Suffering, evil, and death are all a part of our fallen world. We are often quick to blame Satan for every sin and misfortune that we experience. We might even wonder if the world would be a better place if God simply got rid of Satan.
But is that even a possibility? Can God destroy Satan? And if so, why has He not done so?
God is sovereign over Satan and will ultimately defeat him. But God has chosen to allow Satan to exercise authority on earth until that time comes.
Who Is Satan?
As Christians, we understand that we should not take Satan lightly. We must recognize his power and influence in this world:
- Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8
- Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. – Ephesians 4:10-11
- Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. – James 4:7
Peter, Paul, and James warn in their letters that Satan is an adversary that presents a real danger that we can only overcome through prayer, watchfulness, and submission to God.
Even more telling, perhaps, is how Jesus describes Satan:
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. – John 12:31
Created as one of the highest-ranking of the angels, Satan has been given dominion over the earth. Paul calls him the prince of the powers of the air (Ephesians 2:2). The writer to the Hebrews says that the devil holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).
The Limits of Satan’s Power
Satan is powerful, but he is not all-powerful. Only God’s power is without limit. Satan, on the other hand, can only exercise the power given to him by God, and only within the boundaries set by God.
God’s sovereignty over Satan’s power is best exemplified in their exchange in the first chapter of Job:
The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.Job 1:7-12
As God and Satan work out the rules of engagement over Job’s trials, it is evident that Satan requires God’s permission before he can act against Job. We also see that God limits how Satan can act against Job. In chapter 2, Satan would be given permission to inflict harm on Job’s body, but at this point, Satan may not—and does not—touch Job directly.
Perhaps the most surprising detail we see in this exchange is that it was God, not Satan, who chose Job for this test. What’s more, when God first mentioned Job, Satan assumed—correctly—that Job was off-limits because God’s protection was over him. It wasn’t until God removed His protection that Satan could act.
Surely, God must have had a purpose for allowing Satan to attack Job. But how do we make sense of it?
When God Uses Satan
Job’s story is the most detailed example of how God allows Satan to act in order to achieve part of His greater purpose, but it isn’t the only one.
The Temptation of Jesus
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.Matthew 4:1
Before Jesus’ ministry began, he endured a trial of fasting and temptation. God, Himself does not tempt us (James 1:13). That task fell to Satan, who was given permission at the appointed time to tempt Jesus.
A Crippled Woman Healed
Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?Luke 13:16
One Sabbath, Jesus encountered a woman at the synagogue who was unable to straighten her back. Jesus healed the woman and set her free from what he described as bondage at the hand of Satan.
The inference is that Satan had been permitted to bind the woman until such time that Jesus would display his own superior power over Satan.
Judas Betrays Jesus
Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.Luke 22:3-4
When the time came for Judas to betray Jesus, it was Satan who entered Judas and compelled his actions. From hindsight, we know that Judas’ betrayal was necessary in order for Jesus to be handed over and crucified.
For it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that purchased our redemption, and these could not have been achieved unless Jesus had first been condemned to die.
This is why, when Jesus was preparing his disciples for what would come, he told them:
I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.John 14:30
Satan had a role in God’s plan, so Jesus allowed him to fulfill that role.
Why is Satan Still Around?
We might think that with the crucifixion and resurrection being finished, God should be done with Satan and should have destroyed him long ago. So why can’t God destroy Satan now that His plan has been carried out?
The simple answer is that God’s plan is still unfolding through the church.
Satan and Sin
We might think that if Satan were destroyed, the world would instantly become free of evil. But this is simply not a Biblically supported idea.
Sin first entered the world when Satan tempted Eve, but it was Adam and Eve who ultimately chose to sin. God cursed Satan for tempting them, but He held Adam directly responsible for his sin (Genesis 3:17).
Paul writes that sin entered the world through one man (Romans 5:12). Later, as he describes his own struggle with sin, he blames sin living in me (Romans 7:17) for his continued shortcomings. There is no mention of Satan in these verses, only the sin nature of humanity which we inherited from Adam.
Destroying Satan will not eradicate sin, because sin still remains within each of us.
Satan and Suffering
Of course, Satan continues to scheme against believers and tempt people to sin. No doubt he is behind much of the suffering that humanity continues to experience.
If you have read our piece on dealing with suffering, then you know that God works through suffering and trials to bring about His purposes and to grow us in our faith:
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.1 Peter 1:6-7
Not only does God work in all things—good and bad—for our ultimate good, His glory is best revealed in our hardships. A perfect environment free of hardships did not keep Adam and Eve from turning away from God. We cannot assume that it will help us become better Christians, either.
God’s Ultimate Victory
So Satan has been given his free reign—for a time—over the earth. But his power and his authority will someday come to an end. For God has promised that when He redeems creation and establishes the New Jerusalem, where His people will dwell with Him in eternity, Satan will not be welcome:
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.Revelation 20:10