INTRO: Is Satan Real?

There is a growing theological movement today which seeks to cast Satan as a dark principle RATHER than a dark personage, a toxic idea RATHER than a toxic individual– a corrupting precept RATHER than a corrupting presence.

This movement DENIES Satan as a historical entity.

It DENIES that Satan
–is a fallen angelic power
–is the Lucifer of Scripture
–is (or ever has been) “the ruler” of this fractured world as Jesus thrice claimed.

This theological movement, in short, denies that Satan is (or ever was) an actual individuated being with a malevolent personality, a malicious plan, and a menacing presence seeking to corrupt and destroy both God and man.

They further believe that we should replace all our primitive beliefs in such a supernatural being with the social sciences of sociology, anthropology, and psychology. They define “the real Satan” as the individual and corporate carnal mind of all humans, which somehow forms an ethereal and worldwide internet of evil inclinations from which we all draw.

They claim that the traditional view of Satan as a fallen angelic power in cosmic rebellion to God is an “anthropological (man-made) construction” created by the psychology of our culture. They claim we have been “culturally conditioned” to see Satan as a fallen angel when in truth he is nothing more than a primitive myth. They claim Satan is NOT historical in either time nor space. In short, they claim Satan is NOT an actual personage. He is NOT an individuated being. They repeatedly say we must “redefine our anthropology.”

Here is how they want to “anthropologically redefine” Satan. For them, “the Satan” is to be defined as our individual and corporate “dark side.” Simply put, WE are the Satan. We each have an individual light side and dark side. But all of our light and dark sides are corporately connected as “a human Internet that can be tapped into for good and evil.” Our dark sides are all connected on this network and form a vacuum devoid of Godly goodness which “has been uncoupled from our control.” This corporate network of our individual darkness forms a “void of good,” a void which disconnects from all human control and somehow cultivates evil impulses, harmful addictions, and violent events.

I think I have fairly stated their position above.

However, I have to cordially disagree with the suggestion that Satan is JUST our carnal mind, even though Satan certainly DOES operate there. This proposed objectification of Satan (turning a living subject into a mere concept or object) is inconsistent with how Jesus dealt with Satan. Jesus, during the wilderness temptations, battled Satan on both natural and supernatural planes, as well as on both internal and external levels.

Now don’t get me wrong. I certainly agree that demonic activity is rampant in our thought life. But that’s not the ONLY place it’s rampant.

Scripture shows us that Satanic influence is rampant in diseases.

Scripture shows us that Satanic influence is rampant in natural disasters.

Scripture shows us that Satanic influence is rampant in dire circumstances.

Satan’s field of operations is described in the first two chapters of Job (as well as and numerous other Biblical passages). It includes three major areas where he attacks men, the same three areas of destruction Satan operates in today:

1) NATURE (lightning: “fire from heaven”; tornado or storm: “great wind”);

2) MEN (Sabeans and Chaldeans); and

3) SICKNESS (“boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown”).

This is strong authority that Satan, whom Jesus called thrice called the “prince/archon of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), is indeed an actual personage in whose power lies the carnal world according to John the beloved (1 Jn. 5:19). Satan likewise uses these three key weapons to likewise attack us: nature, man, and sickness. Jesus rebuked a demonic storm, rebuked a Satanically inspired Peter, and rebuked thousands of demon spirits of infirmity.

If, however, hostile Satanic powers are non-existent in the outward world and play no part in shaping external plagues, perils, and misfortune, then God has truly set us up here in the vacuum of a hazardous death trap, what one TV series has named “Serial Killer Earth.” I could never believe that, and of course, that would put the responsibility for an often mass-killing creation right back in God’s causative lap. Jesus’ kingdom in fullness will certainly remove all the Satanically inspired death elements, both in our thoughts and in our environment.

Jesus called Satan a liar and murderer from the beginning in John 8:44. His lies and murders exist both inside us and outside us. His fingerprints are everywhere where creation has been fractured by violence and hatred.

Moreover, we need to count the high cost for fictionalizing and objectifying Satan into a mere concept. For Satan’s ontological reality to be fully excised, we must first be willing to perform extensive amputative surgery on many of the Gospel narratives. Below is a list of passages from which we must amputate their historical accuracy:

1) We must DISBELIEVE, concerning the wilderness temptations (Matthew 4:1-11), that Jesus’ battle with Satan was NOT a two-party or two-sided conflict. Jesus was NOT in a conflict with an actual individuated being named Satan, but, rather, Jesus was simply arguing with His own (and our) potential dark side. He was in essence just battling His own inner evil urges. With this fictional view of Satan, it now only takes one to tango, not two.

2) We must DISBELIEVE that the second person statements attributed to Satan in the wilderness temptations (Matthew 4:3,6,9). The statement attributed to Satan were either hallucinated by Jesus, fabricated by the Gospel writers, or were meant to be read as mythology rather than non-fictional narrative.

