Overview of Satan in the Bible
Although Satan was judged in the Cross (John.13.31-John.13.33), he is still permitted to carry on the conflict, often with startling success. But his revealed doom is sure. He now has a sphere of activities in the heavenly realms (Eph.6.12); he will be cast down to the earth and will cause great woe because of his wrath, which he will exercise through “the dragon” (2Thess.2.9; Rev.12.7-Rev.12.12; Rev.13.2-Rev.13.8). With Christ’s return to earth he will be incarcerated in the bottomless pit for one thousand years; when again released for a season, he will again attempt to deceive the nations but will be cast into “the eternal fire” prepared for him and his angels (Matt.25.41), to suffer eternal doom with those he deceived (Rev.20.1-Rev.20.3, Rev.20.7-Rev.20.10).
References to Satan
In the Old Testament
It is sometimes said that in the Old Testament the figure of Satan is not essentially an evil being, and that he appears simply as an angelic personage who has the task of trying men. Admittedly the full picture of Satan’s evil character is not given in the few Old Testament references to him, but clearly the recorded glimpses of his activities reveal that he acts in opposition to the best interests of men. Job 1; 2 unmistakably reveal his malicious nature; he moved David to number Israel to his own hurt; his accusations against Joshua the high priest drew down on him the Lord’s rebuke. It is a remarkable feature of the theology of the Old Testament that so little mention is made of Satan as the great Adversary of God and His people.
In the Apocrypha
In the Apocrypha the term σατανα̂ς occurs only in Ecclesiasticus 21:27. Wisdom of Solomon 2:24 uses διάβολος, G1333.
In the New Testament
Scriptural picture of Satan
Scripture's treatment of the doctrine of Satan
The doctrine of Satan is not systematically developed in the Bible; our understanding of Satan and his role is drawn from relatively few scattered and incidental references. These passages tell us what we need to know concerning the nature, history, kingdom and works of Satan, but don't offer an exhaustive analysis of Satan. The comparative lack of development in this field is due partly to the fact that the Biblical writers are primarily interested in God, and only secondarily in the powers of darkness; and partly to the fact that in the Bible doctrine waits upon fact. Therefore, the malign and sinister figure of the Adversary is gradually outlined against the light of God’s holiness as progressively revealed in Christ. It is significant that the statements concerning Satan become numerous and definite only in the New Testament. The daylight of the Christian revelation was necessary in order to uncover the lurking foe, dimly disclosed but by no means fully known in the earlier revelation. The disclosure of Satan is, in form at least, historical, not dogmatic.
Satan holds a position of great power and dignity in the spiritual world. In Job 1; 2 he is pictured as numbered among “the sons of God,” although by his moral nature not one of them. He has personal access to the presence of God, a privilege that will be taken from him in a future day (Rev 12:9). So exalted is his position that Michael the archangel found him a formidable foe and “did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him” (Jude 9).
The New Testament reveals that Satan is the ruler over a powerful kingdom of evil which he rules with intelligent consistency. In refuting the charge that he was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, Jesus pointed out the absurdity of the charge since it meant that Satan “is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?” (Matt 12:26). Satan does not operate in isolation but is the head of a well-organized kingdom in which his subjects exercise delegated responsibility under his direction. He is the leader of a vast, compact organization of spirit-beings, “his angels” (Matt 25:41; Rev 12:7). As “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), he skillfully directs an organized host of wicked spirits in the heavenlies who do his bidding (6:12). The fallen angels who gave their allegiance to Satan (Rev 12:4, 7, 9) apparently retain their ranks, dignities, and titles which were divinely given them.
Whatever the origin of the demons, it is clear that they render willing and wholehearted obedience to the rule of Satan (Matt 12:28, 29). Acts 10:38 makes it clear that the outburst of demonic activities during the ministry of Jesus was Satan-inspired. Satan, who is not omnipresent, through the work of his numerous subordinates makes his influence practically world-wide. The Book of Revelation reveals that at the close of this age and in the great tribulation there will be another fearful outburst of demonic activity (9:1-11; 18:2).
During the wilderness temptation Satan displayed to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, asserted that all had been delivered to him, and claimed that he could give them to whom he wished (Luke 4:5, 6). Significantly Jesus did not dispute Satan’s claim to sovereignty over this world. Christ categorically rejected the satanic offer to invest Him with sovereignty over this world, but that offer will be accepted in the end-time by “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess 2:3-9; Rev 13:4).
In Job 1:7; 2:2 Satan himself described his restless activity as consisting in “going to and fro on the earth” and “walking up and down on it.” He is engaged in a worldwide and unremitting conflict against God and His people. This stamps him as “the enemy” of God and truth (Matt 13:28, 39; 2 Thess 2:9-12). His activities are associated with the realm of moral darkness (Acts 26:18).
