The fall of Satan from heaven and what comes next

Having turned down applications from a number of people who were not up to the task (Lk. 9:57-62), Jesus appoints seventy-two messengers and sends them throughout Israel. The saying about the harvest being plentiful and the need for workers belongs in this historical setting (Lk. 10:2); it is not given as a universal rationale or mandate for the evangelistic mission of the church.

The messengers are purposefully vulnerable and ill-equipped. They are to greet no one on the road. When they arrive at a town or village, they are not to go from house to house. If the first house they enter receives them, they should accept the offered hospitality. They are to heal the sick and proclaim that “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Lk. 10:9). If they are not at first welcomed, they are to condemn the town, saying, “Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.”

The town that rejects their message, Jesus says, will suffer a worse punishment than Sodom on the day when God judges Israel. He then expands on this statement. Tyre and Sidon (cf. Is. 23) would have repented if they had seen the healings and exorcisms that Jesus had performed in Chorazin and Bethsaida. Capernaum imagines that it will be exalted to heaven—for reasons that are not entirely clear—but will be brought down to Hades. Jesus means, very simply, that these places in which he has proclaimed the imminence of the kingdom of God, healed the sick, and cast out demons, will nevertheless be destroyed by the invading Roman armies when God judges his rebellious people. It will be no different for the towns which reject Jesus’ messengers (Lk. 10:16).

When the seventy-two return, they are excited to report that “even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Lk. 10:17). Jesus replies, “I was seeing Satan as lightning from heaven having fallen.” The wooden translation draws attention to the tenses of the verbs: “I was seeing” (imperfect) and “having fallen” (aorist). Jesus then underlines the fact that he has given them authority “over all the power of the enemy”, so that nothing will hurt them. This is the only place in Luke where “enemy” is singular, so it presumably refers to Satan (cf. Matt. 13:39). But what really matters is not that the spirits are subject to them but that their “names are written in heaven”.

Here’s my question, following on from my post on the king of Babylon and the prince of Tyre, and picking up particularly on Chris Bourne’s comment. What is the significance of the fall of Satan in this narrative-historical context? I have understood it to mean that Jesus saw in the submission of demons to the messengers a sign of the future eschatological defeat of Satan, but I wonder now if there isn’t a better way to read it.

1. In the dragon myth of Revelation 12, the “ancient serpent”, which is Satan, is defeated by Michael and his angels and thrown down to the earth. He can no longer accuse the martyrs before God, but he will wreak havoc on earth “because he knows that his time is short”. He goes off to make war on the remainder of the woman’s offspring, “on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17).

2. Elsewhere in the New Testament Satan is seen as a present threat to the churches: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Paul expects Satan to be crushed soon under their feet (Rom. 16:20).

3. In the Jewish literature, as far as I can tell, the expectation is that Beliar or Satan will be defeated in a final battle on earth. There is no expulsion from heaven. For example, in 1QM 17:1-15 in the foreseen battle against the nations (the Kittim), Michael is sent to help the holy community subdue and humiliate “the prince of the realm of wickedness” (cf. 1QM 15:12-16:1; T. Dan. 5:10). The destruction of the beast and the binding of Satan following God’s judgment on Rome (Rev. 20:1-3) are the New Testament counterpart to the militaristic Qumran vision.

4. The assertion that Capernaum will not be exalted to heaven but will be brought down to Hades (Lk. 10:15) evokes the language of Isaiah’s taunt of the king of Babylon: ‘You said in your mind, “I will ascend to heaven….” But now you will descend into Hades…’ (Is. 14:13, 15 LXX). This is not the same motif, however, as the fall of Satan as lightning from heaven. I stick to my point.

5. Having seen Satan fallen from heaven, Jesus reassures the messengers, on the one hand, that they have been given authority over everything that might hurt them, and on the other, that their names are written in heaven. In other words, the fall of Satan from heaven is seen not as the end of their problems but as the beginning.

6. That Jesus “could see” (this seems to me to be a good way of capturing the force of the imperfect) Satan “having fallen” from heaven, with the emphasis on the outcome of the fall, suggests that it is what comes next that is important.

All this leads me to contemplate a more complex narrative for Luke 10:18. Nothing suggests that Jesus had in mind the sort of elaborate mythology that we find in Revelation 12, but there do seem to be grounds for thinking that the fall of Satan from heaven does not so much prefigure the eventual eschatological victory over Satan through the witness of the saints (cf. Rev. 20:1-3) as mark the beginning of persecution for those who would proclaim the kingdom of God to Israel after Jesus.

Satan has fallen from heaven. Therefore he will be an immediate threat to the disciples on earth as they go through the towns and villages of Israel before the end comes (cf. Matt. 10:23). Therefore they need the authority that Jesus has given them over everything that might harm them. Therefore they should not be so quick to rejoice. Therefore they need to know that their names are “written in heaven”. That is, they do not need to fear death.

