Life, Hope & Truth

From the November/December 2018 issue of Discern Magazine

The Fall of Satan

It all starts with the story of Heylel, “the light bearer.” It’s one of the most important and misunderstood stories in the Bible, and it contains the answers to some of life’s most difficult questions.

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As God laid the foundation of our little blue-green planet, an angelic chorus erupted in celebration. In that moment, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).

Presumably among those morning stars and sons of God (here, a poetic reference to angels) was an angel named Heylel—a Hebrew word meaning “shining one” or “light bearer.”

If you’ve never heard of Heylel before, it’s not surprising. The Bible only mentions that Hebrew name once, and it’s translated differently in English Bibles. But the Bible does spend a lot of time talking about this one particular angel. In fact, we probably know more about Heylel than any other angelic being in God’s creation—and for good reason.

A story to tell

But first, a warning. I have a story to tell you, but it’s not a happy one. In fact, I think it’s the saddest story I know.

This is a story about a villain, plain and simple. He is not a hero. He does not become a hero. He is not the victim of a tragic backstory or some undeserved cruelty. He is, instead, a warped and vicious monster who voluntarily became the enemy of everything good and just and pure.

This isn’t the kind of story where the villain comes to his senses in the third act and attempts to right his wrongs. He doesn’t seek reconciliation or find redemption. He never expresses sorrow or regret over the damage his actions have caused—only fury and anger and unbridled rage at not being able to cause more.

So why should you care about this story?

Because it’s an important one. Because it answers two of the most important questions anyone can ask: “Why is this world such a mess?” and “What can we do about it?”

Mutiny in heaven

Heylel started out well.

No, that’s an understatement. He started out better than anyone could possibly hope to start. God told him, “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. … You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created” (Ezekiel 28:12, 15).

This being was created by God to be perfect. Flawless. He was brilliant; he was beautiful. He was “the anointed cherub who covers” (verse 14).

But that perfection didn’t last. Something was brewing inside of Heylel, something sinister, spurred on by pride in his own God-given greatness: “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty,” lamented God. “You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” (verse 17).

“Like the Most High”

A parallel passage gives us a little more insight into what happened. Most Bible versions translate the Hebrew word Heylel here into a Latin name you might be more familiar with:

Lucifer.

“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! … For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars [angels] of God; … I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High’” (Isaiah 14:12-14).

This angel—Heylel, Lucifer, the light bearer, the seal of perfection—had gone rogue. He was so wrapped up in himself, so proud of what he was, that he started to believe he was more qualified to be God than the God who made him.

So he led a revolt. The Bible tells us he “drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth” (Revelation 12:4). Somehow—likely through twisted logic and empty words—Heylel/Lucifer convinced a third of his fellow angels to join him in an attempt to overthrow their Creator.

The fall of Satan

The aftermath of that decision has reverberated through history like a gong that won’t stop ringing. This angelic being was no longer Heylel, the light bringer, but Satan, the adversary. He and his angels—demons, as they came to be known—set themselves against God and, by extension, everything He represented. Love. Joy. Peace. Longsuffering. Kindness. They were ready to wage war on every good thing that comes from the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22-23).

Their coup failed, of course. While other verses go into greater detail about the specifics (Ezekiel 28:16; Revelation 12:7-9), Jesus summarized the event for His disciples when He told them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).

War of attrition

I wish I could say the story ended there. I wish I could say that after his fall Satan accepted his defeat and gave up.

But he didn’t.

Satan makes an appearance in the first few pages of the Bible. In the guise of a serpent, he convinced Eve that God was holding out on her. The tree that God had placed off-limits, under pain of death? There was nothing wrong with that tree, Satan told Eve. If she would just reach out and eat that forbidden fruit, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Eve bought the lie. Adam followed her lead. Through their disobedience, they sinned and cut themselves off from God, earning an eternal death penalty (Romans 6:23; 3:23). The first two human beings lost their place in paradise because Satan, the adversary, convinced them that God didn’t know what was best for them.

And for 6,000 years of human history, Satan has been doing the exact same thing—convincing people that God doesn’t have the answers; convincing people that God’s way of life is actively getting in the way of their happiness.And for 6,000 years of human history, Satan has been doing the exact same thing—convincing people that God doesn’t have the answers; convincing people that God’s way of life is actively getting in the way of their happiness.

The attack plan

And that’s the reality we face—a spiritual battlefield filled with demonic forces bent on keeping the human race as far from God as possible. They’re out there, even now, even in this moment, doing everything they can to paint a false picture of God and convince others to reject Him too.

Why?

Because God has a plan for us. We were created in His image (Genesis 1:27), intended to become His children and live forever in His family (1 John 3:2; Titus 1:1-2).

