“The Devil in John's Writing”
“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
The outbreak of COVID-19 has many thinking about the origin of evil. Who's to blame, ultimately, for the spread of this pandemic? The short answer is the devil, the source of all evil and death in God's world. The Bible doesn’t answer all the questions we might have concerning the devil - he appears without explanation on page 3 in the form of a serpent (Gen. 3:1ff; cf. Rev. 12:9) - but it gives us enough to go on. The writings of the Apostle John in particular shed a great deal of light on the issue. John wrote the gospel and three epsitles that bear his name as well as the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible.
First of all, John tells us something about the devil’s origin. Looking at Jesus’ statement in John 8:44 we notice that the devil “does not stand in the truth”. This seems to indicate that the devil did at one time stand in the truth but has since fallen from the truth. So, the devil is a created being that went rogue. Now, “there is no truth in him”. This absence of truth is evidence of the devil’s fallen state. The devil has been this way “since the beginning” (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8). Not, of course, since the beginning of creation but since the beginning of his fall. In other words, he is the original sinner, the very origin of evil.
John also tells us of the devil’s activity. He is evil distilled in spiritual form. From his presence in the Garden of Eden the devil’s work has been to lead humanity into doubt and suspicion toward their Creator. He is constantly malicious because he is by nature “the evil one”, a term used by Jesus (Mt. 6:13) and six times by John (Jn. 17:15; 1 Jn. 2:13, 14; 3:12; 5:18, 19). His evil takes shape in three realms: truth, love, and righteousness, the very issues that correspond to John’s tests of spiritual life in 1st John.
- First, the devil is devoid of righteousness. He has “sinned from the beginning” (1 Jn. 3:8) and tempts others to sin (Mt. 6:13). His sinful nature is so certain John can say that all those who make a practice of sinning are “of the devil” or are his offspring (cf. Gen. 3:15).
- Secondly, the devil is devoid of love. He was “a murderer from the beginning” (Jn. 8:44). So Cain killing his brother gave evidence of his spiritual heritage being “of the evil one” (1 Jn. 3:12). Likewise, the Jews who sought to kill Jesus were of their “father the devil” (Jn. 8:40-41, 44). Being defeated by His resurrection, the “destroyer” (Rev. 9:11; Heb. 2:14) now turns his attention to persecuting the children of God, the church (Rev. 12:4-6, 13-17).
- Thirdly, the devil is devoid of truth. He is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). Now that “there is no truth in him” he accuses God’s children (Rev. 12:10, Satan means adversary in Hebrew), slanders them (slander comes from Greek word diabolos), and seeks to lead them into error by the teaching of false prophets (1 Jn. 2:21-22; 4:2).
John has also written on the devil’s power. Just look around and you can see the effects of his rule. Not only can he insinuate evil thoughts and designs into the minds of people (Jn. 13:2; Lk. 22:3) so as to enter them personally (Jn. 13:27) but “the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4) is the “prince” or ruler of this world (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-2; 6:12). He rules from a place of limited authority, a “throne” of sorts (Rev. 2:13), and his dominance is so widespread that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). That is why those who have rejected Jesus are not just under the power of the devil but rather are “of the devil” because he is their father (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:10). The devil has real influence over people’s lives so that they are motivated by his evil desires (2 Tim. 2:26). Their will is to do his will.
Lastly, John has given us a word concerning the devil’s defeat. His downfall began with the arrival of the Son of God. He just couldn’t get a hold of Jesus like he could with other humans (Jn. 14:30; Mt. 4:1ff). Jesus came to face off with evil, to destroy all the devil’s work (1 Jn. 3:8). He accomplished this by His death and resurrection. Now, when believers participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the devil loses his grip on our lives. Looking forward to His death and resurrection, Jesus could say, “now” (Jn. 12:31), the “ruler of this world is judged” (Jn. 16:11) and as a result He would draw all people to Himself (Jn. 12:32).
Satan’s downfall has begun in earnest. Today, he is bound (Rev. 20:1ff; Mk. 3:27), his power is limited, and his time is running out (Rev. 12:12). For now, the devil is merely dethroned but not yet destroyed. His final defeat will take place when Jesus returns to set all things right (Rev. 20:10).
Today, though the devil still has power in this world, through faith in Jesus, the Father can protect us from the evil one (Rev. 12:11-12, 17). This is the substance of Jesus’ high priestly prayer: “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (Jn. 17:15). In fact, all those who are born of God are kept safe from the evil one so that the evil one cannot even “touch” them! (1 Jn. 5:18)
It is possible to “overcome the evil one” (1 Jn. 2:13) only through the new birth offered through Jesus who has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33). John says, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:4-5) Indeed, the faithful can overcome the devil “because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).
The devil will be definitively destroyed when our Lord returns. The serpent’s head, the very source of all the evil in the world, will be crushed once and for all (Gen. 3:15). But you and I have a part in the devil’s downfall. Through righteous living, loving our neighbor, and living in the truth, God will crush Satan under our feet (Rom. 16:20). And along with him, all the manifestations of his power (greed, disease, war, pride, etc.) will be totally eradicated by the overwhelming power of the Lord's judgment. Then the faithful can enjoy eternal life with God and one another in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21-22).