Resisting the Devil—Satan’s Role in Suffering & the Christian’s Response
Considering how skeptical and even downright critical that American pop-culture is regarding the Christian faith, today there is a particular fascination with witchcraft, paranormal activity, and the Devil himself.
This demonic allure is a bit of a two-sided coin. It is somewhat unnerving to see a society so enamored with the occult that it has become fodder for our hearts and minds in books, movies, and music. It could be that a people with that sort of interest in the Devil may come to find him show up off the big screen and in their personal lives without a formal invitation.
Nevertheless, the recognition of such a principle figure in the story of Jesus and the Gospels may place folks in a better position to receive salvation. It is rather difficult to believe in the Devil, and not then acknowledge the One who stands opposed to him.
As popular as the Devil is in media today, there are plenty of Christians that seldom recognize him as a genuine threat and an ongoing force of evil in their lives. There have even been those within the Christian faith who have tried to dismiss the Devil as a superstitious relic of little importance to the church. However, historic Christianity is quite clear that the Devil is a real spiritual being that leads the demonic opposition to God’s divine program.
Jeffrey Burton Russell writes, “The Devil is not a peripheral concept that can easily be discarded without doing violence to the essence of Christianity. He stands at the center of the New Testament teaching that the Kingdom of God is at war with, and is now at last defeating, the Kingdom of the Devil.”
As the archenemy of God, the Devil seeks to “steal, kill, and destroy” God’s good creation, especially those who are made in his image (Jn 10:10). Again, Russell writes, “The central message of the New Testament is salvation: Christ saves us. What he saves us from is the power of the Devil. If the power of the Devil is dismissed, the Christ’s saving mission becomes meaningless.”
According to the Scripture, how much power does the Devil have in the fight against God’s people? What role does he play in the everyday trials and tribulations of the saints? How can Christians resist the Devil and secure God’s victory in their individual lives, as well as in the community of God—the church? How do saints fight against spiritual evil?
In order to answer these questions, it is best to first learn of the historical and theological development of the Devil—beginning with the Old Testament, moving through the intertestamental literature, and coming to rest in the New Testament. After a brief synopsis of this evolution in evil, attention can then be properly given to the ways in which Christians should resist the Devil and his evil schemes.
The purpose of this article is to briefly examine the theological development of the Devil in order that the believer might fully appreciate the call to Christian resistance in the New Testament, specifically in the epistles of James and 1 Peter. This article will move beyond a sound theodicy as it seeks a proper application of the wisdom and the altruism of Jesus concerning Christian discipleship in the face of suffering.
In this examination, the Christian will be challenged to recognize the “evil impulse within” and be intentional in spiritual formation; as well as to take serious the evil “tempter without” who needs to be aggressively opposed.
THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE DEVIL
“I form the light and create the darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD do all these things” (Isa 45:7 NIV).
It is critical to notice that pre-exilic Hebrew religion did not recognize the Devil as an active evil agent in the world. Yahweh is the only heavenly power in heaven and earth. However, after long periods of suffering in exile, and viewing certain tensions within their concept of Yahweh, the Hebrew religion came to see a cosmic dualism at work.
The Hebrews eventually concluded that God could not be directly responsible for their suffering. Instead, the world is in bondage to the Devil and in need of deliverance.
The fact that the Devil is not fully developed in the Old Testament is not a ground for rejecting existence in modern Jewish and Christian theology. That would be the genetic fallacy: the notion that the truth of a word—or concept—is to be found in its earliest form. Rather, historical truth is development through time.
“Devil” (diabolos) is the Greek translation of the transliterated Hebrew word “Satan” (1 Chron 21:1; Job 1:6-8, 12; 2:1-7; Zech 3:1-2). The Hebrew word satan means “to accuse” or “to oppose” in bringing slander and accusations (cf. TDNT, 2:71-81; 7:151-65). The Latin is diabolus, the German teufel, and the English devil.
In the OT, the word “satan” appears several times as a common noun in reference to a human opponent (1 Sam 29:4; 2 Sam 19:22; 1 Kings 5:4, etc.). Early in the OT “satan” is used to describe those who oppose and obstruct as an adversary. Angels even act as obstructers and are called “a satan” working for the Lord (Num 22:22-35). It is only in the books of Job and Zechariah that “the Satan” is given a distinct personality as a superhuman adversary of God. This is a noticeable development.