3) We must DISBELIEVE that Satan’s physical transportation of Jesus to the top of the Temple (Matthew 4:5) was real. It was either hallucinated by Jesus, fabricated by the Gospel writers, or was meant to be read as mythology rather than non-fictional narrative.

4) We must DISBELIEVE that Satan supernaturally showed Jesus all the kingdoms in the world at once (Matthew 4:8). This event was either hallucinated by Jesus, fabricated by the Gospel writers, or was meant to be read as mythology rather than non-fictional narrative.

5) We must DISBELIEVE that Satan is an actual presence who exerts EXTERNAL pressure or influence to bring about destructive events, debilitating illnesses, and dire circumstances. Jesus related the cause of many physical sicknesses directly to Satan and/or his subordinates aka “unclean spirits”(Matthew 8:17; Mark 1:27; 3:11; Luke 4:36; 6:18; 7:21;13:16). This causal connection between Satan and external physical events had to have been either fabricated by Jesus, fabricated by the Gospel writers, or was meant to be read as mythology rather than non-fictional narrative.

6) We must DISBELIEVE that Jesus cast a legion of REAL “unclean spirits” into a legion of REAL pigs, who then simultaneously committed mass suicide by diving off a REAL cliff. Matthew 8:28-34. This rebuking of these “unclean spirits” occurred in the immediate wake of Jesus “rebuking” a violent and hostile storm (Luke 8:23-27), surely another example of Jesus engaging in another form of Satanic rebuke, this time in his devilish role as the “Prince of the Power of the Air” (Ephesians 2:2). These passages are crucial to this discussion because they move Satan OUT of just the conceptual realm of our thinking into the material world of our being. Theologians eager to dismiss the ontology of Satan because it is too intellectually embarrassing to believe, have great difficulty with these passages. Whereas in other passages involving demon affliction of humans, they bring in the social sciences to explain the Satanic manifestations as forms of mental disease rather than demonic influence. However, this humanizing theory, which seeks to rationalize away the supernatural, splinters considerably when Jesus casts a legion of demons into a herd of pigs who then seek to destroy themselves through an en masse cliff-diving suicide. Pigs don’t have mental diseases and suicidal ideations. Something supernatural was occurring here.

These are all huge events in the Gospel narrative, transformative events, yet events whose historicity we must now summarily execute by declaring them either fictional, delusional or mythological. This leap into a non-individuated Satan is both unwarranted and far too wide for me.

An imaginary Satan doesn’t cause homicidal earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and mudslides.

An imaginary Satan doesn’t coordinate external events to work mass destructions of famine, pestilence, or drought.

Imaginary demons don’t cause cancer, leukemia, or heart deformities in children. They don’t externally manifest trillions and trillions of evil suggestions, coercive impulses and evil events.

Also, if Satan is fictional, he can no longer be the cosmic trafficker and initiator of all sin. We are. Just us. Only us. A wrongdoer is no longer a misguided person misled by demonic deception and manipulation. All the evil of the world IS his own doing.

Goodness, who can possibly bear this responsibility?

Now and forever, we ALONE bear the burden of our own sin. The idea of an imaginary Satan will ultimately heap condemnation on so many people that the results be crushing beyond belief. The New Testament says we are Satan’s victims, often willing victims to be sure, but still victims. Under a Satan-less scenario, the only predators here are US. This thinking merely opens wider the floodgates of condemnation on people who already too condemned to begin with.

Jesus called Satan “the tempter,” not the principle of temptation. Twice, Jesus told Satan by name to “get behind” Him. Why have on earth an external conversation with an internal principle? The mentally ill often do this, but why would the God of the universe engage in such non-sensical behavior? Thrice, Jesus called Satan the prince/ruler/archon of this fractured world. 1 John 5:19 tells us the whole fallen world lies in Satan’s power. Jesus came for this one purpose– to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). So, we best know “who” the devil is and what he “does.” Jesus healed ALL who were oppressed by the devil. Acts 10:38.

Finally, Jesus said that when we sin we are “of” the devil, who is a murderer and liar from the beginning. John 8:44. Think of how nonsensical it sounds to say, as many who deny Satan’s ontology propose, that what Jesus really meant was that, “You are of your father YOU, and YOUR lusts do you, YOU are a murderer and liar from the beginning.” This makes no sense. If Jesus wanted to be clear that Satan was a non-existent straw man, just a dark dynamic, He easily could have done it.

My objection is not that these theologians claim “the Satan” inhabits the carnal mind, but that they are claiming “the Satan” IS the carnal mind, no more and no less, both on an individual and corporate level. They propose that we form a vast corporate “human internet which can be tapped into for good or for evil.” This phantom menace somehow is then able to work destruction at various internal and external levels of human existence. Unfortunately, that’s a bit too ethereal to be quantified. That is harder to believe in then is a literal devil from my perspective, and it certainly has little scriptural support. It’s one thing to massage the Scriptures with the Holy Spirit, but it’s quite another to molest them with social sciences by amputating away all the supernatural elements from the Gospels.

