When Did Satan Fall like Lightning?


In one of the more enigmatic verses in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). The question isn’t about the “what” of Jesus’ statement. It’s clear that Satan is under judgment. Rather, the confusion is over the “when” of the statement. It might sound like a reference to when Satan became Satan, before the garden of Eden—abandoning his status among God’s heavenly host—but that conclusion would be too hasty.

We basically have three options when it comes to figuring out the timing of Satan’s fall: before, during, or after Jesus’ own time. Many people have offered opinions.

Perhaps the most common interpretation is that Jesus is seeing or remembering the original fall of Satan. This option makes little sense in context. Prior to the statement, Jesus had sent out the disciples to heal and preach that the kingdom of God had drawn near to them (Luke 10:1–9). They return amazed and excited by the fact that demons were subject to them in the name of Jesus (10:17). Jesus then says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

There is a connection between the kingdom, the defeat of demons, and Satan. But if Satan’s fall in Luke 10:18 speaks of an event in the remote past, why wasn’t the kingdom established then? Why was Satan still powerful when Jesus showed up on the scene? Even with the kingdom of Israel under David and the presence of God in the temple, the power and influence of Satan are evident on nearly every page of Old Testament history.

The view that Jesus was referring to Satan’s fall during his own ministry is better, but it is not without problem. We don’t read anywhere in the Bible of anyone casting out demons prior to Jesus’ ministry. That display of power—as well as the announcements of the kingdom and the ruling authority of God on earth—is unmistakable.

This is consistent with what Luke writes in the next chapter (11:14–23), where he identifies Jesus with the “strong man” who binds Satan. With Jesus having bound the strong man (Satan), he and his disciples can plunder Satan’s realm. This seems to tie in with what Jesus says after his statement about Satan (Luke 10:19–20), where he grants the disciples power over the forces of evil. But these verses also produce difficulties. Why do we read later in the same Gospel and other parts of the New Testament that the disciples weren’t immune from Satan’s power (Luke 22:31–61; 2 Cor 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18)?

This brings us to the third option: Jesus’ statement refers to a time subsequent to his own. Since Satan was (and is) still alive and well—with respect to his ongoing opposition to the Church everywhere—it makes sense to see Satan’s fall “like lightning from heaven” as a future event. The wording used by Luke (“I saw”) was quite common in the Old Testament for introducing prophetic visions, especially in the book of Daniel (Dan 4:10; 7:2, 4, 6–7, 9, 11, 13, 21).

My own view is a combination of the second and third view. It seems quite clear that the rule of God began at the ministry of Jesus, but it is a rule in progress that will reach a final culmination at a future time. As the Old Testament repeatedly reminds us, and as Jesus affirmed in Luke 10:18, on that day the defeat of our cosmic enemy will be swift and final.

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why is the bible hard to understandDr. Michael S. Heiser is a scholar-in-residence for Faithlife, the makers of Logos Bible Software. He is the author of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible and has taught many Mobile Ed courses, including Problems in Biblical Interpretation: Difficult Passages I.

This article is excerpted from Dr. Heiser’s book I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.

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Comments

  1. Dick Stepanian says:

    Dr Mike,
    Great question that you pose and present. I don’t see any reference to the Rev 12:7ff text. Do you have any ideas how that text fits into the scenario you describe in your posting? Thanks any further insights.

    Dick

  2. I like it!

  3. I appreciate you explaining the three views on this verse. Just curious, but what view do you believe is accurate for the vision John sees in Revelation 12?

  4. Thank you Dr, Heiser for this article, I agree with the scripture you have sourced but not so sure I totally agree with your conclusion. In Isaiah 14:12
    12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Lucifer, son of the morning!
    Doesn’t this suggest that prior to Isaiah’s reference that Lucifer has ‘fallen’? I understand Isaiah 14 describes the behaviors of the kings against Israel so please reconcile Is14:12 with the references in Luke and the timing of the events in Isaiah 14

  5. Stephen says:

    Satan is recorded in Job Chapter 2. So in my opinion Satan had fallen before the book of Job.

  6. It’s late so I will keep this brief. In OT Satan had access to the throne, as per Job. In Romans 8, Paul asks who is there to condemn us, suggesting Nobody. Jesus refers to the devil being cast out also in John I think. In Rev 12, Satan is thrown to the earth with his angels and they make war against the women. This seems to correspond to the increased demonic activity in Jesus’ time.
    You think that the fact that the disciples weren’t immune to Satan’s power is a problem for option 2. Not at all. Nothing is ever absolute in Christian experience. You can be on top of the world today and walking in a deep dark valley tomorrow. I could tell you stories.