By the disciples proclaiming and demonstrating the decisive incursion of a rival kingdom, Rome becomes stirred against them in ways that will only get worse until they are overthrown.

I think this is what John is capturing when he describes Michael throwing Satan down to the earth from heaven, and now he’s ticked off, so things are about to get really bad.  The close identification of the acts of Satan on a “spiritual” level and the acts of oppressors on the “earthly” level makes this (in my mind) likely.

It’s like that moment in the movie when the heroes are sneaking around, hiding from the enemy, until the bomb they planted goes off.  Now, all the alarms are on, people are running around shooting, and everything just got a lot more dangerous.  That’s what happens when the disciples of the Son of Man cast out demons, heal, and proclaim.

Phil — I’m replying to you because, as per Satan’s fall from heaven, things are likely to get a whole lot worse for me if I reply to Andrew, whose post I do actually have in view, and which I am probably egregiously about to misread. (Hope you follow that). It’s saves me the time and effort needed to read things more carefully if Andrew comes and corrects me rather than spending a lot of time myself on his post, but I feel safer sheltering under your cover, if you see what I mean.

I just can’t see that there is any evidence whatsoever in Luke 10:18, and 19-20 especially, that things are going to get a whole lot worse for the disciples now that Satan has fallen from heaven. 19-20 go on explicitly to say that the disciples have authority “to overcome all the power of the enemy”, and “nothing will harm you”. It also says “the spirits submit to you”. It’s talking about the power of Satan’s demonic oppression in people’s lives, which is now no longer all-powerful. It’s not talking about Satan and persecution, or Satan and Rome.

I think Satan’s supposed damaging depradations against the followers of Jesus are a misreading, and that Luke 10 and Revelation 12 speak with one voice. Satan pursues the woman (faithful Israel) who gave birth to the child (Jesus) in Revelation 12, but she is protected in the desert. (This is more likely to be believing Israel than Mary, or the church in general). Failing to harm her, Satan then goes off to make war against “the rest of her offspring” — probably the wider church in the ensuing drama - ie beyond Israel. Revelation 13 then has the reincarnation of Satan in the form of the beast (Roman political power) and the lamb (Roman false religion). Here, Satan is more successful, apparently, but this is all the language of metaphor, and doesn’t, to my mind, mean that Satan has any more real power than before. All the way through Revelation there are victory songs and multitudes of saints, in heaven and on earth, before the unassailable throne of God, and finally there is the total defeat of Rome aka Babylon.

Taking passages like 1 Peter 5:8-9 also into account, Satan (“your enemy the devil”) is “a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”, but he can effectively be resisted by standing firm in the faith. Intimidating, but not necessarily dangerous. Suffering through persecution (5:9b) is not necessarily a sign of a freely rampaging devil who inflicts wanton damage on the church. In James 4:7, which is the same passage elaborated slightly, to resist the devil causes him to “flee from you”.

Overall, we are interpreting the sometimes complex language of metaphor in reading about Satan, but the emphasis seems to be that through the cross, his teeth were drawn. He can intimidate, and even cause physical harm, but his real power to destroy has been decisively defeated. On the cross, Jesus “disarmed the principalities and powers, and made a public spectacle of them”. These are the powers that appear in Ephesians 6:12, and can be effectively resisted. Through the church, the “manifold wisdom of God” is made known to them. “Your life is now hidden with Christ in God” — which sounds a very safe place for the Colossians to be. “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in heavenly places”, which sounds like a present reality for the Ephesians and a place of kingly authority.

The paradoxical phenomenon of Satan being already defeated yet having power in some sense to inflict damage is captured in Revelation 20:1-3, where nothing could emphasise more strongly Satan’s defeat (which I take to be a present reality, not some distant future hope), and yet his apparent freedom “for a short time” (which corresponds to 1 Peter 1:6 “for a little while” as a present, not future, reality). This is also the paradox of Revelation 12:7-12. Satan is nevertheless effectively “bound” by Jesus in his ministry, eg Matthew 12:28-29; Luke 4:18-19; Luke 11:20-22; and by the cross, Col 2:14-15.

In the round, I don’t think it is a valid deduction to make from Luke 10 that Satan’s fall from heaven to earth equates simply to the phenomenon of increased persecution to come. There is much more evidence to suggest that while there may be more persecution, and while in one sense this is orchestrated in some way by Satan and his operatives on earth, his actual power has been decisively defeated, and most of all by Jesus on the cross, where Satan expected to have his greatest victory, but was disabused of that expectation - John 14:30.

Anyway, this is probably enough from me on the subject, and an object lesson in why I need to take more frequent and ever increasingly extended sabbaticals from this website.

