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Jesus' Teaching on Satan and the Demons

Essay by review  •  November 11, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  3,771 Words (16 Pages)  •  1,391 Views

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The modern world has many misconstrued ideas about Satan and his demons that are not in line with Jesus' teachings in Scripture. Today the world sees Satan in an almost comical way, if they believe in him at all. There is such a lack of belief in anything spiritually supernatural that the idea of demons is less acceptable to today's society than the idea of ghosts. In Jesus' time, this was not the case; people were well aware of Satan and his activities. Jesus often had to deal with things of this nature, and addressed the matter several times in Scripture. The difference between what Jesus had to say on the matter and what the world says today is monumental.

Satan plays a major role in many religions, either as an angel, demon or minor god. In Hebrew tradition, God uses the angel Satan to test the piety levels of man. In the Apocrypha and New Testament, Satan is a fallen angel turned evil demon, who is the enemy of both God and mankind. These two portraits of Satan are not mutually exclusive. In all modern Abrahamic religions (and various other mythology), Satan is a supernatural being who is the fundamental personification of evil. In Islamic tradition, the primary demon that tempts Adam and Eve is called Iblis. It was because Iblis refused to prostrate himself before Adam that he was cast from Allah to live on earth among the humans. He vowed he would lure as many humans as he could into sin in order to make them go to Hell, where he was destined after doomsday. He wanted to prove that man was no better than he was.

The most common names for Satan are the Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, Belial, Mephistopheles or Lucifer. The Talmud and the Kabbalah sometimes refer to him as Samael. Most Jewish literature, however, views Samael as a separate angel all together. There is considerable difference of belief as to whether or not any of these beings are actually evil.

Satan in Pre-Christian Traditions

Satan in the Old Testament

While there is not much mention of demons in the Old Testament, there is evidence concerning Satan. The term "satan" is better understood in the Hebrew Bible as an accuser or adversary, rather than a fallen angel or evil demon. This term is used to describe both divine and human beings. The Hebrew word "satan" is used in the Old Testament with the all-purpose connotation of "adversary", being applied in several different ways. For example, the name is used to describe a foe in war and peace (1 Kings 5:4 and 11:14, 23, 25) and an accuser before the judgment seat (Psalm 109:6). One such instance is of an antagonist who puts obstacles in the way; such as when the angel of God is described as opposing Balaam as an adversary (Numbers 22:22).

When not portrayed as an angel, Satan is clearly a member of God's court and almost plays the role of prosecuting attorney for God. In the prologue of the Book of Job, for example, Satan appears before God with other celestial beings. God inquires as to where he has come from and his answer is "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it." (Job 1:7b) The fact that God asked him this, his answer and the dialogue that follows characterize Satan as a member of the divine council. His job on the council seems to be watching over human activities with the purpose of searching out man's sin and bringing the accusation to God. He sees only the sin and prosecutes humans for it. For example, after he passes the first test, Satan requests that Job be tested even further (Job 2:3-5).

From the prologue in Job, it is apparent that Satan cannot act independently. He must seek permission for God and cannot act without it. Although Satan works in opposition to God, he cannot take action unless God allows him to. This is made obvious again when Satan is described as the adversary of the high priest Joshua in Zachariah (Zechariah 3:1-2). Here the angel of the Lord tells Satan to be silent in the name of God, but Satan stands defiant. In both Job and Zachariah, Satan is merely an accuser acting under the authorization of God. This is repeated again when Satan provokes David to take a census of Israel (1st Chronicles 21:1). At first glance it seems that the Chronicler regards Satan as a more independent agent, but upon closer review it is seen as similar to Job. Satan is free to tempt, with God's consent (2nd Samuel 24:1).

Satan in Early Rabbinic Writings

Satan played little or no role in Jewish theology according to statements made in the Mishnah and the Talmud. It was over time that Judaism adopted popular, maybe even secular, thoughts of Satan. It is only the later rabbinic writings that start to mention Satan and his demons. For example, classical Judaism's Biblical commentators thought the serpent that tempted Eve was just that - a literal serpent. The thought was it could represent either the evil tendency, Satan or the Angel of death. Before he was cursed for his actions, the devious creature stood upright and could converse in some form or fashion.

The Babylonian Talumud states that the evil inclination (Yetzer ha-Ra in Yiddish), the angel of death and Satan are one in the same. In the Midrash Samael, the ruler of the satans (this refers to a specific order of angel, not demons), was a powerful prince of angels in Heaven. He came into the world with Eve, meaning he is created and not eternal. According to tradition, he can fly, and is said to skip, in reference to his appearance in the form of a goat. He may also take any form; such as a bird, a stag, a woman, a beggar or a young man.

Some rabbis at this time held opinion that Satan is pure evil and intent on destroying man. Here Satan, the Yetzer ha-Ra and the angel of death are the same personality. In times of danger he brings accusations. Although he has power over all the works of man, he cannot triumph over two people of different nationality at the same time. This is why a noted astronomer, physician and teacher of the Law, Samuel, would only travel when accompanied by a Gentile. The belief was that Satan's knowledge disappears when the shofar is blown on New Year's Day. Because the numerical value of the letters of his name only adds up to 364, one day (the Day of Atonement) a year his power vanishes.

One rabbi states that not only was Satan an active agent in the fall of man, but also the father of Cain. He was also instrumental in the offering of Isaac and the release of the animal destined by Esau for his father. The sin at Sinai, the death of Moses, David's sin with Bathsheba and the death of Queen Vashti can all be laid at his feet. Haman obtained



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