Satan.1 What kind of images does that name conjure up for you? Some kind of evil red creature with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork? A cute child dressed in a red cape, ringing your doorbell on Halloween?
Well, when I talk about the devil, I mean the personal being whom Christians also know as the great deceiver, the archenemy of God and his people.
Scripture says a lot about Satan’s character and actions—who he is and what he does—but what about his origins? Who made Satan? Where did the devil come from?
A Chatty Snake
The Bible opens with the story of creation, in which God speaks the universe into existence. The first two chapters are a remarkable picture of beauty, order, and wholeness. No wonder God surveys everything he’s crafted—land, plants, animals, and humans—and declares it all to be “very good.”2
Then a snake appears. But this isn’t any ordinary snake. It talks. In fact, it’s quite chatty. Before we know it, this slithering creature has struck up a conversation with Eve, eventually luring both Adam and Eve—and the entire human race—into sin and death.3 As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this ancient serpent is a manifestation of Satan himself.4
From the very beginning of the world, Satan has been in it.
The Genesis of the Devil
The Bible never explicitly tells us where Satan originated. He presumably came into being sometime after the creation of God’s perfect world5 but prior to his serpentine appearance in Eden.6 Despite these unknowns, however, there are some things we can say with certainty.7
God created Satan.
Scripture proclaims that “all things” were created by God and for God.8 It makes sense, therefore, that this comprehensive category—“all things”—includes even the devil.
After all, if God wasn’t responsible for the creation of Satan, then who was? Another powerful being? If so, then that being would—at least in one sphere of existence—be in charge. There would be a realm over which the God of the Bible wouldn’t be in complete control.
God created Satan good.
As the source of all goodness, beauty, and truth, God creates only what is consistent with his nature. That is, God creates only things that are good, beautiful, and true.
Every facet of creation, whether in heaven or on earth, was originally “very good.”9 The Apostle Paul says it clearly: “Everything God created is good.”10 The character of the Creator is entirely pure; there isn’t a shred of darkness within him.11
Obviously, something went wrong.
Some created angels rebelled against God.
Satan was originally created as an angel to serve and glorify God. However, Scripture makes it clear that there was once an angelic revolt against heaven’s King.
On two occasions, the New Testament speaks of a time when angels turned on God and fell into wickedness:
God did not spare [the] angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment.12
The angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.13
Satan has authority in the realm of demons.
As the “prince of demons,” it seems likely that Satan launched and led this heavenly revolt.14 Satan, then, was the first sinner; indeed, he’s “been sinning from the beginning.”15
The devil’s position as captain of the demonic forces is unmistakable. Scripture refers to him as “the evil one,”16 “the ruler of this world,”17 “the god of this age,”18 and “the ruler of the kingdom of the air.”19 We witness him spearheading attacks on God’s people,20 with “power”21 to “bind”22 and “oppress.”23
As theologian Michael Horton explains, “Fallen angels are not treated as evil by creation but as followers of Satan in his mutiny. At one time the most glorious and powerful angelic agent, Satan was filled with pride and plotted the attempted heavenly coup.”24
Satan’s evil came from within himself.
No one was around to tempt or lure Satan into sin; his evil arose from within. It’s not surprising, then, that Jesus would call him “the father of lies” and “a murderer from the beginning”—language hearkening back to the very outset of history.25
Lucifer in the Bible
There is a possible allusion specifically to Satan’s fall from heaven in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. As the prophet is describing God’s judgment on the king of Babylon, he veers into language that seems too grandiose to refer to any mere human:
How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
But you are brought down to the realm of the dead,
to the depths of the pit.26
The King James Version of the Bible translates “morning star” as “Lucifer,” a name meaning “bearer of light” that is sometimes used to refer to Satan. Though common in religious vernacular, this name doesn’t appear in most modern translations of the Bible.
In sum, while it isn’t certain that this passage alludes to Satan’s pride and subsequent fall from heaven, it definitely could.
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils,” theologian C. S. Lewis once remarked. “One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”27
We are swimming in the deep end of the mystery pool. There remain many unanswered questions on which the Scriptures are simply silent. How could a morally pure creature rebel against God? Why did the other angels join the revolt? When did all of this happen?
Even though Christians don’t know all the answers, we do know the God who does. And we know that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”28
If you’re a follower of Jesus, take heart. The enemy was defeated,29 he is being defeated,30 and he will be defeated.31 Yes, he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,”32 but at Jesus’ death he was defanged, and at Jesus’ return he’ll be destroyed.
In the meantime, his havoc extends only as far as God’s hand allows.
- The name “Satan” comes from a Hebrew verb meaning to be or act as an adversary.
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Genesis 1:31.
- Ibid., Romans 5:12.
- This is most explicit in Revelation 12:9, in which the Apostle John is describing the future, final defeat of Satan: “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”
- The Holy Bible, Genesis 1:31.
- Ibid., Genesis 3:1.
- The following five points are derived from Mike McKinley’s helpful book Did the Devil Make Me Do It? And Other Questions About Satan, Demons, and Evil Spirits (Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Company, 2013), 12–13.
- The Holy Bible, Colossians 1:16–17, Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6.
- Ibid., Genesis 1:31.
- Ibid., 1 Timothy 4:4.
- Ibid., 1 John 1:5.
- Ibid., 2 Peter 2:4.
- Ibid., Jude 6.
- Ibid., Matthew 12:24.
- Ibid., 1 John 3:8.
- Ibid., Matthew 13:19.
- Ibid., John 12:31.
- Ibid., 2 Corinthians 4:4.
- Ibid., Ephesians 2:2.
- See, for example, The Holy Bible, Job 1:6; 1 Chronicles 21:1; Zechariah 3:1.
- The Holy Bible, Acts 26:18.
- Ibid., Luke 13:16.
- The Holy Bible, English Standard Version © 2011, Acts 10:38.
- Michael Horton,The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 407.
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, John 8:44.
- Ibid., Isaiah 14:12–15. Ezekiel’s prophecy against the king of Tyre includes similarly elevated language and may also be an allusion to Satan’s fall (see Ezekiel 28:1–19). As theologian Wayne Grudem writes, “It would not be uncommon for Hebrew prophetic speech to pass from descriptions of human events to descriptions of heavenly events that are parallel to them and that the earthly events picture in a limited way.” Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 413.
- C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), ix.
- The Holy Bible, 1 John 3:8.
- Ibid., Colossians 2:13–15.
- Ibid., Ephesians 6:10–20.
- Ibid., Romans 16:20.
- Ibid., 1 Peter 5:8.
- Photo Credit: Ilya Bushuez / Stocksy.com.