Satan--His Origin and Mission [Part II]
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Part I of this two-part series appeared in the October issue. Part II follows below and continues, without introductory comments, where the first article ended.]
WHY HAS SATAN ARRAYED HIMSELF
AGAINST BOTH GOD AND MAN?
In any study of Satan, the question is bound to arise: Why has Satan established himself as God’s archfiend and man’s ardent foe? No doubt a portion of the answer can be found in the fact that he, too, once inhabited the heavenly realm, but as a result of his defiant rebellion against the great “I AM,” was cast “down to hell” (2 Peter 2:4). Satan’s insurrection failed miserably, and that failure had dire, eternal consequences. His obstinate attempt to usurp God’s authority cost him his position among the heavenly host and doomed him forever to “everlasting bonds under darkness” (Jude 6). In the end, his sedition gained him nothing and cost him everything. Regardless of the battle plan he adopted to challenge the Creator of the Universe, regardless of the battlefield he chose as his theater of war, and regardless of the strength or numbers of his army, the simple fact of the matter is that—in the most important contest of his existence—He lost!
The conditions of his ultimate surrender were harsh. Although his armies had been thoroughly routed, although he had been completely vanquished, and although the Victor had imposed the worst kind of permanent exile, Satan was determined not to go quietly into the night. While he had lost the war, he nevertheless planned future skirmishes. Vindictive by nature (Revelation 12:12), in possession of cunning devices (2 Corinthians 2:11), and determined to be “the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9), he set his face against all that is righteous and holy—and never once looked back. His anger at having been defeated fueled his determination to strike back in revenge.
But strike back at whom? It was futile to attempt a second mutiny. God’s power was too great, and His omnipotence too all-consuming (Job 42:2; 1 John 4:4). Another target was needed; another repository of satanic revenge would have to be found. And who better to serve as the recipient of hell’s unrighteous indignation than mankind—the only creature in the Universe made “in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26-27)? As Rex A. Turner Sr. has suggested: “Satan cannot attack God directly, thus he employs various methods to attack man, God’s master creation” (1980, p. 89). Sweet revenge—despoiling the “apple of God’s eye” and the zenith of His creative genius! Thus, with the creation of man, the battle was on—and has been ever since. As Basil Overton has warned: “Satan is out to get us. He will take advantage of us if we let him. It is a fight to the finish!” (1976, 5:3).
It was through mankind that Satan would exact his revenge—the correct emphasis here being on the word “through.” As the apostle Paul stated in Romans 5:12: “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned” (emp. added). Man thus became the agent who caused sin to be in the world. Richard Batey wrote: “Paul’s point is rather that since the power of sin is a universal human experience (Rom. 1:18-32; 3:9-23), this power must have come into the world through the representative man, Adam” (1969, 1:72).
As the “prince of this world” (John 12:31), Satan stalked about “as a roaring lion, ...seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He, and his ignominious band of outlaws (“sons of the evil one”; Matthew 13:38), have worked their ruthless quackery on mankind from the moment the serpent met mother Eve in the Garden of Eden. Their goal is nothing short of the complete spiritual annihilation of all mankind which, no doubt, is why Satan personally is identified within Scripture as the “king of the abyss,” the “Destroyer” (“Apollyon,” Revelation 9:11; see Easton, 1996), and the “wicked one” (“Belial,” 2 Corinthians 6:15; see Vine, et al., 1985, p. 60).
