The Role of Satan

The contemporary view of Satan is that he is a powerful being who hates mankind and will do whatever he can to destroy us. However, here's the definition of Satan as given in Easton's Bible Dictionary:

Satan

adversary; accuser. When used as a proper name, the Hebrew word so rendered has the article "the adversary" (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7). In the New Testament it is used as interchangeable with Diabolos, or the devil, and is so used more than thirty times... Read the full defintion...
Despite his fame in fictional stories throughout the ages, it may surprise some readers to learn that almost nothing is written of him in the entire Old Testament. The only significant mention of him is in the book of Job, wherein we see the first example of a most curious, if often overlooked, aspect of Satan—that he asks for, and receives permission from God, to test the faith of anyone who claims to have it:

Job 1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.


Here Satan is saying that Job only loves God because God has blessed him with a prosperous life, and that if these blessings were removed, Job would easily curse God. A reasonable, if somewhat cynical, suspicion. Thus, permission was given, and Satan went to work.

The next example is in the New Testament, where God arranges for Jesus to be tested by the devil:

Matthew 3:16 3:16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.


Incidentally, I should mention here that the word straightway means in a direct course. Thus in this context, went up straightway might mean lifted straight up, as in levitation. I say this because, curiously, something similar happened to Philip after he baptized a eunuch, as recorded in Acts:

Acts 8:38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.


So here we see that the Spirit of God literally takes Jesus out to the wilderness for the very purpose of being tested by the devil. To make the tests more difficult, Jesus first fasts for 40 days to weaken himself. Then, as if on cue, the devil appears and begins his testing. One can't escape the sense that there was an arrangement between the devil and the Spirit of God in this episode. As I see it, this was Jesus' final exam which he must pass before beginning his mission. And when he passed the tests, the devil left him.

The next example is when Jesus is about to be crucified and has some last words with Simon Peter:

Luke 22:31 New Revised Standard Version Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded (Footnote: or has obtained permission) to sift all of you like wheat, But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.


So Jesus did know that Satan does petition God for permission to test certain people, as he did in these examples, and that God does indeed grant that permission. Just as Satan was allowed to test Jesus in the wilderness, he has now obtained permission to test the disciples, Peter first, since Jesus had designated him as the rock upon which he would build his church, owing to his great faith.

Converted - the Greek word is Epistreph which means returned back. So Jesus fully expected Peter to temporarily lose his faith, but Jesus prayed that he would, in the end, return back to it, presumably stronger for the experience, so that he could then strengthen the bretheren. If that be the case, one could say that encounters with Satan, if overcome, strengthen us.

Sift - the Greek word is Siniazo - to sift, shake in a sieve. A sieve was a screen used in Jesus' day to separate wheat from chaff. Thus Satan desired to see which of the disciples had strong faith and which didn't. His motive isn't stated.

This cooperation between God and Satan can be seen to imply something rather shocking: that Satan is actually working with God, that he doesn't actually hate mankind, but that his job is to teach man—usually the hard way—the knowledge of good and evil. If this were true it would be quite a surprise, for even Jesus himself did not seem to share this view. For example, in Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares, he said the devil planted the tares, and that in the last day, they would be gathered and burned.

And yet.... well, have a look at this surprising verse from the prophet Isaiah, where God says he, not Satan, creates evil:

Isaiah 45:6-7 I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: 45:6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.


The New Testament contains many stories of people being possessed of devils and unclean spirits, and Jesus casting them out. The bible doesn't explain what they are, nor their relationship to Satan, but interestingly, when Jesus commands them to "come out", they obey him, and my question is why?

By now it's probably clear this article raises more questions than it answers. Even so, to me they're good questions, for which I continue to seek answers.

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