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Satan, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare (Part 2) – Nature and Origins

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As discussed in the post last week, the Bible affirms the reality of evil spiritual forces which are engaging us in a battle, seeking to draw us away from God. In this post we will examine what we know in terms of these beings, including their origins (we might also see what we simply don’t know!). There are often ideas about Satan and demons circulated from sources other than the Bible (sometimes even information gathered from encounters with evil spirits), but the Bible is the only place for reliable information for our beliefs and practices, and that is what we will focus on.

An Army of Evil Doers Under the Command of Satan

There appears to be a variety of beings – called demons – that are under the leadership of one in particular, who goes by many names, the most common of which are Satan and the devil. There are references to Satan and his angels in a couple of spots (Matthew 25:41 and Revelation 12:7), with this wording differentiating one being from the others and pointing to his leadership with the pronoun “his”, differentiating between the leader and the mass. The name Bezeelub is used by Jesus to refer to Satan (see Matthew 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 19) is referred to the “Prince of Demons,” therefore, there is one demon who is the head over all. In addition, there are places where the work of the demons is credited to Satan (Luke 13:6; Acts 10:38) and to fight against demons is to fight against Satan (Luke 10:17-20); they thus do his bidding.

The two most common names for the leader are Satan and the devil; since they are used in similar contexts and interchangeably, they refer to the same figure. In the Old Testament, he is labeled The Satan, with that Hebrew word meaning “adversary” (see Job 1-2, 1 Chronicles 21:1, Zechariah 3:1). This title becomes a name, with it occurring in many different places in the New Testament. The most common name in the New Testament is devil; this name (Greek diabolos) has connections to the word for slanderer or accuser and shows this as part of his identity. There are many other names that further reveal his nature and work: evil one (Matthew 13:19, 38; 1 John 2:13; 3:12; 5:18); adversary (1 Peter 5:8); accuser (Revelation 12:10); tempter (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5); and enemy (Matthew 13:39). A number of other names shows how he has authority over the world system that opposes God, as he is called the prince of power of air (Ephesians 2:2), ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). This figure also is portrayed metaphorically as a dragon (Revelation 12:3, 7, 9, 17) or a serpent (2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9; 20:2, recalling Genesis 3). 

In addition to the word demon, there are a number of other names used for those he leads. They can be called evil spirits and unclean spirits; the use of these terms seems interchangeable. While many of these references come in the ministry of Jesus, there are also references to these sorts of spirits in the Old Testament that cause harm or create deception (see Judges 9:23; 1 Samuel 16:16-23, and 1 Kings 22:19-23). There appear to be varying amounts of strength as Jesus talks about one being seven times worse than another (Matthew 12:45) and that some can only be driven out by prayer (Mark 9:29). This reality might explain their organization, as the phrases “powers and authorities” (Ephesians 3:10; 6:12; Colossians 1:16; 2:15; Romans 8:37-39) refer to these beings in language that reflects governmental systems. There are also indications that certain demons work in certain territories, as we see in Daniel 10 a reference to a “prince” of Persia and one of Greece. Deuteronomy 32:8 seems to say that God divided the peoples of the world according to the sons of God (angelic beings), further supporting this view (which was common in the ancient world). How these appointments work in the every changing socio-political world is unclear. In fact, we should recognize that much of this is unclear — we don’t know about the organization of these forces and should not speculate about these; information found through experience may not be truthful (especially if such information was gleaned from an evil spirit, as they could be seeking to deceive and distract).  

These beings appear in the Bible, but we might wonder where they come from, so we will turn our attention to that topic.

Created by God, Fallen From Their State

l. We see in the opening chapters of Genesis that God created all things; this is also made clear in passages like Colossians 1:16 which notes that God created things visible and invisible, even referencing “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” which likely refer to spiritual beings. Thus these beings are created by God and not co-eternal or His opposing equals. Because all that God made was good, we know that these were not created evil. When exactly they were created is something that remains a mystery. The best guess I have is that it could have happened on day four of the account in Genesis 1, as there was a connection in the minds of the ancients between stars and heavenly bodies and angelic and heavenly beings; this might be how the first readers would understand the text. However, there is also the possibility that they were created outside of the description we see in Genesis 1, with this account referring to the creation of this world. The Bible talks about a great number of these spiritual beings – there are a myriad of angels – and thus, we don’t know how many there are, but we can assume quite a few. The fact that they are created is important to remember, as it means that none of these figures are omniscient or omnipresence — they don’t know everything and can’t be everything. That said, as spiritual beings, their limitations are different from ours and we need to view them as powerful but not all-powerful.

While created good, these spiritual beings did not stay in their created state but seemed to have rebelled. The timing of this is not something the Bible discusses; it could be sometime between day 4 and the events of Genesis 3 (with some even thinking it is after Genesis 2:1-3 as there God said it was all very good – but perhaps that is a more particular reference to the earth that does not bear in mind these beings). The circumstances – the why and how why fell – also are somewhat mysterious. People have searched the Bible for references to this event and found some passages that could be interpreted as referring to this event. The two most notable are Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-29, which some believe these passages are double referents to particular individuals but also to Satan (something that is not uncommon in prophetic texts). However, there is much dispute about whether these two passages refer to Satan’s fall so we will want to look at them more closely.

