By Simon Presland
The Flip Wilson Show was a popular variety show in the 1970s that featured various guests from the entertainment industry. Flip Wilson also created great comedy skits. One of his most popular characters was Geraldine Jones. Geraldine’s famous line was, “The devil made me do it,” and it became a national catchphrase, spawning sales of T-shirts and other paraphernalia.
It is interesting that “the devil made me do it” became so popular in the late twentieth century because it is a line that has existed since the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3 we read of Adam and Eve’s interaction with the serpent and their subsequent disobedience to God. After they had sinned, Adam and Eve hid from God. When God confronted them, Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent, becoming the first incident of “the devil made me do it.” Thus, this phrase became an excuse used by humankind ever since.
The blame shifting that occurred brings up several questions: Who or what was this serpent that could so easily deceive Adam and Eve? Why did he want to deceive them? What was God’s reaction? Is the serpent still operating in our world today?
Scholars note that the serpent in the garden was merely a “vessel” that the devil, or Satan, as he is commonly called, operated through in order to usurp humankind’s authority on this earth. In the Old Testament Hebrew, the name Satan primarily means an “adversary of God, to obstruct, oppose, to plot.” In the New Testament Greek, he is called the devil, meaning “false accuser or slanderer.” Other names and descriptors include Apollyon, Beelzebub, Belial, dragon, enemy, power of darkness, prince of this world, serpent, tempter, god of this world, and wicked one.
Revelation 12:9 tells us, “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”
Why was he hurled down to the earth? Scholars refer to Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19 to show that Satan fell due to a prideful desire to be God instead of serve God. Satan was the highest of all the angels. When the sin of pride was found within this being, God cast Satan out of Heaven as a fallen angel.
In Luke 10:17-19 we read, “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’” Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” These verses tell us a few things:
• Satan is a real being.
• Satan was in Heaven at one time.
• Satan and demons are the enemy.
• The enemy has power.
• Jesus’ disciples had authority to overcome the enemy, and believers still do today.
Satan is often illustrated as a red-horned cartoon character with a pitchfork tail. However, his true existence and his role on the earth are verified throughout the Bible, and in particular Jesus’ temptation as described in Matthew 4:1-11. As the ruling authority over all fallen angels (Revelation 12:3-9 indicates that one-third of all angels fell with Satan), the devil and his minions exist in the invisible spirit realm, yet they greatly affect our physical world. Satan masquerades as an “angel of light,” deceiving humans just as he deceived Eve in the beginning.
In 2 Corinthians 11:14 Paul said, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” In John 8:44, Jesus called the devil “the father of lies” and tells us that lying is his native tongue.
Jesus testified of Satan’s existence. During his ministry, he personally faced temptation from the devil (Matthew 4:1-11), cast out demons that possessed people (Luke 8:27-33), and defeated the evil one and his legion of demons at the cross. Christ also helped us to understand the ongoing spiritual war between God and Satan, good and evil (see Isaiah 14:12-15; Luke 10:17-20).
Even though he rebelled against God, Satan is ultimately under God’s control. In the book of Revelation, John stated, “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore” (Revelation 20:7, 8). These verses show us Satan’s character and his role on this earth: he is a liar, a deceiver, and a tempter—the same nature he displayed to Adam and Eve in Eden.
Among other things, Satan lies to people about who God and Jesus are and the authority Christians have over him through Christ. Satan also deceives people through false religions and cults throughout the world that he has established. His system of religion is predicated on “working our way to Heaven.” Christianity, however, is based on the finished work of Christ, who died and rose again. Christianity is centered on a relationship with God, through Christ, based on faith (Ephesians 2:8-10).
When dealing with Christians, Satan tempts us to doubt God, his Word, and his promises as recorded in the Bible.
The Bible portrays Satan as a “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” and we are to “be alert and of sober mind” (1 Peter 5:8). It is interesting to note that he is metaphorically described as or like a lion. The truth is that Satan is a defeated foe—he was defeated at every turn by our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Though he was tired and hungry after 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus never gave in to the temptations Satan laid before him. In the course of Jesus’ time on earth he defeated Satan on every front: he healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, and preached the good news of God’s salvation everywhere he went. And Jesus’ final victory came when he died on the cross for our sins, was raised again to new life, and now sits at “the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). He is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21). As believers, we are the “fullness” of Christ (vs. 23), and as his body we have his positional authority over our common foe.
Despite his defeated position, Satan continues in his role as liar, deceiver, and tempter because these are the only powers he has. The trouble is that we have a tendency to believe what he says. While we may not hear him directly, Satan is often the source of the shame, guilt, condemnation, or other self-defeating feelings we may have. He causes us to focus on ourselves, our shortcomings, and our inadequacies. However, the Bible is replete with weapons through which we can defeat our common enemy; the chief weapon is the mighty name of Jesus!
When it comes to spiritual warfare, the Bible teaches us that our main battle is within our minds. Paul said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). He also said, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does” (2 Corinthians 10:3).
We have the power, through Christ, to demolish arguments and strongholds, and we can “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (vv. 4, 5). We are to put on the full armor of God so that we can stand tall when the day of evil comes (see Ephesians 6). Finally in Revelation 12:11 John reminded us that Christians past, present, and future have “triumphed over [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
Satan may be a liar, deceiver, and tempter, but when he reminds us of failures in our past or tries to draw us away from serving Christ, we can remind him of his future in the lake of fire. He is truly a defeated foe, and nothing he can do can separate us from the love God has for us (Romans 8:39). Now that’s a truth we can count on!
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.