The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." (Luke 10:17)So what is Jesus speaking of here?
The roots of satan in the Scriptures
Jesus' referral to "satan" comes from the Greek word Σατανᾶς (satanas) - with the Aramaic root word of Σατάν which has its basis from the Hebrew word שָׂטָן.
The Hebrew word שָׂטָן, the Aramaic word Σατάν and the Greek word Σατανᾶς all have the same primary definition: "adversary." The Hebrew lexicon says "adversary, one who withstands," while the Aramaic and Greek word's primary definition is "adversary (one who opposes another in purpose or act)."
While this is the original meaning of the word, Biblical scholars define the word as given to a specific person who is the adversary of the Supreme Being, someone who is "circumventing men by his wiles."
Outside of the allegorical discussion between God and satan regarding Job's calamities, and one quick mention in Corinthians, "satan" is not mentioned in the Old Testament - as is the "devil." Does this mean he never existed before Job or David?
New Testament texts have Jesus utilizing this word on several occasions. For example, he is said to have used it in this statement, during his 40 days in the desert:
“Away from me, satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” (Mark 4:10)He also said:
"If satan drives out satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?" (Matt. 12:26)Then he said to his own disciple Peter:
“Get behind me, satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matt. 16:23)
“Get behind me, satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33)
“Simon, Simon, satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat" (Luke 22:31)And after Jewish teachers accused Jesus: "He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons," Jesus said:
“How can satan drive out satan?" (Mark 3:23)Jesus also stated a few verses later:
"And if satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come." (Mark 3:26)Jesus also used the word Σατανᾶς within his parables, such as:
"Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them." (Mark 4:15)Jesus also said:
"If satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by beelzebul." (Luke 11:18)
"Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Luke 13:16)These are the only texts that mention the word Σατανᾶς. Other texts mention the "devil" such as:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matt. 4:1)These and other texts use the Greek word διάβολος (diabolos) - translated to "devil."
We can see by the example of Jesus in the desert that these two words - "devil" and "satan" are used interchangeably.
And notice that after the verse above in Matt. 4:10, this was stated:
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matt. 4:11)So we can see here that even Jesus was tempted by the "devil" or "satan."
The word "devil" is only found in the New Testament. It is derived from the Greek word διάβολος (diabolos) - which means "prone to slander, slanderous, accusing falsely" according to the lexicon, or "2) metaphorically applied to a man who, by opposing the cause of God, may be said to act the part of the devil or to side with him"
Now just who is this person? Or is it an individual person at all?
Many ecclesiastical sectarian institutions and their teachers have professed that the "devil" or "satan" is God's mortal enemy, and God's challenger. They profess that all the evil in the world is caused by this person.
Furthermore, they profess this as though the Supreme Being has lost some control - and "satan" or the "devil" has assumed control of the physical universe, and these two (God and "satan") are duking it out for control not only over the universe, but over each of us.
They also blame all the evil of the world on "satan" or the "devil." As if we don't have any personal responsibility for the evils we do.
This is all malarkey.
God never loses control
The Supreme Being never loses control. This is why He is called God. Because He is always in control. And the evil that we do within the physical world is our responsibility. If it weren't, then that would remove the very ability to choose between doing evil and doing good.
Yes, the Supreme Being does grant each of us the freedom to love and serve Him or not. We can decide to live our lives for ourselves or decide to live our lives for the Supreme Being. This is our choice - and He gave us each this choice. We can know by this freedom that ultimately we are each responsible for the evil (self-centered activity) we do. We can't blame it on someone else.
Why? Because love requires freedom of choice. We can't be forced to love someone, and if we did, then that would not truly be love.
So in order to provide us with the freedom to love Him or not, the Supreme Being created within us and around us a force that hides Himself and pulls us away from Him. This "adversarial" force was created by God to produce objectivity in order to exercise our freedom to love Him or not.
Blindedness renders choice
In the scientific world, this is called "blindedness." A scientific study will be "blinded" in order to render results that were objective. So they give either the medicine or a placebo to each of the patients being tested. The patients being tested don't know whether they are being given the medicine or not.
