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.
(v. 12a) How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn.
Instead of "morning star" some translations have "Lucifer," even though Lucifer is not a Hebrew name that would have been written in a Hebrew manuscript. How, then, did a Latin name get substituted for the words "morning star"? Since the time of Jesus the early church developed a new understanding of the war between good and evil that differed from Old Testament Jewish concepts. For the church, Satan (or the devil) was understood to be a fallen angel and the personification of evil. When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin he used the term "Lucifer," which meant Venus, to translate "morning star." Jerome’s translation made "morning star" a proper name and the name of Satan. The translators of the King James Bible used Jerome’s translation, and Lucifer became a part of the English language.
Satan’s name, then, became Helel in Hebrew, Lucifer in Latin, and Morning Star in English. This verse is the only place in the Bible where the word "Lucifer" has been substituted for Satan as a name. Many English translations have stopped using "Lucifer" in this verse in favor of literally translating the Hebrew as "morning star."
(v. 12b)You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!
(v. 13) You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.'
(v. 14) I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.
(v. 15) But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.
Is the prophet Isaiah only saying that the King of Babylon was evil like the devil? Or are we to interpret these verses as recording the fall of Satan? If the latter is true, then the five "I will" declarations depict the sin of Satan and show his rebellion and desire to be like God.
The following verses from Ezekiel 28 may also have a double meaning:
(v.11) The word of the Lord came to me:
(v. 12) Son of man, take up a lament concerning the King of Tyre and say to him, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty'. (v. 13) You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.
(v. 14) 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.
(v. 15) You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.
(v. 17) Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to earth; I made you a spectacle of you before kings.
Using poetic imagery, Ezekiel describes the ruler of Tyre as the first man created in Eden, a fully clothed priest (the stones are those worn by the priest), and a guardian cherub. Yet this sentence also be read as having a double meaning; the verses can be interpreted as a description of Satan as someone who was full of wisdom, beauty, and splendor in the beginning but who later became corrupted by pride. Verses 14 and 16 are the basis for believing Satan was a cherub.
Even if we accept the passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel as having double meanings, the Scriptures still tell us very little about the fall of Satan. But other theologians have extrapolated from the Bible (is this what he means?) to answer the questions in their own ways.
One of the questions Beliefnet members have also raised is: How could an angel that was created as a "good angel" sin?
The Bible does not tell us, but Thomas Aquinas gave a classic answer in his book "Summa Theologica." Even while most Christians think his answer makes sense, please remember this is conjecture, not gospel. The Bible teaches that God created the angels, and like all of God’s creations they were "good," but that did not mean they were incapable of sin. To be incapable of sin, Aquinas wrote, the angels would need to be in a state of bliss that he defined as "seeing the essence of God" and being "confirmed in goodness by God’s grace.... No angel could of his own will turn toward that bliss unless aided by grace.... The fall of some angels shows that the angelic nature was not created in that state." His view was that the angels who chose to follow God demonstrated a willingness to receive God’s grace. Once this choice was made, these angels were blessed, confirmed in goodness, and lost the capacity to sin.
In Aquinas’s view the angels who sinned exercised their free will. At first they did not seek evil. Rather, they chose to do good but in a way that fed their selfish pride. Satan wanted to find bliss through his own actions rather than through God’s love and grace. This, then, was a major cause of his downfall.
When Did Satan Fall?
The Bible does not tell us. What we do know is that the angels were created before the Earth (Job 38-4-7). Satan fell before he tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The fall must have occurred somewhere between.