SOME QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT SATAN
T. PIERCE BROWN
Some time ago in a meeting with almost one hundred outstanding Christian workers and Bible teachers a question was raised concerning the origin of Satan. Although all in this group were preachers, elders and Bible teachers, no satisfactory answer was given. Since we do not recall having seen anything written on this in recent years, we feel that perhaps an article or so setting forth some of the questions we have been asked about the Devil, and whatever Bible information we can give to answer them would be helpful to some. Surely no one could deny that we need to know something about our chief enemy.
First, let us note some general truths revealed about the nature and being of Satan, then let us attempt to give and answer some of the questions that have been raised about him. The word “Satan” means “an adversary.” There may be many adversaries, as Paul says about gods and lords in 1 Cor. 8:5, but this does not prevent the word from being used to represent a specific adversary, as we shall show.
The word “Devil” means “false accuser” or “slanderer.” There are many of them, and the word may be used to apply to any number of persons, but the fact that a person may have the word “Satan” or “Devil” applied to him does not suggest that there is not a specific superhuman personality so designated. When Paul says in Phil. 3:19, “whose god is their belly,” he in no sense implies that because a man may make his appetite his god, there is not a God – a specific superhuman personality who made the universe. When Jesus said to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” rather than suggesting that there was no specific person designated as Satan, he rather pointed to the fact that there was such, and that Peter was in that instance acting like Satan would be expected to act – as an adversary to Christ.
When the term “Devil – diabolos” or the term “Satan-satanos” is used to designate a specific superhuman personality, either term refers to the same personality (Mt. 4:1, Mark1:13, Rev. 12:9; 20:2). In the A.V. the word “daimon” (a demon) is translated “devil.” The word has to do with a different concept, and requires a separate study. We need only to say here that there is one Devil, but many demons.
This Satan, who is the Devil, is represented as a personality with desires (Luke22:31), capacity to tempt (1 Cor. 7:5), and even superhuman power (Job 1:6,12; 2:7; Mt.12:25; Mt 4:1-11). He is a spirit being who could enter and dwell in a person (Luke 22:3; John13:27) and even transform himself into another kind of being (2 Cor.11:14).
He is a personality contrasted to God (John8:42-44) with angels who shall be cast into hell with him (Mt. 25:42; Rev. 20:10). In short, he is presented as a continuous adversary of mankind (1 Peter 5:8) who can tempt (Mt. 4:1), delude (Eph.6:11) sin (John 3:8), lie and exert superhuman power in the process (Heb.2:14; Jude 9).
When Jesus used the term “Beelzebub” about the prince of devils, he was apparently using a term of extreme contempt, and signified all that was opposite of holiness and purity. The term originally meant “Lord of refuse” and would be very close to what we might mean by “Lord of the cesspool.”
A complete study on Satan and his operations would go into detail about how he steals the Word from the heart if it is not hidden in the heart and used in the life. We could name both Biblical and personal examples of such. Then he pollutes and perverts the Word so as to remove from it the power to give life. Apparently he is able to make some sort of suggestions to the heart, as he put into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus (John 13:3), and entered into his heart (Luke 22:3). He even filled the heart of Ananias and Sapphira to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). He blinds the mind of the unbeliever (2 Cor. 4:4). He is able to appear either as an angel of light or a roaring lion, but in both cases it is to beguile the senses, pervert the judgment, enchant the imagination and deceive.
With that as a background, let us list some questions with which we have tried to deal and which we have been asked regarding the origin and nature of Satan. First, what is the origin of the Devil? As far as we know, the Bible does not say in so many words. The common idea that Isaiah14:12refers to him as Lucifer, son of the morning, we reject. He specifically says in verse four that it refers to the King of Babylon. But the Bible does teach in 2 Peter 2:4 that some angels sinned and were cast down to hell. And Jude 6 plainly teaches that angels kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation. Since John 8:44 says, “He was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in the truth” and since Mt. 25:41 says that the lake of fire is prepared for the Devil and his angels, we conclude that the Devil was a created superhuman being, angelic in nature, who sinned and was cast down. Surely man is sophisticated enough today (having looked down – or up – from the moon) to realize that “down” has nothing to do with physical or geographic location as if Satan had to be “up” in heaven in order to be cast “down” to earth, or something of the sort. However, since “their own habitation” would doubtless be in the presence of God, being cast down would be removed from that fellowship.
Second, if the Devil is a superhuman being who was in God’s presence and service, would it not indicate that heaven is not secure if evil can arise in the thoughts of one who is in the very habitation and presence of God himself? Our partial answer to that starts this way: Since sin, being a contradiction of reason, and irrational in itself, is not subject to an absolute rational explanation and since God’s revelation does not try to answer all questions of “how” and “why,” but more often deals with “what,” we can only give an incomplete answer. Moral evil is a fact that can neither be completely explained, nor explained AWAY. We have approximately the same problem with the possibility of evil arising “spontaneously” in the heart of man as we do in the heart of an angel. Man is represented as good, perfect, and upright in the presence and fellowship of God in the beginning. We may safely assume that angels had the same freedom of choice as did man. And we may safely BELIEVE, on God’s plainly declared word, that the angels that sinned were cast down and reserved unto judgment. If the Bible teaches that heaven is secure for those who resist and overcome the Devil in the life of progress and probation for humans, it IS secure, no matter what one’s logic might be about one who was created in that state and had to overcome nothing in order to get there.
