The individual adversary seen by Zechariah, side by side with Joshua, represented this class-opposition to the work in which Joshua was engaged. Those who insist upon the popular Satan having to do with the matter, have to prove the existence of such a being first, before the passage from Zechariah can help them; for “Satan” only means adversary, and in itself lends no more countenance to their theory than the word “liar” or “enemy”.
The Hebrew word “Satan” was adopted into the Greek language; whence we meet with it in the New Testament, which, as the generality of readers well know, was written in Greek. It is here where the word is most jealously cherished as the synonym of the popular “angel of the pit”. People think, if they cannot prove the existence of the devil from the Old Testament, they certainly can from the New, most abundantly. A critical consideration of the matter, however, will show that in this, they are entirely mistaken. Satan, in the New Testament, no more means the arch-fiend of popular superstition, than Satan in the Old. This will be quickly manifest to the unprejudiced mind.
In the first place, if Satan is the popular devil, in what a curious light the following statement appears, addressed by Jesus in the first century to the church at Pergamos:
“I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even WHERE SATAN’S SEAT IS: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, WHERE SATAN DWELLETH.” (Revelation 2:13)According to this, in the days of John the apostle, Satan’s headquarters were Pergamos, in Asia Minor. The fact is, the enemies of the truth were notably numerous, energetic, and powerful in that city, and indulged in relentless and successful persecution of those professing the name of Christ. This earned for the place the fearful distinction of being styled by Jesus “Satan’s (the adversary’s) seat”, and “the dwelling place of Satan” (the adversary). This is intelligible: but if the popular devil is in reality Satan, we are invited to contemplate the idea that the devil had forsaken hell in those days, and pitched his tent for a while in the salubrious city of Pergamos, whence to despatch his busy emissaries all over the globe!
Jesus, on a certain occasion, styled Peter “Satan”:
“But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33; Luke 4:8)Understanding “Satan” to mean adversary, we can comprehend this incident. Peter protested against the sacrifice of Christ. He thereby took the attitude of an enemy, for had Jesus not died, the purpose of his manifestation would have been frustrated: the Scriptures falsified, God dishonoured, and salvation prevented. In opposing the death of Christ, Peter was, therefore, Satan, in the Bible sense. This sense Christ actually defines: “Thou (Peter) savourest not the things that be of God but those that be of men”. To be on the side of men against God is to be Satan. Peter was, for the moment, in this position. He made himself part of the great adversary – the carnal mind – as collectively exemplified in the word that lieth in wickedness (1 John 5:19) – the friendship of which is enmity with God (James 4:4). Jesus, therefore, commands him from his presence. But how about the popular devil? Was Peter Satan in the orthodox sense? He was, if the orthodox construction of the word is correct; for Jesus says he was. But Peter was a man who became Christ’s leading apostle. Therefore, the orthodox construction is the mistaken and ridiculous construction, from which we shake ourselves free, in recognition of the fact that Peter for the moment was a Bible Satan, from which he afterwards changed by “conversion” (Luke 22:32).
Paul says, “Hymenæus and Alexander, whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20). This also shows that the New Testament Satan is not the popular Satan: for no one ever hears of the popular Satan being employed by Christian teachers to correct the blasphemous propensities of reprobates. It is presumable that Satan’s influence would have an entirely contrary effect; and accordingly clerical endeavours are generally directed with a view to rid sinners of his presence. At Methodist prayer and revival meetings – in which orthodox religion is carried to its full and consistent issue – the cry is, “Put the devil out”; and this prayer is uttered with especial vehemence over any hardened sinner who may be got hold of.
The process of “delivering unto Satan”, according to apostolic practice may be gathered from 1 Corinthians 5:3-5:
“For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”.The meaning of this is, simply, the expulsion of the offender from the community of the believers. This is evident from the verse immediately preceding those we have quoted: “Ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you”; and also the concluding sentence, “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (verse 13). This was the apostolic recommendation in all cases of recalcitrancy.
