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The world we see today is far from perfect. Tragedy blots the landscape wherever we turn. Just this week, a lethal earthquake in Nepal, and violent rioting in Baltimore are sad reminders of the troubles that afflicts our world. How did all this come to be? Many wonder. Where did evil come from, anyway? We’ve talked so far about how in “the beginning” God created a perfect world. We looked at 7 points in Genesis 1 that describe the physical creation of the earth that tell us about His project to re-create man. But the phrase “in the beginning,” which initiates the account of Genesis 1 describes only the “beginning” of this planet, and this solar system. We have to go back much further to gain insight into how, where, and with whom evil had its origin.
So today we want to look back even further and share what the Scriptures reveal to us regarding the fall of Lucifer. Today we’ll look at 3 key passages from the Bible, namely Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28 and Revelation 12 which give us valuable information on how this all started. Next time in two weeks, we’ll share some fascinating material from the writings of Ellen G. White, one gifted with prophetic insight, as to how sin began.
We ponder the question, How did a “covering cherub” become the arch-enemy of God? How did the “Light Bearer” (that’s what the name “Lucifer” means) became the “prince of darkness”? The quick answer to that question is, We really don’t know. That is, it’s a “mystery” for which a complete and adequate explanation is not available. There’s a reason why the Bible refers to this as the “mystery of iniquity.” II Thessalonians 2:7, KJV. It is just that, a mystery. To rationalize or justify it is to condone it. Ultimately, there is no logical reason why Lucifer became Satan. Isaiah’s song of lament highlights this aspect by beginning with the phrase, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer!” Isaiah 14:12. That could be exclamatory statement (the way it’s printed in the NKJV), expressing shock or wonderment, or it could be a question. Both applications (punctuation marks were not included in the original manuscripts) are legitimate. We can’t really know how it happened, at least in a sensible way.
Having said that, the Scriptures and the writings of Sister White do shed light on sin’s inception. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29. God wants us to know the basics of how this started so we can have some understanding of why things are they way they are today, and more importantly, how it will all end. The word “revealed” in this text (in the LXX) is the basis of the name of the last book of the Bible, Revelation. Correctly understood, that title really doesn’t belong just to the last Bible book. All of this Book is Revelation. And it’s given not merely to satisfy our quest for answers, but to lead us into a love relationship that results in compliance with His just laws, “so that we may do all the words of this law.” What He reveals is given so that we can become, by His grace, obedient subjects of His kingdom, ready to transition to the celestial world above.
We’ll take a look first at a number of Bible passages that deal with this topic of the origin of sin, and then next time we’ll share some fascinating information that God has given us through His messenger Sister White. The Bible tells us that originally God created a beautiful, wise and talented being named Lucifer, who occupied a position next to the very throne of God. God did not create a scarlet-skinned creature with sharp, pointed ears, horns and a pitchfork tail. That’s an invention designed to remove him from reality. Satan is happy when modern people dismiss him as a cartoon character, a sports mascot. Do you think it’s mere coincidence that teams have chosen names like the Blue Demons of DePaul University, the Duke University Blue Devils and the New Jersey Devils, each with their mascots that caricature Satan? There are the Red Devils of Decatur, the Purple Devils of Franklin Central School in New York, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Arizona State Sun Devils, to name some of them. What do these things do to us? They de-sensitize the human mind from the awesome battle that is raging. Many people today think of the devil as a myth, or that he is just the personification of evil. Not true! He is a real being, a very real being. But he was not created evil. That casts a very inaccurate and unfair light on the character of our loving God. We’ll see that He created a beautiful and wise being, but one who, like all of God’s creatures, was given free will.
Two of the key passages that give us this information are Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. There’s something very interesting about these two chapters. We note that both passages actually begin by addressing an earthly king, but then move seamlessly toward dealing with the one who stood behind the human agent, namely Satan. In Isaiah 14 the king of Babylon is the original subject of the prophecy, while in Ezekiel 28 it is the king of Tyre who first stands on the stage. This approach, to move from one subject to another, is not uncommon in the Bible. If you think about it, Matthew 24 employs a similar technique, with the signs leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem back in AD 70 being merged with the signs of the end of the age. Sometimes in the Scriptures two persons or two events are brought together through a “blending” because they share traits in common.
With that in mind, let’s go to Isaiah 14:3-11 where we find first the focus on the earthly Babylonian king, whose heart was filled with pride and pomp. But who was the one who first embraced those attitudes? It was Lucifer, wasn’t it. So because the king of Babylon cherished those principles, it makes a fit type of the one who instigated that way of thinking. But then in verse 12 the curtain is pulled completely back, to reveal that it is indeed Satan that the prophecy is addressing directly.
We read, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!” The word “How” is exclamatory, suggesting shock, incredulity and amazement. It is reflected in numerous other passages that are “songs of lament” grieving over the “fall” of once favored cities, like Moab (Jeremiah 48:39), Tyre (Ezekiel 26:17), Nineveh (Zephaniah 2:15), Jerusalem (Lamentations 4:1), ancient Babylon (Jeremiah 51:41) and finally Apocalyptic Babylon (Revelation 18:10, 16-18).
