans 1:25, speaking of those who would follow the path of Eve and then Adam: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” By this time Eve had basically bought into the lies of Satan and believed that she now had a choice. Either she could choose to eat or she could choose to refrain. God’s Word was no longer authoritative; it no longer dictated what was right and wrong in her life. God’s Word was no longer binding, because all of a sudden, there were alternatives.

Genesis 3:6 describes Eve’s mental process: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Here appears the “scientific method”—autonomous empirical research in its infancy. Eve decided that she would run tests on the tree to see whether God or Satan was right.

She subjected the tree to a trio of tests, the first being that of physical value. She observed the tree, and in observing she saw that it was good for food. It had nutritional value (“the desires of the flesh,” 1 John 2:16).

Based on this positive response, she ran a second test. Eve discovered that it was a delight to the eyes (“the desires of the eyes,” 1 John 2:16). Not only would it benefit her body nutritionally, but it had emotional or aesthetic value. It was pleasing. It did not give her a bad sensation. To put it in modern language, she felt good about looking at the tree.

Eve wasn’t satisfied yet. She perhaps thought, “I’ll take it one step further.” With her third test, then, she looked and saw that the tree was desirable to make one wise. It had intellectual value. It would allow her to possess wisdom like God (“pride of life,” 1 John 2:16).

In the midst of Eve’s deliberation, she tested God. She saw that the tree really was good. It met her needs physically, aesthetically, and intellectually. That led to disobedience, for Eve rejected God’s instructions and took from its fruit and ate (Gen. 3:6).

The battle in Genesis 3 was first for the mind and then for the soul. It was to cause Eve to think contrary to the Word of God. When she bought into wrong thinking, she bought into wrong motives, wrong responses, and wrong actions. She bought into the scheme of sensualism, the attempt to make attractiveness and desirability replace truth as the metrics for determining God’s best in life. The implications of sensualism are incredibly important for a money-hungry, product-hungry, pleasure-seeking society.

Satan’s battle is first for the mind. He lures people to think his thoughts and then, through doubt and denial, to put the Word of God aside and to test life with their own senses, even if the conclusions convolute the truth of God.

Death. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Gen. 3:7). Adam and Eve’s minds were affected, and they suddenly perceived evil. They suddenly knew they were naked, and so they desired to cover up their nakedness. Before, when they were naked in the garden, all was pure, as Genesis 2:25 reports: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” But afterward they were naked and ashamed.

Guilt had entered the human race. “But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ ” (Gen. 3:9). God did not ask where they were because he did not know; he just wanted to alert Adam that he was there. “And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ And God said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ ” (Gen. 3:10–11). Evil had found them out. They were spiritually separated from God.

Conflict also arose between the man and woman. They began to blame each other: “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ ” (Gen. 3:12–13). Eve in effect responded, “It’s not my fault, don’t blame me, because the serpent deceived me and I ate.” She experienced great guilt.

Sin’s consequences stretch far beyond the one who sins. That is why the Word of God makes such a significant statement about holiness in the lives of believers (1 Pet. 1:14–16). The Word of God cites example after example of how sin committed by an individual or a couple can eventually affect whole nations.

Satan’s Servant Role

Satan has well earned his title of “adversary.” He has been the enemy of God ever since the garden incident. Usurping God’s sovereign authority remains the Devil’s chief objective. At times, it appears that “the god of this world” might overcome the God of creation and redemption. The history of his relentless opposition to God is chronicled from the snaring of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3) to the final assault on Christ’s earthly kingdom (Revelation 20).

However, God’s sovereignty has overruled and conquered the worst that Satan could execute. Thus, Paul wrote to the church in Rome that “all things work together for good” regarding true believers (Rom. 8:28) and then posed the question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). The answer in Romans 8:32–39 unequivocally guarantees that there is no one, not even Satan!

As a matter of fact, even Satan’s worst evil attacks will serve God’s best righteous purposes. At the human level, Joseph told his less-than-loving brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). The brothers were actually God’s servants. In the same way, Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan king of Babylon, carried out God’s purposes (Jer. 25:9; 43:10), as did the Persian king Cyrus (Isa. 44:28; 45:1). These powerful monarchs served God. And on at least fourteen occasions mentioned in Scripture, so did Satan or his demons.

JUDGES 9

God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. This divinely initiated act (Judg. 9:56–57) punished both sides for their idolatry and mass murder (9:1–22).

