QUESTION: I’ve been trying to figure out how Satan is pulling the strings behind the scenes and I can’t come up with an answer. How does he influence humans to do his will? Does the Bible have any answers on this subject? It seems to me that humans are evil themselves and don’t need Satan’s influence. He would have to possess someone in order to influence them wouldn’t he? Thank you for all that you do!
You are right. We are all inclined to do evil. It is like a birth defect. God made this observation back before the Flood when He stated concerning man: “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time.”
The very fact that we are all inclined to evil makes us vulnerable and very susceptible to Satan’s insidious influence and temptations. The Devil appeals to our selfish desires and plays upon our deepest fear. In contrast, Jesus spoke to his disciples concerning his departure and said: “I will not speak with you much more, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has no hold on me.” (John 14:30)
The ruler of the world is Satan. But what did Jesus mean that the Devil had no hold on him? Jesus meant that Satan could not sway him in any way. Jesus was perfect. He was not inclined to evil. He had no selfish desires. No vain pride. No fleshly weakness of any kind. He was not fearful. The Tempter tried and tried but he could not tempt Christ to take a selfish course. Even in the face of humiliation, a horrific, torturous death, the Devil failed to make Jesus flinch or deviate from what he knew was God’s will for him.
Interestingly, the Devil apparently influenced one of Jesus’ closest friends in an effort to persuade Jesus to take the selfish course. That was the occasion when Peter innocently counseled Jesus to be kind to himself and not worry about being put to death. Jesus’ stern rebuke, “Get behind me Satan!” would suggest that Peter had momentarily been used as an unwitting mouthpiece for the wicked one.
There were many demon-possessed people when Jesus was on earth. But demonic possession is not always manifest in obvious ways. We have all read the accounts of the wild, madmen whom Jesus encountered who lived in the cemetery, one whose name was “Legion,” because so many demons tormented him. But there are other subtler forms of demonic possession. Consider the account in the 16th chapter of Acts where Paul encountered a servant girl “with a spirit, a demon of divination.” She evidently did not exhibit any strange or violent behavior. In fact, she was what you might call a Christian witness. She truthfully declared that Paul and Barnabas were “slaves of the Most High God and are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.”
The fact is, demon possession is relative. Some poor victims are absolutely controlled by evil spirits, but that seems to be a rarity. However, all of us are under the influence of Satan to a greater or lesser degree. Are we able to boast that the ruler of the world has no hold on us? Not hardly. Beware he who thinks he is standing that he does not fall!
Paul did not feel that was the case for himself. At 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul stated: “To keep me from becoming overly exalted, I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan, to keep slapping me, so that I might not be overly exalted.”
What form the “slapping” took is unknown, but no doubt the apostle was aware of the presence of Satan’s angel, who perhaps mocked him for his shortcomings.
Paul explained that Satan’s influence is all-pervasive. He is, after all, the god of this world. That’s saying something. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul stated: “Furthermore, God made you alive, though you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you at one time walked according to the system of things of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (2:1-2)
The “ruler of the authority of the air” is an odd expression. Some translations say “the prince of the power of this air.” Such expressions suggest that demonic influence is as pervasive as the air we all breathe. Interestingly, Paul’s analogy has become all the more relevant with the advent of radio, television, and wireless in modern times, enabling messages to literally be conveyed through the airwaves. Obviously, we are all influenced by movies, music, and television. The mass media have defined this generation.
No doubt many entertainers and influential people are demon-possessed outright. Some of them do not even try to hide their satanic affiliation. Devil worship is becoming more and more mainstream. No, Satan’s agents are not like the unfortunate soul the demons dubbed “Legion.” They are more like the servant girl with a spirit of divination. They are pop idols, movie stars and celebrities—able to influence millions.
Satan spoke directly to Jesus—making no attempt to disguise himself since deception would not work on Christ. However, in the Garden of Eden Satan pretended to be a serpent. Evidently, he used the reptile just as a ventriloquist may make a dummy appear to speak. If nothing else, the demons are masters of disguise. They are able to mimic our own inner voice—the very thoughts that we recognize in our mind and are familiar with as our own and assume are private. By doing so they can and do inject thoughts into our minds which we may not recognize as coming from a demonic source. It is not as though we might hear some voice telling us to stab our mother or something crazy like that. No, the demons are much more likely to use a friendly, disarming voice, urging us to be kind to ourselves. ‘Have some more cake.’
Because we are influenced by others, it is not necessary for the Devil to over-reach each and every individual. We are all part of this world, this evil system—all subject to breathing the foul air. Think of it as the Dragon’s bad breath.
By merely using a few influentials Satan can affect the thinking of many. For example, Charles Darwin set into motion a massive deception that has been institutionalized. Now everyone is expected and required to accept the fraud of evolution as an indisputable fact. And most people do.
There is a boatload of religious lies that are accepted as God’s sterling truth. And, sorry to say, Jehovah’s Witnesses are also laboring under a special operation of Satan designed just for them—believing the lie that Christ has already returned and is invisibly present. The Bible identifies the source as the man of lawlessness.
As mentioned above, when Jesus was on earth he expelled demons from many people. In spite of that most of the Jews did not put faith in him. The Pharisees even claimed Jesus worked his miracles by the power of Beelzebub. As a consequence, Jesus illustrated their situation by telling a little story: “When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through parched places in search of a resting-place, and finds none. Then it says, ‘I will go back to my house out of which I moved’; and on arriving it finds it unoccupied but swept clean and adorned. Then it goes its way and takes along with it seven different spirits more wicked than itself, and, after getting inside, they dwell there; and the final circumstances of that man become worse than the first. That is how it will be also with this wicked generation.” — Mathew 12:43-45
Jesus likened the entire generation of Jews to a man who had been set free from an unclean spirit. However, the former evil occupant decided to return and take possession of his “house” that had been cleaned but was unoccupied—taking along other spirits more wicked than itself. As Jesus illustrated, the generation that did not accept the Messiah suffered a horrible fate when the Romans came and annihilated Jerusalem and the temple. So it shall be for the generation to whom the good news is preached prior to the coming of the Son of man.
On the night of his arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus said to the mob: “Did you come out with swords and clubs as against a robber? While I was with you in the temple day after day, you did not lay your hands on me. But this is your hour and the authority of darkness.”
The hour of the authority of darkness indicates that it was God’s time to allow Satan full sway to go at Jesus. God was removing the restraint. Recall, just a few days before large crowds of Jews welcomed Jesus, hailing him as the King of Israel. But during the hour of darkness, the crowd clamored for Christ to be executed like a common criminal. Such is the influence of Satan.
There is another hour of darkness ahead in the near future. That is when God will again remove all restraint. Satan will be permitted to express his anger as never before. Those under his influence then will not be able to resist becoming the Devil’s pawns and will persecute those who seek to remain faithful. Jesus foretold that brothers will betray brothers and even parents will hand their children over to be put to death and children will betray their parents and have them killed.
Ultimately, expressions inspired by demons will envelop the rulers of the world to attack the chosen ones, thereby bringing about the situation known as Armageddon.
Regarding the prince of the power of this unclean air, Paul said he operates in the sons of disobedience. So, the key to resisting Satan’s influence is obedience to God’s word. Obeying God’s voice as it is expressed throughout the pages of the Holy Bible will protect us from being overreached by the wicked one. There is no alternative.