In the movie Patton (1970), about the famous U.S. General George S. Patton’s exploits in the Second World War, the titular character is shown overseeing a victorious battle against the Germans in North Africa in 1943. The Germans had been trained by the famous “Desert Fox,” Gen. Erwin Rommel.
“Rommel,” Patton declares while watching the victory through his binoculars, “I read your book!”
Patton was referring to Rommel’s writings about infantry tactics and tank warfare. In other words, Patton had prepared to fight Rommel by studying Rommel and his ideas.
The legendary U.S. general was successful for a reason. He knew that, in any upcoming battle, it is critical to know your enemy.
Christians are in a spiritual war against an army of darkness under the control of a malevolent entity that the Bible calls “Satan.”
We would do well to follow George Patton in the discipline of knowing one’s enemy, his purposes, and his tactics. Who is Satan? Why does he do what he does? What instruments of war does he use, and how does he use those weapons?
The Bible treats Satan as a real being, not a fairy tale. He is filled with undying hatred for God and humanity, and there is nothing but wickedness inside his evil heart.
Still, Satan is a created being. He is not like God, who is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (everywhere at once).
Satan only appears to be omni because he has a demonic army assisting him in his war against God and His people. Biblically speaking, our adversary’s power is not unlimited but controlled (Job 1:12; 2:6); it’s not lawful, but it is permitted (Romans 13:1), and it is not triumphant but doomed (Revelation 20:2-3).
Is Satan an angel?
The existence of Satan almost seems as if it is assumed in the Bible. When mankind arrives in the Garden of Eden, we see this malevolent entity slither onto the stage soon after. As spiritual beings, it is clear that we are not alone on earth. There are others here –– some good and some evil.
Still, we don’t know very much about the Devil’s origin. There are mostly hints or inferences. For example, nowhere does the Bible indisputably call Satan an angel. Instead, it is implied that this is the case.
For example, Job 1:6 states that “there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” As the phrase “sons of God” here refers to angels, it is implied that Satan is also an angel.
Likewise, 2 Corinthians 11:13-14 says, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
The apostle Paul notes that men can disguise themselves as apostles, even though they are wicked men. In the same way, when Satan disguises himself “as an angel of light,” Paul implies that Satan is an angel – an evil angel. In other words, he doesn’t disguise himself as an angel; he disguises himself as a good angel.
In Matthew 25:41, Jesus describes hell as “the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” Again, it is implied here that the Devil is also an angelic being. Moreover, this declaration clearly characterizes Satan as an angelic being leading other (fallen) angelic beings.
Finally, Revelation 12:7 says, “And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war….”
Here we have a conflict between similar though opposite forces. “The dragon and his angels” –– i.e., Satan and fallen angels –– are at war with “Michael and his angels.” Since we know that Michael is an archangel (Jude 9), the assumption has been made by theologians that Satan was also an archangel.
(In fact, there is only one statement in Scripture that appears to state that Satan is an angel. That is from a passage in Ezekiel 28 –– a passage which will be covered in the next blog on this topic.)
Satan’s origin story
There are a couple of additional New Testament references that hint at the Devil’s origin story. The first is in John 8:42-47, right smack in the middle of a conflict between the Jewish religious leaders and the Son of God. The Pharisees confront Jesus, and He confronts them right back.
Jesus states unequivocally that people have one father or another: either God is their Father or the Devil. The dividing line is first and foremost a person’s relationship to Jesus Christ. However, whether or not a person has a relationship with Jesus has an even deeper root: Does the person love the truth of God’s Word?
He says, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word” (vs. 43).
This idea is a theme in the Gospel of John: A person either loves lies and deception or they love truth (John 3:18-21).
- A murderous being
Then Jesus hints at Satan’s origin story, and that story seems related to his nature as a created – though fallen – being:
You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies (vs. 44).
We must start with the assumption that because God did not create anything evil, the being we now call Satan was created good and later –– although how much later, we cannot know – became evil.
Thus, the statement that the Devil “was a murderer from the beginning” must refer to his beginning as the devil, not when he was created as a good being.
What Satan eventually became seems to be connected to what he was inside before he fell: he was and is a murderer. This speaks to his destructive nature and it is ongoing. He was a murderer from the beginning (again, his beginning as the Devil) and still is a murderer.
- A deceptive being
Moreover, he was and is a liar. When Jesus says “there is no truth in him,” this is an indication that no goodness remains in Satan. There is no truth in him. Thus, all he can produce is lies, and even when what he says is (technically) a truthful statement, Satan speaks it for the purpose of deception. This is why Satan, when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, actually quoted the Bible to the Son of God. The passages quoted by the devil were true – all the Bible is true – but the passages were twisted for the purpose of tempting Christ.
- An arrogant being
In 1 Timothy 3:6, the apostle Paul issues this warning: “[An elder must not be] a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.”
Here we have an indication that the core sin that brought the Devil into the judgment of God was pride.
Moreover, it is also implied that it was his position that led to Satan’s conceit. That is the nature of Paul’s warning against assigning a leadership position (elder) to a “new convert,” because someone new to the faith might fall victim to conceit.
Why would this be so? An elevated position of leadership requires the character to handle it. In the case of Satan, before he fell into condemnation, there had begun in this angelic being a corrosive process that eventually poisoned his entire being.
And it is against that fallen, malevolent entity that Christians are at war.