Hey Peter,

Well, first off, I was primarily talking about how John might be portraying this event in Revelation.  The throwing of Satan down to earth in Revelation 12 is certainly a defeat of Satan, and the “dwellers of Heaven” are really happy about it, but you also get the warning, “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows his time is short.”

So, although the image is strongly, perhaps even primarily triumphant, there is also the warning that the devil has come to the earth in great wrath, and this is bad news for the earth.  It would be weird to pronouce woe upon the earth if the near future is meant to be unmixed triumph.

Is this same idea to be found in Luke 10?  I think John has the advantage of hindsight, but you still get hints that the overthrow of Satan described in Luke 10 doesn’t mean things are awesome from here on out.  For example, Jesus tells them in 19-20 specifically not to rejoice in their victory over the evil spirits, but rather to rejoice that their names are written in heaven.  Unless one thinks that Jesus is just using the occasion to remind the disciples of how great heaven is (such a buzzkill — can’t you just let us enjoy the exorcisms?), Jesus seems to want them to look past this immediate occasion for their joy.

The other citations you offered don’t comment on this event.  Theologically, sure, the devil is a defeated enemy and what we see in the world is more like death throes than a war.  My point was that I think the “great wrath” mentioned in Revelation 12 comes upon the earth after Satan is cast out, which is in Luke 10.  If this great wrath of Satan in the world isn’t the oppression of Rome, then what is it?  I’m totally open to better ideas.

Thanks Phil. Leaving aside Luke 10, which I don’t think offers any pointers to trouble ahead for the disciples, rather the opposite, I take your point about ‘the great wrath’ (Revelation 12:12).

Anyway, Satan’s earthly sphere of operations in Revelation 12:9-17 and13, following his  ejection from heaven, seems to be a way of describing the historical realities which afflicted 1st century Christians (and beyond). So yes, there is heightened conflict, behind which is this mysterious angelic personality. I guess that’s what you and Andrew were driving at.

I didn’t need to go into how futile this all was from the point of view of the victory of the saints, though to jump around Revelation a bit, the saints weren’t sounding very victorious when they cried out from underneath the altar in Revelation 6:9. I always think it must have felt very cramped and uncomfortable down there, and an odd image to bring to mind in our peaceful, rural Anglican churches in this country.

Anyway, I suppose my feeling was it’s a long shot to deduce from Luke 10:18 and context anything other than defeat for Satan and victory for the saints. Revelation 12-13 sketches in more historical conflict, but against a larger background of limited success for Satan, despite appearances to the contrary.

I think something of this paradigm might be applied today. Big reverses for the church in parts of the Middle East, for whom we as the church not living in persecution should be, and are, actively supportive. On the larger screen, the apparent success of anti-Christian forces in this part of the world seems to be having the reverse effect, with parts of the church in these areas actively growing where they have not seen growth before (though Secret Believers/Brother Andrew and Faith Under Fire/Andrew White should be essential reading to counter a triumphalistic attitude).

Another example of hostility to the church achieving the opposite effect might be Iran, where the church is growing faster than ever before, not least in reaction to disillusionment with the Islamic republic. 

These are just ways of interpreting the wider effect of the kinds of Satanically inspired conflict which we see in Revelation in a contemporary context, just to bring home into contemporary realities the rather arcane tendencies of these discussions!

All the best.

From a theological standpoint, I think we pretty much agree.  Satan neither has a presence at the throne of God, nor is he at the helm of the nations.  Jesus has overthrown him, bound him, and just about every way you can disable someone short of final destruction.  The apparent “victories” of Satan in the world today are the last vestiges of a dying empire and are just that — apparent.  In fact, I’d say offhand the overall theme of Revelation is, “It looks like Satan is winning, but I’m going to pull back the curtain and show you that isn’t the case.”

I think the overthrow of Satan leading to increased persecution is fairly clear in Revelation 12.  Is it in Luke 10?  It’s a lot more debatable, I’ll grant you.  I’d say it’s more of a hint or an ominous note at the end than, say, a prophecy or declaration.  It’s that bit about not rejoicing in their subjugation of the spirits, but their names being written in heaven.  It doesn’t seem likely to me that Jesus is just making an aside about eternal salvation, as if he were saying, “Sure, casting out demons is great and all, but let’s not forget that what’s REALLY great is that you’re all going to heaven.”

But that’s the way it seems to me.  The overall thrust of that passage either way is definitely one of victory of Jesus and his disciples over Satan.  I think your take is totally viable.  I guess I just see the last bit as the part of the movie where all the good guys are celebrating, then the main character looks off into the distance and a strain of the villain’s theme plays over the celebratory music — just that wisp that things aren’t over.