The Problem with Pitchforks and Red Satin Jumpsuits
Take a trip with me back to the summer of 1985. “We Are the World” was heard about sixty times a day on the radio. New Coke, after a dismal three-month debut, was about to be shelved for good to make room for Coca-Cola Classic. And Marty McFly desperately needed 1.21 gigawatts to power his DeLorean’s flux capacitor to get “back to the future.” It was also the year that I started wondering about Satan.
That summer my parents got cable television, and my brother and I began sneaking downstairs every night to experience the ado- lescent thrill of being scared to death. Every night a deranged serial killer, an evil spirit with a creepy name like “incubus” or “poltergeist,” or an eerily humanlike robot from some other time or dimension was rampaging through modern suburbia. Andy and I would mock the movies as they unfolded their gory narratives on our living room Zenith. We were cool—just watching this stuff for fun. Well, maybe my brother was; I was transfixed by the terror. The Freddies and Jasons were tolerable; the robots and aliens were laughable; but the spirits and supernatural villains made me . . . uncomfortable.
During that same season, my good friend Matt was sharing the radical news of the gospel with me, and in the summer of 1985 I was still resisting the message. The thought that a good kid who usually listened to his parents (except for sneaking downstairs to watch horror flicks) could die and go to hell for not believing in Jesus seemed ridiculous to me. But God was working on my heart.
It would be over a year from that summer before I surrendered my life in faith to Christ, but God was preparing me. And my infatuation with evil spirits, demons, and incubuses (or was it incubi?) was to become one more link in the chain leading to my conversion. Late at night, after I checked under the bed and deep in the closet, I would lay in bed asking a lot of questions. Is there a devil? If he’s a spirit, how can anyone be safe from him? What if he targeted me? What could he do? Could I stop him? How could I stop him? What if I can’t stop him?
A lot has changed in my life since that summer. I have now been captivated with Jesus Christ as my first love, my heart’s great- est treasure, for twenty-five years. And I have been a pastor for four- teen years—not quite a veteran, but seasoned enough to know a thing or two about the “spirit realm.” Yet I want to start this book wearing a different hat (eventually, I’ll put my pastor’s cap on, I’m sure): a father’s hat.
My wonderful wife, Lisa, and I have four great kids: two girls and two boys. Our second child, Benjamin, is a sensitive soul. He cares about animals, friends, even his siblings! He feels things deeply, and sometimes that comes out in his dreams. One of the greatest privileges I have is to be his snuggler when he climbs in between his mother and me after a bad dream. Some of his dreams are typical—hungry sharks, roaring lions, even being lost in a busy crowd. But a few of them are . . . well, strange.
Occasionally Ben tells me about a shadow, a voice, or a dark figure. In no way am I suggesting that all of these dreams are manifestations of satanic power; but I’m not prepared to say the opposite either. The realm of angels and demons is a mysterious territory for us humans (even though many televangelists seem to disagree). So rather than recalling each one of my son’s nightmares, seeking to analyze whether there was actually a demon lurking in the shadows, I’d rather ask a more important question: What do I tell my son when he’s clinging to me under the blankets in the wee hours of the morning?
Should I pull him close to my chest and say, “Benjamin—yes—Satan may be hiding under your bed, but just make sure to say your prayers”?
Or how about, “Now listen, Ben. Satan is a monster who wants to hurt you, but be a good soldier, go back to bed, and remember the verse I talked about”?
And if he’s still scared, maybe I should suggest that we go into his room and together we will cast out the demons as a father and son activity, sort of like a three-legged race, but this time it is our determination to wipe out the guy in the red satin jumpsuit that ties us together.
The Haze of Hollywood
All of these responses assume something—that Satan is a monster, not much different than the Freddies and Jasons that my brother and I grew up watching on our living room television.
One of the reasons I am writing this book is my concern that pop culture has shaped our view of Satan more than the Bible has. Hollywood has won the PR war in representing Satan. They’ve made him the ultimate horror movie villain, an amalgamation of every mad scientist, serial killer, and monster we’ve ever seen on the big screen. Sadly, sometimes a “Christian” song or book struts on the scene with a very similar-looking Satan. And many Christians assume they are getting the Bible’s straight talk on Satan (after all, it was purchased at a Christian bookstore!), when they are really just getting a Hollywood devil with a little “Christian” flavor drizzled on top.