The accuser (“the Satan”) and his role become especially pronounced in the drama of Job. The Satan is a member of the heavenly court of God (1:6; 2:1). He is functioning in accordance with God’s interests: to test mankind for the purpose of righteousness (1:6-12; 2:1-5). However, as time moves on in the OT and beyond, the Satan is portrayed as the great rebel of God and the “accuser of the saints.”
Stanley Grenz writes, “Somewhere in his story… the accuser in the court of God develops a hostile intent. Rather than simply acting as the one who tests the righteous on God’s behalf, he becomes the one who maliciously tempts them to sin.” This has prompted some scholars to consider a “cosmic dimension” to certain prophecies—in hopes that it might shed some light on the circumstances leading to the fall of the Satan.
What about the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1-6)? The serpent is not identified in the text as being the Devil, only as a creature “more crafty than any other wild animal the LORD God had made” (3:1).
In the ancient world the serpent was a symbol of life, but instead this serpent brings death to Adam and Eve. Some scholars believe this account only to be a mythological explanation as to how humanity was cursed and why snakes crawl on their bellies. This is possible when you simply consider the immediate context. Russell writes, “Only in Apocalyptic and later literature does the serpent become the tool of Satan or Satan himself.”
This does not necessarily diminish the evangelical interpretation of the serpent as Satan, but rather furthers the idea of a theological development of the Devil through history. The explicit designation of the serpent as the Devil by the inspired New Testament authors is theologically satisfying to say the least (1 Tim 3:13; Rom 16:20; Rev 12:9; 20:2).
Pseudepigrapha & Apocrypha
The literature excluded from the canon, written from 200 B.C. to about 150 A.D., had a great influence on Jewish thinking and interpretation in the first century. This period produced a variety of writings described as “apocalyptic.” Revelation is NT attestation to this bizarre literary genre.
It was during this period of suffering and oppression that the Jewish people began to look again at the prophecies of Scripture. These apocalyptic authors freely interpreted the Scripture in fresh ways to understand their present world, and the hope of the one to come.
Messianic expectations were born out of Syrian and Roman oppression. What’s God doing about evil? It is in this context that the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha were written. DeSilva writes, “The Apocrypha contain the testimony of faithful Jews who sought to live out their loyalty to God in a very troubled (and often hostile) world.”
The names of the Devil are plentiful in the Apocalyptic period: Azazel, Belial, Mastema, Satanail, Sammael, Semyaza, or Satan. During this era, the Devil comes to personify evil itself. These dark days provoked new theodicies. 4 Ezra states: “Call heaven and earth to witness; call them to witness, for I have left out evil and created good, because I live, says the Lord” (2:14)—a clear development from Isaiah 45:7.
In the Book of Jubilees 16:15-18, a retelling of Genesis 22:1-19, it is originally Satan’s (Mastema) idea to test Abraham by sacrificing Isaac—just as he did in Job! And it is Satan that meets Moses in the desert purposing to kill him, not Yahweh (Jub 48:1-3; Ex 4:24).
In Jubilees, it is Satan and his demons that tempt, accuse, and destroy, taking upon themselves all of the evil characteristics that were once ignorantly attributed to Yahweh in the OT (48:9-15; 49:2).
It is in 1 Enoch that “the Watchers” (angels) are said to have a leader named Semyaza—the Devil (6:3). Enoch attributes sin to the fallen angels (“sons of God”) in Genesis 6:1-8, but that man is ultimately responsible (En 98:4). The Watchers do not introduce sin, but they certainly exacerbate the sins of the world.
The Wisdom of Solomon declares that the Devil and his angels are not only the opponents of mankind, but opponents of the Lord as well: “God created man for immortality, and made him the image of his own eternal self; it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world, and the experience of it is reserved for those who take his side” (2:24). Satan’s hatred of man has also become hatred of the Lord.
