Who or What is Satan?

From Job*
Job 1:6-12 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

A note in my bible indicates the word translated “Satan” literally means adversary. I looked this up verified the truth of the footnote. Our pronunciation of the name Satan is an English variation of the original Hebrew pronunciation of the Hebrew word used here. KJV translates the word Satan as adversary about 1/3 of the time and as the proper name Satan 2/3 of the time.

Job 2:1-7 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.

From these passages we learn the adversary (Satan) is a specific being. He is called a “son of God.” This phrase is used elsewhere in scripture to refer to other fallen beings who lived among humans (nephilim). We see Satan and his pals were able to enter God’s presence, communicate with Him, and even bargain. We learn he has no authority beyond what God grants. We learn Satan cannot be everywhere at once. We see Satan spends most of his time on earth – though we don’t need to assume Satan walks about like a human. Since Satan is granted the ability to cause medical problem, even to the point of causing death, and from the rest of the book of Job we know Satan is unseen and generally unaccounted for, Satan can only logically be accounted for as a spiritual being who only interacts with the physical. It seems most of Satan’s interaction with the physical is through negative influence and destructive force.

We also see from this passage some of the wondrous character of God. God trusts Job. God knows already the heart of Job and knows what Job can withstand. God does not cause sin or the troubles Job encounters. The author of sin does that well enough. It doesn’t seem like it to some, but I see God’s limitations on Satan as a protective barrier custom designed to the individual believer.

*Note: While there is much conjecture about the origin of the book of Job, Jewish tradition holds that Moses compiled Job from earlier writings passed down to him. Internal clues or not conclusive, but clues do suggest Job lived closer to the time of Abraham. Job contains more references to snow and ice than any other book of the bible and speaks of climate conditions that several Creation scientists believe indicates it was written within a couple of centuries after the Flood. Also of interest is literary style of Job. The first couple of chapters and the closing dialog at the end are written in a “literal historic” linguistic style (similar to Genesis), however the bulk of the dialog between Job and his friends is written in “poetic” style (similar to much of Psalms and various sections of the Prophets).

From 1 Chronicles 21
1 Chr 21:1 Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. David knew God’s order not to hold census, but he did it anyway. It was a matter of breaking God’s trust. (This was just like Eve and Adam breaking God’s trust in Eden.) God confronted David and gave him his choice of punishments. David chose to take punishment directly from God (another choice was through foe’s attacking). This brings us up to:

1 Chr 21:14-17 So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said to God, “Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.”

This passage is not about Satan, but does illustrate some of the kinds of powers granted to angels. It also shows God’s wrath as well as God’s mercy. Perhaps for us it most importantly shows how a heart broken for God should respond when faced with its own sin.

“Satan” appears in Zech 3.
Zech 3:1-5 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

The same word used for in the references above is also used here. In this case we see the adversary in the role of accuser. This is similar to the encounter involving Job where Satan accuses Job of being inadequate. Likewise, in this passage, Satan is accusing Joshua of being inadequate. This passage is a vision given to Zechariah. As with Job and 1 Chr, the word “Satan” may a proper name or may only be a descriptive title: “Accuser” or “Adversary”.

New Testament
Mt 4 recounts the temptation of Jesus at the start of his ministry. Here the Greek form of the same word is used by Christ as a proper name. Even so, it carries with it the explicit meaning of “accuser/adversary”. This word is used 33 times in the NT and is always translated as the proper name Satan even though in some specific cases it clearly refers to a human who is acting as an adversary of Christ (ex Mt 16:23). In this Mt 4 Jesus also refers to this being as “devil” and “tempter”. The character of this being is to tempt, mislead, and use all his craftiness to cause the person Jesus to turn from and disobey God (so as to try and cause sin). Satan can only accuse when there is sin – Satan cannot accuse Christ of wrong doing since Christ was without sin.

Paul’s letters to the Corinthians shed’s more light on the character of The Adversary (Satan). Of the various references this one stands out to me:

2 Cor 11:12-15 And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

The whole passage is included here for context. The central point is our adversary is a master at making his offering appear desirable. In context we are able to see how to identify the lie – by the obedience to God. Satan will disobey God at every chance and will all who are willing to do the same. This passage is profoundly important to understanding fully what it means to stand against the devils scheme’s as described in Eph 6.

2 Thess 2:9-10 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

Satan has great power and can use it to work through willing men great supernatural deeds. Ultimately these are false – both because of fakery and because they lead away from God.

Rev 12:7-9 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

This entire chapter deals with Satan, but this particular passage speaks of the war in heaven and the defeat of the accuser at the hands of the Angel Michael and his fellow angels. In context this even appears to be yet to come. I will have to do more research to have a firm grasp (if such thing can be) of how this event fits with the rest of the events revealed. Suffice it to say this will yet happen.

Rev 20:7-10 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Satan is bound for 1000 years, then is released for a time. It is shortly after this Satan is thrown into the lake of fire. When this happens the resurrection of the dead occurs. All stand before judgment and those not found in the book of life are tossed into the lake of fire. Based on the way this passage is written it leaves little doubt the dead who are cast there are human dead. This is the second death. It says Satan, the Beast, and the False Prophet suffer endlessly. It does not say those thrown into the lake suffer eternally (though many argue this is implied), only that the lake itself is eternal. This is a confusing passage, but the real point is this – we want our names in the book of life. If we know the difference and choose wrong, we don’t have any excuse. If we hear God’s command and choose not to follow His voice, we have no one else to blame.

What else do you know about Satan – and do you have biblical support for it?

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About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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2 Responses to Who or What is Satan?

  1. Todd Beal says:

    | We also see from this passage some of the wondrous character of God. God trusts Job. God knows already the heart of Job and knows what Job can withstand. God does not cause sin or the troubles Job encounters. The author of sin does that well enough. It doesn’t seem like it to some, but I see God’s limitations on Satan as a protective barrier custom designed to the individual believer. |

    I know this to be true. My eyesight was severely altered 13 years ago, resulting in 24-hour panic attacks that ruled my daily existence. I told my best friend “I feel like I am losing my mind.” He told me that God will take me to the edge of what I can handle but will take me no further. I held on to those words for many years knowing they spoke truth. I clung to them as my personal promise, hoping against hope that somehow, some day, my condition would improve.

    I never want to repeat those years but I learned a lifelong lesson in living them; God will never force us to go it alone apart from him. Traversing beyond this point is strictly our doing, our choice, not his. Whatever the issue, whatever I experience, if I rely on God’s strength, his wisdom, it remains impossible for me to go beyond my ability to cope.  If God is with me, there is nothing I cannot handle.

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