Theology Corner

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

57. IS SATAN NEARER THAN YOU THINK?

Many years ago, a sincere young women informed me that she believed Satan was instantaneously defeated by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross.  She reminded me that Easter Pageants frequently portray Satan cowering in fear as the resurrected Jesus banishes him from our lives.  He was presumably relegated to some realm of existence far from the earth.  If true, there would be no compelling reason to think about his possible influence on those we love or on ourselves.  If only that scenario was true!  In Section 11 of Theology Corner, it is argued that Satan is alive and well; in this Section it is argued that he is nearer than you think.

SATAN IS ALIVE AND WELL

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 became 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)

 

CORRUPTION OF GOD’S CREATION

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).

Consider the following as simple statements of fact with no implied chronology.  God created both angels and humans as first-cause agents of choice with the free will to accept or reject God’s wishes in every situation.  God created the universe with such precision that the slightest change in any one of its properties would preclude our existence.  God designed the earth as a home for man.  God placed certain angels in charge of his creation and instructed them to be good stewards.  Some began to oppose God under the leadership of Satan, the most powerful and intelligent of all rebellious angels.  Satan, who holds the power of death (Heb 2:14) and is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30-31; 16:8-11), exercises a pervasive, structural and diabolical influence which caused all creation to be captured by the bondage of evil.  That which God created as good began to exhibit a pain-ridden, bloodthirsty, sinister and hostile demeanor.  “Mother Nature,” became an inherently violent and terrifying system dominated by disease, suffering and death – a system red in tooth and claw.  Not wanting free will to be an illusion, God is permitting, for a time and within limits, certain consequences of rebellion and corruption caused by both fallen angels and the humans who join them.  Rebellious angels and humans, under the leadership of Satan, are the first-cause of all evil including that evil called sin which resides in the soul of man.

 

THE GREAT WAR

The world, at every level, is at war.  We are on the front lines of this Great War whether we like it or not.  The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ began a new phase of warfare.  God the Son began the process of taking back his creation.  The outcome of the great-war between good and evil was decided by the substitutionary atonement; yet few would claim Jesus has already restored and repossessed his corrupted creation.  For a time and within limits, God continues to permit certain consequences of rampant rebellion and the brutal corruption of all life.  But He expects His people to engage the enemy and be soldiers in His army.

God, by His omnipotence, will one day end this war.  He will repair, reconstruct, restore and repossess His entire creation (Isa 11:6-9, 65:17-25; Rom 8:20-22; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1-4).  Until that time, however, prudence would suggest that we keep an eye on Satan who, contrary to popular opinion, never expected to overpower God by force and establish a separate but equal kingdom of evil.  Satan merely seeks to discredit God and God’s relationship with man in full view of all the angels in Heaven!  He argues that God is no longer perfect.  Satan laments that God’s character has been altered as an unfortunate consequence of His love for man.  God’s wisdom and truth have become illogical, His holiness has been compromised and His once absolute justice is now relative and situational.  Satan offers to help God purge Himself of this affliction by driving an irremovable wedge between God and man and facilitating an alienation that cannot be reconciled.  Satan attempts with one crafty thrust to both assail God’s beloved humans and show up God as an altruistic fool.  Satan claims that any man who seeks the great gift of reconciliation with God does so only because it pays (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5).  Satan says anytime God will let him break the link between seeking righteousness and receiving blessing, the so-called “born again” man will be exposed as the same old filthy sinner he was before receiving the great gift of salvation.  In other words, the overall concept of salvation by faith, the grace of God and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ is a sham.  God cannot give it, Jesus cannot pay for it and you cannot receive it.  According to Satan, it’s all smoke and mirrors so that God can save his wretched humans without appearing to compromise His character.

Satan claims that: (1) so-called redemption from the bondage of sin does not really set you free, (2) God has no real basis for offering forgiveness of your sin, (3) for God to justify you as sinless is a perversion of justice, (4) you are not deserving of adoption into God’s family, (5) you can never be truly regenerated from the death of sin to a life of pursuing righteousness, (6) your walk along the path of sanctification is an exercise in self-delusion, (7) you will never be reconciled with so-called fellow believers, (8) a unified church of Jesus Christ is a myth and (9) you have no hope of glorification in heaven.  This is the adversary’s clever attempt to permanently subvert the relationship between God and man and show all the angels in Heaven that God’s plan for reconciliation is fraudulent.  If the salvation offered to every man and woman can be exposed as a perversion of wisdom, holiness, justice and truth, then a chasm of alienation stands between God and man that cannot be bridged.  Reconciliation would be unthinkable.  God’s whole enterprise in creation would be radically and irrevocably flawed; He could only sweep it away in awful judgment as He nearly did once before (Gen 6:5-7).

As tempter, Satan seeks to alienate man from God; as accuser he seeks to alienate God from man.  Satan’s accusations, once raised, cannot be erased even if God destroyed the accuser.  The great adversary is attempting to thwart the purposes of God by condemning as lies the beliefs of every man and woman who have accepted the great gift of salvation.  At stake in this challenge is the outcome of the struggle in heaven with the all-encompassing divine purpose in the balance.  Thus, contrary to the teachings of the Prosperity Gospel (health, wealth and prosperity for all), the suffering of the Christian soldier has a meaning and value commensurate with the titanic spiritual struggle of the ages.