And it is called "double-blindedness" when the doctor giving the medication doesn't know whether he is giving the placebo or not. This deletes the possibility that the doctor will encourage certain outcomes.
This idea of blindedness is also set up by the Supreme Being in the form of setting up a blinded ability to make an objective choice between love and self-centeredness. Even though the Supreme Being is setting up this force - it is necessary to make the spiritual force of love a choice.
Because we can't readily ascertain that the Supreme Being is hiding from us, we are able to make a choice between loving Him or not without being encouraged one way or another (blindedness).
Opposing forces render objectivity
While the forces of spiritual life bring us closer to Him, the adversarial forces of the physical world allow us to embrace self-centeredness. Once we have decided to chase self-centeredness, the physical world puts before us mental concoctions that tempt us with their illusory advantages.
This is essentially what happened in the desert with Jesus. For example, the devil "tempted" Jesus with fame and power in the physical world:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. He took Jesus to the top of a mountain and said: "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." (Matt. 4:9)This idea of worshiping the devil is symbolic. Basically, it relates to a person seeking power and authority in the physical world at all costs - they will abandon their seeking of the Supreme Being in order to get it.
And certainly, this is what happens. When a person foregoes goodness and their eternal spiritual life and instead seeks the temporary fame and fortunes of the physical world, they are in fact worshipping the devil - as the devil (and satan) symbolically grabs ahold of them in the form of our self-centered concoctions.
How do we know that Jesus used these terms symbolically? Consider this full verse:
So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can satan drive out satan?" (Mark 3:23)This clarifies that "satan" is being discussed symbolically. This is what a parable is.
Figures of speech
Jesus didn't literally see satan falling from the sky. This is a figure of speech. We still use this figure of speech in our language - "I saw so-and-so fall from the sky." This is typically said when we are explaining how a person falls from their place of power. Jesus is essentially stating - through symbolism - that his disciples' teaching has helped decrease the power of evil and self-centeredness within the lives of those they had been teaching to.
This also goes for trampling on snakes and scorpions: Jesus is talking about the snakes and the scorpions among the human population. Those who are snake-like - and those who bite others. He isn't literally talking about them killing snakes and scorpions in the desert.
We can furthermore understand Jesus is using symbolism when he says, "but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." It is not as if their names will literally get written into the sky. The word ἐγγράφω (eggraphō) means to "engrave, inscribe or record or enroll." Jesus is speaking of them becoming members of the spiritual sky - symbolized by their names being written in the "sky." Jesus is talking about their receiving the acclaim of the Supreme Being, symbolically.
So is there a person who is the "devil" or "satan" at all?
Why? Why would God continue to tempt those who are making their path back to Him? To make us more serious about it. These situations set up greater resolve - assuming the person is sincere about wanting to re-ignite their relationship with God. For those who are not so serious, they will succumb to the temptations. It is a sort of 'weeding out' - making certain that only those who are serious about God end up returning to Him.
And we know the Supreme Being indeed utilizes other beings authorized to organize forces within the physical world. These can be certainly be discussed as personalities. But such arrangements are always in the control of the Supreme Being. He may delegate to others, but He still retains ultimate authority. Whatever personalities are involved maintain the choices designed by the Supreme Being.
Through the texts, we can understand the words "satan" or the "devil" can represent multiple personalities as well. This was illustrated when Jesus exorcised multiple demons who were sent into the body of pigs, as well as Jesus' discussions with his disciples.
This and other instances illustrate multiple "devils." Just consider Jesus' statement to Judas:
“Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70)A few verses later in John it states:
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. (John 13:2)So we see that Judas is being identified as "a devil" and later, he is being the subject of "the devil's" prompting. Which is it?
These are not inconsistent because the "devil" is being spoken of symbolically as it describes a person driven by self-centeredness.
It is also being used to describe the force of the Supreme Being that tempts us and promises us happiness if we follow self-centeredness. This force is created by the Supreme Being - and it serves Him by putting in front of our minds so many concoctions. This force is behind our mind thinking, for example:
"If I just stole that money, I would be wealthy - and if I were wealthy, I'd be happy."
Such self-centered concoctions are the basis for our harming others to get what we want.
