Are we really supposed to believe that there is some evil spirit that goes around the world tempting people to sin? That might work in children’s church lessons, but are grownups still expected to believe in an actual devil?
Professor Jeffrey Burton Russell wrote extensively about the devil, including his book The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity. He posed the question, “What, really, is the Devil? This is comparable to the question: What, really, is art? Absolute answers to such questions are not attainable.” He went on to write, “evil has no ontological being and can therefore strictly speaking have no essence.”
Russell’s point is that the devil is a myth, simply “the personification of evil.” Throughout time people have sought to explain the existence of evil in the world, and rather than blaming whatever god they worship, they assign blame to a malevolent devil.
But if we believe the Bible is God’s inspired (and thus inerrant) word, then we cannot dismiss the devil. He is called the tempter in Matthew 4:3, the accuser in Revelation 12:10, the ruler of this world in John 14:30, the god of this world in 2 Corinthians 4:4, the prince of the power of the air in Ephesians 2:2, the father of lies in John 8:44, the evil one in 1 John 5:19, just to name a few.
We need to remember that Jesus spoke of the devil as if the devil were real. We cannot believe that Jesus is God and reject the existence of the devil; if Jesus were wrong about the devil, how can we call Him God?
In Luke 11 Jesus admitted that the devil is strong, but assured us that He is stronger. Using His characteristic wit, Jesus said, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil (v.21-22).”
That is why Jesus was able to cast demons out of people, and more importantly, why we are able to know the devil’s ultimate fate, described in Revelation 20:10.
“And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”