Vol. 3, No. 3
A querist poses this question, also the title of material sent to him for review, which the querist forwarded to me. First, it seems apparent that Satan lost his status as a faithful angel of God, consequently also forfeiting his residency in heaven, before the temptation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-15; Revelation 12:9). The Bible does not say just when angels were created and just when Satan and his fellow fallen angels sinned and were exiled from heaven. That such an event did occur is apparent from what is recorded in Scripture. "For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment" (2 Peter 2:4). "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6). "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
Among the references submitted for consideration relative to determining when Satan fell from heaven were Luke 10:18; Romans 16:20 and various passages from the Book of Revelation. A primary mistake often made in the interpretation of apocalyptic epistles is to view figurative language as though it were literal. The thrust of Revelation is that God and righteousness will overcome Satan and unrighteousness. References to Satan in that figurative language do not reveal anything pertaining to when Satan fell from heaven, only that Satan ultimately looses his contest with God.
Luke 10:18 reads: "And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." This verse also falls short of identifying when Satan was expelled from heaven. Jesus only addressed the continuing (until the end of time) war between Satan and God, in which Satan continues to lose and will finally be vanquished. "In every triumph over the powers of evil Christ beheld in vision the downfall of Satan." (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft)
Likewise, Romans 16:20 reflects on the prophecy God made in the Garden relative to Satan and Jesus Christ and the ongoing fulfillment of that prophecy (Genesis 3:15). "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen" (Romans 16:20). "…indeed this assurance is but a reproduction of the first great promise, that the Seed of the woman should bruise the Serpent's head (Gen 3:15)." (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)
These few comments in this reply (above and below) do not constitute an exhaustive treatment concerning Satan. Further, many incidental pieces of information can be gleaned from the Bible about Satan; however, Scripture neither presents a neat package of doctrinal information about this malevolent angelic being (and his disciples) nor provides answers for mankind's every inquiry about Satan. Among other things, we can know Satan's ultimate outcome (Matthew 25:41).
SATAN A comparison of these passages will convince the careful student that while we cannot construct a definite chronological program for the career of Satan, we are clear in the chief points. He is limited, judged, condemned, imprisoned, reserved for judgment from the beginning. (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft)
Additionally, Satan is known by several designations in the Bible, which names also describe some of his malicious characteristics.
Satan -- adversary; accuser. When used as a proper name, the Hebrew word so rendered has the article "the adversary" (Job 1:6-12; 2:17). In the New Testament it is used as interchangeable with Diabolos, or the devil, and is so used more than thirty times. He is also called "the dragon," "the old serpent" (Rev. 12:9; 20:2); "the prince of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30); "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2); "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4); "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2). The distinct personality of Satan and his activity among men are thus obviously recognized. He tempted our Lord in the wilderness (Matt. 4:11). He is "Beelzebub, the prince of the devils" (12:24). He is "the constant enemy of God, of Christ, of the divine kingdom, of the followers of Christ, and of all truth; full of falsehood and all malice, and exciting and seducing to evil in every possible way." His power is very great in the world. He is a "roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). Men are said to be "taken captive by him" (2 Tim. 2:26). Christians are warned against his "devices" (2 Cor. 2:11), and called on to "resist" him (James 4:7). Christ redeems his people from "him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14). Satan has the "power of death," not as lord, but simply as executioner. (Easton, M. G., M. A. D. D., Easton's Bible Dictionary, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1996)
Another common name for Satan in the New Testament is " the devil," meaning "slanderer" or "false accuser." Other titles by which Satan is identified in the New Testament include "the tempter" (1 Thess 3:5); "Beelzebub" (Matt 12:24); "the wicked one" (Matt 13:19, 38); "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31); "the god of this age" (2 Cor 4:4); "Belial" (2 Cor 6:15), "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph 2:2); and "the accuser of our brethren" (Rev 12:10). (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers, electronically packaged with Biblesoft)
Satan is also called the devil, the dragon, the evil one, the angel of the abyss, the ruler of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the god of this world, Apollyon, Abaddon, Belial, and Beelzebub. But Satan and the devil are the names most frequently given. (The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988, electronically packaged with Biblesoft)
Satan has many vices with which he earnestly and relentlessly endeavors to infect as many mortals as possible. He is a liar and murderer (John 8:44; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). Satan is a master of deception (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). The sinful pride with which he is permeated he hopes to spread to our fellows (1 Timothy 3:6). Satan's devices (2 Corinthians 2:11) and snares (1 Timothy 3:7; 2 Timothy 2:26) with which he means to entrap humanity are plentiful. Many have already been overcome by him (1 Timothy 5:15). However, Satan can be resisted (James 4:7), especially when one is watchful for him (1 Peter 5:8), flees from him (Ephesians 4:27; James 4:7) arms himself with the Word of God (Ephesians 6:11).
