CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Yes, the Devil is Real

Jan 17, 2020

Contrary to the claims of some, Satan most certainly exists:

Given all that the Bible has to say about the devil, only a cultist or theological liberal could claim to understand Scripture yet state that he does not exist. The Bible everywhere assumes the existence of a real, volitional and personal malevolent being known as the devil, or Satan.

Indeed, if we simply use a concordance, we find how often he is directly referred to – not to mention all the indirect references. If we run with the ESV, we see the two main words used as follows: “Devil” is used 33 times; “Satan” is used 49 times.

Of course numerous other names are used, such as Beelzebub, Belial, adversary, evil one, enemy, deceiver, father of lies, tempter, great dragon, murderer, and so on. As Graham Cole says in his new book Against the Darkness: The Doctrine of Angels, Satan, and Demons (Crossway, 2019):

The serpent is revealed as the enemy of the word of God, the enemy of the integrity of God, and the enemy of the people of God. At times, this spiritual being of immense power and cunning works his mischief as an angel of light. Other times he is like a ravenous lion on the prowl. He is a spoiler. He is a disuniter. He is the enemy of the interpersonal. Temptation is his specialty from the beginning. Christians need to have a worldview that takes the devil seriously in its awareness of evil.

Or as Ronald Kohl says in the book he just edited on this subject, Our Ancient Foe (P&R, 2019): “The Bible speaks often and definitely about Satan’s person and work. Sometimes it speaks via allusions or references; sometimes Scripture mentions him by name. I fear that, as Christians, we take Satan far too lightly. . . . Satan is a very real person.”

One cannot claim to be a Christian or a student of Scripture and deny the reality of the devil. Yet incredibly some folks seek to do just this. Liberal theologians of course try to. They no more believe in the reality of Satan than they do in miracles, or the resurrection, or the reliability of Scripture.

And most folks who are into the New Age Movement will talk heaps about spirituality, God, angels, heaven, and the like. But most of them talk very little about things like Satan, demons, sin and hell. In fact, most New Agers tend to deny the reality of those things.

I just recently had someone send in this comment to my site, after I had mentioned the devil in an article: “To my knowledge and research of scripture, there is no such thing as a ‘DEVIL’ although if we take the ‘D’ out of the DEVIL we end up with EVIL and thus, it could be said that devil is to do evil and each of us has the power to chose to do evil or to do good. I challenge anyone to show where in scripture there is evidence of a devil….”

Oh dear. He went on to discuss just one verse – the one about “get thee behind me Satan” – and claimed that this simply had to do with anything that is contrary to God’s will. Talk about trying to play fast and loose with the clear teachings of Scripture.

So how might we respond to those who claim that the Bible knows nothing of the devil, or that all those verses simply refer to some abstract principle of evil? We can begin by reminding the reader of the famous line by C. S. Lewis as found in the preface to his 1942 classic, The Screwtape Letters:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

As to the claims of the theological liberals and others that this is just some principle of evil, and not an actual evil being with great powers, a few things can be said. This is certainly NOT how the Bible treats the devil. Indeed, it is irrational to suggest this. As R. C. Sproul puts it, he once had a student say this to him: “I do believe in the reality of an impersonal force of evil in the world.”

Sproul said he found this response fascinating and asked the student, “How can an impersonal force be evil? What is this mysterious impersonal force? Cosmic dust? Radioactivity? Impersonal objects, forces, or powers can be many things. One thing they cannot be is morally evil.” 

And Michael Green in his important book, I Believe in Satan’s Downfall (Hodder & Stoughton, 1981) is worth quoting from at length here:

It is logical for an atheist to reject belief in the devil, just as he rejects belief in God. . . . What is totally inconsistent is to accept one part of the spiritual realm, God, and to reject the other. The existence of the devil is a necessary part of consistent theism. Many who call themselves Christians will want to protest at that, but let them ask themselves if they are not in danger of reducing Christianity to a system of morals. Can they continue to accept the idea of revelation whilst rejecting the devil of whom it speaks? Can they listen to Jesus Christ while rejecting the devil to whom he bears witness? What satisfactory account can they give of the chaos in God’s world if there is not destructive force of evil at work? How can they make any sense of the atonement if there is no devil?

He continues: In critical circles

the idea of Satan is an aetiological tale. That is to say, it is a mythical or poetic story to explain a perplexing phenomenon, the existence of evil, disease and death in God’s world. [But] Satan is no mere explanatory tale: he is a menacing reality. He was for the Old Testament heroes: he was for Jesus: he was for the apostles, the saints and martyrs: and he is for us.

The biblical data on the reality of Satan is found throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament. But in the Old Testament we learn much of his activity as a fallen angel: tempting the first parents in the garden; being given permission to afflict Job; and his role as an accuser, and being rebuked by God (Zechariah 3:1-2).

But it is in the New Testament that we learn so much more about him. The Gospels alone give us dozens of references to him. And the truth is, just like the topic of hell, Jesus spoke more about the reality of Satan than anyone else in Scripture. So if we have a problem with a real devil, we then have a problem with Jesus himself.

