The Devil Himself: His Nature

“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.
Isaiah 14:12-15

Introduction

The Devil, also referred to as Satan, is best known as the nemesis of good people everywhere. His image and story have evolved over the years, but this malevolent being—and his legion of demons—continue to strike fear in people from all walks of life as the antithesis of all things good.

Who is Satan in the Bible?

Satan is described in the Bible as an angelic enemy of God and, by extension, the enemy and opponent of those who follow God. Although everything God created was good (Genesis 1:31), Satan chose to rebel against the Lord, and many other angels followed his rebellion (Ezekiel 28:15; Isaiah 14:12–17). Satan tempted Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden, and Adam followed her into sin, plunging the whole human race into a curse (Genesis 3:16–19; Romans 5:12). Pictured as a serpent and dragon in the Bible (Genesis 3:1; Revelation 12:9), Satan is a murderer and the father of lies. He promotes false doctrines and craftily seeks to keep unbelievers in spiritual bondage (John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:14; 1 Timothy 4:1).

There are many things said in the Bible about Satan, but it is important to also establish what is not said about him. There are many misconceptions regarding the devil, including the following:

• Satan is not a personal being, but rather is only a force of evil.

• He is equal to God, thus creating a form of dualism.

• He resides in and is the ruler of hell.

• He can do whatever he pleases.

• He is omnipresent.

• He received a ransom from Jesus when Jesus died on the cross.

All these views are wrong and are not found in Scripture. False ideas about Satan come from a variety of sources. For instance, the belief that the devil is equal to God and is His opposite comes from the dualism in Zoroastrianism. The belief that Jesus died to pay a ransom to the devil was theorized by Origen. John Milton’s Paradise Lost, not the Bible, describes Satan as the king of hell (I:261–263).

Concerning Satan, the Bible gives the following information:

• Satan is a personal being, with a mind, emotions, and a will (Job 1; Matthew 4:1–12).

• He is a created being and is not equal to God (Ezekiel 28:15).

• Satan does not rule hell. Hell was created as a punishment for Satan and his demons (Matthew 25:41). Neither does Satan live in hell, as the Bible describes how he can enter heaven and roam the earth (Job 1:6–7).

• The devil can only do what God allows (Job 1:12).

• Satan is not omnipresent. But he does oversee a horde of demons, called “the powers of this dark world and . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). He uses this network to tempt and deceive people.

• He actively works to nullify the effect of the Word of God in people’s hearts (Matthew 13:3–4, 19), and he blinds the intellect of those who do not believe so they cannot understand the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The Bible describes how Christians should be mindful of the schemes of Satan:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Believers must resist him soberly, vigilantly, and steadfastly, aware of the reality of his plans to tempt us to make us unfruitful for the Lord (2 Corinthians 2:11). When tempted, the believer should submit himself to the Lord and resist the devil, and Satan will flee (James 4:7).

In addition to being a tempter, Satan is also “the accuser of our brothers” (Revelation 12:10, ESV). He enjoys listing the many sins of believers, but the Lord Jesus, our Advocate, defeats the accusations because He has paid the price for our sins (1 John 2:1–2). Christians can be confident of their salvation because Jesus has done the work for us through His death and resurrection (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Satan is described as the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and has dominion over the world and its system (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19), but his authority will not last forever. During the tribulation, the devil will deceive the masses and raise up for himself the Antichrist, who will rule for seven years (Revelation 13:5–8). Since Satan has always wanted people to worship him as God, this will be a part of his deception as well, since many will worship Satan at that time (Revelation 13:4). He will also attempt to destroy the remnant of Israel but will not be successful (Revelation 12:13–16). At the end of the tribulation, Jesus will return, destroy the Antichrist and false prophet, and imprison Satan for 1,000 years (Revelation 19:19–20; 20:1–3). After that time, Satan will be released and will lead one last rebellion (Revelation 20:7–9); then Satan will finally be thrown into the lake of fire, forever to be tormented for his rebellion and works of evil (Revelation 20:10). The dominion of Satan over the world may seem unassailable, but the devil cannot withstand the power of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Was Satan an angel?

The Bible nowhere explicitly describes Satan as an angel before he rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven. Assuming Ezekiel 28:12–18 is symbolic of Satan’s fall, Satan is described as a “guardian cherub.” Cherubs are angelic creatures, possibly the highest order of angels. So, in that sense, yes, Satan was an angel.