A sister from Arizona recently inquired about the differences she has observed between black and white congregations concerning how they respectively handle occasions of public repentance. She noted that though articles, including some in the pages of Gospel Gazette Online, treat the biblical topic of "repentance," they do not address the "how-to" details.
There are a number of topics, doubtless, that though Scripture teaches something definitively about those doctrines, the details regarding implementation are not specified in Scripture. For instance, the qualifications for the selection of and the duties for elders are addressed in various passages throughout the New Testament (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-11; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Hebrews 13:7, 13). Yet, no public ceremony or the exact procedure through which the elders of a congregation should be appointed appears in the New Testament. We can glean from this that what God wants mankind to know and that with which God wants mankind to comply he caused to be recorded in so many words in the Bible. That is, God authorizes through what he specifies. In areas where God has not specified, man may and must use his judgment or opinion. Regarding elders, God determined the qualifications and duties of elders, but left the details of how to publicly acknowledge them as elders to human judgment. Therefore, any number of congregations may work out those details as they deem most agreeable to their respective congregations.
Biblical repentance involves a change of mind that precedes a change of conduct. Therefore, John the Baptist called upon the disingenuous Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptisms in the Jordan River to "…Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:7-8). The presence of the Pharisees and Sadducees at preaching and baptismal events by John the Baptist implied (falsely regarding these audience members) their repentance, but their conduct contradicted the implication of their presence. More biblical information about repentance appears in the archives of Gospel Gazette Online. [www. gospelgazette/archives/index.shtml#r]
How, though, can one publicly express his penitence? As noted, a part of repentance involves a change of mind and a corresponding change of conduct where one brings his deportment into conformity with the Word of God. Essentially, the non-Christian publicly renounces his sins as he confesses his belief that Jesus is the Christ (Romans 10:9-10; Acts 8:37). This particular public acknowledgement of Jesus as the Son of God (and implied penitence) precedes baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 8:36-38; 2:38; 22:16) and only occurs once. Continual public profession of Jesus Christ as the Son of God (and implied penitence) occurs not as a habitual statement before the assembly, but daily as we live our lives (Matthew 10:32-33).
As Christians, we are encouraged to confess our faults to one another (James 5:16), as opposed to auricular confession of Catholics into the ears of priests. Whereas auricular confession is unidirectional, Christians confessing their sins to each other is a mutual or two-directional exercise. We participate with each other in petitioning God through prayer for the forgiveness of our public sins (Acts 8:22-24). Of course, the question remains, "How?"
The dear sister who posed the question under review also noted that in some congregations, virtually every service the same people come forward and proceed to make some public statement of repentance and request for prayers. Only sins that are or could be publicly known fall under any biblical direction to publicly repent of them; private sins should be addressed privately (Matthew 18:15-17). Matthew 6:5-8 cautions against hypocritically seeking religious notoriety and we must be careful in that regard, lest ordinarily legitimate public acknowledgement of sin and repentance degenerate into the testimonial part of our worship assemblies. Those who might do that, and those whose tender hearts prompt them to respond publicly frequently, need to be taken aside and with gentleness taught more perfectly.
