No sooner have we acknowledged that we are wrestling with “spiritual hosts” (i.e., an army of evil spirits) in the heavenly places than we have to turn our attention to the leader of that army of evil spirits. The Apostle Paul describes him as “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). Martin Luther poetically named him “the Prince of Darkness grim.” The Scriptures reserve the following titles for him: “Satan,” “that great serpent of old,” “the accuser of the brethren,” “the father of lies,” “a murderer,” “our adversary,” and “a roaring lion.” These names denote something of his attributes. In Demonologia Sacra, Richard Gilpin highlighted the following four preeminent attributes of Satan:
1. His hatred and hostility. Satan is full of enmity toward Christ and, therefore, also toward all those who belong to Christ. He is full of iniquity and therefore aims all of his sinful hatred toward those in the kingdom of God. We must remember that our enemy is strong in his malice. There is, Gilpin noted, also an increase to his rage against the saints. His power may increase at times, commensurate with the agenda he has to destroy one of Christ’s little ones. We must never underestimate the hatred of Satan in his seeking to destroy believers.
2. His power. Satan is not only full of hostility; he is full of relentless malice. Though his power is a delegated and limited power, it is nevertheless real power. It is based on the commission that he was given at creation. His fall did not negate what God had endowed him with in the beginning—it merely redirected its original intent. If angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will inherit salvation,” fallen angels are now evil spirits roaming the earth, seeking whom they may spiritually kill and destroy. Satan is chief among them.
When God permitted Satan to attack Job and all that he had, Satan exercised that power over the army of nations (Job 1:15, 17), over the natural elements (1:16, 18–19) and over disease (2:7). Though Satan and his army of evil spirits may not possess a true believer, he may and will most certainly oppress any of God’s children, as the Lord grants him permission to afflict.
In Scripture, Satan’s power is best conceived of by the analogy of a lion: “a beast of prey, whose innate property is to destroy, and is accordingly fitted with strength, with tearing paws, and a devouring mouth; that as a lion would rend a kid with ease, and without resistance, so are men swallowed up by him, as with open mouth.” This is the power of our adversary.
3. His cruelty. Satan is cruel in his dealings with God’s children. He wastes no time in exerting his malice and power against them. Satan loves to wound believers by snaring them in temptations suitable to their own inclinations. When they have fallen, Satan loves to press in on their wounded consciences. Satan directs his cruel malice and power toward believers, seeking to paralyze them and move them away from fruitful service in the kingdom of God and Christ.
The evil one also loves to stir up one believer against another and to destroy the reputation of believers among their fellow believers. The Apostle Paul tells us that one of Satan’s cruel motives is to move believers to act in censorious ways to other repentant believers who have stumbled or fallen (2 Cor. 2:5–11).
Satan’s cruelty toward Christ’s own is also manifest in the persecutions that he aims at through the malice of the world. He loves to stir up the hatred and hostility of unbelievers in persecuting the church of God. This is among his foremost tactics in attacking Christ’s people with his cruel intentions.
4. His diligence. Satan is unrelenting in the exertion of his hostility, power, and cruelty toward believers. Though God has promised us that if we resist him, he will flee from us, he knows that he has a little time and therefore he seeks to cut off the legs of every child of God he can. He is diligent in seeking to steal the seed of God’s Word from the minds of those who are on the brink of conversion. He is always diligent in seeking to deceive “if possible, even the elect” with false teaching, signs, and wonders. He is ever seeking to divert the minds and hearts of believers away from Christ and the work of redemption.
God has not left us ignorant of the sphere of warfare or of the enemy himself. Much biblical revelation from the first promise of Christ’s victory over the evil one (Gen. 3:15) is taken up with a revelation about the nature of spiritual warfare. In the forthcoming posts in this series, we will consider the weapons and the strategy of the warfare in which we are daily engaged.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on March 29, 2019 and is part of a series. Next post.