Job 1:6–7 describes Satan appearing before God with the other “sons of God,” very likely a reference to the angels. Matthew 25:41 mentions “the devil and his angels.” Revelation 12:7, describing the end-times war in heaven, says, “Michael [the archangel] and his angels fought against the dragon [Satan] and his angels.” Whether or not Satan is technically an angel is beside the point. Satan is an angelic-type creature with a close connection to the angels.

Why would Satan, an angel, rebel against God? According to Isaiah 14:12–14 (another symbolic description), Satan rebelled against God because of pride. Satan did not want to be the most beautiful or most powerful angel. Satan wanted to be God. Satan did not want to worship God. Satan wanted to be worshiped. So, Satan rebelled and became the fallen angel we now know as the devil. His fate will be eternity in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).

How much power does Satan possess?

Satan was an angel created by God who turned against God’s authority (Isaiah 14:13) and became the head of a kingdom of evil spirits called demons, his “angels” (Matthew 25:41). His power both in the heavenly realm and on earth is great and should not be underestimated. However, while Satan and his forces are formidable enemies, Jesus Christ crushed Satan’s power, fulfilling the prophecy of Genesis 3:15. The cross of Christ won the victory (John 12:31). “The prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:11), and Jesus will one day destroy Satan’s power completely and purify creation (2 Peter 3:10).

Satan’s power in the heavenly realm / spirit world:

Satan’s power has repute in the spiritual realm (Jude 1:9), where he has limited access to the presence of God (Job 1:6). The book of Job provides insight into the relationship between God and Satan. In Job 1:6-12, Satan stands before God and reports that he has been “walking up and down” on the earth (v. 7). God asks Satan if he has considered godly Job, and Satan immediately accuses Job of insincerity—he only loves God for the blessings God gives. “Stretch out your hand,” Satan says, “and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face” (v. 11). God grants Satan permission to affect Job’s possessions and family, but not his person, and Satan leaves. In Job 2, Satan comes again into God’s presence and is, this time, permitted to affect Job’s personal health. (The rest of the book is from Job’s perspective, providing an example of how to deal with suffering.)

This is an important passage because it shows Satan’s place in the spiritual realm. He is able to accuse God’s people in His very presence, and Jude 1:9 shows that even Michael the archangel needs the Lord’s help in overcoming him. However, Satan is obviously restrained from enacting his full fury; he is still a created being under God, and his power is limited.

Satan’s power on the earth:

Job 1 also reveals that Satan does enact evil and cause direct harm on the earth. The most well-known and important of his actions on earth occurred in the garden of Eden. Genesis 3 tells of Satan’s temptation of Eve, the “mother of all the living” (v. 20), and her subsequent first sin. It was this act, and that of Eve’s husband Adam, that brought sin into the world, and it is the reason all humankind must be redeemed from sin in order to be with God.

One day, Jesus met a woman who had been “crippled by a spirit for eighteen years” (Luke 13:11). Jesus attributes the infirmity to Satan, who had kept her “bound” (verse 16). Satan’s power was real, but it was easily overcome by our Lord: “He put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God” (v. 13). Jesus’ miracle was a clear demonstration of His authority over Satan.

Since his instigation of evil on earth, Satan has been named the “prince,” “god,” or “ruler” of this world (John 14:30; cf. John 12:31; 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Ephesians 2:2; Colossians 1:13). He is the enemy of God and truth (Matthew 13:24-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12), and he does everything he can to tempt individuals (Genesis 3; Luke 22:31; 1 Timothy 3:7) and larger groups of people (1 Thessalonians 3:5; Revelation 2:10). He “leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9). Satan accomplishes this by various means, including appealing to man’s pride (1 Timothy 3:6; 1 Corinthians 4:6), interfering with the transmission of truth (Matthew 13:18-22, 38-39), and placing false believers within the church (1 Timothy 4:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; Revelation 2:9; 3:9). In John 8:44, Jesus says that Satan “is a liar and the father of it.”

God still grants Satan some authority in this world, which means that his power is not yet completely broken—except in one area: his power of death. Hebrews 2:14-15 says that Jesus came as a man to die in order to “destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil,” a power Satan had held “from the beginning” (John 8:44). The salvation Jesus provides has released us from Satan’s stranglehold. Death has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Satan’s power – the conclusion:

The Bible says that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), and we must “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Yet Christians have a great hope, for Jesus Christ (John 16:33) and our faith in Him (1 John 5:4) have overcome Satan’s evil. “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Is Satan the master of hell?

