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A careful study of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, gives us valuable and much-needed insights about the devil, his schemes, and how to avoid being ensnared by him. And never has the need been greater. As J.I. Packer said concerning the devil and spiritual warfare, “The Christian’s life is not a bed of roses; it is a battlefield on which he has constantly to fight for his life. The first rule of success in war is know your enemy”.7 John Stott agreed and offered wise advice about knowing our enemy: “We need to rid our minds of the medieval caricature of Satan. Dispensing with the horns, the hooves and the tail, we are left with the biblical portrait of a spiritual being, highly intelligent, immensely powerful and utterly unscrupulous.”8
When we turn to the biblical portrait, we learn that Satan (Hebrew: adversary) or the devil (Greek: slanderer) is the archenemy of God and the cruel and malicious adversary of those created in God’s image. Names like adversary, slanderer, tempter, deceiver, liar, murderer, accuser, and evil one are applied to him in the Bible, and these give a sense of his character. He is an evil, supernatural being, a fallen angel of such rank and power that even the archangel Michael, when disputing with him “did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude 9).9 However, he is a created being, and is not eternal, self-existent, or equal to God in any respect. Thus he is not omnipresent, omniscient, or omnipotent. And he cannot read our thoughts and does not know the future. Rather, the devil is a creature subject to God’s sovereign restraint and can go no further than God permits (Job 1–2). He was decisively defeated by Jesus at the Cross, but he is still at large and is a dangerous foe until Christ’s second coming (Matt. 25:41).
How Satan became evil is not explained in the Bible, though there are hints that ambitious pride prompted his revolt against God (1 Tim. 3:6). His pride and arrogance are certainly evident in his temptation of Eve (Gen. 3:1–5) and of Jesus (Luke 4:5–7). Some scholars have suggested that there might be poetic allusions to Satan’s fall in Isaiah 14:12–14 and Ezekiel 28:11–19. These two passages depict the willfulness of the king of Babylon and the pride of the king of Tyre but seem to far transcend what properly can be said of them. This raises the interesting but unanswerable question of whether there is also a veiled reference to Satan energizing and working through them in the background. The passage is worth pondering.
Whatever the origin of Satan’s fall, it is clear that many other angels joined his rebellion (Rev. 12:7–9) and now form an organized hierarchy under his command (Eph. 6:10–12).10 They war against God and His people and seek to advance evil throughout the world, aiming for total control. The opening salvo in this war came when the devil, working through a serpent, deceived Eve and enticed her to disobey God, bringing about the fall of the human race (Gen. 3:1–7). This gave him great influence over fallen people and their societies. How much influence does he have in the world? When tempting Jesus,
The devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:5–7)
Interestingly, Jesus did not dispute the devil’s claim to having significant authority over the kingdoms of this world (perhaps gained at the Fall).
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