Satan, the Greatest of Deceivers
June 12, 2016 version

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Is evil the opposite of good; is Satan the opposite of God? These are only opposites as much as a shadow is the opposite of a real, three-dimensional object, a hole is the opposite of soil that fills the hole, and disease is the opposite of health. In some religions, such as Zoroastrianism, like the Ying yang symbol, good and evil, light and dark, are equal and opposite. But that is not what the Bible teaches. In the beginning there was good without evil, and in the end there will be no evil, except sequestered in the Lake of Fire. The closest opposite to Satan is not God, but God's servant, Michael the archangel.

There is much about Satan that God has not told us. But we are responsible to learn and understand what God has revealed to us about our adversary, that we may better counter him.

A Simple Description of Satan

Justin Martyr, a Christian writing about 150 A.D., gives us concise yet thorough description of Satan: "For among us the prince of the wicked spirits is called the serpent, and Satan, and the devil, as you can learn by looking into our writings. And that he would be sent into the fire with his host, and the men who follow him, and would be punished for an endless duration, Christ foretold." First Apology of Justin Martyr ch.28 p.172

Satan and His Fall

Satan means adversary, and Satan was called Lucifer (Isa 14:12) before his fall. The meaning behind the name of Lucifer is "shining one" or "morning star". (The good angels were also called "morning stars" in Job 38:7) Satan was originally a good guardian cherub; then he had sin and was cast out. (Ezek 28:12-17; Isaiah 14:12-15). Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44; Rev 12:9; ~Acts 5:3).

Scripture does not tell us exactly how soon the devil fell after he was created. However 1 John 3:8 says the devil has been sinning from the beginning. Satan knows has to tempt, and he has been at this a very, very long time. No human is as experienced at their work as Satan is at his. However, Satan is not omnipresent, he is not all-knowing, not knowing what God does not want him to know. He is not only not all-powerful, he has no power except what God allows.

Isaiah 14:12-17 says why Satan fell. "How are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart' I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.' Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the Pit." (NKJV)

Satan's role is to be a tempter (1 Cor 7:5) and accuser (Zech 3:1; Rev 12:10). He's a spiritual being who stalks and schemes (Job 1:9-11; 2:4; 2 Cor 2:11). Of course, just because something is spiritual, that does not always mean it is good. Satan is a thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy (Jn 10:10).

Satan and His Lies

Satan tempts and lies, such as he did when he took the appearance of a serpent and tempted and lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:14-15). In contrast to Satan, God does not lie (Num 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29) because in fact God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18). After all, if reality is created by God's Word, then almost by definition, what God says comes true. God does not tempt anyone with evil (Jms 1:13), though God tests people, especially by allowing them to be tempted. But God it good, and it is never God who tempts people with evil.

Satan was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). Not only did Adam and Eve die spiritually when they ate the fruit, their physical death sentence was pronounced on them. But before that, the first murder took place when Cain murdered Abel. What weapon does Satan seem to prefer to use to murder people physically and spiritually? - a knife? - a gun? No, there is a weapon more effective in Satan's hands than either a knife or a gun: a lie. Once Cain believed the lie, he who was an imperfect sacrificer to God turned and "Belonged to the evil one" according to 1 Jn 3:12.

After Satan got Adam and Even to sin, Satan was cursed by God, and it was told that Eve's seed would crush his head in Genesis 3:15. Would Satan just want to let bygones be bygones, and try to look as good as possible, and get off with as light a punishment as possible, instead of pursuing people? - Not in this case. In Genesis 3:15 God pronounces that there will be enmity between Satan and Eve's seed. In Revelation 12:12 Satan is enraged because he knows his time is short. Satan is living on borrowed time, as though he had a terminal illness; and he knows it. So Satan is trying to take as many with him to the Lake of Fire as he can.

Since the fall Satan has deceived the nations. Whether we like it or not, he will continue to do so until he is locked up during the millennium (Revelation 20:2-3,10). After the millennium he will deceive the nations again for a short time.

