Category Archive: Bible – NT – Jude

May 7, 2004

Satan’s Fall

Category: Bible - NT - Jude,Bible - OT - Genesis,Theology :: Link :: Print

I was working on Genesis 3:14-15 this week in connection with a sermon I was preparing (thanks, Tim for sending me your notes on that chapter). In the course of that study, I began to wonder about the timing of Satan’s fall.

I suspect that, if we think about it at all, we’re inclined to say that we don’t know exactly when Satan fell but it was before Genesis 3. We might (rightly) reject the view that Satan fell before Adam was created. After all, on the sixth day of creation, God declares that everything He created is very good and that would include the angels.

I suspect the angels were created at the very beginning when God created the heavens (Gen. 1:1a: “In the beginning, God created the heavens…”), since they were singing when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4-7) and that happened in the second half of Genesis 1:1 (“… and the earth”).

At any rate, the angels are creatures, included in God’s creative work in the six days of Genesis 1, and therefore among the creatures which God pronounces “very good” at the end of the sixth day. So, contrary to Milton’s Paradise Lost, in which Satan falls before the creation of man, Satan must have fallen after the sixth day.

But when? Again, we’re inclined to shrug our shoulders. We often think that a long, long time passed after the creation of man and before the Fall and that somewhere during that time, but up in heaven, Satan and his armies rebelled, we know not how. I’m more inclined to think that Adam’s fall happened very soon after his creation. After all, it doesn’t appear that Adam had yet eaten from the Tree of Life. If he’d been in the Garden for any length of time, you would expet him to have done so. It’s entirely possible that Adam fell on the seventh day, so that instead of entering God’s rest and giving him thanks for His creation, as appropriate on the seventh day, he rebelled instead (Rom. 1:18ff.).

As I was working through Genesis 3, I was struck by some of the things that it suggests with regard to Satan’s fall. I’d heard Jim Jordan say that he thought Satan’s fall happened in the course of his conversation with the woman (a view, if memory serves me correctly, he’d heard proposed by Jeff Meyers). “Hmmm…” I said to myself.

Before his fall, Satan was Lucifer, that is, the light-bearer. This name reflects Lucifer’s original calling, namely, to bear God’s light. To whom? To man.

We learn about Satan’s original calling by observing what the rest of Scripture tells us about angels and their work. Man was created “a little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:5 as cited in Heb. 2:7), though that wasn’t man’s ultimate destiny (cf. Heb. 2:9). The Torah was given by the ministration of angels (Heb. 2:2; Gal. 3:19), which, by the way, gives added significance to Paul’s statement in Galatians 1:8 (“Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed”). The Torah was given to be a paidagogos (Gal. 3:24-25), a child-custodian, which suggests that pedagogy was also the task of the angels who delivered the Torah.

During the old creation (i.e., the events from Genesis 1 to the end of the Old Covenant) man was under the angels, to be instructed and trained by them. (Jim Jordan says in his Brief Reader’s Guide to Revelation that the presence of so many angels in Revelation indicates that the events John is describing took place in the time when man was still under the angels, that is, they refer to the time of the end of the Old Covenant in AD 70.)

Furthermore, we learn a lot about Lucifer’s original task by looking at the Angel of Yahweh in Scripture. After Lucifer fell, he was replaced as man’s tutor by the Second Person of the Trinity, acting in the role of the messenger (which is what “angel” means”) of Yahweh. That this Angel is himself Yahweh is made clear in several passages, among them Judges 6:11ff. and 13:17-23.

A brief digression: In Jude 9, we read that

Michael the archangel, when he disputed wit the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Where is that story in the Bible? Well, “The Lord rebuke you” is from Zechariah 3. In that chapter, Joshua the high priest stands before the Angel of Yahweh and “the Satan” stands there to accuse him:

And Yahweh said to Satan, “Yahweh [Greek translation: The Lord] rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, Yahweh [the Lord] who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!”

This is the dispute Jude has in mind. It’s a dispute over “the body of Moses.” “The body of Moses” isn’t Moses’ physical body; like “the body of Christ” (the church), it’s corporate. “The body of Moses” is Israel, brought back from exile but still defiled by sin, which Joshua the High Priest bears on himself and which is the basis for Satan’s charges against Joshua, Jerusalem, and Israel.

Zechariah identifies the parties of the dispute as the Angel of Yahweh and Satan. Jude identifies them as Michael and the devil, which implies that Jude understands the name of the Angel of Yahweh, the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, to be Michael, the same Michael who appears in Daniel and Revelation. Anyway, that’s a digression.

As Jim Jordan has pointed out in his lectures, before He was the second Adam, God’s son was the second Lucifer. That is, before He was incarnate as a man, He acted as “the Angel of Yahweh,” replacing the fallen Lucifer as man’s tutor. He led Israel to the Promised Land (Ex. 33:2) and to conquest (Josh. 5:13-16:5; Jud. 6:11ff., etc.). He also taught God’s people the Word of Yahweh (e.g., Gen. 18).

