Within Christian circles there are often times many points of doctrine that not everyone agrees upon. With more denominations than you can shake a stick at, you can pretty much find a great diversity of thought on any particular subject in religion. But generally among Christians, there are a few universal ideas that everyone is in agreement over. The Trinity is generally not questioned, nor the divinity of Jesus Christ and his work of atonement. There is also a pretty clear consensus among those who call themselves Christian that the central figure of their faith will appear again on earth according to his promise. But in addition to these basics, there is another common point where all are in unison, and that is in the identity of Satan as the perennial enemy of God and man.
With an arsenal of scriptures in support of the traditional view of this ancient opponent of God and his creation, we understand that Satan also known as Lucifer and who we also call the Devil was once a great angel of God who catastrophically succumbed to the sin of pride. Eyeing the throne of God it is thought that he attempted a coup to overthrow the Almighty and rule heaven on his own motivated by a thirst for power. For this great crime against his Creator it is presumed that he was immediately kicked out of heaven, banished from that holy place in which sin cannot be tolerated and cast down to earth and hell below.
The details of this unfortunate debacle have been deduced from two descriptive passages from the Old Testament, one from the prophet Isaiah with an immediate application to the King of Babylon and one from the prophet Ezekiel with a direct reference to the King of Tyre. Both men committed great sins in the eyes of God and prophecies were given to announce their punishment in very colorful language to describe how they started in lofty positions only to be brought low in the end.
Isaiah’s oracle begins with a picture of the King of Tyre in an exalted place. The prophet laments, “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.”
Such poetic language seems to say at all. The morning star, which we also translate as Lucifer, the light bearer in Latin appears to have in some unimaginable way coveted the very throne of God at the highest point in heaven. As a result he was banished from the presence of God cast down to Sheol, the Hebrew underworld where he is believed to reign in the gloomy depths instead of the great heights he had hoped for.
The prophecy from Ezekiel is perhaps even more detailed, laden with more flowery language speaking first about the King of Tyre and presumably also about Lucifer. It begins by portraying the creature as God’s prized specimen saying, “You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.”
Ezekiel’s words have been interpreted by many to suggest that the great Lucifer was one of the most beautiful angels of the rank of cherub which is only second from the top tier of these celestial beings. Full of wisdom and blameless in all his ways, the author also expressed that pride led to his downfall. Great beauty conceivably led to vanity and then to a foolish attempt to usurp the role that only God can have, and so the prophet writes that he was cast down to earth and exiled from the courts of heaven above.
At least these are the traditional explanations for these famous passages from Isaiah and Ezekiel, and seemingly Jesus in the gospels confirms the soundness of this notion in one of his conversations with the disciples. After the seventy-two returned from preaching in the countryside, they remarked to Jesus how impressed they were that even demons submitted to the mention of his name. And to this Jesus replied emphatically, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy.” Perhaps we should infer from these words that Jesus as the Son of God was in fact the eyewitness to the primordial treachery that took place in the heavens. He beheld the revolt and in an instant saw the Prince of Darkness cast out from the pristine domain of God like a flash of lightning, as if to say nothing evil can remain in God’s presence for even a second.
But while these common perceptions of Satan and his rebellion and his continued state of hostility toward God and man have fit well with a number of parts of the scriptures, it must be said that they do not harmonize very well with some other passages, particularly from the Old Testament. In a book that is probably the oldest in the bible associated with a time period yet hundreds of years before Moses comes the story of Job which presents Satan in a somewhat different light than we normally think of him. The narrative begins with an introduction to the righteous man Job, a very wealthy person with a large family yet upright in all of his ways as we are told.
On one occasion the angels along with Satan presented themselves before the Lord at which point God interrogated Satan about what he was up to. Satan responded that he was roaming the earth back and forth, presumably looking for someone to devour and potentially without any good candidates, the Almighty recommended that he launch an assault on his prized servant Job. But the Lord set strict parameters by which Satan had to adhere in going after this righteous man. He would only be allowed to destroy his material possessions and his family but not lay a finger on the servant of God himself. So following the directives, Satan wiped out all that Job owned and killed off his entire family save his wife. And as it turns out, Job’s response to this disaster was noble for he gave praise to God in the midst of his grief.
