Know Thy Enemy: The Origin of Satan
October 3, 2019 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Paul’s words, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” are well known among Christians, but do we truly live mindfully of spiritual warfare? It is far too easy to allow our sight and physical realities to command our attention. The call of Scripture, however, is to be battle ready for spiritual warfare. Through this multi-week series, we will consider what Scripture teaches about this spiritual struggle. This is part one.
Before he died of cancer, David Powlison finished his last book, Safe and Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles. He opens the book by writing, “You are in a battle. I am in a battle. And every person we counsel is – like us – living in a fog of war, stalked by a deadly predator, and facing a master of deception. When our hearts deceive us and our culture misleads us, Satan’s desires and purposes are at work.”
You and I are in a battle that we often do not even acknowledge. Our enemy likes it this way. Let’s equip ourselves to be battle ready.
The Art of War, written by ancient military strategist Sun Tzu in the 5th century BC, is famed for the phrase “know thy enemy.” The full passage: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
This is an appropriate place to begin. Know your enemy. If we do not know our enemy, we will face defeat.
We might be familiar with one-liners from Scripture about Satan. He’s “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). “He is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). But who is Satan? From where did he come? What is his mission?
The early church fathers believed that the prophecies of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 were metaphors or allegories for the origins of Lucifer. Isaiah 14 confronts the arrogance of the king of Babylon. We read that this boastful king says, “I will ascend to heaven…I will set my throne on high…I will make myself like the Most High” (v. 13-14). This king ends up being cast “down to Sheol” (v. 15). In a similar manner, Ezekiel 28 confronts the prideful king of Tyre. “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God…Your heart was proud because of your beauty…I cast you to the ground” (v. 12-13, 17). While the earthly kings certainly were arrogant before God (i.e. Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3), the grand language of these prophecies seem to address a superior, spiritual being.
Modern commentators contest the early church fathers’ interpretation of these prophecies. They would say that Isaiah and Ezekiel were confronting human kings with poetic language. But the Old Testament prophecies often had more than one referent, like the promise of the virgin bearing a child in Isaiah 7. These earthly kings could have mirrored characteristics of the Evil One, so the prophecies confront both with the same words.
Some of the language of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 is echoed in Revelation 12, explicitly about Satan. A war arises in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against Satan and his angels. Verse 9 says, “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” Satan is numbered with the angels in this passage. The heavenly war was among angels, Michael and Satan leading the opposing sides. Satan is “thrown down” just like the prideful kings of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel are cast down.
These three passages, Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, and Revelation 12, historically have provided Christians a story of the origin of Satan. While not all agree on their interpretation, we understand that Satan was an angel that came to oppose God and his ways. Perhaps his opposition was rooted in his pride and desire to usurp God; regardless, Satan has been cast out of God’s presence.
Next week we will consider what Scripture teaches about Satan’s mission and strategy. Scripture is much more clear on what Satan is doing.