Luke 10.17-20

 

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:

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

 

                4Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, AB, 2 vols. (1981-85), 2:856-64.