Bible teaching about The Devil
There are 36 references to the Devil in the Bible, all of which are in the New Testament. This is somewhat surprising in of itself, the New Testament was written between 48 AD and 70 AD, the first books of the Old Testament were written around the mid-14th Century BC.
If there really was some sort of evil supernatural being intent on causing chaos and manipulating people into doing despicable things, then one would reasonably suspect to be warned of its existence at the earliest possible opportunity. However ~1500 years pass between the writing of the first books in the Bible before the first reference to the Devil is made.
In terms we can understand a little easier – it would be like police knowing a known terrorist was on a flight from London to New York, but only informing the crew of the plane as they begin their final descent at their destination.
This is not a state of affairs which makes sense – after all if there is a supernatural being who intends harm, then waiting for ~1500 years before mentioning said being seems to be an unusual plan.
To see what the Bible tells us about the Devil, let us consider the following three verses:
Then Jesus was led up by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. – Matthew 4v1 (ESV)
For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin – Hebrews 4v15 (ESV)
Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire – James 1v14 (ESV)
Therefore from the first verse we are told that it is the devil that tempted Jesus, from the second verse we are told that Jesus was tempted in exactly the same way we are and then finally in the third verse we are told that it is our own lusts and desires which tempt us. Therefore we can see that the devil is simply our own lusts and desires, our own temptations. We can think of the Devil as being the voice at the back of our minds which encourages to do things which we know we should not do.
Bible teaching about Satan
The word “Satan” in Hebrew is quite simply a word which means “Opponent”, “Adversary”, “Competitor” and other words of that ilk. When two people play a game of Chess each can legitimately describe the other as their Satan. In Greek there is also a word “Satan” with the same meaning.
The word “Satan” in both the Old and New Testaments therefore simply refers to an opponent or adversary rather than some sort of supernatural being.
Looking at the academic meaning of words is one thing, however ultimately words mean what they are used to mean, therefore we need to look at some examples of the word in use.
But he [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting you mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – Matthew 16v23 (ESV)
From examining this passage where Peter is described as Satan we can verify that the word is used in that context. The word “Satan” has been used in a way which only makes sense if you apply the correct meaning of the word.
Suffering in the World
In the beginning God made Adam and Eve to look after and protect His creation. He gave them free will, and simple rules to teach them responsibility and morality. When these rules were broken the relationship between God and man was disturbed: man had chosen to follow his own judgement instead of relying on the Almighty Creator.
God is a consistent and moral Being, and so pronounced the punishment on Adam, Eve and their descendants (literally Dying, you will die). However, God also promised that one of Eve’s descendants would provide a way for man to be reconciled to God. This consecrated, or “specially devoted” one, is the meaning of the Hebrew word Messiah.
As we look at the world around us we can see this punishment manifest in many apparent injustices. Why are millions starving, or torn by war? Why does God allow these things to happen?
- God created a Universe of cause and effect. To ask God to suspend natural laws would allow us to escape the responsibility of our actions. We could act without regard and our free will would be worthless.
- Man chose to live by his own rules. Much suffering in the world is caused by man’s own inhumanity to man. But God gives us His commandments in the Bible for us to choose to follow. Paul summarizes them as: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13 v 9).
- Suffering tests us. Our suffering can bring us to a closer knowledge of God, teaching us to trust in Him and get our priorities right in our lives. So God says to Israel: “Behold, I have refined you… I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48 v 10).
When Paul wrote a letter of hope to the persecuted believers in Rome he was careful to point out that suffering was of no consequence to those who hope for a new life after resurrection.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8 v 18 (ESV)
Jesus, the Messiah
God’s promise of a Messiah was fulfilled in Jesus. By placing our trust in God and being associated with Jesus in baptism, God will overlook our sins and we can look forward to a new life in the Kingdom of God.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21 v 3, 4 (ESV)