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Holman Bible Dictionary

Devil, Satan, Evil, Demonic

The personal dimension of that which opposes God's purposes in His world. For some people, belief in a personal Satan is part of mankind's nursery furniture. The concept of a personal Satan, however, has remained a part of evangelical thought. The present-day Christian who accepts the biblical teaching concerning Satan is not committed to all of the crude imagery that has sprung up around belief in Satan. In the light of medieval and modern distortions, a careful consideration of the biblical teaching concerning Satan is especially needed.

Old Testament Teaching A fully defined doctrine of Satan is not fund in the Bible until New Testament times. A number of reasons have been suggested for the relatively limited material on Satan in the Old Testament.

God began His self-revelation in the ancient world of polytheism (belief in many gods). God wanted to lead His people to a dynamic practical monotheism (the belief in and worship of one God). In the Old Testament a primary emphasis is placed on the supremacy of and the power of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who delivered the Hebrews from the slavery of Egypt.

Satan, the chief of the fallen angels, is mentioned in a number of places in the Old Testament. It is clear that from the very moment of the creation of this world that Satan and fallen angels were on the scene, rebels against God. Satan was evidently perfect in his original state. Pride seems to have been the cause of his fall. Disguised as a serpent, he was the agent of temptation for the first man and woman (Genesis 3:10; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2 ). When Satan does appear in the Old Testament he is always the adversary of God's people. He seeks to lead God's people into presumption (1 Chronicles 21:1 ) or slanders them to God's face (Zechariah 3:1 ).

The most extensive Old Testament discussion of Satan is in Job. Here he is seen as God's agent and minister, who tested human fidelity. He makes a wager with God using Job as the stake. He acts, however, with the express permission of God and keeps within the limits which God has fixed for him (Job 1:12; Job 2:6 ).

New Testament Teaching By the time the New Testament book were written, God had led their authors to a clear-cut doctrine of Satan. This doctrine located an origin of evil in Satan. This recognizes the reality of evil outside and beyond the scope of human will. The New Testament avoids identifying evil with the direct will of God and keeps it always and finally subordinate to God.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke clearly accept and teach a doctrine of a personal Satan and his agents called fallen angels or demons (Mark 3:22 ). Matthew 4:1 tells of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. In Matthew 25:41 even hell is described as being prepared for the devil and his angels. Satan and demons are seen as able to inflict disease ( Matthew 17:5-18; Luke 13:16 ). Satan possessed Judas (Luke 22:3 ). John saw Satan as the prince of this world (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11 ) with the whole world in his power (1 John 5:19 ).

The apostle Paul's world view teaches that Satan is the god of this age. The cosmos or unredeemed world is at present under Satan's power. Satan is now the “commander of the spiritual powers of the air” (Ephesians 2:2 REB) and leads “the superhuman forces of evil in the heavenly realms” ( Ephesians 6:12 REB).

The general New Testament Epistles describe Satan's activities graphically. 2 Peter 2:4 speaks of the “angels that sinned” and Jude 1:6 of the “angels which kept not their first estate.” The constant use of violence and deceit by Satan requires that believers manifest courage and extreme vigilance ( James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9 ).

The book of Revelation sees Satan's activities as involving not only individuals but communities. Political forces can become servants of the devil (Revelation 12:1; Revelation 13:1 ). Revelation 2:13 even speaks of a throne of Satan.

It should be remembered that the New Testament teaches that Satan and his demonic allies are not coequal with God. He is a created being who has rebelled and can tempt—but not force. The main concern of the Bible is not with the devil but with God and the gospel of His grace. Satan and the demonic forces have been overcome by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The New Testament never allows complete pessimism. In the end Satan and his angels will be completely overcome. In fact, Jesus came into the world to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ). The cross was a decisive victory over Satan and Satan's host (Colossians 2:15 ). This victory insured that countless numbers would be delivered from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13 ).

Limitations of Satan Today, people continue to concretize their fears. They want a scapegoat to deliver them from responsibility. Satan is a created, rebellious and tempting evil power active in the universe, but his powerful existence does not exclude a person from responsibility. Satan and the demonic forces cannot dominate or possess us except by our own consent. Believers will not be tempted beyond our power of resistance (1 Corinthians 10:13 ). The power of Satan is limited. He acts within the limits set by divine sovereignty. The believer has God's armor—the biblical gospel, integrity, peace through Christ, faith in Christ, prayer—as spiritual security (Ephesians 6:11-18 ).

The recent fascination with Satan and demons is in reaction to an earlier disbelief. Christians should beware of excessive gullibility as well as extreme oversimplification. Knowledge about Satan and evil angels alerts Christians to the danger and subtlety of satanic temptation. We should not become too absorbed in satanic forces. Satan and demonic forces are active, but they are limited. We must remember that the main thrust of Christianity is on the availability of God's power and love in Jesus Christ and the Spirit.

John P. Newport


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Devil, Satan, Evil, Demonic'. Holman Bible Dictionary. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/view.cgi?n=1585. 1991.

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