Years ago the personal "Devil," complete with horns and hoofs, was the terror presented to the people by the clergy in order to frighten them into subjection to God.
But times have changed, and no longer is "Old Harry" feared, except by a relative few. There are, however, even fewer people who understand that the devil is really sin in the flesh, and that it deserves as much concern as it ever has. This devil is often referred to in the Bible, and it is there written of it:
"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he (Christ) also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14).
Searching from Genesis to Revelation, we fail to find any description of an inhuman, roaming monster; in fact, we shall note that human beings are described as being devils. Just one illustration of this point --
"Have not I (Jesus) chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" (John 6:70).
Whom did the apostle Paul blame for his failures? Look at Romans 7:15, 17 --
"For that which I do, I know not . . . but what I hate that I do . . . It is no more I that do it, but SIN WHICH DWELLETH IN ME."
What was true of the apostle is true of us all. Sin dwells in us and causes us to do that we would not. Connect up with this truth that which is written of Jesus and the nature of his first mission, as recorded in Rom. 8:3 --
"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh."
Compare with this passage Heb. 2:14, and it must be seen that "sin in the flesh" is the same as that which Jesus was manifested to destroy, "that is, the devil." This, therefore, is no evil monster, but "sin in the flesh," or the impulse within us all to do that which is contrary to God's will.
This is clearly born out by a reference to one or two other interesting passages of Scripture. First, consider what is recorded in Rom. 5:12 --
"Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin."
Sin entered by "one man." No mention is made here of a monster, and certainly no blame is attached for the first transgression of human kind to the inhuman supernatural, superpowerful monster of the imagination. Rather, in Gen. 3:1 it is written, "the serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the field which the Lord God had made." Note that the subsequent tempter is not described as a fallen archangel, but a "beast" recently created and more "subtle" than all other beasts.
It is written of Adam, when created, that he was "very good;" and Eve, out of Adam, was likewise. The created serpent, given at the beginning the power of speech, approached our "very good" first parent, Eve, with a "subtle" and evil suggestion. "Ye shall not surely die . . . your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:4-6). These remarks contained a small measure of truth, but also contained a wicked lie. "Ye shall not surely die." The sequence is well known to us all. Note that in the subsequent passing of sentences, the three parties concerned were Adam, Eve, and the serpent. And due to transgression, no longer now should Adam be "very good" -- the law of sin and death must come into being. Sin should dwell in his flesh and finally bring him to the dust "from whence he was taken."
We are told that "like begets like." After having been driven from God's Garden and forced to till the ground for a living, we are informed that Cain was born, afterwards Abel. Then when Cain saw that the sacrifice of Abel was accepted, while his own was rejected, "Cain was very wroth" (Gen. 4:5). Later, anger within led to the first murder. "Cain slew his brother Abel."
The narrative is very simple. Cain's grave sin was caused not as a result of giving way to the promptings of the popular Devil, but as a result of allowing anger to dictate his actions. This "fruit" of sin in the flesh is but one of many found in the descendants of Cain -- that is, mankind today.
The apostle Paul writes --
"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousness, wrath," etc. (Gal. 5:19-20).
Paul rightly describes all these things as works "of the flesh." While wicked man remains alive on earth, the works of sin in the flesh will be manifest. But God has "appointed a day" when sin and sinners shall be rooted out of the earth. The work of destroying sinful flesh and all its works has been given to Christ, and so it is written: "To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). The works of the flesh and the works of the devil are one and the same.
We may be sure that the "works of the flesh" are not the result of temptation by a superhuman monster, as shown by the following passage of Scripture. See how clearly James tells us of the origin of sin or manifest wickedness --
"From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? (James 4:1).
So that we cannot possibly misunderstand him; compare James 1:13-15 --
"Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust (or desire), and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."
In the light of this teaching the words of our Master must clearly establish the truth:
"Out of the HEART proceedeth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries," etc. (Matt. 15:19).
Perhaps the greatest crime in history was committed by Judas in the betrayal of his Master. Already we have quoted the passage wherein Jesus describes Judas as "a devil" (John 6:70). In other words, an example of sin in the flesh unrestrained. An interesting passage relating to this is found in John 13:2, 27, 30 --
"The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him . . . satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. . . he then having received the sop went immediately out."
What was it that prompted Judas to begin his evil negotiations for the betrayal? Was it a supernatural devil or satan that drove Judas to it? If this was the case, what a horrendous mistake Christ made in condemning JUDAS for the action he took, rather than this two-horned devil! "Woe unto that MAN by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that MAN if he had not been born" (Matt. 26:24).
