Satan in the New Testament

The Bible has a consistent message from the beginning to end. God is the author, and He knew all things from the very beginning of Creation (Isaiah 46:10). In our previous investigation we considered the following points about ‘satan’ from the Old Testament:

  • ‘Satan’ is a Hebrew word that has been transliterated into English and into the Greek New Testament.
  • The word ‘satan’ means an opponent or adversary.
  • Satan can be ‘an adversary’ for good or for bad purposes.
  • The term ‘satan’ has been applied to the actions of angels, men and even in one instance – God.

For this investigation, we will consider how the word “satan” is used in the New Testament. The words devil, satan and demons occur much more frequently in the NT than they do in the OT, and there is a very important reason for this.

IS ‘SATAN’ USED OF HUMANS?

In the New Testament, is the word ‘satan’ applied to men or women, like it is in the Old Testament?

Yes – Peter! In Matthew 16:23 and Mark 8:33:

“But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” Mark 8:33

By suggesting that Jesus should avoid going up to Jerusalem to be killed, Peter was being an adversary to Jesus. So, Jesus calls him “Satan” because that is exactly what he was at that moment! Peter tried to stop him, out of love for his Master, but nevertheless, Peter was opposing Christ’s resolve to go through with his painful mission from God. A friend’s appeal would be harder for Jesus to resist than if one of his enemies had suggested it, so Jesus speaks harshly to Peter.

With this basic understanding that “satan” is used to describe an adversary, and in particular anything that opposes the will of God working in our life, let’s look at how else this word is used.

THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

Immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit from God, Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by ‘the adversary’ – satan – also referred to as ‘the devil’ (meaning ‘a traducer, false accuser or slanderer’) We read about this in Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:9-13; and Luke 4:1-13.

“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Luke 4:8

Before considering who or what is tempting Jesus, consider these principles:

  • We know that Christ was tempted just like us, from Hebrews 4:14-15:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

  • How are we tempted? By our own lusts! Temptation is not sin – giving in to temptation is sinful.

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James 1:14-15

  • We are tempted by our own hearts!

“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:21-23

  • Just as we find in the OT, the Bible tells us it is the ‘imaginations’ of our heart (human nature) that cause us to go astray. Our nature is our own worst enemy or adversary (i.e. satan)! It is this nature that we battle against in our striving to serve the Lord, as Paul writes:

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
Romans 7:14-25

Remember, that just before Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness, he had been given the spirit of God at his baptism (Luke 3:22; 4:1). He suddenly had supernatural power at his fingertips. Any human being, ‘tempted as we are’, would immediately battle within themselves over how to use such power. Is it right to use God’s Holy Spirit to create bread out of rocks for your own indulgence? Is it right to use God’s power for a supernatural rescue? And for Jesus, especially, who knew the expectations of all the Jewish people was that their Messiah would conquer the Romans and restore Israel’s dynasty – was it right to use God’s power to take the Kingdom before the Cross? All these temptations and others occurred in his life at later times, so it was important for Jesus to determine how he would overcome, before he faced these trials.

  • FOOD – It was not right to use God’s power for selfish ends, but it was good to feed multitudes – Matthew 14:15-23
  • SPECTACULAR RESCUES – Jesus did not allow himself to be thrown off a hill – Luke 4:28-31
    • Jesus chose not to use God’s angel army to avoid the Cross – Matthew 26:52-54
  • KINGSHIP BEFORE THE CROWN – Jesus escaped from those who wanted to make him king by force – John 6:14-16

It is possible that the ‘devil’ or ‘satan’ in Luke 4, could be an acquaintance who was suggesting these possibilities to Jesus – but this is certainly not necessary. If Jesus ‘was tempted like us’, his own human nature was very capable of enticing him with all these options and more. Jesus came to ‘destroy the devil’ in his death (Hebrew 2:14-15). His victory also involved never giving into the internal adversary in his life. The New Testament is about Jesus’ ultimate battle against sin – in all its manifestations – in order that he could be the perfect sacrifice that God required to save the world.

SATAN IN PARABLES

The Sower

In the well-known Parable of the Sower, Jesus used “satan” as a symbol for whatever opposes the ability of God’s Word to take root in our lives and produce fruit. 

“And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.” Mark 4:15

The record in Matthew 13:19 uses the Greek word “poneros”, translated “wicked” instead of “satan”, indicating that the adversary is whatever evil, malicious, harmful or lewd thing keeps us from accepting the Gospel message. As we have seen earlier it is our own deceitful heart that does this quite well!

The parallel account of this parable in Luke 8:12, uses the Greek word “diabolos” to explain what hinders the growth of the Word in a person’s life. It is translated ‘devil’ in most Bibles, and we will focus on ‘The Devil in the New Testament’ in a separate study. Suffice it to say here, that in this parable Jesus links “satan” and the “devil”. As we have seen, this represents those things or individuals which make it difficult for the seed of God’s word to take root in our lives. So, the “diabolos” is another way of describing this impediment.

