His Works

Jesus says that the devil was "a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it" (John 8:44). We sense here that God still feels pain over what happened in the Garden of Eden. Jesus says with righteous indignation that Satan murdered Adam and Eve by drawing them into sin with the penalty of death. How did he manage to kill them? By telling them lies. He persuaded them that God put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil off limits only because He wanted to keep them inferior to Himself. He duped them into believing that the consequence of eating from it would not be death, as God said, but godhood.

Notice that Satan told Adam and Eve the same lies he had already told himself. He himself had embraced the lie that it is possible to become equal with God. This lie implies others. To become equal with God is self-evidently impossible if God is really the infinite and eternal being He claims to be. Hence, Satan must have surmised that God was lying about Himself, and that He is really a noninfinite being who had attained His stature by degrees. Satan reasoned that if one being could evolve so high, then so could another, and he shared his conclusions with Adam and Eve.

Exactly what was his motive in tempting them? We do not know. Some have imagined that he was seeking allies in his rebellion against God. Others, such as Milton in Paradise Lost, have portrayed him as the archrebel who was seeking to hurt God by corrupting his pet creatures. Whatever the truth may be, we know that after the Fall, God set a wall of enmity between Satan and man (Gen. 3: 15). Although "her seed" has specific Messianic import, it also refers more generally to all mankind. In his role as man's enemy, Satan continues to be a liar and murderer. He deceives man with promises of happiness apart from God, and by these false promises he entices man to eternal death.

They who follow Satan acquire his character. They too become rebels against God. They too become liars and murderers, for they do not keep the lies of Satan to themselves. They spread them to others and thus become partners in his work of destruction. Hence, the Bible says that all unregenerate men are the children of Satan (John 8:44).

His Desire

When tempting Jesus, Satan showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and promised, "If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine" (Luke 4:7). Above all else, the devil wants to be worshipped. To be worshipped comforts his pride, the same pride that originally brought his downfall. To be worshipped makes him feel that he has succeeded in his ambition to be like God. Therefore, he promotes every form of human religion that replaces the true God with a figure more after the mold of Satan. One day in the future he will succeed in gaining the worship of the whole world. By signs and wonders that convince the gullible and by coercion that brings foot-draggers into line, he will make the whole world worship his proxy, the Antichrist (Rev. 13). He will set up a counterfeit Trinity, parading himself as rival to God the Father, the Antichrist as rival to God the Son, and the false prophet as rival to God the Holy Spirit.

Evil spirits of lower rank also desire worship. The Bible says that idolatry is just the worship of demons (1 Cor. 10:20).

His Defeat

Satan's long war with God has already had its decisive battle. When Jesus died on the cross, He defeated the devil once and for all. He took away from him the power of death (Heb. 2:14)—that is, the power to kill men by drawing them into sin. He also denied him any further use of "the handwriting of ordinances" against us (Col. 2:14-15)—that is, the law that Satan employed to condemn us before God. He accomplished all this by taking the punishment for our sin upon Himself, so that we who believe in Him might be accepted of God.

The texts we have just mentioned, in Hebrews and Colossians, view Satan primarily as the defeated enemy of man. But he is also God's enemy, and the victory that Christ won at the cross was not only over Satan's power to destroy man through sin, but also over Satan's power to oppose God. The full significance of the cross appears in the prophecy known as the Protevangelium (Gen. 3:15). After Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden, God said that someday a man would be born who would crush the head of the serpent, Satan, although the serpent would succeed in striking the man's heel (Gen. 3:15). The prophecy sees the two blows as simultaneous. The serpent would bruise the man's heel when the man brought his heel down upon the serpent's head. The man is Christ. The injury He would suffer was the Crucifixion. Like a wound in the heel, the Crucifixion was grievous, but not final. The God-man easily broke the bonds of death. It follows that the crushing blow to Satan's head must have been delivered at the cross.

Why was the cross the pivotal battle between good and evil? Because it provided Satan with his last opportunity to tempt Christ. Through the chief priests, elders, scribes, and other bystanders, Satan tried to goad Jesus into coming down from the cross (Matt. 27:39-44). Jesus was in a sorely weakened condition, full of pain, and alienated from the Father (Matt. 27:44). If He ever could have been vulnerable to a Satanic suggestion, it was then. He might have reasoned, Why should I die for man, when man is killing me? Or, why should I strive to please the Father when He has forsaken me? But if Christ had come down from the cross, there would have been four devastating consequences.

  1. We would have lost our salvation.
  2. After His plan for man's redemption had failed, the Father would have had no reason to let the world continue. The world would have vanished, and we would never have seen life.
  3. God would have made Himself a liar, as the devil from the beginning has alleged that He is, for God had promised in His Word to bring redemption through Christ.
  4. Had Christ gone His own way, heedless of the Father's will, the Trinity itself would have been broken. Imagine the scale of Satan's victory if he could have succeeded in driving a wedge between the Father and the Son.

