“I’m trying to whip the devil; I’m trying to get sanctified.” -Johnny Cash
I was reading a book a couple of days ago that mentioned Satan in passing. It called him God’s “archenemy.” I thought that this was an interesting label to put on Satan. We all know about archenemies. They are the greatest enemy that someone faces. Superman’s archenemy is Lex Luther. Batman’s archenemy is the Joker. Green Lantern’s archenemy is Senestro (you all will soon know this since the movie is coming this summer). In each of these cases, the enemy represents the polar opposite of the hero. He is the bad guy. He is the archenemy because he represents the greatest threat the hero faces. This is either because the enemy’s power matches that of the hero or because his level of evil matches the level of goodness of the hero.
With regard to the God vs. Satan setup here, for reasons I hope to explain, I am not really comfortable calling Satan God’s archenemy, though he is definitely an enemy of God. While we don’t know that much about him (or angels and demons in general for that matter), he is presented in Scripture as a very powerful being that, simply put, does not want God to suceed. He is hell bent (pardon the pun) on wreaking havoc on the earth and causing God’s people to fail. I don’t know what his ultimate goal is (or if he even has one) or whether he really thinks he can “win” (whatever game he is playing), but I do know that he is introduced to us very early in the Scripture and is found late in the game as well. Out of the infinite things that are going on in God’s creation, out of the vast amount of information that God could have given us about so many other things, one thing is certain, God wants us to be aware of this particular creature.
While there is a lot we don’t know about him, here are some basics of Christian “satanology”:
- Satan is a creation of God who was originally good (1 Tim. 4:4).
- Satan desires to take the place of God (Matt. 4:8-10).
- Satan knows who Christ is (Mark 3:11).
- Satan is one from whom we need God’s protection (Matt. 6:13).
- Satan makes accusations against people to God (Rev. 12:10).
- Satan seeks to “devour” people (1 Pet. 5:8).
- Though I don’t know when Satan inherited the “throne”, there is some sense in which he is the ruler of this world (Jn. 14:30; John 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph. 2:2; 1; Jn 5:19).
While there is more we could expand on here, the question of the hour is this: If Satan is so evil and “anti-God” why did God put Satan in the Garden of Eden? While there is no way to know what would have happened had he not been present, it is evident from the narrative and the ensuing curse that Satan played a big part in the fall.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden ‘?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.'” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! 5 “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
14 And the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly shall you go, And dust shall you eat All the days of your life; 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
Wrong answer #1: It was not Satan in Eden.
It is popular among many biblical interpreters these days to be agnostic with regard to the identity of the snake in Eden. While I admire there faithfulness to the text of Genesis—which does not tell us the identity of the snake—we can be fairly certain that it was Satan (regardless of whether we take this as a literal account or not). When answering such questions, it is important that we look to the whole of the Scripture and employ a canonical understanding often called the “analogy of Scripture” (i.e. the Scripture interprets the Scripture). Testimony from the book of Revelation identifies the snake as Satan:
“And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”
Notice here that Satan is called “the serpent of old.” This identifies Satan with the snake in Eden. As well, he is called the one “who deceives the whole world.” This fits well the description of his antics in Eden.
Wrong answer #2: God did not put Satan in Eden; he infiltrated it through his power.
Satan is God’s Satan. That is what Martin Luther used to say. I think it is an apt theological description of the relationship between God and Satan. Satan is in submission to God. As someone has once said, Satan does nothing that does not first pass the desk of God. The book of Job illustrates this well where Satan has to gain permission to harm Job (Job 1:6-12).
This is why I don’t like to call Satan God’s archenemy. This gives him too much credit and stature. He is not the rival evil force of the universe. He is evil and powerful, yes. But he is not God nor is he a god. He is a created being who, compared to God, is not unlike you and me. Sure he has more power than us, but, relatively speaking, compared to God, he is weak and utterly dependent on God for his very existence. With a snap of his finger, God could extinguish Satan’s very existence. With a snap of the finger Satan could . . . well, he could possibly make a snapping sound. When we find Satan in Eden, we should not think that he somehow pulled an end-around on God. We should not think that he was some place that God did not intend for him to be. It could be that Satan was “cast down” or “fell” from heaven to the earth (Rev. 12:3-4). It could be that he has always had access to both heaven and earth. Either way, for better or worse, he was in Eden under the permission of God. Satan cannot infiltrate anything.
The Bible does not tell us why God put Satan in Eden. Even the word “put” is a bit misleading. It could very well be that God just allowed Satan to be there. Just speculating, but it could be that God knew that Satan would have accomplished a terrible yet, from another perspective, wonderful thing. By instigating the fall early, before humanity had the ability to propagate itself, God provided for a vital connection between all of humanity. We are all identified with Adam and his fall. This, in and of itself, is terrible. But since we were all identified with Adam, we can now all be identified with Christ. Had Adam not fallen when he did (before propagation), we may be left without a representative in salvation.
One thing we can be certain of is that God works out all things out according to his sovereign will. I can say with a great deal of certainty that it was God’s will for Satan to be there. Ephesians 1:11 tell us that God does all things according to the counsel of his will. All we can do is speculate why it was his will. If it was not God’s will for Satan to be there, one thing is for certain, he would not have been there. With this we can rest in the sovereign and loving hand of God knowing he knows what he is doing with all of his creation.
Satan is powerful, but not that powerful.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]