How Did Satan Get His Name?
Steve, I understand that Satan goes by many names. For example in Revelation 12:3 he’s called the “great red dragon.” And in Revelation 12:9 he’s called “that old serpent,” “the Devil, and “Satan which deceiveth the whole world.” But how did he get the name “Satan”…when did it happen…and why do we call him “Satan”?
First, it’s important to understand that Satan is not a name at all, but instead, a word that’s being used as a title meant to convey some very specific characteristics which we’ll examine in just a moment.
In the original Hebrew language the word “satan” simply means an “adversary” or an “opponent” (see Strong’s H-7854).
But as you’ll see below, depending upon how it’s used it can mean any adversary or opponent, or, when the definite article is used (i.e., ha-Satan) it specifically refers to the adversary or the opponent, which is to say, the arch-enemy of Christ, the Devil.
And of course, that makes him the opponent or adversary of anyone who truly loves God and His Living Word, Jesus Christ. In other words, he’s our adversary…our opponent…as well.
But there’s more to it than that. Much more.
The Hebrew root of the word “Satan” (see Strong’s H-7853), means “to attack” or “to accuse.” That’s important to understand, because, for example, we know from Revelation 12:10 that Satan is referred to as “the accuser of our brethren.” I’m pointing out the importance of the characteristics denoted by the title, “Satan.”
In other words, as the spiritual adversary of God and His faithful children, Satan attacks God’s children, hoping to seriously weaken or even altogether derail their faith. Then, once he has them firmly outside of the protection of Christ’s shed blood by shaking their faith, he accuses them of their sins and seeks a guilty verdict against them.
So “satan” is actually a legalistic term, in this sense, because he attacks and accuses us before the throne of God, much as a prosecuting attorney attacks and accuses a defendant at a trial.
In other words, Satan’s goal as the adversary, or opponent, is to force God to bring a guilty verdict against His own children for their sins. He seeks the death penalty against God’s children, because, knowing he can’t harm God, his only other way of hurting God is to force God to destroy His own children by bringing relevant charges against them for their sins.
That’s why St. Paul, in Romans chapter 8, asks the rhetorical questions, “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?” (i.e., “Who’s going to bring legal charges against God’s elect?”) and “Who is he that condemneth?” (i.e., “Who’s going to pronounce the death sentence?”). As it’s written:
Rom 8:33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.
Rom 8:34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
In asking those two rhetorical questions — “who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect” and “who is he that condemneth” — St. Paul is telling us that while Satan might well be the prosecuting attorney of heaven (so to speak), when it comes to God’s faithful elect God has already judged and pronounced a verdict upon them.
You see, it’s God Himself who has judged His elect, and He’s already pronounced them innocent of all charges thanks to their faithfulness in Christ, “who also maketh intercession for us.” That’s what Romans 8:33 means when it says “It is God that justifieth.” The word “justifieth” means to be found innocent and to be deemed “just” or “righteous” as a result of that verdict.
The bottom line is that God has already judged His elect in the first age, and, due to their faithfulness on God’s behalf, has found them innocent of all charges brought against them by Satan. (If you don’t understand about the three world ages, and Satan’s rebellion in the first age, see the Bible study Three World Ages: Understanding God’s Creation from Beginning to End.)
So again, to more fully understand the title, “Satan,” you have to look to the specific characteristics the title conveys, and the reasons those characteristics of being an opponent, attacker and accuser are attributed to him, i.e., he’s like a determined legal adversary or prosecuting attorney in a courtroom, seeking to prosecute you to the hilt for your crimes (i.e., sins) and make sure you’re pronounced guilty.
This is Satan’s method of warfare; first, as your opponent, he employs opposition against you, hoping to shake your faith so you step outside of the spiritual protection of Christ’s shed blood. Then, as the accuser, he brings charges against you for your sins and failed faith, hoping to derail your salvation. As it’s written in the great book of 1 Peter:
1Pe 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
He’s looking for victims. So don’t make yourself easy pickings for him. Keep your slate clean by refraining from sin when he tempts you.
And if you sin, which you inevitably will from time-to-time, always repent sincerely and as quickly as possible, having the faith to know that Christ’s shed blood cleanses you of those sins, and thus of any charges the devil can bring against you in his role as “the Satan,” or the adversary, before the throne of God.
As the very next verse says:
1Pe 5:9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
The term “resist steadfast in the faith” means to stand firmly against him with unwavering faith.
