The Fall of the Evil Angels
Although there is often a certain attraction in speculating about things which Scripture does not specifically tell us, and although also with regard to the evil angels it is rather easy to give one’s imagination free rein, yet we must, take care to remain within the bounds of Scripture. And then we must note that even if we should purge John Milton’s presentation of those fallacies which are rather obviously not according to, Scripture, and if, then, we should end with the proposition that Satan’s sin was that he was lifted up with pride and jealousy over against the Son as He was destined, according to God’s counsel, to be revealed as the Firstborn of every creature, yet this rather attractive idea can scarcely be maintained with any firmness in the light of Scripture. Not only is this suggestion as to the nature of the angelic sin not directly taught in Scripture, but the very idea raises questions which are very difficult to answer. Were the angels, and was Satan particularly, aware of the whole contents of Gods counsel with respect to the Firstborn of every creature? We must remember certainly that the angels are creatures, though spirits, and that they are neither omnipresent nor omniscient. Also the angels can know only those things which are revealed to them. Moreover, if Satan knew of God’s purpose to glorify Himself in the revelation of His Son as the Firstborn of every creature, does this presuppose that originally God purposed to reveal Himself in the Firstborn along a different path than that of sin and grace, death and resurrection? This is on the very face of it impossible: God’s counsel is one, and unchangeable and eternal. But if it be true that Satan knew of the purpose of God’s counsel of salvation in Christ, and therefore was lifted up in pride against the Son as Firstborn (the Firstborn as He is presented inColossians 1:15 ff.), then it seems to me that the entire speculative presentation of the nature of his sin is self-defeating: for then the obvious course for Satan to follow would have been not to allow his own sin and his temptation of man to take place and to stand in the service of the execution of God’s counsel. But, as we said, all this is speculation, and to be avoided.
Holding ourselves to the Scriptural data, I believe we may establish the following:
1. Satan was a very high angel, a prince in the angel world. Although we cannot say with certainty that he was the chief of all the angels, nevertheless it is evident that he was an angel of great power and glory. It may even be said that he may have been greater than Michael, the archangel; who “durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee,” when he was contending with the devil about the body of Moses.
2. We learn from Scripture, Revelation 12:7, that he still has his angels, a large host of which he is the leader. They are the angels “which kept not their first estate,” Jude1:6 and whom Satan dragged with him in his fall, and of whose rebellion he must have been the instigator. How many they are, we are not told. But if the heavenly hosts are still an innumerable company of angels, and if. Satan dragged with him “the third part of the stars of heaven,” then we may indeed conclude that there is a large host of devils, still doing the bidding of their demonic overlord. Satan is their ruler. For he is everywhere presented. as the chief of the evil host. He is mentioned by name: Satan,—the adversary;—and the devil,—the slanderer; and the liar, the father of the lie. He is called the prince of this world, John 12:31; John 16:11. He is the prince of the power of the air, Ephesians 6:11, 12, and the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience, Ephesians 2:2. When we assemble some of these facts and combine the data, we may well be aware of the fact that the devil and his host constitute a formidable enemy. They are great in number and in power. It is indeed true, of course, that also here we must not let our imagination run wild, as, for example, the late C.S. Lewis does in his interesting book, “The Screwtape Letters.” But the danger is probably that we do not conceive of the power and activities of the devil concretely enough. As we said, the devil is not omnipresent, and he is not omniscient. But he has a large and organized host working for him. Moreover, he has access to the heart and mind of man. Still more, he is active among the nations of the world. And he is especially active to bring the Antichristian Kingdom about. And if we are mindful of all that the Scripture says about the devil and his host, and of how the Scriptures warn that the devil, our adversary, goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; and if, moreover, we may assume that Satan is now as great and powerful a force for evil as he was a great and powerful angel for good before his fall, then we certainly ought not to underestimate the reality and the power and the dangers confronting us in the activities of the devil and his host. Our Confession is certainly correct in calling attention to this. The evidence is on every hand that the devils are watching to the ruin of the church and every member thereof; aiming to destroy all by their wicked stratagems.
