How Did Satan Become Evil?

Satan becomes evil! How? And exactly what was he like before? The short answer is we simply don't know. But let me review a few things the Bible has to say about this fallen angel. I cannot cover the entire biblical record on the subject, but we need to see several things to at least approach some kind of answer to the question.

1. Satan at the Beginning of the World
The devil first steps into human history shortly after creation. In the guise of a "serpent" he appears in Eden. And his wicked character is immediately evident in the temptation of Eve. The first words out of his mouth constitute an attempt to cast doubt on the Word of God ("Has God indeed said...?" Gen. 3:1). This quickly progresses to an outright denial of God's earlier warning. The Lord had told our first parents of the penalty for disobedience: "You shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17). But Satan brazenly stated, "You will not surely die," (Gen. 3:4).

The Lord Jesus does not mince words in describing this evil angel, saying, "He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it" (Jn. 8:44). The book of Revelation identifies him with a number of revealing titles, "The great dragon...that serpent of old, called the Devil [meaning false accuser, or slanderer] and Satan [meaning adversary], who deceives the whole world" (Rev. 12:9).

By studying the Scriptures we learn how he operates. "We are not ignorant of his devices" (II Cor. 2:11), and the Lord has equipped us to resist his attacks (I Pet. 5:6-9). We are to "put on the whole armour of God, that [we] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph. 6:11). Because Satan tells lies, chief among our weapons against him is the Truth, "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Eph. 6:17). That is how the Lord Jesus resisted, and gained the victory over him when He was on earth. He rejected the devil's evil ploys, declaring repeatedly, "It is written" (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10).

That much we know for certain. Satan is our enemy, and the enemy of God. And we are told about his interference in human history because that is something we need to know in order to defend ourselves against him. God makes no attempt in the Bible to simply satisfy idle curiosity about his past. But of course there is more to the story. It seems that the devil was not always like he is now. At least a couple of passages suggest what may have been his "pre-history."

2. Satan at a Time Pre-dating Eden
In Ezekiel 28, the prophet is commanded by the Lord to speak a word against a man identified as "the prince [or king] of Tyre" (vs. 1). But many Bible scholars view some things in the passage (especially in vs. 11-17) as reaching beyond this human ruler to a shadowy figure that is the true power behind the throne, namely Satan. Expressions such as "you were in Eden" (vs. 13), and "you were the anointed cherub" (vs. 14), simply cannot apply literally to a human king of Ezekiel's day.

We have a similar pairing of a human being, and Satan as the power behind him, in the New Testament description of the end-time Antichrist. He is called "the man of sin" (II Thess. 2:3) and "the lawless one" (vs. 8). And "the coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders" (vs. 9). Not all agree that the Ezekiel passage is telling us some things about Satan's origins, but I believe it is. And if we take that as a possibility, it suggests some important things that relate to the questions above.

This being is called "the anointed cherub who covers," and the Lord says, "I established you in the holy mountain of God" (Ezek. 28:14). The cherubs are angelic beings (the plural form of cherub in Hebrew being cherubim). They appear to be spirits assigned specific tasks related to guarding and protecting. After Adam and Eve sinned, they were cast out of Eden, and cherubim guarded the entry to the garden so they could not return (Gen. 3:24).

Later, the most sacred object in the tabernacle of worship that the Lord commanded Israel to construct was the ark of the covenant (Exod. 25:10-22). The lid of the ark was made of solid gold, and was referred to as the mercy seat. It was above the mercy seat that the Lord manifested His presence in a blaze of glorious light.

And significant to our subject, two golden cherubim were formed at either end of the mercy seat, facing inward, with their wings overshadowing the ark. It is likely that this was actually a physical representation of God's throne in heaven. When Ezekiel is given a vision of God's glorious throne (Ezek. 1:1-28), it is surrounded by "four living creatures" which are later identified as cherubim (Ezek. 10:1-22).

Though we cannot be dogmatic about it, all of this suggests that Satan, before his appearance in Eden, was given the privilege of being one of the guardian cherubs around the throne of God. Further, Ezekiel 28 gives us some important information about this being, and his fall. The prophet says, "You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you" (Ezek. 28:14). That tells us that God created Satan, and that when he was created he was a holy angel, without sin.

God could not be perfectly righteous Himself and create something evil. But He clearly made Satan with a will, and with the ability to choose whether to obey Him or not. Thus while God did not create evil, He allowed for the possibility of evil.

