"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:4, NIV).
Now that we have seen that Satan is a real being with real powers, we need to understand how he uses his powers. We should also understand his intentions and overall goal.
We saw in the previous chapter that Satan led other angels astray in a misguided attempt to overthrow God's authority. His vanity, pride and lust for power led him into war against the ruler of the universe.
Failing at that, Satan spitefully tried to thwart and disrupt God's dealings with the human race, doing whatever he could to bring harm. And his evil work has been incessant.
Satan's primary goal
The devil wasted no time before interfering. As we saw earlier, Genesis 3 describes Satan's appearance on the scene shortly after God created Adam and Eve.
The first thing Satan tried to do was to destroy God's relationship with the first human beings. He subtly asked Eve, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" (Genesis 3:1). He cleverly avoided mentioning all that God had given to her and Adam—every other plant, tree and kind of fruit in the garden. Instead he succeeded in getting her to concentrate on the fruit of the one tree from which God had forbidden them to eat.
He slyly began to deceive Eve. He introduced his first lie, telling her she would not die if she took of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:4). He followed with another falsehood, slandering God by accusing Him of holding Eve back by withholding valuable knowledge from her (Genesis 3:5). She was seduced by his persuasiveness. She took of the fruit and then shared it with Adam.
Eve was deceived by Satan's craftiness (2 Corinthians 11:3). Adam wasn't deceived (1 Timothy 2:14). He simply followed along and joined his wife in disobeying God's clear instructions. We see that pressure from others to go along even when we know a course of action is wrong has been with us for a long time.
This account helps us see that Satan's primary goal is to thwart God's plan to build a family relationship with mankind.
From the beginning God has had a magnificent plan for human beings—to extend to us His gift of eternal life. One of the Bible's most familiar passages makes this plain: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
God's goal is to vastly expand His family. Right now that eternal family consists of two divine beings—God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son (Luke 10:22). God's goal for humanity—eternal life in His family—is the central focus of the entire creation: "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19, New American Standard Bible).
This close family relationship is God's fervent desire for humanity. Paul calls Jesus "the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29). As the firstborn Son of God, He is the first of many children of God to be ultimately born in God's family, and "Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers" (Hebrews 2:11, NIV).
God promises us that "he who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son" (Revelation 21:7). "I will be a Father to you," He says, "and you shall be My sons and daughters" (2 Corinthians 6:18). God wants to give us immortality so we can live with Him forever. He wants to begin a close family relationship with us now (John 14:23). (For a deeper understanding of this truth, download or request our free booklet What Is Your Destiny?)
Satan, however, wants to thwart God's plan in any way he can. He wants to prevent us from developing a close relationship with God. He wants to keep us from attaining our destiny as the very sons of God.
Satan's great deception
As we noted earlier, Satan is a powerful, intelligent being who will stop at nothing to carry out his ends. As the master manipulator of mankind, he has many methods and tools at his disposal.
In a sense, his immediate goal—keeping mankind separate from God—is relatively easy. As human beings we are inclined to focus on our own needs and wants—and Satan has reinforced that to the point that selfishness is the primary motivator in human behavior. As Paul puts it, "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires" (Romans 8:5, NIV). Those whose minds are focused on themselves are, whether they realize it or not, "hostile to God" (Romans 8:7, NIV).
Quoting from several Psalms, Paul summarizes the spiritual condition of most of humanity: "There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one...Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery are in their paths, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:10-18, NRSV).
As a master of persuasion, Satan easily deceives mankind into focusing on anything but God. Through the theory of evolution, for example, he has convinced millions that God doesn't exist. (For proof that God is real, download or request our free booklets Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist? and Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?)
Through hundreds of corrupt religions he has over the ages convinced billions of people to worship the sun, moon and stars, animals, nature, deceased ancestors, imaginary gods and goddesses, and a bewildering variety of other things—or nothing at all. Even among the many varieties of traditional Christianity, we find people divided and bickering over who and what God is, over His purpose for us, and over how He wants us to worship Him and how we should live. The devil has done an effective job of confusing people as to what the Bible really says.
Satan doesn't care which of these groups people fall into. Whether they believe in no God at all, accept and worship a false god or are deceived into a false view of the true God and His plan for us, Satan still has them where he wants them—"alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Ephesians 4:18).