I see Jesus vigorously promoting supernatural acts of the miraculous, not discouraging them. I see Jesus commanding us to follow in His supernatural footsteps by raising the dead, casting out devils, healing the sick, performing miracles, and doing the same and even greater works than He did (Luke 10:19; John 14:12-14; Mark 16:9-20).

Jesus called Satan “the prince of this world,” Paul called Satan “the god of this world,” John said Satan was the evil one in “whose power the whole world lies.” Peter said he stalks us “as a roaring lion.” Jesus said Satan was the “father of lies” and a “murderer from the beginning.” Jesus saw “Satan fall from heaven as lightning” quoting the Isaiah verse which described Lucifer falling from heaven as lightning, thus establishing the connection between the two identities. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil and commanded us to do the same. 1 John 3:8. In fact, Jesus described Satan as a strong man who needed to be cast out by a stronger one.

So, Satan is much more than just the way we wrongly think. There are too many patterns of evil in nature, wars, disasters, sicknesses, and other destructive events not to see the hand of an evil genius behind it. Jesus wants us more informed about Satan’s wiles, not less informed, which is the gross error of rabbinic Judaism. There is a supernatural aspect to this which is also being neglected. It is not just a mind game.

I also don’t agree in pigeonholing a belief which sees Satan as a cosmic entity as being informed by “Greek dualism” as some of these theologians claim. This would only be the case if we believe Satan and evil will forever thrive to combat God’s kingdom. That is not the case. God’s good is eternal, Satan’s evil is temporal. This scenario does not fit dualism unless both are forever equal and unchanging in scope and purpose. In the ages to come, the aeons to come, evil will be extinguished as Christ fills all in all. All things beneath, on, and above the earth, things to come and things past, all will be reconciled to God—— Apocatastasis.

Objectifying evil into JUST evil impulses is what I consider a regression, not a progression. Evil has a prince, a personality, an identity, a father, a supernaturally sinister and deceptive presence. This presence is a HE, not an IT. That HE is Satan.

Satan is not just a metaphor as these theologians claim. Jesus NEVER treated Satan as a metaphor and never instructed us to do so either. The reality of Satan and the demonic was at the CENTER of Jesus’ establishment of His kingdom. “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out devils, NO DOUBT the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20). Moreover, Hebrews 2:14-15 says that the purpose of Jesus’ blood was “that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil….”

The New Testament’s two major revelations were God as light and Satan as dark. The rest is about our translation from darkness into light. This revelation did not exist in OT understanding. References to Satan or devils are only mentioned in the OT 23 times, 14 of which are in the first 2 chapters of Job. The NT is less than a third of the size of the OT but has 146 explicit references by name to the terms Satan and devils, plus numerous other non-titular references to Satan by other descriptions.

OT saints were clueless as to Satan’s role in the world— they never rebuked him, never resisted him, never saw him as an angelic rebel in complete opposition to God. I am concerned that this fictionalization of Satan as a personage results in “New Testament supernatural theology” being supplanted by a “unsupernatural philosophy.” It is one thing for an idea to grow through progressive revelation. It is quite another to allow a philosophy to totally supplant a clear New Covenant reality. If today we say Satan is a metaphor for the carnal mind, what do we say tomorrow—- that Jesus is just a metaphor for right thinking and that He never actually existed.

These theologians are suggesting Jesus was not REALLY struggling with a cosmic historical being named Satan, but rather just His own inner demons and evil impulses. I said it earlier but it bears repeating. “Inner evil impulses/metaphorical demons” don’t cause homicidal earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and mudslides. “Inner evil impulses/metaphorical demons” don’t coordinate external events to work mass destructions of famine, pestilence, or drought. “Inner evil impulses/ metaphorical demons” don’t cause cancer, leukemia, or heart deformities in children.

The bad news is Satan is real. The good news is that Christ has defeated and defanged him. Jesus is waiting for US, as His church bride, to simply endorse and enforce that victory. Satan only thrives now on the fumes of our spiritual “neglect of our so great a salvation.”

Jesus has taken the dominion of death and destruction away from Satan. However, that victory has not yet been fully manifested in the earthly realm as it has been in the heavenly realm. Hebrews 10:13 tells us Jesus is seated at the right hand of God waiting and “expecting til his enemies be made his footstool.” 1 Corinthians 15:26 tells us, “the last enemy that SHALL be destroyed is death.”

Thus, even though Jesus has ALREADY disarmed all principalities and powers (Colossians 2:15) in the heavenly realm, He is waiting for his church to enforce that victory upon the earth (Ephesians 1:22-23, 3:10). The fact that we still see death and defeat is not due to any deficiency in the Lord, but rather to a deficiency in the church in “neglecting” her so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:3).

I think warfare for us NOW is a matter of “faith-endorsing” and “faith-enforcing” Jesus’ heavenly victory here on earth as it has ALREADY been fully won in the Heavenlies. This is why Paul called it a “fight of faith.” It IS a fight. But, the good news is that God doesn’t promise He WILL win the battle for us. No, He promises He already HAS won it. All we do is add our faith’s “amen” to His grace’s “yes.”