What Does The Bible Say About The Devil?

SELF | Caleb Mathis | 16 mins

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Someone’s out to get you. The more you know about him and the way he works, the better prepared you’ll be.

I know what that sounds like, so let me take a second to assure you: I’m not crazy. Seriously, I’m a pretty normal guy. I’m not into conspiracy theories. I don’t have a bunker. I don’t look like this guy. I like The Office, Taylor Swift’s new album, and extra-pulp orange juice.

But a quick glance at the world makes it pretty easy for me to believe that something’s not right, that there (at least) could be a force at work that’s bent on division and destruction. It’s not the other political party, the Illuminati, or whoever is responsible for the Denver airport (that place is terrifying). I believe there’s one entity behind all the brokenness in the world. The Bible calls him Satan. (Raise your hand if you heard that last line in Dana Carvey’s church lady voice. Me too.)

Satan makes for great film fodder, but what does the Bible actually say about him? What it describes is a far cry from red tights, pointy horns, and pea-soup spewing youngsters. It’s both more—and less—terrifying than anything Hollywood could hope to produce.

Here’s why this matters. Think about the stories you love the most. The ones that made the biggest impact had the most powerful enemies. Luke had Vader. Harry had Voldemort. The Hobbit had Peter Jackson.

No matter what you believe about Jesus or spiritual matters, I believe the story of your life is meant to be incredible, impactful, and important. Because that’s true, I also believe you have an enemy opposing you. If you believed that completely (and I’m OK if you’re still on the fence about it), wouldn’t it be worth 10 minutes of your time to get to know your enemy and his strategies?

Here’s an overview of what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about the ultimate evil, no matter what you call him—Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, the New England Patriots, or the devil.

1) HE’S BEEN A SLYTHERIN FROM THE BEGINNIN’
In the storyline of the Bible, we meet He-who-shall-not-be-named (we’ll call him Satan from here on out) on page 2. God has created a beautiful and perfect world and plopped down two naked and carefree people right in the middle of it. Adam and Eve had only one rule: don’t eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. Everything else was fair game. The happy couple was free to enjoy the bounty of the land, given direct access to God, and had all their wants and needs met. Think an all-expenses-paid-tropical-vacation—but forever.

The ancient Hebrew word for Satan means “accuser” or “adversary.” And while Scripture doesn’t explicitly say the snake that slithers onto the scene is Satan, we can infer that it is him because he goes straight into accuser mode.

He accuses God of not being completely truthful with Adam and Eve. He accuses the first humans of misunderstanding God’s instructions. He sets himself up as the adversary of both God and humanity by twisting God’s truth into a lie.

Acting on the seeds of doubt the serpent planted, Adam and Eve break the only rule of Eden. As a result, they’re cast out from their garden paradise, never to return. They’re separated from God. They’re forced to work the ground for food. They endure pain, suffering, sickness and death. And after a curse from God and a promise of a coming (and permanent) defeat, the serpent slithers out of the scene.

While this isn’t technically the beginning of the Great Accuser’s story, it is the perfect place to start—because, above everything else we will learn about him—this is the foundation. Before he is anything else, he’s an accuser. He is an adversary. And he is a liar.

Since the beginning, Satan has worked to infect God’s world with doubt, confusion, and accusations. His weapon of choice? Twisted half-truths and lies. If you smell those, you’re smelling sulfur.

You can read about his initial truth-twisting in Genesis chapter 3.

2) HE GOT FIRED
In the book of Luke, Jesus makes a seemingly passing comment about Satan with interesting implications. He says, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash.” What’s He talking about?

While not explicitly recorded in Scripture, most Biblical scholars believe that Satan was once an angel—meaning he was a created servant of God. In Scripture, angels are mostly recorded as worshipping God (Isaiah 6:1-3), while others are used as warriors (Joshua 5:13-15) or messengers (Luke 1:26-38).

Scholars believe that Satan, jealous of the high place afforded to God, rose up in rebellion against Him. But it didn’t go well for the rebel. His coup d’etat defeated, Satan is kicked out of heaven, permanently losing his place among God’s closest servants. In retaliation and retribution, and further seeking to steal whatever glory he can from God, Satan moves around the created order, spreading chaos and coming against God and His people.

This understanding of Satan’s cosmic fall is based on two passages from a pair of Old Testament prophets—Isaiah and Ezekiel. I’ll be the first to admit; these prophecies are a bit hard to unravel. They both begin as prophetic utterances against physical enemies of Israel (Tyre and Babylon, respectively) before seeming to move into celestial territory.

