I’ve heard it said that the devil doesn’t really exist and that whenever the Bible mentions the devil it is simply a personification of evil. What do you think?
Many people have questioned whether or not it’s possible in this day and age to believe in a personal devil. Many otherwise sincere Christians, who have been affected far more than they should by the Enlightenment, have suggested that “Satan” or “the devil” is simply a personification of evil; that there is no real personal being, no real malevolent spirit, known as Satan. They think this is just the Bible’s way of speaking about evil to a pre-scientific and superstitious people. “Now, of course,” they say, “we know better. Now we’re scientific. We’re rational. We now know that this is just a figure of speech.”
We know nothing of the sort. In fact, just the opposite is true. The devil is mentioned often in such a way and in such contexts that lead us to exactly the opposite conclusion. He is a very real being, spiritual in nature, malevolent in character.
It is one of his tricks in our day and in the West to make people think he doesn’t exist. He then has an easier time of deceiving them, because they are not standing guard against him.
Let me ask you, who is easier to assault, someone who has no idea he has an enemy, or someone armed to the teeth and ready for battle because he not only knows he has an enemy but also knows the enemy is on the move, seeking to destroy him?
This is how the Bible speaks to us about the devil. The apostle Peter warns us: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8)
The names which are used in Scripture to speak of him are very instructive. The word “Satan” means opponent or adversary or enemy. And indeed he is the enemy of both God and men. He aims at nothing less than the complete overthrow of God’s kingdom and the damnation of human souls.
The chief means by which he opposes us and seeks to overthrow the kingdom of God is by tempting us to do evil. In fact, twice in the NT he is referred to simply as “the tempter.” The first is in Matthew chapter 4. Our Lord Jesus Christ had just spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting.
And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matt. 4:4)
The devil sought to devour Jesus; sought to undo him; sought to entice him to sin, not only here but at other times as well. On this occasion there were three temptations the devil used against him. But of course Jesus stood firm and never yielded to temptation.
The apostle Paul also refers to Satan as the “tempter.”
For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. (1 Thes. 3:5)
So “Satan” means opponent, adversary, enemy. And the chief ploy he uses to undo us is to tempt us to do evil.
But he also uses slander and accusation. In fact, the word “devil,” diabolos in Greek, means accuser or slanderer.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. (Zech. 3:1)
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world— he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Rev. 12:9-10)
He slandered and accused Job before God by suggesting that Job only served God for the personal benefits he received from him.
There is another means he uses to tempt us to depart from God which is particularly effective, and that is to stir up persecution against us. In his message to the church at Smyrna in the 2nd chapter of Revelation, Jesus says,
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev. 2:10)
When the Bible mentions the devil, it is not merely a literary device for the purpose of personifying evil. It means a very real malevolent spiritual being, against whom we are to guard ourselves.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Eph 6:11)