Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

11. Is Satan Alive and Well?

The outcome of the great war between good and evil was decided by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. But few would claim Jesus has already restored and repossessed his corrupted creation. For a time and within limits, Jesus continues to permit the consequences of rebellion and the brutal corruption of all life.

Generations of books, magazines and TV documentaries have portrayed nature as a magnificent and beautiful system almost deserving of worship. The Gaia Philosophy even views the entire biosphere as a living entity. But when we look through the veil of hype, what do we really see in nature? G. J. Romanes provides a good description of the animal kingdom: "teeth and talons whetted for slaughter, hooks and suckers molded for torment – everywhere a reign of terror, hunger, sickness, with oozing blood and quivering limbs, with gasping breath and eyes of innocence that dimly close in depths of cruel torture." W. E. Stuermann gives an equally sobering description of nature's web of interacting events: "The web unravels as often as it is woven in order. Frequently and brutally its threads are ripped in sudden and disconcerting manners, and the orderly tapestry of life unravels, leaving men broken by disaster and despair. Chaos looms before them and stretches to the horizons of their lives."

Look around. Did our good, omnipotent God create the inherently violent and terrifying system we see in nature, a system rife with sickness, suffering and death - a system red in tooth and claw? Does nature itself appear to operate contrary to the character of God? Does the world at every level appear to be at war? Does the world appear to be permeated and corrupted at all levels by an evil influence? Did Jesus believe that someone else had been given authority over this world and Jesus Himself must repair, reconstruct, restore and repossess?

The Old Testament does not usually personalize the cosmic force that has seized creation. Instead, it talks about "Leviathan" and "Rahab" encompassing the earth and waging war against God (Job 9:13, 26:12, 41:1-34; Ps 74:14, 89:9; Is 27:1). Also, "raging waters" of chaos defy the Almighty and threaten his creation (Job 7:12, 38:6-11; Ps 74:10-17, 104:7-9; Prov 8:27-29). Besides raging waters and cosmic monsters, Old Testament authors referenced the existence of multitudes of powerful heavenly beings. Together they formed a heavenly council in which decisions affecting humans were made (1 Kings 22:19; Job 1:6, 2:1; Ps 82:1, 89:7). They were supposed to carry out God's will and fight on God's behalf (2 Sam 5:23-24; 2 Kings 2:11, 6:16; Ps 34:7, 68:17, 82:1-8, 103:20; Dan 7:10). Instead, some rebelled against God and fought against Him. The problem of evil is not a problem of occasional bad things happening on the otherwise pristine stage of God's creation. Rather, evil permeates the structure of the stage itself, for the one given authority over the structure has become corrupt!

This message carries over into the New Testament where the leader of rebellion and corruption is more clearly identified.

    • Three times, Jesus referred to Satan as the prince of this world.

Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. (John 12:31)

I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. "Come now; let us leave. (John 14:30-31)

When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:8-11)

    • Jesus accepted the concept that Satan had been given authority over this world.

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered, "It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only." (Luke 4:5-8)

    • Jesus addresses the evil prince as the leader of a unified army of spirit beings.

"Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Mat 25:41)

    • Scripture confirms that Satan has been given control of this world.

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor 4:4)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Eph 2:1-2)

    • Scripture teaches that Satan's control is active not passive.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless. (1 Thes 3:5)

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. (2 Cor 11:14)

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph 6:12)

    • The entire creation has been subjected to bondage and decay.

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Rom 8:20-22)

Jesus' earthly ministry reflected the belief that the world had been seized by a hostile, sinister lord. Jesus came to begin the process of restoration and repossession. According to Scripture the universe was originally good and the glory of God is still evident in it (Rom 1:20). But something else - something frightfully wicked - is evident in it as well. Of their own free will, Satan and other spiritual beings rebelled against God in the primordial past and now abuse their God-given authority over certain aspects of creation. Satan, who holds the power of death (Heb 2:14) exercises a pervasive, structural and diabolical influence which caused all creation to be ensnared by the bondage of evil. The pain-ridden, bloodthirsty, sinister and hostile character of nature should be attributed to Satan and his army, not to God. When restoration and repossession are complete, nature will be violent no more (Isa 11:6-9, 65:17-25; Rom 8:20-22; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1-4).