Editor’s note: Before his recent death, John had kindly agreed to ET reproducing this edited and slightly abridged chapter from his book Unwrapped! It is our pleasure to honour him by going ahead with this article, and we anticipate publishing a tribute to him in our next edition.
God has delivered Christians from ‘the domain of darkness’ (Colossians 1:13), but it is important for us to realise that this domain still exists, ruled by the most extraordinary being in the whole universe other than God himself – the devil.
To many people he is just a figment of the imagination, while to others he is a cartoon figure: a peppery old man with red cheeks and green eyes, and horns protruding out of his head. Yet these are dangerous caricatures.
In the Bible, a person’s name often gives a clue to their nature or character, and this is certainly true of the devil. The title ‘the devil’ (Matthew 4:1) means an accuser or slanderer. He is often called ‘Satan’ (Job 1:6), meaning an adversary or opponent; elsewhere, he is specifically called ‘your adversary’ (1 Peter 5:8).
Jesus calls him ‘Beelzebul, the prince of demons’ (Matthew 12:24), ‘the ruler of this world’ (John 14:30), and ‘the evil one’ (Matthew 13:19), and says he was ‘a murderer’ and ‘a liar’ (John 8:44).
Paul identifies him as ‘the god of this world’ (2 Corinthians 4:4), ‘Belial’ (meaning ‘worthlessness’, 2 Corinthians 6:15) and ‘the prince of the power of the air’ (Ephesians 2:2).
Nobody should read that horrendous list of names and still think of Satan in casual or light-hearted terms. We are not told a great deal about his origin, but we have a clue when we hear Jesus saying, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’ (Luke 10:18).
Another clue comes when Paul warns certain people about becoming ‘puffed up with conceit’ and running the risk of falling into ‘the condemnation of the devil’ (1 Timothy 3:6). These point to his having originally been a perfect angelic being created by God and living in heaven, but at some stage seeking to overthrow God and take over the rule of the universe, an insane rebellion that ended in his being cast out of God’s presence.
As the Bible also speaks of ‘angels who did not stay within their own position of authority but left their proper dwelling’ (Jude 6), it would seem that an unspecified number of other angels shared his sin and were swept out at the same time.
We are not given any clear information about this, but when the Bible speaks of Satan’s present activities, it often links them with ‘the cosmic powers over this present darkness’ and ‘the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:12).
Although fallen from his original status, Satan is now the head of his own satanic kingdom, an untold number of evil spirits (sometimes called ‘demons’ in the Bible) who carry out his diabolical activities.
With this vast army at his disposal, he exercises unimaginable power in the world, and particularly over all those who are not Christians.
Paul says that ‘the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). He even goes so far as to say that unbelievers are in ‘the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will’ (2 Timothy 2:26). This confirms what Jesus told some of his enemies: ‘You are of your father, the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires’ (John 8:44).
Satan is the ruler of a kingdom and the head of a vast family of people who (mostly without realizing it) carry out his wishes.
He is also the Christian’s constant, merciless opponent. Peter warns believers, ‘Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8).
With the help of a host of unseen agents, he is engaged in total warfare against us, trying in every way possible to drag us into defeat, disobedience, and sin.
Here are some of his tactics: first, the surprise attack. Walking on his palace roof late one afternoon, King David ‘saw… a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful’ (2 Samuel 11:2). In next to no time, he seduced her, got her pregnant, then concocted a scheme to have her husband murdered. Yet it all happened so quickly!
Given time to think things through, we should expect believers to resist such obvious temptation, but a sudden, unexpected attack can prove fatally effective. Christians can never afford to drop their guard, to be careless, or to be over-confident.
Speaking in the House of Commons in 1913 on the subject of naval defence, the then First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill said, ‘We must always be ready to meet at our average moment anything that any possible enemy might hurl against us at his selected moment.’ Outside of the Bible, it would be difficult to imagine better advice than that.
Second, the siege attack. A stone that can hardly be scratched with a knife can be completely worn away by the slow, continuous dripping of water, and Christians who seem to cope very well with obvious and open temptation sometimes crack under constant pressure.
This is almost certainly what happened in the case of Judas Iscariot, the disciples’ honorary treasurer. Little by little, Satan laid siege to his heart.
Firstly, there was the temptation to make a little money for himself on the side. Then came the first furtive finger in the till. Gradually, petty theft became a steady habit: John says bluntly, ‘He was a thief, and having charge of the money bag he used to help himself to what was put into it’ (John 12:6).
Finally, he agreed to betray Jesus to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver and ‘sought an opportunity to betray him’ (Matthew 26:15-16). Check carefully that you are not letting Satan slowly and relentlessly erode your standards.
Third, the subtle attack. Satan is a master of disguise, and there are even times when he ‘disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14). If he can do that, he has no difficulty in making sin look innocent or amusing.
The temptation of Adam and Eve is a perfect example of this. As a result of Satan’s subtle insinuations, Eve saw the tree of the knowledge of good and evil not as something forbidden by God, but as ‘good for food, and… a delight to the eyes, and… to be desired to make one wise’ (Genesis 3:6).
Yet instead of physical food, our first parents found spiritual poison; instead of satisfaction, they found shame; instead of unlimited pleasure, they found unspeakable pain.
Beware of the subtle attack! Remember that if Satan can look like an angel, he can also make vice look like virtue and error like truth. Learn to test your thoughts, opinions, desires, and assessment of suggestions and situations by the truth of God’s Word, or you will run the risk of being caught out by Satan’s subtlety.
The Bible not only outlines Satan’s past and tells us of his present activities and tactics; it also charts his future, and tells us that he is on a collision course with ultimate judgment and condemnation.
Although he is still able to exercise tremendous power, the Bible says ‘he knows that his time is short’ (Revelation 12:12). His influence is limited not only by God’s providence, but also by his timetable, which promises to Christians that the day will come when God will finally ‘crush Satan under your feet’ (Romans 16:20).
Elsewhere, we are told that ‘eternal fire’ is ‘prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41). In an indescribable moment of final judgment, Satan and all his host will be ‘thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur… and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever’ (Revelation 20:10).
Satan’s reign of terror will finally be over, while all those who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Saviour will rejoice forever in ‘new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells’ (2 Peter 3:13).
Edited and slightly abridged extract from Unwrapped! by Dr John Blanchard (Evangelical Press, 2019). Republished with permission.