Satan- just a symbol of evil? (pt 1)

This post, and several others that will follow, are adapted from a 4-week message series called “Encountering Angels and Demons” that I wrote and taught at The Bridge.  Last week we looked at Angels in a two-part post.  Today we’re going to dive into looking at the devil.

“The Devil, or Satan, is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” Do you agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat or disagree strongly with this statement?

When a recent survey asked people who identified themselves as Christ-followers this very question – 48% – almost half agreed that Satan is only a symbol of evil, not a true living being! Without any hands raised – where do you stand? Is Satan or the Devil simply a symbol of evil or is he a true living being, alive in our world today?

We’re going to take a look at what the Bible itself has to say about the devil and demons, and then consider what that means for our own lives today. To get started, take a look at a video based on Mark Twain’s story The Mysterious Stranger. It was originally produced for children, but then banned once it was completed. Once you watch it, I think you’ll understand why little kids shouldn’t probably be watching it! Can you imagine their potential nightmares after watching that?

Pretty creepy, isn’t it? The topic of demons and the devil can indeed be challenging and even a little frightening. As I was preparing for this message, I was reminded of a strange occurrence that happened one night of my senior year in my college dorms. As a senior, I had a single room and John had been over that night studying. Taking a study break, we began talking about spiritual things of our faith, and eventually wound up discussing demon possession. Suddenly without any warning or explanation, I was overcome with this overwhelming fear. I don’t recall too many details but I know I shook with fear and I cried. My fear was particularly heightened by a red blanket I had on a shelf. I know John was also fearful, but more in response I think to my own fears – not because of something he was actually experiencing. I don’t know exactly how long this lasted – John prayed over me, throughout the room, read Scripture. I tried to pray, but was literally so overcome with fear that I couldn’t utter any words. Eventually the fear subsided and things returned to normal. John threw the blanket away because even the sight of it brought back foreboding fear. Even now, 17 years later, recalling that blanket – a blanket I’d had for many, many months, a blanket I’d been given as a gift from my grandparents – even now its image brings back some uneasiness.

What happened that night? I don’t rightly know. But that experience, together with what I read in the Bible has me convinced that demons and the devil are more than just symbols of evil. Let’s look at some Scripture.

I want to start with Scripture that considers what Jesus himself says about the devil and demons. Some people claim that demons were commonly believed by commoners of Jesus’ day and the Bible references to demons were just Jesus’ and the apostles ways of accommodating the popular error. Based on Scripture, I cannot and do not believe this is true. Jesus’ teaching often challenged popular beliefs and behaviors in the attempt to correct and form them to represent truth.

Considering the number of times Jesus dealt with demons and the devil, he certainly had ample opportunity to correct misunderstandings. Jesus acknowledges his own belief in the devil, and personally, if the God of the Universe believes in something, I’m going to do the same!

Jesus’ own words about Satan or the Devil teach us a lot. He is the enemy, the evil one, a liar and indeed the father of lies. He is the prince of this world with a kingdom and angels, he is a murderer and he bound a women for 18 years. Jesus cast out demons on multiple occasions and gave his disciples the power to do the same. We learn about the devil’s eventual demise when Jesus tells that an eternal fire is prepared for him.

Many of us know bits and pieces of the story about the downfall of the devil. He was among the greatest angels in heaven, perhaps known as Lucifer, clothed in majesty and splendor. He was a Cherubim, but became arrogant in his beauty and status. He wanted more and wanted to sit on a throne above that of God. Satan’s pride led to his fall.

Tomorrow we’ll continue looking at this topic and begin exploring two Old Testament sections of Scripture that may help us better understand the devil. It’s a fascinating topic, and one about which we should be knowledgeable, rather than ignorant and ill-informed.