4.3) Luke’s two books (Third Gospel and Acts):
Satan in charge, and his predicted fall “like lightning”
The Third Gospel is anonymous, but there are good reasons for accepting the early tradition that its author was the Greek physician Luke, a Gentile convert to Christ, who, as we have seen, became a companion of St. Paul (above, 3.1). He was also the author of the Acts of the Apostles, and he addressed both of his books to a high-ranking man, probably a Roman, named Theophilus.
While using Mark as a guide for his Gospel, Luke adds some striking elements to our appreciation of Satan. Like Matthew, he begins with an Infancy Narrative, but very different from Matthew’s. He includes the birth of John the Baptist, and John’s father, Zachary, speaks of the coming Messiah almost likening him
to Lucifer, the Morning Star, calling him calling him Anatole, “a Star that heralds the day,” which visits us from on high, “to give light to those who live in Darkness and the Shadow of Death” (Luke 1.78-79).
After John has started on his baptismal regimen, he speaks of the coming Messiah: he will baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit and also with fire. He adds that he will gather the wheat into his granary, “but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3.16-17). This might seem to be the job of a Destroying Angel, or the Angel of Death—or Satan. After Jesus is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends on him, the voice from heaven addresses Jesus, as in Mark: “You are my son, the Beloved” (Luke 3.22).
Thereupon Luke interrupts his narrative to tell Theophilus that Jesus at this time was about thirty years old, “being the son, as was thought, of Joseph, [who was the son] of Eli, [“] of Matthat, [“] of Levi,” and so on, through seventy more names, including another Jesus, and going through David, Abraham, and Noah. After Noah, he continues thus: “[who was the son] of Lamech, [“] of Mathusala, [“] of Enoch, [“] of Jaret, [“] of Maleleel, [“] of Cainam, [“] of Enos, [“] of Seth, [“] of Adam, [“] of God” (Luke 3.23-38). The incongruity of this elaborate list has often been commented on: after hearing at great length that Jesus was not the son of Joseph but was the immediate son of God, we hear a long genealogy of Joseph, showing that he is descended from God through Adam. But then, of course, so is everyone! This kind of universalism, in fact, is one of Luke’s main themes. But what I want to underline is that there is no “hitch” in this descent, no hint that the descent through Adam constituted a problem of any sort—in other words, there was no mention of a doctrine of “original sin.”
Luke resumes his story by saying that Jesus, “being full of the Holy Spirit,” was “led about by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was being tested by Devil” (4.1-2). We see that Luke hereby combines the Markan testing during the whole of the forty days with Matthew’s threefold testing at the end. The first test is the same as in Matthew, but Luke reverses his second and third tests.
So, after the rock-into-bread test, Devil leads Jesus “up” and shows him “in an instant” all the Kingdoms of the World (Luke 4.5). Luke abandons Matthew’s impossible “very high mountain” and conceives of a “miraculous” instantaneous vision of the entire populated World, which Devil is able to stage-manage. Devil then says to Jesus:
I will give to you all this power (exousia) and all the glory (doxa) of these Kingdoms. For it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. Therefore, if you will do me homage, it will all be yours. (Luke 4.6-7)
By these words, Satan claims to be in charge of all of the Kingdoms of the World, and able to delegate his authority as he wishes. Jesus tacitly acknowledges his claim, while at the same time responding, as in Matthew, that the sort of homage that Jesus is being urged to render to Satan should be given to God alone.
Therefore, we see that Satan is the Ruler of the World, because all of its Kingdoms have been “given” to him. Who gave them to him? There is only one possible answer: God. In other words, we must assume that Satan is somehow God’s Vicar-General on Earth.