Because God decided not to exercise his omnipotence to end the war in an instant, He insisted that the spiritual forces of good and evil follow certain Rules of Engagement.  These rules may be renegotiated from time to time to prevent Satan from completely destroying our lives.   Conversely, the Rules of Engagement may also prevent God from exercising some power that might be construed as an unfair advantage in the eyes of the “rulers and authorities” in heavenly realms who are watching this war unfold (Eph 3:10).  The Rules of Engagement define such items as: when and where battles are waged, how winners and losers are determined, the consequences of winning and losing, the Allowed Weapons for each side and the Constraints on Effectiveness for each weapon. 

Without Rules of Engagement, Satan could do to everyone on earth what he did to Job and his family.  Or, since Satan holds the power of death (Heb 2:14), he could arrange for every child to die shortly after reaching his/her age of accountability.  Satan could do even more terrible things than he has done and then demand that we curse God.  It should also be remembered that all wars have Allowed Weapons and each weapon has multiple Constraints on its Effectiveness.

The primary Allowed Weapon for God’s human soldiers is prayer because, alone, we don’t stand a chance against the dark powers.  Remember, the battle is spiritual and must be fought in God’s strength, depending on the Word of God and on God through prayer.  The verbal Word of God is called the sword of the spirit.  That sword is one of two offensive weapons in the full armor of God (Eph 6:10-18).  The other offensive weapon is prayer.  Only by prayer are we able to firmly grasp the hilt of the sword in our human hands, remove it from its scabbard and wield it against the invisible forces of evil.  Prayer is the spiritual strength driving the sword of the spirit in our hands as we strive side by side with Jesus Christ to: (1) restore and repossess His corrupted creation which He has set free from the bondage of evil (healing); (2) help the unsaved cross the finish line of salvation and become disciples of Christ as they are being nudged by the Prevenient Grace of God which calls and convicts every soul to be set free from the bondage of sin (evangelism) and (3) by training and right living, prevent the influence of sin from undermining the Christian walk of the saved (discipleship).  I may not have charismatic gifts.  My relationship with Jesus may not always be as personal as I might wish.  But I can stand up as an infantryman in the army of our commander in chief.

However, my prayer petitions may not be granted even if I have the attributes of a prayer warrior and my prayers are appropriate.  For example, I may be certain my faith is larger than a mustard seed but I cannot move mountains (Mat 17:20 cf 21:21, 22) nor can I place my hands on the sick and always see them healed (Acts 28:8).  The Holy Spirit may want to grant my petitions in such matters but He is thwarted by forces of darkness exercising free will, using powerful weapons and utilizing a complex network of constraints (Dan 10:12-13, 20-21); but also, the Holy Spirit is thwarted by my own inadequate personal attributes as a prayer warrior.

Consider another vantage.  Satan is accusing us 24/7 probably with the frequency of cosmic gamma burst radiation (Rev 12:10).  Jesus Christ is interceding on our behalf (Heb 7:25) for each accusation.  But unlike the characters in a Perry Mason episode, the cold facts about our shortcomings are known at the outset by both the prosecution and the defense.  This spiritual courtroom is about establishing, not the existence, but the consequences of undeniable sins.  Our guilt before God is removed by the great gift of salvation by which we are redeemed, forgiven, justified, adopted, regenerated, guided along the path of sanctification, reconciled with fellow believers, united in the church of Jesus Christ and looking forward to glorification.  But our sorry behavior, even after we have been saved, still has consequences in this life.  Satan not only wants the unsaved to join him in eternal damnation, he would also like to minimize God’s response to the prayers of the saved.  Could our sinful nature and behavior along with our inadequate prayer warrior attributes, by the Rules of Engagement, continually lower the effectiveness of our prayers?  We could ask God for the wisdom (Jam 1:5) to comprehend precisely how the Rules of Engagement are constraining the effectiveness of our prayers.  Unfortunately, the shear ferocity and frequency of Satan’s unrelenting attack and the complexity of creation make it unlikely that we could fully understand and satisfy these rules.  But remember, Jesus Christ is not just a lackadaisical defense attorney going through the motions.  He is an advocate who wants us to win!  He wants us to overcome the shackles of constraint on the power of our prayer.

 

SATAN IS NEAR

Our spiritual opponents in this Great War are powerful beyond comprehension; they would destroy us in an instant were it not for God’s restraint.  Even God’s angels appear to be reluctant to enter the fray (Dan 10:21).  Why didn’t God give us “superhero” personal power against these adversaries to make an even fight?  Perhaps because the struggle is ultimately about ideas rather than brute power.  Satan wants to convince all the angels in Heaven that God’s plan of salvation for mankind is flawed.  He wants to expose God’s entire enterprise of creation and redemption as the product of radically flawed wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.  The accusation, once raised, could not be removed, not even by destroying the accuser.  The divine purpose hung in the balance. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ was a fatal blow to him who holds the power of death (Heb 2:14) and sealed the ultimate outcome of the war.  But Jesus wants his army to stand beside him as He reclaims and restores His creation.  You are on the front lines of this war whether you like it or not and Satan is setting his sights on you!