HOW DOES SATAN OPERATE TODAY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“My question is about Satan and his ‘abilities’ today. I know people in biblical times were possessed with demons… but why and how? And then, is Satan able to possess bodies today? He is not omniscient, but what are his limitations in influencing people today? Can he know our thoughts, can he physically hurt us, does he fly, change his form (human body, animal, object)? And then once he is bound for 1000 years, he is set free for a season. Why? Will that mean he could harm the kingdom on earth?”
Thank you for these questions. While much could be said about each topic, thus forming several individual Bible study articles, I think it best to briefly answer your inquiries one-by-one in a single “short,” concise article. Let us search the Scriptures for the answers.
“I know people in biblical times were possessed with demons…but why and how? And then, is Satan able to possess bodies today?” We will look at this issue first.
If you have ever read through the Bible from cover to cover, you likely noticed that there is a “spike” of devil possessions beginning with Jesus’ earthly ministry—little is said about devils (evil spirits) operating in and through people in the Old Testament Scriptures. In the books of Matthew through John, we read of several instances of devil possession and exorcism. Satan was actively opposing the establishment of God’s earthly kingdom. The Devil knew that as long as he possessed Jews, as long as he controlled Jews, the Holy Land would be defiled, Israel could not be God’s people in the earth, and God could not use Israel for His purposes (that is, to establish His earthly kingdom through them).
One prophecy associated with Jesus Christ’s earthly kingdom is that there will be no evil spirits in the land (on the Earth, but particularly in the Holy Land). Zechariah 13:1-2 says: “ In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.  And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.” Satan is the chief of evil spirits, and all of the evil spirits will be removed from Earth and confined in the bottomless pit during that 1000-Year Reign of Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:1-6). (More on this later.)
The way that Jesus Christ demonstrated that He was Messiah/Christ was to cast out devils, a confirmation of the kingdom being at hand, to validate the Gospel message He Himself was preaching and the Gospel He was commanding His apostles to preach (Matthew 10:7-8). Luke 8:1 says, “And it came to pass afterward, that [Jesus] went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him….” Jesus said in Matthew 12:28, “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.”
Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39 involves the Gadarene, a devil-possessed man who lived a most bizarre lifestyle. You are strongly urged to read these passages on your own; I can only briefly summarize those verses here. The Gadarene lived amongst tombs, he howled, cut himself with stones, wore no clothes, and had bursts of amazing strength that enabled him to break chains. Notice how Jesus addressed the unclean spirit in the Gadarene, “What is thy name?,” and how the spirit responded, “My name is Legion: for we are many” (Mark 5:9). There were actually many unclean spirits within this man, so his condition was very serious. Verse 10 is particularly noteworthy: “And he [the unclean spirit] besought him [Jesus] much that he would not send them [all the unclean spirits possessing the Gadarene] away out of the country.” Again, the unclean spirit admitted that they (the other unclean spirits) preferred to stay in the land of Israel. If Jesus was to cast them out of the man, they at least wanted to possess the swine of the land. Those unclean spirits knew the torments of hell, and they did not want to be thrown into it! In the companion verse, we read: “And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep” (Luke 8:31).
Understandably, these evil spirits did not want to go to hell, but why do they want to stay in Israel’s land? Why did not want to be sent “out of the country?” Pay attention to how that chief evil spirit addressed Jesus as “thou Son of God most high” (Luke 8:28) and “thou Son of the most high God” (Mark 5:7). The title “most High God” implies “possessor of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:19,22). Satan originally desired to be “like the most High” (Isaiah 14:14)—the Devil wants to rule heaven and earth. In order to prevent Jesus Christ’s kingdom from being established on earth, Satan had possessed the nation Israel (which was to be God’s chief nation on earth; Exodus 19:5,6; Deuteronomy 7:6,7; Isaiah 2:1-4; et al.). Why did these unclean spirits not want to leave the land of Israel? As per Satan’s command, these devils knew that their job was to maintain strongholds—or footholds—in Israel, that God’s earthly kingdom not be set up. Hence, Jesus Christ told apostate Israel, “But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11:20). The Gadarene was a picture/symbol of the nation Israel in satanic bondage, and Messiah Jesus was proving to Israel that he could deliver them from spiritual/satanic/sin’s bondage.
