He’s called the tempter, the accuser, the evil one, and the god of this age. On this episode of Simply Put, Barry Cooper looks at the biblical—and very real—figure of Satan.
If you want people to know that you’re incredibly unsophisticated—and let’s face it, who doesn’t?—tell them you believe in the existence of the devil.
Most people in the West do not believe that Satan is a real, living being. And in fact, if a recent survey is anything to go by, only a minority of professing Christians believe that the devil actually exists.
Given the way that the devil is typically caricatured, this isn’t surprising. Mention his name, and most of us immediately think of a cartoonish figure with red skin, black horns, and a rakish goatee.
But as the author C.S. Lewis observed: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
It’s sobering to note that Jesus Christ believed in the reality of Satan and demons. And while it can be tempting to discard Jesus’ view as being merely a product of its time, it’s salutary to remember that Jesus was never one to toe the party line or go with the cultural flow.
The biblical evidence regarding Satan is clear, while posing a number of intriguing, unanswered questions. He’s described as an angel, a being created by God, who nevertheless rebelled against the Creator. (Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”) He is engaged in constant warfare against God and all those God has created. According to the Bible, one of his aims is to turn men and women against their loving Creator, thus luring them to destruction.
He is said in Scripture to speak, to lie, to work, to struggle against God’s angels, to desire, to prowl, to have designs and plans to outwit believers, to blind the minds of unbelievers, to murder, to get angry, and to deceive.
Not only that, but the gospel of Matthew vividly describes the personal interaction between Jesus and Satan, as Jesus is tempted by him.
He also goes by a number of different, and very revealing, names. “The tempter.” “The evil one.” “The accuser.” “The great dragon.” “The old serpent.” He’s also referred to as “the ruler [or prince] of this world” and “the god of this age.”
The Hebrew name Satan occurs in the New Testament thirty-five times interchangeably with the Greek diabolos, which is also used thirty-five times. The word diabolos means “separator” and “slanderer.” And that’s his modus operandi: he separates by slandering. For example, he slanders God in the garden of Eden, and as a result, when Adam and Eve believe that slander, it separates them from God.
And since that day, he has been tirelessly slandering and separating people from each other with dark materials that rise up readily in the human heart: suspicion, bitterness, resentment, hatred, and envy.
So how should we respond to all this?
The right response, as Lewis suggests, is a balanced one. We shouldn’t become obsessed with the devil. But neither should we naively dismiss him as a vestige of primitive superstition. After all, if someone is bent on our destruction, it would be a mistake to believe that person doesn’t exist. That’s why the Apostle Peter urges believers to “be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a lion seeking someone to devour.”
But if the devil does exist and is implacably opposed to us, how can we protect ourselves?
The problem is that the devil’s chief weapon against us is our own sin. It’s not as if he forces us at gunpoint to do things we don’t want to do. We sin—just like Adam and Eve— because we want to, and it is that sin that will ultimately destroy us. Our only hope, therefore, is if our sin can be dealt with.
The New Testament tells us that this is exactly what Jesus did for His people.
When Jesus died, He died “as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He took the punishment that we deserve for our sin, thus robbing the devil of his main weapon against us. It says in Hebrews chapter 2: Jesus died so that “by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
The death of Christ was the fatal wound ensuring the devil’s final destruction. The crucifixion of the Son of God was the crushing of the serpent’s head. It’s just taking a while for the rest of the body to get the message.
Rather than becoming fixated on the devil, then, we should fix our hope and our trust on the One who has defeated him. The Apostle John puts it very simply: “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”