In the NT, the Devil retains the OT role of the “accuser of the saints” but will synthesize Jewish concepts from apocalyptic literature and Greek Hellenistic thought. The Devil, or Satan, is the evil one (1 Jn 2:13,14; 3:12; 5:18, 19), the ruler of this age (1 Cor 2:6, 8), the serpent (Rev 12:9, 14, 15; 20:2), the dragon (Rev 12; 13), and a variety of other titles (1 Jn 4:4; 1 Pet 5:8).
The Devil’s activity and influence is much more pronounced in the NT. Jesus even has a personal confrontation with the Devil where he is tempted in the wilderness before beginning his ministry to preach the kingdom of God (Matt. 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13). It would appear that the Devil still has access to the heavenly court (Lk 22:31), yet Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven” (Lk 10:18), an indicator that the Devil no longer functions in the court of God.
The Devil in the NT will tempt people to sin (1 Jn 3:8), inspire false teaching (1 Jn 4:1-4), create doubt and fear (Rev 12:10), and incite hatred of Christians (1 Pet 5:8-9). Hermas, in his Mandate, says that “the devil lives in an angry temper” (5:1). The Devil exploits anger and rage. Paul warns believers not to sin in their anger—lest the Devil gain a “foothold” (Eph 4:27).
In the NT, the Devil has the power to steal away the good news from the hearts of the lost (Lk 8:12). He is the “ruler of the air” (Eph 2:2) and the “prince of demons” able to possess men (Matt. 12:24; Jn 14:30). The Devil has a significant amount of power over humans—even the natural world. However, there is not a full dualism at work in the NT. Russell writes, “Christianity is in fact a semidualist religion.” The Devil is a fallen angel, not the evil polar opposite of Jesus.
The essential scenario of the struggle appears something like this: The good Lord creates a good world, which is injured by the Devil and the demons, who bring disease and other ills. The world is also injured by the free choice of humanity, as represented by Adam and Eve, to do evil instead of good. The Devil may or may not have tempted Adam and Eve to their original sin; he has certainly been active in the world since. Through the activity of Satan, aided by the demons and by those human beings who fall into sin, the world has fallen under the domination of the Devil. The natural and moral evils of the world are the fault, not of the good Lord, but of these creatures. The conflict between this world, dominated by the Devil, and the Kingdom of God, now brought to earth by Christ, is an important emphasis of the NT.
In this war of the worlds, the “father of lies” is being driven out with all of his sorcery, idolatry, perversion, and disease. Jesus said that it is time for judgment on this world (Jn 12:31). The “prince of this world” will soon be driven out forever and cast into the “lake of fire” (Rev 20:10).
Jesus has overcome by the cross and his followers are promised the victory in his blood (Rev 12:11). Disciples are presently called to “resist” in the momentary struggle and usher in the kingdom of God with good works until Christ comes to establish the new heavens and earth.
THE EPISTLE OF JAMES
Wisdom in Action
Peter H. Davids believes the epistle of James to be a collection of oral discourses, delivered by James—the brother of Jesus—that were gathered up soon after his death and edited into a book to be published and circulated. The epistle contains wisdom teachings, many which are similar to the sayings of Jesus, that are meant to encourage believers in their trials and spur them on to prove their faith through works—even in the face of evil and suffering.
The epistle is “primarily a theology of suffering, an expression of a Jewish theology of suffering with a long history before James’ Christian version.” Furthermore, Davids states that James’ concern is primarily the “health of the community” instead of the wellbeing of the individual. Wisdom “from above” (3:15), even in the midst of trial, leads to “perfect virtue.” James states:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (3:13-18 NIV)
James calls for the wisdom of Christ to be set into action. The testing of the communal faith ought to lead to Christian maturity (1:3). No one in the community should respond to temptation with “I am being tempted by God” because God is not the author of this evil (1:13).
It is the evil desires within humans that lure and entice (1:14). So what of the Devil in James? Is the Devil at work in the community of believers? If so, how does James suggest they respond?
Christian Resistance in James 4:1-10
James says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you (4:1 NIV)?” Before the reader can hear James speak of resistance against the Devil, it is crucial to understand that James believes the first problem is the yeser (desires or “evil inclination”) that begins in the hearts of those in the Christian community (1:14-15; 4:5).
