God has always held authority over Satan. For instance, in the O.T., God is seen as setting Satan’s limits, and authorizing what he could/couldn’t do (Job 1:12, 21; 2:6, 10; 42:11). And in the N.T., Satan has to ask Jesus’ permission to affect Peter (Luke 22:31-32). Further, we consistently see that activities of Satan aren’t completely devoid of God’s hand. Consider:
- 2 Sam. 24:1 says, “the LORD…incited David,” to number Israel. But 1 Chron. 21:1, recounting the same event, says, “Satan…incited David to number Israel.” One version says God did it, another says Satan, because God is ultimately sovereign over Satan.
- In Job 1-2, we see clearly that Satan brought devastation on Job and his family. Yet, in the middle of these events, we read, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away,” (Job 1:21-22), and at the end of the book, it says, “the evil/disaster that the Lord had brought,” (42:11). Thus, both Satan and God are seen to be involved with Job’s calamities, with God ultimately sovereign over Satan.
- Concerning Jesus’ crucifixion, we read, “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him [Jesus],” (John 13:2), and “Satan entered into Judas…” (Lk. 22:3). However, we also read that, “It was the will of the LORD to crush him [Jesus]; He [God] has put him [Jesus] to grief,” (Is. 53:10), “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed…” (Acts 2:23), and, “I [Jesus] lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord…This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18). See also John 18:11. Thus, it can rightly be said that both Jesus/God and Satan caused Jesus’ crucifixion.
- In 2 Cor. 12, Paul says that, “a messenger of Satan” was “given me [in context, from God],” (v. 7). God did not remove this “thorn” in Paul’s flesh after Paul’s pleading with Him, but let it remain to produce something good in Paul (vv. 7-10). Thus, God gave and used something that came from Satan for His purposes.
- In 2 Thes. 2:9, we read of a deception that comes “by the activity of Satan.” However, in v. 11, we read that, “God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.” Thus, God and Satan are both said to have a part in people being deluded (of course, God is not a deceiver and is fully willing to reveal to anyone willing to find Him; but for those who chose to disobey and live for themselves, God allows them to be deceived).
Passages such as these (and others) only make sense if God is the final authority and decider of what Satan can/can’t do, and if God is sovereignly using Satan’s activities for His purposes.
This does not mean, as some wrongfully assume, that God is therefore evil by actively permitting and using the activity of Satan, for, “God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one,” (James 1:13). Rather, it seems more fitting to view God’s relationship with Satan the way God speaks of His relationship with Israel’s enemy, Assyria, in Isaiah 10:
Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger;
the staff in their hands is my fury!
Against a godless nation I send him,
and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
and to tread them down like the mire of the streets...
When the Lord has finished...He will punish...Assyria.
Parts of this passage show that God actively used Assyria (as a father uses a rod, for instance) for correction. He sent/allowed Assyria to afflict His people for a short time in response to their sin. But, the bold text shows that He later would punish Assyria because of their arrogance and wickedness.
Satan (like the Assyrians of Isaiah 10) is not operating outside of God’s sovereignty and dominion. He is being used by God in response to sin, but will finally be terribly and eternally punished by God at the end of time (see Rev. 20)–as the Assyrians were later punished–when we no longer live in a sin-cursed world.
Further, this does not mean that we do not resist and fight Satan. God clearly teaches us to, “stand against,” “wrestle,” and “resist,” Satan (Eph. 6:11, 12; James 4:7). Jesus/God says things like, “Be gone, Satan!” (Matt. 4:10) and, “The LORD rebuke you,” (Zech. 3:2), and that God, “will soon crush Satan under your [our] feet,” (Rom. 16:20). However, neither are we guaranteed instant victory against Satan in this lifetime (see 2 Cor. 12:7-9; 1 Thess. 2:18; Heb. 2:8; etc.). Instead, fighting against our enemy is clearly used by God to grow us and ultimately glorify Him (see Exod. 23:28-30; Judges 2:21-3:2; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; etc.).
He is looking for people to rise up against Satan. If I could look you in the eye I’d say, “Be that person. Don’t shrink back. Don’t let Satan win.” And (I pray and hope that) having a revelation that God is ultimately in charge and laughs at Satan’s plans and has a sort of “leash” on him will give us tremendous confidence and victory over Satan in our lives.
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Rom. 16:20)
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