The Transformation of Satan
“Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.”—2 Corinthians 11:14
In the course of a series of messages from the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthian church under the title “Blessing out of Buffeting,” most of which have been expository, we now come to this text which I cannot possibly pass by. It is almost terrifying as well as tremendously challenging. When seen in the context of the whole teaching of the Word of God and in the light of current events, it is a verse which exposes the true nature of the battle in which you and I are engaged: Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore, instead of looking at the chapter itself, I want to bring to bear upon this one verse other passages from the Word which will illuminate it for us. At the same time, may God help us to understand, as perhaps we have never understood before, the desperate plight of modern civilization, the awful grip of the devil upon this world at this time, and the one hope that yet remains for us who are God’s children.
I don’t think I need spend a moment to argue for the existence of Satan, or his personality, not simply as an influence or as an evil thing, but as a person who is just as real as Jesus Christ Himself is a person. Indeed, if we accept the personality of Christ upon the revelation of the Word of God (and that is how we do accept it), therefore we must also accept the personality of the devil upon the same evidence.
In Isaiah 14, he is revealed as one of God’s heavenly host long before the existence of civilization on this planet, who set himself against the will of God and said, “I will be like the Most High, and I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.” Before there was rebellion on Earth there was revolt in heaven.
Satan stepped into the record of human history as the serpent in Genesis 3, seeking to ally the human race in his purpose to become self-centered, self-sufficient, independent of God. He was one hundred per cent successful, and ever since then, submission to that principle of life, as he calls it—the principle of self-sufficiency, the principle of self-existence, the principle of utter independence of God—has become the very nature of the human race as we know it, transmitted down to all prosperity to this generation.
Further, in Job 1:6, Satan is seen as one who has access to the throne of God. Then in Luke 4, we find him in face to face direct combat with Jesus the Son of God, offering Him all the kingdoms of this world if He would only worship him, and acknowledge that there is a possibility of life that can yet be achieved for the human race out of relationship with the Lord of all creation.
Now please notice that it is perfectly plain from the teaching of Scripture that it is not the aim of the devil to destroy humanity. That may surprise you, but it is rather to realize his ambition for world dominion through men yielded to him. To such he promises that they shall know good and evil. On the other hand God, the Lord of all glory, power and authority, upon a throne above all His created universe, far above Satan, declares that life on that principle will bring doom. Satan says it won’t. God says it will. God says one thing, Satan says another thing. Satan says, believe me, yield to me, accept the principle of self-existence, self-sufficiency, independence of God, and I will show you life. God says, believe him and you will die.
The whole of your life here and your destiny in eternity depend upon whom you believe. Now in this great spiritual warfare, there is one factor that weighs heavily in the devil’s favor. It is because the human race basically has submitted to the principle that he has an ally in every human heart; there is one who will assent to this principle of evil. In every human heart, because of a nature that is born in sin and therefore demands its self-existence and self-dependence, Satan has a powerful ally in every one of us today.
But there is another factor in this spiritual warfare that weighs heavily against him. It is the course of human history which has abundantly proved, never more so than today, the awful tragedy and disaster which God said would happen if we rebelled against Him, and ally ourselves with the enemy. Furthermore, human history records that heaven has launched a full-scale counter-attack against this hellish principle of life in the person of Jesus Christ, and in spite of all the efforts of the devil—in that he fought and battled with Jesus face to face—at the Cross our Lord has stripped from Himself principalities and powers and made a show of them openly, and ascended into heaven to the right hand of all power, from whence He shall reign till every enemy becomes His footstool.
This mighty counter-attack from heaven against all the powers of darkness is a factor which weighs today heavily against the enemy. Yet in spite of it Satan successfully blinds the minds of them who believe not, lest the light of the glory of the Gospel of Christ shines into them. He holds the whole modern civilization, as the Revised Version puts it, in 1 John 5:19, “he holds the world unconscious in his arms.” What a plight for a soul made in the image of God, unconscious in the arms of the devil!
