The Subtle Strategies of Satan

Satan's Origin and Fall

Ezekiel 28:11-19

Teaching t07967


We begin a series on Satan. He has made a modest comeback in American culture over the past 25 years, although in the mid-1990's only one-third of all Americans believed in his literal, personal existence.1 And even among those who believe in Satan, there are a wide variety of beliefs about how he operates, as this brief video demonstrates. (Chris Lang, our video man, makes a cameo appearance at the end.)

This series has a very simple and practical goal: to learn from the Bible the main ways that Satan operates, and how we can overcome him.

If you were hoping to hear me repeat the cultural party line that Satan is just a psychological construct or symbol of evil, you'll be disappointed. The Bible has proven to be a far more reliable guide than the shifting currents of American opinion—and it insists from beginning to end (including Jesus and every New Testament author) that Satan is a real, living, virulent being.

If you were hoping to learn about some vast new conspiracy of Satan-worshipers or some dramatic new means of demon-identification and exorcism, you'll be disappointed. You should stick with Hollywood or best-selling Christian fiction. Although Satan sometimes operates in dramatic ways, most of his activity is far more subtle (GUERILLA WARFARE).

Our base text will be a passage in Revelation that speaks to both of these issues in 3 simple verses. We'll survey that passage at the end of today's teaching. But before we do that, I want to spend most of today's time distilling a broader biblical overview of Satan. Let's call it Satanology 101 . . . 

Satan's origin

"Satan" means "adversary." He is God's ultimate adversary. But has he always been God's adversary? And if not, how did he become this? The Bible doesn't give us as much information on this as we might like. But there is one passage in particular that seems to address these questions to some degree—and it capsulizes information that we learn from other passages. It is found in Ezek. 28:11-19—God's lament over the "king of Tyre."

Read 28:11-12. Why should we not assume that this lament is over the human king of Tyre? We should—unless there are compelling reasons not to. Consider these three:

God has already addressed the human ruler of Tyre ("prince") in 28:1-10, where he rebukes him for his pride and announces judgment upon him. This implies that the "king of Tyre" is another entity.

The "king of Tyre" was the name of the false god Melkart (which literally means "king of the city"), who demanded child-sacrifices, and of which the human ruler was a priest. In other words, God is now addressing the evil spiritual being who stands behind and has energized the human ruler to follow the same course he has followed.

As will be apparent by reading the lament, no human being fits this description. It is clear that God is addressing some great spirit being whose career both pre-dates and dwarfs any human ruler.

In the verses that follow, God laments the fall of this great spiritual being (read 28:13-19). If this passage is about Satan (and I think it is), we learn several important foundational facts about him that correct popular misconceptions.

We learn that he is a created being (28:13,15)—not the metaphysical opposite of God, an all-powerful evil being who is locked in eternal opposition to God. Satan is a creature; he had a beginning, and he is finite. There is no spiritual dualism, as in Taoism (yin-yang) or Zorastrianism or "Star Wars" ("The Force"). This is why John reminds us, "Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 Jn. 4:4).

We also learn in 28:14 that he is an angelic creature. The term "cherub" refers not to a winged baby in diapers, but to a class of powerful angels whose appearance totally undid Ezekiel (1:28; 10:22). The fact that God calls him the "anointed" cherub who "covers" ("guards") indicates that he is a very high (perhaps the highest) angelic being ever created by God. Other passages (Rev. 12:4,7,9; Jude 1:9) also suggest this. Apart from God's authority, we are absolutely no match for him.

We also learn in 28:12, 15 that he has not always been evil—that he was created perfect in beauty, wisdom and morality. This makes sense, since God is good and creates only good things. He had unique access to God's presence ("Eden" as "Paradise," the presence of God), and evidently led the rest of the angels in their worship of God.

How then did he become evil? Not because of a negative environment or because of a design flaw, but by his own unprogrammed choice to revolt against God's rulership (28:15,16a,17a,18a). The reference to the abundance of his trade is ambiguous. Another passage (1 Tim. 3:6) suggests that it may refer to the praise of other spirit beings directed through him to God. After a period of internal upheaval, he chose to become ego-centric, slander God ("devil" means "slanderer") and become his adversary ("Satan"). He persuaded one-third of the angelic beings to join him (Rev. 12:4,7)—which are evidently the "demons" mentioned in the Bible. God cast him (and them) from his role and presence (28:16b).

Finally, there is no doubt about his final destiny. His defeat and destruction are so certain that God describes this in the "prophetic past tense" (28:17b,18b,19), even though it hints that this defeat is still future (28:19b; Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).