Image of Against the Darkness: The Doctrine of Angels, Satan, and Demons (Foundations of Evangelical Theology)
Against the Darkness: The Doctrine of Angels, Satan, and Demons (Foundations of Evangelical Theology) by Array Amazon logo

Just a few things we find there: Jesus was of course tempted by the devil (see Matthew 4 and the parallel accounts). And Satan entered into Judas to betray Jesus (Luke 22:3). Also, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, alluding to a very real devil, as we find in John 8:44:

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

In John 10:10 Jesus refers to Satan as a thief: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” In Matthew 25 Jesus discusses the final judgment. In verse 41 he speaks of the cursed who go “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”.

The rest of the New Testament often mentions Satan as an actual figure. Paul for example says that we must not fall for his wiles (Ephesians 6;11); that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14); that we should give no opportunity to the devil (Ephesians 4:27); we must watch out for the snares of the devil (1 Timothy 3:7; 2 Timothy 2:26); and so on.

The other writers also assume the reality of Satan. For example, Hebrews 2:14 speaks of Jesus destroying the devil; in James 4:7 we read about resisting the devil; and in 1 Peter 5:8 we read about the “adversary the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And in Revelation 20 we read of the final defeat of Satan.

As to the passage that this fellow mentioned – and mangled – it is found in Matthew 16:21-23:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Jesus gives Peter a very strong but necessary rebuke. Peter here was listening to the voice of Satan, not God, and seeking to prevent Jesus from going to his divinely appointed end – the cross. Those who distort or deny the message and mission of God become at that point spokesmen or emissaries for the devil.

In sum, there is no way you can claim to be a Christian and take the Word of God seriously if you seek to deny the reality of Satan. It just can’t be done. Let me close with three quotes, the first one from C. S. Lewis. In his classic work, Mere Christianity, he says this:

One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe – a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference [from Dualism] is that Christianity thinks that this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

My second witness is Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In his The Christian Warfare, which examines Ephesians 6:1-13 (volume 7 of his 8-volume expository commentary on Ephesians), he says this:

It is my belief … that the modern world, and especially the history of the present century, can only be understood in terms of the unusual activity of the devil and the ‘principalities and powers’ of darkness. Indeed, I suggest that a belief in a personal devil and demon activities is the touchstone by which one can most easily test any profession of Christian faith today. I make no apology, therefore, for having considered the matter in such detail. It is essential for the successful living of the Christian life and for the peace and happiness and joy of the individual Christian, and also for the prosperity of the Church in general.

In a world of collapsing institutions, moral chaos, and increasing violence, never was it more important to trace the hand of the ‘prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of the disobedience’, and then, not only learn how to wrestle with him and his forces, but also how to overcome them ‘by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony’. If we cannot discern the chief cause of our ills, how can we hope to cure them? 

Finally, a few lines from a memorable Keith Green song, “No One Believes in Me Anymore (Satan’s Boast)”:

Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As time keeps slipping away

I can imitate your brightest light
And make your night look just like day
I put some truth in every lie
To tickle itching ears
You know I’m drawing people just like flies
‘Cause they like what they hear

I’m gaining power by the hour
They’re falling by the score
You know, it’s getting very simple now
‘Cause no one believe in me anymore

Oh, heaven’s just a state of mind
My books read on your shelf
And have you heard that God is dead?
I made that one up myself
They dabble in magic spells
They get their fortunes read
You know they heard the truth
But turned away and followed me instead

You can listen to the song here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9YL0HV0mwE

 [2181 words]

8 Responses to Yes, the Devil is Real

  • Maybe we need to refer to the”children of disobedience” by its right name according to Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In this quote from The Christian Warfare, as the devil inspired person to be PC?

    Great work Bill, Keep’em coming!

    Cheers & blessings

    Eric Hansen

  • Amen! You would have to wonder if some claimed Christians ever read their Bible.

    Rev 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, the old serpent called Devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world. He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
    (MKJV)

    Note: “he”, “his” and “him”.

    Interestingly it is not until the New Testament that we can see Satan defined as the serpent of the Garden of Eden. Prior to that it would appear to many that Satan had managed to get away with his deception.

    The term “The Devil” is in the English translations but the term translated “Devil” is actually the new name Jesus coined for Satan i.e. “Diabolo”, which, in Greek, appears to also define Satan as the cause of the expulsion:-

    Dia – the cause or means as in diagnostics and diagram
    Bolo – as in Ballo – the shorthand Greek term used in scripture for casting out demons etc. and where we get the modern term “ballistics” (the science of throwing things) from.

    By giving him this name Jesus not only appears to be defining Satan as the serpent in the Garden, which we all now take for granted, but also as the cause of Satan’s own, corresponding expulsion/casting out from Heaven. The ultimate “what goes around comes around.”

    In the O.T. references to Satan’s deception, schemes and downfall often use encoded names such as the reference to Satan as the “King of Tyre” in Ezekiel 28. Interestingly Tyre is directly North from Jerusalem and Armageddon is a little over half-way between Tyre and Jerusalem. This may be significant when you see the prophecies in Ezekiel and Daniel speaking of wickedness coming from the “North”. The Hebrew for “North” also has the etymology that defines it as “the dark place”.