In his war against Heaven, Satan will stop at nothing; it is a “no holds barred/winner take all” battle. Witness, for example, his cruel deception of Eve (Genesis 3:1-6) with its temporal and eternal consequences of physical/spiritual death (1 Corinthians 15:21; Ezekiel 18:20). Recall the trials, tribulations, and tragedies visited upon the Old Testament patriarch, Job (Job 1-2). Take notice of Israel’s beloved monarch, King David, being tempted and convinced to sin (1 Chronicles 21:1,7). Remember the devil as Joshua’s adversary (Zechariah 3:1ff.). Commit to memory Beelzebub’s part in Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7), or how he hindered the apostle’s missionary efforts (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Cower in fear (as the early church did—Acts 5:11) at the results of his having persuaded Ananias to lie to the Godhead (Acts 5:3). Weep in sadness at the Great Adversary’s so successfully convincing Judas to betray His Lord (John 13:2) that Christ even referred to this singular apostle as “the devil” (John 6:70).
Or, tremble in dismay at the potential ruin of humanity, had Satan succeeded in causing Christ to sin when he tempted Him in the wilderness those many years ago (Matthew 4:1-11). Had Jesus yielded, there would have remained “no more a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26), and man would have been doomed—destined to inhabit forever the “blackness of darkness” (Jude 13) in the eternal presence of his most vituperative enemy, but, more important, in the eternal absence of His God.
Make no mistake about it. Satan has arrayed himself against both God and man. He is God’s archfiend, and man’s ardent foe. Nothing short of an absolute victory will assuage him; nothing short of a hell filled with every single member of the human race will dissuade him. He is, indeed, “the enemy” (Matthew 13:39).
WHY HAS GOD ALLOWED SATAN TO CONTINUE TO EXIST?
As we study this enemy, another question comes to mind: Why has God allowed Satan to continue to exist? Since he is denominated within the pages of Scripture as “a murderer” (John 8:44), why not simply impose on him the same death penalty that civilized nations have imposed on murderers from time immemorial (cf. Numbers 35:16)? What possible justification could God have for allowing one so wicked to continue to live?
The answer, I am convinced, has to do with the nature of God, and the nature of the spirit beings (angels) that He created. There is a clue regarding this point in the text of Luke 20:33-36. Within this passage, Jesus spoke of the righteous who one day would inhabit heaven, and stated that “neither can they die any more, for they are equal unto the angels.”
If righteous humans who will inhabit heaven cannot die, and if they are equal to the angels, then it follows logically that angels cannot die. While the Godhead is eternal, humans and angels are immortal. As Douglas Kelly correctly observed, angels (and this certainly would include Satan prior to his fall) “are immortal, but only the Triune God is eternal” (1997, p. 93).
In his excellent, thought-provoking work, Systematic Theology, Turner addressed the issue of Satan’s continued existence when he wrote:
Why did God not destroy Satan when he sinned? Why let Satan continue to exist and influence others to sin? The answer here lies in God’s nature—his eternal nature which he has passed on to angels as well as to men—for there will never be a time when the spirits or angels, the evil as well as the good, will cease to exist. Punishments and prescribed limits have been passed upon evil spirits, and the more will be passed upon them, but they will always exist (1989, p. 83).
Scripture delineates angelic beings as immortal; thus, they—whether righteous or sinful—never will cease to exist. However, there may be more to Satan’s continued existence than simply the angels’ immortal nature. In addressing the question of exactly why Satan persists, Lloyd Ecrement has suggested:
Perhaps the reason might well be expressed in the words the Lord asked Moses to say to wicked Pharaoh: “For by now I could have put forth my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth; but for this purpose have I let you live, to show you my power, so that my name may be declared throughout all the Earth” (Exodus 9:15-16) [1961, p. 33].
Indeed, from a purely human vantage point, the continuation of evil—even for a brief period—generally is not viewed as either desirable or ideal. But, as T. Pierce Brown has proposed, God may have “allowed Satan to retain his power, temporarily, until he is through using him to test and purify a people for his ultimate glory and purposes” (1974, 91:245). Certainly, God’s glory was exemplified by mankind’s creation because Isaiah, speaking for Jehovah, said that man was “created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:7).
