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Knowing your Enemy (2 Cor. 11:13-15)

One of the things I learned about my wife on our first date (October, 1970) was that she didn't believe in a personal Devil. Having been raised in a liberal, mainline denominational church, she rarely if ever heard the gospel proclaimed while numerous biblical truths were routinely mocked and denied, Satan's existence being one. Whether or not one believes that a literal, personal spiritual being called Satan actually exists is dependent on one's view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. If one affirms the latter, he or she will affirm the former (as is now the case with my wife!). The opposite almost always holds true as well.

There's no mistaking the fact that the apostle Paul believed in the reality of Satan and his efforts to undermine the life and purity of God's church (see 2 Cor. 2:11). As we turn our attention to 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 and Paul's description of Satan's activity, it would do us well to take a closer look at the biblical portrayal of our archenemy. Here we see that Paul pulls no punches in his denunciation of the intruders in Corinth and the spiritual energy that accounts for their work:

"For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds" (2 Cor. 11:13-15).

Satan is an angel (albeit a bad one). All angels were created (Col. 1:16; John 1:1-3). Therefore, Satan was created. He is, consequently, God's Devil. Satan is not the equal and opposite power of God. He is not eternal. His power is not infinite. He does not possess divine attributes. He is intelligent, but not omniscient; active, but not omnipresent. In sum, he is no match for God! If anything, Satan is the equal(?) and opposite power of the archangel Michael.

Two OT passages have been interpreted as descriptions of Satan's original fall: Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19 (I encourage you to read both texts before proceeding). As Sydney Page points out, "each is part of a funeral dirge lamenting the death of a pagan king. In both, the king is portrayed as having come to ruin because he exalted himself beyond what was appropriate. Although the form of the two texts is that of a funeral dirge, the sorrow at the passing of the monarch is not genuine. Both passages virtually drip with sarcasm. In reality, the tyrant's death is welcomed" (37). The question is, do these laments allude to Satan and his primordial rebellion?

Isaiah 14:12-15 appears in a passage that is specifically identified as a taunt of judgment against the king of Babylon (vv. 3-4). The taunt may be directed at one particular king (most likely Sennacherib) or perhaps "at the whole Babylonian monarchy personified as a single individual" (Page, 38). Clearly, though, the mocking lament portrays (indeed, celebrates) the demise of an earthly power that both opposes and oppresses the people of God (observe that this one is called a "man" in v. 16 and is compared with other earthly kings in vv. 18-19).

The language used in vv. 12-14 (and the arrogant, five-fold declaration, "I will") is certainly compatible with what we know of Satan's character, but may well be a use of poetic language to describe an earthly king. Many of the terms used here ("Day Star", "son of Dawn") have been found in texts dealing with ancient pagan mythology. Page notes that "the mythology was probably rooted in the observation of the brilliant rise of the planet Venus (the 'morning star') in the early morning sky and its rapid fading with the rise of the sun" (39). If this is true, Isaiah would be utilizing (without endorsing) motifs common in pagan mythology to describe the downfall of an earthly ruler. That is to say, he compares the king of Babylon to Venus in order to emphasize his stunning, though transient, appearance in power on the scene of world history and the eventual fading of his light when overtaken by the brilliance of the sun.

Others have argued that whereas all this may be true, we can still see in this description of an earthly opponent of God (the Babylonian king) his model and heavenly inspiration (Satan). But is that what Isaiah had in mind when he wrote it?

Turning to Ezekiel 28:11-19, we see that vv. 1-11 refer to the "prince" or "ruler" of Tyre (a Phoenecian port city @ 125 miles northwest of Jerusalem). Vv. 2,9-10 clearly indicate that he is human, not angelic. The historical setting is the siege of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar from 587 to 574 b.c. The king of Tyre during this period was Ithobaal II.

Vv. 12-19 refer to the "king" of Tyre, suggesting to some that vv. 12-19 refer to a supernatural power behind the human ruler of vv. 1-11. However, this word ("king") is used elsewhere in Ezekiel of earthly rulers (17:12; 19:9; 21:19; 24:2; 26:7; 29:2-3,18; 30:10,21; 31:2; 32:2,11), leading most to believe that the "prince" of vv. 1-11 and the "king" of vv. 12-19 are one and the same ("prince" and "king" being synonymous). On the other hand, the "king" of vv. 12-19 seems to be portrayed in terms that go beyond what is true of any earthly king (e.g., "perfection", "in Eden", "created", "cherub", "holy mountain of God", "blameless").

The identification of this king in v. 14 as an "anointed guardian cherub" is considered the strongest evidence that the reference is to Satan. Others have pointed out, however, that the Hebrew text may just as easily be translated, "with a cherub". Also, it is difficult to understand how dishonest or unrighteous trade and the profaning of sanctuaries (v. 18) could have been involved in the fall of Satan.

How, then, are we to understand the reference to the garden of "Eden" in v. 13? Most believe that that the king of Tyre is being compared with Adam. "Perhaps the king believed himself to be the re-embodiment of the first man, and Ezekiel is using arrogant claims made by the king himself to set his defeat in sharper relief. . . . In effect, Ezekiel would be holding the king's pretensions up to ridicule by charging that, whatever claims he might make about his relationship with the primeval period, there is at least one similarity - like Adam, he stands under divine judgment for rebelling against his Creator" (Page, 42).

