Who Is Satan, the Devil, the Prince of Darkness?

Pleased to Meet You, Do You Know The Name of Satan?

Either Satan gets blamed for almost everything or ignored as if he doesn’t exist. Known by many names—the Devil (Matt 5:1), Belial (2 Cor 6:15), Beelzebul (Matt 10:25)—that basically describe his character.

So when we see names like The Evil One (Matt 13:19), the Prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2), the god of this present age (2 Cor 4:4), the Father of Lies (John 8), the great accuser, Satan (Job 1:6): they tell us what he’s like.

Honestly, typing this makes me a bit nervous. That will either have some folk laughing at me or confused that I would carry on with this foolish endeavor. But, I spent some time studying him in Scripture and I wanted to share my notes.

I have no intention of examining Satan’s activities throughout history, or how he may have been behind this or that event. Indeed, I don’t have many notes on the intertestamental development of the doctrine of Satan and I frankly don’t think it’s helpful in understanding him.

My nervousness lies in hoping to properly represent the ruler of this present world (John 12:31). I don’t want to follow in the foolish error of men who go on to do what not even an archangel dares to do (Jude 9,10) so I approach with the reliance on God’s word.

This is one of my longer posts, so I’ve divided it into the following sections. If you would rather not read the full post, each section ends with a short summary.

  1. The Bible shows that Satan has perfected his evil
  2. But the Bible tells us little about Satan’s history and future
  3. And also little about Satan’s position
  4. Frankly, Isaiah 14 doesn’t talk about Satan
  5. Neither Does Ezekiel 28
  6. Satan is powerful, though limited
  7. When people freely join Satan things get ugly
  8. Christians must actively resist Satan
  9. While knowing that their own worst enemy is themselves

Satan Has Refined His Wickedness Over Time

When I think of a human liar and murderer, I think of a very conniving person that generally looks the part. I am surely affected by Hollywood. The Satan is described differently.

He’s called crafty (Gen 3:1-5) while being a liar (John 8:44); a deceiver (Rev 12:9; 20:7) while being a gossiper (Gen 3:1); a murderer (John 8:44) while keeping his hands clean (Gen 3:4); an oppressor (Luke 10:38) and schemer (2 Cor 2:11) who was evil from the beginning (1 John 3:8) and yet he knows Scripture (Luke 4:10-11) while disguising himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14).

This is not some one-sided character. He enters the very throne room of God (Job 1, 2) and not even the angels bring an accusation against him Jude 6-9—we need to be careful.

Summarizing statement: The evilest of us do a lot of damage in a relatively short period of time. Satan is a person who has perfected his evil across the ages of men. It allows him to use a Bible, fail, and patiently aim to try again later (Luke 4:13).

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The Bible Tells Us Little About The History and Future of Satan

dore fall of satan
Dore Fall of Lucifer

Although we assume much, we really don’t know a lot about Satan’s past. We know God created him because God created everything (John 1:3). We know he’s older than humans only because humans came very late in the creation story—indeed, animals were around before humans (Gen 1). We know that he was created good because everything God created was good (Gen 1:31) but when Satan does show up in the creation story, he had already sinned (Gen 3:1; Rev 12:9; 1 John 3:8).

The Bible never really tells us what was the sin that caused Satan’s fall though Christ does speak of seeing him fall (Luke 10:18). That fall resulted in some of Satan’s followers being bound (Jude 6) though Matthew, Mark and Luke show us that some of Satan’s followers were loose and causing trouble.

We know that at a very early stage in the history of men, Satan was already cunning in his ability to deceive (Gen 3:1) and he proceeded to use his skills to end the first couple (Gen 3:1-5).

Lastly, we know a bit of his future.

We know that he will be bound during the Millennium (Rev 20:2) even if he currently prowls about like a hungry lion (1 Pet 5:8). We know that before his ultimate punishment and the destruction of his works at the appearing of the Son of God (1 John 3:8), he is released for a time of rebellion (Rev 20:7-8).

At the very end—and he knows this (Rev 12:12)—he will be put into the eternal fires prepared for him and his angels (Rev 20:10).

Summarizing statement: Though we don’t have the full details of Satan’s past and future, we’re told where he’s been, what he’s currently doing, and where he’ll go. There are a couple of passages in the Old Testament that have often been taken to be an account of Satan’s fall (specifically Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 but, as we will see below, they’re likely not about the Satan).

