Is Satan Actually the King of Hell?
Cultural representation often has a history of putting forward a poor interpretation of God, the Bible, and truth. Sometimes God is an indifferent man with a beard on a cloud. Sometimes movies present narratives from the Bible with so many ridiculous twists and turns they become unrecognizable.
One of the beings discussed in the Bible who receives some of the biggest reinterpretations of his history, character, and power in Satan. Despite the Bible’s clear narrative and statements about who Satan is and what his destiny will be, writers, filmmakers, and thinkers have created false narratives about him. One of the biggest meta-narratives about the Devil is that he is or will be the king of Hell, and that he and his demons are responsible for dolling our punishment for people being punished there.
When this version of Satan is held up to the scrutiny of the Bible however, this image shows itself to be false. While Satan is a powerful spiritual enemy and people need God to overcome his influence, he is just a created being with limited power who has already been defeated.
Who Is Satan?
The history and future of the being known as Satan is spread across the Bible in several places. At some point before the Creation of Adam and Eve, Satan - called Lucifer - was a very important angel in Heaven. There are some implications that he may have been responsible for leading worship to God in the heavenly places. At some point, he developed pride, and tried to overthrow God, convincing one-third of the angels to join him in rebellion. He and those legions were cast out, and hell was created to hold them.
When God created the world and humanity, Satan possessed a snake and tempted Eve to disobey God, bringing sin and death into the world. He spent time “...going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” (Job 1:7b). When Jesus came to earth, Satan tried to tempt Him with food, power over the angels, and power over the nations. Jesus overcame these temptations, paid the price for people’s sins on the cross, and defeated death with His resurrection. These actions defeated Satan as well, as Paul wrote, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
The Book of Revelation foretells that Jesus will have a millennial reign on this earth, and during that time Satan will be bound in chains and thrown into a bottomless pit.
“ And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:7-10).
He will have no influence in the new Heaven and new earth that will exist forever.
A Brief History of Satan in Pop Culture
God’s Word gives only the broadest overview of the spiritual realm, and what goes on there. People often fill in the gaps in fiction, or even sometimes in religious texts, with their own ideas and interpretations, and it has happened globally for thousands of years. There are supplemental ideas of Satan from Judaism, from early Christianity, through the centuries of Christian culture, and the interpretations of non-Christian cultures of the devil. Some of the interpretations of Satan in pop culture – meaning not from a religious interpretation – include but are not limited to:
1321: Inferno by Dante
Presents the devil as the ultimate traitor who is trapped in the lowest circle of hell chewing on the heads of Judas, Brutus, and Cassius.
1667: Paradise Lost by John Milton
Origin of the quote “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”. In his time, Milton would not have considered Satan an anti-hero, but that interpretation has been applied retroactively starting around the 19th century. Satan is portrayed a.s the leader of the fallen angels with the vision to build a parallel kingdom in hell.
1779: Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Presentation of the idea of selling souls; inspiration for famous 19th century operatic version of the play
1880: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Presents the devil as a proud, elderly man who speaks with one of the titular brothers who defends his existence as there to negate and create doubt.
1968: “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones
Song that presents evils in the world as a product of the devil, and presents the devil as a being desiring to be known.
1968: Rosemary’s Baby by Roman Polanski
This film presents the devil as an active and malevolent force that is working toward bringing about the end of the world and the dominion of evil; biological father of the anti-Christ.
1990: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Satan is presented as the king of hell, and the biological father of the anti-Christ.
This TV series presents the devil as the ruler of hell, as both an antagonist and an anti-hero who works as a sort of balancing mechanism in the universe which can cooperate with angels and humans.
2012- Present: はたらく魔王さま!, Hataraku Maō-sama (The Devil is a Part-Timer!)
Presents the devil as the protagonist trying to both conquer and keep up a part time job in a restaurant; amalgamates the Christian understanding of the devil with the Japanese version of demons.
He is often used as a way to represent rebellion (appropriate or inappropriate), pride, ambition, arrogance, defiance, treason, charm, charisma, and deception.
Does Satan “Reign” in Hell?
In many pop culture portrayals, Satan is presented as the ruler of hell, with power and authority there, and on earth where he influences. He is sometimes heroic, or portrayed as a balancing force in the world. In some presentations, such as in the song “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Deathcab for Cutie, there is an implication that Satan is engaged in a game with God of who can collect more souls.
In more cartoonish depictions, such as the Adam Sandler film “Little Nicky,” he is responsible for sentencing individuals to their specific eternal punishments in hell. However, the Bible is clear that God reserves all judgments. “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12a). While people cannot judge one another, Satan certainly cannot judge other beings. He has already been judged!
Satan cannot be considered the King of Hell, as there is no such title. Hell is not a kingdom, but a place created in a separate space. Or to use a scientific term, it is a dimension from Heaven that will exist eternally to be the punishment itself. It was not initially created for people, but for the fallen angels. “Then [Jesus on His throne] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matthew 25:41). If hell was made for the angels, and Satan in a fallen angel, he will not reign there. It will be the source of his torment.
Satan will not have power forever. In fact, his power is neutered even now. The only thing he can do is try to prevent people from accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, vengefully trying to bring as many humans with him as possible. Praise God Jesus has made a path for anyone to repent and spend eternity in Heaven. Until Satan is forever cast into hell, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:8-10).
Baillie, Eva Marta. Facing the Fiend: Satan as a Literary Character. 1st ed. The Lutterworth Press, 2014.
Ellis, Bill. Lucifer Ascending The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2021.
Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Jordan Lye
Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.
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