2-1-3 Satan In The Gospels
Keeping that in mind, let's turn to the Gospels to see what role Satan plays in them. We first meet the devil in the wilderness temptations of Jesus. In Mark chapter 1, verses 12 and 13, we read:
At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
Now many of our Christadelphian friends will tell us that the devil who tempted Jesus here was actually Jesus' own human nature. In his debate with Pastor Jeff Fletcher, Duncan Heaster said that " these temptations were going on within the mind of Christ." He argued that the devil was a personification of sin, not a literal person.
But how well does that interpretation square with the facts? Remember that in the Old Testament, the word 'Satan' always refers to an external person. Now, suddenly, we are asked to believe that this 'Satan' is an internal temptation. But clearly, Satan is no less literal than the wild animals or the angels Mark talks about in his account of the temptations.
Incidentally, I'd like to point out that according to verse 12, it was the Spirit who sent Jesus into the desert to be tempted. Remember what we said earlier about the devil unwittingly serving the purposes of God; God wanted the devil to test Jesus.
This story is more clearly spelled out in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both Matthew and Luke record three specific temptations. I'd like to read Luke's account, which is found in chapter 4 verses 1 through 13:
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, " If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."
Jesus answered, " It is written, Man does not live on bread alone."
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, " I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours."
Jesus answered, " It is written, Worship the Lord your God and serve him only."
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. " If you are the Son of God," he said, " throw yourself down from here. For it is written, He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."
Jesus answered, " It says, " Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.”
Now let me tell you how I interpret these verses. I interpret them to mean that the devil approached Jesus in the wilderness and talked to him, trying to tempt or test him. In fact I have little need to elaborate on these verses; I accept them as written.
Our Christadelphian friends, however, do not. Most Christadelphians, as I said, will tell us that this story should not be interpreted literally. Satan, they say, is a personification of sin.
" Personification" is a figure of speech in which something is represented as having human qualities. For example, " Proverbs 9:1 says that " Wisdom has built her house." Now Wisdom is not really a woman, nor she a carpenter; that is a figure of speech. Similarly, our friends argue, the devil here is a figure of speech.
I must go on record as strongly opposing that idea. That interpretation of this passage demonstrates a complete lack of sensitivity to literary styles. Where do we find the language of personification? We find it in poems, parables, allegories, and that sort of literature. But Luke 4 is a historical narrative. We don't find personifications and figures of speech talking to historical persons in historical narratives. Do we ever read of Jesus talking to Miss Bitterness? Do we ever read of Paul going into a city and meeting Mr. Depression? Do we ever read about the apostles travelling through the Swamps of Despair? No, we do not. We expect that sort of thing from a book like " Pilgrim's Progress" , but we don't expect it in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John or Acts.
Christadelphians often try to reinterpret Jesus' wilderness temptations by way of an analogy. According to Hebrews 4: 15, they will point out, Jesus was " tempted in every way, just as we are." Since we don't carry on conversations with the devil when we are tempted, then Christ wasn't literally carrying on a conversation either. But let's follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion. If Hebrews 4: 15 indicates that the circumstances of Jesus' wilderness temptations were exactly like our own, then we could just as well argue that Jesus wasn't really tempted in the wilderness, since most of us don't go out into the wilderness to be tempted.
Let's face it; Hebrews 4 doesn't mean any of that. Hebrews doesn't tell us that the circumstances of Jesus' temptations were identical to our own; it tells us that he was tempted with the same types of temptations with which we are tempted. Hebrews 4: 15 does not argue against a literal interpretation of Jesus' wilderness temptations.
Christadelphians grasp at many other straws to explain this passage away. For example, they may draw our attention to the fact that according to the Bible, the devil took Jesus to the top of a high place where he showed him all the kingdoms of the world. Since it is impossible to really see all the kingdoms of the world from the top of a mountain, they argue, this must not be a literal event. But I think the key to this is found in verse 5. Luke writes, " The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world." The key phrase here is " in an instant." This indicates that what the devil showed Jesus was in fact a vision. Our conclusion is still that the passage is literal; the devil literally took Jesus to a high place and literally showed him a vision of all the kingdoms of the world.
Some Christadelphians have resigned themselves to the inescapable fact that the devil here was really a person who spoke to Christ. For example, in his book " Christendom Astray" , the noted Christadelphian Robert Roberts wrote:
Some think the devil in the case was Christ's own inclinations; but this is untenable in view of the statement that " When the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season, (Luke iv,13). It is also untenable in view of the harmony that existed between the mind of Christ and the will of the Father. (John viii, 29).
Now if the devil of this passage was not Christ's own desires, then who was he? At this point Christadelphians begin grasping at more straws. Some have suggested that the tempter was a Jew, or the high priest, or a Roman soldier. But what Jew or footsoldier had the authority to offer Christ political power and authority? The devil offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. With this thought in mind, Roberts mentions another possibility:
It has been suggested, from the fact that the tempter had power to allot the provinces of the Roman world, that he was as leading functionary of state, or the Roman emperor himself.
This is even more incredible! Jesus had not even begun his ministry. He was unknown in the world. I find it most difficult to believe that the emperor of Rome jumped on a ship and rushed over to dirty old Palestine to offer his kingdom to some Galilean he didn't even know. Personally, I find it must easier to believe that the devil here was a spiritual tempter.