JOB 1–2

God gave Satan authority to touch all that Job had (possessions and family) but not Job himself (Job 1:12). Although Job lost his possessions and his children (1:13–19), he did not curse God. Rather, Job worshiped God. Then God granted Satan the authority to touch Job physically but not to kill him (2:6). Soon thereafter, Job suffered horribly (2:7–8). Although encouraged to do so by his wife, Job did not curse God or sin with his words (2:9–10). In both cases, Job honored God and proved wrong Satan’s accusations that Job had a merely self-serving loyalty to God. In the end, God doubly blessed Job for his sincere and Satan-tested fidelity to God (42:10).

1 SAMUEL 16

After God’s Spirit had departed from Saul (1 Sam. 16:14), on at least four occasions an evil or harmful spirit (demon) tormented Saul (16:14–16, 23; 18:10; 19:9). Only the harp playing of David brought Saul relief, thus causing him to love David greatly and to make him his armor bearer. As a result, at the appropriate time, David was in place to slay Goliath (17:26–49). Consequently, David found great favor with the people of Israel, especially Jonathan the son of Saul. All this then led to David becoming the king (2 Sam. 2:11; 5:4–5), which was God’s plan all along, here aided by one or more of Satan’s soldiers (Rev. 12:7).

1 KINGS 22 / 2 CHRONICLES 18

These two texts occasion the challenge of identifying the “lying spirit” (1 Kings 22:21–23) in a way that best accounts for the reality of false prophecy in 1 Kings 22:6. Satan appropriately fits this “spirit.” Demonic activity, superintended by God yet carried out by the agency of Satan, is the most probable and immediate dynamic behind this false prophecy. Some object that Satan is not omnipresent and could not affect all four hundred prophets simultaneously, but the answer to this objection centers on Satan’s role as ruler over demons (Matt. 25:41). This relationship and the known activities of Satan provide the most theologically consistent explanation for identifying “the spirit” as Satan and the demons as Satan’s workmen in the mouths of Ahab’s false prophets.

Satan’s influence on the four hundred prophets of Israel by the use of four hundred demons served God’s purposes in at least two ways. First, it proved Micaiah to be the authentic prophet because his negative words came true concerning Ahab, in contrast to the uniformly positive message from the four hundred false prophets. Second, the defeat and death of Ahab fulfilled God’s prophetic word from Elijah concerning Ahab’s death (1 Kings 22:37–38; cf. 21:17–19).

1 CHRONICLES 21 / 2 SAMUEL 24

1 Chronicles 21:1 states, “Then Satan stood up against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” David’s latter years lacked the glory and successes of his youth. He sinned in his involvement with Uriah and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11–12). Then came the conflict between Amnon and Absalom (2 Samuel 13), followed by Absalom’s revolt and David’s own eviction from the throne and capital city (2 Samuel 14–18). To top it all off, Sheba instituted a public slander campaign against the king (2 Samuel 20).

Even after all this, David believed that his success came more from his own ability than from God’s faithfulness to keep his promises to Israel. David seems to have felt he could take greater confidence in the size of his army than in the power of his God, especially in light of the pressure from the people.

The king thus called Joab, his nephew and the general of David’s army, and commanded him, “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report that I may know their number” (1 Chron. 21:2). David yielded to the pressure of the situation, the push of the people, and Satan’s relentless pounding. Joab responded to David’s request, “May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?” (1 Chron. 21:3). Joab strongly opposed the census, but the will of the king prevailed.

David bypassed two preventatives designed by God to avoid just such a disaster. First, David ran right past God’s principle of seeking multiple counselors:

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,

but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (Prov. 11:14)

For by wise guidance you can wage your war,

and in abundance of counselors there is victory. (Prov. 24:6)

Second, David failed to take God’s counsel. Perhaps he penned these words himself: “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue” (Ps. 33:16–17). David sinfully put his trust in himself and his army, not in God, who had delivered him so many times before. This is where Satan won the victory, where egotism dominated David’s thinking. God employed Satan (2 Sam. 24:1; cf. 1 Chron. 21:1) to test David’s humility, and the king failed miserably.

ZECHARIAH 3

On several occasions, Satan has stood before God in the heavenly courts claiming that God’s people are unworthy of the Lord. So he accused Job of sinful motives (Job 1:9–11; 2:4–5) and believers of being unworthy of salvation (Rev. 12:10–11). In Zechariah 3, he charged Israel with being unworthy to receive God’s blessing.

The scene is invested with a judicial character. Satan stood at the right side, the place of accusation under the law (cf. Ps. 109:6), and he accused Joshua, the high priest who came back to the land in the first group of exiles with Zerubbabel (cf. Ezra 3:2; 5:2; Hag. 1:1). That Joshua was representative of the nation is evident from (1) the emphasis on the nation in these visions, (2) the fact that the rebuke in Zechariah 3:2 is based not on Joshua but on God’s choice of Jerusalem, (3) the identification in Zechariah 3:8 of Joshua and his fellow priests as symbolic of future Israel, and (4) the reference to the land in Zechariah 3:9.

