According to Strong’s Concordance, outside of the gospels and the book of Acts, in the New Testament Satan is mentioned less than twenty times. Obviously if we bring in the gospels and include references to “the devil” and possibly “the evil one” we’ll get a bit more of a base of what the Bible actually says about the fallen angels – but don’t miss the significance (or lack thereof) of the apostles’ lack of reference or teaching about Satan. And while we are on this “times referenced” point, I will also propose to the reader that Satan – as an individual or even as a general reference to fallen angels – is addressed even less often in the Old Testament.
However, I would also suggest to the reader that the most voluminous and clear teaching that we have about Satan in the Bible is IN the Old Testament; specifically the book of Job.
At this juncture I would greatly encourage the reader to pause and at least peruse (if not read in its entirety) the book of Job, paying particular attention to references to Satan (chapters 1 & 2) and God’s response to Job (chapters 38 through 42).
(Side NOTE: Satan is never referenced again after his role in the first two chapters of Job.)
From the first two chapters of Job we can assume at least 3 things about the character of Satan: 1: he is NOT omnipresent; 2: he can do nothing that God does not permit (at the very least in the sense of “does not prevent him”); 3: Satan was probably more interested in cursing God and besmirching His Name than he was in ruining Job’s life.
In the end of the book, God never rebukes Job for attributing the tragedies that happen to him as ultimately being in the hands of God; and not once in the 4 chapters of God’s challenges and questions to Job does He ever mention Satan. I believe the serious, critically thinking reader of the Scriptures should find these facts to be noteworthy.
What does all of this have to do with the relationship of Christians to Satan specifically, or demons generally?
Before we get to that, let us observe the only other scene we are given in the Bible’s historical narrative that includes Satan as an active player – the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness.
To my knowledge, Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13 are the only passages of the New Testament in which Satan (a.k.a. “the devil/tempter”) is displayed as an actual character interacting with another person. I find it significant that – as was the case with Job – Satan’s only interaction recorded for us in Holy Writ is with God Himself.
As far as what we are to learn about the devil from these passages – though their primary aim is NOT to teach about the devil – I take away primarily the confirmation of point (3) after we considered the account in Job: Satan is primarily interested and/or occupied in cursing God and attempting to besmirch His Name.
But to come to the main focus of this post, I would now point the reader to Luke 22:31-32.
In these two verses we seem to have a ‘Job-ish’ situation in which Satan has made a “demand” of God, that apparently – to some extent – God has condescended to acquiesce to (as evidenced by Jesus’ admission of his interceding for Peter)…
Now, most of us – I believe accurately – will assume that this “sifting” has something to do with the following verses in which Jesus prophesies that Peter will deny him.
I think the first thing that the disciple reading this text should take comfort in is Jesus’ concern and care for those that are His. Though I do not believe this demand of Satan is normative, it is a great comfort to know that the Lord will not allow his sheep to be tempted or tormented by “the evil one” beyond what they can bear.
Notice, however, that Jesus does not give us any more details; such as how, when, or even why, Satan will carry out the demanded “sifting.” Obviously somehow he was involved in Peter’s denials of the Lord, but I think our Lord’s lack of specificity on Satan’s end should keep us from worrying about or wanting to know exactly how Satan interacted with Peter – as it is apparently not that important for us to know.
(Side NOTE: While discussing the text with my wife, she offered the speculation that Satan potentially didn’t do or “try to do” (since Jesus has prayed for him, obviously the devil does not prevail against Peter) anything to Peter until after his denial of the Lord – based upon Satan’s tactics of deception or accusation… I offer that speculation as food for thought, but I do think the text should primarily indicate to us that we need not be concerned with more than preliminary speculation on the issue.)
So, thus far I have observed special occasions in which Satan is named as having acted – or made a request to act – in the life of a child of God. Taken by themselves, I believe they point to the NON-normative nature of the devil’s conscious, personal relationship to individuals among the people of God. And even as we move to consider more generic statements from the apostles on the devil’s ability to influence disciples of Christ, I believe my three proposals of the primary motivations and desires of Satan will stand; 1) Satan shares no attributes/abilities with God(I.e. Omnipresence, omniscience, etc.). 2) Satan is restricted by the Will of God, and can do nothing that is not first permitted – or “not prevented” by God (however that happens to work). 3) Satan is more preoccupied with his agenda to slander and destroy God than he is with any particular human being…