The present tense participle, “the tempter” (Matt 4:3; 1 Thess 3:5), designates Satan by his characteristic activity. His intention is ever to lead those tempted to fall into sin. The people of God are always the objects of his fierce hatred. The church of Smyrna was informed that they would be the subjects of Satan’s special onslaughts (Rev 2:10). The Lord informed Peter that Satan had “demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31).
Satan uses the weaknesses and limitations of men to entice them to sin (1 Cor 7:5). He also employs the allurements of the world (1 John 2:15-17; 4:4). He commonly tempts men to evil by the falsehood that they can attain a desired good through the doing of wrong. His mode of operation is vividly demonstrated in the account of the Fall in Genesis 3. Deception is a universal feature of his activities, justifying his description as “the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12:9). He constantly lays “snares” for men to make them his captives (1 Tim 3:7; 2 Tim 2:26). A fundamental temptation employed is pride (1 Tim 3:6).
Satan also opposes the work of God through open and fierce opposition. The act of betrayal by Judas was instigated by the devil (Luke 22:3; John 13:2, 27). Peter pictures Satan’s ferocious activity in warning believers that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). His violent attacks manifest themselves in the persecutions experienced by God’s people (2 Tim 3:11-13; Rev 12:13-17).
Although a mighty and determined enemy of God, the Scriptures make it clear that Satan is a limited being. He is a super-human being, but not co-equal with God. The power of Satan is derived (Luke 4:6) and he is free to act only within the limits laid upon him by God. Satan was able to inflict loss and suffering upon Job only to the extent that God permitted (Job 1:12; 2:6). The church of Smyrna was assured that their tribulation would last only “ten days” (Rev 2:10). The length of their period of testing was set by the Lord, and Satan would not be able to go beyond it. At present the efforts of Satan on earth are restrained and frustrated by the operation of the divine Restrainer; with the removal of the restraint, Satan will be able to achieve the full outburst of evil in the end-time in the manifestation of the man of lawlessness (2 Thess 2:7, 8).
Satan is not divine; he is neither omnipotent, omniscient, nor omnipresent. He has vast power, but that power is definitely limited. He is not omniscient, as is evident from his blunders during the course of history, as seen, for example, in his futile efforts to destroy the child Jesus. Satan is not omnipresent but makes his power felt world-wide through the operations of his many minions. Satan acknowledged his limitations in his conversation with Jehovah concerning Job (1:7-11).
With Satan’s substitution of his own will for that of his Maker there began the protracted conflict between good and evil which has extended through the ages. God has permitted the effort of Satan to establish his own will in opposition to the divine will to be thoroughly tested. The unrelenting conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil is the direct result of Satan’s determination to establish his claim. The presence of sin, suffering, and death reveal the inevitable consequences of the satanic claim. Through his seduction of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:1-7; 2 Cor 11:3) Satan succeeded in establishing his domination over mankind. Through the work of the incarnate Christ that power was broken (Heb 2:14, 15).
In his efforts to establish his own will Satan relentlessly works to thwart the purpose and work of God (Acts 13:10). In his ambition to assume the place of God Satan is mastered by a consuming passion to receive worship as God. That master passion was revealed in Satan’s bald offer to invest Jesus with authority over the kingdoms of this world on condition that He would worship him. This passion for worship will be gratified through his empowerment of the man of lawlessness in the end-time (2 Thess 2:9-11; Rev 13:4). Idolatry, with its diversion of worship from the true God, is motivated by demonic forces (1 Cor 10:20; Ps 106:34-38).
While judgment has already been pronounced upon him, Satan is still permitted to operate as a usurper until the time of his final imprisonment. As a dethroned monarch he is still allowed to rule over those who accept his authority while he persecutes those who have declared their allegiance to Christ.
Scripture reveals the certain outcome of the conflict between good and evil and the inevitable doom of Satan and his hosts. Jesus saw a picture of that final defeat of Satan in the victory of the seventy over the forces of evil (Luke 10:18). Jesus asserted that “the eternal fire” had been prepared “for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41).
The Book of Revelation portrays the final judgment carried out on the devil. At the return of Christ in glory Satan will be confined to the sealed bottomless pit for 1,000 years, during which time the earth will be free from his deceptive and seductive influences (Rev 20:1-3). At the end of the 1,000 years Satan will again be loosed from his prison and will again resume his deception of the inhabitants of the earth with great success. This final rebellion will be summarily crushed by divine action and the devil will be thrown into “the lake of fire and brimstone” where with the beast and the false prophet he “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (20:7-10). His doom will be to share the eternal punishment of those whom he deceived (20:12-14).
