Jesus himself also traces the origins of evil to Satan: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). As the Lord alludes, then, “from the beginning” the devil has proved himself to be a recalcitrant rebel by the things he has done, working out his deceit even unto bloodshed. As Theodore writes, “He is the father of falsehood because he generated it and was the first to use it by speaking to Adam when he substituted certain words in place of others” (Commentary on John 3.8.44 in Oden 3.11.3).
Echoing the Lord’s words, John later points out that “the devil has been sinning from the beginning” and that the one who “does not practice righteousness, nor . . . love his brother” is the true spawn of Satan (1Jo 3:8, 10; see Acts 13:10). And again, the model is in the beginning: “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1Jo 3:12).
So as much as we would like to write-off the devil as just another piece of pre-modern myth, his influence in our daily lives is unavoidable and undeniable. Jesus calls him “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 16:11), while Paul refers to him as “the god of this age” (2Co 4:4). As Oden writes, “Satan has become through deception the god of this world, the author of countless idolatrous imitations of faith and pretensions to divinity” (3.11.3). So whether men call him Belial (2Co 6:15; see too the KJV OT) or Baal-zebub/Beelzebul (literally, “Lord of Flies”; 2Ki 1:2-3, 6; Mat 9:34; etc.), Satan’s titles point to his role as the leader of “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
The devil’s power, however, is only over darkness, and so he has no claim over the true Lord of heaven and earth (Luke 22:53; John 14:30). Nor does he have any authority over those whom God has delivered “from the domain of darkness and transferred . . . to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13; see Acts 26:18). In the book of Revelation we learn that Satan’s rule extends even to death, where John refers to him as “king” of the demons consigned to the abyss and “the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon [Destruction], and in Greek he is called Apollyon [Destroyer]” (Rev 9:11; see ESV margin). But even here his authority is not without limit, for the one who owns the keys to Death has already taken them back (Mat 16:18; Rev 1:18; 20:1-3; Heb 2:14).
John’s description of Satan here also points us to the thorny question of the devil’s origins. Ultimately, Satan’s power is limited because despite his turn to consummate wickedness and his enmity toward God and his people, the devil owes his very existence to the Lord of heaven and earth. Everett Ferguson summarizes how the early church recognized this internal logic of the scriptural testimony concerning Satan:
Since Christians affirmed that there is only one God, who is the creator of all that exists [1Co 8:5-6; Col 1:16], and yet there is sin [in] the world [Rom 5:12-13], the only logical conclusion was that the devil and demons were spiritual beings created by God who at some time and in some way had turned away from obedience to God. The devil or evil was not a force co-equal or co-eternal with God [Isa 40:28; 1Ti 6:16]. (ECS2 147, internal citations omitted)
The chief of the earthly order of angelic powers, who was entrusted by God with the guardianship of the earth, was not made to be evil by nature but was made good and for the good. From his Creator he did not have any trace of evil at all within him. But he did not sustain the brightness and honor that the Creator had given him, and by virtue of the choice of his own free will he was changed from what was in harmony with nature to what was against nature, and he was exalted and wished to rebel against God, who created him. He was the first to depart from the good and become evil. (Orthodox Faith 2.4. in IW 171)
- The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis & Wayne Grudem. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Accordance.
- Ferguson, Everett. Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries. Vol. 2 (ECS2). Abilene: ACU, 2002. Print.
- —. Inheriting Wisdom: Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers (IW). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004. Print.
- Noll, Stephen F. Angels of Light, Powers of Darkness: Thinking Biblically About Angels, Satan & Principalities. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2003. Print.
- Oden, Thomas C. Classic Christianity. HarperCollins, 2009. iBooks. I have omitted most patristic citations in quotes from this work to improve readability.
- Sweet, Louis Matthews. “Satan.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. James Orr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1915. Accordance.