This series of lessons was adapted, with permission, to a classroom presentation format from two articles written by Bro. Bert Thompson and published in Reason and Revelation in October and November, 1998.  These articles, and much more material on this subject may be found at www.apologeticspress.org.

 

SATAN - HIS ORIGIN AND MISSION

 

            As we make your way through this pilgrimage called “life,” surely we would count among the strongest aspirations of the human heart the desire to be content and happy - not in the mediocre sense of those words, but instead to be genuinely fulfilled and at peace both with ourselves and with the world in general.  We would love to be able to say with the writer of old (and really mean it)

 

Psalms 118:24 “THIS is THE DAY which THE LORD HATH MADE; WE WILL REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT.”

 

            But as each of us knows all too well from personal experience, not every day causes us to “REJOICE AND BE GLAD.”   The simple truth is that things do not always go our way.  Plans go awry.  Fortunes are lost.  Friendships are broken.  Lives are lost.  Sometimes our cry during one of these periods may be closer to that of Job:

 

Job 14:1 “MAN that is BORN OF A WOMAN is OF FEW DAYS, AND FULL OF TROUBLE.”

 

            Facing the problems of this life can sometimes be quite enough all by itself without some sort of “outside force” stacking the deck against us.  Unfortunately, however, there is an outside force standing against us.  Within the pages of the Word of God, that “outside force” is identified by a variety of names perhaps, but likely the best known and most widely used among them is the name Satan.

            In the Old Testament (where we first are introduced to the word Satan, and where it is used approximately nineteen times) the Hebrew word satan is related to an Aramaic verb that means “to lie in wait,” “to oppose,” or “to set oneself in opposition to.”  On occasion the term was also used to describe any adversary, but whenever it was used with the definite article (i.e. the adversary), it always indicates a proper name associated with mankind’s greatest adversary, Satan (Hiebert, 1975, 5:282).

            In the New Testament (where the term Satan is used thirty-six times), the Greek word for Satan (satanas) indicates an adversary, opponent, or enemy, and “is always used of ‘Satan,’ the adversary….” (Vine; 1985, p. 547).  Another designation for our Great Adversary –“devil”—is used thirty-three times in the New Testament, and “…came into English through the German language from the Greek work diabolos.  Diabolos means a slanderer, treacherous informer and, traitor.  (Overton, 1976 5[4]:3.)

            Exactly who is this devil, Satan, who has established himself as God’s archenemy and mankind’s ardent foe?  Is he real?  If he is, what is his origin?  Why has he placed himself in opposition to both God and man?  What is his mission?  What are his powers? And what is his ultimate destiny?  There are questions that this course of study will endeavor to answer for the Word of God.

 

IS SATAN REAL?

 

            Throughout history both those who do not accept the Bible as the Word of God (unbelievers), and those who do but only those parts they want (religious liberals), have denied the existence of Satan as a real, personal spiritual being.  Rather, they would have us believe, he is a “myth,” and his dealings with mankind are “legends” invented as means of providing us with “moral teachings” intended to impart great spiritual truths.  But neither he nor his activities is accepted as historical reality.  The atheists don’t believe in him any more than they believe in God.  For example, atheistic writer Isaac Asimov, who was serving as president of the American Humanist Association at the time of his death in 1992, wrote:

 

            By New Testament time, the Jews had developed, in full detail, the legend that Satan had been the leader of the “fallen angels.”  There were angels who rebelled against God by refusing to bow down before Adam when that first man was created, using as their argument that they were made of light and man only of clay.  Satan, the leader of the rebels, thought, in his pride, to supplant God.  The rebelling angels were, however, hurled out of heaven and in to Hell.  By the time this legend was developed the Jews had come under Greek influence and they may have perhaps been swayed by Greek myths concerning the attempts of the Titans, and later the Giants, to defeat Zeus and assume mastery of the universe.  Both Titans and Giants were defeated and imprisoned underground.

But whether Greek inspired or not, the legend came to be firmly fixed in Jewish consciousness (1968, p. 540, emphasis added; see also pp. 408-410K)

 

            The assessment of liberal-leaning religious writers does not sound much different.  Andrew Zenos of Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Chicago writes:

 

The apparent incongruity of a person (i.e. Satan) with such a frame of mind consorting with the other “sons of God” in the courts of heaven, giving an account of himself to, and speaking on familiar terms with, God, disappears when the narrative is seen to be constructed, not as a picture of realities, but as a vehicle of moral teaching….”  By a “vehicle of moral teaching” Zenos is saying that he considers the Biblical account of Satan as a fabrication designed for the purpose of teaching a moral.