Never again after the cross would Satan have another such opportunity to prevail against God. The cross was his last chance. Therefore, since he could not induce Christ to come down, the cross brought a crushing blow to his head, a wound from which he would never recover. His defeat two thousand years ago was final and complete.

His Future

We will sketch the main events.

  1. During the last 3 1/2 years of the Tribulation, a war will break out in heaven (Rev. 12:7-12). Michael and his angels will attack Satan and his angels and will cast them out. Satan's role as an accuser before the Throne will come to an end. For the remainder of the Tribulation, he will be confined to the earth.
  2. At the end of the 3 1/2 years he will draw the followers of the Antichrist to Palestine and make war against the Jews (Rev. 16:12-16). The assembled host will spread out over the place called Armageddon. Christ and His saints will then descend from heaven and defeat the gathered armies, including their three leaders—Satan, the Antichrist, and the false prophet (Rev. 19:11-21). The last two will be cast into everlasting hell (Rev. 19:20), but Satan will be chained temporarily in the bottomless pit (Rev. 20:1-3).
  3. After a thousand years have passed, at the end of the Millennial reign of Christ, Satan will be released and allowed to deceive the nations. He will stir up another rebellion against God, but he and his followers will be overthrown (Rev. 20:7-9).
  4. Satan will then come to his final destiny. No more will he be tolerated as an active foe of God. Rather, he will be taken to his eternal abode, the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). This place of unceasing torment was prepared expressly for Satan and his angels (Matt. 25:41), but all damned souls will eventually go there and remain there forever (Rev. 20:11-15; 2 Thess. 1:9).

Our View of Him

The Bible warns us that the devil is a lion (1 Pet. 5:8) and that his evil workers are wolves (Matt. 7:15; 10:16; Acts 20:29). Indeed, all the forces of evil are predatory, in that they feed themselves by destroying other living things. In a real sense, they live by their wickedness. Except for doing evil, their lives have no purpose or meaning. When God is done tolerating them, he will stop their wicked works and consign them to a place of eternal destruction (Matt. 25:41).

Should we fear them? No (1 John 4:4; see also Rom. 8:38; Heb. 2:14). God is greater than Satan, and as we have said before, Satan can do nothing that God does not allow. We must simply take care to stay away from dangerous combat that is not necessary for any good purpose. Three guidelines are helpful:

  1. Like all predators, the devil and his minions search the flock or the herd for the weakest members, the ones who are lagging behind or who are obviously weak or unfit. These invite attack because they are easy targets promising sure success.

    How often have I seen the devil's tactics in driving a marginal person away from church! The first step is to gradually draw down his attendance as much as possible. Then something happens—someone in the church offends him, or he is offered a Sunday job, or sexual temptation of unprecedented appeal enters his life—to drive him away from church completely. He is under attack by wolves, but he is blind to his peril and goes willingly to his destruction

    The lesson for us is that we should keep ourselves spiritually strong. If the devil sees that we are well prepared for battle, he is less likely to attack us.

  2. We should not be so foolish as to attack the devil with accusing words. Even Michael the archangel refrained from scolding or insulting him, but instead called upon God to rebuke him (Jude 9).

  3. We must place ourselves under God's protection. That is why Jesus advised us to pray daily that God would "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil [or, 'the evil one']" (Matt. 6:13).

Our Defense

Paul devotes a large portion of a whole chapter to instructions on how we should prepare for spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-7). He says we should put on "the whole armour of God," implying that we cannot afford to omit any piece. We dare not leave any part of ourselves exposed to attack.

  1. We must guard our loins, our midsection, with truth. Our loins are the seat of bodily desires. We need truth to counter the deceptions that would justify yielding to these desires when they veer into excess.
  2. We must guard our breast with righteousness. The heart that beats within our breast is deceitful and desperately wicked. Who can know it (Jer. 17:9)? Only by gaining a heart renewed by the righteousness of Christ can we put off the temptations to act wickedly.
  3. We must guard our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Apart from the grace of God, our feet run after mischief (Prov. 6:18) and lust (Prov. 5:5). Let us dedicate these members to a higher purpose—to carrying the gospel of peace. Then we need not fear that the devil will someday find us on poor defensive ground, where he can easily overwhelm us.
  4. Above all, we must take the shield of faith. Why is this piece of armor of paramount importance? Because it is enough "to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." There is no evil suggestion that the devil can feed us and no evil attack that he can mount against us that we cannot answer with a promise of God. It is merely a question, then, of whether by faith we believe the promise.
  5. We must guard our head with the helmet of salvation. The devil's last attack when we are weary of battle and we feel discouraged that we have not fended off every blow may be to sow doubts that we are truly saved. Let us put aside doubts and accept God's love and faithfulness as expressed in the gospel.