It follows, therefore, that the enmity of Satan is never with the unbeliever—they are already his—but it is with the man who has revolted from his rule, turned to God in Christ, and found himself by that blessed act of turning, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and wonderfully free from the grip of the enemy. He is free to do the will of God, free not for license or lust, not to live as you like, but free to live in submission to the whole principle God has laid down, and in living that way to find His liberty. All the fiery darts of the enemy are hurled at the child of God simply because the Christian is indwelt by His divine nature, Satan’s deadly enemy. The attack of the enemy against the Christian is not against flesh and blood, but it is against our relationship to Jesus Christ. He isn’t primarily concerned to make a Christian descend into moral filth. Oh no, for, in fact, that would rather defeat the object of the devil. But he is concerned to make the child of God fail in prayer, be bankrupt in his testimony, defeated in his spiritual life, deprived forever of being a channel of communication of God’s principle of light into this world. Now it is just here that we see the transformation of the devil.
“Your adversary the devil as a roaring lion walketh about to see whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). I somehow feel that that kind of language rather suited the man who wrote it—Peter is that rather lion-hearted temperament! In Bunyan’s immortal book he writes of Apollyon in this way: “Now the monster was hideous to behold, clothed with scales like a fish, wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke; his mouth was as the mouth of a lion.” And that is how he comes upon us sometimes, as an undisguised, hideous, evil monster, ready to devour us and throw us down. But he is easy to detect, and if he always came like that the Christian could take his sword and beat him off.
Paul speaks of the devil much more seriously, and in many passages of Scripture he refers to him as a serpent, who comes with subtlety and guile. Listen to his language, 2 Corinthians 2:11, “We are not ignorant of his devices.” Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the whole armor of God that you may stand against the wiles of the devil.” Second Timothy 2:26, “the snare (or trap) of the devil.” To Peter, a roaring lion; to Paul, a serpent which beguiles and still fascinates men with his glittering eye, and then slowly winds his slimy length, coil after coil, around their lives because he fashions himself as an angel of light.
That is exactly what he once was, an angel of light, and that is what he pretends to be today. That is what he was before creation when he rebelled; that’s what he pretends to be, still living in rebellion, and he offers men light on that principle, and by every counterfeit imaginable he offers a way of life without any relationship to God.
As you observe Satan’s basic place of attack and his counterfeit, notice that his master stroke in this twentieth century, as far as an ungodly world is concerned, is the strategy of communism. Never has Satan achieved anything so powerful, so successful and so overwhelming as this in all history. It was unknown fifty years ago, practically, and is now sweeping the world, threatening to engulf western civilization.
The thing we are fighting today is not away over in Moscow, but right here where we live. Our enemy is not flesh and blood, but it’s a spiritual foe. If this be so, notice the strategy of the devil. He has the world blinded by this devilish system, but where is the focal point of his attack? It is upon the Christian church, for his only enemy really is the divine nature, Jesus Christ, Who only lives in born-again people. Therefore Satan’s first and priority target is the church of Jesus Christ. He attacks in three ways: first, in the realm of the Spirit by false teaching. It is this which Paul has strictly in view in this passage: “If he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him” (v. 4). “Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (v. 13). In other words, the first basic attack of the enemy upon the church of Jesus Christ is in the realm of our spirits by false teaching.
There is no doctrine of the church which is free from abuse, and when Satan attacked the Lord Jesus Christ, you will recall, he turned himself into a preacher with a text from the Bible in Psalm 91, and dared to use the Word of God to attack the Lord of glory. Satan is adept at preaching a form of religion based on Scripture texts and incorporating many of the doctrines of the Christian faith; indeed every doctrine of the faith except one. There is one he is afraid of, because he knows it is the one which will defeat him. We read in Revelation 12:11, as the whole of this globe celebrates the triumph of our risen and returning Lord Jesus, “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of our testimony.” If there is one doctrine that Satan cringes before it is redemption by blood. It is justification by faith and not by works. It is atonement by the blood of Jesus. It is the free grace of God that puts a man right by God’s unmerited favor, and not by our working to achieve salvation. Because Satan is afraid of this, he does his deadliest work not by ignoring this cardinal doctrine, but by perverting it. Then he makes this wondrous, precious, glorious truth of the Gospel an excuse for self-indulgence until you have Antimonians saying today “It doesn’t matter how I live; all my sins will be washed away by the blood of Christ.” So Satan would, if he could, deceive the very elect.