The malicious prosecuting adversary stood in the presence of the Lord to proclaim Israel’s sins and their unworthiness of God’s favor. The situation was crucial: if Joshua was vindicated, Israel would be accepted; if Joshua was rejected, Israel would be rejected. The outcome would reveal the entire plan of God for the nation. Israel’s hopes would either be destroyed or confirmed.

By using the phrase “filthy garments” (Zech. 3:3–4)—the most loathsome, vile term for filth, a reference to excrement—the prophet pictured the priesthood and the people’s habitual condition of defilement (Isa. 4:4; 64:6). This became the basis of Satan’s accusation that the nation was morally impure and unworthy of God’s protection and blessing.

God responded that although he would keep his promise to justify Israel and reinstate the nation as his priestly people to serve in his house, keep his courts, and have complete access to his presence—all based on his sovereign, electing love and not by merit or works of man—that would not be fulfilled until Israel was faithful to the Lord. The promise awaited the fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10–13:1. The Lord used the occasion of Satan’s accusations to declare that Israel had not forfeited the promises that God made to Abraham and David.

MATTHEW 4

God himself is never the immediate agent of temptation (James 1:13), but here—as in the book of Job—God ordains and uses satanic tempting to serve his sovereign purposes. Christ was tempted in all points of human weakness (Heb. 4:15; 1 John 2:16): Satan tempted him with “the desires of the flesh” (1 John 2:16; cf. Matt. 4:2–3), “the desires of the eyes” (1 John 2:16; cf. Matt. 4:8–9), and the “pride of life” (1 John 2:16; cf. Matt. 4:5–6).

When Satan says, “If you are the Son of God …” (Matt. 4:3, 6), the conditional “if” carries the meaning of “since” in this context. There was no doubt in Satan’s mind who Jesus was, but Satan’s design was to get him to violate the plan of God and employ the divine power that he had set aside in his humiliation (cf. Phil. 2:7).

All three of Jesus’s replies to the Devil were taken from Deuteronomy. The first one, from Deuteronomy 8:3, states that God allowed Israel to hunger, so that he might feed them with manna and teach them to trust him to provide for them. So the verse is directly applicable to Jesus’s circumstances and a fitting reply to Satan’s temptation that Jesus fulfill his desires of the flesh.

In the second case, Satan also quoted Scripture (Matt. 4:6; cf. Ps. 91:11–12)—but utterly twisted its meaning by employing a passage about trusting God to justify testing him. Christ replied (Matt. 4:7) with another verse from Israel’s wilderness experience (Deut. 6:16)—recalling the experience at Massah, where the grumbling Israelites put the Lord to the test, angrily demanding that Moses produce water where there was none (Ex. 17:2–7).

Finally, Christ cited Deuteronomy 6:13–14, again relating to the Israelites’ wilderness experiences. Christ, like them, was led into the wilderness to be tested (cf. Deut. 8:2). Unlike them, he withstood every aspect of that fierce test.

Satan’s failure to tempt Christ into sin proved at least three essential truths concerning Christ’s deity: Christ’s impeccability, Christ’s unswerving allegiance to the truth of God’s Word, and Christ’s superiority and authority over Satan.

LUKE 22

Satan demanded to sift Peter like wheat, and Christ granted his request (Luke 22:31). But Christ also prayed that Peter would recover, be spiritually strengthened by the experience, and be enabled to lead the disciples (22:32). While Peter could not imagine that he would ever fail Christ (22:33), Jesus stated emphatically that the disciple would shortly deny him three times (22:34).

After Peter denied Christ three times, he went out and wept bitterly (22:62). But a sense of God’s love, mercy, and grace must have stirred Peter because several days later, he was back in the fellowship of the disciples. The eleven reassembled after Christ’s crucifixion, and when the women reported Christ’s resurrection (24:10–11) to them, Peter, along with John, raced to the tomb to see if this could be true (24:12). Peter had faced up to his fall and thus could rejoin the disciples. The disciples openly welcomed him back, not only because of his honest admission but also because they knew from Christ’s words that Satan had set him up.

Peter was there when Christ appeared later that night as the disciples met behind locked doors (24:36–43). Peter could face the Savior because he had turned his back on his denial, admitted it, and returned as Christ had instructed him. Later on, Christ restored Peter to ministry. In the midst of a seaside breakfast, Jesus told Peter, “Feed my lambs.… Tend my sheep.… Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17). The Master reaffirmed his trust in Peter and his ability to minister.