It is the Truth rather that Christ knew the hearts of men -- that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer 17:9). Bearing in mind the teaching expressed by James, "when lust hat conceived, it bringeth forth sin," we know why Judas did what he did, and why Christ condemned him for his own actions.
Judas, we are told, "kept the bag and was a thief." For some long time his "lust" for money was satisfied in the pilfering of the bag, but now an opportunity presented itself to obtain a much more substantial sum. An evil thought entered his mind as a direct result of unrestrained lust for money. Sin in the flesh was the father of an evil thought, that in turn led to the committing of the gravest sin -- sin which quickly brought death for Judas when he, full of remorse, committed suicide.
"Satan" is a Hebrew word that was transferred to English without translation. It is defined very clearly in the Hebrew as meaning "an adversary, an enemy, an accuser." This being all that the word means, there is no inherent proof the term applies to a supernatural being. It can easily be applied to anyone or anything that acts as an adversary, an enemy, or an accuser. And this is exactly how the Bible uses the term satan — to denote the principle of adversity.
The Bible translators were not consistent in their handling of this word. If satan is a supernatural devil, the same definition must occur for every occurrence of the word. On the other hand, if it simply means an adversary, this definition also must hold for every occurrence.
Consider Num 22:22 --
"The angel of the Lord stood in the way as satan against (Balaam)."
And Num 22:32 --
"And the angel of the Lord said unto (Balaam), behold, I went out to be satan to thee, because thy way is perverse before me."
As the translators realized, it is more truthfully rendered that the holy angel simply acted as an adversary to Balaam on God's behalf.
In 1 Sam. 29:4-5 the Philistines speak of David: "Let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he be satan to us." It makes sense as the translators rendered it as "an adversary." It does not make any Scriptural sense to suppose that David was the so-called Prince of Evil.
Matt 16:23, along with the records of Mark and Luke, tells us of the incident when Peter began to rebuke Jesus. Jesus "turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." Was Peter a supernatural devil, or was he simply acting in adversity to Christ's purpose?
Considering the word "devil," we find that it is translated from the Greek word "diabolos," which means slanderer, and false accuser. "Devil" therefore, is simply a common Greek term that could be applied in any case where slander, false accusation, or falsehood is demonstrated or exemplified -- sin in the flesh in manifestation.
As with the word satan, the meaning of devil must be consistent wherever it appears. Note how the following verses, where the word "diabolos" appears, do not condone the theory of an evil being, but fully support the true meaning of devil as false accuser and slanderer.
In 1 Tim 3:11, Paul speaks of those who wanted to become an ecclesial elder --
"Even so must their wives be grave, not devils ("diabolos," rendered as "slanderers"), sober, faithful in all things."
2 Tim 3:2-3 likewise renders diabolos properly, this time as false accusers --
"For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, devils ("false accusers"), incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good."
Even the elder women were told not to be devils, in Titus 2:3 --
"The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not devils (rendered as "false accusers"), not given to much wine, teachers of good things."
Similarly, where the word devil appears in Romans 2:10, we see that it would be more appropriately rendered as "false accusers" --
"The devil shall cast some of you into prison."
Who actually had the early adherents to Christ thrown into prison? It was the pagan authorities, who took to lying and false accusations to remove the threat of this new group which was gaining in influence.
Therefore, in the light of this, with regard to Judas we know that an evil thought of adversity "entered" the mind of Judas as a result of unrestrained sinful desire -- "from within" and not from the promptings of an evil monster.
"Sin in the flesh having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray (Jesus) . . . adversity entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. . . he then having received the sop went immediately out."
It is strange, yet true, that most believers in the existence of a personal devil regard "him" as a fallen archangel. Supposedly defeated in heaven, cast down to earth, "he" now apparently roams the earth at will, seducing men and women everywhere.
(The idea that the use of "him," and "he," proves that the devil is an actual being would also support the idea that wisdom is also an actual being. "Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?" (Prov 1:20-22).)
The evidence for the belief that there is a fallen angel posing as a supernatural devil is supposed to be found in Rev. 12:7-9 --
"There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
If this rendering is literally true, and not symbolic, what are we to make of the physical proportions of this dragon? --
"A great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth!" (Rev. 12:3).
A literal interpretation of this is, of course, preposterous. Further, regarding the devil as a fallen angel, we find that in the Bible angels have always appeared as men, and on more than one occasion they have been mistaken for such.
The key to understanding this "war in heaven" is in realizing that the book of Revelation is a book of symbols, which is very clearly expressed in chapter 1, verse 1 --
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and SIGNIFIED it by his angel unto his servant John."
