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Holman Bible Dictionary
Old Testament The Old Testament centers on the unique nature of Yahweh, the God of Israel, as the only true God. It speaks of an opposing, personal power of evil in only a few places and uses diverse language to refer to this evil power. The most familiar term is Satan. Satan is a Hebrew common noun meaning, “the accuser” or “the adversary.” The word can refer to human adversaries (1 Samuel 29:4; 2 Samuel 19:22; 1Kings 11:14,1 Kings 11:23 ). An angel or messenger of God can serve as a satan (Numbers 22:22 ). Psalm 109:6 apparently describes the human accuser in a trial (NAS; NIV; NRSV) despite a traditional interpretation as Satan (KJV).
As a figure of evil the word satan appears in Job 1:1;b12 and Zechariah 3:1-2 . The Hebrew construction with the definite article in these passages does not appear to represent a personal name. Rather it is a title for one of the beings attending the heavenly council. In Zechariah and Job 1–2 the satan appears as God's agent and minister who seeks to bring charges against individual people before God and the heavenly court. Here the satan is “the accuser.” He made a wage with God using Job as the stake. He acted, however, with the express permission of God and kept within the limits which God fixed for him ( Job 1:6 ,Job 1:6,1:12; Job 2:6 ). He unsuccessfully accused Joshua, the priest, before God (Zechariah 3:1-2 ). Satan appears without the definite article and is thus certainly a personal name in 1 Chronicles 21:1 . He provoked David to take a census of Israel. In the parallel passage, God in His anger told David to number Israel (2 Samuel 24:1 ).
In Genesis 3:1 the subtle serpent coaxed Eve to get her husband to join her in disobeying God. This brought a curse upon the serpent so that it crawls on its belly, eats dust, and is more cursed than any other animal ( Genesis 3:14 ). Its weapon against the woman is to bruise the heel of woman's seed (Genesis 3:14 ). Revelation 12:9 reveals that the serpent is Satan.
The Old Testament uses other language to talk about evil influencing human actions. Judges 9:23 refers to God sending an “evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem.” The “Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him” ( 1 Samuel 16:14 ). This evil spirit came and went from Saul (1 Samuel 16:23; compare 1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Samuel 19:9 ). 1 Kings 22:21 speaks of a “lying spirit” going out from the heavenly council to false prophets. Such language maintains the unique claim of God to be the only God and testifies to His sovereign rule over all earthly activities. It hints at a personal power opposed to God without describing the origin or nature of this power. The Old Testament makes clear the satanic opposition humans face in this world as they try to obey God.
New Testament God led New Testament authors to a much more clear-cut teaching about Satan. The New Testament recognizes Satan as a personal reality distinct from human wills. Satan is a major factor in causing evil situations and in tempting people to evil actions. The New Testament avoids identifying evil with the direct will of God, but evil is always subordinate to God.
Satan abides in hell, which was expressly prepared—apparently by God—for Satan and his angels (Matthew 25:41 ). Satan rules over the demons, indicating a political power structure (Mark 3:22 ). Satan has messengers to afflict God's servants (2 Corinthians 12:7 ). He dared ask even the son of God to worship him as he tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:9 ). Jesus could call Satan the “ruler of this world” but only as He spoke of Satan's judgment and defeat (John 12:31; John 16:11 ) because he does not have power over Jesus (John 14:30 ). Thus the devil rules on earth only as people let him. Compare Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19 . People can escape his power through prayer for deliverance from evil (Matthew 6:13; compare John 17:15 ). In that case, Satan is limited to being the “prince of the devils” (Matthew 9:34 ). As such he and his demonic companions have power to cause human illness (Matthew 17:5-18; Luke 13:16 ). See Luke 22:3 ). Those who do not believe and follow Jesus cannot claim God as Father. Satan is their father (John 8:44; Acts 13:10 ), for only Satan has been a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44 ) as opposed to Jesus who is the Truth. Compare Acts 5:3 . Even one who followed Jesus most closely and recognized His role as Messiah could be called, “Satan” for seeking to prevent Jesus from carrying out His role as Suffering Servant (Mark 8:33 ). Satan constantly tries to snatch God's word from those who hear it (Matthew 13:19 ). The church can be commanded to hand an immoral member over to Satan for discipline resulting in final salvation (1 Corinthians 5:5; compare 1 Timothy 1:20 ). Satan constantly seeks to tempt and outwit believers (1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Timothy 3:6-7; 1 Timothy 5:15; 2 Timothy 2:26 ), often pretending to be what he is not (2 Corinthians 11:14 ). He does everything possible to hinder Christian ministry (2 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18 ). Believers, on the other hand, are warned even in their anger not to give Satan a foothold to tempt them (Ephesians 4:27 ). They must use all efenses possible against him (Ephesians 6:11 ). People can turn from Satan to find forgiveness and salvation (Acts 26:18 ). 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 New Testament, as the Old, avoids talking of the absolute origin of Satan. It does talk of “angels that sinned” (2 Peter 2:4 ) and “angels which kept not their first estate” (Jude 1:6 ).
Satan is not eternal. Satan faces God's judgment as seen in the discussion of the “ruler of this world” above. The church has concrete evidence of Satan's defeat in the experience of the disciples in their first mission efforts. By speaking in Jesus' name, the disciples subjected demons, leading Jesus to say, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10:18 ). Jesus gave His followers power over the enemy, that is over Satan (Luke 10:19 ). Revelation 12:1 connects the birth of Jesus with a heavenly battle in which Satan and his angels were cast from heaven “into the earth” ( Revelation 12:9 ). The “blood of the Lamb” and the testimony of faithful disciples overcame Satan. Still for a “short time” (Revelation 12:12 ) Satan will exercise his great wrath on earth. Thus the current age is an age of warfare between Satan and Christ's disciples, but the ultimate victory is sure. Christ in His death has destroyed Satan, who holds the power of death and causes people to fear death (Hebrews 2:14 ).
In summary, the New Testament teaches that Satan and his demonic allies are not coequal with God. He is a created being who had rebelled against God and can tempt—but not force—humans to join in his rebellion. The main concern of the Bible is not with the devil but with God and the gospel of His grace. In His life, death, and resurrection Jesus Christ has overcome the demonic forces. In the end Satan and his angels will be completely overcome, for Jesus came into the world to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ). The cross won a decisive victory over Satan (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 ).
People continue to concretize their fears, seeking a scapecoat to deliver them from responsibility. But even though Satan is a created, rebellious, and tempting evil power active in the universe, this fact does not exclude a person from responsibility. Satan and the demonic forces cannot dominate or possess us except by our consent. The believer will not be tempted beyond his or her power of resistance (1 Corinthians 10:13 ). The power of Satan is limited. He acts within the limits divine sovereignty has set.
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 sublety of satanic temptation. Interest in knowing about Satan should not turn to an absorbing fascination with Satan. Christians are to be absorbed in the availability of God's power and love in Jesus Christ and through the Spirit to overcome Satan and all demonic forces.
John P. Newport and Trent C. Butler
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Devil'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/d/devil.html. 1991.
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