The Person and Work of Satan

In these pages the Rev. R.R. De Ridder, pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church of Sioux Center IA, continues his series on CHRIST, THE CHRISTIAN AND SATAN which was begun a few issues ago. This material, as many will remember, was first presented in lecture form to the faculty and students of Juan Calvino Theological Seminary of Mexico City Mexico. How Christ vanquished the power of satan over the sons of men by his perfect obedience is stressed here.

The Bible does not contain the full history of Satan. It gives no information of his beginning, no description of his creation. The Bible is concerned with Satan (and the demons) only in so far as he has a part in the life of man, society, the Church, and opposes the work of Messiah. It gives us, therefore, only occasional glimpses of his activities and opposition to the work of God.

Nevertheless, it is to the Word of God that we must go in order to trace his person and working, for there is no other reliable source of information concerning him.

His Original State and Fall

What God has revealed to us concerning himself and his creation makes it impossible for us to conceive of Satan as being originally created evil by God. “God saw all that He had made and behold it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). And it actually comes as something of a surprise when suddenly, without introduction or ceremony, the Devil appears in full dress on the scene of human history. When he appears, he comes as a wicked angel, seeking to seduce man into rebellion against God and to destroy the created harmony of this world. After he appears on the divine page, the chapters of man’s history run parallel to his demonic, destructive efforts. Satan is revealed, first of all, very clearly as a person. He is of course a spiritual being, and it appears certain that he was created by God as a very great, holy angel. It is certain that he was a great archangel included among those angels who did not keep their first estate as described by Peter: “God did not spare the angels when they sinned” (II Peter 2:4), and also by Jude who speaks of “the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling” (Jude 6). Of these spirits Paul says that Satan is the “prince” (Ephesians 2:2). In the Revelation John tells us of the warfare in heaven and describes what happened in this way (Revelation 12:7), “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels lighting against the dragon: and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” Jesus spoke very explicitly about this fall of Satan when he told his disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).

There has been much conjecture about the nature of the transgression of Satan and the angels who fell from their holy state with him. The Bible tells us little about this rebellion of the angels. It appears sufficient in the divine purpose that we should know this: that Satan and his angels fell, were cast from heaven, and in their ruin they seek to ruin others even as they have ruined themselves. We do not know the cause of their fall.

One writer has observed that Satan and his angels arc the only beings who know by sad experience heaven, earth, and hell. “He has walked the streets of heaven side by side with its purest and best. He has felt the thrill of its purest joys. He knows the bitterest anguish of hell, and has felt its keenest flames.”



His Character and Power

The devil is a created being: this is our starting-point in relation to our study. But he was created good, without sin, and fell through some sin or rebellion for which he was personally responsible to God. He is reserved for judgment. And because he is a created being, he does not possess the attributes of God (though he may imitate them).

The devil is a spirit, i.e., he does not possess material form. He is therefore invisible to the human eye. Perhaps this is the reason why many deny his existence because they refuse to accept the reality of anything they cannot see. It is my opinion that the existence of Satan and evil spirits is more readily grasped in pagan cultures than in the modern, scientifically advanced societies.

Satan’s invisibility (being a spirit) is one of his great advantages. He works secretly, with camouflage without revealing his identity. His purpose is to destroy the soul of man. He has the ability to enter into and influence our minds directly. A spiritual being can work through other agents or directly. Satan infuses thoughts, makes suggestions, and can do this so cleverly that we do. not recognize their source. He tempted Eve to take the forbidden fruit, and prompted her to ally herself with him and to give some to Adam also so that he ate. He put it into David’s heart to number the people of Israel. He entered the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira so that they lied to the Holy Spirit. Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus because of Satan’s working in his heart. Satan’s greatest masterpiece of deceit is the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness where he sought to seduce our Lord. He slanders God to men, and puts rebellious thoughts against God into their hearts. He is present when the seed of the Word is sown to hinder the sower, impoverish the soil, or to pluck up the seed.

Because he is a created being, he is not omniscient. He was a very great angel, and possesses great knowledge and great power. But he does not know everything. Only God knows all things.

Satan is also not omnipotent (all powerful ). Only to Jesus Christ has God given all power in heaven and on earth. Satan has great power. When we read the opening chapters of Job, we discover that Satan was permitted to have control over the weather, Job’s health, the lives of Job’s children, and the thoughts of Job’s wife and friends. But he is nevertheless clearly revealed as always being under the control of God and able to proceed only so far as God permits him to go.

Satan is not omnipresent (everywhere present ). Because he has such a host of confederates (the demons) associated with him in his work it may appear this way. But only God can be everywhere at one time. Satan has definite limitations, great as his powers and abilities may be. The devil is indeed a very busy person, and does his evil work well and without ceasing. He has had long experience and is allied with great and powerful forces. All his immense resources and powers are laid out for evil.

We must exercise care in our thinking about Satan. We may not ascribe to him a greatness which is like God’s or which he does not actually possess. Satan is not God, even though he poses as the “god of this world.”

