All of us are familiar with the caricature of Satan: red suit, horns, long, pointy tail, bad goatee, sinister grin, and a trident in one hand. This cartoonish image originated in the Middle Ages, but you should not think that Christians from centuries ago honestly believed that Satan looked so idiotic. They portrayed him as a clown on purpose. The medievals wanted to depict him as the buffoon of all time; as the ultimate loser of the ages for his rebellion against the King of Glory. The purpose of the caricature was to strike at Satan’s pride. In fact, it was the Reformer Martin Luther who suggested that when the devil persists we should “jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” I’m not crazy about that advice. I believe that the medievals paid too much attention to the adversary, but the opposite extreme exists in our current cultural climate.
The devil is real. Satan is not the bogey-man. He is not an old wives’ tale. He is not the product of Hollywood horror films. He is more than just a Halloween costume. He is not the relic of an ancient and superstitious era of human history. Even so, it is not uncommon for people today, even professing Christians, to scoff at the idea of an actual adversary. Author Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology mentions German scholar Rudolf Bultman.
[Bultman] emphatically denied the existence of a supernatural world of angels and demons. He agreed that these were ancient ‘myths’ and that the New Testament message had to be demythologized by removing mythological elements so that the gospel could be received by modern, scientific people.
Christian author and teacher R.C. Sproul recounts a classroom discussion on Satan:
I once asked a college class of about thirty students, ‘How many of you believe in God?’ The majority of the students raised their hand. Then I asked, ‘How many of you believe in the devil?’ Only a couple raised their hand.
One student blurted out, ‘How can any intelligent person believe in the devil in this day and age? The devil belongs to superstition along with ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night’
Sproul replied, ‘There is a far more credible source for believing in Satan than for believing in goblins. You may not be persuaded of the trustworthiness of the Bible, but it is surely a more credible source than Mother Goose…If you believe that God is an invisible, personal being who has the capacity to influence people for good, why do you find it hard or incredible to imagine that there is an invisible, personal being who has the capacity to influence people for evil?’
No one could convince the Demoniac that Satan was a mythological element of the gospel. The devil seemed real enough to him. These stories of denying the reality of the adversary remind me of the boxer who was being pulverized by his opponent. Between rounds his trainer weakly attempted to encourage the man when he said, “Great job out there champ. He ain’t laid a finger on you yet!” The boxer looked at the man through swollen, bloody eyes and said, “Well then, keep your eyes on the referee, because somebody in there is killin’ me!”
The adversary is real. That’s why we call it spiritual warfare instead of spiritual shadow-boxing! The scriptures do not mythologize the devil and his demonic host and neither should we.
The Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel (chapters 14:1-23 and 28:11-19 respectively) tell the story of a being who is more than simply a human king. Both prophets pronounce woes on two proud kings of their day; Isaiah the king of Babylon and Ezekiel the King of Tyre. From the given descriptions it is obvious that the prophets were not only referring to the kings of Babylon and Tyre but to the evil force which stood behind them.
Scripture teaches that Satan was once Lucifer, which means “light bearer”. Lucifer was created perfect; a covering cherub of the Most High. He reflected God’s glory. He was God’s worship leader, but he desired for himself a share of God’s glory. Isaiah distills Lucifer’s lust for glory with five “I will” statements in 14:13-14:
- “I will ascend into heaven”
- “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God”
- “I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation”
- “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds”
- “I will be like the most High.”
Because of his pride he lost his exalted position. He is the light–bearer no more. He became and is now Satan the adversary and the slanderer. The devil is real, and he is not your friend. He is a liar and murderer (John 8:44), the very opposite of Jesus who is truth and life (John 14:6). He is the ultimate con man; masquerading as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
There is no denying the reality of the adversary, but not only is he real; he also has a plan. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at it.