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The Bible Also Tells Us Little About Satan’s Position

Satan's Fall by Rubens
Fall of Lucifer by Rubens

Although we know that Satan is called the God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) and the Prince of the Power of the Air (Eph. 2:2) and that he can even promise the kingdoms of the world to the tempted Christ (Matt 4:8), it seems to be that he has only limited authority over the people of God (Col 2:15)—and that when God allows or in disciplinary situations (1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tim 1:20).

Although named the Prince of Darkness (Eph 6:12) while holding a a throne in several cities (Rev 2:13; Dan 10:13) and being a ruler over a kingdom of darkness, the nations of the world are not at his beck and call; he needs to deceive them for them to act (Rev 20:1-3).  Though cast from heaven to roam the Earth, he seems to have the authority to enter into the presence of God and bring accusations (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7; Rev 12:10); then he can be shut down while offering the prosecution (Zech 3:1-2). His position is that of adversary (that’s what Satan means), or if you will, the Prosecution (Job 1:6).

Satan is never called the chief angel (archangel means chief angel and some misread Ezekiel 28 to be about Satan) but he is the chief over a group of angels (Matt 25:41; Rev 12:7) who are described as not strong enough to beat archangel Michael and his angels (Rev 12:8). We might assume that he’s of the same category of Michael and Gabriel but not that he was over them (or worse, a cherub according to a misreading of Ezek 28:14).

Satan on Supernatural
Satan on Supernatural

All this is, even in the lack of details, nuanced and (admittedly) otherworldly. There is some sort of hierarchy with principalities and powers (Eph 3:10-11; 6:12) but it’s not an equal-yet-inverted hierarchy (like Supernatural or Spawn portrays). Satan’s position is great but his authority is under God’s prerogatives (Job 1 cf to Job 38:11; Luke 22:31–32).

Summarizing statement: though modern and medieval portrayals assume much about Satan’s position and authority, the Bible is much more nuanced. That being the case, the Bible tells us enough to know that he’s essentially in charge of the side that has already lost the war.

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Isaiah 14 Doesn’t Mention Satan At All and is Actually About a Man Known as the King of Babylon

merodachbaladan and not satan
MerodachBaladan, King of Babylon, Boundary Stone

People often think that we see Satan’s fall in Isaiah 14:12 (including even ascribing him the name “Lucifer”), his sin was aspiring for God’s throne (Isaiah 14:13), his desire to be like God (Isaiah 14:14), and lastly how he was shut up in hell (Isaiah 14:15).

Though the language sometimes feels too big for a man’s shoes, that’s not enough of a reason to set aside what the text says. When you read Isaiah 14:16-17, right in the context, it says that people will say:

“Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a wilderness and overthrew its cities, who did not allow his prisoners to go home?”

Who is this man that made the earth tremble? Who is this man who did not allow his prisoners to go home? Well, Isaiah 14:4 tells us that this taunt (or proverb) is levied against the King of Babylon because his power is broken and the “entire earth” is at rest (Isaiah 14:7).

Even the trees of Lebanon—thus limiting the scope of what “entire earth” means—are happy because no Babylonians are coming along to cut them down (Isaiah 14:8). Lastly, the grave is eager to meet this man to tell him that in his death he has been made as weak as the rest of the dead (Isaiah 14:9-11).

Textually there are even more problems: Satan isn’t shut up in hell (1 Peter 5:8) and he was already “ascended into heaven” (Job 1:6). If this is heaven, why is his desire to sin in a mount in the recesses of the North (Isa 14:13)—that sounds more like the Babylonian King desiring to conquer the Northern Assyrian kingdom!

This isn’t about Satan. It’s about a proud Babylonian King.

So why does Isaiah use lofty language to depict a human king? Maybe it’s a hyperbolic/poetic way of saying that he had the highest position of power but he will be brought low. We see this sort of usage in Psalm 82:6,7 (John 10:34) where it says that people are gods who will “die like men”—but that doesn’t mean that they are really gods!

Summarizing statement: The Isaiah text specifically says that it is about (A) a man who is (B) the King of Babylon. There are no markers in the text for theologizing doctrine back into the written words.

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Ezekiel 28:13-17 Is Really About the King of Tyre, Not Satan

Cherub Carchemish and Not Satan
Assyrian Cherub

Ezekiel 28 explicitly says it is a message to the King of Tyre (Ezek 28:2, 12) and it first addresses him then describes the man.

