Sex, Mormonism, and Satan…not necessarily in that order.
What Does the Bible Really Say About Satan and Demons?
We already talked about sex when we discussed pornography…and we will revisit the topic when we talk about gay marriage.
Mormonism is the topic in our comparative religions class today at 10:45. (You all are invited.)
So, that leaves Satan.
A very tiny sampling:
Dante Inferno 1321
Milton Paradise Lost 1667
Dostoyevsky Brothers Karamazov 1880
Benet Devil and Daniel Webster 1937
C S Lewis Screwtape Letters; Narnia
Stephen King The Man in the Black Suit
Tim LeHaye Left Behind series
The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941
Rosemary’s Baby 1968; seq. 1976; mini-series, 2014
Needful Things 1993
Passion of the Christ (played by a more androgynous woman)
Lord of the Rings—the Balroc
Touched by an Angel 1994
Doctor Who 2006
Lucifer 2015 (comes to run an LA night club; teams up
with LAPD to hunt criminals)
1971: Gerald Mayo filed suit against Satan in the US District Court for Western District of Pennsylvania. Satan, he said, was deliberately placing obstacles in his path. The Court did not deny the existence of Satan but did assert that it was unlikely that Satan was present in that district at that time.
The Court implied that Satan might live in New Hampshire, where there is an “unofficial account of a trial where this defendant filed an action of mortgage foreclosure as plaintiff” (humorous a reference to Benet’s 1937 book, The Devil and Daniel Webster)
This may be the only published legal case in the US concerning Satan. As such, the present US official position seems to be that Satan may exist and if so might be found in New Hampshire.
Easy to joke about, to take lightly—either because we fear him (and we often joke about that which we fear), or we are simply ignorant (and we joke about that of which we are ignorant), or we don’t really take him seriously.
The Bible seems to take him seriously.
So many ideas, so much sensationalism, so many jokes, and considerable confusion…
Our task is sorting out the cultural images (both secular and Christian) from what the Bible actually teaches.
We’ll do this by means of a set of questions.
We keep in mind these principles of interpretation:
- Consider all the Bible says on the topic; don’t build a big theology on a small base (no proof texting)
- Keep in mind the genre of the literature (gospel, apocalyptic)
- Seek the intent of the writer of Scripture (ethical, theological)
- Hear what the Scripture says—don’t try to make it say what it does not say. (Beware presuppositions)
1. Origins of Satan…
The figure of Satan is one of the most mysterious in the Bible. Though we might find hints, almost nothing is given in Scripture regarding his origins. He is simply assumed to exist. His activity is not questioned.
We should note that the biblical perception of the devil developed over time, from Old Testament times through the Intertestamental period to the New Testament:
In the Old Testament, Satan only rarely appears as a distinct figure:
Gen. 3:1ff At the temptation of Eve (which is vague)
Job 1, 2; Zech. 3:1-2 As an accuser of men before God
(see I Chr. 21:1; Ps. 109:6)
By the New Testament era, he is described more clearly:
At the beginning of the Christian era, people had come to see Satan as the ruler of a demonic empire and the world as a battleground between good and evil.
Mt. 12:24 The Pharisees believed he was the “ruler of the
Jn. 12:31; 16:11 Jesus called him the “ruler of this world”
Eph. 2:1-2 Paul referred to him as the powerful and wicked
“prince of the air”
Some speculate that the devil was once a beautiful creature (an angel?), intended to serve God and carry out His purposes. This creature, they say, got too full of himself and rebelled against God. Even though he was consequently condemned, he was allowed to remain on the earth, doing all he can to pull people away from God through temptation and twisted truths.
This view is taken to some degree from the passages in Isaiah 14:12ff and Ezekiel 28:1-19, from Rev. 12:4, 7-9, and possibly Gen. 3.
We will be careful not to make more of the texts than what they present: The OT texts are curses on enemy kings of Israel (Babylon and Tyre) who elevated themselves to god status. To see these texts as descriptions of Satan is interesting but not an interpretation that is demanded by the texts.
The Revelation text does address Satan and his followers in the “war in heaven”. Highly symbolic apocalyptic is instructive but may not be the best or most adequate source for developing an adequate explanation for the origins of Satan and demons. It does give insight into the influence of Satan in the world.
