Relevant Biblical Passages: Isa. 14:12-15; Ezek. 28:12-17; Rev. 12
Power Play or Moral Conflict? It is possible to view the great struggle between Christ and Satan as simply a battle between two great generals, one leading the forces of good, the other leading the forces of evil. But we should not ignore the larger issue which these great opponents represent: What is the nature of “good” and the nature of “evil” and how can the “good” do battle with “evil” without partaking of the “evil” itself?
The Issue Comes Clear In the New Testament: In this lesson we touch on key biblical passages which highlight the nature of the conflict and help us understand the character of God’s opponent. Clarity only emerges in the New Testament since only three Old Testament contexts (all written or canonized toward the end of the Old Testament) explicitly identify Satan as a supernatural being opposed to God:
Job 1:6-12; 2:1-8. God and Satan debate over Job’s integrity. In the entire book of Job, Satan only appears in these two “heavenly scenes” in the prologue.
1 Chronicles 21:1. Satan tempts David to number Israel; in the earlier parallel passage, 2 Sam. 24:1, God is the tempter, not Satan.
Zechariah 3:1-5. God rebukes Satan, the accuser of Joshua the high priest.
Four additional contexts, where the identification is implied rather than explicit, have also been interpreted by Christians as applying to Satan:
Genesis 3. The serpent is simply “more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made” (3:1, NRSV). Not until Revelation 12:7 does any Jewish or Christian source explicitly identify the serpent with Satan.
Leviticus 16. On the great Day of Atonement, one of two goats was designated “for Azazel” (16:8) and was taken into the wilderness “to Azazel” (16:10). Azazel is not further identified in the Old Testament; but the author of the intertestamental book 1 Enoch chose the name “Azazel” for the leader of the angelic rebels..
Isaiah 14:12-15. Described under the heading of “the king of Babylon” (14:3), the “Day Star” (Lucifer) seeks divine status, but is cast down instead. The first known interpreter to link this “Lucifer” with Satan is the Christian writer Tertullian (d. AD 240).
Ezekiel 28:11-19. A companion text of Isaiah 14, but with a more tantalizing history of interpretation. Textual variants suggest that this description of the “king of Tyre” (28:12) may have been seen by some as the fall of the first man rather than the fall of Satan. The first explicit link with Satan was not made until several centuries into the Christian era.
In the New Testament, Satan is a dominating presence. The two temptation accounts in the Gospels (Matthew 4 and Luke 4) are important for fleshing out the nature of the conflict between Christ and Satan.. For the history of Satan, however, Revelation 12:7-12 is the most significant passage. Not only does this passage affirm the link between the serpent and Satan, but also establishes the cross as the key focal point of the cosmic conflict.
1. Given the fact that Satan plays such a small role in the Old Testament (at the explicit level, at least) how could one understand the cosmic conflict if all one had was the Old Testament?
2. What is it about Isaiah 14 and 28 which would suggest to Christian interpreters that these passages really do reveal something of the history and character of Satan?
3. Given some subtle but important exegetical clues in Revelation 12:7-12, why has it been easy to think of the “war in heaven” as only a primeval event rather than as one which climaxes at the cross and continues on earth for a time thereafter?
4. Putting all the pieces together, how can we succinctly define the nature of the conflict between Christ and Satan? What is the crucial issue? Or are there multiple issues involved?