Satan deceives (2 Cor 11:3). Of course this applies to the lost, but even the elect can be deceived too (Mt 24:24; Mk 13:22). On one hand the elect as not the saved. Rather the elect are those who are saved plus those who will be saved in the future. For example, Paul was one of the elect even when he was Saul of Tarsus. However, I have seen and heard of (apparently) genuine Christians leaving Christianity and joining a false religion instead. Later then came to their senses and returned to Christianity. So not only can the elect be deceived, but even the saved can be deceived.

Ephesians 6:11 specifically says we are to stand against the wiles (lies and schemes) of the devil. That is why we must put on the full armor of God.

You Shall Be as God

Satan might have experience for a very long time, but why not just use some of the same tricks, if they still work well. Satan tempted Eve, telling her she would be as God. Since that time, Joseph Smith Jr. told Mormons they could be just like God is now. The New Age tells people everyone is divine. Even centuries ago, some Sufi Muslims claimed that they could merge with Allah. Many Hindus have taught that they would be re-united with the cosmic flame. Why wouldn't Satan use the same lie over and over, if people never stopped falling for it?

Satan Corrupted His Wisdom

One might mistakenly think Satan is rather stupid, since he had so much chose to lose it all, and unwittingly played into God's hands at the crucifixion. However, that view of Satan's intelligence is far from the truth. Satan knows scripture better than any of us. He knows history better than we can know it; Satan has some ability to predict the future. Satan knows what is going on in the world. Satan has experience at his job for a very, very long time. But even in the beginning, how could this perfect, guardian cherub, be so foolish?

Ezekiel 28:17 teaches us an interesting concept: corrupted wisdom. It says of Satan, "Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor." (NIV). So Satan has a lot of wisdom, but it is corrupted wisdom. He can still retain a lot of knowledge in many areas, but being genuinely blind, because he chose his way, in other areas.

Satan and demons work together. Satan does not cast out Satan (Mt 12:26; Mk 3:23-26; Lk 11:18). But we don't know if Satan's can only observe or be in one place at a time. He certainly cannot be everywhere like God is. But if a person can hear multiple things from far away distances through phones and radio transmitters and such, who knows what Satan can do. If Satan knew every secret place a Christian was hiding from persecution, Satan could influence evil people to look there and kill the Christians. Perhaps angels can prevent his actions and "jam" his observational abilities.

The Masquerading Appearance of Satan

Satan is described as a dragon (Rev 12; 20:2-3) and a serpent (Rev 19:9; 20:2-3; Gen 3:1-15). Satan not only plants lying thoughts, but he himself can masquerade as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). Likewise his servants can masquerade as ministers of light (2 Corinthians 11:15).

No Good Reason to Ever Listen to Satan

How would you like to learn more truth; - if it was Satan teaching you? The demons know truth, though it makes them shudder according to Jms 2:19. I would not want Satan to teach me anything. Satan probably does teach many true things, mixing it with falsehood, sometimes undetectably. From Eve to the church of Thyatira in Rev 2:24) people have been tempted to want to know Satan's deep secrets. As for me, I have prayed that God would keep me from learning anything God does not want me to know.

2 Corinthians 2:11 says we don't want Satan to outwit us. The simplest way to do that is not to match wits with Satan. On our own knowledge, the wisest Christian would lose every time.

Here are some important warnings early Christians gave about listening to other sources of "truth".

Letter of Ignatius to the Trallians ch.6 p.68 (-107/116 A.D.) "I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that ye use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. For those [that are given to this] mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison, speaking things which are unworthy of credit, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant of does greedily take, with a fatal pleasure, leading to his own death."

Theophilus of Antioch (168-181/188 A.D.) "For even if any truth seems to have been uttered by them, it has a mixture of error. And as a deleterious drug, when mixed with honey or wine, or some other thing, makes the whole [mixture] hurtful and profitless;" Theophilus to Autolycus book 2 ch.12 p.99

Irenaeus (182-188 A.D.) "Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. ... Lest, therefore, though my neglect, some should be carried off, even as sheep are by wolves, while they perceive not the true character of these men, - because they are outwardly covered with sheep's clothing..." Irenaeus Against Heresies book 1 ch.1.2 p.315

There is nothing we want to hear from Satan or a demon.