Your unshakeable faith in Christ, and your ongoing acts of faith on His behalf, clear you of any charges Satan might try to bring against you, thanks to Christ’s shed blood which paid the price for your sins.
And you don’t need to feel alone when Satan attacks and causes you hardship, because, as 1 Peter 5:9 above states, “the same afflictions are accomplished in [i.e., executed against] your brethren that are in the world.”
In other words, this is Satan’s modus operandi. He works as an adversary against all faithful Christians. His goal is to shake your faith in Christ by putting you under as much hardship as possible. Then, if he can find the chink in your Gospel armor during the tribulation he places you under, he accuses you of your sins before the very throne of God, seeking to derail your salvation.
As a good example of this, in the story of Job we see Satan torturing Job with severe boils, destroying his health and well-being while also destroying his entire family and livelihood in hopes of derailing Job’s faith in the Lord, thus giving him means of accusing Job of sin, and prosecuting him before the Lord.
But in spite of his tribulation, Job remained faithful and righteous to the Lord, and Satan was essentially shamed in his defeat.
So in the story of Job — which, by the way, is a name that means “hated” or “persecuted” — we have the story of God’s elect. That’s because the elect, like Job, live righteously in Christ and resist the ways of the world and its temptations. So Satan targets them, puts pressure on them and works to shake their faith in hopes of being able to bring charges against them before the Lord.
But as it’s further written of God’s faithful elect servants in Revelation 12:11:
Rev 12:11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
God’s elect know to stand firm in the shed blood of the Lamb no matter what afflictions or burdens Satan — the adversary — might try to lay on them, and what legal charges he might try to bring against them before God.
The elect don’t allow Satan to shake their faith in the Lord. They know the price has already been paid for their sins and shortcomings, upon repentance of course. So they simply will not turn their backs on the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
That’s how we resist Satan’s tactics. He’s trying to shake our faith, particularly in the Lord’s promise of salvation. But we “overcome him by the blood of the Lamb,” meaning we stand fast in Christ’s shed blood which paid the price for our sins and shortcomings.
And when it comes to that great time of testimony written of in Mark chapter 13, when God’s elect are delivered up to the synagogues and councils for a testimony, we’ll gladly allow God to speak through us, delivering the testimony that seals Satan’s fate (Mark 13:11).
Now perhaps you’re beginning to understand the nature of the warfare Satan is conducting against you, as your adversary, opponent, attacker and accuser, and the importance of working hard to maintain not only your good reputation as a Christian, but more importantly, your faith in Christ Jesus and the redeeming power of His shed blood.
When Did Lucifer Become “Satan” i.e., the Adversary?
At the time of the first heaven and earth age, Satan’s name was actually Lucifer, which is to say, Heylel in the Hebrew language, a word meaning “to shine” or “to give light.”
The same Hebrew word, heylel, is also used in reference to Venus, the so-called “morning star” because of the way it brightly reflects light from the sun.
So Satan’s original name, or title, was Lucifer, or Heylel in the Hebrew language. And Lucifer did not get the title “ha-Satan” (i.e., the adversary) until the time of the katabole, which is to say, toward the end of the first age, at which time he began to think so highly of himself that he seduced, deceived and corrupted one-third of God’s children (i.e., the angels), and led them into open rebellion against God and His throne (Revelation 12:3-4).
As we’ve discussed earlier, this is a tactic he still employs to this day, i.e., temptation and seduction (often by putting intense pressure on you, as he did Job) followed by legal accusation against you if you allow your faith to crack, followed by prosecution at the throne of God in hopes of gaining a conviction.
So originally, he was named Heylel, the shining one who reflected the glory of God, just as the planet Venus reflects the glory (or light) of the sun as it shines so brightly in the morning sky.
Of course, as we know from John 1:1-9, Jesus Christ is God’s Living Word, and God’s Living Word is referred to there as “the light.”
Therefore Christ Jesus is the true Light of God, not Lucifer. Lucifer was just a reflection of that Light, meaning a teacher of that Light — this, just as when you teach God’s Word to someone, you’re not the Light, but instead, are reflecting that Light to another by helping them understand and absorb it so they too can eventually become a reflector of the Light.
So before the katabole…before Lucifer (i.e., Heylel) became the adversary (i.e., “the Satan”)…he was a teacher of God’s Word, which is to say, a teacher of the Light. He was supposed to lead God’s children to God’s Light, meaning to God’s Living Word, Jesus Christ, and to help them live with discipline within that Light and all of its glory.
