Peter introduces the enemy of God’s people in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Peter is, of course, referring to Satan himself, the fallen angel who first showed up in Genesis 3 when he tempted our first parents to disobey God by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Peter refers to him as “the devil,” which is one of many names for our enemy including Abaddon,[i] the accuser,[ii] Apollyon,[iii] Beelzebul,[iv] Belial,[v] the dragon,[vi] the evil one,[vii] the father of lies,[viii] the god of this world,[ix] the prince of demons,[x] the prince of the power of the air,[xi] the ruler of this world,[xii] Satan,[xiii] the serpent,[xiv] and the tempter.[xv]
There are three main errors we can fall into when it comes to understanding our enemy. The first is to deny his existence altogether, the second is to believe him stronger than he really is, and the third is to believe he’s real but not take him seriously at all. So let’s examine three truths about our enemy so we can avoid each of those errors.
A. Our Enemy is Real
A 2009 Barna poll found that four out of ten Christians (40%) strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” An additional two out of ten Christians (19%) said they “agree somewhat” with that perspective. Only 26% of professing American Christians disagreed strongly with that statement.[xvi]
We believe the devil is a real being. He’s not a symbol of evil, he’s a real spiritual being. Peter is not warning his readers or us to be watchful for a symbol or a force, but a real person. Yes, the devil is a spiritual being who is usually unseen by us, but he is nonetheless very real. If our enemy is real, where did he come from?
B. Our Enemy is Created
Although the Bible doesn’t tell us much about the creation of Satan, it is clear he is a created being. Consider Colossians 1:16—For by [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. Everything was created by Jesus! By referring to invisible things and thrones and dominions, Paul is most likely including all supernatural beings. Of course, this would include angels, demons, and Satan himself.
But why would Jesus create Satan and demons? Again, the Bible doesn’t answer all our questions, but we can piece together enough data to understand that Satan and his demons were initially created as holy angels, but Satan fell and took a third of the angels with him.[xvii] Ever since then he has been at war against God.
But here’s why it’s important to mention Satan as a created being. This means that he is not eternal. He had a beginning, and he will have an end. He is not omnipresent. Like every other created being, he can only be in one place at a time. He is not omnipotent. He is powerful, but his power is limited. In Job we see him asking God permission before he acts. Martin Luther once said, “even the devil is God’s devil,” meaning that he is like a dog on a leash compared to God. He is not omniscient. He cannot know your thoughts. He’s been observing humans for thousands of years, so he and his minions can probably guess what you’re thinking, but they don’t know.
If we understand Satan as a created being, we’ll avoid the temptation to overestimate his power. But let’s not underestimate him either.
C. Our Enemy is Dangerous
Concerning our enemy, Phil Ryken says “One of the most dangerous things in the world would be to think that we are not in any danger, which is the mistake Peter made.”[xviii] Peter wants to strengthen you, and he doesn’t want you to make the same mistake that he made. So he’s warning us about the danger that the enemy poses to us. Look again at 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
It’s interesting that Peter pictures our enemy as prowling about like a roaring lion. To my knowledge this is the only place in all of Scripture that likens Satan to a lion. Whenever Satan is compared to an animal, it’s a scaly, slithering serpent not a regal lion. In fact if anybody is pictured as a lion in Scripture it’s Jesus. Revelation 5:5 announces Jesus as “the Lion of Judah.” By picturing Satan as prowling about as a roaring lion, Peter is highlighting our enemy as a deceiver.
In C.S. Lewis’ beloved children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia, the hero of the stories is a lion named Aslan. It’s obvious that Aslan is meant to be a Christ-figure, a lion who lays down His life in the place of the guilty, only to later rise from the dead. In the final book, there’s an ape named Shift who dresses up a donkey named Puzzle in a lion’s skin so he can deceive people into thinking he’s Aslan.
I think C.S. Lewis was onto something. By picturing Satan as a lion, Peter is reminding us what we already know about our enemy: he’s a dangerous deceiver. In Revelation 12:9 the Apostle John illustrates the fall of Satan this way: And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. In 2 Corinthians 11:13-14 the Apostle Paul is talking about a group of false teachers and he says this: Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. (14) And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
But by referring to Satan as a lion, Peter is also highlighting the grave danger that we’re in. Remember how he referred to us at the beginning of chapter 5? We’re sheep. How does a sheep normally fare against a lion? Some creatures can run fast and escape a lion, but not a sheep. Others can fight back, but not the sheep. Others can posture themselves to appear more dangerous than they really are, but not the sheep. The sheep in reach of a lion is in grave danger.
If you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian, the devil wants to deceive you. He’s blinded your eyes to the goodness of Jesus so he can devour you, and he’ll do anything in his power to keep you blind. If you’re reading this and you are a Christian, the prince of darkness wants to sift you like wheat. Which means you need a strategy to resist him. To learn that, come back tomorrow.
[i] Revelation 9:11 [ii] Revelation 12:10 [iii] Revelation 9:11 [iv] Matthew 10:25, 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15-19 [v] 2 Corinthians 6:15 [vi] Revelation 12:3-17, 13:2-11, 16:13, 20:2 [vii] Matthew 13:19, 38; John 17:15; Ephesians 6:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 John 2:13-14, 3:12, 5:18-19 [viii] John 8:44 [ix] 2 Corinthians 4:4 [x] Matthew 9:34, 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15 [xi] Ephesians 2:2 [xii] John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11 [xiii] Job 1-2; 1 Chronicles 21:1; Zechariah 3:1-2; Matthew 4:10, 12:26; Mark 1:13, 3:23-26, 4:15; Luke 10:18, 11:18, 13:16, 22:3, 31; John 13:27; Acts 5:3, 26:18; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5, 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11, 11:14, 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 1 Timothy 1:20, 5:15; Revelation 2:9, 13, 24; 3:9, 12:9, 20:2, 7 [xiv] Genesis 3:1-14; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:14-15, 20:2 [xv] Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5 [xvi] “Most American Christians Do Not Believe That Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist,” Barna Group, April 13, 2009, https://www.barna.com/research/most-american-christians-do-not-believe-that-satan-or-the-holy-spirit-exist/. [xvii] Isaiah 14:12-16; Ezekiel 28:13-19; Luke 10:17-18; Revelation 12:2-4, 7-9; [xviii] As quoted by C.J. Mahaney, Resist Your Adversary (Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, 2017), https://www.sgclouisville.org/sovereign-grace-church-louisville-sermons/sermon/2017-09-24/resist-your-adversary-c-j-mahaney-1-peter-5:8-9.