What’s in a Name? Everything!
How Satan is portrayed in any generation largely depends on how seriously he is taken by the prevailing culture. Today’s culture, with its cynical bent, appears not to take him too seriously. In a recently published book of popular cartoon art, Satan is depicted as a mischievous, red-faced character handing out accordions at the entrance to hell. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible warns us that Satan is the embodiment of evil and the authority behind the present world system.1 And his names tell us everything about him.
Created as the highest in the hierarchy of angelic beings, his name Lucifer hints at his original beauty and splendor (Isa. 14:12). Isaiah detailed the conceit that turned God’s most impressive servant, this “son of the morning,” into His most tenacious enemy. In contrast to the familiar stereotype of an ugly horned demon with a pitch-fork, Ezekiel 28 describes Satan in his original grandeur. Covered with a stunning array of precious stones reflecting and diffusing surrounding light, Lucifer’s glory was unparalleled in God’s creation (v. 13).
Although other names capture the essence of Lucifer in his fallen state, Satan is the proper name most closely associated with this defiant, evil being. It describes his character in opposition to God and actually means “adversary” or “opponent.”2
Leading a seditious revolt, Satan determined to challenge God’s authority and thwart His purpose in the world while deceitfully turning people’s hearts against the Almighty. Since his fall near the beginning of recorded history, he has worked behind the scenes, manipulating world events and carrying out his malevolent campaign against God (Jn. 8:44; Rev. 12:9).
Taking the form of a serpent, he coerced Eve into questioning and ultimately defying God’s direct command, dragging humanity into his all-consuming war against God. No doubt, it was his captivating beauty and audacious charm that appealed to Eve. The name Serpent exposes the beguiling nature of Satan’s character. Using his extraordinary beauty to his advantage, he continues to recruit unregenerate humanity in rebellious activities against God. His tactic has not changed even today. Satan ”transforms himself into an angel of light” for the purpose of deception (2 Cor. 11:14).
The Bible also calls him Dragon, which not only describes his current power, but also that which will become fully realized during the Tribulation prior to the Second Coming of Christ. Filled with rage and knowing his time is short, Satan will burst fully onto Earth’s scene, as described in the pages of Revelation. Attempting to destroy God’s covenant people along with Messiah Himself, he will inflict unprecedented terror on the earth (Rev. 12:12).
Translated “accuser” or “slanderer,” the Greek word diabolos, or Devil, hints at the threat Satan poses to mankind. His activities are twofold: He (1) slanders God before people, as he did with Eve in the Garden of Eden, asking, “Has God indeed said…?” (Gen. 3:1) and (2) falsely accuses believers before God, as in the book of Job (2:4–5).
The name Devil also connects him to demonic activity throughout the world. Although there are many demons, there is only one Devil who directs the affairs of these evil beings (Mt. 12:22–30). Using demons, the Devil manipulates world events, not only to thwart God’s purposes, but also to beleaguer all who maintain loyalty to Him.
Other names associated with his authority over the demonic world are Belial and Beelzebub, which correctly communicate his leadership as “the ruler of the demons” (Mt. 12:24). With the power of the demonic world at his command, it is easy to see why the Bible describes him as “god of this age” and “the prince of the power of the air” (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2).
Peter warns, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). He is like a ravenous lion circling a flock, looking for an opportunity to snatch unprotected sheep. The Greek word for “devour” conveys the idea of gulping down or swallowing something whole.3 He is determined to destroy utterly. This aspect of Satan’s nature is encapsulated in the names Abaddon in the Hebrew and Appolyon in the Greek—both defined as “destroyer.”
Satan is a real being. Although our culture often glibly portrays him presiding over the torture of souls in hell, the truth is that he is actually doomed to punishment there himself. His fanatical aspirations of unseating the sovereign God of creation will ultimately come to nothing when he is judged by Christ and cast headlong into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10).
- Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947), 2:35.
- E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., eds., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1985), s.v. “Satan.”
- 3 W. A. Criswell, Expository Sermons on the Epistles of Peter (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 102.