A reading of the chapters will reveal that seven churches -- or assemblies -- in Asia are symbolized by seven candlesticks (Rev. 1:20). Jesus is represented by a seven horned lamb (Rev. 5:6, 9, 10). What, then, is symbolized by the seven-headed and ten-horned dragon?
First, note in Rev. 12:10 that the dragon is styled, "the accuser of our brethren." History gives us the understanding. Up until the time of Constantine the Great (reckoned as the first "Christian" Emperor of Rome), pagan emperors dominated the world. It was these selfsame rulers who "accused our brethren," causing many Christians to suffer agonizing deaths because of their faith. With the ascension to power of Constantine, paganism was "cast out" and finally ceased to be.
But this change was not brought about peacefully. "There was war in (the political) heaven," Constantine fought against "the Devil," the false-accusing and murderous Maxentius and Licinius, pagan emperors, and they "prevailed not." They were "cast out," in that Constantine achieved complete victory, establishing Christianity as the State religion.
Now, "that would appear to be a good explanation" some would say, "but is not Lucifer spoken of in the Bible?"
Yes, a reading of Isa. 14:12-15 will prove that there was a Lucifer referred to. But how does anyone believe that this is some immortal supernatural being, when Isaiah specifically identifies this Lucifer as being none other than the king of Babylon, who was to be brought down to the grave!
"Take up this proverb against the KING OF BABYLON, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased! . . . Thy pomp is brought down to the GRAVE, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee. How art thou fallen from heaven (i.e. political supremacy), O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to sheol (the grave), to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the MAN that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms?" (vs. 4-16).
The figurative language employed in these verses well-suited the proud and haughty King of Babylon, whose pride was humbled in the dust or "cut down to the ground," and who finally found his grave with the wicked.
Then, some refer to the record that Jesus was tempted of the devil. Yet what proof is there here of a supernatural monster? It is written that "Jesus was tempted in all points as WE are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). How are WE tempted? Sometimes, unsatisfied desire from within prompts an evil thought, sometimes an evil suggestion from without works upon our feelings and we do wrong. So was Jesus tempted, yet without sin. Jesus overcame the motions of sin within and was obedient unto death, thereby achieving a complete victory over "sin which bringeth forth death" (Heb. 9:26; Heb. 2:14).
It was the appointed task of Jesus to annihilate the "devil and his works." An important symbol when dealing with the principle of sin is the serpent. We find it in Rev. 20:1, 2 --
"I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years."
Many years ago Israel was commanded to make a brazen serpent and fix it on top of a pole. Whoever looked upon it lived, being healed of the plague wherewith God had smitten Israel because of their wickedness (Num. 21:5-9). The brazen serpent typified sin's flesh, which one day would be nailed to a cross. So the Lord Jesus was "lifted up" (John 3:14), "drawing all men unto him" (John 12:32), that they might live.
Once more, in Rev. 20, the serpent is used to represent sinful flesh, which throughout the forthcoming thousand year reign of Christ on earth, will be restrained -- bound up. The following passages illustrate this well --
"He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries" (Psa. 110:6); "rule them with a rod of iron" (Psa. 2:7-9); "I create a new heaven and a new earth . . . I create Jerusalem a rejoicing and her people a joy . . . There shall be no more thence an infant of days nor an old man that hath not filled his days . . . for the child shall die an hundred years old, but the sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed" (Isa. 65:17-20).
The teaching of Scripture is clear: when Jesus (represented by the angel, Rev. 20) comes back from heaven (as He surely will) to set up God's kingdom upon the ruins of the present kingdom of man, then crime will almost completely disappear, with the persistent wrongdoer being destroyed at an early age.
But this is not the completion of Christ's work. He was manifested to "destroy the devil and his works," not just restrain them.
Rev. 20: 9, 10, 15 complete the picture --
"And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: And fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Verse 14: "This is the second death." The end of sin and sinners in the earth -- the removal of the devil -- SIN IN THE FLESH -- and its manifestors -- the wicked.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
Who then will be left? Who will occupy the earth after the destruction of mortal, sinful flesh? Those who overcame the lusts of sin in the flesh (the devil), whose names were "written in the book of life;" the faithful of all ages; the "meek": these shall inherit the earth for ever (Psa. 37). Their "vile bodies" will have been changed and fashioned like unto Christ's incorruptible body (Phil. 3:21), and they will sing to the praise of Jesus who destroyed the devil and his works --
"Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth" (Rev. 5:9-10).