IS THERE A DEVIL?
By: Paul Kroll
The New Testament says the devil exerts an evil influence on human society. But Jesus Christ came to destroy the devil’s power through his life, death and resurrection – a victory the Day of Atonement helps us understand.
The Devil, or Satan, has been around a long, long time. Life magazine once rightly called the devil “the longest-lived villain in history.”
The Devil in History
Christians did not invent the devil. Long before Christianity, the devil was being portrayed as a fallen angel in Greek, Egyptian and Hindu mythologies.
Christians, however, trace their belief in the devil to the Bible, not ancient myth. The New Testament especially depicts him as the unseen instigator of evil, the archenemy of God and man.
Historian Jeffrey Burton Russell points out in his book The Prince of Darkness, “The struggle between God and the Evil One is at the heart of the New Testament.” From its perspective, he continues, “either you follow God or you are subject to Satan.”
In the pages of the New Testament – and to the earliest Christians – Satan the devil was very real, even though unseen.
But something unexpected happened to the devil in the centuries after the New Testament Church was established. Over the years he underwent a strange metamorphosis. By the Middle Ages, superstitious and demon-dreading Europeans had transformed the biblical devil into a grotesque physical caricature.
Connecting evil with physical ugliness, religious people increasingly pictured the devil as a repulsive mixture of monstrous body parts. Eventually, he acquired a forked tail, a cloven hoof, pitchfork and horns.
By modern times, the devil had become a laughable cartoon figure in the popular imagination. He was now so familiar and funny that few could see him for the menacing being he happens to be. Meanwhile, some more educated people changed the devil into a convenient literary metaphor for evil.
The Devil of the Bible
The Bible helps us refocus this hazy and distorted image of the devil. It makes us aware of the harm Satan has done to human society, and can do to our own Christian lives.
According to the Bible, the devil was the angel Lucifer – the Shining One or Light-bearer (Isaiah 14:12). His pride led him to rebel against God and become Satan, the Prince of Darkness.
The devil then tempted humanity’s first parents, Adam and Eve, to disobey and mistrust God. As a result, they fell from grace. The world would now go to the devil.
Thousands of years later, the human condition was unchanged. The apostles Peter, Paul and John said the devil was still the god of this world, holding humans hostage to evil.
But that’s only half the story. The Bible shows the devil thoroughly defeated by Jesus, the Son of God, who resisted his temptations. The devil’s power over evil and death was then broken by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Unseen Ruler of the World
Nevertheless, the devil can still adversely influence Christians if they are not spiritually watchful. His power and sway over humanity in general will not be completely taken away until Christ returns at the end of the present age.
The Bible says the devil and his demons still exercise power over the nations. They are, within God-ordained limits, the unseen rulers of this world.
The apostle John, when writing about the devil, said the “whole world is under the control of the evil one” (I John 5:19, New International Version throughout). The book of Revelation says he “leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9).
In the Bible’s view the devil’s influence is not limited to cults that worship him, to ritual killings or Hitlerian-type evil. The Bible says everyone – good people, decent people, respected people – everyone, is influenced by the devil’s spirit powers.
“The powers work on every level,” wrote New Testament scholar Clinton E. Arnold, in Christianity Today, “from influencing individuals to exerting control over the social order.”
Satan the devil is at the bottom of what the Bible calls sin – something that affects all human beings (Romans 3:23). To live in sin is to live in ways that destroy our relationship with God (I John 3:4; Isaiah 59:1-3).
Sin also enslaves. Jesus told his listeners that “everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Because Satan manipulates human society to sin, the sinner is also a slave of the devil or belongs to him.
Jesus frankly told those who wanted to murder him that they were tools of Satan. “You belong to your father, the devil,” he said, “and you want to carry out your father’s desire” (verse 44).
Paul told the Christians at Ephesus that they had once followed “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2). That spirit is in the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” – that is, the devil.
The New Testament emphasizes that no one is free of Satan’s evil influence upon their weak human nature. The apostle Paul said the devil exerts his control through deception, by darkening people’s spiritual understanding. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers,” Paul wrote of the devil (II Corinthians 4:4).
The devil has been at this deception game from earliest times. He is experienced in seducing people into doing his bidding without them being aware of it.
Genesis gives us the story of the devil’s visit to Eve in the Garden of Eden. At the start of the story of humanity, the devil in the guise of a serpent convinced his naive victim that God was a liar.
The devil insinuated there was no penalty for disobedience or faithlessness toward the Creator, even though God had warned Adam to the contrary. The devil suggested an alluring but deadly alternative to God’s way.
He implied Eve could doubt God’s teaching and guidance, undermining her faith and trust in the Creator. Satan the devil tempted Eve, and her husband Adam along with her, into disbelieving God and taking disastrous action.
Temptation is His Game
Temptation continues to be the devil’s most powerful weapon (I Corinthians 7:5). That’s why the Bible identifies him as the tempter (I Thessalonians 3:5).
We shouldn’t carry “the devil made me do it” concept too far, of course. It is we humans who sin, and no doubt would continue to do so without the devil’s help.
The devil is more of a facilitator and promoter. As in the Garden of Eden, the devil presents what appears to be an attractive second option to God’s way. This way of life, in the words of Clinton E. Arnold, caters to “each person’s inner tendency toward evil (what Paul calls ‘the flesh’).”
