He’s the universe’s public enemy number one, the chief opponent of God and his people, and the leader of uncounted demonic forces. Jesus says he’s been a murderer from the beginning, and he’s engaged in an all-out war against the forces of good in the universe.
The Bible calls him the devil, Satan, the evil one.
Paul tells the Ephesian church to put on the full armor of God, so that they can stand firm against his schemes. James tells Christians that if they resist the devil, he will flee from them. Peter tells believers to beware: he is always on the prowl.
We have an enemy—and if we’re going to stand firm against him, we need to know whom we’re up against.
However, there’s a lot of devil folklore out there. It can be difficult to distinguish traditions from what the Bible actually says about Satan.
So, let’s take a look at some biblical facts about the devil.
A quick note on worldview
The Bible was written millennia ago by people with a far more supernatural worldview than we tend to have today. To truly understand what the Bible says about Satan and spiritual warfare, we need to understand its original authors’ and readers’ perspectives. A particularly helpful resource for this is Dr. Michael S. Heiser’s book, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. This post references it a good deal, and anyone interested in spiritual warfare should check it out, too.
1. “Satan” means “adversary.”
“Satan” is a transliteration of a Hebrew word, which means “adversary,” or “opponent.” The word satan is used multiple times in the Old Testament, often referring to anyone who is blocking or challenging someone else. For example:
- The angel of the Lord opposes Balaam (Numbers 21:22–32).
- Two of David’s bloodthirsty warriors, Joab and Abishai, make life difficult for the king (2 Samuel 19:22).
- Solomon faces political opponents after he turns from God (1 Kings 11:14–25).
In each of these episodes, the Hebrew Bible calls these figures satan, because they are acting as adversaries.
So how did the devil get the name “Satan”?
Over the centuries between Malachi and Jesus, Jewish writers began to use this label as a name for the biggest adversary of them all: a divine being who rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden by tempting Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.
In The Unseen Realm, Dr. Michael S. Heiser says, “The dark figure of Genesis 3 was eventually thought of as the ‘mother of all adversaries,’ and so the label satan got stuck to him. He deserves it.”
2. Pride fueled the devil’s origin story.
Perhaps the last place you’d look to find information about Satan is in a list of pastoral qualities. And yet, as the apostle Paul lays out the qualities he expects of church leaders, he makes specific mention of the devil.
The apostle warns Timothy that any elder “must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).
The Bible doesn’t give us a great deal of specifics when it comes to Satan’s rebellion against God. But in the passages that do seem to touch on the devil’s fall from grace, pride is a predominant theme.
Clue: Ezekiel’s oracle against the prince of Tyre
In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel takes up an oracle against the human ruler of Tyre, an arrogant person smug enough to claim to be a god himself (28:2). God plans to bring this prince down a notch.
But while Ezekiel preaches against this ruler, he seems to make several allusions to a similar story on a cosmic scale. In fact, the prophet says a few things that point all the way back to the Garden of Eden:
“You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God […] you were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones” (28:12–14).
Later in the oracle, Ezekiel tells us that this being had a pride problem similar to the prince of Tyre’s: “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor” (28:17).
This being is punished: he’s expelled from Eden to a new domain: earth and the underworld.
Clue: Isaiah’s parable against the king of Babylon
The prophet Isaiah compares the arrogant king of Babylon to a particularly ambitious divine being who has “fallen from heaven” (Isaiah 14:12).
This character at one point said to himself: “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (14:13–14).
Heiser notes that this passage reads like “an attempted coup in the divine council. […] He wanted to be “like the Most High” (elyon). But there can be only one of those.”
3. Satan’s domain is earth and Sheol.
In the third chapter of Genesis, the serpent persuades Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, expelling them from Eden and sealing their doom.
But although Adam and Eve are punished, Satan gets the fiercest curse from the God he rebelled against.
The Lord says to him: “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14).
What does this curse mean for Satan?
The serpent was cursed to crawl on its belly. This is strikingly similar to the fate of our villain in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14, who is cast down to the ground (Ezekiel 28:8, 17; Isaiah 14:11–12, 15).
But it’s worse than just getting knocked to the ground. The prophets say this rebel was cast to ʾerets, a Hebrew term Heiser says can refer literally to the dirt and metaphorically to the underworld.
Heiser goes on to explain the serpent’s fate: “The curse also had him ‘eating dirt,’ clearly a metaphorical reference, since snakes don’t really eat dirt as food for nutrition. It isn’t part of the ‘natural snake diet.’ The point being made by the curse is that the nachash [Hebrew word translated “serpent” in our Bible], who wanted to be ‘most high,’ will be ‘most low’ instead—cast away from God and the council to earth, and even under the earth. In the underworld, the nachash is even lower than the beasts of the field. He is hidden from view and from life in God’s world. His domain is death.”
