The concept of the devil is problematic.
Some blame every little thing on him—every thought, every bump in the road, every muscle spasm. They strap on their spiritual armor in the morning, and go to bed with dents and bruises at night. One starts to wonder if such a perspective can only weaken their faith in God, and dull their sense of personal responsibility.
Others ignore the devil completely. I attended a Presbyterian Church for seven years. Satan was rarely, if ever, a part of the conversation. Why? Despite the witness of the New Testament that Christ came to lay down his life and take it up again that he might dethrone the ruler of this world who blinds the minds of the unbelieving [II Cor. 4:4, I John 3:8, Matt. 13:44-46, etc.], there is just no elbow room in the TULIP for the devil.
One can empathize with both views. All the New Testament writers were very serious about the devil and his power, and gave strict warnings and battle plans. But we can’t blame all the evil of this world on a fallen angel, can we? What about human depravity? Total human depravity.
There is also the issue of logic: Can a creature ever be a genuine threat to its all-powerful Creator? If the earth is God’s footstool, all he has to do is look down, find the guy with the pitchfork, and stomp.
THOUGHTS ON ABSALOM:
Some insight might be gained from the story of David and Absalom.
We know that God often used Israel as a teaser trailer for the Messiah. Think about Jonah going into a fish for three days, then being spit out on land as a testimony to God’s resurrection power. Or Joseph being falsely accused, thrown into prison for three years, then released to sit at Pharaoh’s right hand. Or Moses judging the slave-master of God’s people with a blood sacrifice, leading God’s people through a place of watery death into freedom, then ascending alone into God’s presence on Mt. Sinai before descending again with a set of Laws, a teacher and guide for Israel—crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and Pentecost.
There are many more stories like these, but the story of David and Absalom rarely gets the attention it deserves when it comes to illuminating the natural conflict between Satan and Sovereignty.
Think about it: You have a good king reigning over a good kingdom. You have a prince of that kingdom that has his eye on the throne. Special attention is given to Absalom’s appearance, especially his hair [II Sam. 14:25-26]. He is described as a man of power [15:1], and a man who used his power and charm to woo the citizens of Israel away from their allegiance to David [15:2-6]. Sound familiar? If not, read the description of Lucifer in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28.
What does David do about this rebellion? Does he have the authority or the power to stop his son from taking over Jerusalem? Of course. So why doesn’t he?
Just ask Luke Skywalker.
When it came time for the battle, David left Jerusalem, unwilling to fight his own son. Even when Absalom is defeated, hung from a tree by his own arrogance (can the analogy get any clearer?), David does not rejoice. He mourns.
There are times when God has to remind his rebellious children who is in charge. He puts his foot down. He sends people to their rooms. Does that mean he revels in his power, desperate for glory? No. Jesus claimed to be meek and humble in heart, the personification of Love. He is slow to anger, not willing for any to perish, dispelling justice in his own way in his own time.
Meekness is not the same as weakness. The same love that embraces and comforts will challenge and defend, even at great personal expense.
THOUGHTS ON LION TAMING:
If God is so loving, why would he cast the devil and his angels to earth after their rebellion? Why not create hell, put them in, and lock the doors, sparing humanity millennia of heartache and tragedy?
First it’s important to think clearly about heaven, earth and hell:
- Heaven is a spiritual place where God rules absolutely.
- Hell is a spiritual place prepared for the devil and his angels [Matt. 25:41]. Think of it as a prison for heavenly rebels.
- The earth is a physical place for human beings to fill and rule over [Gen. 1:28]. That’s why Adam named the animals, not God.
When Jesus prays for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, he reveals that God’s rule there is not the same as it is here. In Scripture, the barrier between the worlds is presented as a flaming sword guarding the entrance to Eden, or as a veil in the temple. That was the same veil that was torn when Christ—the self-proclaimed stairway to heaven—was crucified.
Think of the universe as God’s house, and hell and the earth as separate rooms built for separate people. Adam and Eve were given their own room, and told to keep it clean. Apparently Satan was allowed to go in there. He lied to Eve, she took the bait, and God’s been urging humans to clean up their room ever since.
Was Eve capable of resisting the devil? Of course. She knew what she was supposed to do. When Jesus, the second Adam, walked the earth, he told demons what to say and where to go. Eve had the same authority.
So how did Satan become the ruler of this world? I like to use the analogy of a lion and a lion tamer: Put the two of them in a cage. Who is the superior creature? Now take the whip away.
The devil is not the ruler of this world because God put him in charge. The devil is the ruler of this world because, after the Fall, he became the strongest creature on the planet. As long as the relationship between God and man remains severed, the devil remains in control. But if that relationship is restored, the devil loses his grip.
Jesus became a man in order to legitimately get the whip back into the hands of his lion tamers. He did for humanity what humanity could not do for itself, restoring the relationship with God that allows humans to reclaim their position as spirit-filled physical beings, able to fulfill their Biblical mandate to fill the earth and subdue it.
Revelation 20:10 – 21:5 presents us with our ultimate hope:
Put simply, the devil will be cast off the earth, and not allowed to return. Earth and heaven will be rejoined, like a bride to a bridegroom, and God and man will share the same space once again. He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or pain.
Then the One who sits on the throne will declare: “Behold, I make all things new.”