As an aside, it is likely that all the angels, in the beginning, had this ability to choose, just as the first human beings did. The Lord wants willing servants, not mere robots or puppets. When Satan rebelled and was cast out of heaven, some believe a third of the angels decided to follow him, becoming what we now know as "demons" (cf. Rev. 12:3-4, 9) However, it is my conviction that in God's perfect heaven, now and forever, angelic beings that are holy have been confirmed in their holiness, and perfected in holiness, and have no danger of falling. It will be the same for us in our glorified state (Rev. 22:11).

But to return to the subject of Satan's fall, he was holy and good "until evil was found in [him]" (Ezek. 28:14). What evil was that, and where did it come from? We (speaking of the human family) had, in the devil, an outside evil agent who lied to us, and who tempted us to sin. But how did the first being that sinned (likely Satan) go from being holy to being sinful? At some point, evil entered the universe, and it seems to have begun in the heart of Satan. But how?

3. How Did Satan Become Evil?
There is another passage which may shed some light on this, though it does not provide a final answer to the origin of evil. In Isaiah 14, the prophet is commanded to pronounce judgment on the king of Babylon (Isa. 14:4), another of Israel's enemies. And as with Ezekiel's words against the king of Tyre, once more at least part of the passage seems to address a being far greater than a mere human king. It seems to speak of the evil influence behind the earthly throne. This is especially true in vs. 12-15, where one called "Lucifer [meaning the shining one]" is addressed. Here, I believe, we are given a look at what was going on in the heart of Satan.

As this "anointed cherub" gazed upon the throne of God, several thoughts came into his mind. Some we know of from Scripture, others we can only speculate about. Here is what I think. I believe Satan's fall may have involved a question--something he was curious about. He wondered, "How did God become God? Has He always been God? Perhaps not." I believe it was in a thought process something like this that Satan conceived of the idea of evolution.

We know about the theory of evolution as it concerns our natural world. And since it denies the truth of Scripture about God's creation of all things, it can only be Satan's lie. He is the one who prompted fallen men to give birth to the theory. So, what if Lucifer began to wonder, way back, whether perhaps God had not always been God, but that He had somehow evolved into what He is. (We know this is not true, of course. The Bible says, "Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God," Ps. 90:2. He did not evolve into His deity!)

But we know the devil was thinking something like the above, since that is the possible advancement he held out to Adam and Eve ("You will be like God," Gen. 3:5). Lucifer was the greatest of all the angelic beings, "the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty" (Ezek. 28:12). And he gloried in his perfection; in fact he became proud of it. "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendour" (Ezek. 28:17). And I think he began to imagine that perhaps he was only one tiny evolutionary step away from becoming a "God" himself. We certainly know he began to covet God's throne. The Isaiah passage quotes him as saying, "I will be like the Most High" (Isa. 14:14).

That "I will" capsulizes his inner attitude of rebellion against God. Of course, that still does not answer the question of where such an idea came from, when there was (as far as we know) no devil to tempt the devil! Picture Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and remove Satan from the picture. Would it have been possible for the two of them to come up with the ideas that: a) Maybe they wouldn't die if they ate the fruit God had forbidden; and b) Maybe God was somehow holding out on them; and c) They had a chance to be their own gods, and be independent of their Creator?

Think of a wind-up clock. (Not many of them are around any more!) But that clock, in order to fulfil the purpose for which it was created, and in order to do "right" (i.e. to tell the correct time) has to be wound by someone regularly, and overruled and adjusted by someone. It not only took someone to create the clock, but someone (perhaps the same person) to sustain its "life."

But what if the clock were somehow granted very limited self awareness. And what if it were given the will to choose whether to be wound up or not. All created things have finite perceptions of how they have become what they are, and how to maintain their meaningful function. The clock is pleased with the work it does. Even more pleased as time goes by. But it does not understand its utter dependance on the great Clock Winder to do it. It reasons that perhaps it is possible the power to do it comes from within, in an inexhaustible supply. (I wonder!)

I realize this does not solve the underlying issue of the origin of evil. But the Bible simply does not explain the matter. Evil obviously exists. And Satan had a major part in introducing it into human experience. At some time prior to that, he went from being a holy angel to an unholy one. His terrible fall was rooted in attitudes of pride, and a desire to be more than he was, to have the power and glory due to God alone.

In a created being with the freedom to choose, the potential for the birth of these attitudes had to exist. At some point "Praise God!" metamorphosed into "Praise me!" But what the catalyst was that began the growth of this spiritual cancer the Lord has not seen fit to tell us. Perhaps it would either be too dangerous for us to know, or simply be impossible for us to understand. We do know with certainty that the devil is destined for eternal hell (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10), as are all those who have not laid claim, by faith, to God's gift of salvation (Jn. 3:18, 36; Rev, 20:15).