Though he’s known by many names, the devil is still somewhat mysterious to us. Through the centuries, superstition and occultic practices have been mixed with biblical tradition to shape our cultural understanding of who Satan is and where he came from.
But if we are to properly understand Satan and how to stand against him, we’ll need to separate what has been revealed in scripture from the depictions that have arisen from imagination and morbid fantasy.
Satan, Devil, Lucifer, Angel of Light: What Do All the Titles Mean?
What’s interesting about the devil is that every designation we have for him is a description of his character and nature. Here are some common titles by which we’ve come to know him, what they mean, and where they came from.
Satan is a Hebrew word that literally means “adversary.” We first see it appear in the book of Job. The adversary (literally the satan in Hebrew) came to God accusing Job of only being faithful because he was blessed (Job 1:6-12). Satan operates in an adversarial role against God’s people. And in the case of Job, it almost seems to be an official role, like a prosecuting attorney.
While this is a title and not a name, by the time Jesus began preaching in Israel, Satan had become a commonly used designation for the devil (see Matthew 4:10; Matthew 12:26; Mark 1:13; Mark 3:23; Luke 10:18; Luke 11:18; John 13:27; Acts 5:3; and Acts 26:18).
The title “devil” is derived from a Greek word means “slanderer.” The meaning of the term is very similar to that of Satan—an adversary against God’s people who wrongfully accuses them. The terms Satan and the Devil are often used interchangeably.
Lucifer/Angel of Light
The title Lucifer is a Latin term that literally means “light bringer.” Its Hebrew counterpart (heylel) is found in Isaiah 14:12, where it refers to the King of Babylon who is depicted as a star fallen from heaven. In the context of Isaiah’s prophecy, it refers only to the King of Babylon on whom God is declaring judgment.
Nevertheless, Paul picks up on this imagery when referring to Satan, saying that he masquerades as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
This title for Satan comes from an ancient Canaanite god who was “Lord of the Flies.” He was apparently such a menacing character that first century Jewish people came to use the name to refer to Satan (Matthew 10:25; Matthew 12:24, Matthew 12:27; Mark 3:22).
Satan is also often referred to as the Evil One (Matthew 5:37; Matthew 6:13; Matthew 13:19, 38; Luke 11:4; John 17:15; Ephesians 6:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 3:12; 1 John 5:18-19).
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Where Does the Bible Show that Satan Was Once an Angel?
We first see Satan in Genesis 2 when he appears to Adam and Eve as a serpent who manipulates and deceives them into eating the fruit that was forbidden to them, thus causing sin and brokenness to enter the world. But Satan’s story started before then.
Many of us have heard how Satan is an angel who was cast out from heaven, along with all the other angels who followed him (those whom we now call demons). That story comes to us in the prophecy of Ezekiel 28. In Ezekiel 28:1-10, God uses Ezekiel to declare judgment for sin over the King of Tyre. Ezekiel then goes on to express a poetic lament for that king in Ezekiel 28:11-19.
What’s interesting in these verses is that Ezekiel seems to poetically portray the kind of fall that Satan himself experienced. Ezekiel refers to him being in the Garden of Eden and talks about him being a cherub (a particular kind of angel), who was cast down from heaven.
Through the centuries, biblical scholars have argued about how to understand this passage. Some interpret the text to be speaking allegorically about the devil, while others maintain that these verses speak only of the King of Tyre and simply use poetic imagery to convey how the king has fallen from his place of honor.
While this text is certainly difficult to interpret, here are two things we can say for sure about Satan. (1) He is a non-human being who exists in the spiritual realm. (2) He stands in opposition to God and will eventually receive the full measure of just judgment.
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Where Else Can I Learn about Satan in the Bible?
While Satan is a spiritual being who stands under the judgment of God, he still exerts a considerable amount of influence over the events of human history. Here are a three examples that illustrate his power to work against the plans of God in the world.
1. “Get Behind Me Satan!”
When Jesus revealed to his disciples that he would suffer and die, they were naturally shocked. Simon Peter couldn’t help but speak up and say, “Lord, may this never happen to you!”
Jesus’ response was perhaps even more shocking. He said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33). Peter’s intentions were perhaps good, but he was encouraging Jesus to do exactly what the devil wanted—to refuse the work he came to do on the Cross.
While Jesus didn’t literally mean that Peter was literally the devil incarnate, his strong words indicate that any thoughts or actions that divert us from God’s commands to us are inherently the work of the devil.
2. “Ruler of the Air”
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul refers to Satan as “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 2:2).
What this descriptor of Satan indicates is that there is a spiritual realm that exists in the very same space where we work, live, and play. Furthermore, Satan seems to have some kind of temporary authority in that space, and he’s very influential.
Apart from the work of Jesus, we would be stuck under his influence.
3. “Children of the Devil”
When people are called children of the devil, it isn’t to say that they’re literally the biological descendants of Satan. But in the same way that children carry on the legacy and trade of their father, those who perpetuate the works of Satan act as his children.