There is a common misconception that Satan is in charge of hell and that he and his demons live there and use their pitchforks to torment souls for eternity. This concept has no basis in Scripture whatsoever. In fact, Satan will be one of the tormented in the lake of fire, not the tormentor (Revelation 20:10).

Where does the idea that Satan is the master of hell come from, if not from the Bible? Much of the false thinking may come from Dante Alighiere’s epic poem The Divine Comedy. Many other works of art, and literary pieces such as Dan Brown’s novel Inferno, follow Dante’s lead and picture Satan as the one in charge of hell.

Dante’s poem describes the brutal descent of sinners into the underworld. Dante journeys through different levels of hell and purgatory and eventually arrives in paradise. The poem itself was an amalgamation of myths, Catholic ideas (like purgatory), and Islamic traditions about Muhammad’s “night of ascension” (lailat al-miraj). Dante’s medieval view of hell is influenced more by the Qur’an than the Bible.

Dante’s literary vision of hell is depicted by Botticelli in his painting Map of Hell as a subterranean funnel of suffering—a wretched underground landscape of fire, brimstone, sewage, and monsters, with Satan himself waiting at its core. It’s all very disturbing, and effective as a work of art, but it is based on the imaginations of men, not the Word of God.

Satan is not the ruler of hell. It is God who is in charge. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that can do no more. . . . Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell” (Luke 12:4–5). Jesus is referring to God here. He alone has the power to throw someone into hell. Who holds the keys of death and hades? Jesus has absolute control over that domain (Revelation 1:18). Jesus assures all believers that not even the gates of hades can overcome His church (Matthew 16:18).

The lake of fire, mentioned only in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, 14–15, is the final place of punishment for all unrepentant rebels, both angelic and human (Matthew 25:41). The universal punishment for all who reject Jesus Christ as Savior is to be “cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). The Bible speaks of hell as a place of “outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13). Those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life should have no fear of this terrible fate. By faith in Christ and His shed blood, we are destined to live eternally in the presence of God.

Satan does not rule hell or lead his demons in tormenting those who are banished there. In fact, the Bible does not say that Satan has been to hell yet. Rather, “eternal fire” is awaiting Satan; the place was originally created to punish Satan and the demons (Matthew 25:41), not to give them a kingdom to rule.

Until Satan is condemned and thrown into the pit forever, he spends his time between heaven (Job 1:6–12) and earth (1 Peter 5:8). He will not always have freedom of movement, and he knows it. “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12).

Is Satan / the devil omnipresent?

No, Satan is not omnipresent. That is, he is not present everywhere at once. The devil is limited to being in one place at a time.

Because Satan is a finite, created being, omnipresence cannot be attributed to him (Ezekiel 28:15). Christ created all things (Colossians 1:16), including the devil—although Satan was not originally an evil being. Satan has boundaries and is not infinite in any way, including in his presence. Only God is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7–11).

The book of Job reveals that Satan can travel to heaven and roam about the earth (Job 1:6). Although the devil can go to different locations, he is never described as present everywhere. Satan and his demons do have abilities that humans do not, but they are limited nonetheless. The demons had to leave the possessed man of the Gerasenes in order to enter the pigs (Luke 8:33), and Satan is described as leaving Jesus in the desert after tempting Him (Matthew 4:11). If he left Jesus, he was no longer present with Jesus. It is evident that Satan is limited in space and time.

Because the devil is a deceiver (Revelation 12:9), he tries to make people believe that he is omnipresent like God. Satan fell because of his sin of pride and desire to be like God (Isaiah 14:13–14). Therefore, it is understandable that the devil would want to deceive humans into believing that he is present everywhere. It may seem as if Satan is present everywhere at the same time because of widespread spiritual attacks, but that is an illusion. Satan has numerous demons in his service who also carry out his schemes (Matthew 12:24; Ephesians 6:12). Charles Ryrie comments: “The very large number of demons may make them seem to be everywhere present, though that is not so. Yet Satan working with them can use their number to attempt to promote his plans everywhere” (Basic Theology, Moody Publishers, 1999, p. 186).

Believers need to be aware of Satan’s schemes and his desire to do harm (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11). Even though Satan is a powerful enemy, he is not God and he is not omnipresent. God alone is omnipresent, and God alone is sovereign (Jeremiah 23:24; Psalm 115:3). Satan may be roaming the earth now, but one day he will be confined to the lake of fire, where he “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

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