3. As to the temptation of the devil himself, we may say that there cannot have been an outside source of it, as was the case with man. The devil was the first to fall. Nor are we told in Scripture of any specific object and any specific command of God with which his temptation and sin were connected. In the case of man, there was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the probationary command; and with these the devil’s temptation of Eve, and of Adam through Eve, was connected. But Scripture is completely silent as to any of these details in connection with the devil’s fall. It gives no description of the fall ok the devil and his angels. We do know, however, that there was no outside agent in the devil’s fall. And although this poses the problem of how it is possible that a creature who was created good could possibly thus sin, and although we may add at once that we can never fully understand and solve this problem, we may say, in the first place, that essentially this problem still remains in the case of man’s fall,” in spite of the fact that there was an agent and an objective occasion connected with man’s fall. In the second place, we may state as a fact,—in spite of whatever problems that fact may present,—that the angels, like man, must have been created not merely neutral, but positively good, yet so that they were lapsible, that is, that they could by an act of their own mind and will choose the evil and reject the good. In the third place, in the case of the angels who fell, or at least in the case of the devil himself, this possibility of sinning may probably be traced to the power of imagination, whereby it was possible for the good creature to conceive of the evil. His sin then lay in the fact that he also chose and embraced the evil of which he conceived.
4. As to the precise nature of the devil’s sin, Scripture furnishes ground to believe that his sin was that he was lifted up with pride against God Himself. Not only may this be based on the text in I Timothy 3:6, which we cited in our previous article. But this is fully in harmony with the statement of John 8:44 that the devil abode not in the truth. Not acknowledging the truth, the truth of God Himself, the truth concerning God, he did not remain in the right relationship with God. He did not live the truth; or, as John uses the expression in his first epistle, he did not the truth. He was not content to have the status of a mere creature in relation to the Most High. He was not willing to be clothed with that humility according to which the creature acknowledges himself to be nothing and God all. He would be Lord, rather than servant. Nor is this as speculative as it might seem at first glance. For not only is the devil’s condemnation referred to as a being lifted up with pride; but if we may reason back from his present appearance and activity in the world and among men, as these are depicted in Scripture, then all this becomes quite clear. Whenever he appears in the world of men, he always attempts to usurp the power and authority of God and to take the place of the Most High. He began this attempt among men in paradise. There he attempted to instill in the hearts of our first parents the lie, “Ye shall be like God.” When the Lord Jesus sojourned among us in the likeness of sinful flesh, the devil’s ultimate temptation was to, make our Lord acknowledge the devil as God: for he came to Him with the demand that Jesus should fall down and worship him. And Jesus discerned the intent of that temptation very plainly, as is evident from His reply: “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve? Matthew 4:7-10. And when for a short time at the end of the world the devil’s efforts are crowned with apparent success, that success consist exactly in that he replaces God and His Christ in the minds and hearts of the wicked men of the Antichristian Kingdom. For thus we read in II Thessalonians 2:4 concerning that arch-tool of the devil, the Man of Sin: “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” The same picture is given us in Revelation 13: “And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies. . . . And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. . . . And all that dwell upon the earth shah worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” vss. 4, 5-a, 6,8. 5.
Finally, we may note that the election and reprobation of the angels is along these lines immediately realized. On the one hand, the elect angels never fall. They remain standing by the grace of God. It will readily, be understood that in this connection grace cannot refer to “forfeited favor.” For the good angels do not first become depraved, in order then to be redeemed and delivered from sin and death. But they never fall. This also, however, is by the power of God’s grace operative in them. And it is due solely to God’s’ sovereign favor. Also their election, however, is not as yet ultimately realized. For, in the first place, there was a breach caused in the angel-world through the defection of Satan and his cohorts. And, in the second place, it remains for the angels, along with all things and along with the elect church, to be united in the glorious, heavenly creation at the final revelation of Christ, the Firstborn of every creature. Is it for this reason, perhaps, that we read of the angels that they “desire to look into” s the things concerning Christ and salvation? Cf. I Peter 1:12. On the other hand, the fall of the evil angels is frequently referred to as “absolute.” This can only be true in the light of the fact that the fallen. angels are all reprobate: they not only become totally depraved, but they are also not savable. The same is true also, of course, of reprobate men. While all men fall and become totally depraved, among them are the elect, who can be and are saved, while the reprobate surely perish. But among the fallen angels there are no elect; all are reprobate, and cannot and will not be saved. And their reprobation is finally realized in the day of Christ when they shall be consigned forever to everlasting desolation. They are therefore “by their own wickedness adjudged to eternal damnation, daily expecting their horrible torments.”