The biblical teaching of a Devil inspiring evil in the world is so disturbing that it causes some to doubt that Satan is meant literally. After all, why would God create or tolerate a Devil? Adding insult to injury, Revelation 20 tells us that 1000 years after Jesus returns and jails Satan, God will let Satan loose again only to immediately start a bloody attack on Jerusalem. What is God thinking? Find out how God keeping Satan around today and releasing him from jail later (before he goes to the Lake of Fire with all the wicked) is the most loving thing he could do because of the important truth it demonstrates about evil.
Doubting the Devil
Recently I bumped into a friend at the supermarket and took the opportunity to sit down and visit with her. Since she is a serious believer and I am an author of a book on Bible prophecy, the conversation naturally lead to Bible topics. When I mentioned Satan's role in an answer to a question of hers, I was not prepared for what I heard next. She responded by sharing that she did not believe in Satan.
I was dumbfounded. Although I knew that many Jews do not believe in a Devil, I had never heard of a follower of Jesus Christ who reads the New Testament professing this. Her idea was so radical that I literally experienced a moment of self-doubt wondering whether Satan was not as firmly established a doctrine as I had always assumed?
I paused and tried to remember what passages establish the personage of Satan. I immediately recalled Peter's Epistle mentioning the Devil being on the prowl like a lion (1Pe 5:8), the Book of Revelation talking about Satan deceiving the whole world (Rev 12:9), and the extensive testing of Job by Satan (Job 1-2). Since these passages were all plain and incontrovertible to me, I knew the doctrine of Satan was solidly scriptural and, better yet, in both testaments. This was important because I knew my friend came out of Judaism which naturally made her trust the NT less than the Hebrew OT (which she could read natively as Hebrew-speaker).
Yet when I asked her what about all the passages above, she surprised me again with her response. She said she questioned the validity of Job because “we do not know where he came from,” a reference to how unlike many other OT books, Job lacks a lineage for its titular figure. (I did not know why that mattered, but I let it go.) For negate the NT passages, she applied figurative interpretation. (Now this was no surprise at all after decades around Christians.) She suggested that perhaps Satan refers to the “evil in us all.” She went on to describe a theory that for the Millennial peace to happen, God would have to remove our evil impulses or nature, which is what is meant by Satan being bound in the abyss when Jesus comes (!). I listened, fascinated, because I had never heard someone attempt to explain away Satan from the New and Old Testament. When she was done, I marveled at how, once again, two people can read the same Bible passages and come to very different conclusions.
God's Bizarre Handling of Satan
Not that I can blame my friend for doubting the Devil's existence. Whether you think God created the Devil on purpose or he became evil later, how God has handled Satan is certainly perplexing and hard to accept. Consider:
- God let a wicked, powerful and persuasive cherub near his newly created children Adam and Eve (Gen 3:1).
- God did not prevent Satan from deceiving them, leading to their sin and expulsion from the Garden (Gen 3:23).
- God allowed Satan not only to continue on deceiving all of Adam and Eve's children, but to have dominion over this world (Luke 4:5-7; 1Jo 5:19; 2Co 4:3-4; Rev 12:9).
- Not until Jesus returns will Satan finally be imprisoned to stop him from deceiving people (Rev 20:1-3).
- Satan will be released from his jail to do exactly what one would expect him to do based on past behavior: deceive people into fighting God. He inspires an attack on Jerusalem resulting in the attackers' deaths (Rev 20:3, 7-9).
About the only positive thing one might be able to say in defense of God's handling of Satan is that at least he is partially restraining him. Satan is not allowed to destroy all our property or cover us all with boils like he demonstrated he can do on Job. We must also assume that God is restraining Satan from simply killing us all instantly. We hear this universal restraint described when God is speaking to Satan about what he can and cannot do to his servant Job.
When you look at God's past and future plan for Satan, it certainly is hard to reconcile it with a loving caring Father God that Jesus spoke of.
However, if, unlike my friend, you still accept Satan at face value, I can explain how this plan for him makes sense for a loving God to make. If you are open to it, you are in store for some of the most profound insights available in the Bible on God's wisdom, love and way of life. Let's begin with where Satan came from and whether God created him evil as he is today.
Satan's “Origin Story”
Just like with a comic book superhero or villain, there is a back story to the Bible's villain. It's just that you have to turn to the Old Testament and read with a careful eye to see it. The information is spread out in different places and oblique ways.
Most are aware that Satan the Devil first appears as the serpent who beguiles Eve in Genesis (Gen 3:1=Rev 12:9; 20:2). You would think you could not get any earlier in history than that which means God must have made the Devil this way in the beginning. Yet there is a mention of an earlier time than that in the most ancient book of the Bible—the Book of Job. Long after Satan's role in the story ends in Job 2:7, we find an important nugget about the creation of the physical world:
Job 38:4,7 (HCSB) — 4 Where were you when I established the earth? ...7 while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Job refers to the angels as the sons of God and morning stars. This tells us two things: God created the angels before the physical world and all these angels were in harmony and agreement with what God was doing then. God could not have created an evil Devil for this be accurate. Therefore, obviously at some point after that before the scene in Genesis 3, one of these joyful angels changed their mind. This change turned him into Satan or literally in Hebrew Ha-Satan, “the adversary” of God. He then lead a rebellion against God that one third of the rest of the previously joyful, obedient angels followed (Rev 12:3-4).