After this first calamity, we are told that on another occasion Satan and the angels presented themselves before God once again, and the Lord asked another time what he was up to. When he gave his usual answer of roaming through the earth, the Most High once again suggested that Satan target the righteous servant of God as he had before, and like the last time, the Almighty gave strict guidelines by which Satan could go about his business. On this occasion, Satan was permitted to afflict Job’s health but not kill him which he was careful to abide by. And after Job was covered in painful sores, he maintained his integrity and refused to curse the name of God as he was tempted to do.
While this sketch of the Job story presents Satan in a way that we might expect, afflicting people with trouble and misery, there are nonetheless elements of the story that do not necessarily fit with our basic conception of the Devil. Certain parts of the story are apparently at odds with what we may understand about Lucifer getting kicked out of heaven and banished from the presence of the Lord. We may ask initially how it is that such a “bad to the bone” creature may even stand in the presence of God along with the great angels that surround his throne. If nothing unrighteous can exist in heaven, how can it be that Satan has access to the heavenly court even so much as to engage in a conversation with his perennial foe? On top of this we might be perplexed by more seemingly “out of character” parts of the story, for we see God portrayed as if he is instigating an attack on his own beloved servant, like throwing one of his precious lambs to the wolves. And then we must ask how it is that the great enemy of God carefully follows all of the instructions that are given to him in launching the assault on the servant of God. How is it that the implacable enemy of the Most High observes all that he is told to do and doesn’t attempt to break the rules as any foe would in trying to get the upper hand?
Perplexing questions like these that emerge from the story of Job should give us pause to reevaluate our preconceived notions about the identity of Satan. Because in this Old Testament narrative we find what we might consider an unusual cooperation between Satan and the Lord, conceivably Satan is not exactly the forsworn enemy of God that we think. It may be that in some strange way that who we have long considered the primordial enemy of God is really in fact the servant of God who has access to the presence of the Most High and is careful to obey all that he instructed to do just like all the other angels. While this concept may sound radical to our modern ears it is certainly not new as there are a number of hints of it especially in the earlier parts of the Old Testament where a more primitive conception of Satan was available. If Satan is in fact working for God in an unorthodox way, it is certainly understandable that such a role is counterintuitive to the contemporary person of faith. But comprehending the purpose and some of the details of his special job may help to sort out what is an important function in the scheme of God’s plan, and we get an idea about the nature of this job right in the beginning of the Bible in the Garden of Eden narrative.
Traditionally we have associated the serpent found in the story with Satan which is a very reasonable assumption and corroborated with other scriptures. The Apostle John in his Revelation clearly refers to Satan or the devil as that ancient serpent that leads the whole world astray. And though the association between Satan and the snake is fairly hard, as has been discussed in an earlier presentation, to the ancients this idea wasn’t necessarily evil. While we may think of the serpent in purely a negative context symbolizing those who are treacherous and duplicitous, for the people of ages gone by, the snake was more of a symbol of wisdom, a creature more to be revered than hated. And this was primarily because the serpent was associated with poison and by association cures and antidotes for a variety of health problems. The wisdom of the serpent was in that it had the secret to what was harmful and what was helpful to primitive man, and for this it was revered for its knowledge. Jesus himself affirmed the ancient sentiment toward the snake in the gospel of Matthew when sending out the twelve to heal and cast out demons charged them to be as “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”
In the story of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, this serpent is found coiled in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil attempting to persuade the man and his wife to disobey God. Far from doing the couple a disservice, we can understand the role of the serpent not with the intention to inflict harm but rather to impart wisdom to this pair of humans. And that wisdom is embedded in the Hebrew word for the snake, nachash, which not only means to hiss, whisper, and enchant, but also very importantly to “learn by experience.” His job is to make us learn the difference between good and evil through what we commonly call the “school of hard knocks.” Though not evil himself, Satan’s objective is to entice us to do evil, derailing us from the path to God by appealing to our human appetites and exploiting the weakness of our nature. Through the appeal of materialism, physical lusts, selfish interests, and a litany of other temptations, he will attempt to drive us as low as we are willing to go until we reach a point where the negative consequences we reap are sufficient to teach us a lesson that we will not easily forget. And it is in learning through the adverse experiences of life that we become truly wise to the way of right and wrong, becoming as God himself as in fact one day we will when we return to the Godhead from whom we came.
