There is quite a bit of information that we can glean from the Bible about the Devil. Although there is a lot of folklore and legend about evil beings passed down through the ages in many cultures, we believe that God’s Word gives the best and most accurate information concerning him. We can learn about this spiritual creature from the Bible in two different manners. The first method is by understanding the various terms God uses when referring to him and the second is through a close examination of the various records that describe his interactions with God and mankind.
In our first approach we want to study the various terms God’s Word uses when referring to this spiritual being. As we study these references we need to know that they are not his name, but appellations, which are titles or descriptive terms. If no one knew my name, you could learn a lot about me by the various ways in which others referred to me. Sometimes this might involve the use of my titles, or reference to my roles, occupations, or actions. If someone referred to me as a brother, then you would know I was a male, had siblings, and that I had parents. If I was called a father you could discern I had children, and if I were called a husband you would know I had a wife. You would also be able to know a lot about me if someone called me intelligent, honorable, or a cheater. In just the same way, we can learn a vast amount by the various appellations and descriptive terms God uses when He speaks in His Word about His nemesis.
One of the most common ways people refer to God’s enemy is by using the word “Devil.” The English word devil is a transliteration of the Greek word, diabolos. The Greek word diabolos, or a form of it, appears over one hundred times in the New Testament, and from these various uses we can glean quite a bit of information about him. Although most people understand that this is God’s archenemy, what they do not realize is that “Devil” is actually not his name. The word diabolos actually means “the slanderer,” which gives us insight into some of his character because we know that a slanderer is someone who maligns and defames others by attacking their reputations through lies and deceit.
In addition to the various descriptive terms God uses for this spiritual being, we can also gain valuable insights into his methods and purposes by closely examining the scriptural references to him. The first use of the Greek word diabolos, “Devil,” is found in the gospel of Matthew. There are a number of things we can learn from the record in Matthew 4, the first of which is that one of the Devil’s methods is to tempt people. The record begins by telling us that Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil (v. 1). As this record develops we see that the Devil tempted Jesus in a number of ways. In his first statement to Jesus he says, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (v. 3). After fasting for forty days Jesus would have been very hungry. The Devil’s temptation was an appeal to Jesus’ basic human need for food and nourishment. Many times the Devil tempts us to satisfy our most basic physical and emotional needs, but to do so in a way that is not godly.
This appeal of the Devil is also a temptation for Jesus to misuse his authority. Jesus was not at the point of starvation, and there was no need for him to prove that he was the Son of God to the Devil. This temptation also includes a sense of an appeal to Jesus’ personal ego, which is really a temptation to be prideful. Had Jesus commanded the stones to turn into bread, his Father, God, would have probably honored it. After all, the record concludes by saying that when the Devil left him, “angels came and attended him” (v.11). God’s enemy often attempts to get us to meet our needs not by trusting in God, but by taking matters into our own hands.
In the second temptation in Matthew Chapter 4, the Devil “took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple” (v. 5). This reveals that the Devil has some very powerful supernatural abilities. Whether the Devil actually took Jesus to the temple, or gave him a vision of being at the temple, he had to use great spiritual power to accomplish this. The Devil once again begins this temptation by questioning Jesus’ sonship, and then proceeds to quote Scripture.
…”throw yourself down. For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ “
We must note that the Devil knows and will quote Scripture in his attempts to get us to sin. What is also very revealing is that he quotes God’s Word, but does so by questioning its integrity. Slanderers have a way of speaking that leaves a godly listener with an unsettled feeling, even if they cannot quite figure out the problem with what was said. A closer examination of the Devil’s question shows that he takes this section of Psalm 91 out of context, which always leads to error. Whenever we misquote or misapply Scripture, we no longer have the Word of God. This Psalm actually says, “If you make the Most High your dwelling— even the LORD, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent” (Psalm 91:9 and10). It is in the context of making God our dwelling that He will command His angels to guard us (Psalm 91:11). Once again the Devil appeals to Jesus’ sense of self-identity, or personal pride, and attempts to get him to misuse his authority.
In his third temptation, the Devil takes Jesus to a “very high mountain” where he “showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor,” (Matt. 4:8), which was another powerful spiritual feat. The Devil, having demonstrated his great powers, now presents Jesus with his great temptation: “all this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me” (v. 9). Finally the Devil reveals his true agenda, which is to be worshipped as God. The Devil is God’s archenemy, and he stands in direct opposition to God. He is often very bold and blatant in his attempt to get mankind to worship him. This is completely contrary to the first commandment that God, and God alone, is to be worshipped (Deut. 5:7). The practice of desiring worship is a demonic theme that occurs throughout the Old Testament, which often shows demons involved in idolatry and false worship (Lev. 17:7; Deut. 32:17; 2 Chron. 11:15; and Psalm 106:37).
The Devil was really not offering Jesus anything that he would not inherit anyway by staying faithful to God and His commands. Unfortunately, many times our sin involves our lack of patience to wait for God’s proper timing. For instance, we know that God has created sexual pleasure for men and women to enjoy, but He wants us to do so within the bounds of the covenant of marriage. We sin when we lack the patience to abide by His instructions in this area.
We have seen from the record in Matthew 4 that there are many characteristics of the Devil that we can learn from the Scriptures. Every Christian is in the center of the battlefield between God and the Devil, who are in direct opposition to each other. God desires His children to grow up, so we are able to stand against the methods of the Devil. To do this we must each discipline ourselves to study and learn all we can about the Devil, his methods, and his tactics. Jesus’ defense against the attack of the Devil involved his knowing and quoting Scripture accurately. Like Jesus, we too will be able to successfully stand against God’s enemy when we follow his lead in our dealings with the Devil.