But as you know, he became prideful and decided he wanted not just to reflect the Light of God (i.e., teach God’s Word to God’s children) but instead to be the Light. And as a result of this inordinate self-pride he tried to overthrow God’s throne, where the mercy seat resides, which is why God pronounced the death sentence upon him in Ezekiel 28:18-19.
So it was at the katabole — at the end of the first heaven and earth age — that Heylel (i.e., Lucifer, the shining one, or light-bearer) became “Satan,” the adversary or opponent of God and His faithful servants.
Since that time, he’s gone under many other names and titles, virtually all of which are in relation to his characteristics. But that’s the gist of it in terms of how he got his chief title, Satan, when he got it, and why he got it.
Instead of working within God’s plan to save His children, he worked against God’s plan, seeking instead to force God through legal treachery to condemn His own children for their sins.
In other words, if he couldn’t be the Light that provides salvation, then he’d seek to derail God’s children from coming to the Light that provides salvation.
So he was given that Hebrew title, ha-Satan, the adversary or the opponent, during the first age, at the katabole, when he seduced, deceived and led one-third of God’s children astray (Revelation 12:4) during his attempt to overthrow God’s throne.
And he received that title due to his specific actions and characteristics, which, again, were to bring pressure against God’s children until their faith cracked, then bring accusations against them for their sins before the throne of God in hopes of gaining a conviction, much like a crooked or overzealous courthouse prosecuting attorney might do today.
In short, rather than working to bring God’s children to the Light of God, which of course is Jesus Christ — the Living Word that cleanses us of our sins — he instead seeks to overturn our faith, accuse us of our sins, and have us convicted for them.
When “Satan” Doesn’t Mean Satan
As I mentioned earlier, in the Hebrew language the word “satan” can mean any adversary or opponent. In other words, in the Scriptures, it doesn’t always refer to Lucifer.
But in the 13 times in the Massoretic text that the term is used with the definite article (i.e., ha-satan, meaning “the satan” or “that one satan”) it almost always refers to the specific individual who seduced God’s children and led them against God and His throne at the time of the katabole.
As a somewhat surprising example of a passage in the Bible in which the term “satan” is used, but does not refer to Lucifer, check out Numbers 22:22, where God’s anger was kindled against Balaam for his disobedience. At that point, the angel of the Lord “stood in the way for an adversary against him.” As it’s written:
Num 22:22 And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.
The word “adversary” in that verse is translated from the Hebrew word “satan” (Strong’s H-7854). And the “angel of the Lord,” of course, is Jesus Christ, God’s messenger of salvation, the Living Word.
So that particular verse tells us that due to Balaam’s intransigence, Jesus Christ — the angel of the Lord — acted as an adversary, i.e., as a “satan” (i.e., opponent) against Balaam.
So when the Hebrew word “satan” is used in the Bible, you have to be very careful to distinguish whether it refers to that entity known as Lucifer, in his role as the adversary, or merely refers to a generic opponent or adversary. You can easily make this distinction by the context of the verses you’re reading, as well as by whether or not the definite article is used (i.e., ha-Satan, meaning “the Satan” or “that one Satan,” is always indicative of Lucifer himself, and not just a generic adversary or opponent).
I bring this up because there are a number of religions, such as the Judaic religion, and the Moslem religion, which talk about “Satan” as an entity they have to contend with.
But in many cases, the adversary or opponent they’re talking about is actually Christ Jesus Himself, since He’s their opponent, or adversary. They don’t call Him by the name “Jesus” in such passages. But once you understand the meaning of the word “satan” (i.e., adversary, opponent) and read their literature, it will become abundantly clear to you that their “Satan,” or chief opponent, is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, just as our “Satan” or chief opponent is Christ’s enemy, Lucifer.
So just because another religion also has a “Satan,” that doesn’t mean it’s Lucifer they’re referring to. Understanding that the word “satan” simply means an adversary or an opponent can in turn help you understand that even you can be branded as a “satan” (i.e., an adversary or opponent) by an enemy, because to them, you are their adversary.
And now you might better understand why religions like the Muslim religion refer to Christianity as “the great Satan.” In a sense, they’re absolutely right. Just as Lucifer is “the Satan” (i.e., the opponent) of Christ and Christianity, so Christ and Christianity are the “satans” (i.e., opponents) of every false religion.
Regards in Christ,
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