Did Jesus Believe in Satan?
Jesus’ teaching, his exorcisms, his healings and other miracles, as well as his work on the cross, all remain somewhat incoherent and unrelated to one another until we interpret them as acts of war. As in apocalyptic thought of the time of Jesus, the assumption that undergirds Jesus’ entire ministry is that Satan has illegitimately seized the world and thus now exercises a controlling influence over it. Three times the Jesus of John’s Gospel refers to Satan as the “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). He here uses the word archon, which was customarily used to denote “the highest official in a city or a region in the Greco-Roman world.” Hence Jesus is saying that, concerning ruling powers over the cosmos, this evil ruler is the highest.
Thus when Satan claimed that he could give all the “authority” and “glory” of “all the kingdoms of the world” to whomever he wanted – for they all belonged to him – Jesus did not dispute him (Luke 4:4–6). Jesus assumes that the entire world is “under the power of the evil one””(1 John 5:19) and that Satan is the “the God of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “the ruler of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).
Jesus sees this evil tyrant as mediating and expanding his authority over the world through multitudes of demons that form a vast army under him. Indeed, Jesus intensifies this conviction somewhat in comparison to common views of the day. When Jesus is accused of casting demons out of people by the power of Beelzebub (another name for Satan), he responds by telling his hostile audience, “if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” (Mark 3:24). His response builds upon their shared assumption that the demonic kingdom is unified under one “prince,” who is Satan. His point is that this kingdom of evil, like any kingdom, cannot be working at cross-purposes with itself.
Indeed, Jesus adds that one cannot make significant headway in taking back the “property” of his “kingdom” unless one first “ties up the strong man” who oversees the whole operation (Mark 3:27). This, Luke adds, can only be done when “one stronger then he attacks him and overpowers him” and “takes away his armor in which he trusted” and then “divides his plunder” (Luke 11:22). This is what Jesus came to do. His whole ministry was about overpowering the “fully armed” strong man who guarded “his property,” namely, God’s people and ultimately the entire earth.
Jesus’ success in casting out demons reveals that his whole ministry was about “tying up the strong man.” The whole episode clearly illustrates Jesus’ assumption that Satan and demons form a unified kingdom. They are, a “tight-knit lethal the organization” that has a singular focus under a single general, Satan.
Because of this assumption Jesus can refer to the “devil and his angels,” implying that fallen angels belong to Satan (Matthew 25:41). For the same reason Jesus sees demonic activity as being, by extension, the activity of Satan himself, and he therefore judges that everything done against demons is also done against Satan himself.
For example, when his 70 disciples return to him after a successful ministry of driving out demons, Jesus proclaims that he saw “Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (Luke 10:17–18). The “strong man” and his household clearly stand or fall together. They together form a single, relatively organized army, unified in its singular purpose of hindering God’s work and bringing evil and misery to his people. The head of this army and thus the ultimate principle of all evil, is Satan.
—Adapted from God at War, pages 180-182
art: “Follow me, Satan!”
by: Ilya Repin