Is Satan a real personal foe to be acknowledged and resisted or simply a figurative representation of all that is evil? Are those referred to as his angels real? (Rev 12:9). What about demons? Are they real malevolent spirits who seek to possess individuals or nothing more than primitive ways of understanding mental and physical disorders?
If indeed Satan and his hosts are real personal enemies opposed to the kingdom of God and the souls of men, seeking to destroy us as a lion seeks its prey, then his best strategy would be to operate by stealth, unidentified and undetected (1Peter 5:8). If he cannot get us to worship him the next best thing would be to deceive us into thinking he doesn’t even exist.
Denying the existence of the Devil and his angels is not something new, although it is on the rise among the Liberal intellectual elite in western cultures. Jesus Himself was challenged by the Liberal Sadducees who likewise denied the existence of real spiritual beings such as Satan, spirits and angels (Acts 23:8). They challenged Him concerning the resurrection which they also denied. But in His response, He also confronted their denial of angels, saying that in the resurrection we will be like the angels, thereby affirming the real existence of angelic beings. He said to them:
“You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” (Matt 22:29-30)
Jesus here not only confronts their error of denying the resurrection, but also indirectly their denial of the existence of spirits and angels. He attributes their error to their ignorance of the Scriptures. The same could be said of those today who deny the reality of their existence, since the Scriptures so clearly acknowledge them as to make any denial of their existence tantamount to a denial of the Scriptures themselves. Indeed, I have yet to meet someone who denied their existence who shows the same high regard for the Scriptures as Jesus demonstrated.
Satan is referred to in Scripture using several descriptive titles. In Revelation 12 most of them are mentioned together along with a reference to a third of the angels who followed him in his rebellion:
“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and (the) Satan (ho satanás), who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Rev 12:7-9, cf. v.4)
This one passage alone refutes the allegation that Satan and his angels are not personal beings. They are referred to using the personal pronouns them, he, his and him. This in itself establishes that they are real personal beings. The one referred to here as the great dragon, that serpent of old, the Devil and the Satan is presented as a real person. Some would argue that the “Devil” and “Satan” are not proper names since they are descriptive nouns – “devil” meaning “slanderer or accuser” and “satan” meaning “adversary or opponent.” However, most names of individuals in the Bible are descriptive names, as can be seen by consulting any Bible dictionary. When these descriptive nouns are applied to this particular individual using the definite article along with personal pronouns, they become proper nouns. It is not referring to just any opponent or accuser but to the Devil or the Satan himself. Just as there are many antichrists but only one Antichrist, there are many devils but only one Devil.
Also, Satan has numerous attributes and engages in diverse activities which are only applicable to persons. Satan came into the Lord’s presence and left (Job 1:6,12). The Lord speaks to Satan and Satan answers (Job 1:7). He tempts (Mark 1:13). He steals (Mark 4:15). He deceives (Rev 12:9). He lies (John 8:44). He sins (1John 3:8). He asks God for permission to test us (Luke 22:31). He oppresses us (Acts 10:38). He schemes against us (Eph 6:11). He seeks to take advantage of us (2Cor 2:11). He sets traps to snare us (1Tim 3:7; 2Tim 2:26). He transforms himself into an angel of light (2Cor 11:14). He sends his messengers to buffet us (2Cor 12:7). He hinders us (1Thess 2:18). He flees from us if we submit to God and resist him (James 4:7). The list could go on, describing activities and attributes of Satan which are only applicable to a real person.
He is called “the god of this age” (2Cor 4:4), and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). The Apostle John also says that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1John 5:19). Only an intelligent personal being could fit such a description. Upon believing and being born again it can now be said of us that “God has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” (Col 1:13).
Jesus referred to Satan at least 13 times in the Gospels and every time He spoke of him as a person. When He was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness Satan quoted Scripture to Him and Jesus responded with Scripture, saying, “it is written…” Finally, Jesus said, “Away with you Satan,” and the Devil left Him. Imagine the implications if Jesus wasn’t conversing with an actual person! Sane people only converse with real people, not imaginary ones nor voices in their head.
One author went so far as to say that Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness by the evil influence inhabiting His mind! Jesus, however, was entirely without sin, and before going to the cross He could say, “the ruler of this world (Satan) is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” (John 14:30). Clearly, Jesus was tempted by a real person outside of Himself and that person goes by the names of the Tempter, Satan and the Devil.
Liberal Deconstructionists have gone to great pains trying to evade the obvious conclusion that Satan is a real personal adversary through logical maneuvers and nuancing the obvious plain meaning of words, but they do so to their own jeopardy and, more importantly, to the jeopardy of their hearers. This also is not a new problem within the Church. Such teachers are the reason why Paul said to Timothy:
“Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. 17 And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, 18 who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.” (2Tim 2:14-18)
Under the pretext of accommodating today’s culture and removing the offense of the gospel, they are actually subverting the faith of many. They have abandoned the Scriptures – the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, only retaining the passages of Scripture which fit their reconstructed theology designed to appeal to today’s societal values and norms (1Tim 4:1; Jude 1:3-4). It is time for the Church to awake and be sober. Satan is not a mere figment of our imagination. Nor is he bound in the abyss, as many today are saying. Peter says that he walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1Peter 5:8-9, cf. Eph 6:11-13).
While it is the subject for another blog, evil spirits or demons are also real spiritual beings who operate under Satan’s control. They are not merely primitive personifications of addictions and infirmities as some argue. Jesus spoke to them and they answered Him (Mark 5:8-10). They recognized Jesus as Lord (Mark 1:23-24). When He cast the demons out, the individuals were immediately healed and set free. Jesus likewise commissioned us to preach the gospel and said:
“And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18)
Mere addictions or infirmities cannot be cast out of a person setting them free – only demons or evil unclean spirits can. And the freedom is immediate, rather than something requiring prolonged therapy. I can’t help but wonder how anyone can truly be involved in ministry, praying for the sick and oppressed, without having demons surface, requiring their expulsion in Jesus name. I would encourage those who don’t believe that demons are real entities to become active in preaching the gospel to the lost and praying for the sick and oppressed, in faith believing that God will set them free. They will soon discover that demons are very real indeed.