Friday, April 16, 2010

Angels & Demons 4: “The Great Satan” of Iran

The Ayatollah Khomeini, whom Time magazine named “Man of the Year” in 1979, and who became the Supreme Leader of Iran when the Shah of Iran was deposed during the Jimmy Carter administration, is famous for labeling America “The Great Satan.” It is fitting that someone from Iran speaks of “The Great Satan.” Iran is another name for Persia and in the years prior to the Persian Empire, Persian religion developed the concept of an Evil God who was constantly at war with a Good God. In other words, Persians/Iranians are largely responsible for giving us our popular misconceptions about Satan.

Before I discuss “The Great Satan,” permit me a quick review of world history, as it pertains to the history of the Jews:

The BABYLONIAN Empire 627-539 b.c. (King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon carried the Jews away into captivity in 567 b.c. The prophet Daniel and his friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were among the young men who were captured. Daniel predicted the eventual Fall of Babylon to the Persian King Cyrus.)

The MEDO-PERSIAN Empire 539-323 b.c. (Jewish princess Esther becomes the Queen of Persia from 492 to 460 b.c. Around 400 b.c., under the rule of Persia, the last two books of the Bible were written—Ezra and Nehemiah—as these two men reestablished the Jewish religion in Jerusalem.)

The GREEK Empire 323-146 b.c. (In a period entirely between the Old and New Testaments, the Greek religious influence was strong. This is called the Hellenistic period. During this time, the Maccabees mounted a successful Jewish revolt against Greece and Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes defiled the Jerusalem Temple with Greek religious practices and forbade the practice of the Jewish religion.)

The ROMAN Empire (146) b.c.-476 a.d. (While the Romans conquered Greece in 146 b.c., they really did not become an “Empire” until their first “Emperor” Augustus Caesar in 27 b.c. Augustus was the Emperor during whose reign Jesus was born. Christians will certainly remember the decree that went forth from Augustus Caesar. Augustus was most likely the First Head of the seven-headed Beast of Revelation.)

One reason the influences of the Greeks and Persians on the Fallen Angel stories is missed by so many Christians is that these influences occurred mostly during the void of 400 years spanning the end of Old Testament history and the beginning of New Testament history. Readers may wonder why I am spending so much time debunking the mistaken notions about Fallen Angels. The simple answer is that it is necessary to “unlearn” all of the FALSEHOODS so that one can clearly see the TRUTHS. The New Testament and rabbinic Judaism were largely fighting against these falsehoods (as I shall demonstrate in future commentaries). In my book, Revelation: The Human Drama, I comment:

“Some interpreters of Revelation consider the informing anecdote of the book to be the conflict between God and Satan. This perceived conflict is a vestige of Judaism's contact with Persian religion. Martin Hengel discounts such ‘iranische Dualismus’ [or Persian Dualism] in accounting for the scene which, for example, produced the ‘fallen angel’ stories in the centuries preceding the New Testament period. In perusing John's Revelation, examples of a direct rivalry between God and Satan cannot be found. While allusions are made to ‘fallen angels’ in Revelation, it is not clear that they are typical of the fallen angel stories of the centuries preceding the Christian Era.”

By this comment, I mean what I stated before: “Persian religion developed the concept of an Evil God who was constantly at war with a Good God.” There is no picture in the Old Testament of a Satan who could rival God. The Hebrew word “SATAN” means “adversary” or “prosecuting attorney.” That’s all Satan was in the Book of Job. He certainly had not “fallen” from Heaven by then. Job 1:6 has Satan joining the angels in presenting themselves before God. He petitions God for permission to “test” Job. He certainly does not demand anything of God. This “testing” role is also the one he assumes in the New Testament as he “tests” Jesus in the desert, following his baptism. At the end of Jesus’ life (Luke 22:31), Jesus informs his disciples that Satan has asked permission to sift them all like wheat. This sounds to me like the same Satan who was in the courts of Heaven in Job.

Many of my university students view me as a professor who gives difficult tests. It’s probably true. Because of that fact, some of them view me as an adversary. So, if Satan forces us to endure difficult “tests,” we may easily view him as the “adversary” of MAN.

But, where is the hint in either the Old or New Testament that he is the adversary of GOD? God cannot be tested, and Satan “asks permission” from Him to test us. Some readers will immediately refer us to the “Lucifer” passage in Isaiah 14:12, but be careful! Nowhere does this passage mention “Satan.” (I’ll write more on this passage in a future commentary.) There is no such "Great Satan." If you are reading “Satan” into the passage, YOU ARE READING THE PASSAGE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF PERSIAN RELIGION. The thirtieth Yasna, the ancient Zoroastrian worship texts from Persia, states: “Well known are the two primeval spirits correlated but independent; one is the better and the other is the worse as to thought, as to word, as to deed, and between these two let the wise choose aright.” This scripture from Persian religion tells you where your concept of Satan originated. Satan and God, according to Persian dualism, are the two INDEPENDENT, PRIMEVAL SPIRITS. One is good and one is bad. You must choose between them.

Paul even sees Satan as a useful agent in salvation. I Timothy 1:20 says that Paul surrendered Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan, so that they might be disciplined. In a similar vein, I Corinthians 5:5 has Paul counseling the church to hand over a fornicator to Satan so that Satan can destroy the fornicator’s “flesh,” in order that the fornicator’s “spirit” might be SAVED. Satan can apparently drive us to repent. That’s useful, right?

Do not misunderstand. I am not arguing that Satan is good. I am just pointing out that he is NOT the “Evil God” some make him out to be. He tests humans. In that sense, even though the serpent in Eden was not specifically called a “satan,” the New Testament correctly identifies him as such. When he finds that we are guilty, he is the prosecuting attorney, accusing us before God. Once God judges us, he is the executioner. These are all negative roles, from our (human) perspective. And Jesus came to put him out of a job. Jesus told his disciples, in Luke 10:18, that he had a vision of Satan falling from Heaven, like lightning. In Revelation 12, John sees Jesus’ prophecy fulfilled with Satan being cast out of Heaven (by Michael, not by God) when Jesus died on the cross. Satan was thrown out because his job as “accuser” was no longer needed. Jesus’ blood had secured forgiveness. No accuser is necessary in Heaven.

1 comment:

  1. "it is necessary to “unlearn” all of the FALSEHOODS so that one can clearly see the TRUTHS." This is the basis of my studies and in my opinion needed among christians now more than ever. Very informative read. I had this debate with a friend recently who has dualism beliefs. After speaking with several other friends I was amazed to find how many of them shared this belief that some how Satan was an equal contender with God.
    I had a question regarding Isaiah 14 but you had mentioned you would talk more on the subject so I will wait to read further.
    In Ezekiel 28 there is a similar passage addressed to the King of Tyrus. Most of what is mentioned does not seem to apply to an earthly man. Mentioning he was in Eden the Garden of Go. Again does not directly name Satan here but an interesting read.