By David McClister
In a very significant sense, it does not matter where Satan came from. The emphasis in the Bible is instead on what he does. It is not how he came to exist that is of concern. It is the fact that he exists that concerns us. He continues to work against us in his attempt to master humanity, and to us Jesus left the continuation of the war.
In the previous part of this study we noted two Old Testament texts, Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-16, that are commonly thought to be ac-counts of the origin of Satan. Neither of those texts are about Satan’s origin, however, as a study of the contexts revealed. In this part of the study we will examine two New Testament texts that are also commonly put forward as explanations of Satan’s origin, and we will also attempt some conclusions on the matter.
In Luke 18:10 Jesus says, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” Those who think that Satan is a rebellious, fallen angel believe that this verse settles the matter convincingly. However, again, we must look at this statement in its context.
In Luke 10:1ff Jesus had sent out seventy disciples on a preaching mission. Actually, it was more than just a preaching mission, for Jesus also sent them out to heal and cast out demons (vv. 9, 17). It is important to under-stand exactly what these seventy disciples accomplished and what Jesus himself accomplished in his ministry. While Jesus was on this earth, he waged war against the kingdom of Satan. Before he could establish his kingdom (the kingdom of God), he had to invade the territory of the enemy, conquer it, and render the enemy (Satan) helpless and weak. This he did by preaching the gospel and visibly demonstrating its power. The healing miracles, and especially the casting out of demons, were not random acts of kindness; they were instead direct assaults on the kingdom of Satan. By proclaiming “the release of the captives” in the gospel (cf. Luke 4:18), Jesus was pro-claiming the defeat of Satan’s power over man. Through the gospel man no longer needed to be the slave of Satan and of sin. Jesus came to free man from Satan’s dominion, a dominion epitomized in sin and death.
It is in the context of this spiritual warfare that we must understand the miracles associated with the ministry of Jesus and, later, of the apostles. The miracles were physical, visible demonstrations, examples, or illustrations of what Jesus can do for men spiritually. Nowhere is this clearer than in the casting out of demons. Demon possession was an obvious manifestation of Satan’s dominion over people. What more control over a per-son could Satan have than to invade his body, through a demon, and control his actions? When Jesus cast out demons he was freeing people from Satan’s grip, he was destroying Satan’s hold on them. It was an especially clear demonstration, on the physical level, of the power of the gospel, and it was an illustration of how Jesus could free men from the kingdom of Satan and put them under the reign of God.
The same is true also of the healing miracles of Christ. Sickness and death were manifestations of Satan’s power over man. By healing the sick, Jesus was releasing people from the power of death wielded by Satan, thus defeating him. Note what Jesus said about the woman who “had a sickness caused by a spirit” in Luke 13:16: “And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” Jesus was demonstrating his power over Satan in his healing miracles, his power to free men from Satan’s mastery. The healing was an illustration of what Jesus can do for us spiritually through his gospel. Thus it is no mere coincidence that Matthew links the activities of preaching the gospel and healing the sick in Matthew 4:23: “And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” These two activities went together quite naturally.
When the seventy disciples re-turned they reported their great success to Jesus. They were overjoyed that “even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (v. 17). Jesus had sent them out like an army to invade Satan’s territory and to wage war. Their campaign had been tremendously successful. Satan suffered a defeat with each demon they cast out. Jesus responded with an acknowledgment: “And He said to them, `I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you (vv. 18-19). Notice Jesus’ mention of “over all the power of the enemy.” Satan was being defeated in the ministry of Jesus. The seventy disciples had shared in that ministry, and it would culminate in the greatest de-feat over Satan: the death and resurrection of Christ that decisively defeated Satan’s power of sin and death respectively. So when Jesus says, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning,” he was de-scribing how greatly his ministry was defeating the power of Satan over men. No longer would Satan’s power be unchallenged and absolute. In his work, Christ was destroying the seemingly invincible power of sin and death. In language reminiscent of Isaiah 14:12-14, Jesus compares the former power of Satan to a star, and that star has now fallen. Revelation 9:12 and Matthew 24:29 also uses the imagery of a falling star to describe the defeat of power.
So again, this so-called “proof text” is not about the origin of Satan at all. It is only by bringing such an idea into the text that it can do service for this doctrine.
Perhaps the most popular origin of-Satan passage is this one, Revelation 12:7-9. It reads: “And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”
Anyone who has ever looked at John’s Revelation knows that it abounds in strange symbols. It is only by the violence of treating symbolic language literally, and by ignoring the context, that we can get a story of the origin of Satan out of this text.
