Truth, Understanding, Insight

Devil and Satan

1st March 2008, mgh


1) An Introduction

The terms devil and satan are often used interchangably. Many people believe that a devil, or satan, exists that has power for evil. Some say that he is a fallen angel and tries to destroy God's work among men and women. Some think that a devil tempts people to do evil.

However, from a Bible context, there are problems in accepting ideas like this. The God of the Bible is presented as having all power in heaven. Jesus said God's will is done in heaven,

Pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. (Matthew 6:9-10)

King Jehoshaphat, who was given a great victory,

'Yahweh, the God of our fathers, aren’t you God (mighty) in heaven? Aren’t you ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in your hand, so that no one is able to withstand you. (2Chronicles 20:6)

Debunking Lucifer the fallen angel

There is a logical mismatch if the God of the Bible is powerful and rules in heaven, with the idea of a fallen angel. How can the devil be a fallen angel if God has supreme power over angels and all His creation in heaven and earth? How did a perfect angel come to revolt against a mighty God? How is it that this powerful God, the Creator of all that we see around us, including man and woman, could not destroy one who revolted against Him? Why would God allow a supernatural being to destroy His work on earth?

Isaiah 14 is frequently used to support the theory of a fallen angel. It is essential that the context of this chapter is examined. In Isaiah 14: 4 it states, “take up this proverb against the king of Babylon”. The chapter continues to speak of the greatness of Nebuchadnezzar and then his fall from power. The language is poetical and metaphorical. A great and powerful ruler has “fallen from heaven”. This is not the literal heaven but the ruling powers on earth. In other places, Isaiah uses the 'heaven' metaphorically to refer to rulers, or leaders.

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art you cut down to the ground, who did weaken the nations.” (Isaiah 14: 12)

Nebuchadnezzar had indeed weakened and conquered nations of the ancient world to establish his empire and his power. He became a fallen ruler of nations. This is not speaking of a fallen angel.

The words 'devil' and 'satan'

The concept of the devil and satan is a religious one. Therefore, to find out what is meant by the words devil and satan, we must go to the Bible. The Bible makes a number of references to the devil and satan. The first thing that must be established is what the Bible writers meant by the terms 'devil' and 'satan'. We cannot impose our own views on the meaning of these words. The Hebrew and Greek words, with their usage and meanings, are the only true way to understand what these words really mean. This can only be determined by by examining the way the words are used in the context in which they occur in the Bible.

To commence this task, we need to examine the Old Testament first, as it was the first section of the Bible to be written. The New Testament writers were familiar with its writings and frequently quoted from it. Among the terms they used is the word 'satan'.

Briefly, the word 'satan' occurs 19 times in the O.T. In all instances 'satan' is used to indicate an 'adversary', or opponent. An interesting case was when an angel who was doing God's will opposed, or was a 'satan' to Balaam who refused to carry out God's instruction. In another instance an 'adversary/satan' who posed as a worshipper who came among those who came to worship God in the book of Job. Other examples are of men who were adversaries to God's will.

'Devil' is a Greek term and only occurs in eth N.T. It does not occur in the O.T. In 2 Timothy 3: 1-3, the word translated 'slanderers' is the word translated devil elsewhere in the N.T. From this word we have the English word 'diabolical'. Again in 1 Timothy 3:11, the women are advised not to be 'slanderers', which again is the word for 'devil'. These devils are once again people who are slanderers or false accusers.

In simple terms, 'devil' and 'satan' in the Bible refer to enemies of God's will. It is not some supernatural being or mysterious spirit. From the start of the Bible to the end of the Bible, there is one clear enemy to God's purpose. It is the human heart and mind, the will of men and women who wish to satisfy their own desires and oppose God's will. This can be described as sin, which is the wilful desire of man to fulfil his own lusts and to do as he pleases, instead of being obedient to God's will and obeying God's laws. (For more on this see The Sources of Evil.)

2) Satan

In the O.T the Hebrew word for adversary or opponent is 'satan' and this is where we obtain our word satan from. It is directly taken untranslated from the Hebrew. It is an ordinary word that has the meaning of an 'enemy' or an 'adversary'. It is only used 19 times and it may be used in the sense that a person is an evil adversary, or in some cases, the person is not evil in intent, but opposes the will of God.

