Satan and the Afterlife

He is often shown in comedic form: a being with horns and a pitchfork and possibly a sense of humor ruling over Hell. But Satan is no joke. He can also be understood as a serious character ruling over the underworld. But there is nothing Biblical to connect Satan, or any demon for that matter, with Sheol; and Hell is described as a future placed prepared for the “Devil and his angels” not so that they can rule, but so they can experience being forsaken by God like all the damned.

I expect that most people dismiss Satan as pure fiction–a personification of evil. The Bible doesn’t waste too much space speaking of Satan, but he is definitely in there from the oldest book (Job) to the latest (Revelation). People tend to not believe in what they don’t want to be true. Anyway, Satan is a factor in any discussion of the afterlife, because without him there would be no such thing. There would only be life. The evil found in Satan becomes the source of all evil and the reason for death and segregation of those who belong to God from those who don’t.

So what is he? He is not the evil equivalent of God. Take a look at Ezekiel 28. It starts as a rebuke of the ruler of Tyre who thinks he is a god. Such megalomania was not unusual amongst ancient rulers, but around verse 12 it gets weird. Ezekiel is to “take up a lament” concerning the King of Tyre, and this lament no longer makes sense for a human:

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…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.


Ezekiel 28:12-15

This reads like a backstory for Satan. It may be associated with the ruler of Tyre because of either the influence or because of a direct possession of the ruler Tyre. If this is Satan it tells us several things. He was created, beautiful, blameless at one time. He is a “living one” or cherubim, which are described earlier in Ezekiel, Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4. Their descriptions may not be about what they look like, as all of these accounts are visions and not observations. Their descriptions may be of their capabilities. In this case the ability to shift in form and to see into multiple situations at once. We can also infer a truly free will, uncontrolled by God. This free will becomes the source of pride, rebellion and wickedness.

Satan’s rebellion becomes the cause for his expulsion from the “mount of God” but not immediately. Ezekiel speaks prophetically and not historically at this point. Satan is seen in the presence of the God and vigorously accusing humans if not angels all the way to the time of Christ.

Revelation 12 takes up the next part of Satan’s story.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in Heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

Revelation 12:7-12

Do we have any proof of this, outside of it being in the Bible? This could easily be just an ancient, irrelevant myth. I would offer a couple things. First, Satan appears to have had access to Earth before Christ and negative influence. So I wouldn’t expect human life to be necessarily worse at this point. But I do notice that as Christianity moved across the planet, initially it seemed to improve conditions; but within a generation or so there would be a negative snap back and corruption within the church itself. You can explain this from a sociological point of view, but I wonder if this has deeper roots. Also, while there was always anti-Semitism, it did not stand out as any worse than the fate of any other people group. Since then the Jews seem to lead to the way in the most hated department. The rest of Revelation 12 says this:

13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

Revelation 12:13-17

The woman mentioned here is clearly the Jewish nation. Verses 15-16 sound eerily like WWII.

There is more to be said about Satan and the afterlife. I will take that up in my next blog entry.

The Citizens of Heaven

We have a sketchy picture of what Heaven is like.  We have an even more cryptic description of who or what will be there.

As you read through the Old Testament it is never revealed that humans had any hope of being citizens of Heaven.  There are a few visions of Heaven, but nothing more.  Old Testament believers understood that they were heading first to Sheol (preferably a good part of it) and that their ultimate hope was their resurrection from the dead and a New Earth.

I don’t believe that this means that Heaven wasn’t in the plans for humans or that the idea of going to Heaven was a “development of theology” or borrowed from other cultures at a later time.  Our place in Heaven had to be secured before it was promised.  Satan held some leverage over us.  Our species were rebellious sinners just like he was and like a significant minority of angels.  As long as humans were “under the Law”, we were stuck.

Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s Law as a human and His sacrifice of Himself to reconcile creation to God caused some major reorganization.  Satan and his minions lost their legal leverage and being inferior in power to God were cast out (Revelation 12:7-10). Humans were lead in a victorious procession in.  (Ephesians 4:7)  So for now, Heaven is the destiny of redeemed humanity until Judgment Day and a New Earth.

Who else will we find in Heaven?  Angels are one form of resident.  It is said of angels that they are “spirits”.  What does that mean exactly?  I think it means that they are properly citizens of Heaven’s dimensional space and not properly a part of this universe.  They can take on a form here or not, but it is not necessarily their form.  So what does an angel in Heaven look like?  We don’t know.  How many are there?  Beyond saying that there are many, we don’t know.  What are their abilities?  We can say that they are intelligent beings and that in some ways have higher capabilities than we presently have.  The name by which we know them, “angels”, speaks more to their function as “messengers” than as a proper name of their species.  I would expect them to be human-like in many ways.

Angels should be distinguished from Cherubim/Seraphim.  Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4 described these beings as “living ones”(cherubim) or “burning ones” (seraphim).  They are described as intelligent and powerful beings who surround the throne of God.  Their physical description may be more symbolic than actual.  The description includes multiple faces, four to six wings, and covered with eyes–a rather frightening appearance.  Satan is described as being a disowned, guardian cherub (Ezekiel 28), beautiful, part of the council of God, and blameless until wickedness was found in him.

The only other citizens of Heaven that are described in the Bible (that doesn’t mean that their aren’t others) are a mysterious group of 24 elders. Who are these beings?  What are they?  They could be humans.  They do not appear in the only other descent description of God’s throne room in Daniel 7.  They are described in Revelation 4.  Since Revelation is full of symbolism, this could be a group symbolic of a greater portion of humanity.  Or not.  It is intriguing to think about how the picture given in Revelation 4 (a New Testament if not future picture) relates to references to a divine council found throughout the Old Testament.  More about this in my next blog.