Revelation 12 is a symbolic description of the spiritual circumstances that led up to, and caused, the persecution that John’s readers faced. John wrote Revelation to give its first readers an insight into their suffering, to see it in a larger context. They were caught up in a tremendous struggle between God and Satan. Satan was trying to destroy the church using Rome as his agent. John thus was giving his readers a perspective on their situation that would help them to endure. As a figurative and symbolic description we certainly must not read it literally, nor should we treat it as some kind of chronological historical narrative of what had happened.
Revelation 12 is admittedly a difficult passage, but students of Revelation who view the book from the standpoint of its historical context generally agree that it is about the victory of God’s people and the defeat of their enemy, Satan. The first part of the chapter (vv. 1-6) lays before us a story of the birth of a male child who becomes the ruler of the nations. This imagery represents Christ (the allusion to the Messianic Psalm 2 in Revelation 12:5 confirms this). How-ever, a great dragon (Satan) immediately challenges his appearing. The appearance of Jesus unleashed a great spiritual war (v. 7). Satan’s dominion over the human situation had, until now, gone unchallenged. When Christ appears, Satan’s power over man is effectively destroyed, and Satan suffers a crushing defeat (v. 9). The basic story John presents here in verse 7ff is that Satan has lost his bid for dominion over humanity. He and his forces are no match for God and his forces. He cannot defeat God and his Son. In a great destruction Satan is cast down, symbolizing his ruin.
That Satan is cast down to earth is, I think, significant. It is a change in the battle front. Since Satan could not defeat God in the spiritual realm, he then turns his attention to the physical realm where he hopes to be victorious. It is the same battle for spiritual mastery over man, but now it is a spiritual battle fought out on earth. This time instead of trying to destroy the Son of God (which at-tempt failed), he now tries to destroy the people of God who live on the earth. Satan floods the earth with his lies, deceptions, temptations, etc. in his effort to destroy God’s people, but this too fails (vv. 11, 17).
Revelation 12:7-9 is about how Satan received a crushing defeat by the appearing and work of Jesus. John wrote this to encourage his readers who were suffering because of Satan’s attack on them through the agency of a wicked world power, Rome. They could endure if they knew that the victory was theirs. Knowing the origin of Satan would have done nothing to encourage them to persevere under severe trials.
So Where Did Satan Come From?
If none of the passages that are so commonly cited as accounts of the origin of Satan are truly about his origin, then where did he come from? Well, I am not sure the Bible exactly tells us. We may have a curiosity about the subject, but we must not allow such curiosity to prompt us to find answers that are not there.
The best we can do, I think, is to infer a few things about Satan. First, only God (the Godhead) is uncreated. Every-thing and everyone else in the universe is created. Hence Satan is a created being. The Bible nowhere says that he is an eternal being like God. Second, the Bible attributes omnipotence only to God (the Godhead). Hence Satan is not an omnipotent being. Although he has great powers, God limits his use of them (cf. 1 Cor 10:13; Job 1-2).
Third, there are beings who were made and who exist above the human level. We may call them spiritual beings for lack of a better term. Among these spiritual beings are angels, but these apparently are not the only kinds of spiritual beings (cf. Eph. 6:12; Rev. 4-5). Concerning this order of beings we know more about angels than any others. The picture we get from God’s word is that spiritual beings are very much interested in, and sometimes involved in, the affairs of earth. For example, angels mediated the Law of Moses (Gal. 3:19), angels announced the resurrection of Christ (Matt. 28:5), and angels desired to see the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation (1 Pet. 1:12). While it may be stepping out on a limb, it also appears that spiritual beings, while they are created, nevertheless are not bound in their existence by the restraints of time or age.
The Bible nowhere identifies Satan as a human being. He is obviously one of the spiritual beings of which we read in the Bible. This is not to say that Satan is an angel. In fact, it would have been so easy, in any number of con-texts, for any of the Bible writers to say plainly that Satan was an angel, but they never did. He is, nevertheless, a spiritual being and the Bible describes him as, among other things, “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). We first see Satan in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3), at the very beginning of human history, and he has existed continually since then.
Fifth, spiritual beings, like human beings, have freedom of will. Jude describes the punishment of rebellious angels in v. 6 of his epistle, and Peter speaks of angels sinning in 2 Pet. 2:4. Hence Satan stands opposed to God because he chooses to do so. God certainly did not create him for evil or as an evil being, for the Bible tells us plainly that there is no evil associated with God (James 1:13; 1 John 1:5).
It seems that the most we could say about Satan’s origin is that he is a created, but spiritual being who has chosen to oppose God, and he recruits other spiritual beings and human beings in his efforts. Much more than this is only speculation.
In a very significant sense, it does not matter where Satan came from. The emphasis in the Bible is instead on what he does. It is not how he came to exist that is of concern. It is the fact that he exists that concerns us. He continues to work against us in his attempt to master humanity, and to us Jesus left the continuation of the war. “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:10-12)
Guardian of Truth XL: 10 p. 6-8
May 16, 1996