Thinking and writing about the devil is strange. I would argue that teaching on the devil has been largely neglected in the contemporary Reformed church. While there may be the more obvious danger of the devil’s being blamed for all sorts of our sins and living lives in fear of the evil one, in my experience that hasn’t been our great temptation as a church. Our danger is being unaware of the devil’s schemes and being very naive in our thinking about his role and place.

One of the reasons that I think it’s important for us to think these issues through is that it again reminds us that we are dealing with the supernatural. I fear that even in our proclamation of the gospel, we shy away from the spiritual realities of our faith. Christianity at its heart is unashamedly supernatural. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels demonstrates this with angels, healings, demons, miracles, and resurrection. In seeking to make the gospel more palatable, we may easily downplay the supernatural. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

We are at the very limit of our powers in seeking to understand the origin of the devil, trying to grasp the ungraspable and know the unknowable. There are many questions about why God allows the devil to exist. Why did He create, knowing that our world would fall into sin?

We know that with the advent of sin and evil we are able to grasp and understand something more of the love, grace, mercy, and holiness of God in a way that we would not have been able to if we had stayed in our state of perfection. But still, we do not know fully the reasons why God allowed the fall or allows the devil to continue on for now. We are creatures who cannot fathom the ways of our Creator. We must humbly accept that we do not know the answers to many of our questions. But while the origins of the devil are not absolutely clear, the aims and the end of Satan certainly are. In this article, we will consider what we know from Scripture about the devil’s aim and his end.

The Devil’s Aim

When it comes to the devil and his motivation, how are we to understand his ultimate aim? What is he aiming at? The way that the Bible describes him is helpful to us in this—the word Satan means “adversary.” He is the evil one, the prince of the power of the air;, the prince of darkness, the god of this world, Beelzebub, the tempter, the old serpent, the dragon, the father of lies. All these titles show him to be the enemy of God. He is the opposer of all that is good and the great promoter of evil. His aim is to be a rival; his motivation was to displace God. Satan’s pride drove him to fall.

We see this clearly in the final temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:9. He shows the Lord Jesus the kingdoms of this world and glory and says, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” We can question the legitimacy of whether he’d be able to keep his promise, but what is clear is the devil desires to be worshiped. Satan has been described as the “ape of God,” for he imitates God. Herman Bavinck makes the point: “When God builds a church, Satan adds a Chapel, over against the true prophet, he raises up a false prophet, over against the Christ, he poses the Antichrist. Satan himself appears as an angel of light.”

Satan desires to be worshiped. His longing to displace and even dethrone God is utterly futile, as we’ve seen previously. He is defeated and doomed, and he knows it. His craving for worship will never be met. This is what makes those who follow the devil utterly foolish—they worship the creation rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:18–23). Wonderfully, Jesus withstood the temptation where Adam and Israel failed. He emerged triumphant over the devil from the wilderness. In the rest of Jesus’ ministry, we again and again see Satan seeking to disrupt, distort, and destroy, to wreak havoc. Jesus’ mastery over the devil and his demons is one of the hallmarks of His ministry.

We must see the triumph of Christ, rejoice in it, and live in the light of it.

The Lord Jesus says of Satan: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Of course, we see this first played out in the garden of Eden when he speaks with Eve and interacts for the first time with a human being. Revelation 12:9 identifies “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”

Satan comes to Eve in the garden, where he distorts the clear word of God, casts doubt on the character of God, denies the truth of God’s word, and disrupts God’s creation. Death follows in his wake. Adam and Eve quite literally fall for it. There are half-truths, insinuations, accusations, and disturbances. In many ways, he plays his hand in Genesis 3, and the rest of Scripture just amplifies from there what the devil does. In this, we see Satan’s approach again and again with his ultimate desire to usurp God, to displace Him.