How did this idea get started? We will see that in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to Satan as “the Ruler of this World.” Could it have been inspired by the Book of Job, where, in the LXX version, Devil tells the Lord that he has gone about the Earth and walked about upon the Earth under Heaven? Or does it come from his position as Superintendent of Discipline in the Book of Jubilees, where God grants him a staff of malignant Spirits? Is it connected with Satan’s role as Angel or Prince of Death, which is spoken of in the Epistle to the Hebrews? (see chap. 5.3). After all, anyone in charge of death has universal sway. In the Great Midrash on Leviticus, when the Israelites promise to observe Yahweh’s commands, He tells the Angel of Death that, even though He has made him Ruler of the World (Kosmokrator) over men, he must have nothing to do with this Nation, for they are His children.
In the second volume of his Biography of God, Jack Miles3 likens Satan’s appointment by God as Ruler of the World to Yahweh’s similar establishment of the King of Babylon as the Ruler of the Nations, according to the revelation He gave to the prophet Jeremiah:
It is I Who by My great Power and My outstretched Arm have created the Earth, with the people and animals that are on the Earth, and I give it to whomever I please. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, My Servant, and I have given him even the wild animals of the field to serve him. All the Nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time for his own country comes in its turn, when mighty Nations shall enslave him. But if any Nation or Kingdom will not serve its King, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the King of Babylon, then I will punish that Nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, says Yahweh, until I have completed its destruction by his hand (Jeremiah 27.5-8)
It is striking that Yahweh regards Nebuchadnezzar as His Servant—no matter what character flaws he may have! It is also noteworthy that his rule is scheduled to come to an end. Both of these points might seem very apposite for Luke’s presentation of Satan; but both are lacking in the considerably shorter Greek text, which Luke would have been following:
I have created the Earth by My great Power and with My high Arm, and I will give it to whomsoever it shall seem good in My eyes. I gave the Earth to Nabuchodonosor, King of Babylon, to serve him and the wild beasts of the field to labor for him. And whatever Nation and Kingdom that will not put its neck under the yoke of the King of Babylon I will visit with sword and famine, saith the Lord, until they are consumed by his hand. (LXX Jeremiah 34.5-8)
But it does seem as if Devil is echoing the Lord’s words here:
(LXX) The Lord: I have made it and I will give [doso] it to whomever it pleases Me.
(Luke) Devil: I will give [doso] it to you because it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.
As with Nebuchadnezzar, this is the high point of Satan’s career. It will not get any better for him, and it will soon get worse, as we will see below. But first, let’s finish with the current episode. Luke’s third test proceeds like Matthew’s second: Jesus is challenged to throw himself from the top of the Temple in the expectation that God’s Angels will rescue him, and Jesus responds that this would be a test of God, which should not be done. Then Luke concludes: “When Devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4.13).
Does this mean that Satan intends to continue testing Jesus whenever opportunity presents itself? Perhaps. But some interpreters take these words to mean that the rest of Jesus’s public ministry will be a Satan-free time, and that Satan will return to testing Jesus only when he commandeers Judas just before the Passion. But even though we do not hear of Satan testing Jesus again before this, there is some talk about Satan in the meantime.
The first mention is in the Parable of the Sower, where Luke follows Mark in having Jesus explain that Satan takes away the sown word, but Luke uses “Devil” rather than “Satan” (Luke 8.12). But after that Satan returns in a sensational way, and not of his own accord. The situation is this: Jesus has sent out a large crowd of his Disciples, seventy or seventy-two of them, to prepare the way for his coming, by curing the sick and announcing the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. When they return, they are especially jubilant over their success in making the Demons obey them by using the name of Jesus. Jesus’s response is odd. He says three things:
1) I was watching Satan fallen like lightning from the sky.
2) See, I have given you power (exousia) to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the force (dunamis) of the Enemy; and nothing shall harm you at all.
3) So do not rejoice because Spirits obey you. Rather, rejoice that your names are written in the Heavens. (Luke 10.18-20)
This is the first time that Luke uses the name “Satan” rather than “Devil,” and he also has Jesus call him “Enemy” (ho Echthros, “the Hostile One”).
