6. Satan as God’s ServantRelated Media
Though Scripture teaches that Satan is an enemy of God and God’s people, it also paradoxically teaches that Satan is God’s servant—serving God’s purposes in the world. In God’s sovereignty, he uses Satan to demonstrate his glory and purify his people. This is true of evil people and sin in general. Romans 9:17-18 and 22 says this about Pharaoh and rebellious people in general:
For the scripture says to Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may demonstrate my power in you, and that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then, God has mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy, and he hardens whom he chooses to harden. … But what if God, willing to demonstrate his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath prepared for destruction?
God was extremely patient with Pharaoh as he continued to enslave Israel and rebel against God, and yet, through Pharaoh’s continued rebellion, God made his power and wrath known by eventually destroying Pharaoh and the Egyptian army. Likewise, God will also destroy Satan, but in the meantime, Satan serves a special purpose in God’s plan. God is demonstrating aspects of his character through his response to Satan, demons, and evil people. Like a diamond against a black cloth, God’s character is brilliantly displayed against the “objects of wrath prepared for destruction” (Rom 9:22).
In what ways do we see Satan serving God’s purposes throughout Scripture? In 1 Corinthians 5:5, a man was having an incestuous relationship with his father’s wife, and Paul counseled the church to hand the man over to Satan. He says, “turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Apparently, by kicking this man out of the church, it allowed Satan to tempt and attack him physically (the destruction of the flesh), and through him being attacked, the hope was that the man would turn back to God so his “spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Likewise, Hymenaeus and Alexander were both handed over to Satan (1 Tim 1:20). With each of these believers, God used Satan to play a role in church discipline—to help bring these men to repentance. No doubt, God uses Satan in the same way today when church discipline is implemented or simply when believers are walking in rebellion towards God (whether the church disciplines it or not).
Also, with Paul, God allowed him to have a demonic thorn in the flesh to keep him from becoming prideful. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul said,
… even because of the extraordinary character of the revelations. Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me—so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.
Since the messenger of Satan was “in the flesh,” most believe this demonic attack manifested as some type of physical disease (possibly blindness, cf. Acts 9:8-9, Gal 4:15). With that said, God used this demonic attack for Paul’s good. It drew him to the Lord in prayer. It made him weak so God could empower him for further good works, and it kept him from pride. Since all believers have the promise that God is using all things for their good (Rom 8:28), we can trust that God does the same for us when attacked by the devil. God uses Satan to help believers become sanctified—keeping them from various sins like pride and humbling them so they can be empowered by the Lord.
Evidence for God controlling Satan and using him for higher purposes is not just found in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament. In the oldest book of the Bible, Job, God gave Satan permission to test a faithful man named Job, and with each test, God established the limits for his purposes. Job 1:12 says, “So the Lord said to Satan, ‘All right then, everything he has is in your power. Only do not extend your hand against the man himself!’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.” Likewise, Job 2:6 says, “So the Lord said to Satan, ‘All right, he is in your power; only preserve his life.’” God’s purposes for allowing Satan to tempt Job was to prove that Job’s faith was genuine (Job 1:8-12, 2:3-6), to reveal himself to Job in a greater way (Job 38-41), and to bless him abundantly (Job 42).
In Job’s case, God set the limits on Satan’s attack, and no doubt, God does the same today. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul said,
No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.
God is in control of Satan, demons, and temptation in general—using them for his purposes, including to help test and mature his saints (cf. Jam 1:2-4, Rom 5:3-4).
In addition, in the Old Testament, God used a demon to afflict Saul when he was in sin, no doubt, with the hope that he would repent. First Samuel 16:14 says, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” Furthermore, God allowed a lying spirit (possibly Satan) to tempt Ahab so he could meet his destruction. First Kings 22:19-23 says,
Micaiah said, “That being the case, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, with all the heavenly assembly standing on his right and on his left. The Lord said, ‘Who will deceive Ahab, so he will attack Ramoth Gilead and die there?’ One said this and another that. Then a spirit stepped forward and stood before the Lord. He said, ‘I will deceive him.’ The Lord asked him, ‘How?’ He replied, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets.’ The Lord said, ‘Deceive and overpower him. Go out and do as you have proposed.’ So now, look, the Lord has placed a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours; but the Lord has decreed disaster for you.”
All of these scenarios show Satan and his demons as under God’s control. There is a sense of mystery with this, but also a sense of comfort. Satan is not in control. Demons are not in control and neither are evil people. God is. Satan is not equal to God. He is a creature. God is the Creator, and apart from Christ holding all things together, Satan and his demons cannot exist (Col 1:17). John MacArthur summarizes the truth of Satan being a servant of God this way:
The Bible portrays Satan as an implacable enemy of God, whose designs on humanity are malicious; however, it does not represent Satan as God’s equal or as one who acts independently of divine control. In the prologue of Job, the oldest text that speaks of … Satan … he is clearly pictured as one who is subordinate to God and who operates only within the parameters that God sets for him.… This basic notion that Satan is under divine control appears repeatedly. This motif may stand in a certain degree of tension with the conception of Satan as a hostile force, but it is a persistent theme in the biblical record. Satan is an enemy of God, but he is also a servant of God.1
In some mysterious way, God uses Satan to show God’s glory—allowing an opportunity for God to demonstrate his extreme patience, wrath, and power. God also uses Satan for the good of his saints—bringing discipline to help them repent, protecting them from sins like pride, and to weaken them so God can display his power through them. Though an enemy, Satan is also God’s servant.
- What stood out most in the reading and why?
- In what ways is Satan displayed as God’s servant in Scripture?
- Why did God not destroy Satan after his fall but instead choose to use him?
- What applications can we take from the fact that God is in control of Satan?
- What other questions did you have from the reading?
Copyright © 2021 Gregory Brown
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1 MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R. (Eds.). (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (p. 699). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Related Topics: Satanology