4. Satan rules the nations of the earth.
The author of 1 John states that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (5:19), and other passages of the New Testament specifically point to the devil’s control over the nations of the world.
For example, pay attention to Satan’s final offer as he tempts Jesus in the wilderness:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said … (Matthew 4:8–9).
There’s no indication that Satan was bluffing here. In fact, in John’s gospel, Jesus calls him the “prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).
When did Satan get so much power?
Heiser suggests that Satan accumulated this power over the time between the Tower of Babel incident and the Jesus’ ministry:
“As the original rebel, the nachash [the Hebrew word for “serpent”] of Genesis 3 (cf. Rev. 12:9) had, by New Testament times, achieved the status of the lead opposition to Yahweh. This was part of the logic of attributing the term saṭan to him as a proper personal name. Recall as well that the nachash has been cast down to the ʾerets, a term that referred not only to ‘earth’ but also the realm of the dead, Sheol.
“The ‘original rebel,’ whose domain became earth/Sheol, nachash/Satan was perceived by Second Temple and New Testament theology as primary authority over all other rebels and their domains.”
5. Satan commands his own host of demons.
By the time of Jesus’ ministry, Satan had not only attained power over all the nations of the earth, but he had also amassed a following of demons.
The Jews of Jesus’ time believed that Satan was the ruler of the demons. In fact, some even claimed that it was only by Satan’s power that Jesus could cast out demons the way he did.
But Jesus says this isn’t the case: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand” (Mark 3:23–26).
Freeing people from the influence of these demons was a major part of Christ’s earthly ministry—which makes sense, as Jesus came into the world to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8).
6. The Bible doesn’t say he rules ALL the demons.
Scripture doesn’t give us a cut-and-dry picture of the divine hierarchy, good or evil. So while we can assume Satan is the most prominent of God’s adversaries, we shouldn’t necessarily assume that all God’s divine opponents are under Satan’s control.
Here’s how Heiser puts it: “It is clear that Satan is leader of at least some of the powers of darkness. As the original rebel, he likely ranked first (or worst) in terms of example in the minds of ancient readers. The fact that he is the one who confronted Jesus in the desert […] and offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world suggests as much. The lack of a clearly delineated hierarchy leaves the possibility that there are competing agendas in the unseen world, even where there exists the common goal of opposition to Yahweh and his people.”
7. The devil tried to make at least one deal.
Making deals with the devil is a common storytelling motif. And although the Bible doesn’t say anything about fiddles made of gold, Scripture does tell us of at least one attempted bargain Satan tried to make.
We looked at Satan’s attempts to tempt Jesus earlier in this list. Satan offered all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus.
But there was a catch: Jesus would have to bow down and worship the devil.
Lucky for us, the Son of God will not be bartered with in this way. Jesus tells the tempter, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10).
Why is Jesus’ refusal to bargain important?
Heiser explains that Satan’s offer was a clever attempt to get Jesus to pay for something Satan stole. “Had Jesus given in, it would have been an acknowledgment that Satan’s permission was needed to possess the nations. It wasn’t. Satan presumed power and ownership of something that, ultimately, was not his but God’s. The messaging behind Jesus’ answer is clear: Yahweh will take the nations back by his own means in his own time. He doesn’t need them to be given away in a bargain. Jesus was loyal to his Father. Since reclaiming the nations was connected with salvation and redemption from the effects of the fall in Eden, accepting Satan’s offer would have undermined the necessity of the atonement of the cross.”
8. Satan is on the defensive
From the Garden of Eden until the time of Jesus, Satan continued to accumulate power. Like we saw earlier, he had grown powerful enough to demand that Jesus worship him in exchange for the nations Jesus had come to redeem.
But after Jesus resisted his temptations, the game changed.
In all three synoptic gospels, Jesus does three things after his trial in the wilderness:
- He proclaims that the kingdom of God is at hand.
- He begins choosing his disciples.
- He begins casting out demons.
You can already start to see Satan’s power coming undone. But it gets even better.
Later, Peter famously confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (Matthew 16:16). Jesus responds, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (16:18).
This is a dramatic statement of Jesus’ (and our) impending victory over the devil. This should inform our outlook on Satan and spiritual warfare in general. We’re not holed up in a bunker, waiting for some heavenly air raid to rescue us from an all-too-powerful foe. We’re already winning.
Heiser puts it this way: “Gates are defensive structures, not offensive weapons. The kingdom of God is the aggressor. […] It is the gates of hell that are under assault—and they will not hold up against the Church. Hell will one day be Satan’s tomb.”
The apostle Paul is even more direct: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).