Beelzebub

In another incident the Scribes accused Jesus of being able to perform miracles because he was possessed by ‘Beelzebub’ – a Philistine idol, meaning, ‘Lord of the fly’, or the ‘dung god’. Jesus did not directly correct their false beliefs, but rather showed the ridiculousness of their argument by stating the obvious, in a parable:

“And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?” Matthew 12:26

“And he called them [unto him], and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan?” Mark 3:23

“And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.” Mark 3:26

“If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub.” Luke 11:18

Jesus used parabolic and symbolic language to debunk the Scribes’ theory that he was possessed by the ‘the chief of the devils,’ and to show them clearly his main point, “But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” (Luke 11:20) That is, Jesus has power and authority from God over all other forces – imaginary or real, so therefore, his claims of divine sonship are true. He is the Messiah!

HOW DOES SATAN ‘ENTER’, ‘POSSESS’ OR ‘TEMPT’ PEOPLE?

How then can we understand language that seems to indicate that “satan” enters, possesses, or tempts people?

If “satan” is representative of human nature – our fleshly desires that are an adversary, opponent or enemy to following God and His Son – then the following incidents make sense:

Judas the Betrayer

We cannot know for certain what motivated Judas to betray his master, but circumstances right before the Last Supper may have stirred up greed and pride.

In two places the scriptures describe this process as “satan entering him”.

“Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve.” Luke 22:3

“And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.” John 13:27

By comparing the Gospel records in Mark 14:1-11 and John 12:1-10, we can see that it was Judas who complained about the waste of money when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with costly ointment. Jesus had to harshly rebuke him, and it was immediately after this that Judas “went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.” The anger he felt over the waste/loss of money, and his own hurt pride may have led to his evil decision to betray his master.  ‘Satan’ here could be Judas’ own lustful desires.

It is also possible that the enemies of Jesus (his adversaries) had planted a seed in Judas’ mind that bore fruit after the incident with Mary anointing Jesus. His own wrongful desires and the enticement to follow the schemes of the Pharisees, may be referred to as “satan entering into Judas”.

“Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people. Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money.” Luke 22:1-5

From the passage above, it seems the Chief priests and Pharisees were looking for a weak link in the group of disciples and may have even tried to compromise Peter. Later on, in the same chapter Jesus says:

“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:” Luke 22:31

 It should be noted here that the ‘you’ in this passage is plural and refers to the whole group of disciples. Jesus’ enemies were using any means possible to undermine his work. It seems they did get through to Judas. Jesus had been praying that his disciples might overcome! “But I have prayed for thee [Peter], that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Luke 22:32

Satan and Ananias

Understanding ‘satan’ – the adversary – as a representation of human fleshly desires and lusts would also fit with the account of Ananias and Sapphira. This couple sold their land and pretended to give ALL the proceeds to the Church, when in fact they kept some back for their own use. Again, this action was motivated by a combination of greed and pride – wanting to ‘look good’ in front of the others.

“But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” Acts 5:3

Peter goes on to say, “why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart (verse 4), which links the description of satan filling our heart to a decision to give in to the wrongful desires of our heart.

THE ENEMY OF THE CHURCH

The concept that the Pharisees – and other adversaries to the work of the Lord – are referred to as “satan,” helps to explain passages that refer to the enemy of the Church in the First Century.

 “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” Romans 16:20

The believers in the Roman church were encouraged to stay strong and be patient, being assured that God was going to relieve them soon. With persecution by the likes of Emperor Nero who hauled faithful believers off to the Colosseum to face the lions, such encouragement would be well received!

It is also interesting that Paul uses the phrase “bruise satan under your feet”, since one of the greatest prophecies about Messiah in the Bible is in Genesis 3:15, which promises that one day the ‘Seed of the Woman’ [Jesus the Messiah] would bruise the serpent [fleshly thinking that opposes God] on its head, while sustaining a temporary wound to his own heel – an apt description of crushing a snake on its head while it bites you! This Jesus did to his own human nature by never sinning in his life and being faithful to endure a tortuous crucifixion as an innocent man. Death was only a temporary blow to his ‘heel’ as he was resurrected to immortality three days later. As an ‘immortal’ he will never be tempted to sin again – that battle is over! This is how Jesus “destroyed him that has the power of death, that is the devil”! Hebrews 2:14.

There are many instances where the enemies of the Church are referred to as ‘satan’ (2 Cor. 11:14; 1 Thess.2:18; 2 Thess. 2:9; 1 Tim. 5:15; Rev. 2:9; 13,24; 3:9) Sometimes the most dangerous enemy comes from within the group! When the ‘satan’ or adversary talks and acts like a believer ‘transformed into an angel of light’ the result can be devastating for the church. In such cases drastic measures must be taken.

SATAN IN MARRIED LIFE

Practicing abstinence in marriage may have some spiritual benefit, but Paul warns:

 “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (ESV) 1 Corinthians 7:5

This is a good description of the weakness of human nature, that despite the best of intentions and spiritual devotions, a lack of self-control could be disastrous!