2. What does Satan actually do?
His nature and activity is best seen in the names given to him in Scripture:
Tempter (Mt. 4:1ff)
Evil One (Mt. 13:19)
Murderer, Deceiver, Liar, Father of lies (Jn. 8:44)
Prince of This World (Jn. 14:30)
Angel of Light (II Cor. 11:14)
Prince of the Power of the Air (Eph. 2:2)
Adversary (Enemy) (I Pet. 5:8)
Destroyer (Rev. 9:11)
Accuser, Deceiver (Rev. 12:9, 10)
Dragon, Serpent of Old (Rev. 20:2)
The devil is allowed to roam the earth and given some latitude to tempt and confuse, to wreak havoc among humans. Humans who follow him are wide open to being both the object and subject of evil.
II Cor. 4:3-4
I Jn. 5:19
Does Satan know what I am thinking?
There is no indication in Scripture that he reads your thoughts. He is powerful and he seems to be everywhere (probably through the presence of legions of demons). He knows your weaknesses, which you share with all humanity—this is where he attacks (Eph. 6:11). But he is neither omnipresent, omnipotent, nor omniscient.
3. Why does Satan exist at all?
Did God know he would go bad?
Couldn’t God have just obliterated him?
Simple answer: we don’t know for certain!
We do not fully understand why God allows Satan to exist in the world.
The full answer, shrouded in dimensions and purposes beyond our understanding, most likely has something to do with us.
Scripture is replete with invitations to humans to come to know God, to love Him, and trust Him. True love and loyalty, however, are not coerced. Every person is free to choose God—a genuine relationship with Him is possible only in the context of this free will.
The freedom to accept God has another side: it inherently contains the freedom to reject God.
The freedom to deny God is what keeps Satan in business.
Satan schemes to blind the minds of unbelievers (II Cor. 4:4).
He distorts the truth (Jn. 8:44).
These activities of his are implicit in and abetted by the “dark side” of man’s free will. That is, humans, who are by nature inclined to follow the ways of this world as opposed to the ways of God (see Acts 26:18), provide an arena in which Satan, “the power of this dark world, the spiritual force of evil” (Eph. 6:12), is enabled to do what he does best.
4. What about demons?
The Bible does not argue for or against these creatures—it simply assumes their existence and activity.
Almost no information is provided in Scripture concerning their origins or their physical appearance (seraphim have wings, Isa. 6:2; devils are not portrayed as having horns or forked tails—that is a medieval contrivance.)
If the Apocalypse contains any teaching about the origins of Satan and demons, one passage indicates that in his rebellion against God Satan took with him a great multitude of lesser spiritual creatures (Rev. 12:4, 7-9).
The primary difference between these supernatural entities (demons and angels) as they appear in Scripture is the object of their loyalty and the subsequent function they perform; i.e., demons serve Satan and carry out his purposes; angels are loyal to God and serve Him.
Angels are the messengers of God.
- Bring warnings (Gen. 18:16-19:1ff; Num. 22:23-35)
- Deliver good news (Gen. 18:1-15; Judg. 13:15ff; Lk. 1:11, 26ff; 2:9-14; 24:4-7)
- Celebrate the coming of a person to faith (Lk. 15:7, 10)
- Contend against the forces of evil (Jude 9; Rev. 12:7)
- Assist in times of spiritual struggle (Dan. 10:13; 12;1; Mt. 4:11; 26:53).
Importantly, we are not to worship angels. People who die don’t become angels. Their function is to point to the sovereignty and majesty of God.
Demons (Greek daemon) are the minions of Satan.
- Were cast out of heaven, “thrown down to earth with him” (Rev. 12:7-9)
- Known as “rulers, powers, world forces of this darkness, spiritual forces of wickedness, authorities, principalities” (Rom. 8:38; Eph. 1:21; 6:)
- Exercise power with Satan in “governing” the realm of this world system (Eph. 2:1-2; 6:12).
- Afflict men with mental and moral dis-ease (Mk. 1:26; passim)
- Inspire false doctrines (I Tim. 4:1)
- Inspire false teachers (I Jn. 4:1-3).
New Testament writers were unapologetic in their appraisal of demons. They carry out the agenda of Satan as the enemies of humans in their attempts to deceive, tempt, confuse, and physically destroy. This is seen in the encounters of Jesus with demons recorded in the Gospels.
Mk. 1:23, 34, 39; 5:1ff; passim
5. What about demon possession?
Actual inhabiting by demons or mental illness?
The prima facie assumption in Scripture: demons are real and can inhabit people. Jesus’ ministry is marked by encounters with people possessing “unclean spirits” (Mk. 1: 23, 34, 39; 5:1ff; passim).
