Satan: A Limited but Fearsome Foe

by Justin Craft

And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:12)

Read: Job 1:6-2:7

Devotion: When you hear the name Satan, or the Devil, or Lucifer, what first comes to mind? Do you picture a horned, bright red, goatee-wearing, pitchfork-holding, pointy-tailed, ruler-of-hell figure that is often seen in television, movies, and comic books? That popular depiction of Satan, as cheesy as it is, reminds us that the vast majority of the world, and even many Christians, have an incorrect view of Satan.

That is, if they even believe he exists at all.

In this article, I am not going to argue for Satan’s existence, because the clear testimony of Scripture is that he is very real. Instead, I am going to tackle two common misconceptions about Satan often held by those who know that he is real and believe he is the enemy of God and his people. The first view, which we can call the Ruler of Hell view, severely overestimates Satan’s power, authority, and ability. Meanwhile, the second view, which we’ll call the Bound Satan view, greatly underestimates Satan’s power, authority, and ability.

Ruler of Hell View
Those who hold to the Ruler of Hell view see Satan almost as an equal to God, but as God’s opposite. This is probably the most common view among unbelievers because this is the view of Satan that is most often portrayed in movies and television shows: he rulers over the netherworld, he’s in charge of the eternal torment of the wicked, and he often accomplishes his evil acts outside of the will and desire of God.

For all intents and purposes, Satan is essentially Hades from Greek mythology. But that’s nowhere near the picture of Satan that we see in the Bible. In the book of Job, for example, when Satan presents himself to God with the other angels, the Lord asks for his report, which Satan promptly delivers (Job 1:6-7). God asks Satan whether he knows about his servant, Job. Satan responds with a slanderous lie about God’s judgment of Job’s character (Job 1:8-11). Lastly, God allows Satan to destroy all that Job has, but with the clear condition that Satan cannot actually touch Job (Job 1:12). Satan obeys that limitation (vv. 13-19). In chapter two, we find an interaction between God and Satan similar to the previous conversation (Job 2:1-6).

From these two interactions we learn important truths that contradict that pervasive, Ruler of Hell image of Satan. First, we learn that Satan is not omnipresent—he is not everywhere in the world at once. Like us, he has to travel up and down on it. Now, as a fallen angel (Rev 12:7), he can presumably travel a lot easier and faster than we can, but he can’t be everywhere at once.

Second, Satan is not omniscient. He doesn’t know everything and cannot read minds. He didn’t know about Job nor how Job would react to his suffering. Yes, Satan is immensely proud and maybe really believed that Job would curse God if Satan just tormented him enough, but conclusion would just further prove my point: if Satan truly believed that Job would curse God, then he can’t tell the future, nor did he know Job’s heart and thoughts because Job didn’t sin or curse God (1:22; 2:10).

In both of his interactions with God, Satan is bound by the limits and restraints that God puts on him.

Third, Satan is not omnipotent. In both of his interactions with God, Satan is bound by the limits and restraints that God puts on him. He can’t do whatever he wants to Job. He can only go as far as God will let him, just as God will say of the proud waves of the sea in (Job 38:10-11). Adding all three points together and we see that Satan is nowhere close to the level of God. He can’t get something past God, he can’t overpower God, he can’t thwart God on even the smallest point, he cannot defeat God’s messengers (Rev. 12:7-8, 20:1-3; Jude 9), and on the last day. Christ will defeat him in an instant and as he is thrown into hell, the lake of fire, where he will be tormented day and night for all eternity (Rev. 20:9-10). So much for being the ruler of hell.

Bound Satan View
The second view of Satan, the Bound Satan view, sees Satan as a powerless, cowardly enemy who is easily defeated and unable to harm people if they use the right prayers or exercise enough faith. This view isn’t as prevalent as the first view, but is popular among some Christians. Those who hold this view usually talk about binding Satan and may even give advice on how to bind Satan. But we must ask: if human beings, even believers full of the Holy Spirit, can “bind” Satan, why do they keep letting him out?

As believers, we cannot view Satan too highly, as if he is operating outside of God’s control, but neither can we underestimate him. Though he was limited (by God, not by Job), he still killed Job’s children, Job’s flocks, destroyed Job’s homes, and struck Job with horrible sores all over his body. Similarly, Paul was afflicted with a mysterious “messenger of Satan” from which the apostle prayed three times to be delivered, but which God did not remove for the sake of Paul’s sanctification (2 Cor 12:7).

The point is this: Yes, James tells us, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” (James 4:7), but we don’t resist the devil with magic incantations like, “Satan, I bind thee!” He’s not weak. He is a prowling lion looking to devour those who are naive about his strength (1 Pet 5:8). We resist Satan by submitting ourselves to God and persevering, by faith, through any suffering that God may allow Satan to afflict us with (James 4:7; 1 Pet 5:9-10). That’s how Job resisted the devil, and that’s what we’re called to do as well. So, we need to have a right view of Satan. He is a fearsome foe that we shouldn’t take lightly as believers, but he is a limited foe. No matter what evil Satan does here on earth, to us and others, God is working all things out for his ultimate purposes and the believer’s good (Rom 8:28).

Discuss and Pray Together: Discuss how you have typically viewed Satan. What are some dangers of holding false views about Satan? Finish by praying for Christ’s return and the final defeat of Satan.   

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