Satan in the New Testament
A religious writer had this to say: “We live in this world. We are part of this world. We are, to a certain degree, products of this world. And the world is our battlefield. The war is not contained in a European or Pacific theater. The world includes our own hometown. Wherever we live and move in this world, we are still engaged in combat. There is no demilitarized zone [for the Christian]” (Sproul). An old hymn put it like this: “To him who overcomes the foe white raiment shall be given, before the angels he shall know his name confessed in heaven. Then onward from the hills of light, our hearts with love aflame; we’ll vanquish all the hosts of night, in Jesus’ conquering name.” In the late 70s, a group of theologians in England signed an open letter that it was foolish for anyone to still believe in the devil. One of the people who did not sign this letter was a well-known minister in England . This minister reasoned: “After all, if Christians believe in the Holy Spirit, why should they be so averse to giving credence to an unholy spirit, particularly when the evidence for his handiwork is just as obvious as that of his celestial counterpart? . . . I believe the Christian doctrines of God, of man, and of salvation are utterly untenable [or they can’t be defended] without the existence of Satan. You simply cannot write him out of the human story and then imagine that the story is basically unchanged.” Yes, the religious writer, the hymn writer, and the English minister are correct: we are engaged in spiritual warfare, and our names will only be confessed in heaven if we overcome the foe and his army through Jesus’ conquering name. Satan does exist; he is alive and active! He is not the medieval image of a fellow dressed in a red flannel suit with cloven hoofs, horns, and a pitchfork. This sermon will remind us of our adversary and will help us to see our foe more realistically as we examine several teachings in the New Testament about Satan.
First of all, let’s consider Jesus and Satan. Our Lord spoke about Satan more than any other person in the Bible. Satan was very, very real to Jesus. Satan, through King Herod, tried to destroy Jesus shortly after his birth, and we see the hosts of heaven as they do battle in helping Him to escape (Matthew 2).
Later in His life, after His baptism, we see that Satan tempts Jesus. They were real temptations revolving “around the question uppermost in the minds of Jesus’ countrymen: what should the Messiah look like? A popular Messiah who could turn stones into bread and provide free food for the masses? A wonder-working Messiah who could jump from the temple’s heights and make a dazzling public spectacle by remaining unharmed from the fall? A kingly Messiah who could rule over all the nations? No, Jesus was a Messiah who did not bend nature’s rules to benefit Himself. In fact, He became a suffering Messiah to grow righteousness” (Yancy). “He resisted every impulse to work more rapidly [and more powerfully] for a lower good” (MacDonald). We hear the victorious words of our Master as he tells Satan, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Matthew 4:10)! Yes, Satan had come to Jesus in the wilderness and had appealed to His sense of power, prestige, and worldly gain—If you are the Son of God, then prove it by doing what I say—yet our Lord resisted these distractions to doing the Father’s will. But also remember Luke’s conclusion to this encounter in the desert: “Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:15).
So Satan tempts Jesus again throughout His ministry. Notwithstanding that Jesus often prayed, “Deliver us from the evil one,” those “opportune times” came again in Jesus’ life. Do you recall the explosive situation that Jesus defused after feeding over 5000 people? John’s gospel tells us that they were ready to make him their king (6:15), but this was neither the kingship nor the army that Christ desired. So, He immediately sprang into action by doing 4 things: 1) He told the disciples to get into a boat and leave the area; 2) He disbanded the crowd and sent them away; 3) He went into the hills and spent all night in prayer asking for God’s help (to seek guidance for further defusing this volatile situation); 4) He confronts the crowd the next day with a difficult message challenging them to seek the living bread and NOT the natural bread that perishes (and after this message, much of His popularity was lost, but also Satan’s plan had been foiled again to get Jesus to be a proud Messiah). Then there was that time when Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem , and suffer, and be killed, and rise the third day (Mark 8:31). And recall how Peter could not accept such an idea. According to Peter’s way of thinking, this was not the way the story about the conquering Messiah was supposed to end. In fact, so strong was Peter’s conviction on this matter that “Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him” (Mk. 8:32). But Jesus was not disillusioned by such thoughts. In fact, Jesus rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of man” (Mk. 8:33)! Jesus heard Satan’s voice behind the scene trying once again to get Him to avoid being the suffering Messiah that Isaiah chapter 53 had predicted that He must be.
