The uncontested ruler of Egypt was Pharaoh. He was not only considered the almighty king, but was even considered a god. He didn’t just rule Egypt, he owned it. Everyone and everything in Egypt belonged to Pharaoh and was under his control. Of course Pharaoh couldn’t rule Egypt by himself. He had to have loyal subjects that became his hands and feet throughout the kingdom. These co-laborers of his could bring his attention to any “rebels” they found and could keep things in “proper” order.
The position Pharaoh held in ancient Egypt reminds us of the position Satan now holds over the world. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 the Bible calls Satan the “god of this age.” This is why Satan was able to tell Jesus that if he would bow down and worship him, Satan would give him the glory of all the kingdoms of the world. And just as Pharaoh had his co-laborers, so Satan has his. Jesus said that those who do the will of Satan are his children (John 8:44). Besides men, Satan also has an army of fallen angels (demons) ready to do his bidding. In Ephesians 6 we are told that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of wickedness.
The First Coup d’état
In order to understand in what sense Satan is “the god of this age” we must go back to the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 1:26-28 we read that mankind was given lordship over the whole earth. Of course Man was not supposed to rule the world for himself, but as a representative of God. It is primarily for this reason that God created Man in His own image. Since he bears the image of God, Man is meant to represent the Lordship of God over everything on earth. He was created as a steward over the earth and was given authority over everything.
This is why Satan came to tempt Man. He knew that he could not wrestle the throne away from God in the heavens, but he could usurp the authority of Man on earth. By turning Adam away from his loyalty to God, Satan was able deceive him into surrendering his God-given dominion over the earth into the Devil’s hands. Satan didn’t try to take God’s sovereignty from Him; instead he wanted to bring the authority of Man under his own influence. Once mankind was safely separated from God’s influence and firmly under Satan’s dominion, Satan became the virtual ruler of all God had put under Man’s authority. Simply put, Satan rules this present evil age because he controls mankind.
In the Garden of Eden we see the first coup d’état (government overthrow) on earth. Man was to rule the world as God’s representative, but he surrendered all his dominion over to Satan. It is in this sense that Satan is the “god of this age.” He lifts up and puts down whom he wills (Ps. 75:7). He decides who will be popular, and who will be hated. He chooses what men value, and what men despise. Man has the steering wheel, but he only turns it the way the Devil says to. In this sense Satan is in the driver’s seat of this present evil age (Gal. 1:4).
A Lion on the Prowl
1 Peter 5:8-9 says that Satan is like a roaring lion going about intimidating Christ’s followers. He brings all manner of fiery trials upon those that bear the name of Christ (1 Pet 4:12-14). Just as Pharaoh wouldn’t allow any rebellion from his subjects, so Satan won’t relinquish control over anyone’s soul without a fight. He seeks to intimidate people from following Christ. And if they do refuse to bow their knee to him, he will send a thorn in the flesh to torment them. He will bring insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities to make them miserable (2 Cor. 12:7-10). He does this because he knows the power and influence of someone submitted to the kingdom of God’s dear Son. He knows that his influence over the world will wane if he lets the kingdom of God spread in the hearts of men.
When this evil day of intimidation comes to our lives, Peter tells us to not be surprised (1 Pet. 4:12). Instead, we must imitate the apostles who walked away from a beating, rejoicing (Acts 5:40-41). Romans 5:3-4 tells us that we are to rejoice in sufferings. We can do this because we know that what the Devil means for evil, God can work about for good. We know that suffering leads to endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Satan means to take us out of the race, but his intimidation just causes our hearts to grow in endurance and be formed into the character of Christ. As Christ is formed in us we are filled with hope knowing that though our outward man is wasting away, our inward man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). We understand that God works all things together for the good of those that love Him (Rom. 8:28). When we are weak, we experience the strength of God. For this reason we rejoice in trials (2 Cor. 12:9).
Going through trials never feels good. Having a roaring lion intimidating and opposing us is never a comfortable feeling. But we rejoice because we know the “end from the beginning.” We know that nothing can defeat God. Since we are on His side He will turn the enemy’s strategies against him and will come to our rescue. Rejoicing in God on the day of demonic attack quenches the fiery darts of the Wicked One. His opposition is meant to discourage and rob hope out of our hearts. But trusting in the sovereign power of God, and His good plan for us, dowses the fire of the Devil with rivers of living water. The more he seeks to destroy us, the more hope and strength is imparted to us. Our weakness leads to God’s strength. Therefore, Satan’s attacks lead to his downfall in those that walk by faith!
