In the cult movie “The Usual Suspects” Kevin Spacey’s character Verbal Kint famously says “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”.
The Devil seems to be doing a good job, in a 2009 poll conducted by Nielsen, 68% of Australians said they believe in God, while only 37% say they believe in the Devil.
Belief in the Devil has been made ridiculous by portrayals of him as a cloven-hoofed, pointy-tailed, red, goat-like creature, carrying a pitchfork.
What does the Bible actually say about the Devil and does one have to believe in him to be a Christian?
The Bible uses several names for God’s opponent. He is called the Devil, which means slanderer or defamer, (Matt 4:1) or Satan (Job 1:6), which in Hebrew means the adversary or opponent. He is also called the Accuser of the Brethren (Rev 12:10), the old Dragon (Rev 12:9), the enemy (Matt 13:39), Beelzebub (Mark 3:22), the prince of this world (John 12:31), the serpent (Gen 3:1) and the tempter (Matt 4:6), among other things.
The information we get in the Bible about Satan is found scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments, some of which is written in allegory. But the symbols used, like stars as angels (Job 38:7), are always consistent and decoded by the Bible itself.
How did the devil come about?
The Old Testament books of Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah, chapter 14 explain that the Devil was created by God originally as a beautiful angel called Lucifer, which means Day Star. However, he became full of pride and decided he no longer wanted to serve God but to be God.
For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit. (Isaiah 14: 13-15)
Is the Devil in Hell?
For this rebellion Satan was thrown out of heaven, taking one third of God’s angels with him (Rev 12:4,7-9) but we see in the book of Job, chapter 1 that he is able to still come into God’s presence before His throne and talk with Him, and that Satan is also free to roam the earth.
Thus the yin yang idea of a balance between good and evil is not Biblical, as God has twice as many angels as Satan and Satan has to have God’s permission to act; and the idea that the devil is ruling a wicked kingdom in hell is also entirely without Biblical foundation.
In fact, the Bible says that hell is prepared as a place of torment for those angels, now demons, who rebelled against God (Matt 25:41), and was never intended for people at all, although we condemn ourselves there by not accepting God’s payment for our sins on the cross through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hell is not a place where Satan will rule but a place where he will suffer eternally (Revelation 20:10).
The Bible teaches that until Jesus comes again to rule and reign on the Earth, Satan is the prince of this world (John 12:31) who has the power to give riches and power to those who worship him, as he tempted Jesus to do in the wilderness.
“Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” (Luke 4:5-7)
But as Matthew 16:26 says “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Jesus warned that the devil is a liar. “[The Devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44)
Part of this lie is that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) in order to make wickedness seem appealing and to deceive people to their own peril.
Satan hates humans, as those created in the image of God and whom God loves, and he hates especially those who to choose to obey God. Peter warns Christians: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8) and Jesus called Satan the thief who comes to steal, to kill and to destroy (John 10:9).
Unlike God, Satan is a created being and therefore limited by time and space. He is not all-knowing, all-powerful or everywhere present at the same time as God is. Nevertheless, he is a very powerful adversary whom even the archangel Michael “dared not bring … a reviling accusation [against], but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (Jude 1:9)
By becoming a Christian we declare war on Satan (Ephesians 6:12) but the Bible promises us that the Holy Spirit of God within Christians is greater than he who is in the world [Satan] (1 John 4:4).
Does one have to believe in Satan to be a Christian?
Yes. Satan’s existence is taught throughout the Bible. Seven Old Testament books teach his existence (Genesis, 1 Chronicles, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah) and every New Testament writer refers to his reality and activity as a personal being. More importantly, Jesus also referred to Satan 25 times in the Gospels. Therefore, to reject the existence of Satan is to reject the Bible as God’s inerrant Word to man and to make Jesus a liar.