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The Significance of Satan    
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In the Judeo Christian tradition, Satan, from the Hebrew word for "adversary," is the principal figure of the demonic world that is hostile to God and his will. In the Old Testament (for example, the Book of Job), Satan is presented as a distinct personality of darkness and accusation - the heavenly prosecutor. A fuller expression of his role is presented in the New Testament, where he is called "the tempter," "the slanderer," "the enemy," "the liar," and "the angel of the bottomless pit." Collectively, these titles present Satan as the one who has the power of death, rules with lies and deception, accuses humankind before God, and opposes the purpose of God in the world (while remaining obedient to God).

The Bible nowhere explains Satan's origin, but in both testaments he is presented as a part of the created order rather than as an eternal entity. Although no explanation is given in the Bible for God's allowing Satan to exist, it does indicate that his time is short (only for this age of time and history) and his end is certain - ultimately he will be banished by the Messiah.

This concept of a temporal dualism in which Satan has influence is brought to expression most clearly in apocalyptic literature, such as the Book of Revelation. Two ages are reflected in apocalyptic cosmology: "this age" and "the age to come." Satan appears to be prevailing in this age, but in the age to come God will clearly display his sovereignty. In later Christian tradition Satan was described as a fallen angel.

The concept of a leader of the powers of darkness found expression in cultures outside the Hebrew tradition. The Babylonians, Chaldeans, and Persians believed in a dualism between the forces of darkness and light. Ahriman, in Zoroastrianism, and Set, in Egyptian mythology, manifest characteristics similar to Satan's.

Douglas Ezell

E Langton, Satan, A Portrait: A Study of the Character of Satan through all the Ages (1973); T O Ling, The Significance of Satan (1961); J B Russell, Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World (1986); W Woods, A History of the Devil (1973).