So, we are warned and encouraged to be vigilant and mindful of our weak natures that oppose the will of God in our lives. Jesus himself knew this and said, “The sprit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41), so he told his disciples they needed to ‘watch and pray.’

Paul put it this way when speaking about the importance of forgiveness and not holding grudges. “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” 2 Corinthians 2:11

DISFELLOWSHIP FROM THE BODY OF BELIEVERS

If a believer was acting or teaching in a way that was detrimental to the overall health of the church, or endangering their own personal salvation, Paul is inspired to command the church to ‘deliver such a person to satan’. This seems counterintuitive if ‘satan’ was the arch-enemy of God! Wouldn’t you want to protect weak believers from ‘satan’?

 “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 5:5

 “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” 1 Timothy 1:20

And surely you wouldn’t send someone to ‘satan’ to learn NOT to blaspheme!

What then can this mean, and does it relate to what we have seen so far?

When someone is doing something that harms the ‘body of Christ’ – the assembly of believers, or themselves – he or she needs to understand the seriousness of the infraction. Since they are following their own lust or pride, to be ‘delivered to satan’ means to be left to their own devices. Hopefully, when they realize that their thoughts and actions are contrary to the commands of Christ, and when they see the fruitlessness of their behaviour and begin to miss the fellowship of true believers, they will humble themselves, repent and return to God’s family. This was Paul’s hope and the reason for the command.

SICKNESS AND DISEASE

A sad manifestation of our fallen state (sinfulness) is disease and sickness. Paul spoke of a time after we are raised from the dead when this ‘mortal’ and ‘corruptible’ body puts on ‘immortality’ and ‘incorruption’. As such, it is appropriate to refer to such ‘fallenness’ as the work of ‘satan’, since it is sin that leads to death.  

 “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” Luke 13:16

 “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” 2 Corinthians 12:7

In the case of Paul, he knew the Lord was in control, and he asked that the impediment might be removed. We are not sure what his ‘thorn in the flesh’ was, but it was hindering his work, like an adversary or opponent – a ‘satan’. Some have suggested he had weak eyes, as it seems that others penned his words for him in all the Epistles. Paul accepted the Lord’s will in this matter, “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

What then did Jesus mean when he said: “And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” Luke 10:18

The context of this verse is the disciples rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit through them to heal people. Jesus knew that his life, death and resurrection was the solution to the painful affects of the introduction of sin and death in the Garden of Eden, including the devastation of sickness and disease. He could already see the beginning of his victory in the testimony of his disciples. The ‘reign’ of sin (the greatest adversary to mankind) was coming to an end. Through Jesus we will sing the victory song, “Oh, Death where is thy sting? Oh, Grave where is thy victory?!” This is the fall of “satan”, which began with Jesus’ ministry and will be fully accomplished when he returns.

THE INFLUENCE OF SATAN RESTRAINED IN THE MILLENIUM

When Jesus returns to establish God’s Kingdom on earth, he will reign in righteousness and justice over all the nations who survive Armageddon. The immortalized saints will help him rule and administer righteous judgement. As such the effects of sinfulness, lust, pride and corruption will be mitigated. Although there will still be a mortal population on the earth for 1000 years, the influence of sin will be restrained. In symbolic language the Apostle John is inspired to write about this in the following way:

“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Revelation 12:9

When Jesus establishes his throne, all other powers of men (democracy, dictatorship, communism, etc) will be ‘cast out’ of power – symbolically sent as it were from ‘heaven’ to ‘earth’.

 “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,” Revelation 20:2

This is the restraining influence of the righteous reign of Jesus.

 “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,” Revelation 20:7

It would seem that at the end of the Millennium, freedom is once again given to the inhabitants of the earth for some form of ‘self-rule’. Perhaps Christ and the Saints take a step back for a time to see what choices everyone will make.

It would be appropriate to show once and for all, that even with the benefit of righteous rulers, and a correct understanding of God’s ways, peace, a beautiful and restored earth, human nature will still rebel against God and think that ‘they can do better’ and show resentment against the Lord by trying to assert their power over him. History repeats itself one last time before being crushed so that finally “God can be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

CONCLUSION

“Satan” in the New Testament is the same as ‘satan’ in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word ‘satan’ has been transliterated into the Greek and into English. ‘Satan’ is an adversary or an opponent. This adversary can come from our own nature (sinful human nature and it’s associated lusts) that tempts us to disobey God and follow our own ways. We are sometime our own worst enemy!

“Satan” can also be something or someone external to us. It can be an individual who tries to oppose us or hinder our walk of faith – like Peter to Jesus. Also when human nature becomes stirred up in a group (like the Pharisees’ opposition to Christ) then that group or power can be rightly called “satan”.

What the Bible does not teach is that ‘satan’ is a fallen supernatural angel; such a concept would diminish the power of God and call into question His sovereignty.

“I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
Isaiah 45:5-7

Click here for a Discovery Lesson on ‘Satan in the New Testament’.

We will look at the Devil and Demons, separately, in future blogs, God Willing.

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