Never forget…that the Devil’s cleverest ploy is to persuade you that he doesn’t exist. – Charles Baudelaire
In a world that doubts the existence of a spiritual realm that interacts with our daily lives and influences the world’s events, many do not believe in the existence of a real being called the devil. He is thought of as a personification of evil or a metaphorical way of talking about sin rather than an actual being who has a bunch of henchmen demons who follow him. A 2009 study done by the Barna Group reported that 40 percent of Christians do not believe Satan is a real being but rather think he is simply a symbol of evil.
Author and psychologist Richard Beck notes,
We’re living in an increasingly modern, scientific, technological, and therefore more skeptical age. Many Christians are losing their belief in God, so when you look at the To-Do List of Belief, endorsing the existence of the Prince of Darkness seems pretty far down the list. (Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted [Fortress Press, 2016], xv)
In a disenchanted world where skepticism about the reality of spiritual place or beings dominates the culture, Christians need to be reminded that the devil is very real. He is the great enemy of God and thus of Christians as well. Although not a lot is known about him, the Bible does tell us some crucial things about the devil and his activity in this world.
The devil is a created being. We know from Scripture that only God existed from all eternity (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 90:2; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 4:8). While the creation account does not tell us when the devil was created, he must be a created being, since God created everything in heaven and on earth. We can also conclude from Scripture that the devil is a spiritual being (Eph. 2:1-2; Eph. 6:12; Rev. 12:7-8, 12).
The devil opposes God. The devil is often called Satan, which literally means adversary. The book of Revelation calls the devil Satan and depicts him as a great dragon that fights against God with an army of fallen angels (Rev. 12:3–14). Scripture describes him as the great opponent of everything God is doing in the world. Revelation also calls him a great dragon who is the deceiver of the whole world and because of this was cast out of heaven.
And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Rev. 12:9)
This deceiver cast doubt on God’s Word and sought to undermine God’s created order from the very beginning of the world. By deceiving Eve in the garden of Eden, the devil became the archenemy of both God and anyone who belonged to him. As the archenemy of God, he is Jesus’ major opponent. God promised Satan that one day a redeemer would come who would crush his head (Gen. 3:15). That redeemer was Jesus Christ whom Satan tempted in the wilderness in an effort to foil God’s plan of redemption. When that didn’t work, the devil put it on the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus to the Jewish leaders who put him to death (Matt. 4:1–11; Luke 22:3).
Jesus clearly recognizes the devil as a real being who works to oppose him. He tells the disciples that he saw the devil fall from heaven (Luke 10:18) and tells the Pharisees that their father is the devil because they oppose him (John 8:44). In fact, John tells us that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8).
The devil has (limited) power in the world, working to convince as many people as he can that God is a liar and not to be trusted. Satan’s number one priority is to get people to believe in anything except God and the salvation offered in his Son Jesus. “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9). Jesus tells us that Satan is a liar and the father of all lies (John 8:44) who lied to Eve, causing her to doubt God’s Word. People who do not believe in God serve the devil, whether they realize it or not (John 8:44; 2 Tim. 2:25-26; 1 John 3:8; 2 Cor. 11:14).
All the devil’s cunning and schemes are directed at getting people to distrust God’s Word. His schemes work in a variety of ways and take many forms including apathy, temptations to run after money or power or sex, and fear. He is called the evil one who can appear to people as an “angel of light” to deceive them (2 Cor. 11:14). He is sneaky and crafty, using any means to achieve his ends. He lays traps and snares for people, afflicts people with sickness and physical disabilities (Luke 13:16), asks God to let him test people’s faith (Job, Luke 22:31), and tempts people to sin (Acts 5:3; 2 Tim. 2:26). Any angle he can find he uses to turn people away from God.
Satan doesn’t work alone. The Bible tells us that he has an army of demons—angels who followed him in his rebellion against God (Matt. 9:34; 25:41, Jude 6). These demons aid him in his deception of the world, working evil and corrupting God’s good creation (Matt. 8:16; 25:41).
The devil remains a major opponent of the church and the advancement of the gospel. Scripture is full of warnings to beware of the devil and his schemes. The apostle Peter reminds us: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). “We wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:18). And yet, God’s power far exceeds the power of Satan.
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Rom. 16:20)
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil. (Heb. 2:14)
Paul recounts that Jesus made him an apostle “to open [the Gentile’s] eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).
The devil’s defeat is certain. God limits the devil’s work in the world. He is not allowed to be as bad as he could be. He also does not have power over a person’s spirit to determine whether they are saved or not. Even though Satan has a certain amount of power over the world and the things that happen in the world, ultimately God remains sovereign. Satan can only touch those whom God has given over to him (Rom. 1:18). Additionally, James encourages Christians that, if they resist the devil, he will run from them (James 4:7). Resisting the devil, however, goes hand in hand with believing and obeying God. The more we turn to God in repentance and faith and cling to God’s Word, the more we resist the devil (Eph. 6:16–17).
Even though the devil is an evil being, a liar by nature, and the worst of the worst, we can be encouraged that because of Christ his defeat is already certain. In our modern skeptical culture, it can be easy to forget the danger the devil poses and the work he continues to do. The devil will use any means necessary—even the doubts about his own existence—to throw doubts upon God. When the New Testament warns about the work of the devil, it admonishes us not to let our guard down. As soon as we become apathetic and think we are not in danger of falling into temptation, that is when we are the most vulnerable to attack. We are engaged in a great battle.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)