A theme that underlies Jesus’ entire ministry is the assumption that a cosmic force has seized creation and that God is now battling this force to rescue it. The assumption is evident in almost everything Jesus says and does. If Jesus was serious about this, so should we.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
1 John 3:8
In Scripture, Jesus clearly identifies the chief of this evil cosmic force in the personification referred to as the devil and/or Satan. When we don’t take Satan seriously, we end up diminishing the reason Jesus came to die on the cross and underestimating his role in how the world works. This can lead to all sorts of misplaced attribution of evil— from Christ’s death, to natural disasters, sickness and disease.
Who Is the Satan?
“Satan” isn’t actually a name, but rather a title. The original Hebrew term satan is a noun from a verb meaning primarily “to obstruct, oppose, adversary.” Often in Scripture, it is written “ha-Satan,” which means “the satan.” Another title in the New Testament is “the devil,” which comes from the Greek word “diabolos,” which means “false accuser, slanderer.” They appear 15 times in the Old Testament and 67 times in the New.
We tend to have a lot of common misconceptions about Satan. Popular culture, even within the Church, depicts angels as beautiful Swedish females with wings. In Scripture though, angels always frightened people, were always male, and never had wings.1 How different is popular culture’s image of Satan from what the Bible actually says?
Where in the Hell is Satan?
Many have the idea that Satan lives in hell and spends all day torturing people for sport. Scripture paints a much different picture though. Rather than living in hell, he lives here on Earth (Job 1:7). Having lived here for thousands of years, if not more, he has had plenty of time to set things up the way he likes them.
In popular media, the devil is often portrayed as a big scary red guy, with horns and cleft hooves. Scripture tells us that Satan appears to be good, and he’s even described as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). This isn’t entirely surprising since his primary role is that of a deceiver (John 8:44). Satan works to deceive the entire world (Revelation 12:9); therefore, it would make sense that the majority of culture is carrying out his will.
God is omnipresent, meaning he can be all places at all times. Satan isn’t omnipresent. This means he can only be in one place at one time. Logically speaking, he doesn’t have time to personally tempt you, hurt you, or lead you astray. If he does, count yourself as very special. Instead, he has been plotting and planning throughout the ages and setting up systems of deceptions. Through massive deceptions, on a cultural level, the devil perverts your perception of the world. How can he do this?
The God of this World
Jesus refers to Satan as “the prince” (archon) of this present age three times (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The term archon was used in secular contexts to denote the highest official in a city or region. In short, Jesus acknowledges that Satan is the highest power of this present fallen world, at least in terms of his present influence.
One thing that Scripture makes emphatically clear is that Satan is the ruler and god of this world (John 12:31, Ephesians 2:2).
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
2 Corinthians 4:4
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
1 John 5:19
“The whole world is under the control of Satan.” Scripture isn’t describing omnipotent meticulous control of every person’s actions. Instead, Satan must achieve this control of “the whole world” in another way. One major way he does this is by focusing his time on specific people who hold positions of power over other people.
Government is an obvious platform for Satan to establish his power and influence over the world.
The devil led him [Jesus] up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.
The Gospels attest to this in saying that he commands all nations and, thus, their governments. Since Satan can’t focus on everyone, he raises up corrupt leaders in government, media, and entertainment to shape culture according to his will (Daniel 8:25). These rich and powerful men and women work to deceive the masses because they are themselves deceived (2 Timothy 3:13).
All earthly governments are depicted as belonging to a single kingdom that is under Satan’s rule.
What Is His Plan?
Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Satan holds the power of death, and fear of death makes us slaves to his will (Hebrews 2:14-15). Fear of death leads people to devalue other people’s lives over our own. On the world stage, this leads to war, which satisfies Satan’s cravings for death (John 8:44).
The ultimate expression of Satan’s plan is on display in the form of empire.
Satan is depicted in Scripture as a lion. He roams the earth looking for people to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He obviously doesn’t do this one by one; instead, he works through powerful governments to create poverty, disease, and wars in order to kill as many people as possible. Satan schemes to kill us all (Ephesians 6:11, Luke 13:11-16), but God has a plan too.
How To Be Anti-Devil
God sent his Son, Jesus (John 3:17), who is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6, John 14:27). Jesus came to restore the world (Romans 8:22) and destroy death itself (1 Corinthians 15:26). He has ushered in his Kingdom (Mark 1:15, Matthew 4:23, 6:10, 12:28-29). He has chosen his followers to be his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). We help bring about his Kingdom by being peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
Jesus has turned the tables in this world by disabling Satan and showing us the way to peace and life. Paul claims that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20) We won’t defeat Satan with violence, war, or another means that the world labels as “power.”
When a strong man [Satan], fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger [Jesus] attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.
Jesus taught that those who wish to make headway in tearing down this evil kingdom and in taking back the “property” of this kingdom must first tie-up “the strong man” (Satan) who oversees the whole operation (Mark 3:27). This could only be done when “someone stronger [Jesus] attacks and overpowers him” and thus “takes away his armor in which he trusted.” The “armor” that Satan hides behind is his systems of power through wealth, control, and violence (Revelation 18:23). We fight against these systems of power by refusing to walk down their paths.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God…
2 Corinthians 10:4-5
When we have a better understanding of who Satan is and what his goals are, we can better appreciate the way of Jesus, and how the very things Jesus did were in direct opposition to Satan’s schemes and plans. Satan wants everyone dead; Jesus wants to give everyone life (John 10:10). Satan has the nations of the world; Jesus set up his own nation. Victory comes when we follow the way of Jesus and we choose life and love instead of the way of Satan, which is death and deception. Satan is very real and if we aren’t practicing the way of Jesus, the harsh reality is that we are living out the will of Satan (James 4:4, 2 Corinthians 6:17, 1 John 3:10).
- Scripture does mention two types of spiritual creatures that have wings: cherubim (Exodus 25:20; Ezekiel 10) and seraphim (Isaiah 6). The cherubim have four heads and their four wings are completely covered in eyes. The seraphim, meaning serpent, also have wings, six of them. Both are not considered to be angels in the Hebrew Bible.