“You have said ‘I am a god,’” is quickly followed by “Yet you are a man and not a God”. This is repeated in Ezek 28:9 and, in that context, he is told that he will die a death (Ezek 28:8) inflicted by the hands of men (Ezek 28:7).

The reason for this man’s destruction is highlighted in the text: his pride enacted in his multitude of iniquities evidenced in his trade and love of wealth.

By your great wisdom, by your trade you have increased your riches and your heart is lifted up because of your riches… (Ezek 28:5)

By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned… (Ezek 28:16)

By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade you profaned your sanctuaries… (Ezek 28:18)

adam and even in the garden with satanThe biggest problem with my interpretation is found with the two phrases “You were in Eden, the garden of God” (Ezek 28:13) and “You were the anointed cherub who guards” (Ezek 28:14). The phrases are so powerful that some folk have made them the primary interpretative marker of the passage as a whole turning “King of Tyre” into a name for Satan.

If right, the passage would not only speak about the Satan’s splendor in Eden or his position as God’s “anointed cherub who covers/guards” but that he was also subsequently cast out (Ezek 28:16)—this surely, they would say, can’t refer to a mere man.

But there are several textual problems with that interpretation.

  • First, if this were Satan, the passage would be showing that a spirit wears precious stones as clothes (Ezek 28:13).
  • Second, even though God already knew him as deviously crafty (Gen 3:1), he was somehow considered blameless (Ezek 28:14).
  • Third, while considered blameless, God tasked him with guarding Eden (Ezek 28:14)!
  • Fourth, that the unrighteousness found in this person is described, as above, the abundance of [his] trade while [he was] internally filled with violence and not really that he was a cunning liar and murderer.
  • Fifth, if anything, the illustration seems to be comparing the first man placed in a position of honor in a garden (Adam) rather than an angel. My kids picked up on that one specifically being placed there in the garden.
  • Sixth, that this book often uses Eden to illustrate a point. For example, Assyria is called a tree that’s better than the rest of the trees in God’s Garden of Eden (Ezek 31:8-9,16; 36:35).
  • Seven, in Scripture the Holy Mountain of God is never used to refer to heaven but more to Zion—the place where God has placed his sanctuary (Ps 99:9; Isa 56:7; millennium Isa 11:9; 65:25).
  • Eight, the fiery stones wind up being a complete mystery (more on that below).
Melk
Melkart, God of Tyre

And there are several cultural problems as well:

  • The patron god of Tyre was Melkart and the King of Tyre may have been describing himself as the god’s guardian winged sphinx known as a cherub. It was an all-wise creature, with the head of the priest-king and a bejeweled animal body.
  • Kings of Tyre may have functioned as priest-kings over their temples, a building that enclosed a garden for their gods. These temples would have bas relief carvings of these cherubs as protectors of the garden of the god.
  • The mountain of God could be: (one)In Ugaritic myths, Mount Zaphon functioned as the holy mountain of the gods; (two) Jerusalem, which accords with Biblical usage.
  • If the later it would explain the fiery stones as the king walking in on the sacked, and still burning, city.
  • Historians would also tell us that bowls have been found depicting a god burning practice. The cult of Melkart at Tyre burned their gods an effigy to show the god coming back to life—as if the god walked amongst the fiery stones and survived.

Summarizing statement: What the text says is that this is the King of Tyre—a man, and not a spiritual being named “King of Tyre”—will die for his proud wealth-accumulating sins. The previous chapter specifically touches on Tyre as a center of trade (Ezek 27) and here in chapter 28, the king will lose it all. Culturally, there are enough correlations that should give Christians pause before ascribing it all to the Devil. Of course, Christians should feel comfortable illustrating doctrines with situations from the Old Testament, but we must be careful saying that the text is teaching something that is, at best, speculation.

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Though Powerful, Satan Is Limited

Satan has some serious power but much of it was curbed at the cross and the empty grave (Col 2:15). For example, Hebrews 2:14 talks about the Devil having the power of death and yet, Christ partook of flesh and death so that he might render the Devil powerless.

Satan can bind people (Luke 13:16; Rev 2:10) and take away the preached message from unbelievers (Mark 4:15), can cause illness (Job 1,2), and can even send a messenger to attack the people of God (2 Cor 12:7; Rev 12:17) but all of his power is subsumed under the sovereignty of God (Job 1:12; 2:6). Satan is not allowed to do anything without God’s say-so (Luke 22:31).

