1Pe 5:8 ¶ Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 1 PETER 5:8-9

Questions in This Section:

»*In Isaiah 45:7 God says, “I form light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil.” Why did he create Lucifer?

» The Bible says that all power is given by God. How can we explain then the power that Satan and men such as Hitler have had in the past?

» Has Satan been given dominion over the earth until Jesus returns?

» In light of God’s sovereignty, what should be the Christian’s attitude or response when he or she is subject to the attacks of Satan?

» Can the devil read my mind?

» Why do we depict Satan in such comical terms as a man in a red suit with a pitchfork when he is actually the enemy of our souls?

Let me comment first on the text. That’s one of the most misunderstood texts in the Bible, part of the problem being the Elizabethan English that’s found in the old King James Version. The other part of the problem is in translation from the Hebrew. The Hebrew has about seven distinctive words that can be translated by the English word evil. There are all different kinds of evil. There’s moral evil. There’s what we would call metaphysical evil—finitude, for example. Whenever the Bible speaks of God bringing evil upon people, it is evil from their perspective. When the fires fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah, the people did not look upon that as a good thing. That was bad news. But it was ultimately good because it was an expression of God’s judgment upon their wickedness. It was a punishment wrought by the hand of God upon evil. That doesn’t mean that God did something wrong or something morally evil by visiting them with judgment.
This Isaiah text is also written in poetic form. It uses parallelism, a pattern of poetry common to Old Testament Judaism. There are even different types of parallelism.
An example occurs in the Lord’s Prayer when Jesus says, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Those two thoughts are parallel and they’re basically synonymous; they are saying the same thing only with different words. We find that often in the Psalms.
In Isaiah 45 we have an example of two statements next to each other that are antithetical parallelisms. The first verse is “I create the light and the darkness.” Light and darkness are opposites; they’re contrasts, they are an antithesis one to another. That’s why it’s called antithetical parallelism.
The next statement has the same kind of antithesis, but how is the wording? “I make peace, I create evil.” It doesn’t ring true because peace and evil in our vocabulary are not antonyms, are they? Whereas light and dark are opposites, these are not. What the text is saying is that as God brings good things to bear in this world, he also brings about calamities in his judgment. It is not speaking about the original creation. It’s unfortunate that that language persists in that particular translation.
Now, why did he create Lucifer? I don’t know, but Lucifer was not created evil. We have to remember that Lucifer was created as an angel—who later rebelled against heaven.

The Bible says that all power is given by God. How can we explain then the power that Satan and men such as Hitler have had in the past?

God is saying not only that he is omnipotent, all-powerful in and of himself but also that he is the fountainhead of all power and all authority in this world. And so the devil himself is subordinate and dependent upon God for any power or authority that he exercises in this world.
The question you’re raising is not unlike the question the prophet Habakkuk asked when he stood in his watchtower and complained against God because he was watching a foreign nation, known for its unspeakable wickedness, attacking and slaughtering the Jewish people—God’s own people. Habakkuk reminded God that God was too pure to even behold iniquity. How could God allow this alien power, this wicked power, to be used in such a fashion? God basically said, “Wait a minute, I have not used this enemy nation as an instrument to punish Israel because Israel is more wicked than this other nation. I’m just making use of this nation to chastise my own people who so richly deserve it. But this other nation will get theirs.” That’s why we have to be very careful about saying that God is always on our side. He may raise up China to punish the United States as an instrument of judgment against us—because all power is in his hands.
When I was studying in Europe back in the sixties, even though it was twenty years after the end of World War II, the bookstores in Amsterdam were filled with literature about the Second World War. The memories were still very vivid and keen to these people, who suffered so much more than we in this country suffered at that time. I remember reading a book that was a result of the release of earlier classified documents from the archives that was titled Hitler, the Scourge of Europe, in which private documents of Hitler’s were photocopied and printed. One was an early entry from his diary, in which was scribbled in Hitler’s own writing: “This evening I have made a covenant with Satan.” He wasn’t just kidding. There was a serious effort by Adolf Hitler to engage the assistance of the prince of darkness in the programs he set forth. Obviously that was all happening under the sovereignty of God. God has his reasons for allowing that to happen for a season, but obviously he reserves that moment when his powerful judgment falls on Satan and on people like Hitler, and God’s righteous power is ultimately vindicated.

Has Satan been given dominion over the earth until Jesus returns? If so, why was he given this authority?

There’s only one supreme Lord over all the world, and that’s God. We are told in the Old Testament that this whole concept of dominion was shared with Adam and Eve. Man was given dominion over the earth to be vice-regents for God, that is, vice kings to represent God’s reign on this planet. Of course, we made a terrible mess out of it, and we were subjected more and more to the power of Satan. That power of Satan was dealt not just a significant blow but a fatal blow by Christ in his incarnation.
We’re told, first of all, that God the Father gives to Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. In his ascension, Christ is seated at the right hand of God, where he is crowned as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. That was a tremendous blow to all worldly or satanic powers, principalities, and spiritual wickedness in high places. So if you ask me who is in dominion over this world right now, I think the New Testament is perfectly clear on that. The one who is in dominion is the Lord. The Lord God omnipotent reigns, and the Lord Christ reigns over this world right now. His kingdom may not be of this world, but it certainly includes this world, and Jesus has all authority over heaven and earth.
Even at this moment, as I’m discussing this question, Satan’s authority and power are limited and subordinate to the authority that is vested in Christ. Christ right now is the king of this earth. His kingdom is invisible, and not everybody acknowledges it. People are giving more allegiance to the prince of darkness than to the Prince of Peace, but that is an act of usurpation on the part of Satan. His power is restricted, limited, and temporal. What has happened briefly is this: The power and authority of Satan has been dealt a fatal blow by Christ. The Cross, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Ascension tremendously weakened any power or authority that Satan enjoyed, but it didn’t annihilate him. That will come later, when Christ completes his work of redemption with the consummation of his kingdom. All things will be brought into captivity to him, and every knee will bow to him, including the fallen angels, who will bow in submission to his authority.