  7. Mike Shrubsole says:

    I don’t think that it is clear at all ‘that Satan is under judgement’. The phrase ‘to fall like lightening’ implies awful power and intent. It sounds to me like a description of a vengeful and retributive Satan. You wouldn’t want to be at the end of a lightening strike. Isn’t Jesus saying that a battle is now going on, not that the end has come, or will be coming?

  8. Good morning,
    I have just finished reading the article and before that one titled “14 facts about Satan the Devil”. Very scriptural accurate and thought provoking articles. Thank you.
    I have been interested as to how the war in heaven spoken of in Rev 12 is related… whilst obviously Satan has access to humans, he uses his minion demons to snare trap and provoke the unwary – in the first century congregations and even now – are the events in Rev 12 (Satan being confined to the earthly realm) future yet?
    Or do you think that is a symbolic description of what occurred?
    Thanks again.

  9. Yes, I believe it’s a future event. God is outside of His own creation and not subject to time, space, and matter. God saw me born in 1961 over 6,000 years ago and beyond. So, yes, Y’Shua (God) saw Satan fall like lightening.

  10. Jack L Dale says:

    I fully agree. Over time I have come to the view that you spoke of in this blog. I have been questioned and even ridiculed for this thought. Thank you for sharing this post. It encouraged me.

  11. Richard Taillefer says:

    Satan fell when Jesus ascended to the throne: Rev. 12, but the beginning of the fall was while Jesus was on earth. It culminated in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

    John 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. John 12:32 I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.

    Jesus associated it with His being put on the cross.

  12. Dr. Heiser, please share your insight as to whether Jesus’ comments in John 12.31 have any bearing on this subject. Thank you.

  13. Dr. Heiser, for your consideration would you please comment on whether the account in John 12.31 has any possible connection with the “when” of Jesus’ statement, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

  14. Dean Poulos says:

    As usual great stuff, but on this I have a few questions and I’ll also check Unseen World and Supernatural to see if I missed your definition. (I love the workbooks BTW).

    How exactly do you define the fall? You said “if Satan’s fall in Luke 10:18 speaks of an event in the remote past, why wasn’t the kingdom established then?”

    I don’t know how you’re connecting the Kingdom to the Fall. Why would the an earthly Kingdom be triggered by the fall? Even if one considers the Kingdom to be allegorical and believes the church is a spiritual Israel, how does placing the fall in the remote past translate to the Kingdom being established? This is why I think this may be an issue of how the fall is defined and it’s significance.

    I could be reading you wrong, but do you consider the fall to perhaps be…. Rev. 20.1-3 (when Satan is bound and has no authority on earth, i.e., to “deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended,”) then he is again let out for just a while for the final battle in Rev. 20.10 where he and his demons are cast into the Lake of Fire before the Eternal State?

    I apologize if I confused what you are saying.

    At the point I can’t ask the questions I have on Lk 10.18 and the use of ἐθεώρουν. An inline morph of θεωρέω from Lk. 10.18 has an additional 45 occurrences, none of which use the simple past tense ἐθεώρουν until you come to Rev. 11.12 “…..And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies [watched] (ἐθεώρησαν) them. YES, a future as you attribute to Luke 10.18, but the context is not at all the same.

    From the grammar and context I do not believe Jesus was speaking about a future event when he said, “I saw,” I see evidence in the OT of the fall, but maybe again, maybe it depends on how fall is defined. I will take another look at your books and try to understand how you define the fall.

    My only other questions are regarding the OT. You said:

    “We don’t read anywhere in the Bible of anyone casting out demons prior to Jesus’ ministry.” You also asked

    Granted, I consider the 66 books of the OT and NT as canon, but I’m a Reformed Baptist with a Dispensationalist theology.

    I concede It would be somewhat of a WEAK argument to claim David’s playing of a musical instrument exorcised Saul’s “Evil Spirit” which God “permitted” to be sent to him. That said, the Apocryphal Texts, the Pseudepigrapha, and many near Eastern texts speak of people casting out demons prior to Jesus’ ministry.

    The Catholic Church considers the Apocryphal texts as canon, and the Eastern Orthodox church include the texts and they are read, but I’m uncertain if they consider them part of scripture, or just simply texts to read with one’s eyes wide open, i.e., discern everything that is read against scripture, but before those examples:

    There is nowhere in the NT where anyone is surprised that people were possessed, or that Jesus’ cast out demons. The KEY difference with Jesus is that He cast out demons under His authority. This is what caused the circular reasoning accusation that He was casting out demons using the power of Satan, which is akin to claiming a war is fought and the winning side did so, only because the army they opposed allowed themselves to be willingly slaughtered. Do we find any mention in the NT which strongly alludes to the fact that there were exorcisms before Jesus’ ministry? Yes. Acts19.13-20.