As Paul’s thorn had two sides, one for Satan and another for God, so did Peter’s sifting. He was now prepared to understand both Satan’s fury, which nearly destroyed his ministry, and God’s power, which sustained him in the battle. It is not surprising, then, that on the day of Pentecost, Peter fearlessly stepped out as God’s chief spokesman. Peter stands as the dominant figure in establishing the church, as recorded in Acts 1–12.

JOHN 13

Satan served God in a most unusual and unexpected way in regard to Christ’s death. Before the Passover meal, Satan entered Judas (Luke 22:3–6; cf. John 13:2), who began to scheme with the chief priests about how to betray him. During the supper, Satan again entered Judas, whom Christ then dispatched to quickly carry out his treacherous scheme (John 13:27). God used Satan to initiate the early morning events that led to Christ’s death.

It is not surprising that Satan was involved, nor Judas. But this is the supreme example of God using Satan as his servant to be the catalyst for something that God had actually planned in eternity past. Amazingly, this case would result in believers being released from diabolical dominion in the kingdom of darkness:

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22–24)

ACTS 5

It is not shocking to read that “the father of lies” (John 8:44) filled the heart of Ananias to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Ananias had an accomplice—his wife, Sapphira. As a result, they were killed by God in front of the Jerusalem assembly (Acts 5:5, 10).

Why was God so severe? Why is he not so harsh with unbelievers who lie? Peter wrote that judgment begins first with the household of God (1 Pet. 4:17). Paul later warned the Corinthians that because they profaned the Lord’s Table, some were weak and sick, and a number had “died” by God’s hand of judgment (1 Cor. 11:29–30). John drew attention to the sobering fact that sin can lead to physical death (1 John 5:16).

God used Satan to indelibly etch the consequences of lying to God onto the minds and memories of those present (Acts 5:11), those who heard (5:5, 11), and unbelievers in the city (5:13). A new heightened level of fearing God came on everyone there and on all who have read about the incident since. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

1 CORINTHIANS 5

The Corinthian church had tolerated a man’s incestuous relationship with his stepmother (1 Cor. 5:5). Therefore, Paul delivered or handed over (Gk. paradidōmi; cf. Luke 24:20) this practitioner of extreme perversion to Satan—that is, the person was removed from the church (1 Cor. 5:13) to be treated as an unbeliever (cf. Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:14). The same is said of blasphemous Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20). Whether because of a perversion of holy behavior or of holy beliefs, Satan can serve God’s purposes in the realm of church discipline when repentance remains absent. Both cases carry a sense of positive hope that these people will eventually put their faith in Christ.

2 CORINTHIANS 12

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul described how his vision of the third heaven resulted in “a thorn … in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me.” On the one hand, God would use Satan’s messenger to keep Paul from pride. On the other hand, the Devil would work to deflate Paul’s faith with his sharpened thorn, which was actually a large, sharpened stake used to seriously injure or maim an enemy.

What is the thorn? Paul’s thorn is most commonly identified as a physical problem, since it is “in the flesh.” Malaria, epilepsy, headaches, or eye problems have all been suggested. However, following the Old Testament usage, several other possibilities strongly commend themselves. This figure of speech appears four times in the Old Testament (Num. 33:55; Josh. 23:13; Ezek. 28:24; Hos. 2:6). Three times it refers to people and once to life circumstances. As in Hosea 2:6, Paul’s thorn could have been the adverse circumstances he experienced while serving the Lord (2 Cor. 11:23–28). But in view of the majority Old Testament use and the context in 2 Corinthians, Paul’s thorn seems to be people who are “a thorn in the side” or “a pain in the neck,” very possibly because they are demon-possessed false teachers and unbelievers. Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim. 4:14), Hymaneaus with Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17–18), and Elymas (called by Paul a “son of the devil” in Acts 13:10) all qualify, as do the Corinthians themselves.

Satan meant the thorn for evil, yet God had ordained it and used it for good. Paul won both ways. It jolted him back to the reality best expressed by Peter: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties upon him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6–7).

Paul’s suffering drove him to prayer (1 Cor. 12:8). As Jesus prayed three times in Gethsemane, so Paul prayed. He prayed that the thorn—whether physical circumstances or people—would be removed. He saw it as hindering his ministry and the Lord’s cause. He needed a new dimension of understanding added by the Lord, who would use the satanic thorn for Paul’s spiritual profit with new levels of personal humility and reliance on God.

