Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Most people are under the impression that the devil is an evil equivalent to God and the two are diametrically opposed in constant battle for eternity. This likely comes from Satan’s portrayal in the media (and indeed, a huge good vs. evil battle is an idea that can generate great interest). However, it is an unscriptural view to see the devil as an all-powerful evil. What does scripture say? Well, the Bible suggests that Satan may not have even known exactly who Jesus was when our Savior showed up on earth.
In three of the Gospels we read about what happened after Jesus was baptized. Mark explains it the most simply when he writes, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him” (Mark 1:12-13). Most Christians know this story, but few think about how odd of a situation it is. According to my NIV Bible, Satan means “accuser,” so by tempting and testing people, he is doing his job. We also know that the devil is a fallen angel, having been punished by God. As such, one might conclude that the devil would want to get back at God any way possible, with the exception of a direct attack (as that didn’t work out so well last time he tried). Not only that, but theoretically, Satan would know that you cannot tempt God. James writes, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13). Yet, three Gospels (two in detail) record Satan trying to tempt Jesus- who is God (in a bod).
With this kind of information in mind, one is left with only two conclusions: the devil is stupid (and very desperate), or the devil (like everyone else of the time) misunderstood the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular ones and see what the devil and people of Jesus’ time had to work with. Isaiah 42:1-4 says,
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
My chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
And he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
Or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
And a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
He will not falter or be discouraged
Till he establishes justice on earth.
In his law the islands will put their hope.
Ok, so the Messiah is to be a man of peace. Isaiah 9:6-7 tells us,
For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given,
And the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
There will be no end.
He will reign of David’s throne
And over his kingdom,
Establishing and upholding it
With justice and righteousness
From that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
Will accomplish this.
This Messiah will have a human birth, share some titles with God, and he will also be a king from the line of David. We’ll read one more,
See, my servant will act wisely;
He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him-
His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
And his form marred beyond human likeness-
So will he sprinkle many nations,
And kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
And what they have not heard, they will understand.
Who has believed our message
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
A man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
He was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
And carried our sorrows,
Yet we considered him stricken by God,
Smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
And by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on him
The iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
Yet he did not open his mouth;
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
So he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgression of my people he was stricken.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
And with the rich in his death,
Though he had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
And though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering,
He will see his offspring and prolong his days,
And the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After the suffering of his soul,
He will see the light of life and be satisfied;
By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
And he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
And he will divide the spoils with the strong,
Because he poured out his life unto death,
And was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
The Messiah will be rejected and suffer (for sins not his own, but for the sins of others), but after suffering he will be rewarded. There’s more there than that, but I am trying to focus on the basics that one would get from reading without a foreknowledge of Jesus himself. Now, other prophesies helped everyone to understand the where’s and when’s of the coming of God’s son. In fact, even foreign (and likely pagan) wise men were able to figure out who exactly the Messiah was based on his where and when. And we know that when Jesus was born, Satan knew the Christ had come, for he tried to kill him. We read in Matthew 2:16,
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
To be sure, such an act of terror must have been inspired by the devil; this is why we can assume that Satan knew all about Jesus’ birth.
If the devil already knew that Jesus was the Christ, why even try to tempt him? The only conclusion one can draw is that Satan didn’t know Jesus was God. Look at the prophecies, God didn’t say that he’d be coming himself in the person of the Messiah. Everyone was expecting (and some Jews still are) that the Messiah would be a great king, not God in the flesh. The people of Jesus’ time also found this to be an unlikely occurrence. They commented our Savior in Mark 6:3, “’Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him.” How could the devil know that this very human-looking individual was the Lord?
However, Satan learned very quickly during his attempt at tempting the son of God that the son was just as much God as the father. Matthew 4:8-10 records the last attempt of Satan to tempt Jesus,
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Imagine, as Jesus says “Worship the Lord your God,” all of the lights finally going on in Satan’s mind, “This is God, not some guy.” And so quickly, “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him” (Matthew 4:11).
Until his death, nobody believed that our Savior was actually God in a body. His disciples were shocked when he returned from the dead, and most people didn’t even believe after that happened. But as the facts were coming in, and the disciples continued to spread the message, those who sought God started waking up. When the religious ruling class wanted to kill the apostles, a man well versed in the law, Gamaliel, spoke up,
Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39).
He reasoned that if the “Messiah” (false or otherwise) who had instructed the apostles was only a man, Christianity would quickly die out, but if it didn’t then this Jesus guy was more than anyone expected him to be.
That’s our God; he goes above and beyond what we expect. When everyone (devil included) was waiting for a great king, the Lord gave us Jesus, who is God, the highest king of them all.
The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble;
He sits enthroned between the cherubim,
Let the earth shake.
Great is the Lord in Zion;
He is exalted over all the nations.
Let them praise your great and awesome name-
He is holy.
The King is mighty, he loves justice-
You have established equity;
In Jacob you have done what is just and right.
Exalt the Lord your God
And worship at his footstool;
He is holy (Psalms 99:1-5).