As with any caricature, there is a strand of truth in this portrait, but a thin strand indeed. There are some frightening portrayals of Satan in Scripture, as we will consider in chapter 2. But even these differ radically from the “when is the killer going to jump out from behind the door” scenes so common in
Hollywood’s portrayal of Satan. Movies like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and Paranormal Activity have given us a Satan whose deep voice and red eyes make us cower in our seats or hide under the covers, but they bear no resemblance to the Bible’s description of our ancient enemy. Perhaps this is why some find it so difficult to say that they believe in Satan when incredulous people ask about his existence. The folks asking have seen the same movies, and they just can’t believe that we cannot discern the difference between Hol- lywood and real life.
But forget Hollywood. What does Jesus say about the Devil?
Jesus Doesn’t Blush When He Talks About Satan
Consider the following statements Jesus makes about the Devil:
“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.” (Matthew 13:19)
“And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:26)
And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)
The Savior speaks of Satan’s reality in the same matter-of-fact way that He talks about faith, repentance, love, marriage, adultery, divorce, money, prayer, and fasting. Apparently Jesus did not think that acknowledging the very real presence of Satan would ruin His credibility. The Son of God knew who the Devil truly is, and He was not shy about calling him out. Perhaps the most striking example of this is found in John 10:10!
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
This is a remarkable passage. Not only does Jesus leave no doubt concerning the Devil’s existence, but He actually uses Satan’s character as a contrast to His own!1 Just as a jeweler lays a precious diamond on a piece of black velvet, so Jesus draws our attention to His glorious character by setting it against the dark backdrop of Satan’s despicable nature.
So if the Lord himself wants us to contemplate just who He is in contrast with Satan,2 then I say, “Let’s do it!”
Living Free In Enemy Territory—Not Just A Title
And so back to my original question: What do I tell my son about Satan? When my son snuggles with me under our comforter in the wee hours of the morning, I don’t want to reinforce some silly picture that a Hollywood filmmaker has concocted to entice a thrill-seeking teenager. Nor do I want my son to be more preoccupied with Satan’s glitz than with the Savior’s grace. What I want is for my son to under- stand who Satan is in relation to Jesus so that he can drift back to sleep in peace, knowing that the Devil is a defeated foe.
And make no mistake—the Bible makes it crystal clear that Jesus has defeated our ancient enemy. Consider the following passages:
And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:23–24)
“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” (John 12:31)
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)
But we will never appreciate the Satan-crushing work of Jesus if we do not understand who Satan really is. If he is some gruesome serial killer or special-effects monster, then Jesus’ victory will look less glorious than it truly is. If Satan’s chief role in the world is to make us scared of things that go bump in the night, then the trans- forming realities of the cross and the empty tomb will seem little better than a child’s night-light that keeps the bogeyman away.
Do you want to understand the fullness of Jesus’ victory over Satan? Do you want to experience the truth of the power that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4)? If you do, and I pray that you do, the only way forward is to properly understand who Satan is and what Satan does.
1. Not all commentators agree that Jesus is referring to Satan in this passage. Some see merely a contrast between the idea of a thief and the idea of a shepherd. I subscribe to A. W. Pink’s argument that “it will be observed that Christ here uses the singular number. In verse 8 He had spoken of ‘thieves and robbers’ when referring to all who had come before Him; but here in verse 10 He has some particular individual in view.” But even those who don’t think Jesus is necessarily describing Satan in this passage should be able to see this passage as applicable to the Devil’s nature, since earlier in John’s gospel Jesus describes him as “‘a mur- derer from the beginning, and [who] has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies’” (John 8:44).
2. In chapter 11 we will revel in this kind of contemplation. By contrasting the King of Glory with the Father of Lies, my hope is that you will experience a renewed love and allegiance for Jesus as your greatest treasure.
Taken from Living Free in Enemy Territory, © 2011 by Greg Dutcher. Used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Box 3566, Grand Rapids MI 4950l. All rights reserved
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