This semester, I am taking a class on the book of Revelation. It’s been a fascinating and illuminating journey as I learn the cultural context and the cultural meanings of all the visions and symbols in the book, and what John, the author, is trying to convey as his message (Inspired by God, of course).
We haven’t touched much on the futuristic aspect of Revelation and how much of it might be literal when it comes to the end times and all that. I’m not going to talk about that in this post, either.
But two particular discussions we had in the last few classes made me thoughtful.
We were talking about Revelation 12, the chapter in which John tells the story of the woman and the dragon and the story of Michael and the angels defeating the dragon, who is Satan. My professor took this opportunity to comment on Satan’s origins. Many people believe that Satan’s previous name was Lucifer, an angel, and God cast him out of heaven because a) he loved God too much and refused to bow down to humans as God’s ultimate creation, or b) that he became proud and wanted to be God’s equal.
Neither version is in the Bible, my professor said. The name Lucifer is not in the Bible. The story actually originates in a Jewish apocalypse, a book named 1 Enoch, which was written in the intertestamental period.
I confess: I had always thought that Satan used to be Lucifer and God cast him out of heaven, taking one-third of the angels with him. I don’t remember learning that at church or hearing it from anyone in particular, but now I’m rather embarassed about my ignorance.
My professor cited several Scripture references that lead people to believe this story, such as Revelation 12:9 (“And the great dragon was thrown down … to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”), Isaiah 14:12-15, in which the title “Day Star” can be translated as Lucifer, and Luke 10:17-18, in which Jesus says he saw Satan fall from heaven.
Contextually, my professor said, Revelation is talking about ultimate spiritual defeat, not some event at the beginning of history. Isaiah is actually talking about the king of Babylon, not Satan, and Jesus is also talking about spiritual defeat, not a literal event.
Now, I’m no Biblical scholar. I don’t know ancient Hebrew or Greek, and I cannot claim to understand Revelation or any of the prophetic books very well at all, let alone everything Jesus said.
But my professor’s explanation of the Scripture references made sense to me, and I started wondering why the Jewish people would give Satan an origin story at all.
After all, he is evil incarnate, isn’t he? Why would anyone want to dwell on him more than necessary?
Well, this is what occurred to me.
1 Enoch was written in the intertestamental period, approximately (like I said, I’m not a Biblical scholar). This was a period in which God was silent. He was still present, still working in the lives of his people and the events of history, but he did not speak through prophets or judges or leaders.
This would have been a period of spiritual uncertainty for a people who were so accustomed to hearing the words of God spoken through his prophets, even if they didn’t like what they heard. History rolled onward in these four hundred years, often trampling God’s people. I’m sure they wanted an explanation for their suffering, just as Christians today ask “Why?”.
If Satan is evil incarnate, he was certainly present and working against God’s people during this period. The Bible does not tell us where the serpent in the Garden of Eden came from, just that he was there. Well, God created all things, so does that mean he created the serpent, Satan, too? That’s a disturbing thought.
The Jews must have thought so. Giving Satan an origin story in which evil was his choice, defying God was his choice, removes the blame of the creation of evil from God and puts it in the hands of free will, the same thing that humans have.
So if Satan never started off on God’s side, and has always been evil, does that mean he came from God?
That’s a terrible thought. The Jews didn’t like it either, I’m sure, thus the origin story.
I believe that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and that he created everything. Better minds than mine have philosophized about the origin of evil and God’s role in that. I don’t have an answer; I just came up with a reason as to why anyone would give Satan an origin story.
The other discussion that sparked some thought for me was related to God’s incredible wrath and judgment described in Revelation. My professor has noted throughout the class that many scholars do not like Revelation and tend to try to explain it away or disregard it as part of Scripture because of the wrath. If God is love, than how can he also be so wrathful?
We are discussing the final chapters of Revelation, in which God brings justice and judgment to the wicked, those who belong to the “kingdom of the earth,” as John described them. My professor said that he sees wrath as necessary for justice. God’s people have been persecuted by the wicked, and now he is bringing justice to them by passing judgment on the wicked.
I think one reason people are so uncomfortable with the idea of God as a wrathful God, not only a God of love, is that that wrath has a target: the wicked. “But God loves everyone! He shouldn’t have wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah or the Canaanites!” people say. Well, he does love everyone. Often, his judgment is designed to bring people to repentance. But he cannot allow those who do not repent to avoid justice.
I think of it like this: Love is the beginning. Wrath is the ending.
God offers chance after chance for humanity to turn its back on evil and follow the Christ. He loves us more than we could ever imagine. But those chances are not unlimited. If humanity keeps its heart hard and refuses to accept Christ and persecutes God’s people, that does not go without consequences.
The inhabitants of the kingdom of the earth. In the context of the Bible, they are the ones who have not accepted Christ as Redeemer and Savior.
I think that those who are uncomfortable with the idea of God judging people and bringing his wrath down upon them feel that way because they don’t want to acknowledge that humans are sinful creatures; that they are sinful. God’s love is so much more attractive than his wrath because his love takes us as we are while his wrath demands repentance.
God brings judgment on those who deserve it, who have rejected him. People don’t like to think that anyone deserves judgment because that would mean admitting the sin and darkness that all humans are capable of.
God is just, however, and whether we like it or not, he will bring justice in the end times.
Remember, I’m no theologian or Bible scholar or philosopher. I’m sure people can find holes in my thought process here and pick apart my conclusions. But these two ideas needed to be written out, so that I could think them through.