In John 9, the story is told of a man who had been born blind. When Jesus’ disciples inquired as to the reason for his predicament, He responded that it was in order that “the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:3, emp. added). What all this entails, we may not profess to know, realizing that the “secret things belong unto Jehovah our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29). But the Scriptures do reveal enough information for us to conclude that Satan’s continued existence follows logically from the immortal nature of angelic beings. They also reveal that the devil’s existence is not at variance with Heaven’s eternal plan, since at times it affords opportunities for mankind to witness the working of God amidst His creation.
WHAT IS SATAN’S MISSION?
Were Satan made of flesh and bone, we might employ the oft’-used phrase to describe him as a “man with a mission.” But do not let the fact that he is spirit rather than flesh trick you into thinking he has no mission. He most certainly does—and has since the day he was cast from the heavenly portals. Simply stated, that mission is the complete destruction of all humanity in hell.
It is no accident that, within the pages of Scripture, Satan (i.e., our “adversary”; Zechariah 3:1) routinely is denominated by such unseemly designations as: (a) the devil (i.e., slanderer; Matthew 4:1); (b) “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4); (c) “the prince of the powers of the air” (Ephesians 2:2); (d) the father of lies (John 8:44); (e) the “Great Dragon” (Revelation 12:9); (f) “Beelzebub” (i.e., prince of demons; Matthew 12:24). (g) the “wicked one” (Matthew 13:38); (h) “the prince of this world” (John 12:31); (i) the ruler of darkness (Ephesians 6:12); (j) “the tempter” (1 Thessalonians 3:5); (k) “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10); (l) a “murderer” (John 8:44); (m) “the enemy” (Matthew 13:39); (n) “a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8); (o) a “serpent” (2 Corinthians 11:3); (p) “Belial” (i.e., “wicked one”; 2 Corinthians 6:15); and (q) “angel of the bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:11).
After even a cursory glance at these appellations, surely we could agree with L.O. Sanderson when he wrote: “These alone should make us fearfully concerned” (1978, 120:678). Satan’s names describe his mission. His primary goal is to alienate men from God by causing them to sin. His main objective is to make men his slaves, thereby robbing them of the freedom that God’s Word alone can impart (John 8:32). But how, exactly, does Satan do this?
HOW DOES SATAN CARRY OUT HIS MISSION AGAINST HUMANITY?
The Bible makes it clear that the devil is the originator, the father, of sin. John wrote: “[H]e that doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning” (1 John 3:8). In speaking to this point, Wayne Jackson has written: “Disease, infirmity and death are ultimately the responsibility of Satan, for by his introduction of sin into the world, he brought about such woes and hence he is really the murderer of the human family (John 8:44)” [1980, p. 76].
However, it is important to recognize that while Satan is the originator of sin, he is not the immediate cause of sin. As Ecrement has warned:
Satan tempts, but he cannot compel men to do evil against their wills. A man must yield to Satan’s temptation and desire before he becomes guilty of sin. To be tempted is not sin, but to yield to temptation is sin. We are answerable and responsible for our own sins, notwithstanding the temptation and influence of the devil. God endowed us with reason and a free will, therefore we have the ability to choose good or evil; in other words, we are free moral agents. So our sins are our own, and our own responsibility (1961, p. 34).
Satan’s constant coercion and tantalizing temptation do not, and cannot, override man’s free will. James affirmed this in his epistle when he wrote:
But each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death (1:14-15).
As an example of this point, consider the apostle who betrayed the Son of God. Overcome by the grotesque nature of his dastardly deed, Judas eventually lamented: “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). Even in his final hours, he did not attempt to lay the blame for his sin at someone else’s feet.
Similar lessons are taught in Acts 5 and 2 Samuel 12. In Acts 5, when Ananias and Sapphira lied about the amount they had received from the sale of a piece of land (and the amount they subsequently professed to have donated to the church), Peter inquired of Ananias: “How is it that thou hast conceived this thing in thy heart? thou has not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:4, emp. added). The apostle wanted Ananias to know that he, personally, bore the guilt for his sin. He could not claim (with any legitimacy): “The devil made me do it.”