Rather than as a foe that hates us to the very core of our being, Satan should be viewed more as a boxing partner, sparring with us and ready to knock us down if we should drop our guard. He is like a skilled chess player, utilizing every piece on the board and ready to take advantage of the opponent when he slips. But his real aim is not to destroy us, but to make us perfect, a perfection that is only possible through the fiercest opposition. For the universal law of God whether in the physical realm or in the spiritual realm is that resistance builds strength. At least in the physical world we are so conditioned to this fact that we don’t realize how much our life depends on gravity and the resistance it provides. Without this constant downward force upon us, our muscles would quickly atrophy and we would become a useless pile of jelly. But the utility of resistance and struggle within nature is probably best captured in the caterpillar to butterfly metamorphosis. Without the struggle to emerge from its cocoon, the insect could never turn into a butterfly because the fight to break out is what forces fluid into the wings so that they can form. If one were to take pity on a caterpillar in the midst of its hardship and cut a hole in the cocoon to release it, he would be paying it a grave disservice for it would then irreversibly remain a mere caterpillar only to die never having flown. It is for this reason, that God has employed his loyal servant Satan in this task of opposing his creation. He actively seeks to test the mettle of our souls by arranging all sorts of difficult circumstances for mankind, for it is through hardship and temptation that man will ultimately become something great, for life that is easy and predictable does nothing to build the inner character that we need to progress on our spiritual journey.
But to do his job properly, he won’t waste his time testing us in areas where we are already strong. Rather he focuses all of his attention on our weaknesses which need to be exposed and corrected. This is where the Hebrew word for Satan comes into play, for it means “the Accuser.” Like a prosecuting attorney, his job it is to uncover the minutest flaw in our characters so that through exploitation we may suffer in that area and become strong through the lessons we acquire through that experience.
Now the idea that Satan functions as man’s personal trainer is not only veiled in the pages of the Old Testament but is to be found among the writings of the early church as well. There are a few sources for this knowledge, but the greatest support for Satan doing this job in the service of God can be found in the Clementine Homilies. A large collection of writings, the Clementine literature is supposedly attributable to Clement, bishop of Rome who recorded many discourses of the apostle Peter while he lived in Caesarea. While probably not authentic in that regard, they do however reflect the ideas and beliefs of the early Christians at that time, and in the 19th and 20th homilies, Peter is portrayed as voicing the sentiments of the early church in regard to the one we call Satan.
In one particular dialogue, Peter speaks of the Devil in the same context that we are presenting him in this discussion. The Apostle said, “It is my opinion that, even if it be evident that Satan was made by God, the Creator who made him should not be blamed; for it might perchance be found that the service he performs was an absolute necessity.” In this quote from the Clementine homilies, the early church betrays its knowledge of the one we call the Adversary and the Accuser of the Brethren. Rather than the hostile enemy of God, Peter intimates that he is his servant performing a necessary though admittedly unique role in the scheme of Creation. And while it is Satan’s job to fulfill this most important function, it must be said that this high angelic being of the order of the Seraphim takes no pleasure in his role where success is by definition failure. For any servant of God the fall of one of God’s creatures is not something to be happy about. But as the work of training the creation through the forces of resistance and opposition is absolutely necessary, this loyal servant of God carries out his assigned task with great resolve and determination.
In the next Clementine Homily, Peter is depicted speaking further on the Evil One corroborating more of the elements of the story of Job than our modern conception of the Devil. He says, “The wicked one, then, having served God blamelessly to the end of the present world, can become good by a change in his composition, since he assuredly is not of one uniform substance whose sole bent is towards sin. For not even now does he do evil, although he is evil, since he has received power to afflict lawfully.” Here again the early church expresses its belief in Satan as the faithful attendant of God acting blamelessly in his service. Like in the story of Job where Satan was authorized to launch an attack on the righteous man, the Devil is here once again understood to be acting in a lawful manner according to the strict parameters set by God. And this homily also confirms the idea that though Satan’s full objective is the working of evil through testing and temptation, he himself does no evil. Rather he is one of God’s purest angels of the highest rank wholly adverse to sin in a way beyond the comprehension of even the holiest of men.
