Satan is one name for the biblical character also known as the "devil", "adversary" or "accuser", "serpent" or "dragon", "enemy", "evil one" and "Lucifer", among others. He is generally considered to be an angel of the highest order who was at one time at peace with and in the service of God but subsequently rebelled against God, causing his expulsion from Heaven and to Earth. The word "satan" comes from the common Old Testament usage of the Hebrew word "ha-satan", literally "the adversary", generally describing the legal role of plaintiff or accuser. Satan, and the other angels who sided with his rebellion (demons), are commonly described as beings which seek to thwart the purpose of God primarily through tempting humanity away from a moral existence founded in dependence on God to a self-centered, amoral lifestyle.

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Conceptual Evolution in and out of Scripture

In Scriptural passages such as Genesis' confrontation between Eve and the serpent and also his appearances in the book of Job, Satan takes on the role of a legal adversary. It is as though humanity is on trial and he accuses them before God, who is in the role as a judge. Satan appears as a tool of God's justice, himself also subject to the rule of God.

Between the Old and New Testaments the Jewish understanding of the spiritual realm developed greatly, as can be seen in many books of the Apocrypha. This growth includes an understanding of the role and nature of Satan as more than a legal adversary in God's service into a force that needs to be reckoned with, in daily life as well as in the judgment of the Day of the Lord.

There are many conjectures as to when Satan moved from this role of "court employee" of God into an outright enemy of God and his people. Chapter 12 of the Revelation of Jesus Christ portrays an allegorical story of a woman, a child and a dragon. The woman is a dual metaphor representing the life of the people of God (as the nation of Israel the Church) and also as Mary the mother of Jesus, who is the child. The dragon is Satan. The allegory, when it points to history at the time of Christ's earthly ministry, not only seems to give a time frame for a change in Satan's status in heaven and his relationship to humanity, but also seems to place his rebellion at the time of Christ's birth. Some theologians have suggested that Satan, as the arrogant angel, assumed his rightful place as what was given to Jesus by the Father, and that Jesus' birth was the Event which denied Satan that position, taking what as perhaps subdued discontent to overt rebellion.

Following the birth of Jesus, the next major encounter with Satan is Jesus' Temptation at the start of his earthly ministry. The text portrays Satan as a being who owns the kingdoms of the world, desperate to keep it for himself. He is no longer a servant of God's justice but is in open rebellion, seeking to disrupt God's plans for his people and his world.

These themes develop further through Jesus words in the gospel texts and even more so in the epistles of the New Testament. In one sense, Satan is perceived as being marginal because the theology of the New Testament assumes that Satan has already been defeated through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Though he still operates as an enemy to the purposes of God, his efforts are ultimately futile.

At the end of history, again referencing the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Satan suffers the same eternal damnation that all enemies of God suffer and has no place or role within the New Heaven and New Earth of the Resurrection.

Related passages

  • Gen. 3:1-7
  • Acts 19:13-19
  • Lev. 19:26,31
  • 2 Cor. 10:3-5
  • Lev.20:6
  • 2 Cor. 11:2
  • Deut. 18:9-13
  • Eph. 6:10-18
  • Is. 14
  • Col. 2:15
  • Ezek. 28

  • 1 Thess. 2:18

  • Mt. 12:22-29
  • 1 Thess. 3:5
  • Mt. 13:19; 36-43
  • 2 Tim. 2:26
  • Mt. 17:19,20
  • Heb. 2:14
  • Mk. 5:1-13
  • James 4:7
  • Mk. 9:28,29
  • 1 Pet. 5:8,9

  • Lk. 4:1-13

  • 1 Jn. 4:4
  • Jn. 8:44
  • Rev. 12:4,10,11
  • Jn. 10:10
  • Rev. 13:4,11
  • Jn. 13:2,27
  • Rev. 20:1-3, 7-10
  • Acts 5:3

See also

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