Belief in Satan the devil as a literal being is not fashionable in many circles. Even in the United States, where belief in the devil is common, polls have shown that most Americans do not believe in Satan as a literal, living entity. Many conceive of the devil as merely symbolic of man's inhumanity to man or the embodiment of evil in general.
The Bible, however, presents Satan as a real being—a spirit presence possessing great power to do harm. Because so many reject the existence of an actual devil, he is an unrecognized cause of much suffering. Whether we realize it or not, his deception of humanity is the major cause of anguish and grief.
The extent of Satan's influence and power is clearly revealed in the Bible. Revelation 12:9 tells us he "deceives the whole world." John writes elsewhere that "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19). When Paul proclaims that "the god of this age" has blinded the minds of many so that they do not believe the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4), he refers to the devil.
In the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus tells us that as soon as many people hear God's Word explained to them "Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts" (Mark 4:15). This wicked being wants mankind blinded to the comfort, encouragement and deliverance of God's truth.
Through the spiritual blindness and ignorance Satan has foisted off on the world, he is the instigator of incalculable suffering. He has blinded humanity to the reason for our existence. He has deceived people into believing that his way—the way of selfishness and sin—is better than obedience to God's commands. Regrettably, humanity has fallen prey to Satan's ploys, not realizing the ultimate grief that sin brings.
Satan is called "the tempter" (Matthew 4:3). Throughout history he has succeeded in tempting people to indulge in an unlawful and immoral exercise of their physical appetites. He employed this strategy in the Garden of Eden, and his game has worked marvelously ever since. Everyone has suffered because of it.
Yet Satan's influence goes beyond mere deception. Paul refers to him as "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2)—apparently "broadcasting," as it were, wrong moods and attitudes to receptive human minds.
Jesus described the devil as "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). Satan's intent has always been to make human life miserable and ultimately destroy us (1 Peter 5:8). His very nature is destructive, and those who commit destructive acts unwittingly follow him. Revelation 9:11 labels Satan as "the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon." These two names mean "destruction" and "destroyer," respectively. In contrast to God, who is the creator, sustainer and giver of life, Satan is the ultimate destroyer and murderer.
Satan is the agitator of war and other conflicts. The book of Revelation depicts demonic spirits at the end of the age that "go out to the kings of the earth" to "gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Revelation 16:14). Satan and his demons will instigate a time of distress that will be more terrible than any devastation human beings have ever experienced (Matthew 24:21-22).
We can see from these passages that Satan exerts a pervasive power over mankind. God, however, sets limits on Satan's power (Job 1:12; Job 2:6). God will not allow Satan to thwart His master plan for the salvation of humanity. God will never relinquish His ultimate control over mankind and the rest of His creation. (To learn more about Satan's role in human affairs, be sure to read Is There Really a Devil?)