A little further down in the same homily, Peter continues his discourse on the Evil One saying, “And thus he will be adjudged to be with the good, all the more because, having obtained a composition which rejoices in evils, through fear of God he has done nothing contrary to the decrees of the law of God.” What the apostle is reiterating here is that Satan now fully epitomizes evil by virtue of his unsavory job, but in the end when he completes his task, he will be recognized and counted among the good, just as he always has been. Though described by the apostle as evil and rejoicing in evil, such language only is employed to underscore the idea that has work is fully focused on bringing men down. Not that he truly enjoys what by definition is the quintessential “thankless job,” he performs it in obedience to the Almighty and in the words of Peter, this great angel does so in a way that is no way contrary to the decrees and law of God.
But enough of the sentiments of the early church for now! Returning again to the bible, there are more passages beside the story of Job that illustrate Satan working for God in this special role. One such narrative from the Old Testament actually depicts the interchangeability of God and his servant Satan as the two are indeed linked in their purpose of testing mankind. Two versions of the same story are found in different books, one in the Chronicles and one in Samuel and tell almost the same exact story except for a few curious details.
In the Chronicles rendition we are told that Satan rose up against Israel and attempted to incite King David to count all of his fighting men, initiating a census of all Israel. While at first glance taking a tally of the troops wouldn’t seem like a bad thing to do, the temptation to do so was subtle and David’s servants realizing it urged him not to do it. By provoking David to make a count of his men, Satan was in fact encouraging the king to put his confidence in the size of his army rather than in God himself who had been supporting him all along. Like a wealthy man putting his security in his own riches, the idea of numbering the fighting men was equally abhorrent to God and unfortunately David succumbed to this temptation and was severely punished for it.
While this version of the story is more or less complete, the reading found in Samuel has a few other details and variations that are pertinent to this topic. Rather than the opening verse of the narrative indicating that Satan aroused David to do this sinful act, the passage says that the Lord himself incited David to count his men. At first pass we may infer that this is a mistake, but in reality the two renditions of the story are in agreement, for Satan acts as the representative of God in the work that he does. The messenger is equated with the one who sent him, so that it is in fact correct to say that both God and Satan were involved in this work of testing the great King David. While God is not in the habit of tempting directly, he delegates this job to the Angel of Darkness to carry it out in his name, but nonetheless whatever Satan does is with the full authorization and consent of the Almighty who employs him in that job.
The idea of this collaboration is seen in a number of passages, particularly in the Old Testament but to a certain degree also in the New. In the story of King Ahab, a man who was manipulated by his impious wife is the record of a meeting in the heavenly courts to mete out judgment against the unfaithful king. It was decreed by the Most High that Ahab should die as a punishment, and the clandestine conference around the throne of God involved coordinating an effort to lead Ahab to his demise. The Almighty looking for volunteers asked among the angels present who would be willing to entice the king into a battle where he should die. A few present at this heavenly gathering offered suggestions until one chimed in volunteering to be a lying spirit in the mouths of all Ahab’s prophets. This angel of darkness proposed to put a false message on the tongues of Ahab’s religious men to urge the king to enter the battle with the assurance that he would win. Satisfied that this plan would lure Ahab to his death, the Lord told the one who suggested this deception to go and do it.
In this narrative we once again see the behind the scenes secret talks that happen in the heavenly court of God in which the affairs of men are planned out with much care and deliberation. Like in the story of Job in which one member of the celestial court was charged with the job of testing the righteous man on earth, in this account we have the record of God soliciting one of his servants to dupe Ahab in a way that would lead to his departure from the land of the living. And just as God authorized terrible calamities upon Job through the hand of his loyal servant, in this case he sanctioned outright deception to achieve his purpose in the life of a wayward king. And with his full approval the angelic servant of God went forth to carry out the ordinance.
