"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8, New International Version).
One primary cause lurks behind the suffering and tragic circumstances that afflict so many people. The Bible reveals that a powerful, intelligent and vastly influential being actively orchestrates the wickedness that dominates our planet. Most of us have heard of him. The Bible most often calls him the devil and Satan.
You may have wondered whether he really exists. After all, to many the devil seems like a fairy-tale character—a grotesque, blood-red creature with horns, a pointed tail and bat's wings who carries a pitchfork and inhabits an infernal region of ever-burning flames. Because he is typically depicted so fancifully, it isn't surprising that few take the idea of a devil seriously.
Does such a being exist? Where could such a creature have come from? What is his purpose, his goal, his intent? What does he do? Is he, as many believe, simply a mythical embodiment of evil?
Most people aren't sure what to believe. They either haven't given the concept of the devil that much thought or don't know where to look to find the answers.
Through the centuries belief in the existence of the devil—a being responsible for evil—has waxed and waned. During the Middle Ages belief in the evil one and his influence on mankind was unquestioned. But as scientific advancements during the Renaissance dispelled myths and superstitions related to demons and evil spirits, the notion of the devil as a literal being fell into disfavor.
Subsequent scientific advancements and increased education encouraged skepticism regarding the existence of a spirit world, good or bad. Today many ridicule the idea of a literal evil entity who is responsible for the misery and suffering we see around us. But what is the truth? Does the devil exist?
Finding a reliable source of knowledge
Where can we find reliable, accurate information on the spirit world? Only one source can give us the answers, revealing to us information we could find nowhere else. That single dependable source is the Bible. Beyond it, everything concerning Satan and whether he exists is only mythology and speculation. (For clear evidence of the reliability of the Bible, be sure to download your free copy of Is the Bible True? or request it from any of our offices listed at the end of this booklet.)
The Bible contains unequivocal internal evidence that it truly is the Word of God. Through its pages God reveals true spiritual knowledge—information unavailable from any other source. It tells us in sobering terms that the devil does exist. It explains that this being and the spirit world are every bit as real as our own.
It shows us that Satan is an incredibly powerful spirit being with a pervasive influence over humanity. Along with his cohorts—called demons or evil spirits—he is mentioned frequently in the Scriptures. He shows up from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation.
The Bible reveals much about this being. It shows us his origin, how he came to be what he is. It reveals his intentions and the methods he uses to accomplish them. It describes his character and nature and the motivations that drive him. It helps us see the staggering impact his influence can have on us individually as well as his sway over the whole of humanity. It reveals his future. The Bible gives us knowledge we could never discover or understand on our own.
Jesus Christ spoke of the devil as a powerful, conscious, real being. If we accept Jesus as real, as the Son of God—and the Bible as giving the truthful account of His ministry and teachings—we must also accept the devil as real.
The writers of the four Gospels record instances in which Christ confronted Satan and his cohorts, the demons. The Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, show Satan to be the enemy of Christ, determined to thwart and undermine His work. Just before Jesus began His ministry, Satan tried, through temptation, to turn Him aside from His divine purpose (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).
Failing at every turn, Satan was finally allowed to influence other human beings to execute Jesus (Luke 22:2-4; John 13:2, John 13:27)—making Him, as the Messiah and our Savior, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind.
The apostle Peter, who experienced his own struggles with Satan (Matthew 16:21-23; Luke 22:31-32), warns us to be on guard against this powerful wicked spirit: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8, NIV, emphasis added throughout). Peter's sobering warning helps us to realize that the devil is the enemy of not only Jesus Christ, but also the unwavering enemy of all Christ's followers, seeking to rend and consume them.
The father of lies
But we find more to the story of Satan. A central message of the Bible, from beginning to end, is that the devil is the enemy of all humanity. As we discover what the Bible says about him, we find him continually intent on mankind's harm, waging war against human beings in every way imaginable.
The very name Satan, the designation the Bible uses most for this evil being, helps reveal his malicious intent. God calls things what they are. Satan is a Hebrew noun meaning "adversary"—the enemy, opponent, antagonist, foe. The verb forms of the noun mean to "accuse," "slander" and "be an adversary" (Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5, 1992, "Satan," p. 985).
The other term the Bible most often uses to describe this being, devil, is similarly revealing. Devil is translated from the Greek word diabolos, the root from which we get the word diabolical, used to describe something wicked or sinister. Diabolos means "an accuser, a slanderer" (W.E. Vine, Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, "Devil, Devilish").
We see that the meanings of the Hebrew word Satan and the Greek word diabolos overlap. In fact, the Septuagint, the oldest known Greek translation of the Old Testament, translates Satan with the Greek word diabolos. Both mean "slanderer" or "accuser" and can have the sense of an accuser or opponent in court (compare Zechariah 3:1). Both the Hebrew and Greek terms are used in the New Testament to refer to this enemy of mankind.
The Bible reveals much more about this evil being's nature and character. As we will see more about shortly, Christ says Satan is "a liar and the father of it" and that "there is no truth in him" (John 8:44).
It is through his lying, deceptive nature that Satan most successfully influences mankind. The Bible reveals the enormity of his lies and their impact, the apostle John stating in Revelation 12:9 that he "deceives the whole world."