Satan’s aim, however, is unfulfilled and utterly futile. He has power, but it is limited. He tempts people to sin. He plucks the Word of God from the hearts of those who hear. He has blinded the eyes of many unbelievers. But all this is done under God’s sovereignty and authority. Satan wants to take as many with him as he can to the fate of destruction. But his aim of usurping and replacing God—his motivation of being worshiped—has been devastatingly destroyed. He’s on borrowed time.

Again, we are confronted with mysteries, and we marvel at the providence of God. While allowing the devil’s existence, the Lord displays His sovereign mastery over him. Incredibly and ultimately, the devil serves God’s purpose.

Our finite minds cannot comprehend this, but God’s good plans will be fulfilled even when it comes to Satan.

The Devil’s End

We need to make sure that we start in the right place regarding the devil, so it is vital for us to understand that the devil is defeated. He’s not all-powerful, he is not eternal, he’s not able to do what he wants, and he does not have free rein. He has been defeated in time and space.

First John 3:8 tells us that Christ appeared to destroy the works of the devil. It is, of course, the great plotline of the Bible—the promise of Genesis 3:15 fulfilled, that one would come from the line of Eve to crush the head of that ancient serpent (Rev. 12:9).

Christ’s life from its very beginning was marked by conflict with the powers of darkness, and He is victorious each time when the demons tempt Him or confront Him. There is not one occasion where Christ is not master of evil, and yet the great battle was leading Him ultimately to the cross. Our Lord is fully aware of how high the stakes are at Calvary. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus said:

“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. Our Lord is fully aware of how high the stakes are at the cross. (John 12:31–33)

The Apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 2:15 that on the cross, “he disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” God publicly and finally humiliated Satan. Satan was disarmed and triumphed over through Christ’s sacrificial death. Once and for all, Christ has triumphed over evil.

The phrase “putting them to open shame” is the same word that is used of Joseph in Matthew 1:19. Joseph “did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace” when he learned of her being pregnant, but it is precisely that which God has done to Satan. Therefore, the writer of the Hebrews tells us that through Christ’s death He destroys “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Christ’s victory is gained through injury; it is in being crushed that Christ crushes Satan, as Sinclair Ferguson says, “The prince of death is defeated by Christ’s death.” Christ in His work at the cross beats the one who has the power of death. In His death, our sin is dealt with and its death wages paid, so we do not need to go through life living in fear of death.

The New Testament teaches that Satan is bound. Jesus is the One who overpowers the strong man (Mark 3:27). He overpowers Satan in the temptations in the wilderness. The kingdom of God has come in Jesus, and so demons are cast out (Luke 11:20). He is defeated, but he is not yet finally destroyed. He is unable to hinder the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. He is able to disrupt and cause division, but he will not thwart God’s purposes. He still exists, he still roars and attacks and schemes, but he is bound. In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, the devil is pictured as a fierce lion, but he is on a chain. Satan is doomed. There will be a day when Satan will be destroyed (Rev. 20:10). That day is as certain as Christ’s resurrection. He’s on borrowed time; the clock is ticking down. He will be cast into the lake of fire.

We live in the now of Christ’s victory at the cross over Satan and the not yet of final judgment when that victory over Satan will be fully seen and acknowledged. No illustration is perfect for this, but when a sporting team wins a trophy, there is a moment between the final whistle of a match when the victory has been secured but the trophy has not been lifted. The team has won the trophy even though the trophy is not yet in their hands. That moment of coronation is still to come, and yet it is inevitable. We’re in that position. Christ’s victory has been secured, yet we wait for Christ’s victory still to be made visible.

The devil has no authority or power over the Christian; our Savior is victorious. We must see the triumph of Christ, rejoice in it, and live in the light of it.

One way that thinking of Christ’s victory over Satan helps us enormously is in our fighting the temptation to make everything about us. Yes, the cross has purchased our salvation—the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me—but it is more. It is greater than my personal salvation. There was something bigger, something cosmic in nature taking place that first Good Friday. It was there that He disarmed and triumphed over the devil.

Christ is victorious.

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