This fact has also been admitted by Christadelphians. For example, in his book " Elpis Israel" , Christadelphian founder John Thomas suggested that the devil in this passage was not one of God's ministering angels, because they don't appear on the scene until after the devil has left. The only viable alternative is to admit that the devil here was an evil spiritual being. In other words, the devil or Satan was really an accuser or adversary and he really approached Jesus and really tempted him.
The many Christadelphian explanations of Luke 4 tell us something about their method of interpretation. Some have said that the devil was Jesus' human nature; some have said that the devil was a Jew; some have said the high priest; some have said a Roman soldier, some have said the Roman emperor; some have said an angel. What do all these interpretations have in common? Nothing, except for the fact that they reveal a remarkable stubbornness to accept the Bible for what it really says. At this point we see that the Christadelphian interpretation of the Bible is determined not by a consistent principle, but thy their theology. This brief exercise proves that if the Bible does not teach the existence of a supernatural devil, then the passages which speak of him cannot be intelligibly understood.
Let's move on to Luke chapter 11 to see what else we can find out about the devil. In this passage, we read that Jesus was casting out demons. Some people then accused him of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus responds in verses 17 and 18:
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, " Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub."
This entire passage revolves around exorcism. Jesus basically argues that it would be stupid for Satan to cast out his own demons. Therefore, it was not Satan's power that he was using. But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, according to Jesus in verse 18, Satan has a spiritual kingdom. He has power and authority and demons who serve him. But Jesus doesn't stop there. He goes on to tell a remarkable parable in verses 21 and 22:
When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.
In this parable, Jesus compares the devil to a strong man, and he describes himself as a stronger person who attacks and overpowers the devil. This is a very important point, and it is reflected in other passages of the Gospels.
For example, in Luke chapter 10 and verse 17, we read: " The seventy-two returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.' He replied, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'"
While the disciples were out exerting authority over the demons, Jesus had seen a vision of Satan falling from heaven. This symbolises the fact that in Jesus' ministry, the power of the devil was being mitigated. Satan had lost his power wherever the work of Jesus was at work.
This same fact is also described in John's Gospel. In John 12:31, Jesus said that " Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out." 'The prince of this world' is Satan, and in John 12 his defeat is tied in with the crucifixion of Christ. We are reminded of Hebrews 2: 14, which says that Jesus destroyed " him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil."
Now we may want to ask the question: When did Jesus defeat the devil? In the wilderness temptations when he proved himself? In his ministry when he and his disciples exerted authority over the demons? In the cross when our salvation was secured? The answer is: All of the above. In Jesus' ministry and crucifixion, the devil was judged and defeated.
If the devil was defeated, why is he still active today? The answer is that although judgment was pronounced and his fate was sealed, and that although his power was limited by Jesus two thousand years ago, he is still allowed to rule his spiritual kingdom and continue his fight until judgment day, when according to Matthew 25:18 he and his evil angels will be thrown into the lake of fire. The decisive battle has been won, but the war continues to rage until Christ's return.
Now this raises another set of questions, which we will deal with as we move on from the Gospels to the rest of the New Testament. In Acts 26: 18 Jesus tells Paul that he is sending him to the Gentiles " to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God." There's the idea of Satan's kingdom once more. The kingdom of the devil is a kingdom of darkness. The same thought is expressed in Colossians 1:13, which says that " he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves." The New Testament tells us about the conflict between good and evil, and it also contrasts this present evil age with the age to come. That's why in 2 Corinthians 4: 4 Paul calls the devil " the god of this age."
Our Christadelphian friends find this language most offensive. Are we resorting to dualism at this point, positing that good and evil are equally-matched forces? This is the charge brought against us. Are we now saying that there is more than one god? That Jehovah is the good God and Satan is the bad god? The answer is, absolutely not.
I agree wholeheartedly that the Bible rejects the sort of dualism that was popular among the Persians. Their idea was that the powers of good are not presently capable of overcoming the powers of evil. They really did believe in a " good god" and a " bad god" who are more or less equally matched. This idea cannot be found in the Scriptures. Remember what I said when I was talking about Job's trials: God is in control, and he not only permits evil, he manipulates it to His end.
However, the New Testament does present us with a mild form of dualism, and I don't think that any of us would deny this. The Bible talks about good and evil, light and darkness. In 2 Corinthians 6, verses 14 through 16, Paul writes:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? (Belial was the name that the Jews used to describe the devil.) What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?
Now Christadelphians argue that if we believe in a supernatural evil person, then we are compromising God's sovereignty. For example, in his debate with Jeff Fletcher three years ago, Mr. Heaster said, " God is all-powerful and...there is no supernatural being at work in this universe that is opposed to Almighty God. As far as I am concerned, if you believe that there is, you are questioning the supremacy of God Almighty." But I would like to pose a question to Mr. Heaster this afternoon. Are there mortal men and women around who are opposed to Almighty God? I think we would all agree that there are. Does this compromise God's supremacy? I think we all agree that it does not.
Then Why Does The Existence Of A Supernatural Opponent Compromise God's Supremacy?
As long as God is Almighty, the devil and all the forces he can muster pose no threat to God. On the contrary, God is in fact manipulating them. That should cause us great comfort. Our destiny is not one huge question mark. Remember " that in all things God works for the good of those who love him."