Satan the Proud and Powerful (Part 1)
Where did the idea of a red-flanneled, pitchfork-bearing Devil come from? The roots of this grotesque caricature of Satan are found in the Middle Ages. It was popular sport in medieval days to mock the Devil by describing him in ludicrous terms. There was a method in this madness. The medieval church believed in the reality of Satan. It was aware that Satan was a fallen angel who suffered from an overdose of pride. Pride was Satan’s supreme weakness. To resist Satan, that proud but fallen creature, required fierce combat. The combat focused on Satan’s most vulnerable point, his pride. The theory was this: Attack Satan at his point of weakness and he will flee from us.
What better way to attack Satan’s pride than to depict him as a cloven-hoofed court jester in a red suit? These silly images of Satan were intentional caricatures. Unfortunately, later generations responded to the caricatures as if they were intended to be the real thing.
The biblical view of Satan is far more sophisticated than the caricature. The biblical images include that of an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The “angel of light” image indicates Satan’s clever ability to manifest himself sub species boni (under the appearances of good). Satan is subtle. He is beguiling. The serpent in the garden was described as “crafty” (Genesis 3:1). Satan does not appear as a fool. He is a beguiling counterfeit. He speaks with eloquence. His appearance is stunning. The prince of darkness wears a cloak of light.
A second image we have of Satan is that of a roaring lion who goes about seeking whom he will devour (1 Peter 5:8). Notice that the same figure that is used for Christ, the lion, is used by Satan, the archetype of the Antichrist. The anti-lion devours. The Lion of Judah redeems.
With both allusions to the lion we find a symbol of strength, though with Satan it is an evil, demonic strength. His strength is no match for Christ, but it is a strength that is certainly superior to ours. He is not as strong as Christ, but he is stronger than we are.
There are two frequent ways that Satan deceives us. On the one hand he will seek to have us underestimate his strength. On the other hand there are times that he seeks to have us overestimate his strength. In either event he deceives us and can trip us up.
The pendulum of popular belief about Satan tends to swing between two extremes. On one side there are those who believe that he doesn’t exist at all, or if he does exist. he is a mere impersonal evil “force,” sort of a collective evil that finds its origin in the sin of society. On the other side there are those who have a preoccupied fixation, a cultic focus of attention upon him that diverts their gaze from Christ.
Either way Satan gains some ground. If he can persuade people that he does not exist, he can work his wiles without being detected or resisted. If he can get people to become preoccupied with him, he can lure them into the occult.
Peter underestimated Satan. When Jesus warned Peter about his impending betrayal, Peter protested, saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). Peter was overconfident. He underestimated the strength of the adversary Moments before Jesus had warned him about the strength of Satan, but Peter rejected the warning. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31).
Peter’s protests notwithstanding, he became as putty in the hands of Satan. It was as easy for Satan to seduce Peter as it is to sift wheat in a sieve. In common jargon it was as if Jesus said to Peter, “Peter, you are a piece of cake. You are no match for the formidable strength of the Devil.”
Even so, Satan’s power over us is limited. He may be stronger than we are, but we have a champion who can and does defeat him. The Scripture declares, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, NASB). James adds these words: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). When we resist the roaring lion in the power of the Holy Spirit, he runs away with his tail between his legs.
Satan sifted Peter, but his victory was temporary. With the warning Jesus gave came also the consolation: But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32). Jesus predicted both the fall and the restoration of Peter.
To underestimate Satan is to suffer from the pride that goes before destruction. To overestimate him is to grant him more honor and respect than he deserves.
Satan is a creature. He is finite and limited. He is subordinate to God. Christianity never embraces an ultimate dualism of equal and opposite power. Satan is stronger than men but no match for God. He has no divine attributes. His knowledge may exceed ours, but he is not omniscient. His strength may be greater than ours, but he is not omnipotent. He may have a wider sphere of influence than we have, but he is not omnipresent.
Satan is stronger than men but no match for God.
Satan cannot be at more than one place at one time. He is a space-time creature who is limited, as are all angels good or bad, by space and time. Chances are that in your whole lifetime you will never experience a direct, immediate encounter with Satan himself. You might encounter one of his junior-grade lieutenants or one of his host of disciples, but he is likely to spend his time and space in bigger targets than you or me. Even in his concentrated attack on Jesus, Satan departed from him “for a season” (Luke 4:13).
To be continued…