What is Jesus talking about? The traditional interpretation is to say, “Oh, of course, this is a reference to Lucifer, the fall of the Morning Star in Isaiah 14.” But, as should be clear by now, there has as yet been no allegorical interpretation of Isaiah’s “Bad Lucifer” as Satan. So if Luke were to hit upon this idea by himself, it would be a bolt from the blue (so to speak!).
I recommend Joseph Fitzmyer’s observations upon this passage in his Anchor Bible commentary on Luke.4 He says that the association of the passage with Isaiah 14 is simply mistaken. He discounts any interpretation of the verse as “a vision of the preexistent Jesus,” since the preexistence of Jesus is not something that Luke ever takes into consideration. He similarly excludes “a proleptic vision of something to take place at the last judgment,” because Luke does not show the sort of apocalyptic imagination that we will encounter in the Book of Revelation.
It is true, however, Fitzmyer continues, that Luke is indulging in “a bit of apocalyptic writing here”—but he is referring to the present situation. That is, Jesus’s vision of the fallen Satan must refer to Satan’s current position, which was stated above, in the second test in the desert, as being of world-wide scope. He was given authority over all earthly kingdoms, and now, Jesus intimates, the gift is being
withdrawn. The lightning image indicates that his removal from power will be sudden.
We must not be misled by the past tense of Jesus’s statement—or, technically, the imperfect tense (“I was watching”). He is either describing a real event—he saw Satan actually falling in this way—or recounting a vision that he had of Satan’s fall. In either case, his experience of seeing is in the past (hence told in past tense); but if it was a vision, Satan’s fall could be either in the past (at the time of the vision) or in the future. As we will see when dealing with the book of Revelation, John narrates his visions in the past tense, since he saw them before he wrote them down, but they refer to future events. It’s called “the prophetic past tense.”
So, in the case of Satan’s fall, did it happen in the past few days when the Disciples were on their mission, or will it happen in the future? The answer is simple: Luke shows Satan as carrying on as before. Therefore, his fall has not yet occurred, but it is imminent.
It is interesting to note that in Matthew, after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus meets his Apostles on a mountain in Galilee. When they see him, they “pay him homage”—the same expression used by Satan and Jesus in the testing scene, when Jesus said that such homage was reserved for God alone. Now, as Jesus is about to ascend to heaven, Jesus seems to accept the homage, and he says, “All power (exousia) was given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28.17-18).
In Luke, in contrast, Satan claims that earthly exousia was given to him and that he could delegate it to Jesus (Luke 4). But Jesus later says that he has given his Disciples exousia over the dunamis of the Enemy, and he forecasts the fall of Satan (Luke 10). However, as I have just noted, Satan is still in command, for the time being, at least, for Luke goes on to repeat from Matthew, in the Beelzebul controversy, the parable about Satan’s “kingdom” not being divided, and so, by implication, not being in danger of falling just yet (Luke 11.18).
But we are doubtless justified in thinking that Satan’s real power has been broken. For in associating poisonous serpents and scorpions
with the power of the Enemy, Jesus is identifying illnesses, including those caused by Demons, as part of the testing that Satan puts men and women through, and the miraculous curing of the sick in the name of Jesus signifies Satan’s loss of control.
Still, one cannot make the case that Satan has begun a gradual fall from power, if one focuses on the imagery of the announced fall: it is to occur, not like a leaf drifting down from a tree in the autumn, or the setting of the Sun in the West, not to mention the fading of Venus/Lucifer in the East as the rising Sun overwhelms its rays; but rather like a bolt of lighting darting from the clouds to the ground, surely accompanied by a great clap of thunder.
In recounting the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law, Luke says that Jesus “rebuked” the fever, and the fever left her (Luke 4.39). Similarly, when Jesus cures a leper, even though he addresses the leper (“Be made clean”), the leprosy “leaves” him (Luke 5.13). The connection of illness with Satan becomes explicit in an episode peculiar to Luke. When Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on a Sabbath, he is approached by a woman with “a Demon of arthritis”—or, as Luke puts it, “a Spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years,” which made her bent over and unable to stand up straight (Luke 13.11). In this case, Jesus cures her by addressing the woman, telling her that she has been loosed from her weakness (Luke 13.12), but in explaining his action he reveals that the woman had been bound by Satan for eighteen long years (13.16).