 

            Almost 50 years later, two writers, Neal D. Buffaloe and N. Patrick Murray, co-authored a textbook in which they wrote “By contrast [to the literal, historical view of the book of Genesis BT], the mainstream of Biblical scholarship rejects the literal historicity of the Genesis stories prior to Chapter 12, and finds the literature of parable and symbol in the early chapters of Genesis.”  Later, in referring to the events of these chapters, including Satan’s temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden, the authors stated that “these things never were…” (1981, pp. 5,8)

            Because unbelievers reject belief in the spirit entity known as God (and, by the way, the Bible, His Word as well), it hardly is shocking that they would, at the same time, reject belief in the spirit being known as Satan (whose actual existence can be documented only within God’s Word.)  Skepticism of, and opposition to, spiritual matters on the part of unbelievers should be expected.  Skepticism of, and opposition to, such matters on the part of those professing to be believers should not.

            The same Bible that informs the religious liberal about the existence of the God in Whom he proclaims to believe, also informs him of the existence of Satan – in whom he does not believe.  Where is the consistency?  Furthermore, consider the emphasis on Satan within the whole of the Sacred Text, the importance placed on the fact of his existence by both biblical writers and the Son of God Himself, and the critical role he has played in the necessity of God’s great plan of salvation for mankind.

 

THE REALITY OF SATAN IN THE OLD TESTMENT

 

            From the first book of the Bible (Genesis) to the last (Revelation), the existence of the devil as a real, literal adversary is confirmed.  Our first introduction to Satan occurs in Genesis 3 as he arrives in the form of a serpent to tempt Eve.

 

Genesis 3:1 “NOW THE SERPENT WAS MORE SUBTLE THAN ANY BEAST OF THE FIELD WHICH THE LORD GOD HAD MADE.  AND HE SAID UNTO THE WOMAN, YEA, HATH GOD SAID, YE SHALL NOT AT OF EVERY TREE OF THE GARDEN?”

 

Speaking of the historical nature of this account, M. W. Jacobus observed:

 

            That there was a real serpent in this transaction cannot be doubted any more than we can

doubt the real history throughout.  Here, where the facts speak, further explanations are not necessary, nor fitted to the time of the beginning.  (1)  The real serpent is contrasted with the other animals, (vs. 1).  (2)  In the New Testament allusion is made to a real serpent in reference to the history:

 

II Corinthians 11:3 “BUT I FEAR, LEST BY ANY MEANS, AS THE SERPENT BEGUILED EVE THROUGH HIS SUBTLETY, SO YOUR MINDS SHOULD BE CORRUPTED FROM THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS IN CHRIST.”

 

II Corinthians 11:14 “AND NO MARVEL; FOR SATAN HIMSELF IS TRANSFORMED INTO AN ANGEL OF LIGHT.”

 

I John 3:8 “HE THAT COMMITTETH SIN IS OF THE DEVIL; FOR THE DEVIL SINNETH FROM THE BEGINNING.  FOR THIS PURPOSE THE SON OF GOD WAS MANIFESTED, THAT HE MIGHT DESTROY THE WORKS OF THE DEVIL.”

 

Revelation 20:2 “AND HE LAID HOLD ON THE DRAGON, THAT OLD SERPENT, WHICH IS THE DEVIL, AND SATAN, AND BOUND HIM A THOUSAND YEARS.”

 

Yet (3) that there was in this situation described a superior agent, a spirit being, just as we all are

spirit beings, Satan himself, who used the serpent as his vehicle to approach Eve, is plain from his being referred to as follows:

 

Revelation 12:9 “AND THE GREAT DRAGON WAS CAST OUT, THAT OLD SERPENT, CALLED THE DEVIL, AND SATAN, WHICH DECEIVETH THE WHOLE WORLD: HE WAS CAST OUT INTO THE EARTH, AND HIS ANGELS WERE CAST OUT WITH HIM.”

 

John 8:44YE ARE OF your FATHER THE DEVIL, AND THE LUSTS OF YOUR FATHER YE WILL DO.  HE WAS A MURDERER FROM THE BEGINNING AND ABODE NOT IN THE TRUTH, BECAUSE THERE IS NO TRUTH IN HIM.  WHEN HE SPEAKETH A LIE, HE SPEAKETH OF HIS OWN: FOR HE IS A LIAR, AND THE FATHER OF IT.”

 

            Additional Old Testament testimony addresses the historical existence of Satan.

 

I Chronicles 21:1 “AND SATAN STOOD UP AGAINST ISRAEL, AND PROVOKED DAVID TO NUMBER ISRAEL.”

 

And six verses later on this simple statement is found.

 

I Chronicles 21:7 “AND GOD WAS DISPLEASED WITH THIS THING, THEREFORE HE SMOTE ISRAEL.”