Did you catch this stunning testimony to Satan's handiwork? He "deceives the whole world"! What does this mean? What is God telling us when He reveals here that this malignant spirit deceives the whole world? Consider the staggering implications of this statement.
John did not say that Satan deceived the world only at some time in the distant past. The word John uses—translated "deceives" in the New King James Version of the Bible—is in the present active tense, meaning that Satan's deception started in the past and is a continuous, ongoing process that is not yet finished. The book of Revelation shows that Satan's great deception will continue until God miraculously intervenes to put an end to his influence over mankind.
The beginning of Satan's influence
Satan has seduced humanity for thousands of years. But when—and how—did his influence begin? How did he gain his firm foothold in human thinking? What is it about him and his methods that allows him to deceive not just a handful of people, but virtually the entire human race?
The story begins with the very origins of humankind. As stated in the book of Genesis, God created our first human parents, Adam and Eve, and provided a beautiful garden paradise in an area called Eden as their home (Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 2:7-8). There He began personally instructing them (Genesis 2:16-17), laying the foundation for them to develop a close personal relationship with Him.
But something happened that suddenly derailed that relationship. "Now the serpent [the devil, Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2] was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God really say, "You must not eat from any tree in the garden"?'" (Genesis 3:1, NIV).
God had told Adam and Eve they could eat of all the trees in Eden except one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). He warned them they would perish if they ate of its fruit.
Satan, appearing in the form of a serpent, came privately to Eve and subtly contradicted what God had told her and her husband: "Then the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'" (Genesis 3:4-5).
Eve believed the serpent. She ate the fruit and shared it with Adam. Together Adam and Eve set in motion a tragic pattern that mankind has followed ever since—choosing to decide their own way, which has brought them under Satan's deceptive influence (1 John 3:10), rather than the truth of God. Life for man would never be the same. Sin—rebellion against God's instruction—had entered the world (Romans 5:12). Mankind would now reap its tragic fruit.
Adam and Eve's surrender to Satan's influence was the beginning of "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4). Satan managed to inject his cunning deceptions into the relationship between God and God's human children. By convincing Eve that God was lying to them about the consequences of partaking of the forbidden fruit, Satan showed early in human history that he is the adversary of both God and humanity, the ultimate false accuser and slanderer —the meanings of his biblical names.
A murderer from the beginning
Jesus referred to this incident in the Garden of Eden when He confronted those who opposed His message and work—murderous men who wanted to kill Him for identifying Himself as the Son of God. Jesus recognized the source of their motivation: "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44).
Satan was truly "a murderer from the beginning." Yet he did not need to physically harm Adam and Eve to bring about their deaths. He knew that if he could influence them to sin—to disobey God—they would bring death on themselves (Romans 6:23). His lies—his deception—did lead directly to Adam and Eve's eventual submission to the clutches of death. By influencing all human beings since then to likewise choose the way of sin and disobedience to God, Satan has played a part in the deaths of all human beings since Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12).
Christ also said Satan is "a liar and the father of it." His lies undermined and then destroyed the relationship between God and His children. By following in Adam and Eve's footsteps in accepting Satan's ways of sin and rebellion, we have cut ourselves off from God's guidance and assistance and desperately need the redemption that can come only through Christ (Isaiah 59:1-2; Romans 3:23-24; Acts 4:12).
The world suffers because of sin
Humanity as a whole has continued to follow the pattern set by Adam and Eve long ago. Satan, by deceiving us into rejecting God's instruction and influencing us to follow him instead, has seen to it that we, like Adam and Eve, would continue to resist God's rule over us (Romans 5:10; 8:7; Ephesians 2:1-3). We suffer the painful consequences of our choices and actions just as they did. (Of course, Jesus came to die for our sins and show those of us whom God would call to salvation in this age before Jesus' return the way to repent and come out of our miseries. To understand more, please download or request our free booklets The Road to Eternal Life and Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.)
Why is the world so full of misery? The answer, as revealed in God's Word, is simple: We reap what we sow. "Do not be deceived," writes the apostle Paul. "God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction" (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV). Our actions bring consequences. Much of the world's suffering can be traced to people's actions and decisions. We haven't learned that many of our choices lead to tragic results regardless of our intentions.
The prophet Hosea understood the principle of cause and effect as he observed the sad spiritual condition of the kingdom of Israel in the 700s B.C. Hosea 2 and 4 show that idolatry, violence and sexual immorality were rampant in Hosea's time. Within a few years the mighty Assyrian Empire would sweep down from the north and lay the Israelite kingdom waste, slaughtering and enslaving its inhabitants.
God revealed to Hosea what was coming and why: "They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7). "You have plowed wickedness; you have reaped iniquity. You have eaten the fruit of lies" (Hosea 10:13). In other words, said God, it was inevitable that the people's sins would catch up with them: "Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you" (Jeremiah 2:19).
When we search for the main reason people suffer, we can learn a great deal by tracing the circumstances back to their cause. Most often we will find that sin is the underlying cause—whether one's own sin or that of others—and suffering and misery are the sad consequences.
By influencing mankind to sin, making it appear attractive and appealing, Satan holds our world in a deceitful grip of lies, suffering and death.