An overview of Satan's career

However, between Satan's fall and his final doom stretches his long career as God's adversary. The Bible does not tell us why God did not terminate him at the moment of his revolt. Perhaps he is letting Satan play out his hand to refute his slander for the benefit of the angels, and so that in the ages to come all creatures will see the folly of his slander and revolt. (Maybe this is why God's eternal kingdom will never experience another revolt, even though its inhabitants will have free will.) There are hints to this effect—but only hints. The Bible is much more focused on getting us into God's kingdom than on answering these questions. What is clear is that he is the main antagonist in the plot line of the Bible. He continues to oppose God, but God always foils his opposition. This theme has four main movements . . . 

He led the human race into ruin—but God had a plan of deliverance.

Satan was there when God created the first humans, and lavished goodness upon them, and clearly explained the purpose of their existence (to follow him in the context of a personal love-trust relationship). Satan seduced them into following his revolt by declaring that God was suppressing them and by suggesting that self-rule, self-deification is the key to human fulfillment. But the result was not a leap upward; it was a fall downward, breaking the good world God gave them, separating them from God and bringing them under bondage to the one they chose to obey.

But God was not surprised. No sooner did they fall than God began to disclose his rescue plan, which centered around the coming of God's chosen King from his chosen people, the nation of Israel.

He tried to destroy God's people—but God faithfully preserved them.

Satan tried in various ways to destroy the Jewish people: absorbing them into other idolatrous peoples, sending them false prophets with misinformation about God, hatching plans to annihilate them, etc. What is the explanation for the terrible legacy of anti-Semitism? Behind the human explanations, it is ultimately demonic.

But against all odds, God preserved them from extinction, and re-established them in their land in time for the birth of his promised Deliverer, Jesus of Nazareth.

He put God's King to death—but God turned his death into our deliverance.

Satan unloaded all his guns on Jesus—although not in ways that would make an exciting Hollywood movie. He tried to have him killed at his birth, he tried to tempt him into rebellion at the beginning of his ministry, he opposed him through his demons all through his public ministry, and he worked through Judas to deliver him up to death on the cross. As Jesus hung there, rejected by his own people, Satan gloated in his victory.

But the moment of his greatest triumph out to be the cause of his defeat. Jesus' death turned out to be God's plan all along—predicted cryptically in the Old Testament as the way in which God would pay for the guilt of humanity's rebellion. Jesus' death, far from sealing humanity's doom, became humanity's exit ticket from Satan's kingdom. And because Jesus' death was God's will, death couldn't hold him. He rose from the dead and to personally deliver all who turn to him (Col. 1:13,14; Acts 26:18).

This is where it gets personal. Because Jesus is as alive today as he was 2000 years ago. And he wants to know if you will let him deliver you from Satan's kingdom into God's kingdom. He died to pay for your sins, and he rose to reconcile you to God, so you can experience God's forgiveness and love and guidance and transforming power. He wants you to entrust your life to him and follow him into God's purpose for your life. The alternative is to remain in a kingdom of death—living in spiritual darkness, alienated from God, destined for eternal judgment. I have lived in both kingdoms, and I can tell you that there is no comparison. What is your response to Jesus' invitation? Will you entrust yourself to him as your Deliverer? Why not do this today—this moment?

You may be thinking, "But I don’t even know if I believe in Satan." God doesn't require you to believe in Satan. He requires you to admit that you are alienated from him and to trust his Son to fix that problem. Besides, if you trust Christ, you'll wind up believing in Satan because you'll experience his attacks . . . 

He attacks Jesus' followers—but God gives them the resources to overcome him.

If you receive Jesus and share him with others, you are a threat to Satan. He knows he cannot bring you back into his kingdom—but he will try to neutralize you so don't influence others to follow your exit. This is why most of us don't personally experience his activity until after we come to Christ and begin walking with him. Before, we were drifting with the current; now we are swimming against it and helping others to shore.

Let's turn now to the passage that will become our best text over the next four weeks—Rev. 12. The apostle John received a vision that includes many of the themes we have just covered. Read Rev. 12:1-10.

Notice the themes: Satan's attempt to destroy Jesus at his birth, Jesus' victory and ascension, the defection of one-third of the angels, the ultimate victory of God's kingdom over Satan's.

Notice also the three terms used to describe Satan as he attacks Jesus' followers: he is the Dragon who devours, the Serpent who deceives, and the accuser of the brethren. 12:11 tells us how we may defeat each of these attacks (in reverse order): we overcome the accuser by the blood of the Lamb, we overcome the Serpent by the word of our testimony, and we overcome the Dragon by not loving our lives even to death.

Over the next four teachings, we will take a close and practical look at each of these forms of attack and each of God's counter-measures. We'll begin next week with the accuser . . . 

If you want to do some supplemental reading on this series' subject, I recommend C. S. Lewis' classic, The Screwtape Letters.


1 This in spite of the fact that two-thirds of all Americans claimed to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches! See George Barna, Virtual America (Ventura: Regal Books, 1994), pp. 116,117.