When yeser is conceived it gives birth to sin (1:15). The believer that overcomes his yeser will not sin in anger (1:19), for he does not allow his yeser to ignite a fire within and corrupt his whole body (3:5-6). In his good works he destroys his yeser (2:14-26). His yeser is under control and does not war against the soul (4:1-3). For James, temptation begins with evil inclinations of the heart (1:13-14).
So where is the Devil in this and how do Christians respond?
After attributing temptation to the impact of the evil inclination within individuals (Jas 1:13-15), James draws a close connection between the evil impulse and the work of the devil. He observes that the tongue is set on fire by Gehenna (Jas 3:6; a way of referring to Satan as the ultimate source) and that the so-called wisdom of the opposition is not only “earthly and un-spiritual” but “of the devil” (daimoniodes, Jas 3:15).
Therefore, the Devil is behind the evil inclination! What does Christian resistance look like when the evil impulse burns within? James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7 NIV). First, James calls his listeners to “submit” to God in obedience to Christ’s teachings. The Lord must sit on the throne of the heart! This requires total surrender and allegiance to the “covenant” of God.
Following submission, the church is told to “resist” the Devil. “Resist” (antistete) is the same word used in the context of the spiritual struggle in Ephesians 6:11-13. James is envisioning a resistance by faith in God.
The Devil will “flee” when he is resisted through submission to Christ’s law. As the Devil fled from Jesus in the wilderness, after having failed to tempt the Lord to sin, so he will do with those who “humble” themselves and “draw near to God” in reliance upon the power of God (4:6, 8, 10). “That will be the experience of the Christian as well if he or she learns to say no.” Therefore, the key to resisting the Devil is to humbly submit to God’s desires—denying the evil inclinations—drawing near to Christ who then gracefully comes to the Christian’s aid.
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (Jas 5:7-11 NRSV)
THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PETER
Following Christ in Suffering
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Pet 4:1-2 NIV).
The first epistle of Peter was written in the context of suffering and persecution. Some of the suffering of Christians is described in a general fashion (1:6; 4:12, 19; 5:9, 12) and some of their trials are more specifically mentioned as being brought on due to their identification with Christ (3:15-6; 4:4, 14, 16). The Christian lifestyle has certainly brought them hardship.
Regardless of who was emperor at the time of 1 Peter’s message, whether that be Nero, Domitian, or Trajan, Christians are suffering all over the empire (5:9). Suffering is a mark of authentic Christian discipleship.
Together with the Book of Revelation, 1 Peter is unrivaled among NT documents for its concern with questions of Christian identity, constitution, and behavior in a hostile world. For 1 Peter, Christian communities must struggle with how to maintain a peculiar identity as God’s people in the midst of contrary cultural forces. This is accomplished by identifying with Christ, both in his suffering and in the promise of restoration and justice. Through maintaining their allegiance to God the Father, theirs is a living hope certified by the resurrection of Jesus to life and animated by the Holy Spirit. Their inheritance is nothing less than eschatological salvation.
Peter encourages the saints to follow Christ in suffering as “aliens” and “exiles” in enemy territory (2:11). For Peter, it is not at the hands of flesh and blood that they are being persecuted; instead, the true nature of their opposition is made known: the Devil is on the prowl (5:8)!
The Devil is masked in the human powers that are oppressing the people of Christ. Peter reminds the saints of the battle tactics of Christ—this is a war that must be fought with spiritual weapons.
Christian Resistance in 1 Peter 5:1-11
Peter says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (5:8 NIV). This is the only place in the Bible where the Devil is identified as a lion.
However, the lion is used elsewhere in the OT to describe the enemies of Israel (Jer 27:17; Ps 21:14; Ezek 22:25). This imagery is likely taken from Psalm 22:13, “They open their mouths wide at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.” Peter means to communicate that the Devil’s intentions are to annihilate the believer through ungodly men.
Christian resistance also begins with humility in 1 Peter. However, in the context, Peter is asking younger believers to accept the authority of the elders (5:5-6). These young believers need to heed the wisdom of the elders in this suffering. “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (5:7 NIV).
Peter uses the imperative: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (5:9). Resistance to the Devil in suffering will require humility and submission to men, as well as God. Standing “firm in faith” reveals that the Devil’s aim is for apostasy. He seeks to destroy the faith of believers in suffering.