Luke’s version of the Our Father contains the petition, “Lead us not into temptation,” but is lacking the final clause (“Deliver us from harm/Harm”)—though some ancient copies of Luke have added it (Luke 11.4). It may well be that Luke’s short rendition of the Lord’s Prayer is the primitive version, and that Matthew’s fuller version is later.
But Luke goes on to show Satan at work in ways that Mark and Matthew do not. After telling us that the chief priests and scribes were looking for a way of putting Jesus to death, Luke says: “Then Satan entered into Judas,” who thereupon agreed with the priests
and Temple authorities to betray Jesus to them (Luke 22.3-4). The word used here for “entering” Judas is the same verb that Luke used for the “seven more wicked spirits” of the post-Beelzebul parable (Luke 11.26), but Satan’s take-over of Judas is clearly a far different operation than possession by disease-Demons. For the parasitic Demons of the Synoptic Gospels (Mark-Matthew-Luke) show no moral purpose; they only cause physical and mental ailments. True, Satan uses such ailments as part of his testing regimen. But his direct tests call for conscious decisions on the part of the test-takers. Thus, we can surmise that “Satan’s entry into Judas” means that Judas succumbed to the temptation, arranged by Satan, to sell Jesus for money.
We soon have this surmise about Satan’s modus operandi confirmed. We remember that after the threefold testing in the wilderness, Luke says this: “When Devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4.13). When does he return? If we do not count Jesus’s vision of Satan fallen like lightning, then it must be, as suggested above, his testing of Judas. Satan’s binding of the woman with the arthritis-Spirit had taken place long ago.
In the same chapter in which Luke tells of Satan entering into Judas, Jesus tells all twelve of the Apostles, including Judas, of another encounter that he has had with Satan. Or perhaps it is the first time that he tells them of being privy to the activities of Satan, if we concede that the threefold drama of testing in the desert was only a symbolic event, that is, a fictional midrash that Matthew and Luke inherited from Q or some other source.
Here is what I am talking about. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the Apostles that one of them there will betray him. They ask one another briefly about who it might be, but then, as if they all suffered from Attention-Deficit Disorder, they get into a dispute about which of them will be regarded as the greatest. Jesus responds by saying that greatness is measured by service. Then he tells them that because they have stood by him in his trials (peirasmoi), he confers kingship on them, to eat and drink with him in his Kingdom and to judge the
twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22.21-30). The presence of Judas seems to have been forgotten.
Then Jesus singles out Peter, but so that the others can hear. I use the old second-person singular to make the meaning clear:
Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thine own faith may not fail. And thou, when thou hast finally turned back, strengthen thy brothers. (Luke 22.31-32)
The verb that I translate here as “has demanded” means “has requested and his request has been granted.”
In other words, Jesus is saying that he has been privy to Satan’s insistence that he be able to test all of the Apostles (as we have seen, he has already done so with Judas). They have already weathered various peirasmoi with Jesus, but, since Satan’s request has been granted, more peirasmoi are coming, and they will be directed specifically towards the Apostles. All of the Apostles will succumb to these peirasmoi, Jesus indicates, including Peter, but Jesus’s prayers for Peter have ensured that his basic fidelity will remain in spite of his failure. And, once he has recovered himself, he will be in a position to help his fellow-Apostles regain their commitment. Peter acknowledges that he understands what Jesus is saying, because he vigorously denies that he will fail in any way: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus responds by telling him just how he will fail a triple test, by denying him three times.
Our question must be, who was it that Satan made his demand to? Was it God? Was it Jesus himself? We cannot be sure. But the fact that his demand was granted demonstrates that Satan still has power and is still acting under the authority that has been given to him. It still remains part of the Divine Government that Satan test everyone on earth.
