Biblical Theology on The Devil

The Biblical view of this world portrays a fundamental conflict between “light” and “darkness”, between “good” and “evil”, between “God” and “Satan”.  This conflict is essential to the Biblical narrative, which portrays God as all-good and Satan as entirely evil.

Although Scripture tells us that evil is fighting a losing battle, it nonetheless presents the war between “good” and “evil” as being very real with very real consequences.  And everyone throughout the whole world is fighting on either one side or the other, with God leading the Kingdom of Light and Satan leading the kingdom of darkness.

In the final part of this two part series, we will learn what the New Testament says about the Devil, who is also called Satan.

THE NEW TESTAMENT’S REVELATION OF SATAN

The New Testament revelation about Satan builds heavily on the Old Testament and greatly expands our understanding of the spiritual powers of evil faced by God’s people.  Rather than depending on prophets, it is Jesus himself – the One who defeats Satan – and those who Jesus instructed that give us our greatest insight into the enemy of our souls.

Satan in the New Testament

The name “Satan” occurs thirty-six times in the New Testament, eighteen of which occur in the Gospels and Acts.

The Gospel accounts set Satan in direct contrast to Jesus; he was tempted by Satan (Mark 1:13), he makes clear his intention to drive Satan out of people’s lives and to destroy his sovereignty (Matt. 12:26; Mark 3:23, 26; Luke 11:18), he drives out “the prince of this world” by his cross (John 12:31); Satan can have no hold on Christ because he was without sin (14:30); he liberates a woman “whom Satan (had) kept bound for eighteen long years” (Luke 13:16), and Satan stood condemned at the bar of God’s judgment (16:11).  In this way, the New Testament shows Satan as the prince of this world to be crushed by the King of kings.

The apostle Paul speaks of his mission to turn people “from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).  He also builds on the Biblical narrative about Satan by revealing that Satan will send his own human agent – the Antichrist or Lawless One – in opposition to Jesus and his Church, but that even though the works of the “lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan,” (2 Thess. 2:9), the apostle John boldly reveals that our Savior, Jesus Christ, will come and overthrow the Antichrist by his power.

The New Testament continues to carry forward Satan’s role as the one who subverts the righteous by leading them astray (Matt. 16:23).  He asked for all the disciples in order to severely test them (Luke 22:31).  He “entered” Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3), and “filled the heart” of Ananias (Acts 5:3).  Believers can be tempted by Satan due to a lack of self-control in sexual matters (1 Cor. 7:5), and he can even masquerade as “an angel of light” to accomplish his purposes (2 Cor. 11:14).  He tormented Paul by means of “a thorn in (his) flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). Some people even turn away from their faith to follow Satan (1 Tim. 5:15).  In this way he is shown to be the “enemy of our souls”.

Likewise, Satan continues his role as the adversary of God’s people, opposing the proclamation of the gospel and snatching away the seed of the word (Mark 4:15; Luke 8:12).  Satan was able to stop Paul from traveling to Thessalonica for the sake of the gospel (1 Thess. 2:18), demonstrating real power to temporarily subvert the Church’s great mission on earth, though Jesus ensures that he will not obtain ultimate victory against the Church (Mt. 16:18).

The New Testament builds on our understanding of Satan by revealing that he is the “master of death and destruction,” who carries out God’s wrath against sinners. Twice we read of persons “handed over to Satan” for spiritual discipline by the church (1 Cor. 5:1–5; 1 Tim. 1:19–20). This appears to mean that excommunication puts people out into Satan’s realm, a sovereignty from which believers have been rescued (Col. 1:13; cf. Heb. 2:14–15). In other cases, Satan attacked the disciples of Jesus by “sifting” them (Luke 22:31).  He was able to “enter” Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3; cf. John 13:27), resulting in that disciple becoming a betrayer of his Master.  Likewise, God’s supreme authority is illustrated in his power to even use Satan to bring about his purposes (2nd Cor. 12:7; Ga. 3:21; 1st Tim. 1:20; cf. Job 2:6–7).