2 THESSALONIANS 2

God says that a time will come when he will send “a strong delusion” (2 Thess. 2:11; literally “a working of deceit”) by having the restrainer step aside (2:6–7) and by letting Satan’s undiluted and unchecked lying have its sway over all the earth (2:9–12). Satan will temporarily experience a greater freedom to give the people exactly what they want to believe, a lie (John 8:44; Rom. 1:25; 1 John 2:21). The populace will not be restrained (2 Thess. 2:7) from believing Satan’s ultimate deception—the lie that Antichrist is God and salvation is through him.

REVELATION 13

At the midpoint of Daniel’s seventieth week (Rev. 13:5), the satanic trinity will be introduced. This trio of evil characters includes Satan (the dragon of 13:2–4; cf. 12:9; 20:2), the Antichrist (the beast of 13:1–10), and the False Prophet (the “another beast” of 13:11–17). Satan enables the Antichrist with his adversarial powers (13:2, 4).

Global deception will continue for forty-two months (13:5) until Christ’s second coming (19:11–20:3) ends this diabolical dominion and King Jesus reigns for one thousand years (20:4–6). In all this, Satan functions as God’s servant by setting up the occasion for the triumphant advent of Christ and the inauguration of his millennial kingdom on earth.

In summary,

The Bible portrays Satan as an implacable enemy of God, whose designs on humanity are malicious; however, it does not represent Satan as God’s equal or as one who acts independently of divine control. In the prologue of Job, the oldest text that speaks of … Satan …, he is clearly pictured as one who is subordinate to God and who operates only within the parameters that God sets for him.… [T]his basic notion that Satan is under divine control appears repeatedly. This motif may stand in a certain degree of tension with the conception of Satan as a hostile force, but it is a persistent theme in the biblical record. Satan is an enemy of God, but he is also a servant of God.

A Christian’s Defense

GOD’S PROTECTION

The primary text that speaks of spiritual armor and weaponry is Ephesians 6:10–20, especially the whole armor of God (Gk. panoplia). Elsewhere, Paul also refers to armor of light (Rom. 13:12), weapons of righteousness (2 Cor. 6:7), and weapons of our warfare (2 Cor. 10:4).

The Belt of Truth. In Paul’s day, soldiers wore a tunic, a large square piece of material that had holes for the head and arms. It hung low and loose so that the soldier could cinch it around his waist with a belt. When he was ready to fight, he pulled the four corners of his tunic up through the belt, thus girding one’s loins. It provided the soldier with the mobility and flexibility he needed for hand-to-hand combat.

It was common for a Roman soldier to wear a strap over his shoulder that connected to the front and back of the belt. He attached his sword to the strap along with decorations or medals from battle. After a Roman soldier put on his belt, attached the strap, and hooked on his sword, he was ready to fight.

In the spiritual realm, Christians are to gird their loins with “truth” (Eph. 6:14). That can refer to the content of truth (i.e., Scripture) or to an attitude of truthfulness, sincerity, honesty, and integrity. Since Paul referred to Scripture as a spiritual weapon in Ephesians 6:17, it means that here he was referring to a Christian’s attitude. Believers who gird their loins with truth have a heart for the battle because of a commitment to Christ and his cause.

The Breastplate of Righteousness. Roman soldiers had different types of breastplates. Some were made of heavy linen strips that hung down very low. Pieces of metal or thin slices from the hooves and horns of an animal were hooked together and hung from the linen.

However, the most familiar type of breastplate was the molded metal chest plate that covered the vital areas of the torso from the base of the neck to the top of the thighs. The soldier needed to protect that area because much of the fighting was with a short sword (Gk. machaira) in hand-to-hand combat.

The breastplate covered two key areas: the heart and the vital organs, what the Jewish people referred to as “the bowels” (see Isa. 59:17; 1 Thess. 5:8). In Hebrew culture, the heart symbolically represented the mind or the thinking process (e.g., Prov. 23:7), while the bowels became a reference to the emotions because of the way they can affect one’s intestinal organs. The mind and emotions encompass everything that causes a person to act.

God has provided the breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14) to protect both the mind and emotions. What is this righteousness specifically? It is the practical, personal righteousness of a true believer that is born in him at regeneration and afterward strengthened by God the Spirit, so that a Christian becomes progressively more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Pet. 3:18).

Footwear of Readiness. In Paul’s day, the normal footwear for the Roman soldier was a thick-soled, hobnailed semiboot. Thick leather straps secured it to the foot. Little pieces of metal that protruded like spikes from the bottom of the sole gave the soldier firmness of footing so that he could stand in the battle, hold his ground, and make quick moves without slipping, sliding, or falling.

The soldier’s footwear provided not only sure footing but also protection for long marches covering tremendous amounts of terrain. In addition, the enemy commonly placed razor-sharp sticks in the ground for piercing the feet of the advancing soldiers. To protect themselves, soldiers wore boots with thick soles that couldn’t be pierced. Even the best soldier is rendered ineffective if his foot has been injured.

