Satan’s Background Story

If you’ve ever had someone close to you turn on you, you’re not alone. God has had this happen to him, too. The prophet Ezekiel tells us that Satan was once a blameless guardian cherub full of wisdom and beauty. He lived in God’s holy space in the mountain of the Garden of Eden (a hybrid space where heaven and earth met). Cherubim often served God directly, either by protecting his throne, his sacred spaces, or by moving his throne around the cosmos. In Genesis, Satan was found protecting the sacred tree of the knowledge of good and bad in a serpent-like form (which is not an unusual form for angels). He had an important job and was entrusted by God to do so.

But despite his nearness to God both physically and spiritually, one day something flipped in Satan. Just as humans turn on each other and their character suddenly changes, so did this cherub turn on God. And when friends turn against you, they often turn others against you as well. In Revelation, John paints a war in Heaven where Satan and some of his fellow angels rose up to fight against all the other host of Heaven. No wonder Job said God doesn’t trust heavenly beings.

What was Satan’s plan in all of this? The prophet Isaiah answers that. Satan wanted to take God’s throne and ascend to the highest place of authority. Ezekiel says he was filled with violence and pride and that his wisdom was corrupted. It’s amazing how irrationally far we might go when we lean into pride—to think that the created might be able to overthrow the Creator.

The punishment for Satan’s treachery? All three prophets say the same thing in a different way. Ezekiel says Satan was kicked off the heavenly mountain of Eden to the ground of the earth. John says Satan was thrown down to earth by an army of good angels led by the archangel Michael, which is great news for Heaven, but bad news for earth (and all the more reason Christians should expect suffering, because now Satan’s ticked and taking it out on us). Isaiah says that instead of taking God’s throne at the highest place of Heaven—that is, “the Mount of Assembly”—Satan was sentenced to the lowest place of Sheol, which is the realm of the dead below the ground of the earth. Jesus echoes this when he says that he saw Satan fall from Heaven like lightning. Even Genesis tells this same story when God cuts the legs off of the snake, sentencing him further to the ground. And there in the realm of the dead, Satan held the power of death, which he gained by leading humanity into death back in Eden.

This evil being goes by many different names in the Bible, but the name Satan likely stuck to him because of the way a particular angel acted in the book of Job. In Hebrew, a “satan,” is a noun. It means to be an accuser or adversary. This Hebrew word isn’t always used negatively since good people can accuse and be adversaries against bad people. But in the book of Job there’s one particular angel who thinks humanity is worthless and faithless and comes to God’s court room as an accuser/adversary against them. He’s even willing to see humanity deeply afflicted for the sake of making his point. The New Testament writers likely saw the way this accuser/adversary acted and took that title and stuck it onto the primary rebellious being of Heaven, for he acts just like that.

Since Satan’s original sentencing, the story has shifted. After dying on the cross, Jesus walked into Sheol (the realm of the dead where Satan was banished) and took the power of death back from Satan. Jesus then ascended to Heaven where he saves his followers from the power of death in order to grant them a deathless resurrection life—a power he longs to extend to everyone if they are willing to receive it and follow him. But Satan’s pride is ridiculous enough that he’s not done trying to win. John says that one day he will gather all of his forces (both human and spiritual) and try to overthrow God one more time at a battle called Armageddon, which is a transliterated Hebrew word that references the same “Mount of Assembly” that Satan was kicked out of Heaven for trying to overthrow in the first place. Satan may not have taken God’s throne the first time, but he will try again. And he will fail again.

*This devotional was created out of the themes of Luke 10:17-24 found in today’s reading at Today’s post has been created primarily by compiling Ezekiel 28, Isaiah 14, and Revelation 12 together. Check out Bible scholar Michael S. Heiser’s book, The Unseen Realm, to go deeper on this topic.

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