Luke maintains the threefold trial (and failure) of Peter, as in Mark, but he reduces the threefold agonizing in Gethsemane to one extended scene, preceded and followed by Jesus’s warning to the
Apostles to pray not to enter into peirasmos (Luke 22.40-46) (The verse that tells us that Jesus was strengthened by an Angel may be a later interpolation, perhaps inspired by the testing scenes of Mark and Matthew, according to which, after Satan departed, Jesus was ministered to by Angels.)
When Jesus is arrested by the Temple authorities in the Garden, he tells them, “This is your hour and the power of the dark” (Luke 22.53). This has often been read to refer to Satan, “the power of Dark.” But Luke does not indulge in the light-dark imagery with reference to Satan.
Finally, we can observe that, even though Luke does not divide Jesus’s ordeal in the Garden into three parts, he does devise three distinct trials for him later on: before the Sanhedrin, before Herod, and before Pilate.
That is all that we can deduce from Luke’s Gospel about Satan and his position and activities, but it is not the last word from Luke, because, as we noted above, he addressed another book to Theophilus, the recipient of the Gospel: namely, the Acts of the Apostles. However, Satan is not much in evidence in this second book. Even though Acts is slightly longer than the Gospel, Luke does not personally speak of Satan, and records only two references by Peter and one or two by Paul.
We have already seen that Luke reported Peter’s account to a group of Gentiles of how Jesus went about healing all who were oppressed by Devil (Acts 10.38). But earlier on, while he was still in Jerusalem, Peter made a fearsome example of a man and his wife, Ananias and Sapphira, who “cooked the books” on a donation they made to the Apostles. They claimed that they sold a piece of property for a lower amount than they actually did and kept some of the profits for themselves. Peter says to the husband,
Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was
sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” (Acts. 5.3-4)
We note that Peter first says that Satan put the idea into his heart, and then he says that Ananias himself put it into his heart. When Ananias hears these words, he falls down and dies! Later on, when Sapphira comes by, Peter confronts her: “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” When she says yes, Peter rebukes her in harsh terms, but does not implicate Satan again: “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test (peirasmos)?” She too falls down and dies (Acts 5.7-10).
Wait a minute! Who’s putting whom to the test here? Peter’s question to Sapphira surely must be classed as a peirasmos, one that should be translated as “temptation,” since she fails the test. Moreover, like her husband, she is not given a chance to repent for what must surely be regarded as a peccadillo compared to Peter’s own failures—and to the failure and fall of Judas, to whom Ananias must be compared. The only other time that Satan was said to “penetrate” anyone was in the case of Judas, whom Satan entered, and he succumbed to a much greater temptation and committed a much more severe crime. But he had the opportunity to repent, when Jesus told him at the Last Supper that he was aware that he was betraying him, and when he discussed Satan’s temptations of the other Apostles.
As for Peter himself, Jesus warned Peter that Satan was going to test him, and that he would fail three times, by denying him. Yet even this was not enough for Jesus to write Peter off. (Luke rejected the episode in Mark and Matthew in which Jesus identified Peter with Satan for trying to turn him away from his coming suffering and death.)
In his treatment of Ananias and Sapphira, Peter is acting like Satan, and he is more draconian than Satan is allowed to be, since he miraculously arranges for the instant death of the two real-estate cheaters. Or, perhaps we should say that, since Peter diagnoses
Ananias’s offense as one of lying to the Holy Spirit, and “not to us, but to God,” that it is God Himself who takes these extreme measures.
On to St. Paul. The first instance in which Paul may or may not refer to Satan occurs in his first missionary journey. He and Barnabas preach before the proconsul of Paphos, and a Jewish Magician (Magos) named Elymas bar-Jesus opposed them. Then Paul, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” denounces him roundly, calling him “son of an enemy” (huios diabolou) or “son of Devil” (huios Diabolou) and “enemy of all goodness.” The Lord will punish him now by making him blind “for a time,” he says, and immediately there falls on him “a mist and a darkness” (skotos) (Acts 13.6-11).