The case of Balaam is an interesting example of the use of the word 'satan' in the Old Testament. Balaam lived at the time when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness after fleeing from slavery in Egypt. God had told the prophet Balaam not to go on a hired mission for Balak, who wanted Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balaam disobeyed the Lord's instruction and set out to curse the nation. Riding on an ass he found his way blocked by an angel. “The angel of the Lord stood in his way as his adversary (or enemy)”. (Numbers 22: 22)

The angel told Balaam, “Behold. I am come forth to withstand you.” (Numbers 22: 32) This literally means that the angel was standing in his way “to be an adversary to you.” This is the first time that the word 'satan' appears in the Biblical records. This 'satan' is a good angel, “the angel of the Lord”, who is doing what God wants. The angel stood before Balaam as an adversary and this demonstrates the meaning of the word 'satan' as was intended: an 'enemy' or 'adversary' to the Lord's will.

David accused Joab and his brothers of being his adversaries (i.e. satans). “Why should you (Joab and his brothers) be adversaries (satans) unto me?” (2 Samuel 19: 22) There are other similar instances where men are described as 'satan' in the O.T. Another interesting example of the use of the word satan occurs in the parallel records of David's numbering of Israel.

“And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go number Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 24: 1)

Now consider the parallel record.

“And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” (1 Chronicles 21: 1)

The 'Satan', or 'adversary', of Israel was the LORD, who 'provoked' or 'moved' David to number Israel and who was to bring about punishment on Israel. This becomes obvious from a comparison of these two accounts.

Job is described in Job chapter one as a God-fearing man. Job 1: 6 states that “there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” The term “sons of God” is frequently used in the Bible to refer to men and women who worship God in sincerity. Isaiah records that God said, “Bring my sons from far and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name.” (Isaiah 43: 6-7) The apostle John wrote of the faithful that “we are God's children now.” (1 John 3: 2).(for more detail seeSons of God.)

So that in Job 1, those who present themselves to worship God included in their midst an adversary, one who opposed God's will. In this instance the translators of the well known versions have not been fair to the text. They have used a capitol S for satan. They could have rendered it simply as “an adversary came among them.” The A.V and R.S.V give 'Adversary' for Satan in their margin references, again with no justification for the capital but at least it clarifies the meaning of the word. This example shows a person with evil intent.

The New Testament presents another illustration of the use of the term 'satan'. Jesus refers to Peter as 'satan'. One must immediately ask how Peter, a very faithful apostle, could ever be classed as 'satan'. The context clearly explains the reason. Peter fully believed that Jesus was Israel's long expected Messiah. However, there were aspects of God's purpose that as yet he did not fully comprehend. Peter had declared that he knew that Jesus was “the Christ (or anointed), the Son of the living God.” However, when Jesus explained that he had to go to Jerusalem where he would be killed by the Jews, and then rise again from the dead, Peter vehemently opposed this and he expressed his view that this would never happen to Jesus. Jesus replied to Peter, “Get thee behind me 'satan' thou savourest not the things that be of God.”

Peter was advocating things that were against the plan and purpose that God had for the salvation of mankind, through the sacrifice of His son. Peter was thinking from his own point of view, and not as the prophetic word required and as revealed by the ancient prophets of Israel. He had to learn that the establishment of God's kingdom on earth and the Messiah's rule in Jerusalem was for a long time in the future and the hope of redemption had yet to be extended to the Gentiles, who are those who are not Jews. Peter was to become one of the apostles to extend the hope of the Kingdom to the Gentiles. This incident shows that this 'satan' was a man, a faithful man, but he was advocating something that was contrary to the will and purpose of God.

3) Devil

There are two Greek words translated 'devil'. 'Daimonion' is a word that had its origins in the superstition that some illnesses had their origins in the influences of departed human beings, who had taken possession of an afflicted person, especially those conditions related to the mind and mental state of a person. The Bible used the current superstitions of casting out devils, a colloquial term of the period, to explain the curing of an illness. Jesus cured many forms of illness and this expression was used on many occasions to describe the miracle. A notable example is the curing of Legion.

“And Jesus asked him, saying, What is your name? And he said Legion: because many devils were entered into him.” (Luke 8: 30)

Luke has used the contemporary understanding of mental illness to describe this miraculous cure. This man was mentally ill and in today's world this illness would be described in medical terms that would be intelligible to us.

'Diabolos' is another Greek term, not a Hebrew word, that is found in the New Testament, and translated as 'devil'. It is necessary to find out what this word really means, as it has serious implications for the understanding of the Creator's relationship with mankind. There are passages where the translators have actually clarified its meaning.

In Paul's letter to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3: 1-3, it states “men will be lovers of self, lovers of money ... slanderers etc”. The word translated 'slanderers' is the plural of the word usually translated as 'devil', (Gk 'diabolos') and is related to the word 'diabolical'. In 1 Timothy 3: 11, Paul warns the women that they must not be 'slanderers'. Again this is the word often translated as 'devil'.