In spiritual warfare, it’s vital for the believer to be wearing the right kind of footwear. One can cinch up the waist with commitment and adorn the breastplate of holy living, but unless one has sure footing, there is a strong possibility of falling. So in Ephesians 6:15, Paul said that the feet are to be shod “with the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

Here, Paul is describing defensive armor, and when he writes of “readiness given by the gospel of peace,” he is speaking of having embraced the gospel. If one is outfitted with the good news of peace, the spiritual combatant is protected and will be enabled to withstand the enemy’s schemes (Eph. 6:11, 13).

The Shield of Faith. The Roman army used several kinds of shields. One was a small round shield that curled at the edges. A foot soldier would strap it to his forearm. It was light to allow the soldier greater mobility on the battlefield. In his other hand, he carried his sword so that the soldier could strike while he parried the blows of his opponent with his shield.

However, that is not the kind of shield Paul was referring to in Ephesians 6:16. Instead, he referred to a large, rectangular shield. This shield measured 4½ feet by 2½ feet. Made out of a thick plank of wood, it would be covered on the outside with either very thick metal or leather. The metal would deflect flaming arrows, while the leather would be treated to extinguish the fiery pitch on the arrows.

Spiritually speaking, when the flaming darts of the Evil One fly, a believer will be protected by raising the shield of salvific faith (Eph. 6:16; cf. Ps. 18:35). The shield will be so effective that the weapons of Satan will be extinguished, because well-equipped believers conquer overwhelmingly in the battle (Rom. 8:37).

The Helmet of Salvation. In Roman times, helmets were made out of two things: solid-cast metal or leather with patches of metal. The helmet protected the soldier’s head from arrows, but its primary function was to ward off blows from a broadsword. This sword (Gk. rhomphaia) was 3 to 4 feet long and had a massive handle that was held with both hands like a baseball bat. The soldier was to lift it over his head and bring it down on his opponent’s head. A helmet was necessary to deflect such a crushing blow to the skull.

In the spiritual realm, the believer must wear the helmet of salvation (Eph. 6:17). What does salvation here refer to? There are three possibilities: the past, present, or future aspects of salvation. Paul was not referring to the past aspect of salvation. He did not intend to say, “After girding one’s loins with truth, donning the breastplate of righteousness, shodding one’s feet with the gospel of peace, and taking up the shield of faith, one should—by the way—get saved.” Paul assumes that the past act of salvation is already a reality. Instead, he is referring to the present and future aspects of our salvation. It is both the assurance of God’s continuing work in the Christian life and the confidence in a full and final salvation to come. Paul elsewhere mentioned the helmet of salvation in 1 Thessalonians 5:8–9 (cf. Isa. 59:17).

The Sword of the Spirit. Paul wrote about “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17). The Greek word (Gk. machaira) refers to a dagger anywhere from 6 to 18 inches long. It was carried in a sheath or scabbard at the soldier’s side and could be used in hand-to-hand combat both defensively and offensively.

The sword of the Spirit, therefore, is not a broadsword (Gk. rhomphaia, see Rev. 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21) that one just flails around, hoping to do some damage. It is incisive; it must hit a vulnerable spot, or it won’t be effective. Elsewhere in Scripture, the Word of God is also referred to with this same Greek word (see Heb. 4:12).

The whole armor (Gk. panoplia) of God proves effective against the ploys of Satan. It is not optional but required. It is not partial but complete. It is not negotiable but commanded. With it, the believer will be strong (Eph. 6:10) and will be enabled to stand firm (Eph. 6:11, 13–14).

The Arsenal of Prayer. All six pieces of spiritual armor can be classified as primarily defensive in nature. Now Paul turns to the most effective offensive resource available—prayer (Eph. 6:18). He outlines six characteristics:

       1.    “At all times” speaks to frequency and duration.

       2.    “In the Spirit” refers to one’s submission to the will of God’s Spirit.

       3.    “All prayer and supplication” puts all varieties of prayer in play.

       4.    “Keep alert” demands constant focus on the situation at hand.

       5.    “All perseverance” is necessary in both positive and negative moments.

       6.    “All the saints” can include praying with regard to self and for other believers.

Prayer power represents the most effective weapon in the believer’s spiritual armory and is to be employed as Paul instructed.

GOD’S PROVISIONS

The New Testament frequently reminds the reader that God has provided multiple means by which a Christian can be victorious over Satan in this life. The following ten provisions focus on the most important and encouraging truths found in the Bible to this end.

