The Devil his origin and character
I'm one of those who think that Satan (or the Devil or the Serpent) is a name for an actual being who has set himself against God. Still, I recognize that there are fervent believers who think the term “Satan” simply stands for the power or force of evil. I can't share that view. I can see that realities like sin and wisdom can be and are at times personified but the personification of wisdom in poetic and proverbial settings isn't what I hear when the scriptures speak of Satan. Christ speaks of him as a liar and a murderer (John 8) who was a liar and a murderer “from the beginning”. That section carries the tone of personality and the temptation narratives, despite some difficulties that need worked out in detail, it gives the strong impression that Satan is a person.
There is the view that the Satan of the Old Testament should be treated differently than the Satan (or Devil) of the New Testament. There are those who think the Satan of the New Testament is an actual evil being but that the Old Testament “Satan,” at worst, is a defender of God's honor. Because there's so little in the Old Testament about Satan I can understand the need for caution in drawing our conclusions. However, I think the New Testament makes a purposeful connection between the Old Testament Satan, serpent and what it calls the Devil.
Perhaps it's not surprising that the Old Testament doesn't have a developed doctrine of Satan when it doesn't have a developed doctrine of the resurrection or the Holy Spirit. There are textual reasons to believe that the truth of the resurrection was held in the centuries before Christ but it was the Master himself who brought to light the truth of immortality and life (2 Timothy 1:10). And while the Holy Spirit is mentioned all over the Old Testament it isn't until we get to the New Testament that we learn of his own “personhood” and other related truths.
I'm one of the many who infer from a few texts in scripture that the one we know as Satan was created by God (see John 1:3, Colossians 1:16-17 and Revelation 4:11, as examples). This presumes that Satan is not eternal. And since nothing could come directly from the heart of God that is unholy he must have been created and judged as “good”. If all this is correct then he must have been involved in some sinful rebellion and now lives to oppose God.
Genesis 3:1-4, 13-15 mentions the serpent deceiving Eve and leading the humans into sinful rebellion against God. Genesis nowhere links the serpent with the Old Testament Satan but the understanding that the serpent was Satan is very old and certainly predates the New Testament. So when John in Revelation 20:2 says, “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan and bound him for a thousand years,” perhaps we aren't being unreasonable if we link the Genesis 3 text with the New Testament development. See also Revelation 12:9.
Then there's Paul's word of assurance to the Roman Christians in 16:20 . “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” James Dunn, commenting on that text, calls this a grand slogan and an “echo of Genesis 3:15 .” And there's 2 Corinthians 11:3 where Paul connects the Genesis 3 text with the work of sly Satan (see 11:3, 13-15).
It seems to me that John and Paul are content to let us make such a link between the serpent and Satan (and the devil) in light of their own allusions to the serpent texts. So in light of these indicators I'll be accepting the identification.
The three names and their biblical contexts help us establish a profile for Satan. Being “Satan” and the “Devil” he is an accuser, and adversary and being the Serpent he is connected with sly deception. We're expressly told he is an accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) but it seems to me that in Job 1:9-10 he accuses God of buying Job's faithfulness. If that's true then his slander isn't just against Job (and humans in general—Job 2:4) it's leveled against God as a giver of bribes. Be that as it may, in Revelation 12:9 we hear, “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” Eight times in Revelation deception is said to be his business and the present participial phrase in 12:9 is clearly being used as an adjective to describe and identify him. And it seems noteworthy that the dragon is identified as the ancient serpent that has two names (Satan and Devil) so that it's the serpent mode that is to the forefront in the text.
It's this deceptive aspect of Satan (in his serpent mode) that I will be mentioning frequently. Here John has him characterized as a deceiver. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:3 speaks of the serpent deceiving Eve and in Romans 7:11, where he has the Garden of Eden seduction as his background, he says sin “deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.” In this text he replaces the serpent with personified Sin but the tone and drift of Genesis 3 is retained and deception is central.
This slyness and deception doesn't endear Satan to us but there's a truth implicit in it that's worth underlining. He deceives because he can't coerce! In the battle against God for human souls Satan must depend on confusion and lies, on bluff and bluster, on slinking and hiding. He can't bear the light because he's doomed as soon as people see him for what he is. But—and this is an important but—it is only through Christ and the scriptures that we know of his malignant nature. It is only through the cross and the Christ of the cross that we are able to judge Satan and “the world” of which he is the prince (see John 12:31 ). Guesses, speculations and anecdotes take us nowhere—it's the Christ who has exposed and defeated him.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.