Though not revealing any secret dialogue in the heavenly throne room, a similar scenario is depicted in Deuteronomy through the words of Moses. Warning against false prophets who would come among the Israelites after his demise, he cautioned the people of God, “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and all your soul.” In this portent of the prophet Moses, we have another strong indication that ultimately God himself is behind the potential deception that would befall Israel. Through a crafty deception in which the people might be enticed to follow other gods through a miraculous sign, the Lord is said to be interested in testing the people to see if they were prepared to follow God with their whole heart. Such work of deception ultimately authorized by God is also envisioned in the words of Paul who in the epistle to the Thessalonians spoke of The Lord sending people a powerful delusion so that they will believe a lie.
But again, all of these passages far from implicating God in any wrongdoing simply suggest that part of his purpose in creation is to test mankind in various ways. And it is through such testing that men are destined to become stronger and worthy to climb the ladder into his very presence. The testing involves not only outright deception leading one toward evil but also the infliction of pain and suffering which one needs to learn how to carry to acquire various virtues, especially patience. It is the work of Satan to provide this unique service to God to train his people in the way of godliness and truth through the school of trial and hard knocks.
As the representative of God, it is the Evil One’s mission to chastise the servants of God to refine them and ultimately lead them toward correction through negative experiences. The apostle Paul attested to this reality in the second letter to the Corinthians where he lamented, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” In this case, Satan performed the function of a buffeting force, a heavy weight upon him that could ultimately result in making him bitter or better. If we pass such a test it will have done a hidden work in us such as destroying pride and conceit, but if we fail it will lead us lower to a place of hardness and anger and we may need to suffer a good deal more before learning the error of our ways.
It is Satan in the role of the chastiser and corrections officer that is apparent in more scriptures than just this one from the hand of Paul. In the first letter to the Corinthians the apostle gives instructions regarding a man who had been sleeping with his father’s wife, presumably his stepmother. Paul ordered the members of the church at Corinth to “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature might be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” In this way the Evil One is understood to be the vehicle by which man comes to recognize his folly through the hard blows that are inflicted on him. Once the immoral behavior is purged through such brutal chastisement, the wayward brother may get back on the road toward salvation as indeed all eventually must in their own time. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he gives similar advice concerning those who had made “shipwreck of their faith.” Speaking of two unruly members of the church, Hymenaeus and Alexander, he indicates that he handed them over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
Returning to the Old Testament, in the book of Samuel we see similar concepts in the relationship between Saul and David. When the former was filled with jealousy for the latter when David was having one military victory after another, the narrative says that “an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul.” Unfortunately this chastisement did not improve Saul’s attitude toward David, and ultimately death took Saul away to allow David to assume the kingship. That God sends evil spirits or what are construed as evil spirits also appears a little earlier in the scriptures in the story of the Judges. We have the record of Abimelech, the son of Gideon acting treacherously after the death of his father when seeking to be a sole ruler murdered all seventy of his brothers. Abimelech then proceeded to reign over the people of the city of Shechem when after three years God sent an evil spirit to stir up animosity among the people toward their king. And it is recorded that this was done to avenge the murder of Abimelech’s brothers which we ultimately understand to be for the purpose of teaching the man a lesson for his great crime.
Now up until this point, we have been referring to Satan almost as if he were acting alone in this great endeavor to test God’s creation. But even for a great Seraph like himself that would be an impossible task to say the least. No one would be surprised to learn that the famous Accuser of man has a whole army of helpers to carry out this dark mission. Historically, Christian tradition has assumed that about 1/3 of the angels of heaven are employed in Satan’s service. Some medieval clerics went as far as to give an estimate of how many this should be, and the bishop of Tusculum calculated that a little over 133 million angels rebelled with Lucifer in the primordial uprising while more than 266 million angels remained faithful during the failed coup. While these numbers are interesting, they are nonetheless staggeringly low, for the angelic hierarchy dwarfs even the current human population on earth.
But aside from the quantitative estimates of those who belong to the forces of darkness and those who belong to the forces of light, the actual ratio between those angels who work evil and those who do good is in fact about 1:2. Christian theologians have properly understood the proportion based on the words of John in the Apocalypse where the apostle using metaphorical language describes the great red dragon sweeping a third of the stars out of the sky and flinging them to earth. The dragon and the serpent have both been equated with Satan as we have seen, but the stars which introduce a new symbolic element to this discussion are correctly interpreted as referring to angels. Stars are mentioned in a number of contexts within the bible, but one such close connection to angels appears in the book of Job where at the end of the story God reprimands the man for his erroneous assessment of his condition. In that discourse, the Lord reminisced about the creation of the earth and spoke about the morning stars singing together and all the angels shouting for joy. In poetic language the innumerable stars of the sky were employed as a representation of the myriad angels that inhabit the heavens.