In light of God’s sovereignty, what should be the Christian’s attitude or response when he or she is subject to the attacks of Satan?

One of the difficulties for the Christian is to recognize an assault from Satan when it comes. Remember that Satan is an angelic being; he’s a spirit being and he’s invisible. It’s not always easy to discern the presence of the enemy, although the New Testament warns us that the struggle in which we’re involved is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places, including attacks from satanic sources.
Martin Luther felt the onslaught of Satan to such a degree sometimes in his own life that it was almost tangible. On one occasion at least, he picked up an inkwell and threw it across the room, allegedly at Satan. He couldn’t really see the presence of Satan, but he was sure that he was experiencing the unbridled assault and oppression of the prince of darkness, the mortal enemy of all Christians. So one of the great problems, of course, is to know when this is happening.
The Bible warns us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light; that is, he manifests himself under the auspices of good. Satan does not go about looking like some caricatured, grotesque person in a red flannel suit with horns and a pitchfork, but rather he’s much more seductive and clever than that, appearing as the Scriptures tell us as an angel of light to deceive if possible even the elect of God. So we need to be aware of the subtleties of the one who is the prince of darkness and the prince of falsehood.
Satan is described as an accuser, a liar, and a tempter. We see him lying, distorting truth, we see him involved in temptation, and we see him accusing the saints.
Now, the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin so that we will recognize it and repent of it. If we’re troubled about some sin, it could be the Holy Spirit’s work, or it could be Satan accusing us. How do we know the difference? Basically we know that there’s something sweet and positive about the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s goal is to bring us to our senses. He humbles us, he brings us to a contrite heart, but he doesn’t annihilate us. Satan seeks to drive us to despair. Our hopelessness and destruction are his goal, and one of his primary methods toward that goal is accusation. Scripture tells us in 1 Peter 5:8 that Satan goes about as a roaring lion seeking to devour whom he will. Yet the other image we get is of him fleeing with his tail between his legs when the Scriptures tell us that if we resist him, he will depart from us. Here we need the armor of God, the Word of God, and the application of that Word through the power of the Spirit, and we have the promise that Satan will flee.

Can the devil read my mind?

I am not certain by any means, nor do I have an exhaustive knowledge of the powers of Satan. I know that Satan has more power than one would normally find among human beings. At the same time, I know that Satan is not divine; he is not God, does not have divine powers or attributes. He is a creature with the limitations that are found normally with creatureliness. He is an angel.
The Bible doesn’t give us an exhaustive list of the powers of angels. They are more powerful than people but far less powerful than God. Obviously God can read your mind. God is omniscient. He knows your thoughts as you think them—“There is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether” (Ps. 139:4). The tendency is for Christians to think that since God is a supernatural being and can read our minds, then Satan, also a supernatural being, must be able to read minds, too. But Satan’s powers are not equal to God’s.
A similar question would be, Can Satan be at more than one place at a time? I would be inclined to say no. I doubt that in my lifetime I will ever have to worry about Satan reading my mind, because I will probably never meet him. He can only be in one place at one time. He’s a creature, and creatures by definition are limited spatially and temporally. So Satan cannot be at more than one place at a time. He has all his little junior assistants, and he might send one of them to harass me and to tempt you and accuse you, but he’s going to save his time and energy for people of greater influence than me.
Satan focused his assaults upon Jesus in the New Testament. In the Temptation he entered into dialogue with Jesus. He knew what Jesus was thinking because of what Jesus said. But other than that, I don’t see any reason to believe that he could read your mind or read mine. Again, that may not necessarily be a divine power. He may be able to do it, but I have no reason to believe that he can.

Why do we depict Satan in such comical terms as a man in a red suit with a pitchfork when he is actually the enemy of our souls?

Obviously even a cursory reading of Scriptures indicates that such a view of Satan is foreign to the Bible. The Bible does not present Satan in comical garb at all but rather describes him as one who goes about masquerading as an angel of light. There’s nothing foolish or frivolous about him. Under the disguise of goodness he counterfeits the good and can seduce people not only by his cleverness but also by his apparent beauty.
I think the last way we would ever expect Satan to appear would be in red, woolen, itchy underwear with cloven hooves and horns, a tail, and a pitchfork. Where did that description come from, and why do we have that image of Satan in such a silly appearance? In the Middle Ages the people of God were very much concerned about the influence of Satan in their lives. They were earnest about trying to preserve their souls from their archenemy, who would try to destroy them. The church dealt in great detail with rites and rituals of exorcism and protection from evil spirits. They called upon certain angels, like Saint Michael, to protect the people from the attacks of Satan. They also came up with the idea that Satan’s greatest point of vulnerability, the point that caused his fall from heaven in the first place, was his pride.
The Bible gives different images of Satan. It says that he goes about as a roaring lion seeking to devour those whom he will. Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Satan would have you and sift you like wheat.” You get this image of the overwhelming power of Satan. Yet the other image that the Scriptures tell us is to “resist him and he will flee from you.” So in my mind’s eye I see this roaring lion who gives this ferocious snarl, but when you resist him, he runs down the street with his tail between his legs.
The church thought the best way to get rid of the assaults of Satan was to make fun of him, to insult his pride. They came up with these ludicrous caricatures in order to do that. What happened was that the next generation saw the caricatures and these grotesque cartoons and said that our fathers really believed that the devil was like this. Of course they didn’t—they knew very well that the devil wasn’t like that—but we have received the tradition without the explanation.