There were very few things that could make Paul cry like a child. He had the Roman scourge upon his bare back, but he ignored it and was glad that he was counted worthy to suffer for Jesus. He could be in the midst of a Mediterranean storm, driven to shipwreck, but he praised God and believed Him for deliverance. He could have the executioner’s sword raised above him, about to behead him, and he could say “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, and kept the faith.” Ah, but there was one thing that made him sob, that broke his heart, it was when he saw men take the Gospel of the grace of God and make it an excuse for sin, saying, Let us continue in sin that grace may abound, for of such, Paul says in Philippians 3:18, “I tell you even weeping, they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, whose glory is in their shame.”
Satan’s masterpiece in the church today is an attack upon the stronghold of evangelical testimony to make us abuse the Gospel of grace, and make us permit it to allow us to continue in disgusting sin, and yet say, “I am a Christian.” Brethren, in the name of heaven, it has got to stop before it is too late, or else the church will be doomed! That’s what is happening in fundamental circles in this land and other countries today. Explore the grace of God, make use of it, use it to say, “By grace all is well!” and then live like the devil. The thing is a sheer impossibility.
Second, the enemy attacks in the realm of the imagination, by unholy thinking. Here it is that temptation is dressed up in its most attractive garb. There is no gift so exalting as that of our imagination; it can rise to great heights. But there is no curse so debasing, so degrading, as an imagination which is defiled by the enemy. Therefore, Satan, who knows exactly the moment to attack, will come with full force at the best time. At times of sickness and depression, when low in spirit and health, he fills our mind with doubt, with questionings, with self-pity. When we are well, strong and prosperous, he fills our mind with self-confidence, self-love and self-administration. In times when we relax and seek rest to our mind, he will fill an empty mind with foul thinking and imagination. When we seek the face of God in prayer, he will invade the holy place with thoughts of which we are desperately ashamed. For every mood or condition he has his weapon.
But most subtle of all are the moments when he withdraws altogether from the field of action and you are left numb, no longer with any love for God’s work, doing it because you have to do it. No sweetness is found in God’s Word; you may be stirred by the sermon occasionally, but never stirred into action—that is dealt with five minutes after the service by the conversation that takes place. You are completely without any susceptibility to the things of heaven, immovable by the most powerful message except vaguely stirred in your conscience. Life is just a round of duty, and there is a dead calm in the soul, with no hunger or longing for God and heaven, you seem to be just cruising along spiritually without life, or any semblance of concern, and Satan has conveniently withdrawn. He stands back and watches the soul that he has ceased to tempt because he doesn’t need to bother.
You say temptation is hard. I know, but I tell you what is worse; when Satan has stopped bothering, and he leaves the soul without troubling about anything, and with no heart-concern for the things of God. If you are just going through life with no reality, no power, no grace, no hunger for God, everything a duty and performance, just a put-up job, I plead with you, go to God and say to Him, “Lord, let the devil loose on my life again!” It is a dangerous thing to pray, for He’ll do it.
Satan’s transformation into an angel of light is, in the third place, in the realm of conscience by self-interest, Oh, how subtly Satan puts on the apparel of an angel of light! As he is well dressed in the garb of heaven, he makes himself to appear in the soul as the very voice of heaven. You sometimes find it hard to know whether it is the devil or the Lord talking to you—of course you do, if you’re honest. It is not always so easy to know when you are being “clearly led” about this or that, Satan is always working in the realm of conscience to cloud the issue, and when self-interest would call for me to go in a certain direction, he would tell me that is the path of duty. Have you ever heard him say this: “Friend, there’s no harm in it! It doesn’t pay to follow Jesus too far. I wouldn’t do that. After all, you’ve got to have a good time, you know?”