God is forming the Church the Body of Christ today, a people to use for His glory in the heavens. God is not forming an earthly people, Israel, and He is not trying to reclaim Earth (He did that in the past before our dispensation, and He will do that after our dispensation). Satan knows that the battle today is not really focused on the earth, but on God’s purpose and plan for the heavens. Thus, Satan has adjusted his tactics; Satan attacks the Body of Christ instead of Israel today. While the Apostle Paul never talks about devil possession in his epistles, and the Holy Spirit through him never instructs us to exorcise anyone, he does warn about satanic deception (more on this later).
WHAT ABOUT SATAN AND “SHAPESHIFTING?”
We will now look at your question, “Can Satan change form—like turn himself into a human, an animal, or an object, etc.?” When Satan appeared to Eve back in Genesis chapter 3, he took on the form of a handsome man, someone who physically and verbally captivated Eve. To cause her to eat the forbidden fruit, Satan used enticing words and placed Eve under some kind of spell, for 1 Timothy 2:14 says Eve was deceived. The same kind of language—“bewitched”—is used to describe Satan utilizing false religion to deceive people (Galatians 3:1). When Scripture refers to Satan as a “serpent” (Genesis 3:1), it describes his nature, not his physical appearance; Eve having a conversation with a literal reptile-snake seems unlikely. Paul wrote that Satan was a “serpent” in the sense of subtilty, sneakiness, trickery (2 Corinthians 11:3-4; cf. Revelation 12:9). Even today, we use the metaphor “snake in the grass” to describe “a treacherous or deceitful person.”
The only few other accounts I recall in Scripture where Satan personally appeared before someone was in Job chapters 1 and 2, Matthew chapter 4 (companion passage is Luke chapter 4), Jude 9, and Revelation 12:7-10. Scripture does not give us any description of how Satan physically looked in these passages. What we should know is that Satan is a spirit creature; he was seen only when he wanted himself to be seen (as with Eve, or with Christ). Besides Eve and Jesus Christ, I know of no others who personally met Satan in some type of physical body.
Nothing in Paul’s epistles warns us to be aware of physical satanic appearances; the way Satan operates today is by using false doctrine, invisible operations (to be discussed in our next section). The Scriptures affirm that Satan can and does “transform himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15); his nature and works can and do appear very innocent, very godly, albeit they are counterfeit and deceptive. Just as Satan’s “ministers of righteousness” misled people in time past, so they do today. During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ had more rebukes for Israel’s religious leaders than for any other one group. Satan is a very shrewd individual; someone who knows how to operate and avoid being discovered most of the time. The Devil still uses corrupt religious leaders, people whose spiritual wickedness is rarely detected.
WHAT ARE SATAN’S LIMITATIONS IN INFLUENCING PEOPLE TODAY?
These are not clearly delineated in Scripture, but here is what the Scriptures say about that matter….
The Devil used a false prophet to attempt to physically hinder the Apostle Paul from reaching a Gentile with the Gospel (see Acts 13:6-12). Satan used a mysterious “thorn in the flesh” to discourage Paul and physically disrupt God’s ministry through him (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). We will see more about this later.
Primarily, Satan’s goal is to use false religion (works-religion), counterfeit miracles, counterfeit Bible versions, false brethren, false ministers, et cetera, to influence (deceive) people, whether saved or lost. The Devil wants to distract people away from God’s truth for today. Recall how he distracted Eve and the Galatians!
The Holy Spirit through Paul warned in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4: “ But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” The way Satan operates today is to use non-dispensational Bible study, to make us focus on the Gospel that Paul did not preach, to make us focus on the Jesus Christ whom Paul did not preach, and to make us focus on the spirit that Paul did not preach.
