Who or what is the devil? Who created the devil and why does God allow him to have so much power? Is he an evil spirit? Why is he always referred to in the male gender? Was the serpent in Genesis 3 the devil?
“Devil” comes from the Greek diabolos and literally means “slanderer” or “false accuser.” The Bible gives the devil the name “Satan,” which in the original language is satanus and literally means “adversary,” in passages like Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 among others, which specifically cite Satan as the devil.
He is a person rather than a thing. We know this because the Scriptures never talk of him as if he were a thing by using the term “it” to describe him. Rather, they use the adjective referring to the male gender, “he,” to describe the devil.
Proverbs 30:5 says that “every word of God is tested,” and John 17:17 says that God’s Word is truth. So when the Scriptures refer to the devil by the male gender, that shows us that Satan is male rather than female.
He is not human, but is an evil spirit. There are several reasons why this is so. We know that his life span surpasses our life spans because the Scriptures reveal that he was in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and we also know that he is active today. Also, the Bible tells us that he can take other forms such as the serpent in Genesis chapter 3. While Genesis 3 doesn’t specifically call the serpent Satan, Paul tells the Christians at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 11:3 that he is afraid the serpent will lead them astray just as he did Eve, and John specifically calls the serpent Satan and the devil in Revelation 12:9. Interestingly, Jesus refers to both Satan and evil spirits or demons in an interchangeable fashion in Matthew 12:22-28. He was casting out evil spirits or demons, and the Pharisees said that he did so by the power of Beelzebub. Jesus responded to this charge by saying, “…If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself…” The reason evil spirits or demons are spoken of interchangeably with Satan is because he is over them.
Yet, even though his life span far surpasses ours, he is not eternal. The Bible says in Colossians 1:16 – “For by him (Christ) ALL THINGS were created, IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH, VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE…” That would include Satan. Thus, Satan was created by God. We don’t know much about his origins. The possibility exists that he was originally an angel created during the week described in Genesis 1; if so he would have been among “the sons of God” or the angels mentioned in Job 38:7. If he was created during creation week, then originally he was “very good” like everything else God created as said in Genesis 1:31 – “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
Some call Satan Lucifer due to what is said in the King James Version’s rendering of Isaiah 14:12 – “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!…” Yet if one examines the context of verse 12, specifically verses 1-15 of Isaiah 14, you’ll see that Isaiah is actually talking about Babylon’s king and is making a prophecy about him. Thus, if Isaiah 14’s Lucifer is to refer to Satan at all, it would only be in a figurative sense, if that.
In like manner, some look at Ezekiel 28:16-17 which says, “…I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God…Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground…” as a reference to the origin of Satan. However, the context of verses 11-19 of Ezekiel 28 shows that Ezekiel is actually talking about the king of the nation of Tyre, not Satan. Thus, any application to the origin of Satan from Ezekiel 28 would be figurative at best.
All we know for certain is that Satan was condemned because of pride, something specifically stated in 1 Timothy 3:6. We also know that God gave the human beings he created free will, as seen in Joshua 24:15 and 1 Kings 18:21 where Joshua and Elijah urge Israel to choose whether or not they will serve God. We know that God tempts no one to do evil (James 1:13). Thus, the only logical conclusion we can make based on the little information we have is that Satan also had free will to choose to obey or disobey God. He chose to sin due to pride and was cast down. The rest of his origins are not known to us, thus being part of the “secret things which belong to God” referred to in Deuteronomy 29:29.
As to why God allows Satan to have so much power, God does allow him power…but not as much as we think. Job 2:1 records how Satan came among the sons of God, the angels, to “present himself before the Lord.” That implies that Satan, even as outwardly rebellious as he is, ultimately is still subservient to God. Consider this also. Job 1:12 shows us that he could not harass Job without God’s permission. In like manner, Jesus on one occasion told Peter that Satan made the demand to sift Peter like wheat (Lk. 22:31). That shows us that Satan could not harass Peter without permission from God. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 10:13, which promises us that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear; that shows us that God doesn’t permit Satan to tempt us more than is possible for us to overcome. The parable of the sower does teach that Satan, represented by the birds of that parable in Matthew 13:4, does have the power to snatch God’s Word from men’s heart, but only after those hearts were hardened by their owners. There are other examples in the Bible which show the limits God has placed on the devil’s power.
One thing we must never forget is what Hebrews 2:14 tells us, that Christ through his death on the cross destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Praise God for that! Never forget this, brethren. When Jesus died and was resurrected, Satan was bound. How? He was bound in the sense that he no longer rules the world. Think about it. Before Christ died on Calvary, mankind had no immediate forgiveness of their sins (He. 10:3-4; 9:15).
Before Christ’s sacrifice, we had no way to have our sins totally forgiven. That means that Satan ruled in the world…but all that changed at Calvary. When Christ died and was resurrected, he defeated Satan. He destroyed him. Revelation 20:1-2 depicts a figurative scene in which the devil is bound for a thousand years. That’s not something that has yet to happen at some supposed rapture! That happened at the cross when Jesus defeated Satan and limited his power even more than it already had been!
Those who become Christians today are immediately and totally forgiven of their sins, and that’s all through Christ and what he had done for us at Golgotha. As faithful Christians, Satan no longer controls our lives because we walk in the light and Christ’s blood continually cleanses us (1 John 1:7). He is bound, and his power is limited!
Why does God allow Satan the power that he has, like the power to tempt us to sin and bring hardship into our lives? There are probably reasons that are kept secret from us – the “secret things which belong to God” (Deut. 29:29) – and there are probably reasons revealed to us in Scripture which I’m overlooking. However, from what I have seen the Bible gives at least two reasons:
- God loves us, and he wants us to love him. The fact that he truly loves us and wants us to truly love him leaves no room for him to make us, his creation, into mindless puppets with no free will. We have free will, as seen when Joshua told Israel to choose whom they will serve (Josh 24:15). We can choose not to love him back. Satan’s temptations provide us with that choice. Yet God wants us to choose to love him back by obeying him and resisting Satan’s temptations.
- Read Hebrews 12:3-13. That passage teaches us that hardships which are in our lives – and that includes the hardships brought into our lives by Satan – can make us spiritually stronger if we allow them to do so. If we are spiritually stronger, we obey God more and thus love him more.