His “casting out” of these demons stands in contrast to His healing of people from diseases (Mk. 1:32, 40; 2:1ff; 3:1ff; 5:21; passim).
Paul cautioned his readers about “spiritual forces of wickedness” that exert power over people (Eph. 3:10; 6:10ff).
In our modern, sophisticated, enlightened times (especially in the rationalist, scientific West), the idea of “spiritual forces” is treated mostly with disdain. Emotional and mental disorders are seen exclusively as “illnesses” (if that’s not too strong a word) to be diagnosed and treated (and the APA’s DSM continues to expand!)
The common sense response is twofold: first, we ought not reject “evil spiritual forces” as if they simply do not exist (Jesus took them quite seriously). Science and psychology can neither prove nor disprove their existence. Furthermore, if there are demons, their ability to inhabit and/or influence cannot be dismissed out of hand.
On the other hand, mental and emotional disorders appear to exist, sometimes accompanied by illness, irrational behavior, and sometimes unusual, occasionally even violent or destructive behaviors. Appropriate treatment may offer hope for coping with if not resolving many of these issues.
Address mental illness as an illness.
If demons are present, address them as they are addressed in the Bible.
Can you tell the difference? In my experience, yes!
6. What about spiritual warfare?
Spiritual warfare—the term conjures images of frightening exorcisms and video-game-like battles between humans and demons. More commonly (and likely more accurately), this phrase appears in Christian circles (some more than others) referring to perceived attacks by Satan and unceasing temptations to sinful thought and behavior.
To the degree that invisible forces of evil are present at all, they are capable of causing trouble. Believers have cause and ability to engage in resisting demons and restoring the damage done.
We don’t recommend looking for demons under every rock and around every corner, attributing to them responsibility for every disturbance and distress.
We do not wish to give them more credit than they are due (I am capable of plenty of evil on my own without aid from the enemy. I can’t say most of the time, “The devil made me do it.”)
But we should pay attention and we should not simply acquiesce.
Scripture provides several practical means for responding to the scheming ways of the devil:
Jesus responded to Satan’s temptations by
Quoting Scripture (Mt. 4:1-11).
Praying that we might be kept from the “evil one” (Mt. 6:13; Jn. 17:15).
Peter instructed his readers to be alert to the devil and to resist him, standing firm in their faith (I Pet. 5:8-9).
James advised submission to God and simple resistance as well (Jas 4:7-8). Paul has the most extensive list of anti-devil armor: truth, righteousness, the good news of peace, faith, salvation, Scripture, and prayer (Eph. 6:10-19).
7. Some conclusions:
- He is not in any way equal to God or as powerful as God.
He acts only within limits set by God.
- He has no power over you that you do not give him!
So, don’t dismiss him or give him an opening:
“Resist” him (James 4:7)
“Watch out for” him (I Pet. 5:8).
Don’t hang onto bitterness:
you can give him a foothold in your life with unresolved anger (Eph. 4:26-27).
- Do not fear him or spend too much time, thought, or energy on him.
He can tempt and accuse humans (II Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:11-12; Rev. 12:10). He can influence you through deception.
But he is subservient to and ultimately under the authority of God.
He has been judged (Jn. 12:31-33; Col. 2:15) and has ultimately lost (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).
Jesus did not fear Satan.
He taught that we should fear God (Mt. 11:28)!
- What you believe about Satan is not critical to your salvation!
Your demonology is not a core essential of your faith in God!
Strangely enough, we could take a lesson from the demons:
They knew exactly who Jesus was (Mt. 8:29; Mk. 1:24; 5:7; Acts 19:15).
They tremble at His name (James 2:19).
- Reflecting on Satan a bit will do two things:
Satan serves to remind us that evil and corruption in the world are real.
And we do well to remember who the real enemy is:
Not liberals, gays, Democrats, others we tend to demonize!
Reinforces the fact that
Christ conquered demonic forces at the cross, setting us free from their hostility and making us truly alive (Col. 2:9-15).
Satan has been defeated (Jn. 12:31; 16:11). His ultimate doom was sealed by Jesus’ death and resurrection (Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 2:13-15).
Evil is conquered and forces of evil doomed: II Thess. 2:7-10; Rev. 12:9; 20:10
One day he will be imprisoned forever (Rev. 20:7-10).
The omnipotent omnipresent, omniscient holy, loving God in Christ sets us free and makes us new (Eph. 2:4-10).
God invites us to know Him and His power that rescues us and enables us to stand strong in the face of evil (Eph. 6:10-18; I Jn. 4:4).
No more condemnation (Rom. 8:1-2)