To spell it out in more detail: One cannot logically draw any conclusions from an argument which does not differentiate between a man who strives and labors and grows and surrenders himself completely to God in the face of every sort of temptation and weakness of the flesh and at last is permitted by God’s grace to enter a state of bliss where the flesh and the Tempter will be absent, and an angelic being, who of his own free choice determined to rebel against God. To illustrate: If a man on earth was able to grow and develop so he could easily lift 400 pounds, is there any reason to doubt that he could lift 10 in another situation? So, if a man in the midst of our temptations and trials has overcome Satan, is there any reason to doubt that he would be faithful when there was no external temptations to sin?
The only real question, then, is: Could and did God create an order of beings who had freedom of choice and then chose for self rather than for God? Surely the Bible teaches that God did so, and called his name Adam. If God created one order of beings (man) that chose to sin, there is no reason or revelation that suggests that he did not create another order (angels) who could do likewise. But we do not need human logic to arrive at that conclusion, for God’s revelation plainly says angels did.
But a third question is raised. Why did God, the source of power, and ultimate good, give such power to an evil being, bent on war against all that was good, even against God himself?
Our answer is twofold. We have the same problem in a smaller degree in our consideration of an evil man, as well as an evil angel. If you can answer one, you can answer the other. Why did God give Hitler, Stalin, or others that sort of power? Whether or not we can answer, we must admit that they had it. However, technically, he did not give such power in the beginning to an evil being. He gave power to a good being, who, by exercising the wrong choice, became evil. Since God never annihilates any thing He created, but only changes its form, he allowed Satan to retain his power, temporarily, until he is through using him to test and purify a people for his ultimate glory and purposes.
A fourth question has been raised. If the Devil desire to break fellowship with God and rebel against him, would it not be rather silly to punish him by giving him the very thing he desired? Not at all. Presuming the Devil’s sin was in exalting himself to overthrow God’s supreme authority (and every mention of his opposition to God’s will implies that), then he only got part of what he desired. This is really a universal law, and not at all strange – to punish a person by giving them what they desire, when what they desire is contrary to God’s will.Israeldesired a king. God gave it to them to their sorrow and grief. They were punished by getting what they wanted. A man desires to get drunk. God allows him to do so, and the condition itself is a partial punishment for the sin. If we rebel against God and choose not to have fellowship with him, we get that desire fulfilled. That is not only not strange, but very proper and wise.
A fifth question is: Since the nature of the Devil exhibits close similarities to God, why would an all-wise God who knows the end from the beginning allow such a nature to be imparted to a Devil? It is interesting to analyze questions and discover some of the assumptions that underlie them. This question came from a man who assumed that there was not any “personal Devil” because he thought it would be stupid (or un-Godlike) for God to impart a “Devilish nature” to a being.
Of course the Bible does not suggest that God imparted a Devilish nature to anyone. God made all things good. But having freedom of choice, one could choose to do wrong, whether he was a human or superhuman. One who assumes that the Devil is merely an impersonal force, or anything other than an evil superhuman personality has a greater problem than we. The basic question of “why” is the same. Why would God make ANYONE (human or superhuman) with the freedom of choice? There is no simple answer that we know, but the closest thing that touches the matter is in Acts 17:27, ” – that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after and find him…” As any father wants a child – an extension of himself – so God wanted his family, both heavenly and earthly, to seek after and find him. They would, therefore have to be given freedom of choice. There is no alternative. Whether or not we can see philosophically why God made beings with freedom of choice and then punished them for making the wrong ones, the Bible reveals that he did.
The sixth question that was raised by my friend who did not believe in “a personal Devil” was, “Since the Bible says that each man is drawn away by his OWN lusts and enticed (James 1:14) does that not remove the necessity of postulating a personal Devil? Since man is in the state of a “carnal mind” which is at enmity against God, what need is there of a personal Devil to make it worse?”
Of course we are not “under the necessity to postulate the personal Devil.” We do not have to “make him up”! God reveals his reality! But the fact that a man is drawn away by his own lusts does not negate the fact that the devil uses those very lusts to incite us to sin. An alcoholic might “hit the bottle” on his own volition, but that would in no sense prove that an old drinking buddy could not or would not use his desire to encourage him to sin.
In conclusion, any problem that can be raised about “a personal Devil” can probably be raised about “an impersonal one” – or whatever else he may be presumed to be. In addition to all the problems of “Why would God – -,” we would have to face two other greater problems. First, why DID God represent him as a personal superhuman being if he is not? Second, if there is some way that God would want to reveal to us that there is an evil personality striving to lead us to hell, what words would he use to let us know that if the words he uses does not do it?