Superstition, presuppositions, and hyper-active imaginations lead to many misunderstandings of the Bible. Among the chief of these misunderstandings is Satan. Many misconceptions of him persist ranging from his power, to his appearance, to his very existence. This article will deal with just a few misconceptions of this being, specifically, his fall from grace. It is often assumed that the devil’s initial rebellion consisted of a war in heaven wherein ⅓ of the angelic host were cast out with him before the fall of Adam (this view has particular prevalence with Progressive Creation Catastrophe Theorists). This interpretation,however, has little basis in Scripture. Certainly we see a battle among the angelic host, but this takes place a considerable time after Satan’s initial fall.
It is important to make sure we have a firm a grasp on understanding our spiritual rivals and what we are to do to combat them. With that said, we cannot draw firm conclusions where Scripture is silent. I affirm the words Leahy writes in his book Satan Cast Out:1
“We are to confess what we believe because it has been revealed. Where there are gaps in the revelation, or in our understanding of the revelation, we must never try to fill them by a process of logic” (p.14).
The case I present here is this: Satan’s fall was concurrent with man’s and his curse is intertwined with our own. I present this with a spirit of humility because we do not have nearly as much revelation on the angelic host as we do our own nature. With that said, I do firmly posit that any notion that Satan fell before Adam is based on speculation and that a view of his fall coinciding with our own makes more sense of his curse, our curse, and the rest of the Biblical data concerning him.
The War in Heaven: Victory Over Satan in the Incarnation of Christ
Revelation 12 is the only passage that speaks of a heavenly war wherein Satan and ⅓ of the angels are cast out of heaven. In this section, I will show that this section is not referring to the initial fall of Satan, rather an event taking place at the time of Christ thousands of years after Adam.
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Revelation 12:1-9 (ESV)2
The imagery displayed here cannot refer to a time before man or even before the fall of man. In this picture, we have a woman with a crown of 12 stars. These stars signify her as the chosen people of God; Israel and/or the Church. Through her the Messiah comes. This is when and why the battle has taken place. The great dragon seeks to destroy the child as he is born. We see this fulfilled in the Gospels as King Herod tries to destroy the possibility of the Messiah by ordering infants to be killed (Matthew 2:16-18). We also see Satan appearing throughout Jesus’ life (Matthew 4:1-11) and using those around the Lord to get rid of him (John 13:27). Thinking that it will benefit his cause Satan pursues Jesus’ crucifixion ignorant that it merely assures his defeat (1 Corinthians 2:7-8). It is no surprise that Satan attempts to foil this plan because it is this child that is the seed God promised would crush his head3 .
The war in heaven is the telling of his attempts to thwart the plan of God in the Messiah. It is Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (as a unit) that ultimately casts Satan and his followers out in his war. Understanding this helps us to understand other passages of Scripture.
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” -Luke 10:17-20 (ESV)
Seventy-two of Jesus’ followers return from being sent out on a mission. They return joyfully because of the authority they had over demons in Jesus’ name. Christ says something strange in response to them: “I saw Satan fall like lightning” then he mentions the authority given to them over these evil spirits, but that in spite of this, they should be rejoicing in their heavenly assurance and not this authority. Often times this is understood as Jesus having a flashback to a time before Adam when Satan fell, but this has little basis contextually.
Jesus’ statement that he saw Satan fall like lightning is intrinsically connected to the seventy-two casting out demons. They are over-turning the world and rule of Satan. Christ is showing himself triumphant over the war being waged; Jesus is “binding the strong man” (Mark 3:27/ Matthew 12:29) and his followers partake in this victory over the evil one. This seems more likely than responding to these followers with a one sentence flashback story before returning to the issue at hand.
The Curse of Satan: The Belly Crawling Dust Eater
The curse of the serpent, indeed the entire narrative of the Fall, has led to much confusion. Why was Eve so chill about talking to a snake? If a snake is the devil why was the animal cursed? Also, why don’t we see snakes eating dirt? Did snakes have legs and walk upright before the fall? Were animals able to talk at the time? This section will argue that the serpent is not a snake and will then expound on the serpent’s curse and how it makes more sense in light of that.
Christians recognize that the identity of this fiendish being is Satan, the devil, the adversary. However, he is unnamed in the narrative of Genesis 3 itself, instead the Scriptures use the word nachash to describe him. Linguistically, nachash can and often is used to discuss snakes, but this is not exhaustive definition of the word. Dr. Michael Heiser, a Phd in the Hebrew Bible and Semitic Languages states that nachash has three definitions4, all of which are in view here given the narratives use of double (and in this case triple) entendres. It can mean a serpent or a serpentine shape, a deceiver or diviner, and it can also mean “shining one5.”
Let’s look at each definition in view:
- Shining One: We see descriptions of the serpent in the garden as a “shining one” elsewhere. Comparing the king of Babylon with the serpent Isaiah says “How you are fallen Day Star [Helel], Son of the Dawn” (Isaiah 14:12 ESV). The literal interpretation for helel is “shining one6.” Isaiah refers to the “shining” nature of the Satan in his prophecy.
- Deceiver/ Diviner: This is obviously in view given the reference to the serpent’s cunning and the serpent’s twisting God’s words as well as telling lies and half-truths in order to deceive the humans.
- Serpent: The reference to a serpent here is not that of a snake, but that of an angelic being. The word seraphim, used to describe some angelic beings (Isaiah 6), is a plural form of saraph, literally meaning “serpent” and/or burning/fiery. The word seraphim is also to describe fiery/flying serpents (Isaiah 14:29). Angelic beings are sometimes described using serpentine language, and that is what is happening in Genesis 3.