That’s the work of the Angel of Yahweh, man’s chief tutor up until the end of the Old Covenant. But in the beginning, the angel who came to man — God’s appointed tutor — wasn’t the Second Person of the Trinity taking on the role of an angel. It was Lucifer, who fell and became the devil (“the adversary”) and the satan (“the accuser”). In the beginning, Lucifer was to be the light-bearer, man’s tutor and guide who would train him and prepare him for his calling to subdue and rule the world (as the new tutor, the Angel of Yahweh, prepared Israel to conquer and rule the Promised Land).

But did Lucifer fall before he ever got around to carrying out that task? That’s possible. But in that case, it seems to me that he would have been replaced before he got to the Garden. It makes more sense to me to think that Lucifer fell as he was executing his calling.

In fact, Lucifer’s fall was that he perverted his calling. He “tutored” the woman, but he “tutored” her to disobey God.

What was his motive? Well, given that Adam and Eve were created a little lower than the angels but were intended eventually to have dominion over the angels (as Christ, as a man, now has dominion over the angels and as we shall eventually judge angels, 1 Cor. 6:3), the serpent’s motive may have been jealousy. He didn’t want to be like a drill sergeant who trains a man knowing that one day that man will be an officer and have authority over him. So he passed on perverted teaching to keep Adam and Eve from reaching that destiny. At least, that’s a plausible motive.

When did that perverse tutoring start? We often think that it must have started with the first thing the serpent said in 3:1b (“Has God said…?”) and that’s possible. As Eve’s sin begins with her thinking about doing what God had forbidden and as Adam’s started with his failure to guard the garden and protect Eve, so the serpent’s sin may have begun with him contemplating leading Adam and Eve astray before he ever opened his mouth.

But it’s also possible that his sin began between his first and second statement. His question in Genesis 3:1b can be taken as a veiled accusation of God (“Was God really so mean as to forbid you to eat from all the trees?”). But it may also be taken in a better sense. Teachers use these kinds of questions today so that the student will respond by correcting them, thereby showing that he really knows the right answer. “Jesus isn’t God, is He?” the catechism teacher asks, and the child quickly says, “Yes, He is!” It’s possible that man’s tutor, the angel in the form of a serpent, is doing that kind of catechesis.

But in 3:4, the serpent directly contradicts what God said: “You shall not surely die.” That statement (or perhaps the question in 3:1b), together with the thoughts and inclinations leading up to it, it seems to me, is the point in history where Lucifer fell.

A few more things in this passage appear to support this view.

Genesis 3:1 tells us that the serpent “was more cunning than any beast of the field which Yahweh God had made.” “More cunning” here doesn’t mean “sinful.” Rather, the implication is that being cunning is a good thing. Yahweh God made the serpent “more cunning” than the rest of the field animals (that is, the wild animals out in the world beyond the garden, as opposed to the tamer garden animals).

But if the serpent in 3:1a is still good (and given 1:31, we have no textual reason to think he was not still good), then his fall must have taken place either just before 3:1b or in the course of his instruction, when he contradicts God in 3:4.

And then there’s 3:14. When Yahweh God pronounces judgment on the serpent, he says this: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle and more than every beast of the field.” That is to say, God declares Satan cursed because he has attacked the woman with lies. That is why Satan will be crushed by the woman’s seed.

But if Satan fell at some earlier time, before Genesis 3, we would expect him to have been under God’s curse and in for a crushing already. But Scripture says that he is cursed and forced to grovel and “bite the dust” and that he will eventually be defeated and crushed because of what he did to Adam and Eve in the Garden. That suggests to me that Satan’s fall into sin — for which he is cursed and sentenced to destruction — took place in the events of Genesis 3:1-5.

Finally, whatever we are to make of Yahweh’s message in Ezekiel 28 to “the ruler of Tyre,” who is described as wearing garments like Israel’s priests and who is described as “the anointed cherub who covers,” he is said to have been “in Eden, the garden of God” (28:13), placed by Yahweh “on the holy mountain of God” (28:14) and “blameless” at that time. His fall took place in Eden; he was thrown from God’s holy mountain (28:16). Again, I don’t exactly know what to make of this passage. The primary reference is to “the ruler of Tyre,” but the reference to the “anointed cherub” suggests that there may be some link with Lucifer. But if so, then Ezekiel 28 implies that Lucifer’s fall took place in Eden, the Garden of God, on God’s holy mountain.

Putting all of this together, it seems to me that Satan’s fall took place in the events of Genesis 3:1-5, in the seduction of the woman, which is the event for which God curses him to destruction.

When did his hosts fall? Perhaps at the same time somehow. Perhaps later.

But wouldn’t God’s curse on the serpent have frightened them enough to keep them from falling by following Satan (“Yike! Look what happened to him!”)?

Not necessarily. After all, they had seen that Satan’s lie had been successful in seducing the woman away from God and that the man had fallen too. Through sin, the whole human race came under the dominion of sin and death and of the devil, who held the power of death (Heb. 2:14-15). Perhaps some of the host of heaven followed Satan because, curse or no curse, they thought there was a chance that he might win. He’d done pretty well already and so far his head hadn’t been crushed, nor was it for many years.

I don’t claim that these thoughts are original with me; in fact, I’ve heard most of this stuff from others. But these are some things I’ve been mulling over this week. I invite your thoughts in response.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:42 pm | Discuss (0)