Our Master taught us that Satan is our primary enemy: it is Satan who takes away the word that has been shown into a person’s heart (Mark 4:15); it is Satan who sows the tares among the good crops (Matthew 13:39); it is Satan who often causes physical suffering (Luke 13:16—Satan had bound this woman for 18 years); it is Satan “who was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth” (not my words, but Jesus’ in John. 8:44); it is Satan who often brings men under temptation (Luke 22:31-32). Yes, for our Master, Satan was alive and real, and the cross was the only way that He could be cast out: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:30-33)!
Satan even tempts Jesus at the cross. Just before this ordeal, Jesus was thinking of Satan when he told his disciples, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here” (John 14:30-31). Also we recall in Jesus’ prayer for His followers in John 17, how he prays, “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one.” Jesus knew the ruler of this world would soon confront Him again because He tried to warn His disciples that they too should be in prayer so as not to enter into temptation. When the mob arrived to take Him, Jesus was not shaken. Peter was ready to take up arms, but Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and He continued to bring about healing to others rather than fight fire with fire. We can hear Satan’s voice again as Jesus suffered on the cross because the same expression that was used in the desert by Satan is also found at the foot of the cross: “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross’ (Matthew 27:39-40). Oh how tempting it must have been for Jesus to have called for those 72,000 angels who could have wiped out the whole crowd and maybe even all of Jerusalem revealing His conquering strength, but this physical display of glory was not God’s way (Matthew 26:53). Note something else here too. Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t hit a man when he’s down.” There’s something in that expression that appeals to our sense of fair play. Brethren, Satan does not practice that expression. Here was our Lord suffering in great agony, physically reduced to almost nothing by the beating he had endured, the nailing on the cross, and the strain of breathing on the cross. You can’t get much more down than that, and Satan is still on the attack! He is against us as long as we have breath, and when you’re down physically and emotionally, may be just the time he will strike! Satan does not play fair!
Well what does Paul have to say about Satan? Let’s read Ephesians 6:10-13 again (I’m using a newer version): “Finally, build up your strength in union with the Lord and by means of His mighty power. Put on all the armor that God gives you, so that you will be able to stand against the Devil’s evil tricks. For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. So put on God’s armor now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground.” This passage shows us four characteristics of Satan.
First, Satan is smart. The “wiles” or “tricks” of the devil are his plans, his strategies, or his methods to defeat us. Satan does not offer us a choice between heaven and hell, but he appeals to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. He stimulates us to think that we can follow his path without suffering any consequences. He convinces us that our desires are the most important in the world. He persuades us that the pleasures of the moment are more necessary than any punishment. Whether slowly and subtly, as in the cases of Saul and Solomon, or quickly and rapidly, as in the cases of Job and Peter, he leads us towards his path of spiritual rebellion.
Second, Satan is supernatural. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood or humans. The medieval figure that Satan is red, has a tail, and carries a pitchfork is a falsity. We must do battle against unseen forces. Like Peter in the garden at Jesus’ arrest, we also are often too caught up with the physical aspects—our budgets, our programs, and our plans—that perhaps we think that these will harm Satan more than our prayers. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying those other things aren’t needed, but I am admonishing us to continue to be prayer warriors above all else. For our battleground is the heart. As Jesus, we must have our eyes open to this invisible enemy and our ears open to hear Satan’s voice behind the scenes.
Third, Satan is strong. Notice again v. 12 where we find reference to principalities, powers, rulers, and spiritual hosts. Perhaps this passage is listing the ranks that are part of Satan’s devilish well-organized army. The Scriptures show us that Satan is not omnipresent, but through his hosts, he can launch attacks everywhere. Like Hitler, he must have a strong charisma and an extraordinary capacity in guiding his followers. One biblical scholar rightly observes, “Always he is pictured [in the NT] as resourceful and active. We should never underestimate his power” (L. Morris).