    Because the scriptures use these encoded terms such as “serpent” and the “King of Tyre” to refer to Satan this leads some people to conclude that these are simply allegorical and not descriptions of reality. Of course God has known all along that people would do this.

    Mat_11:25 At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank You, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the sophisticated and cunning, and revealed them to babes.
    (MKJV)

  • When I was a student, one non-Christian said to another ,”Let’s continue to do the devil’s work”.
    Sounds like a throwaway line.
    However, there is truth in it – if one is not in the Lord, doing the Lord’s work, one is doing the devil’s work, whether you are aware of it or not, whether you like it or not. Enslaved & entrapped!

  • I’ve always had a degree of fogginess in regards to the Devil and what actually constitutes him and his works. What are his limitations and what exactly can he do? He’s described as a limited being, a fallen Angel, a roaring lion, yet it is almost as if he’s able to act ways only God can! We are told to be on guard against him, but is this not essentially to be on guard against our own fallen sinful natures? I find it hard to believe that a fallen angel, has the time or power to know all of mankind’s thoughts and be able to influence all individuals personally unlike God who obviously can.

    Therefore, my current thinking is that when the Bible refers to Satan it depends on the context. One context Satan as a being, and the another, actions and thoughts that are line with his teaching but come out of our own sinful natures are described as works of Satan i.e. (Jesus rebuke of Peter “get behind me Satan”).

    Put another way, does he personally go around influencing everyone, or do our sinful desires do the influencing but it’s attributed to him based on original sin? Are they one in the same or two separate things? I’m quite confused here.

  • Thanks Matthew. As I tried to argue in my piece, we do disservice to the biblical data if we in anyway deny the reality of Satan. He is a real being who does exist and has real, but limited, powers. What he is able to do is circumscribed by God. See the book of Job for example.

    And there are demons as well as Satan, along with principalities and powers, etc, so there are numerous malevolent beings at work, not just one. This is an evil host that does great damage, but only by permission of Almighty God. The protection available to believers is not there for non-believers, so they are especially susceptible to his wiles and power (Acts 26:18). They are children of the devil (1 John 3:10).

    Yes we have sinful natures, but they are not identical to Satan. They can be influenced by Satan, but they are two separate things. When Jesus rebuked Satan, as in the wilderness temptations, he certainly was not rebuking his own sinful nature! As to the passage on Peter, at that point he was allowing Satan to influence and control his thinking, which is why the strong rebuke.

    But I recommend that you have a read of the three volumes I mentioned above by Cole, Kohl and Green. In addition, Joel Beeke, Fighting Satan (Reformation Heritage, 2015) would be another quite useful volume to peruse.

  • Thanks for getting back to me and for the clarifications and resources Bill. Much appreciated.

  • Matthew Pearson

    I would add to Bill excellent response that you can be assured Satan and the fallen angels cannot read our thoughts. There is no evidence anywhere in scripture for angels having that capability whatsoever and good evidence to the contrary (E.g. Jesus’ temptation in the Wilderness), nor does anyone else have that ability, only God alone has that capability, as Jesus demonstrated (E.g. Mat 12:25).

    Angels can, however, put thoughts in our mind as with Peter, mentioned above, and 1 John 4:1 with false prophecy, and as Paul mentions in Galatians 1:8. While most seances etc. are con tricks there is nothing to prevent fallen angels from putting what information they know into someones mind, if it suits their purpose. This why the O.T. law is to not “consult the dead” because, of course, if you do learn something it will have been from a disobedient angel and the information will be to manipulate you.

    They can also be present and unseen as with 2 Kings 6:17, so they can possibly hear and see you, if they happen to be there, when you think no one is listening nor watching.

    Only God is omnipresent. Every other being can only be at one place at a time (although the existence of the metaphysical now seems to have been confirmed by science because no unified theory of existence has been discovered that does not have input from outside the known, physical dimensions. In fact, if you are an atheist, the only explanation is that there must be a near infinite number of dimensions, or existences or universes, or “branes” or whatever, outside the known physical realm to explain just how precisely the known cosmological constants have been tuned. You either need a super intelligent creator or you need a very close to infinite source of probability. I.e. if you have a near infinite number of universes then anything is possible and you don’t need to explain anything.)

    Only God is omniscient and, while He knows our thoughts, the scriptures tell us we are judged by our words and our actions and also, of course, by whether we are covered by Jesus’ sacrifice. (Mat 12:34-36)

  • As Sir Robert Anderson pointed out long ago, in his The Silence of God, popular Christendom has caricatured the Devil as a bizarre, unspeakably fiendish monster and thus unwittingly contributed to the satanic plans for leading the world astray.

    Satan’s first success with our first parents was in posing as an independent-thinking theologian, whose ostensible intention was to become the self-declared benefactor of the human race. For more from Anderson’s fascinating analysis of our old enemy, go to: https://archive.org/details/silenceofgod00anderich/page/117 – the start of Chapter XI in Anderson’s book. Anderson rightly exposes the satanic aspect of what, has for millennia, been regarded as “respectable religion” by the majority of the human race.

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