His Activity

To understand what is the method of his operation and the manner of his activity we must turn to Scripture and take note of what the Word tells us.

It is important to remember that the fallen, sinful nature which now characterizes the devil does not permit his works to be motivated from any other purpose than evil. All the immense resources which God permits him to employ are directed to doing what is evil. In the midst of his clever devices and disguises he may appear as an angel of light (II Corinthians 11:14) but his purpose is never to do good or to bless.

We must take a brief look at the activities ascribed to Satan in the Scriptures. Any review of his works leaves one with the strong impression of his great power and influence. It soon appears that there is no area which he leaves untouched, nor any sphere of influence which he does not employ. His methods are diverse and he is able to use men, nature, and spiritual forces with equal ability and seeming success.

His power, however, is limited. He can only proceed so far as God permits him to work. This is suggested and stated in Job’s experience. Whereas God permitted Satan to test Job, the Devil was limited to the boundaries God set to his activity. In Job 1:12 God says to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.” When later Satan challenges God and declares that Job would curse God if his health were affected, the Lord again set limits which Satan had to observe: “Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

In studying the exercise of his powers we must note that the Scripture gives us two aspects of the workings of Satan.

(1) The sinful, unregenerate world is in his power. He is the prince of this world, and keeps men in dark· ness. He has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14), and employs men for his purposes. In Revelation 2:10 it is prophesied that he will cast some into prison. Although the New Testament does not give great prominence to the fact, it is clearly stated a number of times by the Lord Jesus that there is a real, existent realm called a Kingdom which is the sphere of Satan’s rule and reign (Matthew 12:26, Mark 3:24, Luke 11:18).

The activities of Satan in his kingdom toward his subjects are related in various terms. In Acts 10:38 we read of those “who were oppressed of the devil.” In Luke 13:16 of a woman “whom Satan hath bound these 113 years,” evidencing his power over the physical welfare of men. Revelation 12:9 speaks of him as the one “who deceives the whole world.” In the book of Daniel we are given a glance into that world that lies alongside of our own. Though it remains unseen and spiritual, it has much to do with our spiritual victories and the fortunes of God’s Kingdom. The angel who brought God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer said, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the Kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael. one of the chief princes, came to help me, so I left him there with the prince of the Kingdom of Persia.” From this we see how he plots, and, although he cannot prevent us from praying, he can delay the answer.

(2) The Biblical revelation is especially concerned with the activities of Satan over-against the Church of Christ and the people of God. On this point the Scriptures have much to say. We see, for example, the tremendous opposition of Satan to the Church in Revelation 2:9–10, and Revelation 2:13 (“I know your tribulation and your poverty…and the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan…I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells”).

Paul knew first hand the power of Satan. He had once been included among those who were in darkness. To young pastor Timothy he wrote frequently about Satan, reminding him of the “reproaches and snares of the devil” (I Timothy 3:7) into which recent converts can easily fall. Again, he stipulates as one of the duties which God’s servants owe to their opponents: to correct them with gentleness, not in a quarrelsome way, so that “God may perhaps grant that they will come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (II Timothy 2:24–26).

Peter warns, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (I Peter 5:8, 9). This same picture of his activities is given in Revelation 12:12, “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short.” This is the devil described as “the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).

When we are saved, we are certainly not free from his attacks. We must resist him, and we are warned that in our struggle we are not wrestling “against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of darkness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

He even entered into the circle of the chosen twelve disciples of Jesus. He seduced and entered into the heart of Judas Iscariot and prompted him to carry out his hypocritical and false design (John 13:27). He bid unsuccessfully for power over Peter, who appears to have been totally unaware of what Jesus revealed to him (Luke 22:31, 32) concerning Satan’s request and Jesus’ prayer for his disciple, “Simon, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

He did not leave the early church alone either, for Peter speaking to Ananias reveals the insight the Holy Spirit gave concerning Ananias and Sapphira’s deceit, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?” (Acts 5:3). We have already observed the troubles of the Church of Smyrna, because while Satan could not alienate their affections and loyalty, he could use the civil power against them (Revelation 2).

The Temptations of Jesus

The above illustrations of Satan’s powerful working are but some of the things that are told us in Scripture. 1 wish to spend just a little time before we conclude this lecture to make a brief reference to the temptations with which Satan tried our Lord Jesus in the wilderness. We shaH follow the record of these temptations as they are recorded in Matthew 4:1–11. Christ fought several encounters with the devil: the battle of the wilderness, the battle of Gethsemane, and the battle of Calvary. In every one of these and other encounters the Devil was defeated. The wilderness temptations come closer to our experience, and therefore I have decided to deal with them at some length.

There are a few general observations we must make, first of all. We observe that the sacred record states that Jesus was “led by (driven by) the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” This encounter was deliberate and purposefully sought. The Spirit which was seen descending upon Jesus in His baptism deliberately created the circumstances of the confrontation. Then too, there is a hint in the record that the three recorded temptations are but a partial record of the total experiences of Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1, 2).