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4 Satanic Symbols and Their Meaning
Many symbols have become associated with the devil by Satanists and occultic groups. Some find their roots in biblical imagery, while others originate within the movement of Satanism. Here are just a few.
1. The Pentagram
A pentagram is the ancient symbol of a five-pointed star, often encompassed by a circle.
Interestingly, at one point, the Church embraced the symbol to signify the five piercing wounds that Jesus received on the Cross (the nails in his hands and feet, along with the spear through his side). However, the symbol later became associated with witchcraft and satanism.
2. The Number of the Beast (666)
In Revelation, a somewhat cryptic verse identifies 666 as a satanic number.
“This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666” (Revelation 13:18).
The highly metaphorical nature of Revelation makes it so that the meaning and significance of this number are not entirely clear. John only states that it refers to the beast, an anti-Christian world power. Some have tried (in my opinion, somewhat unconvincingly) to correlate the number to various evil world leaders and empires.
Another possible explanation is that the number refers to a state of supreme incompleteness or brokenness. Biblically, seven often refers to a state of completeness, as God made the heavens and the earth in seven days. Six falls short of that image of wholeness, and its threefold repetition makes it emphatic.
3. The Upside-Down Cross
Ironically, the inverted Cross is known as the Cross of Saint Peter. According to Church tradition, the apostle Peter elected to be crucified upside down because he did not feel he deserved to die in the same way that Jesus did.
Later on, Peter’s Cross was taken on by Satanists to show their movement as the opposite or antithesis of Christianity—as it is an inversion of Christianity’s greatest symbol.
4. The Baphomet
The Baphomet is a goat-like man that was originally created in 1856 by Éliphas Lévi as an occultic symbol of balance. It became expressly associated with Satanism when it appeared as a depiction of the devil in a tarot card deck.
The Baphomet was later adopted as an identifying symbol by the movement of Satanism at large.
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3 Truths to Remember about Satan and Fallen Angels
As you can see, Satan is far more than a red figure with horns and a pitchfork. He is an ancient being who has real spiritual power that he wields for evil and selfish purposes. In particular, he is the enemy of Christians and seeks their destruction. So here are 3 important truths to remember as we navigate that spiritual reality.
1. Jesus and Satan are not equal opposites.
It’s a big mistake to think of God and the devil as equal opposites. That gives Satan way more credit than he’s due.
The power differential between God and Satan is that of an infinite Creator and the work of his creation. No matter how cunning, crafty, or powerful Satan becomes in his rebellion against God, he will never come anywhere near rivaling the power of the one who spoke him into existence.
Simply put, there are no angelic beings, whether fallen or righteous, who are any match for the power and might of Jesus.
2. Angelic beings are more powerful than you (but not the Holy Spirit).
On the other hand, an equally dangerous mistake is to underestimate the power of Satan. He’s not more powerful than God, but he is more powerful than you. Satan has been crafting dark and wicked schemes for millennia. He’s a skilled liar and manipulator, the power of whom is unparalleled by any mortal human.
But while we ought to be vigilant against Satan, we don’t need to fear him. We don’t even know his actual name. I think that’s by design. It’s a subtle indicator that he’s not even a big enough threat to God that we even need to know his name.
So while Satan—or, for that matter, any fallen angelic being--could easily defeat us, we still don’t need to fear. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have become one with him by the Holy Spirit. And because of that, the devil has no power over you except that which you allow him to have.
3. Satan’s defeat was foretold from the beginning.
From the opening chapters of Genesis, we know the end from the beginning. Even after the serpent succeeds at leading Adam and Eve astray, God declares him defeated. Here’s what God says to the serpent.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
And we see this promise fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus. Though Jesus was dealt a fatal blow, as he gave up his spirit, he crushed the head of the serpent. And we look forward to a day when we will see this promise completely fulfilled.
“That ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan” will be thrown into a lake of fire, never to hurt or harm anyone again (Revelation 20). This is the hope we stand on, because of the Cross of Christ.
Stay Prepared for Spiritual Warfare
Many of us who were raised in a western culture are often blinded to the spiritual realities and unseen forces at play. We read about them. We discuss them. But few of us actually engage them.
And in so doing, we may leave ourselves vulnerable to spiritual attack. The quickest way to lose a battle is to not realize that you’re in one.
The power of Jesus is far more than words on a page and hope for when we die. Spiritual battle is taking place every day, all around us. If we are to be effective spiritual warriors, then we’ll need to lean into prayer, attune our hearts to the very real presence of God, and develop discernment as we seek to do the work of our Father.
Our enemy is great, but our God is greater.
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Dale Chamberlain (M.Div) and his wife, Tamara, are authors and speakers who are passionate about exploring what it means to live life to the full in Jesus. You can connect with Dale and Tamara at herandhymn.com.