If there is a force for good in the world – God’s spirit – there is most likely an opposite – a force for bad. Whether we call this force the devil, Satan, or the evil one, it is evidently a powerful force. There is no denying that there is plenty of evil in this world and many people seem to worship it. However, I refuse to glorify evil by making it equal to God.
When it comes to the existence of the devil, people normally have one of two reactions: they dismiss the devil and scoff at the idea that there is such an entity, or they exalt the devil, and attribute far more to him (or it) than is deserved. In a recent Gallup poll, 70% of Americans believe in the devil. Half of those surveyed believe that he (this evil force is most often referred to in masculine terms) is a personal force, while the other half believes he is an impersonal force.
Let us see what the Bible says about Satan, the devil and the evil one.
Satan in Hebrew Scriptures
The word “Satan” is not found often in the Hebrew scriptures.
The serpent that convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in Genesis is often identified as Satan, but the word “Satan” does not appear in the Adam and Eve narrative. However, the book of Revelation identifies Satan as the serpent (Revelation 20:2).
Satan appears in Job as “ha-satan.” The “ha-,” English “the,” is used to show that this is a title bestowed on a being, versus a being’s name. Thus this being would be referred to as “the satan.” The heavenly beings (or the sons of God), including the satan (“ha-satan” or “the accuser”), came into God’s presence (“the LORD” or YAHWEH). When God asked ha-satan where he had been, he answered that he had been on earth. God bragged about a particular man, Job – he was a blameless and upright man who feared God and turned away from evil and there was nobody like him on earth. Satan didn’t believe Job would remain faithful if he was tortured and tormented. So God allowed the satan to persecute Job, but was not allowed to kill Job. So the satan departed from God’s presence to inflict undeserved woes on Job, including “loathsome sores” (Job 1:6-9, 12; Job 2:1-4, 6-7; these verses are almost identical).
First Chronicles 21:1 identifies Satan as being against Israel and the one who convinced David to take a census of the people of Israel.
In Zechariah, 3:1-2 Joshua, the high priest, was standing before the angel of the LORD, while Satan, standing at his right hand, accused him. The LORD rebuked Satan and asked, “Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?”
Satan and the Devil in Christian Scriptures
Mark wrote that Satan tempted Jesus while he was in the wilderness for forty days (Mark 1:13). In Matthew’s expansion of Mark, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. The devil or Satan is also called “the tempter.” After tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread, the devil took him to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem where he dared him to jump. Next the devil tempted Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the world if he would worship him. This temptation was answered with, “Away with you, Satan!” After this temptation, the devil gave up and left him (Matthew 4:1-11). Luke says Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days. Like Matthew, Luke’s devil tempted Jesus to command a stone to become a loaf of bread. In Luke’s second temptation (Matthew’s third), the devil tempted him with all the kingdoms of the world. The devil promised him “their glory and all this authority.” Luke’s third temptation (Matthew’s second): the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and dared him to jump. Once the devil had finished the temptations, he left “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:2-3, 5-6, 9, 13).
Jesus was accused of being possessed by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons, and of casting out demons in his name. Jesus responded, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Continuing, he said if Satan fought against himself, his end would come quickly (Mark 3:23-26). Matthew’s equivalent of Mark takes place after Jesus had cured a blind and mute demoniac. The Pharisees claimed that only by the ruler of demons, Beelzebul, could a person cast out demons. In his defense, Jesus asked, “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:22-26). In Luke’s version, Jesus had cast out a demon that caused muteness when some people accused him of casting out demons by Beelzebul. As part of Jesus’ answer he asked, “If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” (Luke 11:14-15, 18).
After telling the parable of the sower, Jesus explained to his often obtuse disciples that the word was the seeds sown on the path which were immediately taken away by Satan (Mark 4:15). In Luke’s version, he said the people on the path were those who have heard the gospel, but the devil came and removed the word from their hearts, so they no longer believed (Luke 8:12). In explaining the parable of the weeds of the field, Jesus said “…the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil…” During Matthew’s version of the parable of the sower, he wrote, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the hearer…” (Matthew 13:19, Mark 4:15 and Luke 8:12).
Once when Jesus was trying to get the disciples to understand that he had to “undergo great suffering and be rejected,” be killed and rise after three days, Peter rebuked him for saying such things. In turn, Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:31-33). In Matthew’s version of this incident, Jesus was explaining to the disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem, undergo suffering, be killed, and be raised on the third day (notice the difference between “after three days” and “on the third day”). When Peter took Jesus away from the others and scolded him for talking like that, Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:21-23).
Speaking about the judgment, Jesus said God will say to the cursed ones (those on his left hand), “depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
According to Luke, after Jesus had sent seventy people to spread the good news (the apostles – those who were sent out), they returned joyfully reporting that demons submitted “in your name.” Jesus said, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (Luke 10:18).
During Jesus’ healing of a crippled woman on the sabbath, the leader of the synagogue was indignant. Jesus called him a hypocrite and asked if this woman, a daughter of Abraham (i.e. a Jew), whom Satan cursed with this affliction for eighteen long years, should not be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath (Luke 13:14-16).
Luke blames Satan for causing Judas to betray Jesus: “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot…” (Luke 22:3-4).
In foretelling Peter’s denial, Jesus said, “Simon! Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat” (Luke 22:31).
According to John, Satan entered Judas during the time when Jesus was washing their feet: Jesus dipped a piece of bread in the dish and gave it to Judas; it was at this point that “Satan entered him” (John 13:26-27). Also according to John, during the foot washing and meal, “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him” (John 13:2).