Satan hates that. He hates the idea of the God family growing, and although he isn’t strong enough to defeat God, he still aims to hamper the growth of that family as much as possible.

Satan will cause war in heaven again in the future, and he and the demons will once again be cast to the earth (Revelation 12:7-12), at which time he will vigorously persecute the Church (verses 12-13, 17). In the meantime we must be alert. “Be sober-minded; be watchful,” warns Peter. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, English Standard Version).

The most powerful weapon in Satan’s arsenal is sin—that is, disobedience and rebellion toward God (1 John 3:4). Although God is all-powerful, sin places a wall between us and our Creator (Isaiah 59:1-2). In other words, even though Satan can’t cut us off from God, he can convince us to cut ourselves off from God—to erect a wall of sin in our own lives and leave it there.

Imitating goodness

How does he do that?

The same way he convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. The same way he convinced a third of the angels to rebel against God.

Clever lies. Subtle manipulations of the truth. Unfounded promises that prey on our darkest fears and greatest desires. Paul warns us to be on guard against “the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11, ESV), explaining that we should take precautions to “not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11, ESV).

One of the most important things we can remember as we square off against our adversary is not just who he is, but who he used to be. He was the anointed cherub who covers. He was the light bearer, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. He remembers what goodness looks like, and more important, he knows how to mimic it (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

By making sin look good, right and appealing—and by making God look repressive, unfair and fickle—Satan and his demons have quite handily kept the world from seeing and understanding the life-changing truths of the Bible.By making sin look good, right and appealing—and by making God look repressive, unfair and fickle—Satan and his demons have quite handily kept the world from seeing and understanding the life-changing truths of the Bible. Paul writes about those “whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:4). And as long as Satan is allowed to continue his deception, those minds will remain blinded.

Unanswered questions

That leaves us with two big questions: First, if God really is more powerful than Satan, why doesn’t God step in and stop him for good? And second, if God is going to keep allowing Satan to deceive the world, what can we do to protect ourselves?

Neither of those questions have short, easy answers, but they’re important to consider. Regarding our own protection, God provides us with the equipment we need to hold our own against our enemy: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, emphasis added).

Paul identifies these weapons as the armor of God, detailing how each piece of armor should function in the life of a Christian. It is with this God-given armor, and only with this God-given armor, that we are able to “stand against the schemes of the devil.” By staying close to God and His Word, by measuring everything against the truths revealed in the Bible, we can steer clear of Satan’s deceptions and see through his lies and empty promises.

But the bigger question remains: As the all-powerful Creator of the universe, God could stop Satan from deceiving the world, but He chooses not to.

Why?

Turning trials into gold

The simplest answer is this:

God has a plan, and Satan has a role to play in it.

Since the fall of Satan, the devil’s goal has been to ruin God’s plan. Now Satan wants to devour God’s people. But God, in His infinite wisdom, is using Satan’s appetite for destruction as a way to further His plan and strengthen His people.

It might sound counterintuitive, but there are verses throughout the Bible that reveal this truth. Peter tells his fellow Christians, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (1 Peter 4:12, ESV), because trials are the process through which “the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).

When God allows Satan to initiate a “fiery trial” in our lives, our adversary sees an opportunity to crush God’s people, while God sees an opportunity to refine them—just like gold in a fire.

James wrote that “the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:3-4).

The trials that Satan hopes will destroy us are actually used by God to perfect us. James continued, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (verse 12, ESV).

A more complete answer is offered in our free booklet Why Does God Allow Evil and Suffering?

The end of the story

Right now, the fall of Satan from heaven is more like a comma than a period. It’s an unfinished sentence. He’s still at liberty to prowl around like the roaring lion that he is—but the Bible tells us that won’t be true forever.

After Jesus Christ returns to this earth, an angel will take “the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and [bind] him for a thousand years … so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:2-3; see “Satan’s Future” for what happens beyond that).

No more deception. No more cunning schemes. No more crafty designs. For a thousand years, Satan will be powerless to influence the human race and blind it to the truth. It will be a time of prosperity the likes of which the world has never known.

After the fall of Satan

Satan fell from heaven a long time ago, but he never gave up in his war against God. What most people don’t understand is that the entirety of human history represents only the smallest fraction of God’s plan, and that Satan’s part to play in that plan is almost over. His ultimate fate rests in “the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 1:13), where he will be powerless to harm anyone or anything.

One day, Satan’s fall will be final and complete, and God’s creation will begin to discover the very thing Satan has been trying to hide from it for so long:

A sense of purpose—and maybe just as important, a sense of peace.

To learn about the holy day that pictures Satan’s eventual imprisonment, see our article “The Day of Atonement: Removing the Enemy, Reconciling All to God.”

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