The Only Things to Say to Satan

I have heard some songs making light of Satan, but I do not think that is so wise. Jude 9 says that when the archangel Michael was disputing with Satan about the body of Moses, even Michael would not say anything against Satan, at least not of his own authority. Rather Michael said, "The Lord rebuke you." Likewise in Zechariah in the vision when Joshua the high priest was standing, and Satan was standing next to him to accuse him, The LORD said to Satan 'The LORD rebuke you."

Besides that, the only other things we would want to say are commanding Satan to be cast out of someone, to be bound, or to free someone from oppression. It must be humiliating to demons for we of such insignificant power, speaking with such great authority, and they have to obey. But we have that great authority through Christ and His promises.

Don't Underestimate Your Adversary - Satan has Done A Lot

Job certainly did not underestimate the devil by the end of the book of Job, and neither should we. 1 Peter 5:8 says the devil is our adversary, and he prowls around like a roaring lion. That is not the only way the devil hunts us and the lost though. We have to watch for devil's traps too (2 Tim 2:26; 3:7). Don't give him a foothold by our anger (Eph 4:27).

Satan can perform counterfeit miracles (2 Th 2:9)

Many are oppressed by the power of the devil (Acts 10:38). Satan takes away the seed of the gospel that was sown in people (Mark 4:15). The devil sows tares instead (Matthew 13:39). Those who are not children of God are called children of the devil (1 John 5:10). Jesus said the devil was the father of the Jews who accused Him (John 8:44). Paul called Elymas a child of the devil in Acts 13:4.

In fact, one reason given that Christ came was to destroy the devil's work (1 John 3:8)

Satan Gets Personal

Christadelphians and many liberal "Christians" deny that Satan is a personal being. However, Satan talked to God, accusing Job in Job 1:7,9; 2:1-6. Satan incited David to number Israel (1 Chr 21:1). In 2 Corinthians 2:11 Satan has a brain; Paul did not want Satan to outwit us.

Satan or the devil is referred to as "he" in 2 Cor 2:11; 11:14; 2 Tim 2:26; Heb 2:14; Rev 12:9; 20:2-3. Jesus mentioned Satan as a person in Mt 4:10; 12:26; 16:23; Mk 1:13; 3:23,26; Lk 11:18; 22:31.

Demons are not just viruses or evil forces. A legion of demons left a man and entered into pigs in Mark 5:1-20. A man with just a mental sickness does who never heard of Jesus say, "What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me!"

In Mt 4:1-11 and Lk 4:2-12 Jesus told Satan to be gone. If Satan was just an evil tendency or influence, then did Jesus who was alone only with Satan, have evil tendencies or influences? - Certainly not!

One particular Jewish woman was crippled and could not straighten up for eighteen years. Jesus said she was kept bound by Satan (Luke 13:16).

Among the disciples and early church Satan was even subtle enough to use Peter to tempt Jesus. Jesus recognized this and said "get thee behind me Satan" (Matthew 16:23). Satan entered into Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). Satan asked God to be able to sift Peter as wheat (Luke 22:31). Satan filled the heart of believers Ananias and Sapphira to lie to God (Acts 5:3). Paul had a messenger from Satan to buffer him (2 Corinthians 12:7). Satan hindered Paul and his companions (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

Satan Gets Religious

Offerings to idols, even sincere offerings, are for demons and not for God (1 Cor 10:19-21; Dt 32:17).

The city of Pergamum had a prominent pagan temple; Jesus said Satan had his throne there (Rev 2:13). False Jews are said to be synagogues of Satan in Rev 2:9; 3:9. Paul said that some from the church had already turned aside after Satan (1 Tim 5:15).

Discipline Courtesy of Satan

A person in the church had his father's wife, so Paul ordered him kicked out of the church and "handed over to Satan" (1 Cor 5:1-5). The reason given is "so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord." (NIV) Likewise Paul handed over to Satan two false teachers, so they might be taught not to blaspheme (1 Tim 1:20). As one Christian said, Satan is but the unwilling servant of the Most High God.