Elymas’s real father was named “Jesus,” to judge from his name. Who is Paul now saying his father is? Remember that we speculated above (chap. 3.4)that, since Paul always refers to Satan and never to Devil, he could have interpreted the envious diabolos who brought in Death in the Book of Wisdom as an enemy other than Satan, say, Sin. Could he have some such personified or abstract adversary in mind here for Elymas?
We noted in the same place above that even though diabolos is lacking a definite article in the genitive, it could still refer to “Devil,” the proper name. In other words, huios diabolou could mean huios tou Diabolou, “son of Devil.” So, it’s possible that Paul (or Luke reporting Paul) is referring to Devil here. But if that is what he meant, Paul would more likely have said, huios Satana or huios tou Satana, “son of Satan,” or even angelos Satana, as he refers to the “thorn in my flesh” (2.Cor. 12.7).
The second passage concerning Paul has no ambiguity about it. Luke recounts Paul telling of his conversion to King Agrippa. On the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him, and, after identifying himself and giving Paul instructions, Jesus continues in almost hymnlike fashion:
 I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—
 to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes,
 so that they may turn from Darkness (skotos) to Light (phos),
 and from the power (exousia) of Satan to God,
 so that they may receive forgiveness of sins,
 and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.
This sounds very Pauline. Lines 3 and 4 resemble the two central dualistic dichotomies in Second Corinthians:
What fellowship is there between Light and Darkness?
What agreement does Christ have with Beliar?
(2 Cor. 6.14-15)
Darkness in both cases is associated with unbelief. Let’s remember that in the case of the unbeliever Elymas he was enveloped in literal skotos.
Let us summarize what Luke has told us about Satan. Satan has been put in charge of the kingdoms of the world and of assigning its exousia or power (Luke 4). But Jesus has a vision of his seemingly imminent fall, for Jesus has given his Disciples power (exousia) over the force (dunamis) of the Enemy (Luke 10). But for the present Satan’s reign is still intact (Luke 11). Unbelievers need to be rescued from Satan’s exousia (Acts 26).
One of Satan’s main functions is as a “prover,” a “tryer of men’s souls.” He fulfills this function by testing Jesus in the wilderness, with the intention of continuing the process later (Luke 4). As part of his testing regimen, Satan makes use of disease-Spirits (Luke 13, cf. Acts 10). Satan also operates by entering into a person (Judas: Luke 22) or filling a prospective sinner’s heart (Ananias: Acts 5). Satan continues to negotiate the scope of his testing function, as when he insists upon more license to test Peter and the other Disciples, but Jesus is in on the negotiations and is able to modify the results of the testing (Luke 22).
The scene conjured up in the last-cited passage has certain similarities to the scene of Zechariah 3 in the Septuagint: the High Priest Jesus is accused by Adversary (Devil) in the Divine Court, and the
Angel of Yahweh intercedes for Jesus. In Luke 22, Satan accuses Peter and the other Disciples, asking for more leeway to make trial of their fidelity, and Jesus himself intercedes for Peter. In the Zechariah scene, the defendant (Jesus) is absolved; in Luke’s scenario, concessions are made regarding Peter, with eventual rehabilitation foreseen also for the rest of the Disciples.
But since Jesus himself is scheduled to undergo more peirasmoi, we can doubtless regard Jesus’s agonized prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane as further negotiation with God and Satan. This time we can picture the Septuagint scenes of the Book of Job. When Devil appears for the first time and proposes tests for Job, the Lord agrees, but with a condition: “Very well, I give all that he has into your hands, but do not touch him” (Job 1.12). The second time, when Devil insists on harsher tests, the Lord again agrees, with another restriction: “Very well, I deliver him over to you. But preserve his soul” (Job 2.6).
4.3 3Jack Miles, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God (New York 2001), p. 29.