ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
- Is there a devil?
In some art and in some fancy dress outfits, the devil may be caricatured as a ludicrous figure in red tights and carrying a pitchfork. He probably does not mind if, in these ways, people do not take him seriously because it allows him to continue his evil work with less challenge!
However if we use the Bible as our guide, as all Christians should, there is no doubt that the devil exists as a powerful, supernatural entity. The first three gospels each record the conflict between Jesus and the devil at the very start of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 4:1–11; Mark 1:12,13; Luke 4:1–13).
It is all too easy to dismiss the idea of an evil supernatural being and simply blame humankind for every manifestation of evil. However, perhaps we need to have our eyes opened to see more of the spiritual battle that goes on around us – as happened to the servant of Elisha when the army of the king of Aram surrounded the city of Dothan entrapping Elisha and his servant. The servant was shown “the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). Or, again, perhaps we need to heed the advice Hamlet gave to Horatio after they had seen the Ghost, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Act 1, Scene 5).
The devil is a real being, whether we like it or not.
- Where did the devil come from?
There are those who believe that this world is a battlefield between two equal powers, one good and one evil, but this is NOT what the Bible teaches. There are two Old Testament passages (Isaiah 14:12–15; Ezekiel 28:11–19) which, while referring to kings of Babylon and Tyre, seem also to picture the fall of a great heavenly being. Jesus repeats the same picture in Luke 10:18. Thus it would seem that the devil was originally an angelic being of great power who sought even greater power, so that he would be equal to God (Isaiah 14:14) and as a result was cast out of heaven. Now whether this is literal truth or a picture we cannot be totally sure, but, nevertheless, the idea of the devil as a rebellious, fallen archangel is one that seems to fit. But certainly he was a created being, not a co-equal with God.
The devil is a fallen archangel of great power.
- Why did God permit such a being to exist?
There is no complete answer to this question that has been revealed to humankind. However it seems most probable that we can work back from an answer to the question, “Why did God create human beings – or allow them to evolve under His guidance (if you prefer to think in more biological terms)?” It would seem that God wanted beings He could love and who would respond to that love by loving Him. However love cannot be enforced. True love is shown by those who are free to love or not to love. So human beings were given the ability to choose whether to respond to God’s love by loving Him or not. The story of the Garden of Eden and every facet of history ever since is that the majority of humankind have exercised that choice by failing to love God, by turning their backs on Him and by ignoring Him in their day-to-day lives.
If this idea is projected back then the same principle of choice may have existed in the angelic ranks and for a similar purpose. So the devil chose to rebel, took many “angels” with him and they were cast out of heaven.
Loving, even loving by God, is a very risky business!
The devil was allowed to choose and chose the evil path.
- The devil is known by a variety of names.
Probably the best known of these is “Satan” which means accuser as we see in the pictures drawn at the start of the book of Job (1:6–12; 2:1–7). He is therefore always ready to bring accusations against the people of God hoping that this will lead to their downfall.
Jesus was charged by the authorities of casting out demons through the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24,27 and similar verses in Mark and Luke). Beelzebub, which can be spelt in other, similar ways, means “Lord of the flies.”
Jesus spoke of the devil as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30) and Paul spoke of “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), indicating that, at present, the devil exerts tremendous power over this fallen world, blinding “the minds of unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
In “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, John Bunyan describes a great fight between Christian and Apollyon – Bunyan’s name for the devil (See Revelation 9:11).
Indeed the devil hides behind a wide range of aliases, just like a master criminal – for that is what he is.
The devil is known by many names as he seeks to disguise his true identity.
- What are the devil’s aims?
Bunyan makes Apollyon declare his real purpose in the words, “I am an enemy to this Prince [Jesus Christ]; I hate His person, His laws and people; I am come out on purpose to withstand thee.” That is still as true today as it was all those years ago when Bunyan wrote (ca 1688).
The devil is not particularly concerned with those who have no interest in Jesus or those who reject what Jesus has done – they are residents of his kingdom already! The devil is very concerned with those who do believe in Jesus, trying to destroy their faith but barred from doing so by the very power of the Spirit of God. However this does not stop him trying as we all know to our cost.
The devil is also even more concerned with those who are on the edge of faith, trying to stamp out the beginnings of love for God and faith in Him. In His explanation of the parable of the sower (also known as the parable of the four soils) Jesus says, “the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).
The devil is aiming to build his own kingdom and stop the growth of God’s kingdom.
- What are the devil’s tactics?
After Jesus had been baptised by John, He had to withstand the onslaught of the devil who used his most powerful weapon, temptation (Matthew 4:1 – 11). Jesus was tempted to satisfy His material needs in the wrong way (by turning stones into bread), to test God’s plan in the wrong way (by throwing Himself off the Temple) and to put God second by worshipping the devil. We may well be tested in similar, if less dramatic, ways; basically to believe the devil and his lies (John 8:44) rather than God and His truth.
The devil is full of tricks, able to masquerade “as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He even made use of a misguided disciple (Matthew 16:23)! Material prosperity could also be a snare (Luke 12:16 – 21).
The devil is a clever and devious being, using every means he can to oppose the love of God.
- How can we resist the devil?
Being tempted is not a sin, but giving in to temptation will in all likelihood be sinful. The responsibility to stand against the devil and his wiles is ours but we cannot do it in our own strength.
When Paul was under arrest in Rome, he was under military guard (Acts 28:16) and “in chains for Christ” even though he used this confinement to witness to the “whole palace guard” (Philippians 1:13). Also during this time he would have been very aware of the uniform worn by the Roman soldiers and so Paul uses this to picture our sources of defence and attack against the devil (Ephesians 6:11–18). He speaks of (a) “the belt of truth” and truth is vital in exposing the lies of the devil; (b) “the breastplate of righteousness” and every right act that we perform must be a stab of pain in the devil’s heart; (c) “feet fitted with … the gospel of peace” and a belief in the gospel and a willingness to carry it to others is something the devil hates; (d) “the shield of faith” and true faith will indeed “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one”; (e) “the helmet of salvation” and the devil knows that he cannot finally overcome those who have been saved by God; (f) “the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” – when tempted Jesus quoted from the scriptures and we should follow His example and use the word of God both to defend and attack in our battle with the devil.
The devil looks for “a chink in our armour” so that he may exploit any weakness. Paul instructs us to “Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11) and that is wise advice. Peter uses a different picture of the devil prowling round “like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8) and calls on his readers to stand “firm in the faith.” James adds that if we “resist the devil … he will flee from you” (James 4:7), although this does not mean that he will not return (Luke 4:13).
The devil is someone who can be defeated if we use the resources God has provided.
- What will be the devil’s future?
We must first remember that the devil is a defeated foe, beaten by God and His Son but refusing to “surrender,” to give up the battle for the souls of humankind. He was beaten first when he was expelled from heaven (Isaiah 14:12). He was beaten again by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. [The remark of Jesus in Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven” could apply to either of these.] He will be beaten finally at the last judgment where he and those who have worked with him will be consigned to a “lake of burning sulphur” (Revelation 20:10), perhaps a poetic description of hell, the final place for the devil when he has been cast out of both heaven and earth.
There he may well be finally consumed so that the “new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1) will be free of all evil (Revelation 21:27). The devil’s rebellion and all the misery that it has caused in this world finally comes to an end and those who have freely chosen to put their trust in God and in His Son Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, will live as children of God (1 John 3:1).
The devil has been defeated, is being defeated and will be defeated by the power of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.