An Angel of Light
Satan directly opposes followers of Christ like a roaring lion. But he also has a more sinister method of attack. He finds that the frontal attack on the believer is often no more successful than calling the false prophet Balaam to curse Israel (Num. 22-24). He discovers that when he tries to curse the children of God they end up receiving a blessing from God instead. If the scorching light of persecution doesn’t make the seedling wither, he seeks to choke them out with the weeds of sin. As the inventor of Balaam’s strategy he knows how the game is played. Balaam led the Israelites into sin so that they would call a curse upon themselves (Num. 31:16). So, when opposition and intimidation fails, Satan changes form and comes as a friend instead of a roaring lion. He comes with the smooth words of flattery, and the outward appearance of an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).
This season of demonic tempting doesn’t come as often as we think. Satan is not omnipresent, and his hosts aren’t as vast as he would have us think. We will later learn that most temptation takes place without the presence of the Devil or his henchmen. But as we can see from the examples of Adam and Christ, there are seasons when the temptations we face are the direct work of demonic spirits.
The Garden and the Wilderness
In what way can we discern these seasons of direct demonic temptation? All temptation, from whatever source, has two sides to it; the person tempted and the sin desired. When the Flesh is enticed by the World, it can be compared to a magnet feeling attracted to metal. The magnet has an active power longing to attach to the metal, even as the Flesh craves the things of the World. The World is ever present like the guest that just won’t leave, but it is passive like the metal. We are drawn to it because of the desires that reside in our Flesh, but it does not knowingly devise ways of attracting our attention.
But when the Flesh is being directly tempted by a demonic force, the better analogy would be two magnets pulling on each other. The Flesh is yearning for the thing the World offers, but the thing, or act, desired seems to have an intelligence and intensity behind it as well. The Flesh is not the only one drawing near, but the thing, or act, desired also seems to move closer to the person being tempted. The item of temptation seems to take on a personality and reasoning of its own. Like Frodo’s ring, there is a whisper of activity drawing the victim closer and closer with a power and intelligence that is more than natural.
Adam was put in the Garden of Eden with the command not to eat of the fruit on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The day that the serpent came into the Garden, the fruit on the forbidden tree did not change in appearance or form, but in the eyes of Adam and his wife, it looked a little sweeter than it had the day before. What was recently just one tree among many was now a tree endowed with the delightful ability to make one wise. There was nothing new about the tree, or its fruit, but there was a new force actively seeking to draw the couple to “take and eat.” The lies of Satan added a dimension of enticement to the inanimate object. The lie that said the fruit granted wisdom, and the desire for wisdom in the heart of the couple were a perfect match, not by accident, but by design. The “angel of light” added intensity to the temptation through the devising of a clever lie.
Jesus was led out into the wilderness to face the Devil in mortal hand to hand combat. As in the Garden, Satan prepared his lies beforehand. He didn’t come to Christ directly promising him glory and power if only he would bow down and worship him. He started off more subtly. He came to a hungry man and touched on that natural desire for food. Before Satan arrived Jesus already wanted something to eat. It was natural. He had committed to fast before the Lord, but the natural hunger was ever present. But when Satan arrived, he added a devious intensity to the desire for food. He didn’t just appeal to Jesus’ physical hunger, but he touched on something spiritual as well. Satan whispered, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matt. 4:3). With the Devil’s presence, bread became not only the item that would fill the Savior’s stomach, but it would also serve as a means of proving his divinity!
When Satan is on the scene, the natural temptation takes on a more intense and supernatural form. What was before merely a nagging inclination in the heart of the believer becomes a raging river of desire. The object of temptation becomes bigger than life, and the benefit promised becomes all we ever hoped for!
When we look at Eve’s conversation with the serpent we see that each of her objections is met with another skillfully fashioned lie. In this we see that direct demonic temptation is unrelenting. Whereas an everyday temptation will come with force, it quickly fades away as we pull away from the desired object, act or thought. But when there is a demonic presence behind the temptation, every thought that is thrown down by the believer, will only create room for another dark idea to appear. Argument will not avail under such circumstances. It will wear us down, but will do nothing to drain the resources of the demonic intelligence we are wrestling with. An inability to “change the subject” is a clear sign that demonic forces are present in the midst of our temptation.