9. Satan is a liar by nature.
Jesus tells us that lying is second nature to the devil. He doesn’t sugarcoat it, either:
“He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
The apostles tell us that our enemy is a great deceiver, too. When early church member Ananias makes a shady donation, Peter asks, “how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit […] ?” (Acts 5:3). And Paul later tells the Corinthian church that the serpent deceived Eve through cunning lies (2 Corinthians 11:3), and goes on to say that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (11:14).
But Satan’s deceitfulness doesn’t stop with Satan. And his followers aren’t limited to the unseen realm, either.
Unfortunately, there are others under Satan’s influence.
10. Satan has spiritual children, just like God does.
The New Testament often refers to God as our Father, and to believers as “children of God.” This is obviously a spiritual statement, not a biological one. We’re part of God’s spiritual family. We live under God’s roof, abide by his rules, and enjoy the benefits of being his.
However, God isn’t the only spiritual father the Bible speaks of. Satan has children, too.
This comes up multiple times in the New Testament:
- In the same passage where Jesus calls Satan the father of lies, he tells the Jews who want to kill him: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires” (John 8:44).
- When the disciples ask Jesus to explain his parable of the wheat and tares, Jesus tells them that the good seed represents the sons of his kingdom, while the tares represent the sons of the evil one (Matthew 13:36–40).
- The newly converted apostle Paul tells a sorcerer: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery” (Acts 13:10).
- And in his first epistle, John says the children of the devil are evident based on their sinful behavior and their lack of love for their brothers and sisters (1 John 3:10).
Like most things involving Satan, this concept goes right back to Genesis.
When God cursed the serpent, he put enmity not only between the devil and the woman, but between both of their descendants.
In a way, this prophecy is partially fulfilled in the very next chapter of Genesis, in the story of Cain and Abel. One brother was righteous, and the other was a murderer. John even uses them as a case study for the differences between the children of God and the children of the devil—he goes so far as to say that Cain was “of the evil one” (1 John 3:11).
Heiser notes that “the rest of the biblical story doesn’t consist of humans battling snake people. That’s no surprise, since the enemy of humanity wasn’t a mere snake. The Bible does, however, describe an ongoing conflict between followers of Yahweh and human and divine beings who follow the spiritual path of the nachash.”
11. Satan influenced Judas Iscariot.
John tells us that the devil had been prompting Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus before the night of the Last Supper (John 13:2). Both John and Luke say that the devil entered Judas on the night he betrayed his Lord (John 13:27; Luke 22:3).
The Bible doesn’t give us the mechanics of what happened here. But it is important to note that on this occasion, Satan found it necessary to be personally involved in making sure Jesus died.
However, if Satan could do it all over, he probably wouldn’t have taken this course of action. Jesus’ death was not the victory Satan thought it was.
12. Satan’s power of death is broken.
It turns out that Jesus’ death broke at least some of Satan’s deathly power. The author of Hebrews explains it this way:
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14–15).
The power of death is waning. Paul claims that death will be “swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). And in the book of Revelation, Christ proclaims, “I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).
13. Discord gives Satan an advantage.
While Satan’s power is broken, he’s not powerless yet. In fact, some New Testament passages tell us that there are certain ways for the devil to gain a tactical advantage against us.
The apostle Paul indicates that anger, unforgiveness, and resentment between Christians give Satan a particular edge.
We have several examples in Scripture of this:
- Paul encourages the church at Corinth to forgive and reassure any repentant believer who may have caused the rest of the church grief. The apostle urges the church to make such a person feel welcome and loved. Why? Because Paul particularly does not want Satan to outwit them (2 Corinthians 2:11).
- Paul tells married couples not to deprive one another sexually, otherwise Satan will capitalize on the deprived spouse’s lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:5).
- Paul tells the Ephesians not to let the sun go down on their anger, so as not to give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:26–27).
Satan can (and must) be resisted, and we need to be vigilant against giving him any opportunities to get the better of us (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8–9).
14. Satan’s defeat is certain, and imminent.
Even though our adversary may gain a tactical advantage here and there, his fate is sealed.
John the Revelator sees the ultimate end of Satan, the devil, the serpent of old:
“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).
The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly when this will happen. But we can trust that the war will be won. Satan will be defeated, and God will ultimately run the universe in partnership with his human image-bearers.
Satan is God’s chief enemy, and therefore our chief enemy. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, his power is broken and his fate is sealed—but we still need to be vigilant so as not to give him an advantage in leading us astray.
Other posts in this series
- The Elohim: What (or Who) Are They?
- God Wasn’t Alone before He Created the World (Says the Bible)
- Who (or What) Were the Nephilim?
- What Really Happened at the Tower of Babel?
You can browse all of Dr. Heiser’s books, movies, courses, and podcasts in one place here.