In our lesson last week, we began a Biblical study of Satan our adversary. We answered three primary questions about the devil. Let's briefly review what we learned at that time.
QUESTION #1 - IS SATAN REAL? Although many doubt his existence, we know that Satan exists because the Bible tells us so. The Scriptures are reliable, and they explicitly describe the devil as a distinct being. Satan is real; he isn't some myth or mysterious, ambiguous force! The Old and New Testaments prove this abundantly.
QUESTION #2 - WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF SATAN? We deduced from Scripture that Satan doesn't have the attributes of deity; thus, he isn't eternal. Since Satan isn't eternal, then he must have had a starting point. Since everything that had a starting point was created by God, we know that Satan was created by God. We set forth a reasonable case to suggest that Satan was created as an angel of God and that he wasn't created evil. Rather, according to a couple New Testament passages, it appears that he led an angelic rebellion against God--and lost.
QUESTION #3 - WHY HAS SATAN POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST BOTH GOD AND MAN? It seems reasonable that Satan has become the enemy of both man and God because of his failed rebellion and strong desire for revenge. Satan knows he will ultimately be punished for his sins, and he also knows that he can't get his vengeance by attacking God directly. Thus, he is doing all he can to hurt God indirectly by getting men and women to sin! Satan wants revenge, and he intends to get it by pulling as many souls to hell with him as he can!
Now, let's consider six additional questions pertaining to the devil.
QUESTION #4 - WHY HAS GOD ALLOWED SATAN TO CONTINUE TO EXIST?
Since Satan is called a "murderer" in the Scriptures (John 8:44), one might rightly wonder why God doesn't simply put him to death like other murderers (cf. Num. 35:16). What possible justification could God have for allowing one who is so wicked to continue to live? There is a clue regarding this point in Luke 20:33-36. Within that passage, Jesus spoke of the righteous who would one day inhabit heaven, and He stated that "nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to angels..." Now, think about that. If righteous humans who will inhabit heaven cannot die, and if they are equal to angels, then it follows that angels cannot die. Humans and angels are not eternal; that is, they have not always existed. But, once created they are immortal; that is, they will live forever.
Of course, if God wanted to, surely He could eradicate Satan's existence. He could completely annihilate him if He so desired. God has the power to do that. However, the fact that He allows Satan to continue to exist suggests that perhaps God has a purpose for the devil. Consider Exodus 9:15,16 where God speaks to Pharaoh and says - "Now if I had stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, then you would have been cut off from the earth. But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." Perhaps God is showing His own power through Satan as He did through Pharaoh. Do you understand this possibility? How did God show His power through Pharaoh? Because of Pharaoh's stubborn rebellious nature, God worked many miracles to ultimately free His people, and in so doing the name of the Lord was exalted. Today it seems likely that God has allowed Satan to retain power, temporarily, until He is finished using the devil to test and to purify a people for God's ultimate glory and purposes. We can overcome Satan through Christ, and in so doing much glory is given to the Father. This may have something to do with Satan's continued existence.
Of course, even after the Day of Judgment, the Scriptures teach that Satan will continue to exist. The only reason for him to exist then is for the sake of justice--that he may be punished forever for his sins!
QUESTION #5 - WHAT IS SATAN'S MISSION?
This question has already been answered to a certain extent. Based on the fact that the devil is trying to get revenge against God through man, his mission is the complete destruction of all humanity in hell! He would love for every human being to end up suffering forever with him in the "lake of fire" (Rev. 20:10).
Consider for a moment some of Satan's designations in Scripture: adversary (Zech. 3:1), devil (Matt. 4:1), tempter (Matt. 4:3), murderer and father of lies (John 8:44), the god of this world (II Cor. 4:4), prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), the ruler of demons (Matt. 12:24), great dragon and serpent of old (Rev. 12:9), the wicked one (Matt. 13:38), the ruler of darkness (Eph. 6:12), accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), a roaring lion (I Pet. 5:8), angel of the bottomless pit (Rev. 9:11). Surely these descriptive words and phrases indicate the nature of Satan's mission. His primary goal is to alienate men from God by getting men to sin. But, how exactly does Satan do this?
