This book is a modest attempt to put the devil in his place. When Lucifer (whose name means “light bearer”) rolled the dice, gambling that he could do better by being God’s enemy rather than God’s friend, he set in motion a moral catastrophe that would reverberate throughout the universe. You and I have been deeply affected by his decision made in the ages long ago.
What may not be widely known is that Lucifer was already defeated the moment he sinned. He was defeated strategically, since as one of God’s creatures he would be forced to depend upon God for his continued existence. Any power he would exercise would always be subject to God’s will and decree. Thus moment by moment he would suffer the humiliation of knowing that he could never be the ultimate cause of his existence and power.
To clarify, I don’t mean to simply say that for every move he would make, God would make a countermove. That was true of course; but the situation for Satan would be more ominous. As will be shown in the chapters of this book, he cannot even now make his own first move without God’s express will and consent!
Let us boldly affirm that whatever mischief Satan is allowed to do, it is always appointed by God for the ultimate service of and benefit to the saints. William Gurnall, after encouraging believers to hold fast to the assurance that God is watching Satan’s every move and will not let him have the final victory, writes, “When God says ‘Stay!’ [Satan] must stand like a dog by the table while the saints feast on God’s comfort. He does not dare to snatch even a tidbit, for the Master’s eye is always upon him.”1 And so it is; our Master’s eye is ever upon him. After his first act of disobedience, his failure and doom were sealed.
Though he could never have predicted it, at the cross Lucifer would be defeated spiritually, for there Christ was guaranteeing that at least a part of fallen humanity would be purchased out from the kingdom of darkness to share in the kingdom of light. The fact that creatures who had fallen into Satan’s trap would eventually be exalted above the angelic realm he once led was more than he could bear. But bear it he must.
Finally, when he is thrown into the lake of fire, he will be defeated eternally in that he will be forever cast away from the divine presence. There in shameful agony he will unendingly contemplate his foolishness in standing against God. His humiliation will be public, painful, and endless. Even as you read these words, he is a hapless player in the drama that he himself set in motion. And there is nothing he can do to change the outcome.
In medieval times, the devil was often pictured as a long-tailed, cloven-hoofed jester with two horns and a red suit. He looked the part of a clown; he often was pictured as a loser in the conflicts of the ages. Cartoons depicted him as a buffoon whose very presence was an affront to humanity.
Let us not think that the people of the Middle Ages actually believed that the devil looked idiotic. They knew, even as we do, that he was actually an evil spirit who was both powerful and fearsome. The purpose of the caricatures was to strike at his most vulnerable point, namely his pride.
They wanted to convey that the devil was a fool to mount opposition to God. Though he is a being of immense intelligence, he was decidedly unwise to rebel against his Creator. The medievals made him out to look stupid because, despite his power and staggering knowledge, he was stupid indeed. They knew that the devil was both real and powerful; they also knew that he was misguided and defeated. Thus Luther insisted that when the devil persists, we should jeer and flout him, “for he cannot bear scorn.”
The medievals might be faulted for paying too much attention to the devil and often mixing biblical truth with legends and superstitions. But we must commend them for their vigorous belief in the existence of the Prince of Darkness. Our age, in contrast, must be faulted for giving him only scant recognition, or even worse, for giving him the kind of recognition he craves.
It has been said that those who are “born again” take the devil seriously.2 We who believe in the trustworthiness of the Bible are not guilty of disbelieving in his objective existence. We, above all, should take the devil seriously. Very seriously.
But our sincerity does not guarantee that our conception of the devil is accurate, even with the aid of evangelical books and messages that explore the reality of spiritual warfare. Yes, I believe that we are much better equipped to stand against our enemy because of the writings of those who have warned us of his schemes and reminded us of our resources to fight against him. As a young pastor, I was introduced to spiritual warfare by those who knew more about our enemy than I.
However, along with much helpful advice, some distortions have crept into our thinking that could play into the devil’s hands. Though they do not expressly state it, some writers imply that Satan can act independently of God; they speak as if God becomes involved in what the devil does only when we ask Him to. Because Satan is the “god of this world,” they think this means that he can be free to make his own decisions, inflicting havoc wherever and whenever he wishes.
I respectfully disagree.
Of course, all evangelicals concur that the devil will eventually be defeated; but for now, some teach he is free to do pretty much whatever he pleases in the world. The Satan of many of the so-called deliverance ministries is one who calls his own shots and wields his power, limited only by the broad parameters God has laid out for him. Satan, according to this theology, sets his own agenda and is free to harass us without much interference from the Almighty.
We need to be reminded of Luther’s words that even “the devil is God’s devil.” We have forgotten that only when we know who God is can we know who the devil is. Blessed are those who are convinced that the prince of this world has become the slave of the Prince of Peace.
History has examples of those who wrote about the devil without a careful study of the Scriptures. These writers have, for good or for ill, shaped much of our thinking about Satan. Let us remind ourselves of a few who were most influential.
Erwin W. Lutzer and R. C. Sproul Jr., God’s Devil: The Incredible Story of How Satan's Rebellion Serves God's Purposes (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015).