While 1/3 of the angels serve in the dark hierarchy and the other 2/3 function in the hierarchy of light, of course individual angels did not end up in their respective ranks based on any ancient rebellion that might have taken place. Rather those who serve in each army have been assigned to their post by God according to what he considers best for the angel but also for humanity that is directly influenced by both forces on a continual basis.
In fact just about everything that takes place on earth is a reflection of the struggle between the angels of light and the angels of darkness who are in constant competition with each other to advance their respective agendas in the world. This war in heavenly places has been envisioned through both direct and indirect references in the bible, and we probably find the most straightforward allusion to it by the apostle John in his Revelation. Shortly after mentioning about the dragon sweeping 1/3 of the stars out of the sky, John says, “There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” What is described in this passage is the conflict between the captain of the forces of light who is Michael, one of the most powerful of the angels and Satan the leader of the dark forces, also a very great angel. That Satan and his angels were said to have lost their place in heaven is just a metaphorical way of saying that the angels of darkness happened to lose the particular battle that is being described, one of many that is constantly being waged in the heavenlies. Sometimes the side of good prevails and sometimes the side of evil dominates, but ultimately no one is kicked out of heaven for they are all servants of God just working on opposite sides of the fence.
In the Old Testament the continuous battle is cited among other places in the Book of Judges. In the midst of Deborah’s song of victory over the Canaanite oppressors of Israel, she alludes to the struggle in the heavenlies the outcome of which had a direct bearing on Israel’s overthrow of her enemy. In her celebration tune she revels in the destruction of Sisera, the captain of the Canaanites with whom she engaged in battle. She sang, “Kings came, they fought; the kings of Canaan fought at Taanach by the waters of Megiddo, but they carried off no silver, no plunder. From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera.” In the latter part of this verse is captured the battle in the heavens among the stars which we understand to comprise the angels of light and the angels of darkness. In this case the hierarchy of good got the upper hand so that Israel was able to defeat her enemy.
Paul well understood that what transpires here on earth is directly related to what is happening in the celestial spheres, for he spoke about it in his letter to the Ephesians. He reminded the flock that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Paul is emphasizing to the local church that the deciding factor in human affairs has not as much to do with men as it does with the angelic armies who are doing battle in the heavenly realms to chart out the course of history.
But it would be naïve of us to presume that men are simply pawns on a chessboard being moved from place to place by two great opponents. Men are not mere shells being tossed to and fro by waves beating on the seashore. Rather humanity has the gift of free will that is nonetheless under the influence of two contending powers. But it must be emphasized that these opposing forces are both ultimately interested in the spiritual progress of man, one side in a direct way and the other in an indirect backhanded manner. It is the objective of both angelic armies to train each man to learn the lessons of human experience and pass to higher realms on the road back to God. One group of angels does so by offering men constant encouragement and cheering them on along the path. The other group of angels provides the opposite effect by presenting fierce opposition and resistance attempting to push men backward on the road to God if they prove themselves too weak to hold their ground. Man is then an athlete running a hard race with two trainers, one measuring his stride beside him and the other trotting behind giving him advice, wise counsel, and if necessary admonition
That each person has two trainers is a concept that we also find in the writings of the early church. In particular the Shepherd of Hermas, an apocalyptic work that was originally included in the earliest canon of scripture makes mention of it. In a section in which a mortal was being instructed by a higher being, the former was told, “Understand first of all that which belongs to faith. There are two angels with man; one of righteousness, the other of iniquity.” Perhaps the old caricature of two angels on our shoulders whispering in opposite ears is closer to reality than we think, but what is for most a new idea is the notion that both angels are doing man a service though each uses a very different approach to help us on our way.