The reason that Eve does not find it odd that a serpent is talking to her is not because animals could talk before the fall, it is because the serpent in question wasn’t an animal. She was talking to an angelic being that she recognized as such.
Some may argue that the context includes the serpent in the animal kingdom based on Genesis 3:1
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. Genesis 3:1 (ESV; emphasis mine)
Some translations translate Genesis 3 the way the ESV does above. The word “other” would seem to include the serpent among the animals. However, most do not translate it this way, instead translating it like this:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3:1 (NIV)7
The word “other” is absent from this translation (and most others) because it is absent in the original text.
If an inclusion of the serpent in the animal kingdom is not intended here why does the author include a comparison to animals? There are two reasons for this. First, Adam’s life included God-given duties and responsibilities. He was a guardian of Eden and a caretaker of the animals (Genesis 2:15). Thus far Adam had only dealt with animals in his work, but now he is being met with a much more formidable and cunning foe whom he ultimately fails to stop. Second, Isaiah 14 makes it clear that Satan’s rebellion centered around his pride, he desired to place himself above God. As a result he is cast down and made to be lesser than the animals, the lowest of created things.
Having discussed who and what the serpent is we move to his curse in Genesis 3:14-15. The significance of Satan’s curse in this discussion is that the curse makes little sense if Satan has already fallen. Given the nature of the curse and its content it is much more likely that this is the first instance of Satan being cast out and punished.
The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
We have already spent some time on this aspect of the curse so I will be brief here. Satan, seeking to make himself higher than God, rebels and leads Adam and Eve away with him. As a result of his hubris the Lord makes him lesser than all things. Specifically, because of this act he is more cursed than brute beasts, his status is less than a dumb animal. His pride has brought him down lower than all other living things.
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
This is significant and there is a lot of word-play in view here. Drawing from the serpent language, Satan is told he will “crawl on his belly.” This is a continuation of his being brought low but also an assurance that he will remain there. An interesting aspect of the curse is also in view here that affects us just as much as it affects Satan. We are told that he will eat dust, here referring to man who was formed from the dust and who will return to the dust. This sentiment is echoed in the warning of Peter: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV; italics mine). The serpent is set up as our continual adversary, one who will never tire of leading us into destruction.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
Furthering continual adversity, we are shown that God places enmity between the serpent and the woman as well as their seeds. We are placed with a spiritual enemy from the get-go, which is absolutely frightening. However, God does not leave us in this state of enmity and strife. He does not leave us in the path to be devoured by the evil one. Instead, he promises that through the seed of the woman, the head of the serpent will be crushed. Satan will be defeated and we will have reconciliation with God. The first glimpse of the Gospel is here, the first promise of salvation. Praise be to God who, even when punishing us, promises a way of redemption.
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Conclusion and Exhortation
Christians must hold the Scriptures as authoritative and decisive for what they believe. Humans are prone to errors and presuppositions are inevitable. Therefore, it is our responsibility to reevaluate the things we think we know. Many of us growing up in the church take certain doctrines for granted and it never enters our mind to question why we believe what we believe. This ought not be so, instead we should search the Scriptures to see what is true.
The coinciding fall of Satan with man gives us a greater understanding of both our curse and his. While it is a possibility Satan fell before Genesis 3, we are not given any hint of that in the Scriptures. What is more important than the when of Satan’s fall is to consider how his curse affects us.
Mankind is at enmity with the evil one. He prowls around seeking to devour us. Christians must take the words of Peter to heart: Resist him! (1 Peter 5:9). It is easy to fall into the trap of ignoring the spiritual entities that try to pull us down. We must be vigilant, killing sin and praying for protection trusting that God is sovereign over even evil spirits.
At the same time, it is imperative that we reign in our imaginations in the spiritual realm. A balance must be struck. Not every misfortune or act of sin in our lives is a result of Satan, we have our own curse and our nature predisposes us to rebel against God. We should be wary not to see demons behind every tree or on every corner.
Above all, we must recognize Christ’s complete rule and reign over Satan. It was God that cast Satan out of heaven at the fall. It was Christ’s work on earth that prevailed against the dragon. Jesus Christ is the promised seed and the head-crusher, through him we are more than conquerors. Just as our righteousness is in Christ, so is our victory over the serpent and nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:37-39).
- Leahy, Fredrick. Satan Cast Out Banner of Truth Trust. Carlisle,PA, 1975/2015.
- English Standard Version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2007.
- For more on this interpretation of Revelation 12, see Spurgeon’s Verse Expositions of the Bible (available to view on studylight.org) and Michael Kruger’s lecture entitled Revelation: The Heavenly Throne Room and the Persecuting Dragon (available on itunes and the RTS app). Others take a similar view but instead of the man-child being Christ, it is those in Christ. For information on this, see Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (available to view on biblehub.com). Still, others view Revelation as an entirely future series of events. In this instance the battle still does not take place before Satan’s initial fall but rather in the distant future.
- Heiser, Michael. “Genesis_The Serpent (Nachash)” Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzDilcaRF-Y&t=1. December 11, 2015. Accessed July 20, 2018.
- Heiser, Michael “The Nachash and His Seed” http://www.pidradio.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/02/nachashnotes.pdf. 2007. Accessed July 21, 2018
- Thomas, Robert L. New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible/Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries The Lockman Foundation. 1981/1998. http://biblehub.com/hebrew/1966.htm. Accessed July 21,2018
- The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan House, 1984.