 

Israel suffered as a direct result of Satan’s workings in the life of their king.

            In the book of Job, Satan has a place of great prominence – more, perhaps, than in any other Bible book.  In the first two chapters alone, he is mentioned at least fourteen times.  We even have recorded a conversation between him and God:

 

Job 2:1-2  AGAIN THERE WAS A DAY WHEN THE SONS OF GOD CAME TO PRESENT THEMSELVES BEFORE THE LORD, AND SATAN CAME ALSO AMONG THEM TO PRESENT HIMSELF BEFORE THE LORD.  AND THE LORD SAID UNTO SATAN, FROM WHENCE COMEST THOU?  AND SATAN ANSWERED THE LORD, AND SAID, FROM GOING TO AND FRO IN THE EARTH, AND FROM WALKING UP AND DOWN IN IT.”

 

            The entire theological thrust of the book of Job, a part of the sacred scripture, inspired of God; is utterly dependent upon the actual existence of Satan, his adversarial nature toward God and mankind, and Heaven’s ultimate superiority over him.  Further, the New Testament epistle of James boldly refers to Job’s dealings with Satan:

 

James 5:11 “BEHOLD, WE COUNT THEM HAPPY WHICH ENDURE.  YE HAVE HEARD OF THE PATIENCE OF JOB, AND HAVE SEEN THE END OF THE LORD; THAT THE LORD IS VERY PITIFUL, AND OF TENDER MERCY.”

 

These first century saints are about to endure some of the worst persecution and intense suffering that any generation of God’s people would ever encounter.  What possible comfort could the words of the Holy Spirit have for these people if Satan were not real and the sufferings of Job used as an example were not the physical sufferings of a real man.  An imaginary fight between a non-existent devil and a mythical patriarch could not, and would not, provide much comfort to those whose lives were in eminent danger.  In fact it would be an insult to their intelligence.  The promise that “….THE LORD IS FULL OF PITY, AND MERCIFUL…” – based on real historical events – could, would, and did provide such comfort in the times of this great persecution.

            In Zechariah 3:1-10, the prophet recorded a vision “…intended to show that Jehovah’s people, conditioned upon a moral and spiritual reformation, could again enjoy prosperity” (Jackson, 1980, p. 75).  In Zechariah’s vision, Satan appeared as a adversary of Joshua the high priest, who was clothed with dirty garments that symbolized “the sins of the whole nation, of which he was the representative”  (Hengstenberg, n.d. p. 972)

 

Zechariah 3:1-2 “AND HE SHOWED ME JOSHUA THE HIGH PRIEST STANDING BEFORE THE ANGEL OF THE LORD, AND SATAN STANDING AT HIS RIGHT HAND TO RESIST HIM.  AND THE LORD SAID UNTO SATAN, THE LORD REBUKE THEE, O SATAN; EVEN THE LORD THAT HATH CHOSEN JERUSALEM REBUKE THE: is NOT THIS A BRAND PLUCKED OUT OF THE FIRE?”

 

This scene as described; is in fact a prophecy of the coming of Jesus the Christ.  Joshua is a name that can be translated as Joshua, or Jesus either one.  This vision that Zechariah describes places Joshua or Jesus before God along with Satan and this Joshua or Jesus is raised to be given godly garments, a crown upon his head and the admonition to obey God’s commands as a man.

 

In describing the spiritual importance of this scene, one writer commented:  “Satan was ready to challenge the Lord’s own institution for the forgiveness of sin (the coming of Jesus), to deny the right of God to pardon the sinner.  He seeks to overthrow the Throne of Grace, so hateful to him, and to turn it into a seat of judgment and condemnation” (Laetsch, 1956, p. 422; ) also:

 

Psalms 109:3-8  THEY COMPASSED ME ABOUT ALSO WITH WORDS OF HATRED; AND FOUGHT AGAINST ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.  FOR MY LOVE THEY ARE MY ADVERSARIES: BUT I give myself unto PRAYER.  AND THEY HAVE REWARDED ME EVIL FOR GOOD, AND HATRED FOR MY LOVE.  SET THOU A WICKED MAN OVER HIM: AND LET SATAN STAND AT HIS RIGHT HAND.  WHEN HE SHALL BE JUDGED, LET HIM TO CONDEMNED: AND LET HIS PRAYER BECOME SIN.  LET HIS DAYS BE FEW; and LET ANOTHER TAKE HIS OFFICE.”

 

Satan’s part in this scenario hardly can be overstated.  Without his act of overt condemnation, and God’s response to it, Zechariah’s message to the people of God would be lost.  The activity and historical reality of Satan in the Old Covenant sets the stage for the urgency of God’s plan of salvation in the New.