So what are demons then?
There are definitely demons. When we speak of people like Hitler and Stalin, we are speaking of demons. Those who commit atrocities upon others.
Strictly speaking, we can define a demon as someone who wants to get what they want regardless of whether it hurts someone else or not. They are ready and willing to commit suffering upon others. This provides the standard definition, and this means that there are many demons in the physical world.
But then there are those who seek God. Those who have a relative amount of spiritual life - they want to find God - and later want to come to love and please God in some way. This is opposed to avoiding God and even denying God's existence - and doing what we think will make us happy - self-centeredness.
This comes down to our choices. And we are always being tested by these choices.
This is called an adversarial situation.
We can choose between spiritual life or its adversary - self-centeredness.
As we are tested throughout life, we either develop more spiritual consciousness or more self-centeredness. This depends greatly upon our overall desires, who we associate with and what we do with our time.
But these tests serve to not only grade us in our spiritual evolution, but they allow us to understand where we stand. Are we ultimately self-centered or are we trying to establish a loving relationship with the Supreme Being?
Those within the physical world by nature are to one degree or another demoniac because we decided to be self-centered and thus were put here and given these physical bodies. We "fell" from the spiritual realm because our consciousness (self-centered) did not fit within the consciousness of the spiritual realm - that of love, humility and kindness.
In this respect, those who try to utilize the scriptures and/or the teachings of Jesus to try to promote an agenda that we can use Jesus to get what we want in the physical world - whether it be wealth, fame, health and so on - are abusing those teachings. Jesus' teachings were intended to convince us that we will be fulfilled if we love and serve the Supreme Being.
And the physical world and these physical bodies were designed to rehabilitate us towards that end - if we decide we want to return to Him. Again we have the choice. We can choose between God and our self-centered concoctions of the physical world. This is communicated clearly by Jesus:
“Get behind me, satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matt. 16:23)"Human concerns" relates to those concerns of the physical world and our physical body. These are self-centeredness.
Again this is part of the freedom of choice to love God or not. This choice is "blinded" by the fact that the Supreme Being does not appear before our physical eyes. This gives us the opportunity to make the choice without being overtly influenced. If He showed Himself to our physical eyes, we could not readily deny His existence and go on living our self-centered lives.
We can also see this symbolism as Jesus' statement is translated from the Gospels of Jesus:
“I watched the opposer fall from heaven like lightning. Just consider, I gave you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions – and above all, the power of the enemy. Thus nothing will injure you. Nonetheless, don’t rejoice that the spirits obey you. Rejoice that your names are enrolled in the spiritual realm.” (Luke 10:18-20)We can see here that the "opposer" is used symbolically. But what about possession? Can the "devil" possess someone?
As stated above, the force of evil - self-centeredness - puts before our minds various degrees of concoctions. So in this respect, if our minds become attached to one or multiple concoctions we can be said to be possessed - as we will be "hooked" on that concoction - and will strive for it, often at the risk of hurting others.
People even talk about this - being "possessed" by a certain concept or goal. A person, for example, can become "possessed" by a desire to be a great football player. This "possession" is self-centered, based upon the concoction that if that person becomes a great football player - with so many adoring fans - then he will be happy. But on that way towards being the great football player, the person will have to hurt others. It is part of the game - but it is also the player's choice.
Of course, the influence of the "devils" or "satans" around us can be repelled by our choices and activities. We can start by making it our major goal in life to come to know God and then redevelop our loving service relationship with God. Then those activities related to that goal - worshiping God, praising God and so on - will repel the influences of self-centeredness and will gradually cleanse away our self-centered concoctions.
We can easily keep demons away from us by learning more about God and worshiping God. We can readily keep demons away because demons hate hearing the Holy Names of God. They hate hearing or seeing us worship God.
Thus when we do these things, we can help keep self-centered demoniac people and spirits away from us. We may still continue to be tempted, and certainly, our body will still get diseased and die as it is meant to. But we can at least keep our focus upon worshiping the Supreme Being - who will ultimately protect us.
This is precisely how Jesus was able to repel the "devil" in the desert:
“Away from me, satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” (Mark 4:10)
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)