We should also observe that Jesus is not able to be tempted in exactly the same way as we are. We can be tempted both from within and from without. (James 1:14, 15) tells us “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then the desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” In this sense Jesus could not be tempted, that is, by His own desires. His temptation consisted of direct confrontations by the Devil to become a law unto Himself and ignore what God has said. This does not mean that His temptation is less real or violent, however.

The question how it was possible for the sinless Son of God to be tempted remains a mystery, although no more so than the question how Adam, God’s perfect creation, could sin. This is also a mystery to us.

There are likewise interesting parallels and differences between Adam and Christ. Some of the similarities are these:

(1) Both Adam and Christ were heads of the covenant and represented others in their deeds: Adam represented all men in the covenant of works, and Christ defeated Satan as the representative of His Church in the covenant of grace. Christ is called “the last Adam.”

(2) Both Adam and Christ faced Satan in the perfection of God’s creation. The successful resistance of Christ proved, that the fall of man was not due to anything God had failed to supply man (Adam) in the beginning.

(3) Both instances concerned food, the reliability of God’s Word, and obedience to God’s will. Christ, though in different circumstances than Adam, faced basically the same temptations.

There are also important differences:

(1) Adam exchanged life for death; Christ brought life and immortality to light.

(2) Adam made Paradise into a wilderness; Christ made the wilderness become a glimpse and foretaste of Paradise restored (Matthew 4:11).

(3) Adam was seduced and defeated; Christ fulfilled all the righteousness of the law (Matthew 3:15).

(4) Adam was tempted in the midst of plenty; Christ in extreme want (Matthew 4:2).

The temptations are significant, and their progress must be carefully observed, for they give us a clear insight into the methods of Satan.

A. The first temptation: to turn stones into bread. Satan spoke to Christ at a point of great need. Jesus was hungry after the 40 days of fasting. Satan recognized also the power of Christ. Jesus was able, as the Son of God, to turn stones into bread. Satan also shows that he had been present at Jesus’ baptism, for he alludes to this in his suggestion, “If you are the Son of God, command…” At his baptism the Father’s voice had sounded from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Would God leave a beloved Son to starve in the wilderness? Does not the Creator’s Son have it in his power to save himself? Help yourself; you have a right to take things into your own hands. God would not want you to perish!

To this there is only one answer: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Once before sons of God had been hungry in the wilderness and God had a purpose even in causing them to hunger, says Jesus. “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna … that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Man is not a law to himself; God has a purpose for everything in his life, even hunger. We may not in any circumstances take things into our own hands.

B. The second temptation: to cast Himself down from the Temple. The first temptation clearly revealed that Christ firmly resolved to live by the Word of God. Satan does not say as before, “If you are the Son of God…” Now he assumes this, and confronts Christ with a word God has spoken: Psalm 91:11. Cast yourself down from this high point of the Temple. You won’t get hurt! God said he would send his ange1s to take charge of you, and they will bear you upl

It is a serious challenge, especially to one who was determined to live by every word of God. We can hardly appreciate the tension this challenge would create in the heart of one who was determined to live by every word of God. But the God who created the word (Scripture) has something to say. “It is also written, you shall not tempt (make trial of) the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 6:16). Twice in the wilderness (Exodus 17:1 and Numbers 20:1–13) the sons of God had called Cod to the proof, and doubted his word to save and his power to bring them safely through. “No,” says Jesus, “we may not put God on trial.”

C. The third temptation: to bow down and worship Satan. The second victory becomes the setting of the third encounter. “You will not tempt God? Are you ready to accept all that he promises? I know the kingdoms of the earth will be taken from me and given you. I am ready to surrender. Take them for yourself without a struggle, without suffering, without Gethsemane or Gabbatha or Golgotha. Bow yourself down. Worship me. I’ll give them to you,” says Satan.

There is no need to dispute whether Satan had the right to give them or not. They were under his control. Cleverly, he showed Christ only the glory of them! The power, the prestige, the riches and wealth and comforts—all the things with which he still entices men to believe him. Always he offers a short-cut to God’s appointed ends. “Did God say you would die? Didn’t he tell you that you would become like him? I know how you can get this: eat the forbidden fruit.”

But Christ will live by walking God’s road, not by detours and short-cuts. “It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Once before the sons of God had been in the wilderness. Then God told them of the glories of the land of promise (Deuteronomy 6:10, 11), and had said, “God alone.” There is a people’s strength! And there is power over the Devil. “Begone, Satan!” And the Devil left him.

In closing, I must point out from this incident that by the way of obedience to God and refusing to listen to Satan, Jesus kept everything He had, and gained all that Satan had offered. Was he hungry? God provided food. Was he alone? God sent the angels to minister to him. Was he destined to rule? The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and or his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.

In another article we shall deal with the meaning of worship of Satan. Are we obedient in everything? We must work and live “in the presence of Christ to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (II Corinthians 2:1, 11).