In these passages the basic sense of the word is given. In both cases the word refers to people and aspects of their behaviour. We have then people being referred to as devils. An example of this type of use of the word is found in John 8: 44. Jesus is speaking to the Jews who were rejecting him as their Messiah. “You are of your father the devil, and lusts of your father you will do.” In the Bible, lusts are associated with human nature, and these people were not doing the will of God but following their own desires and worshipping God in their own way according to the traditions which they and their predessors had devised.

Peter wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5: 8) In the historical context of the time, The opponent and false accuser of the Christians was the civil authority of the day. The rulers sought to oppress and persecute the followers of Jesus. Paul expressed his escape from the authorities as being “delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” (2 Timothy 4: 17) The ruling authorities are examples of people who are classed as devils and adversaries, working against God's purpose. Jesus called Judas Iscariot a devil in John 6: 20. In speaking to his disciples about Judas who betrayed him, Jesus said, “Have I not chosen you twelve and one of you is a devil.” (John 6: 70)

In Hebrews 2: 14 it states that both Jesus and his followers “partook of the same nature” that is of “flesh and blood”. Jesus had the same nature as his followers. The verse continues by saying that Jesus,

“through death ...might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” If this is taken as referring to a supernatural being, the verse would mean that in dying Jesus destroyed the devil. If a devil existed, Hebrews 2: 14 makes it plain that he was destroyed. It says he was destroyed.

However a similar statement is found in Hebrews 9: 26. We are told that Jesus,

“appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

These two passages give the same message that Jesus, by his sacrifice, put away sin, which can be seen as a meaning for the metaphorical statement, which describes sin as disobedience to and rejection of God's will. Jesus put away sin because, in simple terms, he did not sin. He performed all his Father's will in every way.

Jesus clearly defined the nature of sin and this is recorded in Matthew 5: 18-20 and Mark 7: 20-23.

“That which comes out of the man, that defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of man proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7: 20-23)

These characteristics that “defile” the man explain the nature of sin, which results in actions that are contrary to the will of God and his requirements related to our lifestyle. And these are the characteristics of those who are described in the N.T as 'devils', the 'slanderers', the 'false accusers' and those who make a mockery of the great promises offered by the Creator to mere mortal man, whose only assurance in life is that of death. James explained how sin led to death.

“Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin,” which results in death. (James 1: 14-15)

4) Defeating the Devil

The faithful followers of Jesus are described in Galatians 5: 24. “They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” In doing this the devil, in metaphorical terms, is defeated.

Jesus was proclaimed to be sinless. In his life he overcame all sin and was obedient in every way to his Father's will. In this way he was worthy of obtaining eternal life. He had overcome all the propensities that are normal to man which lead to sin and thus to death. He had overcome the “power of death”, which is human nature, that results in man disobeying God and falling short of God's requirements that can give people the opportunity to obtain a life beyond the grave.

As a perfect man he became the means by which we can obtain forgiveness for our shortcomings and sins. His death and sacrifice achieved this.

From the time of Adam and Eve, who sinned, provision was made for the forgiveness of sin. This was the slaying of the lamb. In the O.T the law that was given to the nation of Israel through Moses, clearly showed that for man to gain redemption or salvation, he had to be obedient and sinless. The Law showed that man was prone to sin and to be disobedient. To obtain forgiveness, God gave laws by which the sacrifice of animals and the shedding of blood was required for forgiveness. In offering the animal, the offerer should have realised that he was worthy of death, but the offering and shedding of the animal's blood allowed for forgiveness and a recognition of his unworthiness.

Jesus, who was obedient in all aspects of this Law, is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. By his sacrifice and the shedding of his blood, he became the perfect sacrifice, which animals, despite their physical perfection could not be. Jesus, having our nature, displayed the perfection that God required. By the shedding of his blood he fulfilled the requirements of the law and became the means of salvation for sinful humans. By identifying with his death and resurrection through the act of baptism, which a complete immersion in water, signifying a death to the ways of sin and rising to a new way of life, we have the opportuniity of life. Through his sacrifice we have access through prayer to God, as he is the mediator of a new covenant between God and man. See Jesus and Salvation.)

If we do not understand the implications of the term 'devil', and blame an external force for our actions, weaknesses and failures, we are making excuses for our behaviour and our sins. To put the blame on someone else, some supernatural force is unacceptable in Biblical teaching. The evidence from the Bible demonstrates that the devil and satan stand in general for human sin in all its forms. The more we recognise our need of deliverence from our human nature and weaknesses, the more we will appreciate the Gospel message which Jesus preached. This message is the hope of God's Kingdom on earth (The Kingdom), the promise to the faithful that is found in the pages of the Bible (Promises), . We are dying creatures, but we have been offered the hope of a future life instead of eternal death (Gospel).