“A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject.” (Titus 3:10)To repudiate the fellowship of any one, was to hand him over to the adversary, or Satan, because it was putting him back into the world, which is the great enemy or adversary of God. The object of this was remedial: “Have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:14,15). In this way, Paul, by cutting off Hymenæus and Alexander, hoped to bring them to their senses, and arrest their contumaciousness. They were in the ecclesia, and speaking against Paul and others, and against things that they did not understand; and by the bold measure of excommunication, he hoped to teach them a lesson they could not learn in fellowship. It was likely to make a man think, thus to “hand him over to Satan” (the adversary). The object of it, in the recommendation to the Corinthians, was “for the destruction of the flesh” – that is, the extirpation of the carnal mind in their midst: for he says, immediately after, “A little leaven leaventh the whole lump. Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened … Put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7,13). By this policy they might hope to preserve in purity the faith and practice of the spirit, resulting in the salvation of the ecclesia as a whole. All this is intelligible. But if the New Testament Satan be the popular Satan, then the whole matter is involved in inextricable fog. The infernal devil is made to play a part in the arrangements of the apostles for men – a part, be it observed, which he is never called upon to perform now.
“Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly … If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14)
“Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)
“I would they were even cut off which trouble you.” (Galatians 5:12)
“Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us” (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Who obstructed Paul’s travels? The enemies of the truth. On several occasions they watched the gates of the city where he was, to intercept and kill him, and he only eluded them by adroit expedients. “Satan”, or the adversary, was the general name for the whole of them; but when he comes to particulars, Paul mentions names: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: of whom be thou ware also, for he hath greatly withstood our words” (2 Timothy 4:14). “As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (2 Timothy 3:8). “Their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenæus and Philetus” (2 Timothy 2:17). The orthodox devil took no part in the opposition which Paul encountered from these men. Who ever heard of Bunyan’s “Apollyon” stopping him in the way, and defying him with arrows and terrors of the pit? Yet, if the New Testament Satan be the popular Satan, this ought to have been among his experiences.
“And after the sop, Satan entered into him” (Judas) – (John 13:27). Judas’s adverse or Satanic intentions with regard to Jesus developed themselves immediately after Jesus handed him a morsel of bread, dipped, after oriental custom, in the bowl on the table. Why? Because the handing of the sop to him marked him as the man who was to be traitor. Jesus had said, “One of you shall betray me”. The intimation excited a painful and eager curiosity among the disciples, who began to question to whom it was that Jesus referred. In answer to John’s whispered enquiry who it was, Jesus said “He it is to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him … He then having received the sop went immediately out”. It was not surprising that Judas, thus identified, should no longer parley with his own evil designs. His treacherous inclinations took fatal decision. This was, in New Testament phrase, “Satan entering into him”, that is, the adversary rising within him. If the Satan in the case was the popular Satan, the hard question would present itself, Why was Judas punished for the devil’s sin? “It were good for that man”, said Jesus, “that he had not been born” – showing that the sin of Christ’s betrayal was charged upon the man Judas.
There is another case where the sinful action of the human heart is described as the inspiration of “Satan” (Acts 5:3). Ananias and Sapphira went into the presence of the apostles with a lie on their lips; Peter said, “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back the part of the price of the land?” The meaning of Satan filling the heart crops out in the next sentence but one: “Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart?” (verse 4); also in Peter’s address to Sapphira, who came in three hours after Ananias. Peter said unto her, “How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the spirit of the Lord?” (verse 9). The action of Satan in this case was the voluntary agreement of husband and wife. But supposing we had not been thus informed that the lie of Ananias was due to a compact with his wife, from selfish motives, to misrepresent the extent of their property, we should have had no difficulty in understanding that Satan filling the heart was the spirit of the flesh, which is the great Satan or adversary, moving him to the particular line of action which evoked Peter’s rebuke. James defines the process of sin as follows: “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14,15). Hence, the action of lust in the mind is the action of the New Testament Satan, or adversary. All sin proceeds from the desires of the flesh. This is declared in various forms of speech in the Scriptures, and agrees with the experience of every man. The following are illustrations:
“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness (this was the sin of Ananias), blasphemies.” (Matthew 15:19)
“The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Romans 8:7)
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:16)