According to John 6:70, Jesus said even though he chose the twelve, one of them is “a devil” apparently meaning Judas.
During a verbal joust with the scribes and Pharisees, they claimed to be children of God, but Jesus told them that their father was the devil because they chose to do the devil’s desires (John 8:44).
In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter asked Ananias why Satan had filled his heart so that he would lie to the Holy Spirit and not share the proceeds of the sale of some land (Acts 5:3).
According to the writer of Acts, possibly Luke, God had anointed Jesus “with the Holy Spirit and with power,” so he traveled around healing those “who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38).
Paul called a false prophet named Bar-Jesus “son of the devil” (Acts 13:10).
During Paul’s Damascus road conversion, God said the eyes of the Gentiles would be opened so that they might turn from Satan’s power to God (Acts 26:18).
In the last chapter of Romans, Paul assured the Roman church that God “will shortly crush Satan…” (Romans 16:20).
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul instructed them to hand over a man who was living with his father’s wife to Satan to be killed (1 Corinthians 5:5).
During Paul’s discussion of marriage and sexual relations, he said that husband and wife should not deprive each other of sex except to devote themselves to prayer. Afterwards they should come back together so Satan would not tempt them because of their lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:5).
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul, speaking of forgiving others, said, “And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan…” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Paul reminded the Corinthians that boasters disguise themselves as apostles of Christ, so they should not be surprised that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Paul said that he had been given a thorn in his flesh and a messenger of Satan to torment him (2 Corinthians 12:7).
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he appealed to them to change their lifestyle. He said, “Do not make room for the devil” (Ephesians 4:27).
Towards the end of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul urged them to “Put on the whole armor of God,” so that they would be “able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
In the first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote that Satan had blocked his way from returning to visit them (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul, trying to correct inaccurate ideas about the return of Jesus, said Jesus would not return “unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed.” Then he assured them that the “coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 9).
In the first letter to Timothy, Paul warned against false teachers whom he had “turned over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20).
During Paul’s instructions about who is qualified to be a bishop, he spoke negatively about a man who cannot manage his own household. Paul assumed that such a man “must be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” One qualified to be a bishop “must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6-7).
Later in the same letter, Paul lamented that some people had already turned away from the gospel to follow Satan (1 Timothy 5:15).
In the second letter to Timothy, the author said the Lord’s servant should correct opponents with gentleness so “that they may escape from the snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:26).
In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer said Jesus shared the same things that all children of flesh and blood share “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).
In the letter of James, the author said if we have bitter envy and selfish ambition in our hearts, that does not come from God; it “is earthly, unspiritual, devilish” (James 3:15).
The author of James also said we should submit ourselves to God and resist the devil (James 4:7).
During the closing exhortation of the first letter of Peter, the author compared our adversary, the devil, to a roaring lion who prowls around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
In the first letter of John, the author said that sinners were children of the devil, because the devil had been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil. “The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way” (1 John 3:8, 10).
According to the letter of Jude, the archangel Michael fought the devil over his accusation concerning Moses (Jude 1:9). According to non-biblical tradition, when the archangel Michael was about to bury Moses, Satan accused Moses of being a murderer, which would mean that he was not worthy of an honorable burial.
The writer of Revelation is obsessed with Satan and the devil. The writer accused some of saying they are Jews, but “are a synagogue of Satan.” The writer warned that the devil is going to throw some of them into prison for ten days to test them (Revelation 2:9-10). Later, the writer mentioned “the synagogue of Satan” again and warned that these were not true Jews (Revelation 3:9).
Speaking of the church in Pergamum, a noted center of the Roman imperial cult, the writer accused them of living “where Satan’s throne is” (Revelation 2:13).
To those in Thyatira, who do not abide by true teaching, “who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’” the writer said, “I do not lay on you any other burden” (Revelation 2:24).
In discussing the two beasts from the sea, the author of Revelation equates the great dragon with the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world (Revelation 12:9). Later in the same chapter, Psalm 96:11 and Isaiah 49:13 are quoted, which includes the following phrase: “But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath…” (Revelation 12:12b).
An angel came down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. The angel seized the dragon – the Devil and Satan – and “bound him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:1-2). Once the thousand years have passed, Satan will be released from his prison (Revelation 20:7). A little later in the same chapter, the devil was “thrown into a lake of fire and sulphur” and “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
The Evil One in Christian Scriptures
In Christian scriptures, the “evil one” is mentioned ten times. Most of the time “the evil one” is synonymous with “from evil,” as in “protect us from the evil one” or “protect us from evil” as in the Lord’s Prayer.
According to Matthew 5:37, Jesus said, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No;’ anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
In John 17:15, Jesus said, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”
In the last chapter of Ephesians, Paul appealed to them to be strong in their spiritual battle. He said, “Take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
In the second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul assured them that God would strengthen them and guard them from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
In the first letter of John, the author said “we must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12).
In the epilogue of the first letter of John, the author wrote that God’s children can be certain that “those who are born of God do not sin, but Jesus, “the one who was born of God,” protects them, and the evil one does not touch them.” Even though the whole world is under the evil one’s power, we know that we are God’s children (1 John 5:18-19).
I am willing to admit that evil exists in the world and that there are some people who are inherently evil, but I prefer to concentrate on the good – the power of positive thinking, as it were. I would rather ignore the evil one, the devil, Satan, or whatever people want to call the force of evil as much as possible and concentrate instead on God, Christ, and God’s spirit working through us for a better world.