So by false teaching, by imagination, by conscience, the Christian is deceived by the devil transformed into an angel of light. I would say in passing that one of the most amazing things about him is that he is so united. He has a thousand agencies all ready for his use, and while the church of Jesus Christ is always quarrelling and indulging in the luxury of civil war, I never learn of any civil war in hell. All Satan’s hosts are united on one full-scale attack upon the place where he can find the nature of Christ indwelling a child of God. God help us, for when the church fights within its own ranks, Satan has a field day.
What is the answer to it? Have I uncovered Satan in your own life? Is this your experience? Then how do you think he can be detected and overcome? I would remind you that the ultimate doom of the devil is certain (Revelation 12:7–11). But we don’t have to look into a vague future. Go back to the cross and see there One who cast from Himself principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly (Colossians 2:14, 15). The defeat that was predicted from the very moment the rebellion began, when the Lord promised that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15) has actually happened in human history as Jesus Himself said: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out (John 12:31).
But what about today, this desperate hour in which we live? I tell you, there is victory for the Christian now! “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Ephesians 6:10, 12 speaks to us about putting on the whole armor of God that we might stand against the wiles of the devil.
You may say that you see the desperate plight we are in, but you cannot find the answer for your own life. What can you do about it? You can lay hold of God in His Word as you have never done before, for a man who is soaked in the Word of God has always an answer ready for the devil in the moment of temptation. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9). However, the Word of God is not magic, and it all depends how you approach it. If you approach it to submit it to your intellectual criticism, then you will never know victory. But if you submit yourself to the criticism of the Book, then you will discover the power of God to defeat in you the power of the enemy.
More than that, you must not only soak yourself in His Word, but you must run to Him, the living Word Who is made unto us wisdom. This battle is not with flesh and blood but with spiritual forces, and therefore it requires spiritual weapons, and “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:4). The sheep are never so safe as when they are near the shepherd; we are never so secure from the fiery darts of Satan as when we are near to Jesus. What does that mean?
It means to walk according to His example: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow his steps (1 Peter 2:21). It means walking in the way He walked.
It means living daily in His fellowship: “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:7).
It means trusting always in His blood, for the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
May I suggest to you that that does not only mean one day in heaven when we shall see Him face to face, but it does mean that now, in the heat of the battle, in the tremendous intensity of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged, in the awful consciousness that Communism has laid down 1973 as the year when it will take over the United States by sheer corruption within, the light of this tremendous thing that faces all of us, it is not only that we will see God, but we will see Him now. In the midst of the battle, we are able to see not only God, but also the devil, and we are given the spiritual discernment to know which is which.
We live today in a world that is on fire. Our enemy is specific in his purpose, successfully uniting the great, materialistic, sinful agency of communistic captivity, and harnessing it to his chariot. He has succeeded in getting an oriental and a Russian nation to agree to side together in this, that if they only wait long enough, the whole of their opposing forces will collapse from within. They are waiting for America to disintegrate. On the other side, we see corruption, and worst of all, a church that is lethargic, disunited, worldly, tripped up by the angel of light. What can we do before it is too late? Shake off the shackles, break free from the fetters, snap the chains, and lay hold of God as you have never laid hold of Him in all your life! Heaven wants a chance to answer the fire of hell with the fire of the Holy Ghost. The Lord will do this very thing for you, because it is the only hope, the only answer. You cannot answer fire by human reasoning or human intellect; you can answer fire by fire. Today the Holy Ghost on fire is the only hope for fundamental Christianity in this country.
I beg of you that you personally will give God the opportunity to answer the fire of the enemy with the fire of heaven, for then the power of Satan can not prevail against you. Are you on the Lord’s side in the battle? Go right now into the very presence of Jesus our Lord, close to His wounded side, and say to Him, “Lord Jesus, please put on the armor for me, for I have no might and no power against all these who come against me, neither know I what to do, but my eyes are upon Thee.” Like Gideon of old, He will clothe you with the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, and you will go forth as a man who has gripped the Word of God and who has been gripped by the Spirit of God. Only as revival comes to individual hearts can disaster, in nation and in the church, be averted in this decade.