The role of mankind in Satan's activities
Satan's role as deceiver might seem to make man an innocent victim. But according to the Bible man is particeps criminis in the process of his own deception. He is deceived only because he ceases to love the truth and comes first to love and then to believe a lie (2Co 1:10). This strikes at the core problem of temptation: men are not tempted by evil, per se, but by a good which can be obtained only at the cost of doing wrong. The whole power of sin, at least in its beginnings, consists in the sway of the fundamental falsehood that any good is really attainable by wrongdoing. Since temptation consists in this attack on the moral sense, man is constitutionally guarded against deceit, and is morally culpable in allowing himself to be deceived. The temptation of our Christ himself throws the clearest possible light upon the methods ascribed to Satan and The temptation was addressed to Christ’s consciousness of divine sonship; it was a deceitful attack emphasizing the good, minimizing or covering up the evil; indeed, twisting evil into good. It was a deliberate, malignant attempt to obscure the truth and induce to evil through the acceptance of falsehood. The attack broke against a loyalty to truth which made self-deceit, and consequently deceit from without, impossible. The lie was punctured by the truth and the temptation lost its power.
Believers and Satan
Having been rescued from the kingdom of darkness, believers are assured of victory over the malicious activities of the devil. They are promised that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20). They find their security in the keeping power of Christ (Rom 8:31-39; 1 John 5:18).
For effective victory over Satan believers must recognize that on the basis of the work of Christ Satan is a defeated foe. They are called upon to take a firm stand against the devil. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Any attempt to flee from the devil would be useless, but in claiming the victory of Christ man can put the devil to flight. In order to experience victory over Satan believers cannot remain “ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor 2:11). Recognizing that he is a powerful and crafty foe, they must “give no opportunity to the devil” by allowing sin in their lives (Eph 4:25-27). Instead, they must “be sober, be watchful,” alert to the danger from the devil, and firmly resist him in faith (1 Pet 5:8, 9). Ephesians 6:10-17 repeatedly stresses the need to take a firm stand against the satanic enemy.
It is the commission of Christ’s people to turn the lost “from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).
Objections to the doctrine
The New Testament clearly pictures Satan as a malignant, superhuman personality. But the concept of a personal devil is unacceptable to many minds today. The objection is raised that the existence of a personal devil is incapable of scientific proof. Admittedly spiritual realities cannot be proved by means of naturalistic scientific criteria, but consistency would require that the Biblical revelation of a personal God also be rejected.
It is claimed that the devil is in reality man’s invention to account for his own sinfulness. This view seems laudable in its attempt to make man responsible for his own sins, but it leads to a shallow view of the reality of sin in the world. This view is the product of a failure to take sin seriously. It cannot adequately account for the depths of iniquity in the world. An objective evaluation of the reality of sin reveals that it is “too masterly marshalled, too subtly planned, too skilfully directed, too logically remorseless, for any such facile explanation. There is design; there is diplomacy; there is cunning; there are stratagems and campaigns. There must be a master mind behind these activities” (quoted in F. A. Tatford, The Prince of Darkness, p. 14). The Biblical view of a personal devil who is a limited being under the control of divine sovereignty best explains the awful realities of sin and fits a monistic world-view. The sane and restrained scriptural references to the devil are wholly consistent with the world-view presented in the Bible as a whole. These references are woven into the very warp and woof of the Biblical revelation, and cannot be consistently demythologized without serious damage to the fabric as a whole. The recorded utterances of Jesus in the gospels clearly assert the existence of a personal devil. In this He agreed with the views of the Jewish leaders of His day. His acceptance of the view cannot be explained simply on the basis of accommodation to prevailing views, since Jesus did not hesitate to expose the erroneous views of the Jewish leaders of the day wherever He found them.
The view that the New Testament picture of a personal devil was derived from Persian dualism is answered by the nature of the New Testament picture of Satan. The Biblical picture of Satan is not dualistic. Good and evil are not presented as distinct and co-eternal principles. While Satan is seen as a mighty evil being, his kingdom is viewed as having a definite beginning and will have a definite end. The operation of evil is always viewed as being under the sovereign permission of the eternal God. God allows Satan to continue his work in order to give a cosmic demonstration of the bankruptcy of the satanic lie.
F. C. Jennings, Satan: His Person, Work, Place and Destiny (n.d.)
D. L. Cooper, What Men Must Believe (1943), 234-279
E. Langton, Satan, A Portrait, A Study of the Character of Satan Through All the Ages (1945)
L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, II (1947), 33-112
C. T. Schwarze, The Program of Satan, A Study of the Purpose and Method of the Adversary (1947)
K. L. Schmidt, “Luzifer als gefallene Engelsmacht,” TLZ, VII (1951), 261-279
J. M. Ross, “The Decline of the Devil,” ExpT, LXVI, No. 2 (Nov. 1954), 58-61
F. J. Rae, “The Two Circles of Faith,” ExpT, XLVI, No. 7 (Apr. 1955), 212-215
D. G. Barnhouse, The Invisible War (1965)
J. Kallas, The Satanward View (1966)
F. A. Tatford, The Prince of Darkness (1967)
F. J. Huegel, The Mystery of Iniquity (1968)
J. D. Pentecost, Your Adversary, the Devil (1969)