In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan was sent by God to convict King David of the sin of adultery with Bathsheba, wife of Urriah the Hittite. This he did. After hearing the evidence against him, “David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against Jehovah” (12:13). To his credit, David realized that not even powerful potentates are immune to the personal responsibility that accompanies transgression of God’s law.
If we are responsible for our own actions, how, then, does Satan influence us to sin? In 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul spoke of the fact that “no advantage may be gained over us by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” The word “devices” in this text derives from the Greek noemata, which “refers to intelligent notions, purposes, designs, devices, etc.” (Overton, 1976, 5:3). In Ephesians 6:11, Paul admonished Christians to “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” The word “wiles” derives from the Greek methodeias, from which we get our word “methods.” Methodeias “is from the Greek verb that means to trace; to investigate; to handle methodically; to handle cunningly.... The devil is a skilled artisan. He will deceive you if you do not work at the job of fighting back at him” (Overton, 1976, 5::3).
Indeed, deceit is perhaps Satan’s most powerful tool. Through his “devices” and “wiles,” Satan pressures us “with all deceit of unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Sanderson has suggested that Satan’s traits “clearly show the Devil to be a cunning, deceitful hypocrite. He is truthless, dishonest, and fraudulent in every possible way” (1978, 120:678). Adding to this assessment, L.M. Sweet wrote: “Satan’s power consists principally in his ability to deceive. It is interesting and characteristic that according to the Bible Satan is fundamentally a liar and his kingdom is a kingdom founded upon lies and deceit” (1939, 4:2693). The New Testament provides ample evidence to substantiate such a conclusion. Wayne Jackson summarized some of that evidence when he acknowledged that the deceiver:
(1) Delights in blinding the minds of the unbelieving that the light of the gospel should not dawn upon them (II Cor. 4:4). (2) To accomplish this he does not hesitate to transform himself into an angel of light along with his ministers who pretend to be ministers of righteousness (II Cor. 11:14,15). (3) When people are inclined not to believe the truth, the devil takes the gospel from their hearts (Luke 8:12). (4) He is full of trickery. He has his snares (I Tim. 3:7), and employs his “wiles”—a deliberate planning or system (Eph. 4:14; 6:11) [1980, p. 81].
But what power does Satan have that allows him to accomplish his task of deceiving humanity? How extensive is that power, and how is it wielded?
WHAT ARE SATAN’S POWERS?
There can be no doubt that, as “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), Satan is powerful in his own right. When the devil tempted the Son of God in the wilderness, he offered Him all the power and glory of the kingdoms of this world, if only He would fall down and worship him (Matthew 4:9). His justification for this insidious offer was based on his claim that, as the lord of this planet, he could offer its possessions to “whomsoever I will” (Luke 4:6). Interestingly, Jesus refuted neither Satan’s position as “god of this world,” nor his ability to impose his will upon it. Erich Sauer therefore concluded:
This whole offer would have been unreal from the first for the Lord as a temptation, if some such legal basis for Satan’s dominion in the world had not existed. Otherwise Jesus would only have had to point out that the necessary presuppositions for Satan’s legal claim to and ability to dispose of the glory of the world simply did not exist. The Lord however left this claim of the devil’s uncontradicted and merely declared that man should worship and serve God alone (Luke 4:8). With this He recognized in principle the tempter’s right to dispose of the kingdoms of this world in this present age. This same thought lies behind the various sayings of Jesus in which He calls Satan “the Prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) [1962, p. 66].
We would do well to recognize the same thing the Son of God recognized: Satan is an important and powerful foe!
As powerful as he is, however, Satan is not omnipotent—a fact that even he recognized. During his temptation of Christ, he admitted that his earthly reign “hath been delivered unto me” (Luke 4:6). When the devil robbed Job of his family and earthly possessions, and even when he afflicted Job physically, he did so only with the expressed permission of God (Job 1:12; 2:6). When he sought to “sift” Christ’s apostles as wheat, he first had to “ask” for them (Luke 22:31). It is evident, therefore, that his powers do have limits.
