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difficult to explain Bible passages

There are some Bible passages that seem on first reading to support the belief in a fallen angel, the great Satan who roams the earth encouraging rebellion against God. In this addendum to the booklet “Where Does Evil Come From”, let’s consider a few of the more popular passages.

The Serpent in Eden

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field that the LORD God had made. … So the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:1,14)

Did you notice that nowhere in this account is the word Satan or devil used? The serpent is presented to us as an animal, one of the beasts of the field, part of the original Genesis creation God called “very good.” (See Genesis 1:31.)

Some find it difficult to conceive of communication between an animal and humans. The serpent, though, was not the only animal in the Bible with the ability to speak to humans. A donkey was also once given the power to speak. (This was Balaam’s donkey detailed in Numbers 22:28-30.)

The apostle Paul is consistent with this when he says, “…as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Since its lie enticed Eve to sin, the serpent provides a marvelous prototype of sin in its various forms of temptation. To say a supernatural devil transformed himself into a serpent finds no support here in Genesis. If there really was a fallen angel who used the serpent, then, in the end, this alleged angel got away without any judgment from God!

The Serpent Cast Out of Heaven

Based on a passage in the last book of the Bible, many believe a war took place in heaven some time before the Genesis creation:

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:9)

In seeking to understand this scripture, we must consider the introduction to this book of prophecy:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John. (Revelation 1:1)

The phrase in bold is very significant: what we are about to read in this book is future to the time when this book was written (within the first century after Christ). When read in this context, it becomes clear that Revelation 12 is a symbolic prophecy of dramatic future events. This is quickly impressed on us when, at the beginning of this prophecy, we are introduced to a pregnant woman who also is in heaven:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. (Revelation 12:1-2)

Then we are introduced to a great red dragon:

And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. (Revelation 12:3)

We were told in the quote in Revelation 12:9 that this dragon “is called” the ancient serpent, the Devil and Satan. These are the names given to this power; in other words, these names are meant to describe the nature of this power, not to describe some rebellious heavenly angel.

If we follow what we learned in the article, we can immediately recognize that this power must be the embodiment of human will and power in opposition to God’s will and power.

This is exactly how early Protestant expositors like Sir Isaac Newton (yes, the famous scientist) understood this prophecy. He believed the woman and the dragon portrayed the Roman Empire when its religion changed from paganism (the dragon) to Christianity (the woman).

This great devil-dragon system will ultimately be destroyed by being cast into a lake of fire, a symbol for utter destruction (Revelation 20:2,10). This fate hardly supports the popular myth of the devil living and thriving in fire.

Fallen Angels

Only two verses in the Bible speak of fallen angels and in both cases they are in chains of darkness awaiting punishment:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment. (2 Peter 2:4)

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day. (Jude 1:6)

Since the Greek word for “angel” (angelos) means “messenger,” it can also be used of human beings (e.g. Mark 1:2; Luke 7:24; 9:52). In the same passages, both Peter and Jude reference events in Israel’s history. This strongly suggests the incident involving these messengers will also be found in Israel’s history. The most likely time would seem to be the rebellion led by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram against Moses. This event is found in Numbers 16. In this chapter a unique punishment of these rebels is described.

And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.” (Numbers 16:28-30)

In this divine punishment, the earth was suddenly split open, creating a deep pit which swallowed up the rebels and all that belonged to them. This punishment fits exactly the meaning of the phrase “cast into hell,” which means literally, “cast down to Tartarus.” Tartarus was believed by the Greeks to be a deep, dark, subterranean region, a perfect description of the dark pit that swallowed up these people!

While this seems the most likely explanation of this event, of this much we can be certain: the angels (or messengers) referred to are no longer capable of working havoc in the earth today. They are confined in darkness, awaiting the day of divine judgment.

Lucifer’s Fall from Heaven

How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground” (Isaiah 14:12 NKJV)

When the full chapter of Isaiah 14 is read carefully, it becomes clear this passage is not speaking of a supernatural being. Other modern versions translate “Lucifer” as the “morning star” (NIV) or “Day Star” (ESV)—a reference to the planet Venus. This prophecy concerns the King of Babylon: “you will take up this proverb against the king of Babylon” (v.4). Then follows a prophecy of the devastating fall of this mighty king, described as “the man who made the earth tremble” (v. 16).

The Fires of Hell

The place of Satan’s abode is often said to be a place of burning fire underneath the earth. Here are two examples of passages referring to hell fire:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matthew 18:9)

Both “hell” and “hell of fire” translate one word, Gehenna. Gehenna is a Greek word meaning “land of Hinnom.” It is an actual valley outside the city of Jerusalem. In Israel’s past, it was used as a place of horrifying child sacrifice. From the reign of King Josiah through the days of Jesus, it was used as a garbage dump where the fires burned the refuse continuously. Jesus used Gehenna as a fitting illustration of the final destruction of the wicked.

Scripture quotations used here are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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