Satan wants us to ignore the Jesus Christ whom Paul preached, “the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery” (Romans 16:25-26; 2 Corinthians 5:16), and instead focus on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, which was not to us Gentiles (Romans 15:8; cf. Matthew 15:24). Satan wants us to ignore the “spirit”/attitude/viewpoint of the grace of God that Paul preached (Romans 6:14-15; Romans 8:15), and instead observe the “spirit” of the Law as means of Christian living (Galatians 3:1-3). Satan wants us to ignore the Gospel of God’s Grace of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, and cause us to believe some other Gospel for salvation (such as Acts 2:38).
Colossians 2:8 says, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Satan will use philosophy, church tradition, and secular “wisdom” to mislead us. We must be careful! Rather than dispensational Bible study, these very systems/schools of religious are often used in most churches and Bible colleges to “explain” (confuse) the Bible.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:1-2, speaking of his current ministry serving the Lord Jesus Christ at the Apostle of the Gentiles, and admitting how he had given up his prior ministry (as a lost man, the Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus) of serving Satan in a corrupt Judaistic system: “ Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not;  But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” Even today, there are people in religion who “walk in craftiness,” those “handling the word of God deceitfully.” May we not be fooled!
Colossians 2:18 warns, “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind….” Satan wants us to focus on angels instead of Jesus Christ—such is the case of “angelic appearances,” “apparitions,” “Holy Ghost encounters,” and all the other supernatural phenomena religion often discusses today. Again, we must be careful! Idolatry can take even the subtlest forms, but the student grounded in God’s Word rightly divided will withstand such duplicity.
And 1 Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;…” Satan has preachers (“spirits,” as in voices, speaking; see 2 Thessalonians 2:8 for an example) who speak “doctrines of devils.” Verses 3-5 talk about forced celibacy for religious purposes and abstaining from certain meats/foods for religious purposes as being “doctrines of devils.” These would be some of the teachings Satan would advocate.
Finally, we look at 2 Corinthians 4:3-4: “ But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:  In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Satan blinds people by having them focus on works-religion instead of Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork. They really believe they can do enough religious works of measure up to God’s standard of righteousness. All they are really doing is causing themselves to be under a curse, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written [Deuteronomy 27:26], Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10). “The law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15). James 2:10 summarizes, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”
The major disadvantage of a performance-based acceptance system—“do good and God will bless you”—is that you have to perform 100 percent perfectly to be blessed of God, and sin always makes us fall short of absolute righteousness. Jesus Christ came to “redeem us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree…” (Galatians 3:13). The Lord Jesus came to die for our sins, to die in our place, to receive the curse that we sinners deserve. He took our punishment, that when we trust in Him and His finished crosswork alone, we can have His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21)!
Paul’s advice to Timothy, 2 Timothy 2:24-26, is how we escape Satan’s trap of religious deception: “ And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,  In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;  And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” We are to acknowledge that Paul is our apostle (Romans 11:13). Our doctrine, duty, walk, and destiny as members of the Church the Body of Christ are in Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon. These are words of God to us. We study all of the Bible, for it is all God’s Word; but, God’s Word to and about us is Romans through Philemon.
The Scriptures say some Christian women had “already turned aside after Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15) by not heeding the doctrine presented in the earlier verses (which see for yourself).
“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles [schemes, tricks] of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). We have only mentioned some of Satan’s schemes against we need to guard ourselves! Again, we need to have a constant dispensational approach to Scripture, a continual contemplation on those verses of the Word of God rightly divided. This is how we guard ourselves from Satan’s error and our spiritual ruin.
CAN SATAN KNOW OUR THOUGHTS?
No. Nowhere in the Bible do we read about Satan knowing our thoughts.
CAN SATAN PHYSICALLY HARM US?
Satan himself is not trying to harm us physically; his main goal is to harm us spiritually. Sinful people (unbelievers), those who cooperate with Satan, are very antagonistic toward Jesus Christ and His Word, and those sinners are more than willing to do Satan’s bidding. Throughout the book of Acts, Satan physically attacked the Apostles of Israel, and the Apostle Paul and his ministry associates, by having unbelieving Jews and unbelieving Gentiles imprison them, beat them, kill them, discredit their message, discourage them, et cetera (see Acts chapters 4, 5, 7, 9, 12-14, 16-19, 21-25, and 26). Paul makes reference to being hindered from visiting the Roman believers (Romans 1:13) and Satan hindered Paul from visiting the Thessalonian Christians at least twice (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Satan might have accomplished this by using corrupt political and/or religious leaders.
