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In the Judeo Christian tradition, Satan, from the Hebrew word for "adversary," is the principal figure of the demonic world that is hostile to God and his will. In the Old Testament (for example, the Book of Job), Satan is presented as a distinct personality of darkness and accusation - the heavenly prosecutor. A fuller expression of his role is presented in the New Testament, where he is called "the tempter," "the slanderer," "the enemy," "the liar," and "the angel of the bottomless pit." Collectively, these titles present Satan as the one who has the power of death, rules with lies and deception, accuses humankind before God, and opposes the purpose of God in the world (while remaining obedient to God).

The Bible nowhere explains Satan's origin, but in both testaments he is presented as a part of the created order rather than as an eternal entity. Although no explanation is given in the Bible for God's allowing Satan to exist, it does indicate that his time is short (only for this age of time and history) and his end is certain - ultimately he will be banished by the Messiah.

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This concept of a temporal dualism in which Satan has influence is brought to expression most clearly in apocalyptic literature, such as the Book of Revelation. Two ages are reflected in apocalyptic cosmology: "this age" and "the age to come." Satan appears to be prevailing in this age, but in the age to come God will clearly display his sovereignty. In later Christian tradition Satan was described as a fallen angel.

The concept of a leader of the powers of darkness found expression in cultures outside the Hebrew tradition. The Babylonians, Chaldeans, and Persians believed in a dualism between the forces of darkness and light. Ahriman, in Zoroastrianism, and Set, in Egyptian mythology, manifest characteristics similar to Satan's.

Douglas Ezell

E Langton, Satan, A Portrait: A Study of the Character of Satan through all the Ages (1973); T O Ling, The Significance of Satan (1961); J B Russell, Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World (1986); W Woods, A History of the Devil (1973).


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Satan (Heb. satan, adversary ). The devil, a high angelic creature who, before the creation of the human race, rebelled against the Creator and became the chief antagonist of God and man. Theologians to a large extent have refused to apply the far-reaching prophecies of Isa. 14:12-14 and Ezek. 28:12-15 to Satan under the contention that they are addressed solely to the king of Babylon in the first instance and to the king of Tyre in the second. Others contend that this interpretation is unwarranted for two reasons. First, it fails to take into account the fact that these prophecies far transcend any earthly ruler and, second, it ignores the close connection Satan has in Scripture with the government of the satanic world system (Dan. 10:13; Eph. 6:12) of which both ancient Babylon and Tyre were an inseparable part. In their full scope these passages paint Satan's past career as "Lucifer" and as "the Anointed Cherub" in his prefall splendor. They portray as well his apostasy in drawing with him a great multitude of lesser celestial creatures (Rev. 12:4), making him "the Evil One" or "the Tempter."

These fallen angels (demons) fit into two classes: those that are free and those that are bound. The former roam the heavenlies with their prince-leader Satan (Matt. 12:24) and as his emissaries are so numerous as to make Satan's power practically ubiquitous. The angels (demons) that are bound are evidently guilty of more heinous wickedness and are incarcerated in Tartarus (II Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Many theologians connect these imprisoned demons with fallen angels who cohabited with mortal women (Gen. 6:1-4).

Satan caused the fall of the human race as "the Serpent" (Gen. 3). His judgment was predicted in Eden (vs. 15), and this was accomplished at the cross (John 12:13-33). As created, his power was second only to God (Ezek. 28:11-16). He is nevertheless only a creature, limited, and permitted to have power by divine omnipotence and omniscience.

The biblical doctrine of Satan is not a copying of Persian dualism as some scholars unsoundly allege. Although Satan, even after his judgment in the cross (Col. 2:15), continues to reign as a usurper (II Cor. 4:4), and works in tempting and accusing men (Rev. 12:10), he is to be ousted from the heavenlies (vss. 7-12) as well as the earth (5:1-19:16), and is to be confined to the abyss for a thousand years (20:1-3).

When released from the abyss at the end of the thousand years, he will make one last mad attempt to lead his armies against God (Rev. 20:8-9). This will result in his final doom when he is cast into the lake of fire (vs. 10), which has been prepared for him and his wicked angelic accomplices (Matt. 25:41). This will be the one place where evil angels and unsaved men will be kept and quarantined so that the rest of God's sinless universe will not be corrupted in the eternal state.

Satan's present work is widespread and destructive. God permits his evil activity for the time being. Demons must do Satan's bidding. The unsaved are largely under Satan's authority, and he rules them through the evil world system over which he is head and of which the unregenerate are a part (Isa. 14:12-17; II Cor. 4:3-4; Eph. 2:2; Col. 1:13).

As far as the saved are concerned, Satan is in continued conflict with them (Eph. 6:11-18), tempts them, and seeks to corrupt and destroy their testimony, and even their physical life (I Cor. 5:5; I John 5:16). Satanic and demonic fury were unleashed against the incarnate Christ. The power of a sinless humanity called forth special satanic temptation of our Lord (Matt. 4:1-11). The full glow of light manifested in the earthly life of him who was "the light of the world" (John 8:12) exposed the darkness of the powers of evil. This is the explanation of the unprecedented outburst of demonism that is described in the Gospel narratives. It was because God anointed Jesus of Nazareth "with the Holy Spirit and with power" that he "went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10:38).

M F Unger
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, II, 33-98; W. Robinson, The Devil and God; E. Langton, Satan: A Portrait; H. Bietenhard et al., NIDNTT, III, 468ff.; E. Lewis, The Creator and the Adversary; D. W. Pentecost, Your Adversary, the Devil; G. von Rad and W. Foerster, TDNT, II, 71ff.; R. S. Kluger, Satan in the OT; F. A. Tatford, The Prince of Darkness.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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