Perhaps this helps us better understand what God means when He tells us that the devil "deceives the whole world" (Revelation 12:9). Paul explains that "the god of this age" has blinded those "who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:4).
In one of His parables Jesus explains that, as soon as some people hear God's truth, "the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved" (Luke 8:12). Satan will stop at nothing to keep people blinded to the fullness of God's truth. The result, as Jesus explained, is that "the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it," and "the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14, NRSV).
Causes of humanity's problems
When we understand the magnitude of Satan's deception, we can better grasp the roots of so many of humanity's problems. Collectively we have had thousands of years to experiment with governments, philosophies and ways of living, so why have we been unable to solve our problems? Why do so many difficulties persist year after year, century after century?
Human governments and other efforts have not succeeded because, in the final analysis, we simply do not know the right way to live. Solomon, king of ancient Israel, put it bluntly: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 16:25).
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God tells us that "it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Regrettably, mankind has proved the truth of those words for generations. Under human rule, influenced by Satan's attitude of getting all we can for ourselves, the world has never seen a time free of turmoil, war and suffering.
The world suffers from chronic, overwhelming problems because we have rejected God. Under God's inspiration, Solomon's father King David wrote: "The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one" (Psalm 14:2-3).
Jeremiah also noted that people are largely blinded by the deceit of their own evil motives and intents: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV).
Man separated from God
The prophet Isaiah adds: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue has muttered perversity. No one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth... The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace" (Isaiah 59:1-8).
God's ways are vastly different from man's. He tells us: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways... For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Satan has effectively deceived the world throughout history by influencing human beings to cut themselves off from God's guidance. He has led us into wanting to do things our own way, to rely on ourselves rather than God as the ultimate authority.
Paul describes the results of rejecting God: "Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit
"They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:28-32, NIV).
Paul's words ring as true in our day as ever before. Our news and entertainment media praise and condone degenerate, sinful lifestyles and practices while condemning people who support biblical standards as narrow-minded bigots out to impose their biases on others. Such twisted values are the inevitable result of a mind-set that rejects the knowledge and commandments of God. (To better understand the results of rejecting God's teachings, be sure to download or request our free booklet Why Does God Allow Suffering?)
This is not God's world
Although God is always in ultimate control, the Scriptures make it clear that He is not the reason for the world's many chronic problems. As Jesus Christ said in John 18:36, "My kingdom is not of this world."
God is not behind the misery that plagues our planet. Satan the devil is the true "ruler of this world" (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11). John tells us that "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19). Again, Satan is the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Moreover, Satan's demonic cohorts also exercise control in this world—even at times powerfully influencing human governments. In the book of Daniel, the righteous angel Gabriel tells Daniel that he had just been fighting, with the help of the archangel Michael, against a powerful spirit personality referred to as "the prince of Persia"—and that he would soon have to fight another he called "the prince of Greece" (Daniel 10:13-20).
Of course, these are but subordinates under the devil. In an attempt to lead Jesus astray in Matthew 4:8-9, Satan offered "all the kingdoms of the world and their glory"—as they were truly under his dominion (compare Luke 4:5-7).
Although we cannot see Satan, his influence is powerful and pervasive. Paul understood this, reminding Christians that "you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2). The result of the devil's influence is that, before conversion, our focus is on "gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts" (Ephesians 2:3, NIV).
Notice again that Paul calls Satan "the prince of the power of the air" as the spirit working in disobedient humanity. What does this mean? Evidently, Satan is responsible for a spiritual "broadcast" of sorts to which human minds are attuned. Just as the air around us is saturated with TV and radio signals that can be tuned in with electronic receivers, so it is also saturated with Satan's spiritual broadcast of selfish and rebellious moods and attitudes to which our minds are receptive.
The devil thereby spiritually influences humanity to reject God and God's law. Under this influence, "the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God's law, for it is unable do so" (Romans 8:7, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Separated from God, man chooses to go his own way with devastating results. Under Satan's influence humanity has rejected God's revelation and guidance and built societies and civilizations on wrong foundations. But it will not be that way forever. We'll learn how things will change in the next two chapters of this booklet.