Although the Satan has been around a long time and knows a lot, he is a temporal being: he cannot be at multiple places at the same time (Luke 4:13), know your thoughts (1 Cor 2:1; 14:2-25; Dan 2:22), know the future (Isaiah 46:9-10; Mark 13:32), or beat God and his People (Rom 16:20). He can take really good guesses based on observation, and of course he knows Scripture, but that’s it.

Even with power over a synagogue (Rev 2:9), his own host of angels (Matt 25:41), and actively roaming the earth (Job 1:7) like a hungry lion (1 Peter 5:8) he must be, and can be, resisted (2 Cor 2:11; Eph 6:11; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8). He acts with the knowledge that he doesn’t have a lot of time (Rev 12:12).

Summarizing statement: Although Satan is the ruler of the world (Luke 4:6; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor 4:4) who governs over non-believers (Mk 4:15; Jn 8:44; Acts 13:10; Col 1:13), and could even move the people of God to error in the Old Testament (1 Chr 21:1 cf 2 Sam 24:1), he cannot conquer over God’s purposes or his people (Rom 8:37-39). He is the strong man, but his power is bound (Mark 3:26-27).

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Sometimes Unbelievers Freely Join Satan in Wicked Rebellion

gospel-of-judasDuring the Millennium, when Satan is released, he’s still able to deceive the unbelieving nations and rally them against Christ (Rev 20:7-8). The interesting note is that he has to deceive them to get them to his side but, even so, they are fully committed to the rebellion against God’s anointed.

We see this elsewhere. For instance, Jesus says that one of the disciples is the Devil (John 6:70). At a certain point during the last Passover, Satan himself enters into Judas (Luke 22:3; John 13:27), but somehow Judas is still in control using his reason. He discusses with the leadership how to betray Christ (Luke 22:4-6) and personally consents to the deal—so much so that afterwards he feels remorse, takes ownership for the action, and kills himself (Matt 27:3-5). Judas doesn’t lose control like other demon-possessed people who are imbued with power or strength or blasphemy (Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). He marches on and Satan joins him.

Jesus, when speaking to people who are lying about his character and trying to kill him says that they are acting like their Father the Devil (John 8:44). John says that the children of the devil—the ones who act like Satan—are the ones who practice sinning and then uses an example of a man who was “of the evil one”: Cain (1 John 3:12). This man slew his brother, not because he was of the evil one, but because his deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous.

antichrist and satan Signorelli
Fresco of Deeds of the Anti-Christ, Signorelli

This is further seen when Paul speaks about the Lawless One (2 Thes 2:8,9) whose “coming is in accord with the activity of Satan”. This one, described as the son of destruction (2 Thes 2:3), comes with power and signs and false wonders. And yet, under the activity of Satan, this man exalts himself and takes his seat in the temple of God demanding people worship him (Dan 7:25; 8:25; 11:36; 2 Thes 2:3; Rev 13:5).

Presently, God is actively restraining Satan so that sinners can be saved (2 Thes 2:6-7) but when these people and beings are allowed to freely join hands with Satan it seems to always end in destruction.  These characters are all more than demon-possessed or demon-influenced; rather they seem to join Satan in his active rebellion. They do what they want and Satan empowers them to go further (Rev 13:2). Indeed, all of Revelation 13 illustrates this activity of unbelievers who join in the rebellion and worship the powerful beast while blaspheming against God.

This is what scares me when people mess with the occult. There’s something going on here that we don’t fully understand and the consequences are catastrophic. Also, there’s no way to prove it, but it makes me wonder if certain historical folk (Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, Pol Pot, others) had, in embracing their sin, joined this kind of rebellion with the Devil. I don’t think there is a way to prove it since the heart of man is desperately wicked on its own (more on that below).

Summarizing statement: Although unbelievers are said to be part of Satan’s Kingdom of Darkness (Col 1:13), there is a special category of rebellion that seems to consist of freely joining with Satan, not so much in signing a deal with the devil but in fully embracing their wickedness. Due to God’s restraining power these situations are, thankfully, limited.

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Christians Must Actively, Yet Respectfully, Resist Satan

Michael Conquering Satan
Michael Conquering Satan

Christians, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the third person of the triune Godhead, can resist Satan (Eph 4:27; 1 Peter 5:8) and must do so (2 Cor 2:11; Eph 6:11; James 4:7).