The New Testament also exposes the fierce spiritual warfare occurring behind the veil that separates our knowledge of this physical world from the spiritual realm.  Satan attacks the Church (Acts 5:3; Rev. 2:9-10) and wrecks havoc on the nations of the earth (Rev. 20:7-8).  Jesus saw Satan “fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18) — a sign of Satan’s loss of spiritual authority.  John’s revelation depicts the heavenly war in which Satan was “hurled to the earth” along with his angels/demons (12:9) and ultimately bound and imprisoned in the abyss for one thousand years before being released and ultimately banished in the fiery lake to suffer eternal torment (20:1–3, 10; cf. Matt. 25:41).

The Devil in the New Testament

The other most common name given to Satan in the New Testament is “the devil”, which means the one who is a slanderer and is used interchangeably with Satan.  The “devil” becomes “an evil principle/being standing against God”.  Mark refers to “Satan” five times, but never to “the devil”, while Matthew uses the name “Satan” three times and “the devil” six times.  John uses the name “Satan” once in his gospel, and “the devil” twice in his gospel and three times in his epistles.

The devil was the author of sin “from the beginning”, but Jesus came to destroy his works (1 John 3:8).  The New Testament further enhances the dichotomy between the children of God and those who belong to the devil by revealing Satan to be the spiritual father of the wicked (John 8:44; 1st John 3:7-10).

The New Testament explores the spiritual warfare that believers engage in against the devil by instructing us to be careful about anger so that we do “not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26).  We are to don God’s full armor so as to stand against the devil’s schemes. With the shield of faith they are to thwart his “flaming arrows” (Eph. 6:11, 16). Ultimate victory comes by “the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” as the devil is cast down from heaven to the earth (Rev. 12:11).

Beelzeboul in the New Testament

Very little is known about this composite term (first attested in Mark 3:22), but it was made famous in the heated exchange between Jesus and his critics (Mark 3:22). The combination of Ba’al (‘lord’), used mostly to refer to local manifestations of the Canaanite fertility and storm god, the chief adversary of the Israelite religion (1 Kgs. 18; 2 Kgs. 1:2–16; Hos. 2:8), and zeḇul (‘exalted house’ [1 Kgs. 8:13], ‘temple’ or ‘heaven’ [War Scroll 12:1–2]), meaning ‘lord of heaven’ (Matt. 10:25), would have been readily understood as denoting Satan.

Thus, Satan and his angels are associated with God’s enemies or pagan gods (*cf. Ps 96:5 where the LXX substitutes ‘demons’ for ‘idols’).

Spiritual Powers in the New Testament

The New Testament presents a very clear belief in the spiritual powers of “good” and “evil”.

Angels in the gospels are presented as spiritual beings who serve God and are associated with key events in the life of Jesus. The angel Gabriel, in announcing the birth of Jesus, brings a message from God (Luke 1:11–20). The angel that announces the birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:8–12) is accompanied by a multitude of heavenly hosts (Luke 2:13) who are presumably spiritual beings who attend God. In the temptation stories angels protect Jesus (Matt. 4:6; Luke 4:10) and serve him (Matt. 4:11; Mark 1:13), perhaps by feeding him (*cf. 1 Kgs. 19:5–8) or strengthening him. Jesus is portrayed as being strengthened by angels (Luke 22:43–44). By saying that ‘an angel of the Lord’ rolled back the stone from Jesus’ tomb, Matthew declares that God is involved in the resurrection (Matt. 28:2), which in the other Gospels the angels also announce (Matt. 28:5–6; cf. Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4; John 20:12–13). Finally, angels are portrayed as accompanying the Son of Man when he comes in glory to sit on his throne in judgment (Matt. 25:31), and at the end of the age will separate the righteous from the evildoers (Matt. 13:39; Mark 13:27) whom they will throw into the fiery furnace (Matt. 13:42).

Demons in the gospels, on the other hand, are portrayed as fallen spiritual beings who oppose Jesus and the inauguration of the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:39); they are an army of spiritual powers called ‘spirits’ (pneumata), a designation sometimes qualified by ponēros (‘evil’, Matt. 12:45; Luke 11:26; Mark 6:7), words which imply idolatrous (*cf. Ezek. 36:17; Jer. 32:34) connections or association with the dead (*cf. Matt. 23:27; Mark 5:2); hence their contaminating effect. Jesus’ exorcisms demonstrate his divine power and point to the continuing struggle between the holy God and that which contaminates his creation.