Ezekiel’s prophecy goes something like this:

“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God… You were anointed guardian cherub… till unrighteousness was found in you… you were filled with violence in your midsts, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you.” - Ezekiel 28:12-19

Approximately 150 years earlier, the prophet Isaiah cast a similar vision:

“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 make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down… to the far reaches of the pit.” - Isaiah 14:12-15

Trying to overthrow your boss, and get the corner office, is a pretty quick way of getting yourself booted from a job—celestial being or not.

3) HE’S NOT HOT… YET
Not the most polite dinner conversation, but let’s talk about hell for a hot minute (see what I did there?).

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story that involves hell, describing it as “The eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” So, not quite the garden paradise of Eden.

Jesus often used a special term for describing a life that was not submitted to the rule and reign of God—it’s the Hebrew word Gehenna. In fact, he used it 11 different times, oftentimes in a way that was interchangeable with what we know as hell. What was Gehenna?

Most scholars believe Jesus was referring to the Valley of Hinnom, just outside Jerusalem. It was a dark place in Jewish history, where ancient kings of God’s people actually sacrificed their children (to false gods) by burning them (see Jeremiah 7:31). Afterward, the area came to be known as cursed. In the days of Jesus, many historians believe it was used as a dumping ground, where trash was routinely burned. No wonder people associated it with fire.

It’s a common enough theme in the Bible (2 Peter 2:4 and Revelation 20:10 as other examples) that God has prepared a fiery, uncomfortable place for the final punishment of Satan and his minions. He just doesn’t reside there yet—in fact, he’s much closer to home.

In the book of Job, the reader gets a rare glimpse of God and Satan interacting. God asks Satan where he has been. The Accuser’s reply? “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” (Job 1:7). In Matthew 4, Jesus spends forty days in the desert outside Jerusalem, being tempted (and having conversations) with Satan. Peter, one of Jesus’ earliest followers, wrote that believers should “Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). These verses seem to suggest that Satan’s house might be on Zillow, somewhere on the earth.

But we have to balance that out with something Paul wrote. Probably the most influential leader of the early Jesus movement, he told believers that “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities…against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).

Bottom line? The Bible is a little unclear about where Satan is right now. Does he reside in a spirit realm? Maybe. Does he have access to the earth? Definitely. But is he pulling strings from a fiery underworld? Nope, afraid not. If anything, we should assume he’s on location. Which, from the current state of affairs on this planet, isn’t too hard to believe.

4) HE’S GETTING BUSY
Wherever Satan might call home, there’s little confusion about how he’s influencing life on this planet. True to his nature from the beginning, he’s setting himself up as an adversary to God—oftentimes, in opposing and accusing the people of God.

It’s safe to assume that any bad choice, any movement into sin and a life apart from God, can somehow be tied back to the Accuser. In my own life, that’s looked like anger. It’s looked like crippling perfectionism. It’s looked like a pornography addiction. I could go on and on. And it’s true, healing from each of those mistakes meant owning my portion of it. Satan isn’t the magical blame fairy. I willingly stepped into sin, and it turned around to destroy me.

But at the same time, it’s also helpful to understand that we are in a battle zone. Satan is working to wreak havoc on life on earth, especially for the people of God. Specific ways he does that, we’ll get into next. But for now, it’s enough to recognize that the evil one makes his chess moves on the earth. The Bible provides multiple examples.

Stalwart, King David, was led into sin when “Satan stood against Israel and incited David” to take direct action (a census) that showed his confidence was in his army and not God (1 Chron 21:1). On the night Jesus was betrayed by Judas, the Scripture says that “Satan entered him” (John 13:27). And Paul, the great missionary, experienced setbacks that he traced back to the Evil One. He wrote, in a letter to the church in Thessalonica, “We wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.”

Acknowledging that you have an enemy does not remove your personal responsibility. What it does, however, is equip you with a vision to face temptations and trials as they come your way. It’s much easier to steal from someone who doesn’t expect it.

5) HE’S GOT A BAT-BELT
With apologies to America’s favorite billionaire-vigilante-hero, Satan’s got an even more impressive bat-belt. It’s full of tactics and strategies bent on “stealing, killing, and destroying.” (John 10:10). So what does the old Accuser have up his sleeve? How does he attempt to impede the movement of God? The Bible gives multiple examples.

We know, from part 1 of this article, that Satan is an accuser and a liar. Jesus reinforces this in John 8:44 when he says that Satan was “A murderer from the beginning, and [he] has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” #Burn.

Besides being a liar, he’s a thief. In one teaching, Jesus compared people to fields ready for sowing. When the message of God is sown into a field, and that person doesn’t understand it, Jesus taught that “The evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown.” If he can’t lie to distract us from God’s goodness, he’ll attempt to take it with force.

Elsewhere, Satan is accused of deception, disguising himself as an angel of light, presumably in order to lead God’s people astray (2 Cor 11:14). He’s called an accuser (Zechariah 3:1-2) and associated with being an enemy of righteousness, full of villainy, and making crooked the straight paths of God (Acts 13:10).