Knowing that he might be able to hinder God’s workers (1 Thes 2:18) Christians should not give in to his plots. Christians, though promised the ultimate victory, must fully equip themselves with God’s provision so that they can stand firm against the Devil’s plans (Eph 6:11) grounded in our faith in God (Eph 6:16).

When Christians act they are to do so understanding the schemes of Satan and not giving him opportunity (2 Cor 2:11). Not that he’s everywhere attacking the people of God (as I noted above, he’s not omnipresent or omniscient), but there is an understanding that ultimately our battle is a spiritual one (Eph 6:12).

Christians are never called to shout down his Satanic Majesty, nor to taunt him, but are called to follow the example of Michael an archangel who, though apparently stronger than Satan, was respectful when disputing over Moses’ body and left the rebuking to the Lord Our God (Jude 8-9).

Why? Maybe it is because we don’t have all of the information? That might be close to it because Jude illustrates that those are foolish actions against these dark authorities and powers done by people who in their lack of understanding are acting more like unthinking animals than human beings (Jude 9,10).

Summarizing statement: Christians shouldn’t fear Satan and, as part of God’s people, must actively resist him not expecting him to work in all situations but not giving him opportunity to take advantage of any situation. In all things, we must be respectful of his Satanic Majesty.

Christians Must Remember That Satan Isn’t as Present As Their Own Sins

Paul writing scripture
Paul Writing Scripture, Boulogne

Even while typing this, I don’t sit here worrying that there are demons around me waiting to destroy me. Nor do I think that every interruption that occurred during this study was a result of Satan trying to hinder me—I doubt I’m that important on Satan’s hit list. I am my own worst enemy: my sinful disposition against God, my wants, my pride, and wanting to have it my way (1 John 2:16; Rom 7:23).

It is the same for all Christians. We are not all Paul who the Lord had chosen to do an amazing work for Him. Satan, I can understand, would attack Paul, but, even so, Satan did it by way of messenger (2 Cor 12:7) and by means of trying to stop travels (1 Thes 2:17-18).  As such, we shouldn’t expect to see Satan like a bogeyman popping out from every corner—disrespectfully assigning all evil to him while simultaneously giving him more power than he holds—but rather actively living in the power of the Spirit to be holy (1 Peter 1:14-16).

This, I find, is the tough nut to crack. It would be easier if our spiritual battle was solely against a person who had limited resources, some of those resources behind bars (Jude 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4) but it’s not. We often battle with the brambles of our sins (Heb 12:1).

That doesn’t mean Satan isn’t prowling about (1 Pet 5:8). It would be a tremendous mistake to assume there is no Satan and stop being alert. The bigger mistake is assuming that I have nothing to do with my own sin.

Which then shows us why Paul can look at an assembly and have more concern for the sin and doctrine that is happening within it than looking around for Satan. Indeed, when there is a seriously egregious sin he tells the assembly to expel the person from the assembly and deliver them over to Satan for the destruction of their bodies and the saving of their souls (1 Cor 5:5). That’s a serious issue for another post, but it shows us that Paul sees God’s Spirit working in here, where the church is, and Satan is out there.

Summarizing statement: Although Satan is an enemy, his danger and power is not as present as our own sinful desires and predisposition. The battle, though spiritual, is fought primarily against our own personal wants. Sadly, Satan doesn’t have to find a way to cause each of us to fail: he just has to wait.

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Concluding Thoughts About Satan

Satan in the Passion of Christ
Satan in the passion of Christ

I’ve dealt with many Scriptures and though there’s a lot here there’s also a lot missing. I think God has deigned to tell us only what we need to know. We don’t know if he’s red, has horns, uses a pitchfork or eyeliner, has bat-wings, or is androgynous. We don’t know where he hangs his hat (does he have a dark throne in a fiery pool? A castle in some evil city? None of this since he’s always roaming?) or if he even needs to do that. Frankly, we still do not really know his name! We know only that which is necessary.

For instance, we know he masquerades as an angel of light but we know nothing about what that means in his daily activity. In context Paul is talking about false teachers who are disguised as apostles of Christ (2 Cor 11:13-14). Paul isn’t saying beware of “angels of light” but realize that all that glitters isn’t gold.

I think that this study of what the text actually says has challenged my assumptions and has exposed how deeply culture and folk theology has affected my thinking. I hope this helps you as well to bring even the things you thought you knew under the scrutiny of God’s word.

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