Scripture uses 22 different names for Satan. His diabolical intentions are recorded for us all over our Bibles. We are assured that he is still present and active in this world — and in each of our lives. But how and where? It’s a great question from a listener named Josh. “Hello, Pastor John! To what extent and by what means specifically does Satan influence the world? Where do you see his works most clearly?”
The word Satan is a transliteration of the Hebrew word שָׂטָן, and basically means opponent or adversary. The Greek translation of that Hebrew word is always the term διάβολος, which means devil.
“The best way to think about Satan’s power is not in terms of physical strength, but moral deception.”
We always translate διάβολος in English in the New Testament as devil. The term διάβολος puts a more specific focus on the meaning of opponent or adversary because διάβολος basically means slander or accuse.
The word διάβολος is used not to refer to the devil several times in the pastoral epistles of Paul. In those cases, it is used to just refer to people who are slandering others, speaking evil of them, speaking false truths about them.
Deceiver and Accuser
Even though this supernatural being, this fallen angel and archenemy of God, has a remarkable power in the material or physical realm —he can make people sick, he can throw them in prison, and he can even kill them — nevertheless, his main way of opposing God and destroying God’s people is not in the physical or material realm, but in the mental or intellectual or moral realm. In other words, the best way to think about his power is not in terms of physical strength, but moral deception.
Let me try to illustrate this from the Bible. Here’s the passage that piles up more designations of Satan than any other passage in the Bible. If I had only one or two verses to put the identity and work of Satan before you, it would be Revelation 12:9–10.
Here it says, “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent.” And remember what the Bible said in Genesis 3 about him: he’s subtle. He’s subtler than every beast. So it’s his subtlety that’s being focused on here, his serpent-like reality. “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil [διάβολος: slanderer, liar, cheat] and Satan [adversary], the deceiver of the whole world.”
I don’t think you can say anything more sweeping or more basic than the end of Revelation 12:9: “He is the deceiver of the whole world.” Verse 10: “The accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”
So at the center of Satan’s purpose is to deceive on earth and to accuse in heaven. If he can deceive you about God and Christ, you will perish. If he can successfully accuse you of unforgiven sin in heaven, you will perish.
Jesus calls him “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). The deception and the accusation and the eternal death that results from unforgiven sin is a way of destroying people and opposing God.
Josh asks me, “To what extent and by what means specifically does Satan influence the world?” My answer, therefore, is that the extent is worldwide and the means is deception.
“He destroys not mainly by the sword or disease or killing, but mainly by lying.”
We can see this in another text. Here’s Revelation 20:8: “[He] will come out to deceive the nations.” There’s the focus again on his major strategy of destroying the world — deceiving them. But he will be defeated, and he will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:8–10).
My basic answer to Josh’s question is that the extent of Satan’s influence is global; it covers all nations. The primary means of his influence is deception. He destroys not mainly by the sword or disease or killing, but mainly by lying. Jesus calls him “the father of lies” (John 8:44). He lies mainly about God, about Jesus, about the gospel, and about sin. Oh, how wonderful it is that he has been dealt a decisive blow!
You can see his deception about the gospel in 2 Corinthians 4:4: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Hating the Gospel
Josh’s second question is “Where do you see his works most clearly?” My answer is that wherever saving truth is hated and resisted and distorted and muted, Satan is at work so that people are kept from being saved by the truth of the gospel. That’s where I see his works most clearly.
Second Thessalonians 2:9–10 says, “[Satan comes] with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” Satan hates the truth of the gospel and the truth of the cross more than any other truth.
Remember when Satan was on earth, he tried to keep Jesus away from the cross. In Matthew 16:23, when Peter says, “No, no, no. This isn’t going to happen to you,” Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” That’s what Satan wants. He doesn’t want Jesus to die for the sins of the world. Even though at the end, Satan gave up on that strategy and filled Judas to get him to betray Jesus. Nevertheless, at the end, he’s trying to make it as horrible as possible. But his first design was “I’m not going to let him get to the cross, no way.”
Now, Satan is mainly bent on preventing the message of the cross from being spread, from being understood, and from being believed. And he does everything in his power to distort and silence the saving message of the cross.
Snatching the Word
Remember how Jesus said Satan snatches the word (Matthew 13:19). He snatches it. Just as soon as you preach the cross, just as soon as you preach the saving word of the kingdom, Satan will, if he can, snatch the word right out of the mind — just like birds snatching seed off of a path.
Why is he so opposed to this central truth? Because the gospel is the truth that Christ has paid the price for the sins of everyone who believes. That means Satan cannot successfully accuse us in heaven.
He cannot make a case against the elect because our sins have been covered. That’s the only means he has to destroy us, which means, of course, he can oppress us, he can distress us, he can tempt us, he can make us sick, he can kill us. But he cannot damn us — ever. We are eternally safe. The elect are eternally safe in God’s sovereign grace.
He rages against the people of God, and he rages against the gospel that snatches people out of the damning hands of his own greedy self. You can see this in Colossians 2:13–14: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Here’s what follows: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15).
“Satan hates the truth of the gospel and the truth of the cross more than any other truth.”
When our sins are forgiven, nailed to the cross, the satanic rulers and authorities are decisively defeated. They are undone. Their one condemning, damning weapon has been taken out of their hands — namely, unforgiven sin.
If our sins are not forgiven, Satan can rightly accuse us before God, and we will be sentenced to hell. But if our sins are forgiven, Satan cannot successfully accuse us before God. Paul soars in exultation over the great gospel of deliverance in Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” And Romans 8:33: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?”
That is in Satan’s face. “Who shall bring any charge? It is God who justifies, Mr. Satan. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, Mr. Satan. You couldn’t stop it. More than that, Jesus was raised from the dead, and he is at the right hand of God. He indeed intercedes for us, Mr. Accuser. So I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers — nor Satan — nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
Fight for Freedom
So, our weapon against Satan in this world is truth — especially the truth of the gospel of the cross of Christ. Our great mission is the deliverance of the world. Tell them the truth. Spread the truth. Defend the truth. Live the truth. As Jesus said, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Free from sin. Free from Satan.
The words of Jesus to the apostle Paul before he sent him out were, “I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:17–18).
That’s our great liberating mission in the world — to open the eyes of the blind, by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the great instrument of truth. Paul said, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25–26).
May God make us valiant spokesmen and spreaders of liberating truth.