And while he’s not always specifically mentioned, it can be assumed that he’s behind every major pitfall in the storyline of the Bible—from the people of God forsaking him to worship idols (Exodus 32), to David’s fall into adultery and murder (2 Samuel 13), to Peter’s denial of Christ (Luke 22:31-34).

In fact, the enemy of God will use whatever means he can to distract, prevent, or impair you from feeling the overwhelming love of God—from emotions to broken relationships, trauma, and pain.

But, while he’s got a lot of tactics at his disposal, the people of God aren’t without their own weapons.

6) HE’S GOT A MISSING SCALE
In parts of the Bible, Satan is compared to a dragon. I’ve read The Hobbit more times than I can count. I know how dragons get defeated. You find their soft-spot—that place on their body where their hard, protective scale is missing—and you hit it with an arrow. Satan’s no different.

If you’ve seen any Hollywood horror movie, I know this is going to be hard to believe, but the people of God aren’t outmatched when it comes to Satan. We don’t have to quake in fear. We don’t have to worry. He was dealt a death blow by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—and a day is coming when God will get to deal his ultimate enemy an epic Mortal-Kombat-Finish-Him fatality.

Until then, there are things we can do to target that missing scale on the great dragon.

First, trust in God’s gift. Jesus told his followers in Luke 10:19 that He had given them “Authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.” Nothing from the darkness is more powerful than the light of God. Period. A balanced power struggle between dark and light might make for good Hollywood entertainment, but it’s not reality. God’s power vastly overshadows Satan’s, and Jesus is happy to share it with you.

Also, it should be noted, Jesus isn’t telling you to walk barefoot through a viper den—instead, he’s drawing an allusion back to the beginning of Scripture, where God promises to crush the head of that ancient serpent (Genesis 3:15). He did that through Jesus, the Messiah that shares his authority with his followers.

Which brings us to an important clarifying point. Jesus shares His authority, but let’s not be self-diluted. Any victory of Satan comes from God—not solely from our own efforts or wisdom. In Romans 16:20, it says that “God will crush Satan under your feet.” More crushing skulls. Anyone still want to accuse God of being a Santa Claus in the sky?

While the victory is gained by God, we do have a role to play. In James 4:7, the brother of Jesus writes, simply, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Want Satan to have less power in your life? Stop doing what he says. Stop following his temptations. Stop tripping over the same branch and falling into the same hole. The devil’s into easy prey. Show some resistance, and he will give up.

Finally, take time for self-examination. Are there routine patterns that trip you up? Are there consistent sins? Is there a soft spot in your armor? Take away Satan’s easy button by doing work in that area. Scripture teaches that, in order to not be outwitted by Satan, we should not be ignorant of his designs (2 Corinthians 2:11). This article might be your first step in that direction.

7) HE DOESN’T GET A PRETTY BOW
Especially this year, the earth can be a disheartening place to live. It often feels like everything is moving in the wrong direction. It might be tempting to believe Satan has the upper hand. But Scripture is clear—the enemy of God doesn’t get a pretty bow at the end of time.

Revelation 20:10 sums it all up pretty well:

“And the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur… and will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

The end of the great Accuser is coming. And it’s not a pretty one.

Throughout history, there have been multiple battles fought after the war was won. (Here’s an interesting list of a few.) That’s where the people of God now stand with His ultimate enemy. Mind you, the threat of the Great Accuser is still real. It’s not something to be ignored. But the victory has been won, and the end of hostilities is coming.

So keep your head up. Keep fighting. And keep resisting—it puts Satan on the defensive. He hates that.


Written by

Caleb Mathis

Dad of three, husband of one, pastor at Crossroads, and at the moment would rather be reading Tolkien, watching British TV, or in a pub with a pint of Guinness.

Published on Nov 2, 2020
Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...

What Does The Bible Say About The Devil?

  1. What jumps out to you most in this article? (Noticing what strikes you can be the beginning of hearing from God. Lean into it.)

  2. What do you feel as you read this article? If fear, guilt, shame, anxiety, or discomfort comes up, try to name it and ask yourself why it’s there.

  3. Look for areas of your life you’ve been letting the enemy win. Maybe it’s a temptation you keep leaning into or a lie you keep believing. It says, if we resist the devil, he will flee. Take a moment to repent which just means, turn away from sin and turn back to God. It can be as simple as saying, “God, I want to turn from _____. Forgive me for not choosing You. Help me truly change.”

  4. Think of a way to turn from the enemy this week. Try to make it as practical and tangible as possible. Forward this article to a friend, tell them your plan, and ask them to hold you to it.

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