But exactly what powers are in his possession? When T. Pierce Brown observed that “apparently he is able to make some sort of suggestions to the heart” (1974, 91:5), he provided a picture window into which we may peer to observe the way Satan works among men. Among Satan’s powers are these. He perverts the Word of God (Genesis 3:1-4). He instigates false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1-3). He blinds men to the truth (2 Corinthians 4:4). He sows tares among God’s wheat (Matthew 13:24-30,36-43). He steals the Word of God from human hearts (Matthew 13:19). He lays snares for men (2 Timothy 2:26; 1 Timothy 3:7). He tempts (Matthew 4:1; Ephesians 6:11). He afflicts (Job 2:7; Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38; 2 Corinthians 12:7). He deceives (Revelation 12:9; 20:8-10). He undermines the sanctity of the home (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). He prompts both saints and sinners to transgress the laws of God (1 Chronicles 21:1; Matthew 16:22-23; John 13:2; Acts 5:3). He hinders the work of God’s servants (1 Thessalonians 2:18). And he even makes accusations against God’s children before Heaven’s throne (Job 1:6-11; 2:3-6; 21:1-5; Zechariah 3:1-4; Revelation 12:9-10).
Satan employs his power of “suggestions to the heart” in a feverish manner to pervert the truth. In his book, Get Thee Behind Me Satan, Virgil Leach assessed our much-feared, other-worldly adversary in these words:
He is the great pretender and the first liar and hypocrite with special skills in deception.... No one escapes his trickery; every man knows something of deception. He will influence men to conceal or distort truth for the purpose of misleading, cheating and fraud. If he cannot overthrow truth he will neutralize it, water it down to dilute it. Qualities of guile, craftiness, dissimulation and pretense are used in all his maneuvers. Satan is a master of deceit and is well aware that half lies mixed with half truths more often do the trick and will more easily be swallowed and digested, not that he will not use an out-and-out lie should it fit the occasion. Loving darkness, he would prefer a tree to hide behind than an open field and would prefer an ambush over an open warfare. Our adversary would desire to plant his “Judas kiss” on the cheek of every man (1977, pp. 14-15).
Like a lion ready for the hunt (1 Peter 5:8), Satan waits to devour us via his “suggestions to the heart.” Like a well-hidden, coiled snake (Revelation 20:2), he is able to strike in an instant, injecting the poison of his venom into the minds of men. Or, using what is perhaps the most insidious disguise at his disposal, he even may portray himself as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) who feigns humility, piety, and righteousness, yet whose intentions all the while are as insincere as they are sanctimonious.
What awesome powers the devil commands! What subtle meanness he exhibits! One moment he presents himself as an innocent-faced, sweet-talking “angel”; the next he is a ravenous mammal or slithering reptile. Little wonder Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:
For this cause I also, when I could no longer forbear, sent that I might know your faith, lest by any means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor should be in vain (1 Thessalonians 3:5).
The apostle’s inner stirrings on behalf of those he had worked so long, and so hard, to wrest from the devil’s grasp were based on his knowledge that they faced daily a formidable foe who was more than capable of ravishing both their bodies and their souls.
WHAT IS SATAN’S ULTIMATE DESTINY?
Is all lost, then? Hardly! Although the Scriptures repeatedly affirm Satan’s immense power, they likewise affirm that “he [God] that is in you is greater than he [Satan] that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). We know this to be the case because the Scriptures testify eloquently to the fact that Satan—far from having free reign—has been “bound.”
