Angel FAQs: The Fall of Satan
The Bible reveals very little about Satan's exodus from heaven, but some passages may tell more than we think.
In response to last month’s column, many Beliefnet members sent comments and questions about Satan’s sin, asking how and why he was cast out of heaven. Some readers expressed dissenting views, saying that Lucifer had been misinterpreted, and he is really one of God’s beloved angels.
Although Satan appears frequently in the Scriptures, the Bible does not tell us a great deal about the fall of Satan and his angels. "Falling from heaven" does not refer to geography such as going from heaven to hell; Satan still had access to God’s throne in heaven (Job 1:6, 12; 2:1,7). Instead, the term "falling from heaven" is a Near Eastern way of saying that someone has suffered defeat, and it was also used in ancient non-biblical literature to describe the fall of gods from power. It is similar to our expression "falling from grace." Falling from heaven, then, means to lose one’s role or power.
In this column, divided into two parts, I will discuss only the initial fall of Satan. When Jesus said, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" in Luke 10:18, he was referring to how Satan had been defeated when Jesus sent out 72 disciples on a successful mission. In Revelation 12, when Satan is hurled down during the war in heaven, the chapter is not retelling the story of Satan being original cast out of heaven--the chapter is retelling his final exclusion.
Part 1: Bible Verses That Refer Directly to Satan’s Fall
1 Timothy 3:6 indicates that pride caused Satan’s downfall. For many Christians the verse is one of the few that speaks directly about the fall of Satan. No wonder John Calvin felt compelled to write that many "grumble that Scripture does not in numerous passages set forth systematically and clearly the fall of the devils…." Still, in the "Institutes of the Christian Religion," Calvin writes that the Bible reveals all we need to know about the fall of angels, and that "we should be content with this concise information."
Other Biblical scholars find Satan’s fall described in Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-18. Jewish interpretation of these verses state that in Isaiah the verses are about the King of Babylon, while in Ezekiel the verses are about the prophecy against the King of Tyre. However, many but not all Christians see a double reference in these verses and believe they describe both the ancient kings and the fall of Satan.
Part 2: Bible Verses That Have Double Meanings
Isaiah 14:3-4 foretells the end of the Babylonian captivity and describes Israel mocking the King of Babylon after his fall. While verses 4-11 and 16-23 clearly refer to the King of Babylon, some believe verses 12-15 have a double reference to the fall of the Babylonian king and the fall of Satan.