Isaiah 14:12-15 is a taunt against the King of Babylon and says, “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; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.” Some believe these words about the King of Babylon also speak about Satan himself. Some of that comes from the reference to the “Day Star, son of Dawn.” The reference to “Day Star” often has been translated as “Lucifer,” but it is unclear if this is in fact the best translation — it could actually be a statement to wail or howl. If this passage refers to Satan’s fall, it would show that he sought to be above God and then was cast out. However, this could also be descriptive of the desires of an earthly king, as ancient kings would often seek to elevate themselves to the level of a god. Therefore, many commentators reject the idea of a double reference here. 

Similar issues surround Ezkiel 28:11-29, as there are some details in this lamentation about the King of Tyre that could be applied to Satan: “you were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God …You were an anointed guardian cherub” (v. 12-14). However, there is some question on whether it describes the figure as a “cherub,” with some ancient versions pointing to the phrase being “you were with the cherub” and comparing the king to the first human. Some ancient translations and interpretations see the word “cherub” as “king,” referring to his splendor. In addition, the discussion about trade and commerce in verses 16 and 18 would not seem to apply to Satan, nor does the statement that he will be judged before nations and kings (v. 17 and 18). Furthermore, there are some details that seem different between Ezekiel 28 and Genesis 2-3. A number of scholars also highlight various connections in both Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 to mythology in the Ancient Near East that might explain some of these terms. Therefore, there is uncertainty if these two passages refer to the fall of Satan.

The two other passages that people have used to find details about the fall of Satan at the beginning of time are Luke 10:18 and Revelation 12:7-9. However, both seem to be references to what is happening at the time of Jesus, as Jesus links the “fall” of Satan in Luke 10 to the work of the disciples in mission, and Revelation 12:7-9 describes a war that happens after a woman bore a male child to rule the nations (12:5) — a reference to Jesus’s birth. However, there is a reference Revelation 12:4 about the dragon (Satan) sweeping down a third of the stars. This is before the woman gives birth to the child, and there may be a reference to the beginning of time and the fall of other angels, especially since stars are linked with angelic beings in the ancient world. The link to the stars is disputed, though, as scholars have noted links between this passage and Daniel 8:10 in which the stars are people.

Having probably thoroughly confused you by offering various perspectives on these passages, let me tell you where I land. I’m not sure if Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are meant to tell us how Satan fell, but I think they do remind us of the overarching theme of sin, which was probably the reason for Satan’s fall, too: pride. It would seem that Satan sought to be raised up from his place as a created being and to rule, and thus was cast out of heaven by God; now he leads others down these same paths. A couple of other passages point to this connection between pride and the sin of Satan. In Jude 6 we read about “angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling”; it would seem likely the same thing happened to Satan. The list of qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3 includes the statement “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (3:6). The phrase “the condemnation of the devil” is ambiguous but could be a reference to falling into the same condemnation that the devil experienced. Thus, an elder who is a recent convert might have the same experience as the devil in thinking too highly of himself and then fall into sin. The danger of pride is seen throughout the Scripture, perhaps most notably in Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Therefore, while we might not know when Satan fell or the exact details, we have some understanding about the nature of this first sinful act that, to be honest, stands at the root of all future sin. Since we read that “the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:8) and that “he was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44), we know this fall happened at the beginning of what we know as time. He was not created evil, but has essentially been evil for the duration of human experiences and is currently reeking havoc in this world.

But What Exactly Are Satan and the Demons Doing?

This discussion of Satan and demons indicates that there is much mystery about them, particularly in terms of their background. I believe the Bible gives us enough information about them so that we know they exist, and important elements about them so we can understand the nature of the forces at battle with God and with His creation (us!). Rather than getting distracted by various details that God did not seem to choose to reveal, we should focus more on what He has revealed, and His revelation seems much more focused on what they are doing, as God does not want us to be unaware or unprepared for their attacks. Our next post will focus on what they are doing. 

[1]  Matthew 4:10, 12:26; Mark 1:13, 3:23, 26, 4:15; Luke 10:18, 11:18, 13:16, 22:3, 31; John 13:27; Acts 5:3, 26:18; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5, 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11, 11:14, 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Timothy 1:20, 5:15; Revelation 2:9, 13, 24, 3:9, 12:9 20:2, 7

[2] Matthew 4:1-11, 13:39, 25:41; Luke 4:2-13, 8:12; John 6:70, 8:44, 13:2; Acts 10:38, 13:10; Ephesians 4:26-27; 6:11; 1 Timothy 3:6-7, 11; 2 Timothy 2:26; Hebrews 2:14; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 3:8, 10; Jude 9; Revelation 2:10, 12:9, 12, 20:2, 10

[3] Matthew 7:22, 9:33-34, 10:8, 11:18, 12:24-27, 17:18; Mark 1:34, 39, 3:15, 22, 6:13, 7:26-30, 9:39; Luke 4:33, 35, 41, 7:33, 8:2, 27-38, 9:1, 9:42, 49, 10:17, 11:14-20, 13:32; John 7:20 8:48, 49, 52, 10:20-21; Acts 17:18; 1 Timothy 4:1; James 2:19; Revelation 9:20; 18:2

[4]  Matthew 12:45; Luke 7:21; 8:2; 11:26; Acts 19:12, 13, 15, 16

[5] Matthew 12:43; Mark 1:23-27; 3:11, 30; 5:2, 8, 13; 6:7 7:25; 9:25; Luke 4:33, 36; 6:18; 8:29; 9:42; 11:24; Acts 5:16; 8:7; Revelation 16:13; 18:2

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