Again, what Satan mostly concentrates on is trying to harm us spiritually, whether Christians or lost people. Satan’s main goal was to destroy Israel, and he would do that by using false religion, pagan idolatry, corrupt priests and prophets, et cetera. Even today, we have to be vigilant concerning his “wiles” (schemes); he will attack us with false doctrine as he did regarding Israel of old. This is why Christendom is so confused!
See Romans 8:35-39, where it asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Satan is an individual who will use difficult circumstances to cause us to believe God does not love us.
Satan will also use the spirit of bitterness and/or an unforgiving spirit to divide and conquer Christians; he tried to do that in Corinth, which Paul warned against. See 2 Corinthians 2:10-11: “ To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;  Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” While Satan will not physically harm us, he can use a bitter spirit to cause us to physically harm others! “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
DOES SATAN FLY?
The Scriptures say that Lucifer (the name of Satan before his fall) was “the anointed cherub” that covered God’s throne in the third heaven (Ezekiel 28:14,16). Cherubim (plural) are spirit creatures that have wings—Lucifer was the fifth cherub around God’s throne, but after his fall, only four cherubim remained around God’s throne (see Ezekiel 1:5-28; Ezekiel 10:1-22; Revelation 4:6-9). In the first and second chapters of Job, we read about when the angels (“sons of God”) presented themselves to God (for accountability). The Bible says that Satan came in among them and told God that he had been “walking to and fro in the earth” (Job 1:7; cf. Job 2:2). Obviously, Satan and the angels are meeting God in outer space, and Satan surely has the ability to travel between Earth and extraterrestrial locations. Keep in mind that Satan is a spirit creature, so he cannot be seen with human eyes—he exists in a dimension outside of ours. Spirit creatures (both God’s angels and Satan’s angels) have the ability to travel in ways we cannot fully understand (they are not bound by speed, time, space, et cetera).
SATAN AND THE MILLENNIUM
From time immemorial, humans have blamed the Devil whenever they have committed evil deeds. “The Devil made me do it” is a common excuse sinners use to shift the blame to someone other than themselves. As mentioned earlier, one of the prophecies associated with Jesus Christ’s earthly kingdom is that there will be no evil spirits in the land (on the Earth). Please re-read Zechariah 13:1-2: “ In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.  And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.” Satan and all of the other evil spirits will be confined in the bottomless pit during that 1000-Year Reign of Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:1-6). Mankind will see that he is still opposed to God, and does not need Satan’s influence to sin; mankind’s flesh commits enough sin on its own without having the Devil “tempt” it.
Why is Satan released after the 1000 years? Interesting question! Revelation 20:7-10 will shed some light on the subject for us: “ And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,  And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.  And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.  And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
Those who will be born during the 1000-year kingdom will not have (as of yet) made a clear decision to follow Jesus Christ or to follow Satan. In order to fully exercise the free will of those future generations, God will loose Satan at the end of the Millennium to see who will follow him to his doom and who will remain faithful to Jesus Christ. It is the same reason why Satan was allowed to exist in the first place—God did not destroy Satan when he fell into sin but rather permitted Satan’s lie program to fit into His plan of allowing man’s free will. With Satan active, mankind has a person to follow, another plan to follow (Satan’s), a plan other than the God of the Bible and His plan for creation.
As we just read in Revelation 20:7-10, once Satan deceives and gathers the nations around the city of Jerusalem (at the end of the 1000-Year Reign of Christ), fire comes down from heaven and devours him and his armies. Satan is cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. Satan will not really harm the kingdom; in His wisdom, the Lord God will use Satan to purge the kingdom of unbelievers, so that only believers remain and go into the New Heaven New Earth.
Dear reader, I hope that now you better understand Satan and his policy of evil as it relates to us today. Again, while much could be said, I trust this will whet your appetite to search and see for yourself—do not take it from me.
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