The Origin and Fall of Satan
In the history of the cosmos, there never has been and never shall be a greater treachery. The creature who was the most magnificent demonstration of his Creator’s skill came to resent the fact that his was simply a borrowed glory, that the role assigned him was only and always to reflect the infinite majesty of the God who had breathed him into existence. Thus was born in the heart of Lucifer— and ultimately in the newly created moral universe—the despicable impulse to rebel. That impulse generated the angelic insurrection that was the most awful sedition in the history of time.
A Preliminary Question
As important and seminal as that angelic rebellion was, Scripture does not include an explicit record of the event. It is in the account of Adam’s fall (Gen. 3) that Satan first appears in the Old Testament, but there he is the already fallen tempter who seduces the first humans to sin. Thus Satan’s fallenness is treated as fact early in Scripture. But, for reasons nowhere made clear, the actual account of his fall is absent from that record.
Yet the event is twice remembered in the writings of the prophets: by Isaiah in the midst of an inspired diatribe against Babylon (Isa. 14:11–23) and later by Ezekiel as he excoriates the king of Tyre (Ezek. 28:11–19). These two passages tell us most of what we know about Satan’s fall.
But herein lies a bit of an exegetical rub. In both passages, the perceived remembrance of Lucifer’s rebellion enters so abruptly into contexts that do not deal with Satan at all that many expositors have rejected the idea that the passages refer to a Luciferian rebellion, insisting that the focus is exclusively on the human rulers of the pagan nations being addressed.
However, it is best to understand that Isaiah and Ezekiel intended to direct people beyond the crimes of human kings to the great archetype of evil and rebellion, Satan himself. These passages include descriptions that, even given the tendency of ancient rulers to hyperbole, could not reasonably refer to any human being. The “I wills” of Isaiah 14:13–14 would reflect a level of ostentation indicative of insanity if spoken by a mere man, even the self-deifying pagan monarchs of Babylon. And what king of Tyre might be described as “full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty . . . perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created” (Ezek. 28:12, 15)?
Furthermore, the Bible clearly teaches that the wickedness of the visible world is influenced and animated by a realm populated by invisible, fallen spirits (Dan. 10:12–13; Eph. 6:12) and that, in their insidious and doomed campaign to frustrate the purposes of the true God, those evil spirits are directed by Satan, the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4).
It is characteristic of biblical writers to make the connection between the visible world and the one that is not, and to do so in a manner so abrupt as to catch the reader momentarily off guard. When Peter expressed horror at the thought of Jesus’ death, the Lord responded, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Mt. 16:23; cf. 4:8–10). Similarly, the prophet Daniel leapt suddenly and without announcement from a predictive description of Antiochus Epiphanes (Dan. 11:3–35) to a similar description of the end-times Antichrist (11:36–45). Antiochus, the Seleucid ruler of the intertestamental period, harbingers the greater villain who will trouble the earth in the last days. Thus such an abrupt and unannounced leap from the acquisitive, self-aggrandizing, visible, political world to the archetypal drama that played itself out in a world invisible to men—but which gave birth to the attitudes being denounced in these passages—is not out of place in the Scriptures.
Finally, a recurring theme of Scripture may well lie behind the connection made in these two passages. In the early ages of fallen Earth, the rebels at Babel determined to build “a city and a tower” (Gen. 11:4). The city was a center of commercial activity, while the tower was a focal point of pagan worship. This twofold characterization of the cosmos as an expression of selfishness (the acquisitive spirit of unsanctified commercialism) and rebelliousness (the pursuit of idols) resounds throughout God’s Word and reaches a dramatic climax in Revelation 17—18 where unfallen angels announce the long-delayed and much-deserved demise of religious and commercial Babylon.
It is instructive that all of Ezekiel 26—28 excoriates Tyre, the most important center of commerce and wealth in Ezekiel’s day, while Isaiah 14 denounces Babylon, the center of false religion throughout Scripture. Perhaps that “city and tower” characterization of the fallen cosmos, so important to what Scripture says about the world in rebellion against God, helps explain the leap made by the prophets in these passages. As each contemplated his contemporary culture, which most perfectly embodied one element of the fallen cosmos, each felt compelled by the superintending Spirit of God to focus on the primeval angelic rebellion that animated the human rebellion he was denouncing.
Thus these two diatribes that trace the wicked spirits of unprincipled greed and spiritual rebellion help explain why those spirits obtain so constantly throughout human history; and they anticipate the destruction prophetically chronicled in Revelation 17 and 18.
From Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 emerges a rather extensive picture of Satan before his rebellion.
His Person. He was the most exalted being of all creation (Ezek. 28:13, 15), the grandest of all God’s handiwork, a radiant celestial being who most perfectly reflected the splendor of his Maker. Thus he was appropriately called Lucifer. The word comes from a Hebrew root meaning “to shine” and is used only here as a title to reference the star that shines most brightly, that resists the rising sun most heartily. The name Lucifer has become widely used as a title for Satan before his rebellion because the King James Version translators borrowed the Latin equivalent in this verse. In fact, it is difficult to know whether the term was intended as a proper name or simply as a descriptive phrase.
His Place. Ezekiel stated that this exalted angel was “in Eden, the garden of God” (28:13). The reference is not to the earthly Eden that Satan invaded to tempt mankind but to the throne room where God dwells in absolute majesty and perfect purity (cf. Isa. 6; Ezek. 1). Ezekiel 28 also calls that place “the holy mountain of God,” where Lucifer walked “in the midst of the stones of fire” (v. 14). These descriptions are not appropriate to the earthly Eden, but they fit the throne room of God as represented elsewhere in Scripture.
His Position. Satan is denominated “the anointed cherub that covereth [protects]” (v. 14). Cherubim are the highest rank of angelic authority, and their role is symbolically to guard the throne of God. (Compare the carved cherubim flanking the ark of the covenant—the throne of King Yahweh—in the Tabernacle or Temple, Ex. 25:18–22; Heb. 9:5; cf. Gen. 3:24; Ezek. 10:1–22.) Lucifer was anointed (consecrated) by the deliberate decree of God (Ezek. 28:14, “I have set thee [established you]”) to the unspeakably holy task of guarding the throne of the all-glorious Creator. He is described as a being endowed with matchless beauty, clothed in radiant light, equipped with limitless wisdom and capacity, but also created with the power to make real moral decisions. Thus Satan’s most basic moral obligation was to remain loyal to God, to remember always that no matter how exalted his station, he was nonetheless a creature.
At this point we encounter one of the deepest mysteries of the moral universe as revealed in Scripture: How came sin to enter the universe? It is clear that sin entered in connection with Satan’s rebellion, but how did the wicked impulse arise in the heart of one created by a perfectly holy God? In the face of such a conundrum, we must acknowledge that the secret things do, in fact, belong to God; but what stands revealed belongs to us (Dt. 29:29). And three such clearly revealed realities deserve to be emphasized.
First, Lucifer’s fall was a result of his bottomless, wicked determination to usurp the glory that belongs to God alone. This fact is made explicit in a series of five “I will” statements recorded in Isaiah 14:13–14. Herein lies the essence of sin—the desire and determination to live as if the creature were more important than the Creator.
Second, Satan is entirely and exclusively responsible for his wicked choice. There is an inscrutable dimension to this. Some have argued that God must share the responsibility for this (and every other) crime because, if He had desired to do so, He could have created a world where such rebellion was impossible. Others say had God created such a lockstep world, it could not have included moral agents made in God’s image and possessing the power to make real choices—and thus to choose to worship and love God. There is truth in that observation, but there is mystery also. The record makes it clear that pride caused Lucifer to fall into an awful snare (Isa. 14:13–14; Ezek. 28:17; cf. 1 Tim. 3:6), but nothing explains how such damning pride could arise in the heart of an unfallen and perfect creature of God.
However, there is no mystery as to whether Satan is fully and justly responsible for his crime. Ezekiel 28:15 states explicitly that Lucifer was perfect from the day he was created, “till iniquity was found in thee.” The moral culpability is his and his alone. Indeed, the Bible affirms throughout that God sovereignly rules the moral universe and causes all things—even the wickedness of men and angels—to answer to His perfect purposes but that God must not and will not be regarded as responsible for that wickedness in any sense.
Finally, by reason of his rebellion, Satan became the archenemy of God and of all that is godly. His fall—and that of those spirits who joined him—is irreversible; there is no hope of redemption. Satan has been finally and irretrievably disfellowshipped by a holy God. To be sure, the Devil still has access to the judicial throne room of the universe in his divinely assigned role as accuser of the brethren (Job 1— 2; Zech. 3; Lk. 22:31; Rev. 12:10); but it is access absent of community with or acceptance by God. By reason of his treachery, which was the most awful in the history of the cosmos, Satan and his angles can anticipate only condemnation and eternal punishment (Mt.25:41).