In the midst of cultural chaos and evil, Christians often encourage themselves by pointing to God’s ultimate victory over sin, rebellion, and satanic resistance.
“I’ve read the end of the book!” followers of Jesus will say. “And we know who wins!”
This is a true statement and a perfectly valid approach to the problem of evil. But it is not the only approach. Scripturally, one can also look to the beginning of the Bible – or, more accurately, to what the Bible says about the beginning of evil in the created order.
Of course, we are speaking of the creation of the angel who is now called “Satan” – the Adversary.
The Bible not only speaks of the end of Satan’s rebellion, but in opaque terms, the Scripture also appears to reveal the earliest manifestations of it – and his crushing defeat.
In Luke 10, for example, Jesus sends out 70 disciples in pairs to preach the gospel in cities around Israel. These were places to which He Himself would be visiting. The results were so astounding that even the disciples themselves were amazed. “The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name’” (vs. 17).
Jesus gives a rather strange reply to these happy disciples in the next verse: “And He said to them, ‘I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.’”
What was Jesus talking about here? Was He referring to a previous fall of Satan, some soon-to-be defeat of the Adversary, or the final casting down of the Devil into the lake of fire? The answer may very well be all three.
A fall in ages past
Admittedly, Satan’s origin story is a bit hazy, but the Bible does seem to lay out a few basics: (1) The entity we now refer to as the Devil was once an angel who had access to heaven and even the throne of God Himself. (2) As the Bible opens on the earth as the habitation of the newly created race of human beings, Satan is a malevolent being intent on destroying mankind.
In between those two facts is another truth that is implied, rather than explicitly stated: (3) This angel did something catastrophic that resulted in his fall from a previous place of exaltation, and this fall transformed him into an agent of wickedness.
There are two famous Old Testament passages that seem to address Satan’s original state and his fall from it: Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-17.
These two passages combine to form a portrait of a beautiful, perfect, angelic being who was corrupted by his own pride and ambition. Apparently coveting the worship due to God alone, this angel attempted to exalt himself over the Lord of glory and was cast down in humiliation and disgrace.
It must be noted that not every Bible commentator agrees that these two passages apply to Satan. Some point out that both passages explicitly mention the human targets of the prophecies uttered –– Isaiah 14 addresses the king of Babylon (vs. 4) and Ezekiel 28 addresses the king of Tyre (vs. 11.) Therefore, the argument goes, Satan is not in view here, only the two human rulers.
While such an interpretation is certainly possible, many evangelical scholars argue against this view. They say it is extremely difficult – many commentators argue it is impossible – to identify a particular human ruler to which these prophecies might apply. Why issue such a prophecy if it cannot, in fact, be applicable to an actual king?
Moreover, it is not uncommon for prophetic language to have a dual reference or fulfillment. The language used in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 seems to intentionally draw the reader’s attention not only to two human kings but also to someone supra-human behind them. It is the same type of evil shadow as that cast in Revelation 12, where the dragon – Satan himself – gives his authority and power to the beast, a human ruler (or series of rulers).
A fall at the crucifixion
This interpretation of these two Old Testament passages provides some clarity into the words of Jesus to His disciples in Luke 10. Their pioneering yet triumphant experience of the power of New Testament ministry caused Jesus to state categorically, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” It is clearly a reference to some past event. In other words, the disciples’ success is evidence that Satan is already a defeated foe – having been cast down long ago.
However, Jesus proceeds to tie that previous defeat of Satan to the disciples’ current experience –– and to future ministry: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you” (vs. 19). This implies that the victorious proclamation of the gospel by these 70 disciples was, in fact, a precursor of yet another defeat that was on the horizon for this hapless, malevolent rebel angel.
This is why Jesus told them not to rejoice in their spiritual power but in their redemption: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (vs. 20).
What is the source of such confident joy? What is the foundation of the assurance that their names “are recorded in heaven?”
Jesus’s focus in these statements – about power-filled ministry, authority over dark, demonic beings, and the redemption that safeguards our souls – is and always will be the cross.
The cross was a judicial act. This is precisely the point made by the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:13-15. He states that “the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us” has been canceled by being “nailed … to the cross.”
But then Paul adds that this judicial act “disarmed the rulers and authorities.” This cannot refer to human rulers, for many would persecute God’s people over the centuries to come. Instead, it no doubt refers to demonic powers (Ephesians 6:12; cp. 1:20-21; 3:10).
The cross was the moment foreseen by Jesus as the downfall of Satan – or we might say a second downfall.
We see the link between the cross and the fall of Satan made even more explicitly in John 12:31-33. Jesus told His disciples, “‘Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.”
A future fall
As with every part of the Christian life – and every battle that we fight – our hope and encouragement is anchored in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
For the 70 disciples in Luke 10, their victorious missionary activity looked forward to the shed blood of the Lamb of God, although they could hardly have understood that at the time. What they could understand, however, is a reference to the fall of Satan.
Two thousand years later, we should understand this same truth as we look backward over time. The cross shattered the power of Satan over us. Now, as the church acts in holy power, every victory is another defeat of our adversary.
We, too, can see Satan fall as lightning every time a soul is saved, every time a baby is rescued from an abortion, and every time a heartfelt prayer is answered.
The enemy of God’s people is reminded by every defeat of the final casting down to come when Satan is pitched headlong into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).
It comes at the end of the Bible. We know because we have read the book.