Lastly, Satan can be subdued. Brethren, this passage warns that Christians must face evil days, but note also they can hold their ground! There is one reality I have seen in my lifetime: Satan never ever quits! Like Jesus, he may leave us alone for awhile, but he will be looking for those opportune times to sift us like wheat. I believe Satan searches for the Achilles’ heel of each Christian. If Satan fought against Jesus until He breathed His last breath, let us rest assured that he will never tire in entrapping God’s saints, and according to Jude, the salvation of some will occur only if we are willing to pull them out of the fire (v. 23). Yet despite his intelligence, his supernatural nature, and his strength, he is a defeated and conquerable foe!! Did you hear that? He is a defeated and conquerable foe!! We know Satan is conquerable through our collective vigilance, faith, and resistance. “You all put on the armor of God.” Our vigilance and battles with Satan are unified efforts; none of us should ever feel that he or she must face the foe individually. Collectively, we must wage this warfare. It is with the shield of faith, our belief that Christ has already conquered the foe that we are to quench Satan’s flaming arrows.
What does Peter tell us about Satan? Let’s read 1 Peter 5:5-9: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, know that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” Facing a roaring lion on the prowl does not sound inviting. Satan is sinister, totally and thoroughly perverse. He has never blessed anyone, he has never encouraged anyone towards doing good, and he has never motivated anyone towards holiness. This passage shows that he is behind much suffering. The Bible reveals that destruction, deprivation, and separation closely follow his presence. Modern comedians make jokes about Satan, but the Scriptures reveal that his utterly perverse character is truly no laughing matter! Beware: a lion on the prowl is making ready to attack or to bring suffering!
What does James tell us about Satan? Let’s read James 4:7-10: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Put yourself under God’s control and don’t give in to Satan’s seductions. Perhaps the rest of verses are explaining how we can resist—we seek forgiveness, we long for a singular devotion, and are sorrowful for our sins. Satan will flee from those who manifest such humility and dependence upon our Almighty God! Brethren, a saint in another congregation told how he used to push drugs, but he broke with that lifestyle and is now pushing Jesus! Another saint told how her daughter was reverting to enemy’s territory, but with prayer and the help of others, rescue from the foe was brought about! A brother in another congregation was able to model humility and keep that congregation from dividing! Brethren, these are tremendous stories of victory! And I’m sure that there are other such stories that many of you who could also tell me. Yes, let’s fight to the end together, let’s resist each of the foe’s onslaughts together, let’s grow weary as we exhaust ourselves to hold our ground together as we do warfare with a very real and ruthless adversary!
What does John say about Satan? Well, we have the best news for last. John tells us that Satan has been defeated. 1 Jn. 3:8 declares: “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of devil.” “Satan’s works are not destroyed in the sense that he can work no more, but the devil has been overcome by the work of Christ. Christians can utilize Christ’s victorious power to negate, to limit, and to eradicate, through Christ’s pardon, the evil of sin from [their lives]” (Roberts). We no longer are enslaved to lives of sin! Jesus’ victory over Satan gives us the ability to now live as slaves to righteousness! And then John also shares with us that great news that Satan will one day be crushed in Rev. 20:7-10: “Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breath of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Earlier in the book of Revelation, Satan had been called Apollyon or the destroyer (9:11) and the accuser (12:10)! But now we see the unholy trinity of the beast, the false prophet, and the devil being crushed for all eternity! This is why we have the best news for last! In heaven, there will be no more troubles, temptations, and trials caused by our arch adversary!
1n 1943, a book was published called The Screwtape Letters where a senior devil wrote letters to give advice to a junior devil on how to keep his “patient” from becoming a strong Christian. Screwtape writes this at the close of one of his letters: “You will say that these are very small sins, and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [meaning God]. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.” The writer captures Satan's ultimate purpose correctly—Satan’s ultimate desire is to separate every man and woman from God. He wants them in the kingdom of darkness and not in the kingdom of light. He will use whatever weaknesses and means that he can to make that separation between you and God a reality. He persistently tempts, attacks, challenges, and entraps. But thanks be to Christ, he already has been defeated, and he can be resisted and subdued. Ultimately, he will be crushed! Is Satan separating you from God? Has Satan made you want to quit running the Christian race? Has Satan held up modern idols to turn your heart from God? Has Satan got you into sinful habits that will ruin your faith? Do you need to stop following Satan and start following or rededicate yourself to Jesus?