Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Heritage Protestant Reformed Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Previous article in this series: October 15, 2022, p. 43.

May 2, 2011 was the day U.S. SEAL Team Six killed the murderer of thousands, Osama bin Laden. The raid was conducted in a compound in Pakistan in the dark. Using night-vision goggles, the SEALS made their way to the third floor, where they found bin Laden in a bedroom. The rest is history.

The American public hears much about the raid itself, being a defining moment in U.S. military history. But what people are not always aware of is the knowledge and planning that were required before ever carrying out the mission. Was bin Laden even in this compound in Pakistan? What was the layout of this compound? Who might be in the area when it was raided? What were bin Laden’s distinguishing facial features, so that he would not be confused with someone else? I imagine that the message from higher command in preparation for the raid was, “Know…the…enemy!”

How much more must we know our enemy, Satan! He’s a murderer, watching to ruin the church and every member of it, and by his wicked stratagems to destroy all. He’s a lion, seeking whom he may devour. Against him we must fight. We are called to do so by God. But we must not enter the battle without knowledge. Know the enemy!

In the last article, we established the fact that we are in a spiritual warfare and that we have enemies. In future articles, we will address our spiritual battle particularly against Satan. But before we arrive at those articles concerning our battle against Satan, we should know something about him. What is his identity? His background? His purpose? His tactics? To find out, let’s go to our warfare manual, the Bible, and to the confessions that summarize it.

Knowing the enemy

Identity: The world trivializes Satan when it portrays him as a pitchfork-wielding, angry red dragon, or when it speaks of him and his demons merely in terms of haunting homes and making scary noises in the night. We must look past the cartoons and cut through the sensational to see his true and full identity.

Satan is a wicked spiritual being who is an enemy of God, the church, and every good thing. Satan is a fallen angel who is a murderer. This is language borrowed from our Belgic Confession, Article 12. Read that article in its entirety. This reprobate, depraved spiritual being is invisible, which means warfare against him is not like fighting against flesh and blood. Though he is invisible, he is real. He also has names. Among the many names he has, the most familiar are “Devil” (slanderer) and “Satan” (adversary), telling us already something about who he is and what he is about.

Satan has a whole army of devils or demons at his command. Unseen, but a reality, these fallen, depraved angels form a swarming host to assist their commander- in-chief in his devilish purposes. Ephesians 6:12 indicates that there is a certain classification to this reprobate host: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities [rulers], against powers [authorities], against the rulers of the darkness of this world [world powers of the darkness of this world], against spiritual wickedness in high places [spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly realms].” A powerful army this is, and one to take very seriously!


The Evil One has a history. In the beginning, God created, and all that God created was good. Included in this good creation of God was the innumerable company of angels. The one whom we now identify as Satan, was originally a good angel, quite possibly the head of the angelic realm. But he fell. When, exactly, we cannot tell. The angel’s name was Lucifer, and his sin against God was pride (Is. 14). In his pride, he rebelled against God, and took with him a third of the angels (Rev. 12).

Part of Satan’s background is his deceptive activity on earth soon after his rebellion in heaven. Satan used the serpent to tempt our first parents in the garden of Eden. Regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the father of lies uttered the ultimate lie to Eve: “And the serpent said unto the woman, ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5).

Satan kept active through the Old Testament. He busied himself with temptation and evil on earth (Job 1; I Chron. 21:1). The Murderer knew the Mother Promise (Gen. 3:15), and his violent eye scanned the Old Testament landscape to devour the seed of the woman. But also, in the old dispensation up until Christ’s ascension, the Deceiver had access into heaven. You can read of this in Revelation 12. Satan and his hosts engaged in a war of words against Michael and the good angels. Satan and his depraved angels accused the saints already in heaven that they had no right to be in heaven because their sin had not been paid for, and that they instead belonged to Satan. Michael and the angels defended the right of the saints to be in heaven, a defense based upon the promise of God to send the seed of the woman. When Christ ascended into heaven, carrying His blood there (the basis for the saints to be in glory!), Satan and his hosts were expelled.