The Savior’s Victory at Calvary. The ruler of this world will be cast out (John 12:31). Through his death, Christ will destroy the Devil, the one who has the power of death (Heb. 2:14). Believers have conquered the accuser of the brethren by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 12:11).

The Overcomer’s Promise. Believers will ultimately overcome the Evil One and his world system (1 John 2:13; 5:4–5).

Christ’s Intercessory Prayer. Jesus, in his High Priestly role in the upper room, prayed that the Father would keep believers from the Evil One (John 17:15, 20; see 10:28–29).

Christ’s Protection. All true believers will be protected by Christ so that the Evil One cannot do eternal harm to them (1 John 5:18).

The Spirit’s Indwelling Power. Believers will overcome Satan because the power of the Holy Spirit within is greater than the power of the Devil without (1 John 4:4).

The Knowledge of Satan’s Schemes. God has forewarned believers of Satan’s evil plans in Scripture so that Christians can be prepared when the spiritual battle erupts (2 Cor. 2:11; 1 Pet. 5:8).

The Believer’s Prayer. Christ’s model prayer urged believers to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13). Paul commanded believers to be in constant prayer for victory over the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12, 18).

Biblical Instructions for Defeating Satan. First, submit yourselves to God (James 4:7a) and draw near to God, knowing that he will also draw near to you (James 4:8). Second, resist the Devil and he will flee (James 4:7b; 1 Pet. 5:9).

Shepherds Who Strengthen and Encourage the Church. Pastors are to establish and exhort the flock of God in the faith (1 Thess. 3:2), so that the tempter will fail with his temptations (1 Thess. 3:5).

Confidence That Christ Has Won the Ultimate Victory. At the end of Christ’s millennial reign over earth, he will cast Satan into the lake of fire to be tormented for all eternity future (Rev. 20:10).

Satan’s Judgments

From shortly after God declaring his creation “very good” (Gen. 1:31) until just before eternity future in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 20:10), God has handed and will hand down multiple judgments on the rebellious Satan. The last one will be complete and final. God, who declared the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), has outlined the judicial history of Satan in Scripture.

SATAN’S ORIGINAL JUDGMENT

Satan was not originally created as the Evil One that he eventually chose to become. So when did the Devil first rebel against his holy Master? Genesis 1–3 does not recount the occasion but rather assumes it. Having declared the creation to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31), God subsequently chronicled a deceitful creature in Genesis 3 who set out to dupe the first humans so that they would serve his own purposes, not God’s.

There is not one clear, direct passage in Scripture that explicitly reports this celestial treason. However, several places allude to it. First, Revelation 12:3–4 speaks of the red dragon, the ancient deceiver whose efforts were global (Rev. 12:9), who enlisted one-third of the heavenly host to join him in spiritual rebellion against God and to thus become unholy angels, or demons. There has not been and will not be another defection of angels beyond this one. Also, there will be redemption for none of the demons.

Table 8.2 Serpent or Satan?

Genesis  Comment  Identification  
3:1  The serpent is compared to the beasts of the field.  Serpent  
3:1  Serpents cannot normally talk or know about God.  Satan  
3:2  Serpents are not normally engaged in conversation with people.  Satan  
3:4  Serpents do not normally reason.  Satan  
3:13  Serpents do not normally deceive people verbally.  Satan  
3:14  Satan does not crawl on his belly.  Serpent  
3:15  It is difficult to determine the addressees.  Serpent/Satan  

This brief statement in Revelation looks back to Ezekiel 28:11–19, which addresses the ancient king of Tyre and the satanic influence in his reign. Here it is difficult to clearly distinguish between the two, but it is rather obvious that both are in view. Several facts should be inferred about Satan:

       1.    Satan is a created being (28:13).

       2.    Satan was created as a righteous angel (28:13–14).

       3.    Satan chose an unrighteous way of life (28:15).

       4.    Satan was subsequently dishonorably discharged by God from further heavenly, holy service on behalf of his Creator (28:16).

While referring to the future king of Babylon, Isaiah 14:4–21 seems also to allude to Satan in the same manner as Ezekiel. It is much like when Christ spoke about Peter and Satan in the same sentence (Matt. 16:23). God’s judgment is rendered on the basis of Satan’s five “I will” boasts (Isa. 14:13–14), which evidence his abominable pride. Paul likewise warns church leaders concerning Satan’s original sin (1 Tim. 3:6–7). Though Satan and one-third of the angels in heaven were disqualified from the honorable role of serving God in heaven, they were not completely banned from a heavenly presence (cf. Job 1:6; 2:1).

