Is the Devil for Real?
What picture comes to mind when you hear about the Devil? Do you conjure up a picture of a little short guy with a red pitchfork, red horns, and pointy tail? Or do you imagine an evil force with no body or appearance? Do you imagine Hitler, Stalin, or any of the many other historical figures who have acted in horrifically evil ways?
People talk about evil in this world and readily admit that it exists. In fact, evil is undeniably a regular report on the nightly news. A few years ago, CNN reported a story about Jerry Hobbs who admitted to punching, kicking, and stabbing to death his 8-year old daughter and her 9-year old best friend on Mother’s Day. Prosecutors called the killings a “slaughter.” The article went on to describe his heinous crime in brutal detail. You need to be living under a large rock to deny that there is evil in our world.
But as soon as the discussion turns from an impersonal evil to a personal being that is evil, well, that’s a different story. We have an obsession with the devil and his demons, but they are generally confined to the realm of Hollywood and fiction. Authors like Stephen King and Clive Barker have made millions off the topic. Shows and movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ghost, The Exorcist, Spawn, End of Days, Lucifer and Constantine, all deal with these topics.
In the Bible, Peter, the disciple of Jesus who frequently acted as their leader, writes very clearly about the being called the devil in 1 Peter chapter 5. In verse 8 he writes,
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
The word Devil means “the accuser” and “the slanderer” and it is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Satan which means “adversary.” The devil is called many things in the Bible – Abaddon which is Hebrew for “destroyer”, Beelzebub which is the “Lord of the Flies” or literally, the “Lord of the Dung”, Belial the personification of evil, the father of all lies, the murderer, the power of darkness, Lucifer, and the Dragon. The Devil, like all demons, is a created being. He is the leader of the dark angels or fallen angels (Revelation 12:7-9).
The Devil and his angels rebelled against God and now roam the earth opposing God’s purposes and plans. The Devil is under God’s authority. He is not equal with God but was created by God. We see in the story of Job that Satan needed permission to attack Job and was limited in what God would allow him to do. Yet the Devil is very powerful and has many demons at his command to do his bidding. In Luke 8, one man is possessed, with a legion of demons in him. We don’t know exactly how many that implied; it could have been 3 demons, or some Roman legions had as many as 6,000 men in them. But they did cause 2,000 swine to be tossed into the sea. Demons can travel all over the earth and can have supernatural strength as we see in possession (Mark 5:4-5). They can take on different forms – we see the Devil appearing as a serpent in the Garden. When the chief of the angels, the Archangel Michael, faced Satan, he didn’t presume to go at him alone, but called on the power of God. We see that in Jude and in Revelation. Demons can tempt us, just as the devil tempted Jesus in the desert, and they can influence our actions, as we see with Judas and Peter, as well as with Eve.
Clearly, Satan is extremely powerful and crafty. Peter uses the analogy of a lion to communicate this reality. Some believe Peter used the image of a lion because Christians were being cut apart and thrown to the lions during the first century. Perhaps, but a lion is a very appropriate picture of Satan. We usually see lions on TV, at a zoo, or in a circus, where they appear safe and sterile, or at least we think so. A boy in a circus in Brazil a couple of years ago discovered how deadly a lion could be when he was ripped from his father’s arms and killed. We can learn how Satan, the devil, operates by remembering that lions attack sick, young, or straggling animals. They choose victims that are alone and passive. Lions prowl quietly, watching and waiting for the right time to pounce. When they least expect it, their victim is attacked. And they use their roar as a fear tactic to drive their prey into the jaws of another lion.
The Bible tells us that Satan, this lion, roams.
The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” -Job 1:7
He is roaming and seeking those he can devour. He is seeking us out with his influence and hordes of demons. Satan is a master of camouflage wanting us to believe he is not real or that he is just harmless.
And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. -2 Corinthians 11:14
He will use people inside and outside the church. His goal is clear – to devour those who would follow Christ and keep the world from him. Satan is so crafty that he will even do perceived good things. In healing people or helping people connect with their dead relatives, he can keep people away from the truth of Jesus Christ.
As powerful as the Devil is, he can be caged. The theme of submission runs through the book of I Peter. Peter writes about submission in the family, in the work-place, to the government, and in the church, and he focuses on the relationships of those in leadership or the Elder positions in the church. Submission is foundational because biblical submission reveals a heart of genuine humility. Peter quotes from Proverbs 3:34 the same proverb that James quotes from in James 4:6.
He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. -Proverbs 3:34
Humility, the capacity to put others’ needs and desires above our own, is central to caging satanic influence in our life. As one pastor said, “True humility is not demeaning ourselves; it is thinking about ourselves less.” (― Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?) God has a strong hatred of pride. It is pride that turned Lucifer into Satan in the first place and introduced evil into the world. Humility draws God to us while pride attracts the influence of the Evil One.
Isaiah 14:12-15 is a song directed to the King of Babylon, yet it speaks to what is behind him, the pride of Lucifer. Jesus echoes this passage in Luke 10:18 when he mentions Satan falling like lighting from heaven. In Genesis 3, Eve is tempted by the serpent Satan to disobey God, and unfortunately for all of us, she did. Her pride stirred in her so that she would no longer be submissive to God; instead, she desired to become like God and have the knowledge of good and evil. God is repelled by pride because it is the core of all evil that possesses our world.
The starting point of any successful caging of Satan’s influence in our life is, as Peter writes, to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. In the Old Testament, God’s hand symbolized discipline and deliverance. We are to humble ourselves under the appropriate discipline of God as he delivers us from a wasted life of self-absorption or pride. Peter presents us with an eschatological (end times) hope that God will eventually lift us out of the challenges of life to our eternal destiny. For first-century Christians, that meant out of the opposition and persecution of the Roman Empire and the religious leaders of the time.
What care and understanding Peter expressed for his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as he encouraged them to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5: 7). When you find yourself under persecution, misunderstood, or on the anvil of life, never forget that God has not abandoned you. That is a lie from Satan, whether the lie is that God is dead, or that he is a God in the distance, cold and uncaring. The Devil wants us to buy into a theology that says if we suffer, or if we are opposed, God has abandoned us.
Nothing could be further from the truth. He is the God who cares and can handle our anxiety. Our cares can only be cast onto God through humility. Once, when one of my boys got hurt, I went to comfort him and he pushed me back. He didn’t want me, although he needed the care of his daddy. It just took a few minutes and some encouragement to see him change and melt in my arms, comforted in the middle of his pain. When we are full of pride and not submissive to God, we attempt to handle life on our own, to control, to cast our cares on something else, to push God away, or to blame God. But in the end, that only leads to destruction and isolation.
It is in humility that we find a capacity to toss our cares upon the God who loves us unconditionally. Humility before God cages the Lion, the devil, who always desires us to blame God and push him away. Submit yourself to God in humility and see the power of the Satanic forces in our world repelled.