The concluding book of the New Testament, Revelation, was written to offer encouragement to first-century Christians who, because of their professed faith in the Son of God, were threatened hourly with severe persecution “even unto death” (Revelation 2:10). Within this book, which is written in apocalyptic literature that is highly figurative, the message is one not only of comfort, but of ultimate victory over the devil and his forces. The twentieth chapter, especially, presents a picture of God’s archfiend and man’s ardent enemy, Satan, as being “bound” (vs. 2) and “cast into the abyss” (vs. 3). As Hardeman Nichols has suggested:
If in our study of Revelation 20 we fail to see the final overthrow of Satan and his collaborators, we have missed a major truth. If we do not appreciate the final triumph of every righteous person, we have not been sufficiently blessed by this study (1978, p. 260).
Concerning the devil, Nichols went on to write that “[w]hen, in the unspecified eternity before the world he initiated his rebellion, God put a restraint upon him” (p. 263).
That restraint never has been removed. And, in fact, it has been tightened. While it is true that in the first century the devil and his minions were able to affect people physically (cf. Luke 4:41; 8:26-33), fortunately that no longer is the case. For example, when the prophet Zechariah foretold of the coming of the Messiah, and spoke of the blessings that would attend His reign, he stated that eventually the Lord would “cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land” (13:1-2). Concerning Zechariah’s prophecy, Homer Hailey remarked:
Likewise, unclean spirits, the antithesis of the prophets, would cease. In the conquest of Christ over Satan and his forces, unclean spirits have ceased to control men as they did in the time of the ministry of Christ and the apostles (1972, p. 392).
L.M. Sweet correctly observed that in our day and age there is no evidence that “Satan is able to any extent to introduce disorder into the physical universe or directly operate in the lives of men” (1939, p. 2694). [For a more in-depth discussion of these points than the limited space here will allow, the reader is referred to Jackson, 1990, 1998.]
God not only “bound” Satan, but sealed his ultimate doom. Our Lord will be victorious over Heaven’s Great Adversary, for “to this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8). It is via the power inherent in His own death and resurrection that He will “bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). The fate that awaits this traitorous tyrant is clear:
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation 20:10).
Eternal punishment in hell has been “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
God’s covenant pledge, made with our forefathers in Genesis 3:15, then will be fulfilled once and for all: “he [Christ] shall bruise thy [Satan’s] head.” The paradise lost of Genesis will have become the paradise regained of Revelation. With the earthly reign of Satan brought to an end, and the eternal bliss of God’s saints secure, then, surely, we shall be able to say with the psalmist of old: “This is the day which Jehovah hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
Batey, Richard (1969), The Letter of Paul to the Romans (Austin, TX: Sweet).
Ecrement, Lloyd L. (1961), Man, the Bible, and Destiny (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Hailey, Homer (1972), A Commentary on the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Jackson, Wayne (1980), “Satan,” Great Doctrines of the Bible, ed. M.H. Tucker (Knoxville, TN: East Tennessee School of Preaching).
Jackson, Wayne (1990), “Miracles,” Giving a Reason for Our Hope, ed. Winford Claiborne (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman College).
Jackson, Wayne (1998), “Demons: Ancient Superstition or Historical Reality?,” Reason & Revelation, 18:25-31, April.
Kelly, Douglas F. (1997), Creation and Change (Geanies House, Fearn, United Kingdom: Christian Focus Publications).
Leach, Virgil (1977), Get Thee Behind Me Satan (Abilene, TX: Quality).
Nichols, Hardeman (1978), “The Binding of Satan,” Premillennialism: True or False, ed. Wendell Winkler (Fort Worth, TX: Winkler Publications).
Overton, Basil (1976), “Satan,” The World Evangelist, 5::3, November.
Sauer, Erich (1962), The King of the Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Sanderson, L.O. (1978), “The Devil and His Wiles,” Gospel Advocate, 120:678, October 26.
Sweet, L.M. (1939), “Satan,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Turner, Rex A. Sr. (1980), Systematic Theology (Montgomery, AL: Alabama Christian School of Religion).
Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White (1985), Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Nelson).