Editor's Note: The following article is adapted from the latest issue of the Midwestern Magazine. The full issue can be viewed free online.
Is Satan capable of inception? Does he whisper temptations in our ear? Is Satan’s authority, power, and relationship to unbelievers the same or different from Christians? These are all valid and, frankly, somewhat haunting questions. I am not left emotionally unmoved by the many destroyed marriages and ministries around me Satan has devoured. I trust your experience is comparable. It is vital that you and I rightly discern and evaluate Satan. He is not to be trifled with nor buffooned, but in Christ, his back was utterly broken on Calvary’s hill. Therefore, it is important we establish a few implications that help us to discern the person and activity of Satan:
1.) Satan is not omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, nor eternal.
There was a time when Satan was not. In contrast, there was never a ‘time’ when the Son of God was not (i.e., The Son is eternal). Satan is created and contingent just as humans are (Col 1:16-17). In Job 1:6, the Lord asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” to which he responded, “From roaming through the earth.” He is physically positioned in the universe. He is not omnipresent and thus is unlikely to be personally tempting individual Christians. In Matthew 4 and Job 1-2, he fails to know the future and his potency is shown to be limited by God.
2.) Satan exercises his otherworldly dominion by way of a hierarchical, geographical, and militaristic strategy.
In Matthew 4, Satan legitimately offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world. These kingdoms seem to have a geographical and governmental nature. This offer is textually grounded in Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82. But through the cross, Jesus took back the authority forfeited in Adam (Col 2:14-15). Therefore, in Matthew 28:18, Jesus states that all authority has been given to Him. In John 12:31 we’re told Satan is the “ruler of this world,” which rings of realm and region. Then, there is that peculiar reference to the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” in Daniel 10:13, 20. This dark prince opposes the angel Gabriel and the angelic prince Michael. It’s hierarchical. Experientially, this rings true. The nature of spiritual warfare varies depending on the continent and culture (North America, Asia, Africa, etc.). Satan leads a hierarchy of demons (Mt 12:24), a divergent and highly capable army, which implies he is leading an otherworldly ‘outfit’ that personally tempts persons (Col 2:15, 1 Pt 5:8-9) depending on the sinful sensibilities of a given culture.
3.) Satan can manipulate matter, weather systems, and bacterial life.
We see in Job 1 that Satan is able to manipulate matter and weather patterns and, in Job 2:8, he infects Job with a skin disease. His purpose is to afflict Job, and for our machinations, we note he is capable of feats not afforded to humans.
4.) Satan can influence and sway legal proceedings and governmental structures.
In Revelation 2:10, Jesus states that Satan is in the process of influencing Smyrna’s legal proceedings by throwing a collection of Christians into prison. Likewise, in Job 1:17, he manipulates the Chaldeans, encouraging them to steal Job’s livestock. Though we are not told how he exerts his influence, we surmise he is the agent of these activities.
5.) Satan aggressively seeks to trap individual Christians.
1 Timothy 3:7 says he seeks to trap elders. He is spoken of as a federal head type of figure. His minions study individuals and then seek to tempt and twist them in accordance with particularized patterns of sin. They cater and concoct a seemingly irresistible elixir of poison just for you. Television, social media, fast food, biology, age, and gender are all thrown into the recipe.
6.) Satan is more skilled at deception than any other created being.
John 8:44 says his nature is to lie. If his mouth is moving, he is lying. He is the original liar and, therefore, the father of lies. Every lie was and is birthed in him. However, deception is all he has in his arsenal against Christians. As Colossians 2:15 teaches, this side of Calvary, Satan can accuse, but he knows—and his rebel realm know—that he has been reduced to utter fragility at the cross.
7.) Satan is able to kill Christians.
He is able to kill you physically (Job 1-2), but not eternally (Rom 8). In Job 2, when Satan goes a second time to the LORDin the divine courtroom, he asks permission to kill Job, but God denies his request. I take that to mean Satan could have killed him, but God would not allow it. Everything Satan does comes crashing down on his own head, eventually crushing his skull (Gn 3:15) unto the glory of the Son of God and for the Christian’s good.
8.) Satan is the Lord’s lackey for the Christian’s holiness.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul says his thorn is “a messenger of Satan,” and yet the Lord kindly uses the thorn (against Paul’s will!) to produce sanctification and spiritual power in Paul’s ministry. How kind of the Lord to give Paul his thorn! Satan plays the pawn in God’s economy, and the thorn stays against Paul’s will. Thus, Satan is ever regulated by Romans 8 and, therefore, is providentially powerless to wound Christians in any resurrected or eternal sense. Neither Satan nor death, neither “angels nor rulers … nor powers … will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rm 8:38).
9.) Satan will be thrown into hell in the end.
Satan can and surely has read Matthew 25:41, which states he will ultimately be thrown into hell. That is what I mean by “Satan is so smart he’s stupid.” This is his end, yet he rages against all “born of God” (1 Jn 3:9). He lies. He accuses the brethren (Rv 12:10). But he cannot succeed in bringing a guilty sentence upon the Christian anymore (Col 2:14).
10.) Satan is resistible.
James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” He will flee from you, Christian. Resist him. If Christians resist temptation, hold firm the promise of resurrection, and do not give in, do not accept the enemy’s lies, and do not give into his accusations—Satan will eventually depart. He is limited. He is finite. He will eventually move on to easier prey.
In the final analysis, we are not told precisely how or why Satan does certain things, but when we analyze the pertinent texts and take into account all of the data, we see what he does and what he is capable of. The Christian, then, is broken over the plight of the unregenerate, properly sobered, and bolstered that Jesus so decisively routed Satan at Calvary.