The New York Times, in reporting on a survey by the Barna Group, noted the diminishing belief in the devil among Americans. Two-thirds of Americans do not believe in the devil as a living entity. In a nationwide telephone survey of 1,007 randomly selected people, pollsters asked whether the respondents agreed that Satan is “not a living being, but is a symbol of evil.” Sixty-two percent agreed with the statement, while 30 percent disagreed; the remaining 8 percent had no opinion. “If less than one in three Americans seems willing to give the devil his due,” reported the Times, “then that is a result of fundamental, long-term shifts in the nation’s religious culture.”
If we do not know what we are up against in our Christian lives, we are in serious trouble. Along the banks of the Amazon River lives a species of large, colorful spiders. When one of these creatures spreads itself out, it looks exactly like the blossom of a brilliant flower. Bees and other insects lighting upon it expect to tend honey. Instead, the spider secretes a poison that drugs some of them and kills others. That’s exactly what the devil can do if we deny his existence. He may look so harmless. Yet, if we look upon Satan as harmless, that is far more than merely dangerous naïveté; such an assumption will lead to our spiritual death. Let’s take a look at Satan’s origin that we might understand more about him and be on better guard.
Satan is Created
There have been some who have thought that Satan is an eternal being; Satan has existed for an extremely long time, but claiming he is eternal comes close to claiming that he is divine.
God, who is ultimately divine, is uniquely eternal. “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). “Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15). No similar claims are made for any other being in all of Scripture. In fact, most of the time the Bible speaks of God’s being eternal the authors are attempting to set the true God apart from the pagan gods which are here today and gone tomorrow. Thus, Satan is in no way eternal; he has no part in the things of God.
Satan had to be created, for God created all that is; nothing exists which was not created by God. “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (Nehemiah 9:6). “By [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). Since all things were created through Jesus, Satan of necessity must be a created being.
Zoroastrianism, a pagan religion of the Far East, has a system of two gods—one who is good and one who is evil. These two gods are locked in a cosmic struggle of good and evil. Christianity really doesn’t come close to that idea; Satan is no god, he is not divine, but he is a created being.
God Did Not Create Satan Evil
The question would naturally arise, “Did God, then, create Satan to be evil?” The Scriptures clearly answer: “No.” God is too holy to have anything to do with evil. “The Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness” (Isaiah 5:16). “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13-14). “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
There is no possible way that God could have created Satan evil, for God cannot have anything to do with evil or sin. God is holy, and in his holiness, God is separated from us by sin. “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). If God must turn away from us on account of our sins, how could he have created Satan evil? It simply is not possible.
If God did not create Satan evil, where did sin and evil originate? Scripture does not tell us; the first time we encounter Satan in Scripture he is evil and tempting Eve to sin. In order for Satan to be able to tempt Adam and Eve, there had to be evil in the world.
My opinion is that evil in the abstract has always existed, and any moral creature God made—whether man or angel—was capable of evil. It seems to me that for God to be holy from eternity, there had to be evil from eternity. There are some antithetical concepts in this world that in order to understand one, you must understand the other. For example, in order to understand health, there must be sickness; in order to understand light, there must be darkness; in order to understand goodness, there must be evil. Thus, I would suggest that in order for God to be holy, free from any and all moral corruption, there had to be evil—even if simply in the abstract—from eternity. Yet, I freely confess that is nothing more than my opinion.
Satan is a Fallen Angel
We are told in Scripture that some angels fell. “The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). “If God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).
Sure, God could have created the angels without freewill, where they had no choice but to obey him. Yet, just as he did us, God gave the angels freewill. Notice what the Lord told the Israelites when he was giving them the law: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30:15). The Lord basically says, “You have a choice: will you obey my word and receive life or will you disobey my word and receive death? The choice is yours.” So, it was with the angels. They had a decision to make. God really seems to want us to serve him because we want to serve him, not because we’re compelled to do so.
Angels are also depicted in Scripture as needing to obey God’s will. “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!” (Psalm 103:20-21). Thus, angels, in order to keep their position in heaven, must obey the will of God.
What happened that caused Satan to fall from his position in heaven? There are some passages which have been applied to Satan’s fall which really don’t fit.
The first is Isaiah 14:12-13.
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north.”
Lucifer has become synonymous with Satan because of the King James translation of this text. However, the word “Lucifer” only occurs here in Scripture and means “light-bearer” in Latin. Jerome when he translated the Scriptures into Latin used “Lucifer” here and many English translations have followed suit.
However, we need to notice Isaiah 14:4 very carefully: “You will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon.” Thus, what many have applied to Satan really applies to the king of Babylon. Notice also Isaiah 14:16: “Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble?”
The second is Ezekiel 28:13-19.
That text certainly sounds like what we’d expect to read about Satan. Yet notice verse 12: “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre….”
Although I’m inclined to think that these two passages do not refer to Satan because we’re told they refer to the kings of Babylon and Tyre, there are some who say that God is mixing metaphors here. It could be that Satan is so closely connected with the kings of Babylon and Tyre that what applies to one applies to the other. I personally reject that interpretation, but that is a possibility.
We have an interesting tidbit found in 1 Timothy 3:6; discussing the qualifications of elders, Paul writes, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” The Greek is literally “the judgment of the devil,” as the King James translates it. This raises an interesting question: “What does ‘the condemnation of the devil’ mean?” Does Paul mean that the judgment on the conceited comes about by the devil, or does he mean that the devil has come under judgment for being conceited and that those who become conceited come under that same judgment? It is not a question that can be answered from grammar, but it is very possible that Paul here says that Satan fell because of pride.
There are two New Testament passages which could refer to the original casting out of Satan from heaven, but they probably do not.
The first is Luke 10:18 where Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
If you notice the context carefully, I think you’ll see that Jesus is referring to the spiritual battle taking place in his day. The seventy-two had just returned with joy because even the demons were subject to them in Christ’s name (v 17). “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you” (v 19). This is what I think Jesus means here: Demon-possession was a last-ditch effort on Satan’s part to undo God’s work, but Jesus gave his apostles the authority to overcome, they did overcome, and Satan lost his bid to overcome God.
The second is Revelation 12:7-9.
Again, if you look at the context carefully, I think you’ll see that this refers to the great battle between God and Satan that surrounded Christ’s birth. In the Revelation passage, Christ is born prior to Satan’s being cast down to the earth, yet Satan was quite active prior to Christ’s birth. So this passage undoubtedly does not refer to Satan’s fall.
So, what is Satan’s origin? What caused him to fall? Scripture doesn’t tell us, but in Eden we are introduced to Satan. I think we’re not told of Satan’s origin, because God is concerned with man’s redemption and how we can have salvation, and he’s not concerned with answering all the questions we might have.
Here, however, is my opinion, but it is nothing more. Satan had some authority over the other angels. We know that now he has some authority—Christians were dead in their sins when they were “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). It seems that the other fallen angels do Satan’s bidding because he had authority over them before his fall.
Satan wanted to have a seat of prestige and honor. Isn’t that really what he’s after in our lives—doesn’t he really want us to deny Christ and follow him and give him honor? Remember that he even tried to get Jesus to worship him.
Satan, the probable ringleader of the rebellious angels, was cast from heaven along with the other angels, when they rebelled against God’s kingship.
Now, he roams this earth seeking to turn man from God to his own ways. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). That’s what we need to know about the devil, not how he came into the picture, but that he stands opposed to us and the things of God now that he is in the picture. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Are you submitting yourself to God, and resisting the devil?