Isn't Satan just a legendary figure – sort of a symbol of the evil in the world and in the human heart? I'm a fairly new Christian, and I can't help feeling a little skeptical about some of the things I hear from other believers in this regard. What does the Bible really have to say about the devil?
As a matter of fact, Satan isn't just a "symbol" or a "legend." He's a very real person. As believers we have to be aware of his schemes and alert to his trickery. Here's a brief sketch of the biblical teaching on the subject.
The Bible's first reference to mankind's supernatural enemy is found in Genesis 3. In that chapter a tempter appears in the Garden of Eden under the guise of a "serpent" (Hebrew nachash). The fact that this mischief-maker arrives on the scene already in a fallen state of rebellion leads scholars to assume that he was banished from heaven long before the creation of man.
In Job 1:6ff. a figure appears who is referred to not merely as satan, Hebrew for "an adversary," but as hassatan, " The Adversary." This fits with the apostle John's reference to "the accuser of the brethren" (Revelation 12:10). Both passages seem to have a particular person in mind, not just an abstract concept. It's hard to avoid connecting this adversary with the deceptive serpent (nachash) of Genesis 3.
The New Testament expands on this theme by describing Satan or the devil as "the ruler of this world" (John 14:30), "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4), and "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2). This is the basis for the church's claim that Satan has been granted temporary dominion over the earth (see also Luke 4:5-7).
The apostle Peter applies this teaching directly to the everyday experience of believers. He writes, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world" (1 Peter 5:8, 9). James agrees: "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). Satan, then, though he is extremely powerful, has not been given complete control of the earth. People are free to choose whether they will follow him or remain loyal to their Creator.
Ultimately, Scripture tells us that Satan's doom is sealed and his defeat assured. According to the Book of Revelation, his final destiny is to be "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone" at the end of the age (Revelation 20:10).
If you have further questions about this, or if you'd simply like to discuss these ideas at greater length, don't hesitate to contact us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.
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The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters
Christian Research Institute