Yet what precipitated the change in this angel to go against God? Ezekiel 28 sheds important light on it, again, in a manner that requires extra care. It begins by talking about a rich, powerful and arrogant man called the prince of Tyre and then shifts in verse 12 to the king of Tyre who is definitely a different individual paralleling the prince:
Ezekiel 28:12-14 (HCSB) — 12 “Son of man, lament for the king of Tyre and say to him: This is what the Lord GOD says: You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God. Every kind of precious stone covered you: carnelian, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and emerald. Your mountings and settings were crafted in gold; they were prepared on the day you were created. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub, for I had appointed you.
This character is no man, but a cherub or type of angel. Just as Genesis talks of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, this passage says that is where the cherub was stationed. The passage goes on to describe what happened with him.
Ezekiel 28:15-19 (HCSB) — 15 From the day you were created you were blameless in your ways until wickedness was found in you. 16 Through the abundance of your trade, you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I expelled you in disgrace from the mountain of God, and banished you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud because of your beauty; For the sake of your splendor you corrupted your wisdom. So I threw you down to the earth;
As it plainly says, God did not create an evil angel on purpose. Satan was full of wisdom and blameless in all his ways when God made him. At first this seems to contradict what Jesus said that Satan was "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). However, "beginning" in that context does not best fit Satan's beginning or creation but must refer to the beginning period when Satan caused Adam's death, making him a murderer, the world's first. Of course, this is something he did some unspecified time after his own creation and change to become the serpent.
Satan's only "flaw" was that, like all of us, he was equipped with complete, unfettered free will. He began to think too highly of himself and too little of God—as is a common theme across Bible characters. Great power, riches or beauty often corrupt, leading those possessing them to disregard God and his laws. It happened to King Saul and King Solomon and it happened to Satan.
If you have ever wondered why God so often humbles his servants with prison, wilderness experiences, or suffering and martyrdom before he elevates them (as he did to Joseph, Moses and the twelve apostles, respectively), this is why. Teaching them humility first is a way to insure that they can handle their higher position later without being corrupted by it.
Why Allow Satan to Continue to Interfere With the World?
Since Satan was not able to remain humble then why was he not removed as soon as this wickedness was found in his heart, instead of holding off on that until Jesus returns? Why was he even allowed in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were clearly no match for him?
We can figure it out if we think what we know through. Obviously, God is omniscient and could have prevented a Devil and fallen angels from ever happening if he had wanted to. He could have made angels with some kind of built-in limit or fetter to their free will so that, while they could choose anything else like what their favorite color was, wickedness or rebellion against him would be prevented.
Instead God seems to place the utmost value on true complete free will for his creation—so much so that he is willing to put up with all the evil that is inevitably going to result by their choices.
I can imagine a few possible reasons for this. First, the love or obedience for God by his creation would be a sham if they did not have complete free will including the ability to choose to rebel or disobey. Second, we humans would not truly be in God's image if we did not have free will exactly as he did.
However, giving people the full power to choose is not so magnanimous if at the same time you slyly limit their options by putting them in an environment with only one choice. It reminds me of the saying of Henry Ford that you could have any color of Model-T you wanted so long as it's black. This is where Satan's opposition to God is good and even deeply caring of God. Rather than God having a monopoly on the universe as the only refined, spirit-powered game in town, Satan is allowed to exist as a worthy competitor to inspire his own sophisticated ways that have spirits behind them.
Satan Provides A Sophisticated Alternative To God
While Satan is certainly not anywhere near as powerful as God is, he is still a spirit with abilities and intellect far superior to man's. He literally has superhuman, supernatural powers. This makes him god-like from our puny human vantage point bound by three dimensions and the laws of physics. Satan (along with his network of fallen angels and demons) therefore can truly provide a powerful viable alternative to the true God for humans to consider and interact with. In fact, this is probably the origin of the pantheon of gods that man has invented and worshiped in all the world's cultures. All these evil spirits work together to bring blessings, disaster, prosperity, diseases and even healings (Rev 13:3-4) in response to the worship—or refusal to worship—the gods.
Are they completely to blame for evil in the world? No. Even if there were no evil spirits inventing and inspiring selfish distractions, the world would still be full enough of evil, suffering and death. The Bible states and demonstrates that man's heart is selfish and desperately wicked all on its own (Jer 17:9). The spirits speed up the process of exposing what is in our hearts already by making those choices more available, powerful and tempting. Of course, this environment makes it that much harder to remain righteous in the current world run by Satan. Achieving righteousness today requires overcoming much more than those who live during the Millennium. That may seem unfair until you factor in that we will be rewarded in the Kingdom of God based on how much we overcome (Rev 21:7; Dan 12:3; Luke 19:16-17).
