5 Misconceptions About the Devil

Many people, including Bible-believing Christians, have a lot of wacky views about the devil that are just flat-out not true. What does the Bible really say about Satan? And what does it not say? Here are 5 common misconceptions about the devil.

#1 – He is not real.

In the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects, Roger Kint says “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” This is actually a very profound statement. In many parts of the world, the idea of a devil or other supernatural beings existing is a commonly held belief. But in our modern, secular world, that notion is much more rare. For some, the idea that there could be a devil is lunacy on par with believing in the tooth fairy. And, to a large extent, I can see why someone would think that way.

But Jesus has a different point of view. The Bible records Jesus speaking about the devil roughly a dozen times in the gospels, including a lengthy, personal encounter with him recorded in Matthew chapter 4. It is clear from the Scriptures that Jesus not only believed in a literal devil, but also understood him to be the enemy of God and people. I point this out simply to say that, if you are going to scoff at the notion of the devil, you need to know that you are basically saying you know better than Jesus himself. Maybe you are comfortable saying that, but I’m sure not!

#2 – He is as powerful as God.

Even if you believe the devil exists, that doesn’t mean you have an accurate understanding of him. I have encountered many Christians who seem to give the devil too much credit. They picture him as a foe virtually on par with God, locked in a battle with him that could go either way.

But this is not the Bible’s portrayal of the devil. Yes, he is a powerful being, more powerful than any human being and even more than any other angel. Even Michael, who appears to be the highest-ranking angel in God’s army, is said to have not engaged in a fight with the devil apart from God’s help (Jude 1:9). So it is okay to give the devil his due as a significant foe.

But at the same time, when it comes to comparing the devil to God, the battle isn’t even close. God is everywhere; the devil is not. God is all-powerful; the devil is not. God is all-knowing; the devil is not. The Bible nowhere portrays Satan as having any of these attributes. God alone possess them. In the matter of God vs. the devil, we’re talking about a freight train vs. a Jenga tower. Sure, a Jenga tower is intimidating to tiny ants like us, but it’s got nothing on a steaming locomotive!

#3 – He has horns and a tail.

The red suit and cape make for a great Halloween costume, but the typical cartoonish-caricature of the devil is not a reflection of reality. The Bible says that Satan was originally an angel in heaven, and desiring to be worshipped like God, led a rebellion against him. For that little stunt, God gave him the boot. Isaiah 14:12-17 is one place that refers to these events.

If the devil is really a fallen angel, then that means he is a spirit being. He does not have a body (although he can posses a human body, like he did with Judas Iscariot, Luke 22:3). The only instances that describe the appearance of Satan in the Bible include him taking the form of a snake (Genesis 3) and a dragon (Revelation 20:2). In another place he is symbolized as a lion (1 Peter 5:8). The point is that he does not look anything like what you would expect him to.

devil

In fact, 2 Corinthians 11:14 says “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” This means that even if you were to have a personal encounter with the devil, you likely would not realize it. Deception is a major part of his game plan. He seeks to trick people by seeming innocent and helpful, not cunning and evil. So it’s entirely likely that if the devil ever did show up, an undiscerning person would think he is an holy angel of God.

#4 – He can do whatever he wants.

The world is a dark and painful place, and much of that has to do with the existence of the devil (we don’t always help matters when we act in harmful ways either). But the devil does not get to run around our planet wreaking havoc unchecked.

The book of Job sheds some very helpful light on this issue. The opening chapters (1:6-2:10) describe an encounter between God and the devil over Job, a God-fearing man. Satan argues that the reason Job loves God is because his life is perfect. But, the devil suggests, if Job were to suffer some hardship, he would curse God to his face. God responds, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand” (1:12). In other words, God lays out the bounds that Satan can operate in: he is permitted to mess up Job’s life, but not to touch his body. Later, he is permitted to take away Job’s health, but not to kill him.

Something similar happens when Jesus encounters evil. In Luke 8:26-33, Jesus meets a man possessed by multiple evil spirits (though not technically the devil). The demons beg Jesus not to torment them, and instead Jesus commands them to come out of the man and enter a herd of pigs. Earlier in Luke 4:41, Jesus crossed paths with other demons and “would not permit them to speak”.

What we see from these encounters (and others could be mentioned), is that God is in complete control over the devil. Satan is on a leash, and he goes only as far as God permits. And eventually the day will come when God will put an end to the devil’s work for good. Speaking of that…

#5 – He’s in charge of hell.

Perhaps the most flawed view of the devil is that hell is his personal playground. We tend to picture him running around jabbing people with his pitchfork, having the time of his life. But this is decidedly not the case. Hell is not the devil’s domain. Rather, it is his prison.

Revelation 20:10 describes Satan’s end: “and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” What this verse says so clearly is that the devil is not tormenting people in hell. Rather, he is being tormented. In fact, Jesus said that hell is “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). My personal belief is that out of everyone who winds up in hell, Satan gets it the worst.

Satan does not rule hell. God does. Hell was created by God specifically for the devil and his angels, as a place to get their due. All of the evil and pain they have inflicted in the world will be paid back to them tenfold for the rest of eternity. The devil does not get off unpunished. All scores are evened, and God is the one with the last word.

One Last Thought

The devil is a defeated foe. He knows his end is coming. But in the meantime, he continues to be at work. I would encourage you to let the Bible guide your thinking about such matters as God and Satan and heaven and hell. Don’t take my word for it. Dig into it for yourself. God’s Word teaches that Satan is going down to the pit, and his aim is to take as many people with him as he can. All those who reject Jesus are in effect siding with the devil, and will therefore share in his fate. But it need not be that way! Jesus invites us to eternal life with him. All we need to do is believe on him for deliverance from the just punishment of our own sins, and embrace him as our God and Saviour and Treasure.

Consider the invitation from Jesus’ own mouth:

[16] For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

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