Satan is one of the most misunderstood beings in the Bible. Many Christians do not fully grasp who he is and what he is capable of. The two biggest dangers I see regarding how Christians understand the devil are, (1) ascribing too much power to him (which leads to duel theism), and (2) not recognizing him as a real enemy to God’s people. It is vitally important that we understand who this deceiver is. We have many warnings about him in the scriptures that should not go unchecked, and ultimately our hope in knowing who our enemy is will lead us to further press in to God and hope in him who has crushed the serpent under his feet. Let’s get into it.
“And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.” (Mark 4:15 ESV)
CAN SATAN REALLY TAKE AWAY THE WORD?
In the parable Jesus says the the seed that fell along the path was devoured by the “birds of the air”, and here in his explanation he reveals this to be satan. The most clear thing about the devil that we can gather from this parable is that he wickedly desires to damage anything that relates to the gospel. We know from the word that he is like a lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He is a deceiver that we see in Genesis 3, as he subtly makes light of what God has said regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All of this is true, but can he take away the word from God’s people?
The scripture seems pretty clear that he does take away the word that is sown, so I think it would be helpful to ask the question another way. Can satan take away the word by his own power and authority? Thanks be to God that the answer to this question is a resounding “no”. First of all, we know from the book of Job that satan cannot do anything based on his own authority. In truth, he has no authority of his own, but is only able to do what God allows him to do. He is not able to cause any harm to anyone without the permission of God. Now this doesn’t totally satisfy all of our questions, but it does help us better understand what is happening in this parable. The enemy devours the word that is sown along the path because God grants him the ability to do so. He is compared to a bird, a creature that does nothing apart from God (Matthew 10:29).
The other thing we can be sure of is that the word of God does not return to him empty (Isaiah 55:11). This is true of all of the soil types in Jesus parable. Only one of the places that the seed lands will produce fruit, but that does not mean that there is no purpose to the seed being sown in the other types of ground. What those purposes are may remain mysterious to us, but we can trust that God is doing something. When he sends out his word, he has purpose behind it all. The enemy can do nothing apart from the will of God, and therefore we should not put him anywhere near the same level as God.
SHOULD WE DISREGARD SATAN THEN?
Just because the enemy has no authority apart from God does not mean that we should totally disregard him. He is a deceiver and tester of mankind. Though there is not much written about satan and the demonic in the scriptures, there is still enough for us to understand that he is an enemy to the church. We should not cast aside the reality of his hatred for us, but rather we should pray as Jesus taught us, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We know that authority belongs to God, and thus we should pray that God would guard us from the enemy. We should pray that we would recognize our sin nature that the devil seeks to exploit, and that we would put to death the deeds of the flesh. As we will further unpack when we get into the other soil types, we cannot say “the devil made me do it” when it comes to disobeying God and his word. The enemy seeks to devour and deceive, but he is not without boundaries. He can only do what the sovereign God allows him to do. This does not mean we should disregard him, but rather we should realize that our sin is not because “the devil made us do it.”. Our sin is all our own, and when we overemphasize satan to the point of blame for our sin, then we become those along the path. If we believe the enemy is the cause of all our sin, then we do not have the gospel. The gospel pulls no punches about who is to blame for sin. It is OUR sin. We do it. And when you deny that, then you are (ironically) one who has had the seed devoured right in front of you. You miss the point.
Do not overestimate or underestimate the devil. He is real and he is the prince of the power of the air, but he can only do what God allows and he only has authority that has been given to him. Truly nothing is his. We need to know this, not simply to better understand our enemy, but to better understand God. The Bible does not present us with duel theism. In other words, it’s not God versus the devil. Contrary to posts you may see on social media, Jesus is not in an arm wrestling match with satan. He has already crushed his head. Christ has won, and there is no tension that should leave us wondering what will happen. The gospel tells us that Christ has triumphed, and the enemy has been defeated before time began. We should rejoice in this fact, and pray that our great God would continually deliver us from evil as he has promised to ultimately do.