Episode 66: Getting to know the Devil and Satan – Part 2
Paul and Dan continue their exploration of how these ‘characters’ appear in the Bible. In part 1 they reached a preliminary conclusion that they are used as terms to personify our inherent tendency to want to go our own way rather than God’s way. In this episode they look at many more of the relevant biblical passages and try to categorise them to get a comprehensive view of what they mean to get to know the devil and satan better.
After a short recap on the first episode in this series (Introducing the Devil and Satan), Paul and Dan explain that their aim for this episode is to go through more of the key passages where these words are used. With 37 occurrences of the Greek word for devil in the New Testament, they know they can’t look at them all, especially alongside the 27 Old Testament references and 36 New Testament references to satan. Instead, they discuss them in categories, (noting Paul’s desire to also talk about dragons!)
Know the Devil and Satan as temptation
The first category relates to temptation. Paul and Dan discuss several passages that connect these terms with the process of people falling into temptation and sin. Of note is 1 Timothy 3:1-11 where overseers and deacons (and their wives) must be of a certain character to avoid being in the snare of the devil. They note that the word diabolos is also translated as slanderer in one verse in this passage, showing that this word is less about identifying a malevolent being, but is describing normal, sinful human behaviour. Ephesians 4:26-27 explains how being angry is “giving opportunity to the devil”. This demonstrates that sinful actions that result from our temper and anger (from within) can be described as the work of the devil. Again, this supports the conclusion that the devil is often a personification of human temptation and sin.
The apostle Paul’s description of the “whole armour of God” is another relevant passage that Paul and Dan discuss. They note that this chapter says that we are not fighting literal battles, (“we do not wrestle against flesh and blood” Ephesians 6:11-12), but to win our fight against the devil we need to be equipped with attributes such as righteousness, truth and faithfulness. The armour of God is clearly metaphorical and therefore the devil as a metaphor for sin and temptation is again the straightforward reading of the passage.
Does the devil cause illness and suffering?
After several more brief references to people who are described as children of the devil or as devils themselves, (John 8:44, 1 John 3:8-10, John 6:70, John 13:2, John 13:27), Paul and Dan move on to the second category of references. They turn to several passages that describe the devil and satan as the cause of illness and suffering, including Acts 10:38, Luke 13:16 and an extended passage in Luke 10:18 about satan falling from heaven.
They discuss how sin is intrinsically linked to mortality and death (compare Hebrews 2:14, Romans 6:23 and James 1:14) and that the healing miracles of Jesus and the apostles remove the authority and power over death, depicted as satan falling from heaven.
Getting to know the devil as a political or religious system
The third category that Paul and Dan discuss is when the words devil and satan are used to describe government entities or religious groups that act to oppose God or his people. Acting as evil systems of oppression and persecution, these groups each become an opponent of or false accuser that is both sinister and terribly powerful, as if the summation of each individual human acting wickedly is actually worse than the sum of the parts.
Passages such as Revelation 2:9-10, (Jewish rulers persecuting Christians), and 1 Peter 5:8-9, (likely Roman authorities persecuting the Christians), are good examples of this category of usage.
The great dragon, that ancient serpent, the devil and satan
Paul and Dan finally talk about dragons when they turn up Revelation 12:1-11. They note a few things from this description of a red dragon and its identification as the devil and satan:
- Revelation is a book of symbols. In fact the dragon is introduced by the clarification that “another sign appeared in heaven” (Revelation 12:3).
- The multiple heads of the dragon (alongside many other features) show that this is a non-literal entity.
- The identification of the dragon as “that ancient serpent” connects it directly back to the story of temptation in the garden in Genesis 3.
- The dragon in Revelation 12 is overcome by the blood of the lamb, (the sacrifice of Jesus), and this links again to how Jesus destroyed sin which has the power of death, (Hebrews 2:14).
- The dragon falling from heaven is similar to Luke 10:18. This imagery cannot be literal since it seems to occur at many different times in the Biblical narrative. To pinpoint when a personal devil fell from heaven raises many interpretive problems and therefore it is much better to understand this repeating image as a metaphor for overcoming the power of sin and death.
Leviathan, that twisting serpent
Bringing the episode to a conclusion, Paul and Dan discuss the context of an ancient mythical beast referred to in the Old Testament as Leviathan, (e.g. Isaiah 27:1). The description of Leviathan in Job 41:34 as “king over all the sons of pride” is the culminating feature demonstrating that the real enemy and beast that needs taming is the proud human heart, (linking with our episode on “Why did Jesus have to die?“)
Paul acknowledges that much more needs to be said in subsequent episodes (about demons and about the sons of God and Satan in Job) and they conclude with a reminder of related episodes: