By Tony Cox
In the Light of Christ
Read part 1 of this series here, part 2 here.
In the Old Testament God is portrayed as being in complete overall control of the universe. This is so much so, that God is able to temporarily allow evil to exist, for the sake of a greater good. God can, obviously, directly intervene into human affairs (the Flood being an obvious example) but, in the main, God allows Sin (or ‘the mystery of lawlessness’) to run its course. (cf. 2 Thess. 2:7; Rev. 13: 5-10, Matt. 13:24-30). Accordingly, God even allowed His own Son to be unjustly killed by evil men for the sake of the greater good (Acts 2:23-24, 3:15, 4:10 etc.)
A sinful course of action also often contains within itself the seeds of its own punishment (cf. Jer. 2:19, Matt. 24:15-21). However, through His foresight, omniscience, and omnipotence, God is able to respect the free will decisions of his higher creatures, whilst at the same time, mysteriously shaping human history towards an ultimate, glorious, end (cf. Gen. 50:20; Rom. 11:33-36, Rev.21:1-4). Even in our own individual lives, God can make all things work together for ultimate good (Rom. 8:28).
The ministry of Christ relegated much of the previous Old Testament Scriptures, into the role of a partial, and fragmentary revelation (Heb. 1:1-2). Its central feature, the Mosaic Law, became only ‘an outline’ (Heb. 10:1; Weymouth) of things to come. Jesus became the only man who had actually seen God, and who fully knew God’s character (John 6:46, 1:18; Matt. 11:27).
However, the majority of Jews failed to recognize their own God, when He finally fully revealed Himself in Jesus Christ (John 1:11,18).The disclosures that Christ brought were so revolutionary, that they could not be simply joined to Old Testament revelation, without ‘tearing’. Nor could Christ’s revelations be poured into Old Testament theological parameters, without considerable expansion (see Mark 2:21, 22). This is why the New Testament is, essentially, a commentary upon the Old Testament; and not vice versa.
From Shadow to Reality
Several vitally important New Testament concepts are only latent, or in ‘embryonic form’, in the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures. These include notions such as the execution of the Messiah, the resurrection of the Messiah, the two stage coming of the Messiah, and the cancellation of Old Covenant legalistic regulations. Another New Testament concept in the same category as these may be the concept of ‘the Satan’ (‘the Devil’, both in the Septuagint, and in the New Testament cf. particularly Luke 8:12 with Mark 4:15; and, Matt. 4:8 with Matt. 4:9 for this identification of ‘the Satan’ as ‘the Devil’, as well as the explicit identification mentioned in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2).
John 1:17 states:
‘For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’
Isaiah 11:2, 3 states with reference to the future Messiah:
‘The spirit of the LORD shall alight upon him: A spirit of wisdom and insight …He shall sense the truth…’ (The Jewish Study Bible, Jewish Publication Society.)
1 John1:5 states:
‘This then is the message that we have heard from Him (Jesus), and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.’
The Old Testament may appear to claim that it is God who directly hardens (Ex.4:21) and deceives people (Ez.14:9), gives wicked laws (Ez. 20:25, A.V.), leads people into temptation (2 Sam. 24:1), makes people dumb and blind (Ex. 4:11), kills (Deut. 32:39) and sends evil spirits (1 Sam. 16:14). In the New Testament however, it is ‘the Devil’ (‘the Satan’) who is portrayed as causing death and illness (Acts 10:38; Heb. 2:14), and who is seen as being (partially) responsible for spiritual blindness (2 Cor. 4:4, Luke 8:12), by opposing the truth (John 8:44-45), and plotting against God’s people (2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11).
In the Light of Christ
In the light of Christ, Old Testament Hebrew idioms concerning the relationship between God and ‘evil’, are totally dispensed with, and Jesus Himself never directly ascribes illness to God. In the Gospels, Jesus explains His ministry as a spiritual warfare with ‘the Satan’ (‘the Devil’), which began in earnest with His initial testing in the wilderness (Matt. 4).
Mark 1:39 states that Jesus’ mission comprised of preaching, and the casting out of demons. Later, Jesus empowered and authorized His Apostles, as well as other disciples, to successfully share in this same kind of ministry, and spiritual conflict (Mark 3:14-15; Luke 9:1; 10:17-21). The ministry of Christ is alluded to as ‘a tying up’ of Satan (‘the strong man’), which the Apostle John later describes as ‘an undoing’ (Greek word: luse) of ‘the works of the Devil’ (1 John 3:8).
Jesus claimed that His insights into these kind of spiritual realities were unknown to previous Old Testament prophets and kings (Luke 10:23-24). As in the prologue to the book of Job, Jesus ultimately ascribed illness, not to God, but to ‘the(Angelic) Satan’, as well as to ‘spirits’ (New Testament ‘demons’; Luke 10:20, 11:24; Mark 5:6, 9:25). The well-known British Christadelphian scholar, Harry Whittaker, in his penetrating Scriptural analysis of ‘demons’, in ‘Studies in the Gospels’ (chap. 30), is forced to conclude that the ‘demons’ (‘spirits’) of the Gospels, must refer to ontological supernatural beings of some sort.
In Luke 13:16, Jesus stated that it was ‘the Satan’, not God, who had kept a woman crippled, for eighteen years. Peter, in Acts 10:38, claimed that Jesus went around healing people who were oppressed, not by God, but by ‘the Devil’. Jesus raised the dead, and healed the blind, the lame, the deaf, and the lepers (Matt. 11:5). I John 3:8 however, describes this activity as being a destruction of the works, not of God, but of the Devil.
Similarly, when the Apostle Paul is disciplined by some apparent painful illness, he directly attributed this malady, not to God, but to ‘an angel of Satan’ (2 Cor. 12:7; Weymouth; Moffatt; J.B version). When Paul appears to be talking about certain people being physically disciplined, for a possible spiritual benefit, he again ascribes such physical suffering to ‘the Satan’ (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5; and 1 Tim. 1:20). Paul mentions ‘the Satan’ and/or ‘the Devil’ in eight of his Epistles(Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy), which is more Epistles than those in which he mentions ‘Angels’.
The Devil’s Claims, The Devil’s End
The present situation on earth is not yet the kingdom of God but is alluded to, in the New Testament, as currently being ‘the kingdom(dominion) of ‘the Satan’ (cf. Matt. 12:26; Luke 11:18; Acts 20:18; Col. 1:13). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews states that it was originally Mankind’s destiny to have rule over this world, but it became subject to Angels (Heb. 2:5-9, cf. Gen. 1:26-28). We get a glimpse of this reality, in the Jewish Scriptures, at Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1, which seem to refer to Angelic National Rulers (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6,8), and also at Deut. 32:8, where the Septuagint, (according to ‘The Jewish Study Bible’), is probably closer to the original Hebrew text which is now corrupted here.
Deut. 32:8 (Sept.) states that the nations were divided according to the number of the Angels of God – implying that each nation has a guardian, guiding Angel. Behind human politics, therefore, the Bible intimates the activity of Angelic beings (cf. Rev. 13:1-10, for the same principle). ‘The Satan’ in Luke 4:6, appears to have been given a delegated authority (from God) to rule (influence) the kingdoms of this current world (Dan. 4:17; Jer. 34:5 [Sept.]; Eph. 2:2, 6:11,12). Many scholars see a possible origin of this current situation, in an effective transfer of authority over the earth, from Adam (Genesis 1:26-28) at the Fall, to ‘the Satan’ (Luke 4:6; Eph. 2:2), and other Angelic beings (Eph. 6:12, Col. 2:15, 1 Peter 3:22).
Jesus does not dispute the Devil’s claim to global influence. He also seems to refer to ‘the Satan’ as the (Angelic) ‘ruler of this world’ (John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11). A footnote to John 12:31, in ‘The Authentic New Testament’ translation, by the Jewish scholar, Dr. Hugh Schonfield, states that ‘the Ruler of this World’ was a Jewish reference to the Angel ‘Beliar’, which is an alternative name for the Angelic Satan (cf. 2 Cor. 6:15; ‘The Ascension of Isaiah’ 1:3, 2:4). The Apostle Paul also appears to refer to ‘the Satan’ as currently being “the god of this (evil) world”, who has blinded the minds of the unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4. cf. Mark 4:15; 2 Thess. 2:9-10; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Acts 26:18).
The question as to whether ‘the Satan’ (‘the Devil) and demons, can be ‘functionally evil Angels’ who merely mediate unpleasant tasks, such as God’s wrath and discipline, out into the world of fallen humanity, has been answered in the affirmative, by the well-known Christadelphian scholar Harry Whittaker (ibid.). In this case, it is only the role of these Angels that appears to be ‘evil’, from a purely human perspective (cf. Ps. 7849 A.V.).
However, other Bible scholars such as the Christadelphians Ron Coleman and George McHaffie, have stressed that Jesus Himself (as well as other New Testament writers), appeared to regard ‘the Satan’ (‘the Devil’) and ‘demons’ as actually being ontological, intrinsically evil, supernatural beings. They suggest that such first century New Testament ideas may now perhaps be legitimately de-mythologized by modern (post-Enlightenment) Bible students; they might be re-interpreted as personified inimical socio-psychological forces. That Jesus Himself actually believed that ‘the Devil’ and demons were ontological, intrinsically evil spirit beings, is supported by the probably more accurate rendition of the Greek in verse John 8:44, which is found in the American King James Version (amongst others). Here Jesus stated:
‘He (the Devil) was a murderer from the beginning, and stayed not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.’
This implies that the Devil is an Angelic being, who was once fully obedient to God’s ways, but who has since strayed from them. Jesus Himself consistently refers to the Devil (the Satan) as ‘the Evil One’ (Matt. 13:38; Matt. 6:13, 5:37 and John 17:15(see NIV)) and ‘the Enemy’ (Matt. 13:39), who, along with his angels, will eventually suffer destruction (Matt. 25:41; Rom.16:20).
The Old Testament cannot be properly understood without a knowledge of Hebrew idioms. Nor can it be understood without a recognition of Christ’s unique revelatory role. When it comes to matters of theodicy, the use of Hebrew idiom in the Old Testament safe-guarded the total supremacy of God without over publicizing, or over emphasising, the role of the Angelic Satan. With the arrival of the revelations of Christ, with Divine power, the true character of God, and a clearer conception of ‘the Satan’ and associated spiritual realities, were more openly disclosed. (cf. 2 Cor. 3:12-16; Luke 4:1-14; 10:17-24; Matt. 25:41).
God in His total supremacy, permits the current existence of evil, and can mysteriously use it for a long term greater good. Evil men can be used by God, and even described as His ‘servants’ (Jer.25:9, 43:10, Isa. 10: 5-7; cf. Gen. 50: 19-20). In view of the revelations brought by Christ, this same principle also seems to mysteriously, and paradoxically, operate, with respect to Angels (cf. Eph. 3:10) and the Angelic Satan (I Tim. 1:20; 1 Cor. 5:5).
However, all unrepentant, evil persons will eventually face an adverse judgement, and the Bible seems to indicate that this principle applies to some (mortal) supernatural angels, as well as to men (cf. 1 Tim. 5:21(A.V.); 1 Cor. 6:3; Rom. 16:20; Matt. 25:41; Col. 2:15, I Peter 3:22, and Rev. 12:7-9,20:10).
Whether these first century New Testament ideas should now be de-mythologized, in line with modern thinking, is a question that can only be decided by each individual Bible student, for themselves. It is important to realise that, no matter whether the Devil and demons are essentially “functionally evil Angels”, or “intrinsically evil Angels”, or symbols for mysterious socio-psychological forces, the end result is nevertheless the same. All evil, however envisaged, will be forever eradicated in God’s new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1-5).
Footnote (1). The word for ‘evil’ found at Isa. 45:7 is the Hebrew word ‘rah’. Apart from ‘moral wickedness’, ‘rah’ can also mean ‘trouble’, ‘hardship’, ’sorrow’ and ‘distress’.
In part one we looked at and challenged the Christadelphian view that the devil is not a person but a personification of the inclination to commit sin. Part 1 of this short series can be found here
In part two we considered the contradictions inherent in Christadelphian tradition in discussing evil and how it is defeated. Part 2 of this short series can be found here