There are more than cultural and social consequences at work here. Paul Achtemeier says, “It is a matter of the final fate of the universe itself, since the one the community follows is none other than the creator and sustainer of the universe who will in the end see to the triumph of the divine will.”
Like the Book of Revelation, Peter draws his audience in to confirm that the suffering is demonic and the battle is cosmic. The Lord will triumph, and those that share in his sufferings will overcome—restored, supported, strengthened, and established till he comes (5:10).
For Peter, Christian resistance to the Devil demands a “standing firm on the basis of what one knows to be true, and this makes the shaping of what one ‘knows’ all the more crucial.”
CONCLUSION—EMBRACING THE BIBLICAL TENSION
It should be evidently plain from the historical and theological development of the Devil that the people of God have for a long time acknowledged the reality of this malevolent being. His destructive work cannot be ignored throughout the Bible. And it should not be forgotten today.
The authors of the NT will certainly not allow their audience to forget about the one who “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14) yet moves under the cover of darkness (Acts 26:17-18; Eph 5:8-11).
The biblical corpus testifies to a great cosmic battle between heaven and earth. On the other side of the curtain is a world of angelic and demonic beings that are well aware of what is at stake here. This article is a reminder for those who embrace the biblical narrative to keep their head in the game.
The Christian must avoid exaggerating the power of the Devil. Gregroy Boyd writes, “Admitting that Satan and demons can sometimes influence our thinking and behavior does not mean that they can determine our thinking and behavior.”
James has made this much clear concerning temptation: the Devil did not make anyone do it—while Peter assures us that it is safe to assume, and even to know with certainty, that the Devil is working behind the scenes to bring about our demise.
Dear saints of God, be humble, resist him, stand firm in the faith, and pray as righteous people of God (Jas 5:16). For as the apostle Paul has written: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20 NIV).
May the Lord grant us his peace.
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Eph 6:11-13 NIV)
D.D. Flowers, 2011.
 Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil From Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), 222.
 Peter H. Davids, James. New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989), 14, 16.
 Clinton E. Arnold, “Satan, Devil.” Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments. eds. Ralph P. Martin & Peter H. Davids, 1077-1082 (Downers Grove: IVP, 1997), 1077.
 Ibid., 190. Compare 1 Chron 21:1 and 2 Sam 24:1. It may be that the Chronicler edited his later account to reflect the historical and theological development being argued in this paper. See Boyd’s God At War, pgs. 153-54.
 Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 226.
 See Gregory Boyd’s God At War, pgs. 157-162 on Isaiah 14:1-23 & Ezekiel 28.
 David A. DeSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 16.
 The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs also name Belial (Satan) as leader of the fallen angels.
 See T.J. Wray, The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots (New York: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2005), pgs. 95-112 “Satan Between the Testaments” for further study; also see Boyd’s God At War, 172-180 over the intertestamental period.
 Boyd, 206-207. Boyd says that Jesus’ “rebuking” (epitimao) of the wind and sea is paralleled with his many exorcisms (e.g. compare Matt. 8:18-27 and Mk 9:25).
 Ibid., 231. I am extremely indebted to both Russell and Boyd’s historical and theological insights.
 Peter H. Davids, “Theological perspectives on the Epistle of James.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 23, no. 2 (June, 1980): 97-103. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 16, 2011), 98.
 Joel Marcus, “The evil inclination in the Epistle of James.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 44, no. 4 (October 1, 1982): 606-621. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 16, 2011), 620-21.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Bible (New Haven: Doubleday, 2005), 283.
 Hermas wrote that angels came in aiding and strengthening for the struggle with the Devil (Man. 12:6). An angel(s) strengthened Christ after he had been tempted (Matt 4:11) and when he was weak (Lk 22:43).
 Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: A Commentary on First Peter. Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1996), 28-29. Achtemeier believes that the persecutions mentioned in 1 Peter are more likely due to “unofficial harassment” than official imperial policy.
 Joel B. Green, 1 Peter. The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2007), 11.
 For further study, see Sydney Page, “Satan: God’s servant.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50, no. 3 (September 1, 2007): 449-465. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 16, 2011). Page is concerned to point out that the Devil is working for the Lord even now.
 Gregory Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 168.