    The itinerant Jewish exorcists, the seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish high priest, tried to invoke the name of the Jesus and all ended up being hurled out of the house into the streets.

    Yet, when the disciples came to Jesus and told them they stopped a person who was casting out demons in His name, he reproved them (Mark 9.38-39) ending with “For the one who is not against us is for us.”

    There appears to be a difference between the person Jesus approved of and these 7 itinerants or wandering Jewish Exorcists who seem to have been offering their services to people. Their failures and successes are not revealed except in the one instance where they invoked Jesus’ name. Sort of like the wizard who offered Peter money for the Holy Spirit.

    It is logical that there would be a familiarity with demonic possession before Jesus cast our His first demon.

    One example is Tobit which would have been familiar to Jesus and his disciples which describes the expulsion of a demon from Tobias’s bride (Tobit 6-8).

    You have the Genesis Apocrophon 20:21b–31a which describes in detail, an exorcism performed by Abraham with the main text in verse 29 (referring to the Pharaoh).

    29. “[Abram] “and laid my hands upon his head. The plague was removed from him; the evil spirit was banished from him and he recovered.”

    Florentino Garcı́a Martı́nez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, “The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (translations)” (Leiden; New York: Brill, 1997–1998), 43.

    We have Josephus, who in the second half of the 1st Century AD describing how he saw a Jew, Eleazar, casting out a demon before the Emperor Vespasian (Antiquities 8:45-9).

    Also, the Ancient near Eastern Texts, e.g, ANET and the OT and the Greek Pseud. & Morph, as well as the Alternate Texts all have cited many examples such as “4Q560 (a fragmentary Aramaic apotropaic incantation anticipating much found in the Babylonian incantation bowls); and some exorcism incantations included in 11QPsalms” (Davila, “Ancient Magic”).”

    Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, “Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology” (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2008).

    Then you have the Papyri Graecae Magicae (“PGM”) “I exorcise thee, O Spirit impure and unclean, thou who art a hostile Phantom, in the Name of God, that thou quit this Incense”; “…so that every kind of Phantasm may retire from thee and be unable to harm or deceive in anyway…”). PGM VIl.331

    Lastly, and I fell MOST important we see in a few of Jesus’ exorcisms the demons are complaining, that Jesus came to destroy them BEFORE the appointed time and then they try to do what demons can’t. I can only describe this as invoking what I call Covenant Rite. Not sure if someone somewhere has classified this in a better way, but it’s EVERYWHERE.

    Jn 2.4 the wedding at Cana when Mary asks Jesus about the wine shortage and His reply is “τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι; οὔπω ἥκει ἡ ὥρα μου.”

    τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί is the literal Greek translation of what I call invoking the Covenant Rite and please forgive my Hebrew, I am at a beginner level, but I believe it’s pronounced MaH LiY WaLaK, which, if I did the Transliteration correctly corresponds to “what to me and to you.”

    It’s everywhere, c.f. Judges 11.12; 2 Samuel16.10, 19.22; 1 Kings 17.18; 2 Kings 3.13; 2 Chronicles 35.31; Mark 5.7; & Luke 8.28.

    To make a covenant I think is KaRaTh B: RiYTh, where the cutting comes in, i.e., to cut a covenant. Like David and Jonathan who entered into a covenant of lifetime friendship would have cut an animal in half, laid out the pieces, and
    walked between them, saying “The LORD do this to me, and more also, if
    I break this Covenant”: i.e., the penalty for not keeping the Covenant was to
    have your body bisected.

    Anyway, to get back on the topic when Jesus went to cast out demons, as I mentioned, they tried to invoke a covenant from God. The man with the Legion complained and said τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, Jesus, Son of the Most High
    God?” (Mark 5.7). Again, the demons feared He was there to destroy them “before the appointed time” (Matthew 8.29).

  15. Mike Anderson says:

    I really like the way Dr. Heiser presents the options. It helps me as I seek to formulate my opinion.

    However, regardless of the “when”, I take great comfort in knowing the “Who” who binds the strong man, the One Who is with me now, and He will always lead me to victory as I claim His deliverance by faith. Yes, as Peter wrote, Satan is actively prowling as a lion, always looking the hurt and destroy (1 Pet 5:8), but “greater is He Who is within me than he who is within the world! (I Jn 4:4).

    Thank you for your ministry!