Now the perennial battle between the two angelic armies is not just unique to the Jewish and the Christian scriptures. We find some knowledge of the age old conflict in the mythology of various peoples including both the Greeks and Scandinavians that we have considered on an earlier occasion. For the Mediterranean people, the conflict was between one set of gods and another. In their story of origins, the Greeks conceived that in the beginning the earth was fertilized by the sky and gave birth to twelve titans or giants whom we could call the elder gods. One of these was Cronus, and as the craftiest of the bunch he castrated his father and became the ruler of the clan of elder gods. Fearing that any children he had would also betray him, every time his wife gave birth, he would snatch the child up and eat it. His wife growing tired of this hid one child named Zeus from his notice. Eventually when Zeus grew up, he fed his father some food that caused him to vomit and up came all the other children that he had eaten. Zeus and his siblings proceeded to challenge his father for the kingships of the gods and being victorious, he banished Cronus and all the Titans to Tartarus to be imprisoned in that wretched place. So it came to pass that the younger gods took power from the older gods defeating the giants in a momentous war.
Not unlike their Mediterranean counterparts, the Scandinavians also envisioned a class of older gods giving birth to a class of younger ones, though in the Norse tradition, the older ones do not get permanently exiled. Rather the older and the younger gods exist in continual opposition to each other. According to the myths, the race of giants appeared first when the land of ice and the land of heat came into contact with each other. The first giant Ymir was formed through this collision and proceeded to sire the entire race of giants. At the time the first giant appeared, a primordial cow was also created, and Ymir drank milk from her udder. One day the cow found a salt stone and began to lick it, and after three days the first god came forth and went on to sire a race of gods. Like the Greeks, problems soon arose between the elder and younger gods when the grandchildren of the first Norse god killed the giant Ymir.
For the Scandinavians, the older gods or the giants were attributed with hideous appearances - claws, fangs, and deformed features, apart from a generally hideous size. Some of them even had many heads or an overall non-human shape. Though when these giants were named and more closely described in the Norse literature, they were often given the opposite characteristics and were cast as venerable old beings with much wisdom from ages past. In this Germanic mythology, the giants are expected to launch an epic attack on the gods in a great war to take place in the future when they will burn the world with fire.
Apparently even the Hindus of India share a similar theme to these cultures in the West, for in some of their older writings there is a clan of gods and a clan of anti-gods who are the offspring of a primordial being. Like the other civilizations, the Indians considered the anti-gods to be the older and gods to be the younger, and both groups are seen to be engaged in a continual struggle with each other for the dominion of the world.
It appears as if a common theme between all three peoples is the idea that an ancient rivalry existed from the beginning of time between an order of gods and anti-gods, the latter which may have even been a little older than the former. Though not really strongly indicated in the Indian tradition, the Norse depicted the anti-gods as grotesque and hideous to look at which may be an allusion to the notion that the forces of darkness propagate evil. That they were imagined as giants by both the Greeks and Scandinavians is probably also an indication that this group was considered intimidating, a concept that was also present in the ancient Hebrew writings as well in which the giant was regarded as a primitive symbol for an enemy. But what is particularly interesting about the Norse description of the giants is that collectively and presumably from far away they appeared ugly and menacing, but up close they were described in just the opposite way apparently with benevolent qualities and wisdom. And this sounds like it supports the biblical scenario in conjunction with the ideas conveyed in the Clementine homilies. On the outside the dark angels appear evil and full of hate but in reality they are good and wise beings beyond our comprehension performing a job that is equally beyond our understanding. It is only when the forces of darkness are seen up close and in truth that they can be known as the friends and servants of God and indeed that is how the Almighty sees them, for he knows them as they really are.
Now while we may see some familiar elements in these various mythologies that corroborate a basic outline of the age old conflict between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, it must be said that the modern understanding of this subject as it now dominates Christianity and Judaism can be traced to another ancient culture. The religion of Persia in pre-Christian times had a detailed conception of the war between good and evil, one that has spilled over into all three of the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam many centuries ago.
In that belief system, there were two gods in the very beginning, Ormazd the eternally wise and good lord and Ahriman the ignorant lord of evil. When the good god began creating, the evil god got scared and declared war on him and his creation. Because the evil Ahriman was attempting to interfere with Ormazd’s creation activity, the good god spoke a sacred verse (perhaps like an exorcism) which forced the evil god into hell for a time. This allowed Ormazd to finish his work unhindered by his enemy.