QUESTION #6 - HOW DOES SATAN CARRY OUT HIS MISSION AGAINST MANKIND?
If I had to answer that question with two words I would say: temptation and deception. Satan will try to get us to sin with one or both of these tools he wields so effectively. Let's look at some Scriptures: I John 3:8 says - "He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil." We know that Satan is the originator of sin. However, that doesn't mean that he is the immediate cause of sin today. According to Matthew 4:3, Satan is the tempter, but nowhere do we find that he can compel men to do evil against their wills. That is a very important point to understand. Satan cannot force anyone to sin! Before a man becomes guilty of sin, he must yield to Satan's temptation and desire. Now, to merely be tempted is not to sin, but to yield to temptation is sin. We know this to be true for Christ never sinned, but He was tempted in all general ways as we are (Heb. 4:15). We are responsible for our own sins, in spite of the fact that the devil is doing his best to tempt us. God has endowed every human being with the power of reasoning and free will. Therefore, we have the ability to choose good or evil. So, our sins are our own and we are responsible for them, not Satan! As James wrote in 1:14,15 - "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death."
Let's note some Biblical examples of this truth. Judas, after realizing his serious error in betraying Christ, said "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood"(Matt. 27:4). Judas didn't try to blame someone else for his sin, even though we know Satan gave him the idea to betray Jesus (John 13:2). Also consider Acts 5. In that chapter, two disciples named Ananias & Sapphira lied about the amount they had received from the sale of a piece of land. They claimed that the amount they donated to the church was the entire amount of money they received from the sale. Peter asked Ananias is Acts 5:4 - "Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." Peter wanted Ananias to know that he personally bore the guilt for his sin. Ananias couldn't legitimately say, "The devil made me do it." This same principle was true in the Old Testament. David, in II Samuel 12, was convicted of sin by the prophet Nathan. Even though David was a great king, he realized his personal responsibility when he said - "I have sinned against the Lord" (II Sam. 12:13).
Perhaps you are wondering: If we are responsible for our own actions (and we are), how then does Satan influence us to sin? Well, it appears that his most powerful tool to accomplish this is deceit. The New Testament describes Satan as truthless, dishonest, and fraudulent in every possible way. II Corinthians 2:11 teaches that Satan has his deceptive "devices." Also, Ephesians 6:11 speaks of his "wiles"; that is, the methods he uses to try to trick you. The devil is skilled in the art of deception; he will deceive you if you do not work at the job of fighting him back!
But Stephen, how extensive is the devil's power of deception? How does he use it? Let us consider this subject further as we answer...
QUESTION #7 - WHAT ARE SATAN'S POWERS?
We established in last week's lesson that Satan is not omnipotent. But, just because he is not all-powerful doesn't mean that he is weak! What exactly are his powers today? We know undoubtedly that he is the "god of this world" as II Corinthians 4:4 states. But what does that mean? It means that God has allowed Satan to rule this world and have his way with it to a certain extent. The early events of the book of Job illustrate this truth well. God let Satan do what he wanted with Job, but there were conditions that Satan had to abide by. Today, Satan is the lord of this planet. That fact should be easily seen by anyone who is familiar with the evil ways of this world.
Satan is powerful enough to rule planet Earth. Even Jesus realized this point in Matthew 4 when He was being tempted. The devil told Jesus that all of the kingdoms of the world would be given to Him if He would only bow down and worship him. Now, if Satan really didn't have the power to give Jesus those kingdoms, then it really wouldn't have been a temptation to Jesus! The Lord could have simply said, "You don't have the power to give Me those kingdoms, Satan!" But Jesus didn't say that because He knew that Satan did have that power. It was a temptation for Jesus to accept earthly kingdoms and forget about dying on the cross. Jesus could have enjoyed life as an earthly ruler and not had to endure the agony of crucifixion. But Jesus didn't give in to the temptation. He chose to die for the sins of the world instead of enjoying earthly kingdoms. Jesus said "no" to Satan's temptations because He loved humanity and wanted to make possible a way of salvation.