Others, such as Lamar Cooper, contend that the description of the king of Tyre in Ezekiel simply cannot be exhausted by reference to this one earthly figure. He writes:

"Overlaid in these prophetic messages [in 28:1-19] are many elements that extend beyond the characteristics of the city or the king. . . . Ezekiel presented the king of Tyre as an evil tyrant who was animated and motivated by a more sinister, unseen tyrant, Satan. . . . The sinister character of the mastermind behind God's enemies is not always recognized. The real motivating force behind the king of Tyre was the adversary, the satan, who opposed God and his people from the beginning (28:6-19)" (Ezekiel, The New American Commentary, 268-69).

When did Satan fall? The Bible gives no clear answer to this question. Some have argued that it could not have been prior to the sixth day of Genesis 1, since everything in God's creation until that time is said to have been "very good" (Gen. 1:31). However, this declaration may pertain only to the material creation in view. Perhaps Satan's rebellion antedates Genesis 1:1. Others insist that it occurred only just before he approached Eve in the garden. We simply don't know.

The names used to describe our Enemy reveal much about his character and activity. Satan, used 52x, literally means "the adversary," the one who opposes (see Zech. 3:1-2; see Num. 22:22,32; 1 Sam. 29:4; 2 Sam. 19:22; 1 Kings 5:4; 11:14,23,25). In Psalm 109:6 it has the sense of "accuser" or "prosecuting attorney". In the book of Job the word always appears with the definite article, hence "the Satan", indicating that it is a title, descriptive of his function and character (1:6,7(2),8,9,12(2); 2:1,2(2),3,4,6,7).

We see clearly in Job 1:12 that Satan has no power or authority beyond what God grants or permits. Derek Kidner makes it clear, however,

"that this is indeed permission, not abdication; for in both these chapters [Job 1-2] it is God who sets the limits of the test. The conditions are all that the challenger could desire (for nothing would be proved or disproved by Job's death, 2:6), but they are of God's choosing, not his. Likewise, at the end, it will be God who calls a halt to it - as it will be also (we may add) at the end of history" (59).

A NT parallel to this is found in Luke 22:31-32 where Jesus warns Peter that "Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat." Notice that when given permission by God, Satan is able to exercise tremendous destructive influence on nature, nations, and individuals. This would also indicate that there is an on-going restraint by God put on Satan and what he can do.

The word Devil, used 35x, literally means "slanderer" or "accuser" (diabolos; see 1 Sam. 29:4; 1 Kings 11:14). In Luke 4:2,13, and Revelation 12:9,12, it is the devil's aim to defame. He is a constant source of false and malicious reports.

He is also called the ancient serpent (Rev. 12:9,15; an obvious allusion to Genesis 3; cf. 2 Cor. 11:3; Rom. 16:20), the great red dragon (Rev. 12:3,7,9,17; he is a terrifying, destructive beast), and the ruler or prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). John does not make clear how it is that Satan came to exercise such authority over the world, although it is likely that he became such as people, through their sin, granted him power.

In Ephesians 2:2, Satan is described as the "prince of the power (exousia) of the air. The word translated "power" or "authority" denotes the realm or sphere or empire of the devil's influence (i.e., demonic hosts; see Col. 1:13). The word "air" could refer to (1) the literal atmosphere around us (hence the abode of demonic spirits); (2) or it could be synonymous with "darkness" (cf. Lk. 22:53; Eph. 6:12; Col. 1:13); or (3) it might be a reference to the nature of the demonic hosts; i.e., they are unearthly, spiritual, not human. (4) More likely still, it entails all these ideas and is simply "another way of indicating the ‘heavenly realm', which, according to Ephesians 6:12, is the abode of those principalities and powers, the ‘world-rulers of this darkness' and ‘spiritual forces of wickedness', against which the people of Christ wage war" (O'Brien, 160).

As we saw earlier in 2 Corinthians 4:4 he is the god of this world (but see Ps. 24:1; 89:11). Jesus referred to him as the evil one (Mt. 13:38; John 17:15; cf. 1 John 2:14; 5:18). In fact, there is good reason to conclude that the final petition in the Lord's Prayer ("deliver us from evil"; Mt. 6:13) is a reference to Satan. The use of the adjective "evil" (poneros) with the definite article "the" in Mt. 13:19,38; John 17:15; Eph. 6:16; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 John 2:13-14; 3:12 and 5:18 clearly refers to Satan. This petition is probably an allusion to Jesus' own encounter with Satan in the wilderness and thus a reminder that we can expect to encounter the tempter in much the same way he did. Finally, the word translated "from" (apo) is used predominantly with persons, not things.

He is the prince or ruler of demons (Mt. 10:25; 12:26-27; Luke 11:15; 2 Cor. 6:15), also known as Beelzebul. The name or title Beelzebul has been taken to mean "lord of dung" (i.e., god of filth), "enemy", "lord of the dwelling" (i.e., the dwelling of demons), and "lord of the flies", a title given to one of the pagan gods of the Philistines, brought over into Judaism as a name for Satan.

According to Revelation 9:11, "his name in Hebrew is Abaddon [ruin or destruction] and in Greek he is called Apollyon [exterminator or destroyer]." Finally, he is the tempter (Mt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5), the accuser (Rev. 12:10), and the deceiver of the whole world (Rev. 12:9; 20:3).

Of particular concern to us is the way Satan infiltrates the local church and operates through "his servants," whom Paul calls "false apostles, deceitful workmen" who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. This will be our focus in the next meditation.