Now, the "How?" respecting the implementation of public repentance. Shall we have the penitent person personally make some statement? Shall we have a spokesperson, such as a preacher or an elder, relate the sentiments of the penitent person to the assembly? The querist represents predominantly black congregations as permitting respondents the opportunity to personally address the assembly respecting their penitence. Predominantly white congregations are portrayed as usually having a preacher relate one's repentance to the congregation. Similar to the void of biblical information concerning how to appoint elders, the Bible is also silent regarding how public repentance ought to occur, excepting Acts 8:22-24 which is no more applicable to one or the other choices. Either procedure of itself, as long as other biblical doctrines and principles are not violated, amounts to the permissible use of human judgment or opinion. The activity, public repentance, is authorized, but the details regarding implementation are not.
However, in my opinion, permitting respondents to freely address the assembly any and every time they may choose to respond could prove biblically dangerous. Under such circumstances, the assembly is liable to be surprised by what is said or the church may come perilously close to violating apostolic directives about conducting the assembly decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40) or women may graduate to a role in the assembly restricted by God to men (1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:11-12).
We are obligated to do what God instructs us to do in the way in which God authorizes us to do it, whatever it is. In those things that God instructs us to do, but wherein he does not authorize any particular implementation, we must use human judgment, being careful to avoid violation of any biblical doctrines or principles in the process. Fully organized congregations will rely on the wise judgment of their respective elderships in these areas. Churches without elders yet will rely on their respective male leadership.
Please explain: "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
Biblical cross-references that shed light on the meaning of Ecclesiastes 8:11 include: "But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said" (Exodus 8:15). Here, between plagues the Egyptian Pharaoh reversed himself on his avowed willingness to do the bidding of God to avoid further plagues. Typically, evil persons only submit their wills to God, and then unwillingly, for as long as there remains the appearance of imminent personal peril for their wickedness. Job decried the wicked who live riotously and spurn God in the absence of immediate punishment for their waywardness.
"They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance. They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave. Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?" (Job 21:11-15).
Often, God has historically punished evil swiftly, and yet any evil not addressed immediately will nevertheless be addressed by God in due time, at least before his Judgment Seat. The prophet Isaiah (Chapter 5) recorded God's acknowledgement of his people's impudent sinfulness, as well as God's promise to visit them with punishment. Mankind frequently scoffs in the face of God who sometimes withholds immediate retribution for sin, but judgment and corresponding punishment is certain (2 Peter 3:3-10). The forbearance of God wherein he does not visit sinners with immediate punishment is meant by God for mankind to have sufficient opportunity to note sins and repent of them. Yet, this very forbearance is abused by most sinners. "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" (Romans 2:4). Our benevolent God provides opportunity by delaying divine punishment of sin for sinners to repent, but often they do not repent. "And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not" (Revelation 2:21).
Despite the seeming ability for sinners to 'get away with' their sinful antics, so offending God as well as their fellows who themselves oppose wickedness by their pursuit of righteousness, eventually justice will repay the wicked with punishment. Thereby, God will be compensated, poorly at best, and righteous souls will be confirmed in their right-doing. The God-fearing children of the Heavenly Father may be tempted by the prolonged lack of punishment forthcoming to the openly wicked, but God's disposition of unrepented sinners, if not sooner surely later in the final judgment, will appease the children of God who persevere.
The best explanation of Ecclesiastes 8:11 is probably the digest of the two verses immediately following that citation.
"Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God."
Regarding timeliness of divine punishment toward sinful men, time itself is irrelevant to our Eternal God. "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night" (Psalm 90:4). "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). The passage in which the latter citation appears specifically warns against spiritual apathy resulting from a delay of punishment. The following verses from this same context affirm judgment and urge prior preparation, as opposed to apathy and a lack of preparedness.
"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness" (2 Peter 3:9-11).