Who has Dominion over this world?

Originally God had Adam and Eve rule over this world (Gen 1:26-28). But after the Fall the ground was cursed because of Adam (Gen 3:17), and now Satan is called the god of this age (2 Cor 4:4). The prince [but not the king] of this world is Satan (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph 2:2). The whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 Jn 5:19b). When Satan tempted Jesus to rule all the kingdoms of this world in Mt 4:8-9, perhaps Satan really had that to offer.

But Jesus came and delivered us from the power of Satan (Acts 26:18). Jesus saw Satan fall as lightning from heaven (Lk 10:18). And God promises He will crush Satan under our feet (Rom 16:20).

Satan Bound for 1,000 Years

Rev 20 tells us of the Millennium, when Satan will be bound for 1,000 years, and during that time he will not deceive the nations anymore. Afterwards he will be again set free for a short time, before finally being cast into the Lake of Fire. The eternal fire was originally prepared for the devil and his angels, and those who follow Satan will go there too (Mt 25:41).

Lactantius (c.303-c.325 A.D.) writes, "About the same time also the prince of the devils, who is the contriver of all evils, shall be bound with chains, and shall be imprisoned during the thousand years of the heavenly rule in which righteousness shall reign in the world, so that he may contrive no evil against the people of God." Divine Institutes book 7 ch.24 p.219

But We Don't Need to Fear Satan or Demons - Anymore

Jesus said to the church in Smyrna that the devil would put some of them in prison (Rev 2:10). Certainly the devil did not physically move, but by his lies got evil men to physically imprison them.

Satan and demons can possess unbelievers, but not believers. However, Satan can tempt anyone, and Satan can oppress both believers and unbelievers. But greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4) Rev 2:7b; 11b; 17b, 26a; 3:5a; 12a; 21a show that we are not just to survive here as Christians, bur rather that we are to overcome.

Don't fear those who can kill the body (Mt 10:24-28). Because whatever Satan or evil people can do to us, nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even demons (Romans 8:33-39).

Who Should Flee From Whom?

Clement of Alexandria (c.195 A.D.) speaks of the apostolic injunction to flee from "the prince of the power of the air" Exhortation to the Heathen ch.1 p.173. But Clement of Alexandria is unbiblical here. The Bible says to resist the devil and he will flee from you (Jms 4:7). 1 Pet 5:9 says we are to resist the devil and stand firm in our faith. However, we are to flee temptation, especially sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18, 2 Tim 2:22; Prov 5:8), idolatry (1 Cor 10:14), and love of money (1 Timothy 6:9-11). Jesus commanded Satan to flee from Him (Mt 4:10) and we should too.


Satan is real, and Satan is evil, but Satan is also very subtle. People often serve Satan's purposes without even being aware of it. But whatever Satan can throw at us, with God we can overcome the world.

Early Christians Who taught of the Reality of Satan

Ignatius' (-107/116 A.D.) mentions Satan. Ignatius' Letter to the Ephesians ch.13 p.55

Epistle of Barnabas (100-150 A.D.) ch.2 p.137 "Since, therefore, the days are evil, and Satan possesses the power of this world, we ought to give heed to ourselves, and diligently inquire into the ordinances of the Lord."

Polycarp (before 155 A.D.) "And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, 'Dost thou know me?' 'I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.' Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth;" Irenaeus Against Heresies book 3 ch.3.4 p.416

Justin Martyr (c.138-165 A.D.) "And He showed me Jesus (Joshua) the high priest standing before the angel [of the Lord]; and the devil stood at his right hand to resist him." Dialogue with Trypho the Jew ch.115 p.256

Shepherd of Hermas (c.160 A.D.) book 2 seventh commandment p.25 the devil opposing us.

Evarestus' Martyrdom of Polycarp (c.169 A.D.) ch.3 p.39 mentions the devil.