The New Testament greatly builds upon the cosmology that began to be developed in Daniel 6:1 by depicting the Devil as the leader of the forces of darkness (Matt. 25:41; “Satan” Matt. 4:1, 5, 8, 11 and 4:10; Mark 4:15 and Luke 8:12).  The Gospel writers maintain the devil’s Old Testament role as a testing adversary (Matt. 4:1–11; Luke 22:31) and one who attempts to separate people from God (Mark 4:15).

Part of Paul’s eschatological hope is that the hostile spiritual powers will be ‘crushed under foot’ (Rom. 16:20, alluding to Gen. 3:15; cf. Ps 91:13) and he assumes that Satan stands behind false teachers who cause dissensions and put obstacles in the way of believers (*cf. Rom 16:17). In 2 Corinthians 11:14 false apostles disguising themselves as apostles of Christ are said to parallel Satan’s treacherous tactic of disguising himself as an angel of light.

Angels in the Pauline corpus may be either “good” or “evil” spiritual beings (1 Cor. 4:9; 13:1). They are represented as the authority behind the state (Rom. 13; *cf. Deut. 32:8; Dan. 10:13, 20) and behind human affairs and social order (*cf. 1 Cor. 11:10). They are inferior in status to humans, even though they have knowledge of humans (1 Cor. 11:10; Gal 3:19; cf. Heb. 1:13–14). In some sense they are culpable, for they may separate believers from God (Rom. 8:38), and are to be judged by believers (1 Cor. 6:3).

The New Testament includes the revelation that there are spiritual “dominions” and “thrones” (Col. 1:16; Eph. 1:21), which likely refer to the powers represented in the Old Testament’s understanding of the Council of Yahweh.  It also acknowledges that there are “elemental spirits of the world/universe” (Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:8, 20; cf. Gal. 4:9), which may refer to the rudiments of religious teaching associated with the immaturity of humanity prior to Christ, or to the physical elements of the universe (2 Pet. 3:10, 12). Nonetheless, Paul speaks of them in connection with personal beings or forces (Col. 2:10, 15). Paul’s letter to the Ephesians further explains that it was God’s plan from the beginning to bring all heavenly and earthly powers under Christ (Eph. 1:10), to exalt him over every ruler, authority, power, dominion, and title given for all time (1:21), and liberate his people by Christ’s power from the power of Satan that has been at work in the sons of disobedience (2:2).  These things were apparently not known to the heavenly powers from the beginning, but were made known to them through the Church (3:10).  For this reason, believers are instructed not to give Satan any opportunity to subvert their cause (4:27), but to engage in their spiritual warfare by the weapons provided by God (6:11-16).

The New Testament presents the cross as the pivotal point of defeat for all hostile spiritual powers (Col. 2:13–14), in which God ‘disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it’ (Col. 2:15). As a result, believers have been rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). Therefore, the spiritual powers are not to be feared, even though they retain some power (Rom. 8:37–39) until they are destroyed at the end (1 Cor. 15:24–25).

THE CONCLUSION OF GOD’S REVELATION ABOUT SATAN

There is one unified message that is drawn from the beginning of Scriptures revelation about Satan (Gen. 3:15) to its conclusion (Rev. 20:10): Satan’s rebellion against God was defeated and doomed by Christ from its very beginning and God will save humanity by his mighty power.  Scripture instructs us that, although the spiritual forces of darkness have real power, and are truly the enemy of our souls, they should not be feared; rather we are to fear God (Lk. 12:5).  Scripture tell us that the kingdom of darkness will be defeated in two stages (Is. 24:21-22); the first stage was accomplished in the cross of Christ (John 12:31) and the second stage will be completed when the trumpet of the Lord sounds (1 Th. 4:16; 1 Co. 15:52) when the Lord descends with the shout of an archangel, the dead are raised, and all things are made new!

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Twelftree, G. H. (2000). Spiritual Powers. In T. D. Alexander & B. S. Rosner (Eds.), New dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., pp. 796–801). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Dunnett, W. M. (1996). Satan. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., pp. 714–715). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

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