Satan's Incarceration and Release
When Jesus comes back to set up the Kingdom, all of this evil spirit counter-programming will be stopped. After six millennial days of most of the world going their own ways and seeing the misery that results, the world will finally get to see for one thousand years the joy and prosperity that results when the majority get to learn and go God's way. It will literally be utopia.
After the 1000 years are over, people will have the information they need to fairly and objectively judge the two ways of life. They can compare the two results and see which way is better and which is the only way could work for happiness and peace for eternity: God's way of peace and love. You would think that with that there would be no need for any further experiments with the involvement of evil spirits.
But you would be wrong. Revelation tells us:
Revelation 20:7-10 — When the 1,000 years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle. Their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 They came up over the surface of the earth and surrounded the encampment of the saints, the beloved city. Then fire came down from heaven and consumed them. 10 The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur...
It's a perplexing prophecy that poses two questions:
- How could Satan so quickly turn people against God when they have been learning and enjoying God's ways for so long? How could Satan possibly start people preparing for a war on peaceful loving righteous people not bothering them?
- Why is this further evil spirit experiment necessary? What new point does it prove that could not have been made before?
1. The Precedent of Satan Corrupting Eden
The first question is not so hard to answer if we go back to the Garden of Eden. If you think about it, Eden was really a very similar situation to the Millennium. Adam and Eve were in direct contact with God. He instructed them. They were under his government, if you will. Yet despite this ideal situation, Satan was still able to come along and turn Adam and Eve against God.
We can easily understand exactly how he did it. Satan pulled it off through sowing doubts about what God had said and what his true motives were. He insinuated that God was selfish and not looking out for their best interests, but his own (not wanting them to be gods, too). He suggested they alone could take care of themselves, not God.
Satan's manipulation worked because the ideas he was presenting were new to them and they were inexperienced. Although they implied untruths about God, these untruths seemed possible. They could not know automatically that they were false from past experience.
When Satan is released on the post-millennial crowd, he will be able to use the exact same tactics to the same result, although it will work for different reasons. Like Adam and Eve, many people will not know the difference if Satan tells them God is withholding something even better from them through his rules and regulations. But really, and this is a big point, many will be thinking and wondering such things already anyway. Everyone is different and some are going to be suspicious of God's intentions and distrusting of him. As pointed out above, these people will be more or less repressed in their Millennial environment. They will be suppressing their true feelings and impulses due to the positive peer pressure around them as well as that powerful “ rod of iron” that King Jesus is ruling with.
Satan's appearance will allow these disgruntled people to finally have a chance to do what they really want to do. Satan won't have to twist their arm.
2. Why it is Loving of God to Release Satan One Last Time
But as we said, this scenario is nothing new. Eden demonstrated along with the six millennial days that followed demonstrated this problem. What is the necessity of unleashing Satan on the post-millennial crowd? What new truth does this make clear to the world that the preceding one thousand and six thousand year periods did not?
When I asked questions like that, it occurred to me to consider what follows this revolt. The following events all have to do with the lake of fire. Satan goes there first immediately after his revolt. Then the Great White Throne Judgment comes when unrepentant wicked humans join Satan along with Death and Hades (the grave) itself. It's what we might call capital punishment, sentenced by the very One who originally gave them life. The One who says he is love.
Of course, it is considered to be unenlightened or inhumane to punish people with death. We might ask how is it loving for God to kill people who disagree with him? Isn't God unfair to say that he gives people free will and free choice only to then destroy them because they did not choose what he prefers? Is there not some better more loving way?
Rather than answering with, “Trust me, I'm God. This is for the best,” God instead is, once again, going to show us the proof. He will demonstrate that as long as Satan and those following his evil, adversarial way are around, there will never be an end to war, strife, and suffering. Satan's release will show us the reason why God has decreed death for those who prefer to not live the way of love and peace that God and his followers choose. It is a necessary judgment. “Live and let live ” is a nice concept, but in eternity it eventually results in misery, war and death for all. God, in great love, will have removed all doubt about that before he pulls the trigger.
People will agree that God had no choice but to finally "take out his competition," which is how some would try to frame his destruction of Satan and his followers at the Great White Throne Judgment shortly after the Millennium. All these free moral agents had ample time and opportunity to demonstrate that their alternative ways could work or at least even could coexist with those following God's way. They will have failed utterly.
The consideration of God's handling of Satan provides a master's course in how much God values free will for all his children, both angels and humans. By permitting a wicked intelligence like Satan to spread his ideas and way in the world, God lovingly allows people to have a sophisticated alternative to his way rather than monopolize the market. For six thousand years it will be allowed to demonstrate its futility. In jailing Satan after that in the Millennium, the way of righteousness will be able to be learned and practiced without interference to provide a fair comparison with the previous age going the way of Satan's and man's selfish ways. Finally in releasing Satan and letting him convince the fringe to rebel and attack the righteous, it demonstrates beyond any doubt that God's capital punishment for the wicked is necessary and just. Without ending the experiment of wickedness there would be eternal war between the camp of the wicked and the righteous. God's plan for Satan shows that the only scenario which works for eternal peace and happiness in eternity is for those who choose misery to to put out of their misery.