In addition to being powerful enough to rule Earth, the Scriptures reveal that the devil is able (or at least was able) to make some sort of suggestions to the hearts of men and women. I don't claim to understand how this works for the Bible doesn't tell us, but I will refer you to John 13:2 - "And supper being ended, the devil already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him." Now that is scary, isn't it? Our adversary had the power to put thoughts into Judas' mind! Perhaps this is a way in which he tempts and deceives us today! But again, it must be stressed that just because the devil suggested the idea to Judas in some way (in which we don't really understand), the fact still remains that Judas didn't have to act upon the suggestion! The same is true today! If Satan is able to make sinful suggestions to our hearts today, we must realize that that is all they are--suggestions! We must not act upon them! We all experience temptations (or illicit suggestions), but what God is concerned about is what we do with those suggestions. Do we meditate on them and make plans to do evil, or do we try to get those evil thoughts out of our mind and avoid acting upon them in any way?
Before we move on to the next question, let's consider these Scriptures and try to get a more complete picture of what else Satan's powers include. He has the power to pervert the word of God (Gen. 3:1-4). He instigates false doctrine (I Tim. 4:1-3). He blinds men to the truth (II Cor. 4:4). He sows tares among God's wheat (Matt. 13:24ff). He steals the word of God from human hearts (Matt. 13:19). He lays snares for men (II Tim. 2:26; I Tim. 3:7). He undermines the sanctity of the home (I Cor. 7:3-5). He hinders the work of God's servants (I Thess. 2:18). He portrays himself as an angel of light in order to deceive us (II Cor. 11:14). Truly, Satan is powerful, which leads us to ask...
QUESTION #8 - HOW CAN CHRISTIANS DEFEND THEMSELVES AGAINST SATAN?
Let me offer four suggestions from the Scriptures that should be helpful to any Christian trying to overcome the devil.
First, we need to put on our battle armor. Our conflict with Satan is a spiritual one, and when I talk about armor I am speaking in spiritual terms. If you read Ephesians 6:10-18 you will see that this armor is composed of the following items: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, God's word, and prayer! If we have these spiritual items, then we should be able to resist the devil. And, as James says: If we resist the devil, "he will flee" from us (James 4:7)! Did you ever notice how Jesus overcame Satan's temptations in Matthew 4? On every occasion, Jesus quoted Scripture! Now, if you don't know Scripture, then you'll be much more likely to give in to temptations of the adversary because you'll be much less likely to know exactly what God expects of you. Without really knowing God's word, you won't completely know what is right and what is wrong, and thus you will be an easy target for Satan. However, if we all saturate ourselves in a working knowledge of God's word, and if we take courage and press on, then Satan will have no chance of defeating us!
Second, we need to remember that while God will not necessarily prevent Satan from tempting us, He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to endure! I Corinthians 10:13 - "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." That should be a comforting thought. Of course, that verse also reiterates that man is responsible for his actions. God will never put a Christian in a position of temptation that the individual can't handle.
Third, we need to remember that even though Satan is the "accuser of the brethren" (Rev. 12:10), we have an advocate--Jesus the Christ--who stands with us, pleads our case, protects us, and refuses to forsake us (I John 2:1)! Jesus understands what it is like to be tempted and He intercedes for us (cf. Heb. 7:25). He is on our side; He wants us to do the right thing and remain faithful to Him.
Fourth, we must never forget that victory is within our grasp. Satan is going to lose, and he knows it. Let's make sure that we don't ever give up when the going gets tough. We need to heed the Lord's advice - "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). How true!
If we faithfully implement these four Bible truths, we will certainly overcome Satan.
QUESTION #9 - WHAT IS SATAN'S ULTIMATE DESTINY?
We've already answered this question within the context of our other questions, but I want to draw specific attention to it because I believe it is important. At the judgment, the devil will be "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev. 20:10). Satan has no hope! God has already foretold that Satan will be punished eternally in hell, a place prepared especially for him and his angels (Matt. 25:41). Of course, they won't be the only ones in hell. Those who don't know God and those who haven't obeyed the gospel will ultimately find themselves residing with the devil (cf. II Thess. 1:8,9)!
Friends, I exhort you to live faithfully for the Lord and obey His gospel plan of salvation. You won't make it to heaven otherwise. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.