As we discussed in our last post, the most common reference to the devil in the Old Testament is the use of the word satan, meaning “Accuser”. In the New Testament, the most common reference is diabolos, meaning “Slanderer”. (Just like satan was a title, not a name, the same is true of daibolos – it can mean any slanderer, not specifically the devil. Thus John 6:70 is sometimes mistranslated as ‘devil’ instead of ‘slanderer’.)
First, notice the similarity between the two titles. Both satan and diabolos identify a being whose primary purpose is to accuse us before God. His primary, everyday mode of attacking us is not through temptation (though he does that) nor through creating suffering (though he does that as well, given God’s authorization). No, the primary method of attack from the devil is to lie – to lie to us and to lie to God. He tells us that we are not good enough to receive God’s favor, and tries to get us to question our salvation in Christ. Meanwhile, he tells God that we are not holy enough to make it into heaven.
He is, truly, the “Father of Lies”—the “Accuser” (satan) and the “Slanderer” (diabolos).
So, let’s see what more we learn about the devil through the passages referring to him as “Slanderer”.
In the New Testament, we first see the devil come onto the scene when Jesus has been baptized and is beginning His ministry. The Slanderer follows Jesus into the desert, and begins to tempt Him. The devil’s temptations to Jesus were threefold. First, he tempted Jesus to question His relationship to God (“if you are the son of God”, 4:3). Second, he tempted Jesus to test whether God truly takes care of Him (4:6). Finally, he tempted Jesus to reject God and seek after worldly pleasures instead (4:9).
Do you see that, today, most everything we are tempted by falls into these three categories? This is the devil’s primary modus operandi, and he has been using it forever. He will either tempt you into questioning your relationship as a child of God, or into questioning God’s goodness, or into embracing the world’s hedonism. Consider Eve, whom he tested by having her question her relationship to God. Consider Job, whose faith was tested into questioning whether God was good and protected him. The devil’s methods are effective, but they are obvious when you know to look for them.
In Matthew 25:41, Jesus tells us a bit about the afterlife, and the devil’s place in it. In discussing the afterlife, Jesus tells us that what we typically refer to as hell (more on that later) was not originally designed for man, but for the devil; He describes hell as, “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Luke 8:12, in the parable of the sower, shows again how the devil typically operates: he ‘steals away’ the word of God out of people’s hearts. His role is to have us doubt God’s love for us, so that we might actually choose to give up the inheritance that we are offered.
In the Gospel of John, we see that the devil was the one who put the idea of betraying Jesus into Judas. Now Judas did the sin all of his own accord; but the devil was given permission to tempt him. I wonder – what did the devil think happened? The book of Job indicates that the devil had to go to God for permission to tempt Job to sin; did he have to get permission here as well? Did he approach God, just as he did thousands of years before, and say, “Judas only follows Jesus because of such-and-such; let me put the idea of betrayal in him and he will do it?” Clearly, based upon what we have read thus far, God knew what the devil would tempt, knew Judas would fall, and knew that it would result in the salvation of all mankind.
In the Epistles, we learn a few more things about the ‘slanderer’. The devil is a “power of this dark world and …the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. Note again where the devil is currently residing—the “heavenly” realms…not hell. This is a major misunderstanding of most people. Paul tells us that to protect ourselves against the devil we must remember the truth, remain righteous, wield the Word of God like a sword, and trust in our faith. (Eph 6). In 1 Timothy 3, Paul recommends that leaders of the church (pastors and elders) not be young in the faith, or they may fall into the ‘traps’ of the devil.
The author of Hebrews says that the devil is specifically the holder of the power of death – but that this power was broken by Jesus (Heb 2:14). What this passage is saying is that (before Jesus came), when someone died they were denied passage into heaven; because of our separation in the Fall, the devil became the master of death. But Jesus’ death and resurrection upended the entirety of Creation; things are no longer what they were.
In James 4:7, we learn something very interesting—if you resist the temptations of the devil, he will flee from you. Make no mistake about it: the devil is subject to God. He can do nothing to you at all without God allowing it. And if you call on God to make him flee, God will do so—unless of course it is part of a larger plan that the devil is being allowed to tempt you. 1 Peter 5 tells us that the devil is our main adversary and that he walks around like a roaring lion, trying to figure out who he can devour.
Jude 1:9 is one of the next really interesting points about the devil. Here is an allusion to a Hebrew work called The Testament of Moses. In it, Michael the archangel is shown ‘contending with the devil’ about the body of Moses. This scene reinforces some of what we have observed so far: that the devil is in heaven, arguing with the other angels and with God, trying to condemn us. He is a slanderer, and that is his primary role. (One wonders: about what was he accusing Moses? Perhaps he was reminding God of why He had to ban Moses from reaching the Promised Land?)
The next most significant portion of Scripture about the Slanderer is in Rev 12. This is the passage about the devil being cast down to earth to roam about. Now in my eschatological view, this has already occurred; I believe that the ‘woman’ in this passage is Mary, the child is Jesus. However, there are some who say that this section of Revelation is future, and I personally wish to avoid that entire discussion. In neither case do we learn anything really new about the devil here, so we shall simply move on.
So now, to the most critical point: we Christians know how the story ends. God promises us (in Rev 20), that at the end of time, after the Apocalypse of John is fulfilled, the devil will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, along with the beast and the false prophet and be tormented forever. Revelation 20 makes it very, very clear: there is no one today being tormented in hell. None. Not one. All the dead are in the grave awaiting Judgment Day. At that time, those who are not saved will be judged, and they will be thrown into the lake of fire—that place originally made for the devil and his angels, which will also be holding the “beast of Revelation” and the false prophet.
So, to what we already knew, let us make some more additions:
1. The devil is clever and works against God’s people subtly.
2. The devil deceived Eve (and us) by trying to convince us that God withholds good from us, and thus cannot be trusted.
3. He is subservient to God, and does not directly fight Him.
4. He presents himself before God in the throne room of heaven, along with the angels.
5. His primary action is to accuse us before God.
6. He is not omni-present (i.e., he can only be in one place at a time).
7. He is not allowed to harm us without God’s explicit approval.
8. When given authorization, the devil has a great deal of power, including the ability to bring down fire from heaven, incite riots/armies, control storms, and cause physical sickness.
9. Being given such permission does not seem to be the ‘ordinary’ course of things, but does happen in extraordinary cases.
10. God sometimes dispatches the devil to carry out His orders—and the devil follows the commandment, even when it does not support the devil’s agenda.
11. While the devil (to our knowledge) always does what God orders him to do, it appears that (unless under direct order), he is free to roam ‘to and fro’ across the earth and act independently from God’s will.
12. The New Testament calls the devil a “slanderer”, approximating the term “accuser” from the Old Testament. (see #5). He often appears before God, debating over those who are dead (such as Moses).
13. There are three primary ways that the devil attacks us. (1) He tells us that God withholds good from us. (2) He questions our relationship with God. (3) He encourages you to embrace the hedonism of the world. In addition to the above, he is also at God’s side in heaven, telling God that (1) we are only good when He makes life easy for us, (2) we are not worthy of being part of His family, and (3) we are not worthy of salvation on account of our sin.
14. The lake of fire and brimstone (hell) was designed for the devil and his angels. In the end of time, the devil, the false prophet, and the beast of Revelation will be thrown into it forever. Those whose names are not found in the Book of Life will likewise be sent there.
15. The devil actively tries to lead us astray, but unless God has given him permission to assault you, then you can resist him and he must flee you.