This brings us to the New Testament. Satan has redoubled his efforts upon the earth, attacking the body of Christ yet in this world. He goes forth in his fury, his attacks, and his temptations. Who can forget the story of Ananias and Sapphira, that couple in the early New Testament church who sold a possession for a certain amount of money, and then brought part of that money to the apostles’ feet, pretending as if they had brought all the money? Significantly, Peter said to Ananias, “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” (Acts 5:3). The Tempter walks about also today—need I say more? And then, expect in the last seconds on history’s clock that the Antichrist himself will arise, the very product of Satan (Rev. 13:1-4).

Purpose: Satan is the great adversary of God, Christ, and the church, and comes against God’s cause with malicious intent. Ephesians 6, the main passage on our spiritual warfare, reminds us of this fact. I Peter 5:8 warns us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” A lion, over four foot tall, weighing above four hundred pounds, walks slowly through the prairie grass, muscles rippling under his skin. He is hungry, desperate, savage, and scanning for his prey. Spotting a zebra, he leaps out of the grass, baring his teeth with ferocity and roaring as he runs, his aim to pounce upon and devour his striped victim. As a lion, so the devil. He walks about the earth, roaring; that is, he has a raging fury. He seeks, as one on the hunt. Once he finds, he desires to devour, that is, he desires the perishing of souls.

Now you can understand why the Belgic Confession, Article 12, says what it does about the devil’s purpose: “The devils [and by implication, the devil] and evil spirits are so depraved that they are enemies of God and every good thing, to the utmost of their power, as murderers, watching to ruin the church and every member thereof, and by their wicked stratagems to destroy all….”

Tactics: When you read “tactics,” think procedure, method, calculated plan. Ephesians 6:11 tells us about the “wiles” of the devil: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” These wiles are carefully calculated plans to deceive us. The devil always works in a calculated way to make sure that what he does is as effective as possible. Always, the goal Satan has with these plans is to deceive. “[W]iles” is plural, indicating that the Evil One has many methods according to which he seeks to deceive.

What are some of his tactics, all of which have as their goal to deceive and harm? He sends harsh persecution, threatening with torture, separation from family, and even death; or, perhaps it’s a persecution of the softer variety, but intimidating and full of pressures, nevertheless. At other times, he issues forth a flood of worldliness and pleasure-madness. Sometimes he brings accusations against us concerning our sins, throwing into our face the youthful sins that we have committed. Allying himself with our sinful nature, and knowing the flowing hormones of the teenage years, he also speaks to us with the soft and smooth voice of temptation. Another tactic is introducing false ideas into the church disguised under Reformed language, but ideas which are, in reality, aligned with the ungodly culture.

Having proper perspective

Limited: Certainly it is true that the devil is powerful. We must be very sober about the devil, and not at all minimize him. He is real, he is ferocious, he has evil intentions.

But he is limited. Satan is not sovereign over all things. The Evil One is not on the throne over the universe, controlling all things and ruling over them. Our Almighty God is absolutely sovereign. God sits eternally on His throne, controlling all things and ruling over them through the Lord Jesus Christ whom He has exalted to be at His right hand. Satan—in every respect—is under this sovereignty. The demons—as to their every move—are under this control. Although the God in heaven is not responsible or to blame for this world of darkness, not one thing happens in the world of darkness apart from heavenly appointment. And the Christ at God’s right hand not only rules over all things, but is working it all for the good of His beloved church and the approach of His second coming! We need to be sober about Satan’s power, yes; but we need not be fearful.

Defeated: We recognize that we are in a spiritual warfare against a very real Satan. We are called to watch and be ready every moment.

But we must also remember: he is defeated. This is exactly what gives us joy, comfort, and courage in the fight: Satan is not, neither will he ever be, victorious! Christ has gone before us and has inflicted a blow to Satan’s head—and, as you know, head wounds are deadly wounds. This bruising of the serpent’s head, promised in Genesis 3:15, Christ carried out at His cross when He paid for our sins. One day our Savior will come again to realize the victory in its fullness. In the meantime, Christ shall not lose even one of the sheep given Him of the Father—not to Satan, not to anything. Christ is victorious, dear reader—and you have the victory in Him. Fear not!