SATAN’S EDENIC JUDGMENT

Was Eve speaking with a literal serpent or with Satan in Genesis 3:1–5? The brief analysis in table 8.2 sorts out the evidence. The New Testament (2 Cor. 11:3; Rev. 12:9; 20:2) reveals that the serpent is associated with Satan. From the analysis in table 8.2, it appears that the serpent is in view at times and Satan at others.

Apparently, this is a Satan-possessed creature similar to the description of Satan’s entrance into Judas in Luke 22:3 and John 13:27. This same phenomenon would certainly have been possible with the serpent. It is scripturally sound to maintain that nonrational beings are capable of speech when energized by a supernatural power. Balaam’s donkey (Num. 22:28–30, 2 Pet. 2:16) is sufficient biblical evidence to establish the historical reality of this phenomenon. There seems to be no doubt that a real serpent is involved. Neither is there any question that Satan was directly involved.

So is God cursing the possessor, the one possessed, or both? To single out one or the other is difficult. It appears unreasonable that Satan would be left out of the curse since he was the instigator. Thus, it seems best to conclude that God is here addressing both the serpent and Satan.

After cursing the physical being, God turns to the spiritual being, Satan, and curses him. God’s message is a “first gospel” (or protoevangelium) and is prophetic of the struggle that began in the garden and its outcome between “your offspring”—Satan and unbelievers, who are called the Devil’s children in John 8:44—and her offspring—Christ, a descendant of Eve, and those in him. In the midst of the curse passage, a message of hope shines forth: the woman’s offspring called “he” is Christ, who will one day defeat the Serpent. Satan will only “bruise” Christ’s heel (cause him to suffer), while Christ will bruise Satan’s head (destroy him with a fatal blow). Paul, in a passage strongly reminiscent of Genesis 3, thus encouraged the believers in Rome that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20; cf. John 16:11). This protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15 anticipates Christ’s redemptive victory on the cross over Satan and demons.

SATAN’S CALVARY JUDGMENT

During his ministry, Christ made statements concerning Satan’s defeat and judgment that validated his victory cry on the cross, “It is finished” (John 12:31; 16:11; 19:30). Christ’s power over demons certified his mastery of Satan (Matt. 12:22–29). Christ’s authority, which he delegated to the disciples, reflected Satan’s spiritual defeat (Matt. 10:1; Mark 3:13–15; Luke 9:1). New Testament statements concerning the salvation purchased by Christ’s death, which had the power to deliver believers from the domain of Satan to God, reaffirmed Satan’s failure (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13; 2:15). Christ came to destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8). A preview of what to expect occurred as the disciples were amazed at their power over demons (Luke 10:17); Christ responded, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” by which he meant that the power of the Devil was already diminished, as evidenced by their earthly victory over demons (Luke 10:18). Through his death on the cross, Christ destroyed the one who has the power of death, the Devil (Heb. 2:14).

The centerpiece of Satan’s sentence will forever be the cross. While Satan would continue on earth long after Calvary, his attempts to spiritually murder the whole human race (e.g., by tempting Christ to avoid the cross, Matt. 16:21–23) had been thwarted by the Savior, and a redemptive remedy in Christ had been provided.

SATAN’S TRIBULATIONAL JUDGMENT

Revelation 12:7–13 chronicles Satan and his angels’ final physical banishment from the presence of God in heaven. They will have been defeated in heaven, and there will no longer be any place for them there (Rev. 12:8–9). This will occur midway through Daniel’s seventieth week, or three and one-half years into the final seven-year week. From this point forward, Satan will no longer be able to accuse believers of sin in the presence of God (Rev. 12:12; cf. Isa. 24:21).

SATAN’S MILLENNIAL JUDGMENT

When Christ comes to claim his kingdom on earth (Rev. 19:11–21), Satan will be bound and imprisoned for one thousand years in the bottomless pit (Rev. 20:1–3). For a millennium, the earth will be free from Satan’s roaming (see 1 Pet. 5:8). Christ will rule without any interference from the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31). Although the Bible does not say so explicitly, it may be assumed that all demons will be incarcerated with Satan during this time (Isa. 24:21–22).

SATAN’S ETERNAL JUDGMENT

In the end, Satan (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10) and his evil angels (Matt. 25:41; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6) will join the Antichrist and False Prophet, who will have already resided in the lake of fire for one thousand years (Rev. 19:20). In Matthew 8:29 (cf. Luke 8:31), when the demons inquired of Christ, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” they most likely had the eternal judgment in mind. Shortly thereafter, all unbelievers throughout time will also arrive there as a result of the great white throne judgment (Matt. 25:41; Mark 9:48; Rev. 20:14–15).[1]


[1] MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R., eds. (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 676–706). Crossway.