Dionysius of Corinth (170 A.D.) "And the letters the apostles of the devil have filled with tares," Fragment 4 p.765

Christians of Vienna and Lugdunum (177 A.D.) p.779 "These, through the instigation of Satan, and through fear of the tortures which they saw the saints enduring,"

Theophilus of Antioch (161-181/188 A.D.) says that Satan, called a demon, or dragon. At first Satan was an angel. Theophilus to Autolycus book 2 ch.28 p.105

Irenaeus (182-188 A.D.) mentions that Satan was the ringleader of the apostasy [in heaven]. Irenaeus Against Heresies book 4 ch.40.1 p.523

Clement of Alexandria (193-202 A.D.) "'Wherefore, then, I send thee to the Gentiles,' it is said, 'to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God;'" Stromata book 1 ch.19 p.321

Tertullian (198-220 A.D.) "persecution therefore seems to proceed from the devil ... Satan will not be at liberty to do anything against the servants of the living God unless the Lord grant leave," Fleeing Persecution ch.2 p.117

Asterius Urbanus (c.232 A.D.) "And thus by a kind of artifice, or rather by such a process of craft, the devil having devised destruction against those who were disobedient" from book 1 p.336

Hippolytus of Portus (222-235/236 A.D.) "(Now these heretics) have themselves been sent forth by Satan, for the purpose of slandering before the Gentiles the divine name of the Church." Refutation of All Heresies book 7 ch.20 p.114

Theodotus the probable Montanist (c.240 A.D.) mentions demons. Excerpts from Theodotus ch.53 p.49

Commodianus (c.240 A.D.) "Thou art going to vain shows with the crowd of the evil one, where Satan is at work in the circus with din." Instructions of Commodianus ch.57 p.214

Origen (235-245 A.D.) mentions the Devil. Homilies on Jeremiah homily 1 ch.14.4 p.18

Treatise Against Novatian (254-256 A.D.) ch.7 p.659 refers to the Devil.

Cyprian of Carthage (c.246-258 A.D.) "'And the Lord said to Peter, Behold, Satan has desired to sift you as wheat:'" Epistles of Cyprian Letter 7 ch.5 p.286

Rogitanus of Nova at the Seventh Council of Carthage (258 A.D.) p.571 "Christ instituted the Church; the devil, heresy. How can the synagogue of Satan have the baptism of Christ?"

Pontius' Life and Passion of Cyprian (after 258 A.D.) ch.3 p.268 "His virtue remained established in its own home, and his devotion, rounded upon deep roots, gave way under no onset of the devil tempting him to abstain from blessing his God with a grateful faith even in his adversity."

Dionysius of Alexandria (246-265 A.D.) "The devil, therefore, drives us on by violence, drawing us to destruction; but God leads us by hand, training us for our salvation." Commentary on Luke no.46 p.116

Dionysius of Rome (259-269 A.D.) "For the doctrine of the foolish Marcion, .. is assuredly of the devil, and is not of Christ's true disciples," Against the Sabellians ch.1 p.365

Archelaus (262-278 A.D.) discusses that the devil was an angel, and that he fell in transgression, and that the devil is not the same substance with God. Disputation with Manes ch.32 p.205.

Adamantius (c.300 A.D.) says that Satan fell. Dialogue on the True Faith 3rd part ch.13 p.122

Victorinus of Petau (martyred 304 A.D.) Discusses Revelation 12. Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John ch.12.4 p.355

Peter of Alexandria (285-311 A.D.) "after He [Jesus Christ] had been baptized, tempted of the devil." Canonical Epistle Canon 1 p.269

Methodius (270-311/312 A.D.) mentions that the devil and some of his angels fell. Discourse on the Resurrection 1 ch.7 p.370

Athanasius (318 A.D.) says that the devil fell from heaven. The Incarnation ch.25.5 p.50

Athanasius (318 A.D.) "by the envy of the devil death came into the world." Incarnation ch.5 p.38

Lactantius (c.303-c.325 A.D.) "Thus from angels the devil makes them [fallen angels] to become his satellites and attendants." The Divine Institutes book 2 ch.15 p.64

Alexander of Alexandria (313-326 A.D.) mentions the devil in his Catholic epistle ch.2 p.297

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by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.