The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: S

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Satan, who is?

"Satan" is simply a term meaning adversary or opponent. It doesn't necessarily have an evil connotation since it can refer to any person or being who deliberately gets in the way of another. Satan is invariably used to personify opposition as manifested in some human or power. Therefore, although the word is sometimes used in a similar context, "Satan" is quite distinct in meaning from "the devil", and to equate the two is erroneous.

  1. The word "Satan" (Hebrew satanas, an opponent or adversary) is an OT term transliterated in the NT. It has a wide range of applications as a label, including an angel of God, God Himself, David, Peter, an infirmity, a temptation, the Roman authorities, Jewish opposition, etc., as the following passages will indicate.
  2. In Num 22:22,32 it refers to an angel of God, an adversary who withstands the wicked prophet Balaam.
  3. In 1Ch 21:1 it refers to one who tempted David to an unworthy deed, but in 2Sa 24:1 it is said that the LORD moved David in this way.
  4. David is regarded as a possible adversary (1Sa 29:4), as are the sons of Zeruiah (2Sa 19:22). Other various human adversaries of Solomon and others are found in 1Ki 5:4; 11:14, 23,25; Psa 38:20; 71:13; 109:4,6,20,29.
  5. The classical application of the word "Satan" is to Peter himself, who is said by Jesus to be a "hindrance to me -- you are not on the side of God but of men" (Mat 16:23; Mar 8:33).
  6. "Satan" is used in the sense of an infirmity in Luk 13:11,16, and of temptation in Mat 4:10; Luk 22:3; Act 5:3,4.
  7. Several times it is used in reference to the Jewish (or Roman?) power as an adversary of the Gospel (Rev 2:9,13,24).
  8. It is apparently twice used of this world, into which Paul determined that unworthy disciples should be excommunicated (1Co 5:5; 1Ti 1:20).
  9. On the remaining occasions, "Satan" refers to the source of temptations and persecutions, or to the embodiment of the power of evil (Mat 12:26; Mar 1:13; 3:23,26; 4:15; Luk 4:8; 10:18; 11:18; 22:31; Joh 13:27; Act 26:18; Rom 16:20; 1Co 7:5; 2Co 2:11; 11:11,14; 1Th 2:18; 2Th 2:9; 1Ti 5:15; Rev 3:9; 12:9; 20:2,7).
  10. In special passages like Job 1 and 2, the word "Satan" occurs 12 times of someone who appears in the councils of God and with God's consent plays a leading role in the trials of Job. Note, however, that in every case it is God who was the real source of all the evil that came upon Job (Job 1:20; 2:10; 42:11).
  11. Similarly in Zec 3:1,2 the word occurs 3 times of an accuser in a visionary trial of the priest Joshua. The historical context of Ezr 4:1,4,6 shows there were real enough adversaries against the rebuilding of the Temple.
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