The devil does his most effective work as a fifth-column operative, through a world society he manipulates. He is the original expert of unethical advertising and promotion, creating deadly wants, needs and wrong expectations.
Through this means the devil exploits our cravings, our fears, our hates, our needs, our prejudices, our ignorance. People not spiritually aware and empowered by God become easy marks for Satan the devil, falling into temptation and evil ways.
That’s why Jesus told his disciples, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). He urged them to pray for deliverance from “the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).
The devil makes every effort to keep people from loosening the shackles of their spiritual imprisonment. One ruse involves yanking the good news of salvation from the minds of many before they grasp its excellence (Luke 8:12).
Among God’s People
Even those who have accepted Jesus’ saving grace – who are God’s children – are not immune to the devil’s influence. The New Testament warns that Satan assaults members of God’s spiritual household.
Satan roams among God’s people, Scripture warns. He tries to ravish the spiritually unprepared.
This spiritual conflict between God’s people and Satan is brutal. In animal documentaries, we often see scenes of lions, tiger or cougars chasing down, throttling and tearing apart their helpless prey. That’s the image Peter used to describe Satan’s attempt to spiritually destroy God’s people.
“Be self-controlled and alert,” wrote Peter (I Peter 5:8). Why? Because, he continued, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (verses 8-9).
The apostle Paul was concerned about whether God’s people were aware of the devil’s temptation program. “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning,” Paul told the church at Corinth, “your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (II Corinthians 11:3). Paul hoped the spiritually deceived would “come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (I Timothy 2:26).
Limits to Satan’s Power
That doesn’t mean the devil has unlimited freedom to deceive or hurt. The Bible shows Satan is actually under God’s sovereign control.
In a vision of God’s throne in the Old Testament book of Job, the devil’s ability to influence or affect humans is shown to be limited by God (Job 1:12; 2:6).
Finally, God came in human flesh “to destroy the devil’s work” (I John 3:8). Jesus promised that Satan the devil would one day be permanently condemned (John 12:31).
But how do we personally resist Satan the devil now? Quite simply, breaking the devil’s spiritual grasp on us depends on the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, Jesus Christ lives his life in us (Galatians 2:20).
God also limits Satan’s influence on Christians. Paul could confidently tell the Church that God confines Satan the devil’s use of his most potent weapon – temptation. “God is faithful,” wrote Paul “he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (I Corinthians 10:13).
God’s Spirit Works
When temptation does come, believers, though not automatically immune from the influence of evil spirits, can rely on the divine power of God.
The apostle James gives this encouragement: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Peter urges his readers to resist the devil,”standing firm in the faith” (I Peter 5:9). Paul says we are to be aware of the devil’s schemes “in order that Satan might not outwit us” (II
To prevent satanic tactics from succeeding, Christians need to remember the image of a warrior donning his protective gear. Paul says to “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).
The spiritual armor includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit (God’s Word) and the shield of faith.
With this shield, wrote Paul, “You can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (verse 16). The New Testament is clear on this.
We can deflect the temptations the evil spirit world of Satan the devil throws against us, but only with our God’s saving help.
Our Christian Warfare
Yes, we are, as the old hymn says – Christian soliders. We are marching to war – a spiritual war against an unseen enemy.
The apostle Paul reminds us the invisible devil is that Christian enemy.
“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” wrote Paul (verse 12). The apostle continued, it is “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” But the good news is that Christians can win that victory over Satan and sin through the mighty spiritual power of God.
We’ve seen that the slain goat in the Day of Atonement ritual represented Jesus, who died for our sins. Whom, then, did the Azazel goat represent, the one sent alive into the desert?
The Hebrew word Azazel appears only in Leviticus 16, the chapter that describes the Atonement ritual. This somewhat obscure word is usually translated “scapegoat” in English versions of the Bible.
The Azazel has been explained in different but related ways. It is said to be the name of the goat, the one to be utterly removed. The word has been applied to the place of removal, a desolate region.
Azazel has also been interpreted as the name of a spirit, a demon or Satan himself, who haunts the uninhabited desert region. The word is used for a fallen angel in the apocryphal book of Enoch.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives the following definition of the Azazel. “The goat,” it says, “appears to symbolize the transfer of guilt from the nation, and its complete removal from their midst, never to return.”
Scripture implies that Satan fits as the Azazel. Throughout the Bible, he is shown to be the author of evil (John 8:44; Revelation 12:9).
Ultimately, Satan will be prevented from causing humans to sin. This will be accomplished by keeping him restrained in a kind of solitary confinement (Revelation 20:2-3).
In two places, the New Testament tells us Satan and his demons are bound in “chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgement” (II Peter 2:4; Jude 6).
The Azazel, sent into a desert wilderness, would be an apt metaphor for Satan’s black hole isolation.
The Day of Atonement ritual, first and foremost proclaims the sacrifice of Jesus and his payment for our sins. But if Satan’s role i sin is not described, the Atonement ritual is incomplete. That’s why the Azazel goat – the one on whose head sin is placed – is a fitting representation of sin’s author and instigator, Satan
(The above material appeared in the September 1992 issue of The Plain Truth.)
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