The wise and benevolent god proceeded to fashion angelic servants for himself that would serve both as messengers and warriors to defend all things good. But when the evil god was released from hell, he countered this move and made evil angels whose job it would later be to make life difficult for mankind.
A little similar to the Scandinavian story, the Persians conceived that Ormazd initially made a man and an ox while Ahriman was still incarcerated in the underworld. These two beings knew peace for 30 years until the evil god came forth from hell and began to create disease and pests like flies and mosquitoes to annoy and harm these first mortal beings. The evil god ultimately succeeded in killing both the ox and the man, but humanity subsequently emerged from the body of the man. A small plant with a male and female shoot grew from his sperm which then turned into a tree whose fruit was the 10 races of mankind. The tree split in two, the male half becoming a man and the female half becoming his wife.
Ormazd the good god loved these two people and provided everything for them without them having to work for it. But naturally the evil god Ahriman hated the couple and attempted to deceive and corrupt them. Eventually the pair started to believe that Ahriman had created them and not the benevolent Ormazd, and their acceptance of this lie was the first sin. It was then that Ormazd came to earth and informed the man and his wife that as a result of their folly they would have to work for their own food and would be required to offer praise and sacrifice to him in order to secure protection from Ahriman who would otherwise seek to destroy them.
Despite the man and woman’s failure, Ormazd still loved the human race and wanted it to prosper. He decreed that good would ultimately triumph, but in order to achieve this it was necessary for the human race to help fight and defeat his enemy Ahriman. Man then became the point of conflict between these two archenemies with sin marking the weakening of Ormazd and the strengthening of Ahriman.
The Persian Zoroaster and the founder of the religion that bears his name further developed these ideas in the 6th century B.C. teaching that man was the battleground between two ancient rivals. In his theology, man had one life to live to decide whether he would choose to do good and side with the benevolent Ormazd or choose evil and join the forces of Ahriman. If a man followed the good god at the end of his life he could expect to inherit eternal bliss whereas the opposite was true for those who walked in the steps of the evil god. At the end of life each soul would be judged and those who did more good over evil would get heaven while those who did more evil than good would receive hell for all eternity.
But irrespective of the choices of men during their lifetimes, in the end Ormazd was expected to win the final battle at the end of the world when the good angels would melt the mountains to flow as a molten river over the earth. All of the dead would then be resurrected in their physical bodies and be required to pass through the fiery river. For the righteous this molten stream would only feel like warm milk to them leaving them unscathed, but the wicked would be burned up in the intense heat while the river carried them down to hell where the last remnants of evil would be purged. Then in a world cleansed of wickedness, Ormazd’s followers newly raised from the dead would enjoy his new Creation forever.
If the Persian synopsis sounds familiar to the Christian ear it is not a coincidence, for the influence of this ideology also known as Zoroastrianism has been great on the Judeo-Christian world. Starting with the time of the Jewish exile to Babylon and the couple centuries that followed it in which the Israelites were under Persian domination, the religion of Zoroaster began to blend in with the more ancient Jewish ideas that have been outlined in these discussions. If Satan was originally understood by our Jewish predecessors as the servant of God employed in the special job of testing the creation, it wasn’t long after extensive Persian contact that the Prince of Darkness became reinterpreted like Ahriman as the ancient enemy of God in constant struggle with him from the beginning.
On top of this, other ancient biblical truths became obscured through the Persian philosophy which denied reincarnation and affirmed that man had only one life to choose between good and evil. Additionally the Persian religion reshaped the idea of resurrection to imply a physical rising of the body rather than a spiritual rising to higher planes of existence beyond mortal life. The later offshoots of Zoroastrianism including some of the Gnostic sects and Manichaeism, the original religion of the great St. Augustine came to ensure that Christianity would lose these ideas as well as other aspects of the wisdom that was originally in the Jewish tradition and other mythologies of the ancient world. But while these great nuggets of truth have been forgotten for nearly two millennia in the West, the time has come for them to resurface, for many souls are in need of these truths to take the next step in their spiritual journeys. It is for this reason that such information is once again coming out into the open in preparation for the soon return of Jesus Christ who will build on these ancient ideas when he brings with him a higher revelation of the truth to a humanity that is even now thirsting for more.