Satan not only knows how to put the temptation in the best light; he also knows how to deliver his enticing message in the most subtle forms. After Christ declared the plan God had for his life (i.e. to die on the Cross), one of his closest friends became the unwitting messenger of the Deceiver. Peter declared openly, with great affection and compassion, the very words Jesus’ humanity most desired to hear, “This will never happen to you” (Matt. 16:22). Jesus could see through the vessel used to the source of such an inviting thought. Jesus was aware that when a temptation comes with such intensity and with such accurate aim, it is not by accident, but it has been personally designed by demonic intelligence. Satan can even speak to the desires in our hearts through the mouths of those closest to us. The words of our friends can be fashioned by demons to weaken our resistance to the enticement.
Fight the Good Fight
When the enemy comes in like a flood, what should we do? Firstly, we must learn to recognize the source of the demonic temptation. We must be aware when the evil day is upon us (Eph 6:13). If we don’t know the serpent is in the garden we will be too casual in the battle of removing him. We will try to wish him gone instead of forcing him out. He will be able to hide behind our natural desires, his sound logic or the compassionate counsel of our friends and loved ones. We must be vigilant, knowing that our enemy strolls around like a roaring lion seeking one whom he may devour. We must keep our swords at arm’s length, and we must pay attention to the signs of his presence. If the intensity and intelligence of the temptations come our way and we remain ignorant, we will be losing the battle before we even know it has begun. In this case ignorance is not bliss, but destruction.
Besides recognizing the source of the temptation, we must also know the Word of God. Adam was tempted with the desire to become like God. He forgot the important detail we read in Genesis 1:27, namely that he had been created in the image of God! He was deceived in trying to attain what he had already received. Christ was tempted to prove that He was God’s Son. He avoided this clever ruse by remembering the Word of God that was spoken to Him at the Jordan River, “You are my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Remembering the promises of God will keep us from trying to take by force what we have already been granted by grace!
We must not only focus on the promises of God, but also on the commands of God’s Word. Eve forgot to hide herself in the solid rock of God’s simple truth. Instead of simple faith in the command to refrain from eating of the tree’s fruit, she allowed herself to consider other interpretations. She let her mind be guided by the suggestion that maybe God was holding something back out of selfish pride. Once the character of God is allowed to be brought into question it becomes more difficult to wholeheartedly obey his commands. For if His heart has wrong motives, His commands can’t be relied on as trustworthy guides to life.
“If you are God’s Son, why are you starving in this wilderness? If God is really pleased with you, prove it by making bread.” This was Satan’s approach toward Christ, bringing doubt on the character of God. But this subtle thought was rejected because Christ’s mind was already filled up with the simple truth, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” This statement of fact in God’s Word was for Christ a lamp unto His feet. He wasn’t led into a debate with God‘s enemy, but he knew to resist the Devil, and he would flee. He took refuge in the Word of God and stood his ground even as Shammah did when the Philistines attacked his land (2 Sam 23:11). Jesus didn’t welcome the truth about living by God’s Word as a mere good principle, but He received it as the very command of God. This Word was a guide for Christ’s actions, not just His philosophy. God’s Word is to be put in to action.
God’s commands have no power to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death unless they are deposited in a heart that is committed to obey them. We are to daily submit ourselves to God (James 4:7). We are to offer up our lives as a living sacrifice over and over again (Rom 12:1). In the day of battle with our demonic foes we must check our heart and make sure it is consecrated to obedience. If our position is not firmly on the side of the Lord we will discover that we are our own worst enemy. So we must pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way within me” (Ps. 139:23-24). If we find there is something unclean within we must follow up with the prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). We must be submitted to God if we hope to defeat the enemy that is too powerful for us. We must be on the Lord’s side if we want him to be on ours!
We must commit ourselves to a life of obedience. In this way we declare which side we are on. But this declaration will be a failure if the prayer, “Deliver me from evil” is not lifted to God moment by moment. In our time of need we are to come before God for grace and help (Heb 4:16). Trusting in the strength of our own commitment is a direct road to failure. If we truly desire to stand, we must realize that we can never stand alone. We must appeal to the throne of grace continually.