To get the full import of that phrase “How you are fallen from heaven,” you have to compare it with verse 4, concerning literal Babylon, which reads, “How the oppressor has ceased, the golden city ceased!” It’s the same exclamatory form of address, signifying the shock that mighty Babylon has come to its end. And, you have to go back a bit in the passage to get the full meaning of that last part, “How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! The phrase “cut down to the ground” leads us back to verses 7 and 8, when in figurative language the king of Babylon is symbolized as a lumberjack who ruthlessly cuts down mighty trees, the trees in this case used figuratively to represent other kings and kingdoms.
Listen to this poetic language. It’s figurative language, because trees don’t really talk. Sometimes authors use what we call “figures of speech” like “personification,” which is treating non-human things as if they were human, to enhance their script. Since so much of the Bible is written in the format of literature, we find this used quite often. Using personification the prophet writes, “The whole earth is at rest and quiet; they break forth into singing. Indeed the cypress trees rejoice over you, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, ‘Since you were cut down, no woodsman has come up against us.’” The KJV renders this last part, “Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us.” Some people are puzzled when they see that word “feller,” and they confuse it with the word “fellow.” But in this case the word “feller” is referring to one who “fells” trees. A “baker” is one who bakes; a “builder” is one who builds. A “feller,” in Old English at least, is one who fells, or cuts trees down.
So, in the poetic language of the prophet, the one who “cut down” the other “trees” is finally “cut down” himself. Isn’t there another place in the Bible where it talks about a giant “tree” (representing a powerful king) being cut down? Yes! This part of Isaiah 14 should be linked up with Daniel 4, another passage that in figurative language predicted the cutting down of a large tree. And who, by the way, is the subject in the vision of the tree that is cut down in that chapter? It is the king of Babylon, isn’t it. In Daniel 4 the “King of Babylon” is similarly likened to a huge tree that would be cut down, if he didn’t repent of his sins.
How was it that the mighty angel Lucifer fell? “For you have said in your heart; ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’” Isaiah 14:12-14.
There’s been a lot of discussion about what the text means when it speaks about sitting “on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north,” with many scholars interpreting that as referring to the place where important decisions were made. The basic meaning is clear: with the six-repeated personal pronouns, the selfish and ambitious soul of Lucifer is revealed. It was all about “me.” And notice that Lucifer didn’t go about, at least at first, openly challenging God’s authority. What does the Bible say? “You have said in your heart, ‘I will ascend.’” What’s the first adjective we have in the Bible that describes Satan? In Genesis 3:1 we have the word “subtil” (KJV), or the word “cunning” (NKJV). The subtil craftiness we see in Genesis 3 is a carryover from his strategy employed in heaven. He went about quietly and created dissension, asking provocative questions about God’s dealings, inciting a spirit of discontent among the heavenly host.
Lucifer wanted to institute a new way of thinking. His “new world order” concept he thought would improve on that which was perfect. Can’t be! God’s system of self-less agape love, Satan would replace with a “me-first” principle. Just as it was successful up there, it has been down here. Today we find that same philosophy rampant. “Looking out for number one” is the mantra of many moderns. You see athletes raising their index finger in the air after achieving victory, signaling “We’re number one.” Is that the attitude of Jesus? Is that the mind of Christ, Who taught “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself”? Philippians 2:3.
Have you noticed that “I” is in the middle of “sin,” “pride” and “Lucifer.” Lucifer’s system would set aside God’s holy law and instead encourage each creature to do whatever he pleased. If you have half of an ear open, you will hear that the virus of this notion also permeates our present society, with songs like “It’s your thing, do what you want to do” (Isley Brothers) and lyrics like “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right” (“You Light Up My Life”), and Frank Sinatra’s signature song, “I did it my way.”
Continuing our study of Isaiah 14, someday the “tree,” representing the author of sin, will be chopped down. Lucifer, the originator of evil, will himself come to an end. We’re told, “Those who see you will gaze at you and consider you saying, ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world as a wilderness and destroyed its cities, who did not open the house of his prisoners?’” Isaiah 14:16, 17.
In the KJV the phrase “Those who see you will gaze at you” is translated, “They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee.” What does that mean? To “look narrowly” means to look through squinted eyes, depicting someone who is having trouble believing or processing what he or she sees. It’s hard to draw a comparison, but try to imagine if you found yourself sitting in an airplane seat next to someone who did something that was so far-reaching that it touches and affects nearly everyone who lives. Let’s say that you introduced yourself and found out that the one in the seat next to you was actually the one who invented the first computer chip, or perhaps the one who developed the very first cell phone. When you found that out, you’d probably respond with something like, “Really?” And when you said that, what would be the expression on your face? You might squint your eyes a bit trying to imagine the far-reaching effects of what that person did. In the language of the KJV, you’d be looking “narrowly” at the person sitting next to you. Someday we’ll see the devil and we’ll “look narrowly” at him.
I’m glad that we can’t see Satan now. But the day will come when we’re safely “home,” that we will see him. And we will try to wrap our brains around the fact that he is the one who started it all. Every disease, every death, every tear, every trial has come from what he started. How can that be? We’ll wonder. And yet it is true.
Did you notice the phrase “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms”? He is the one who causes earthquakes and all the damage they do. The Bible calls him the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), describing his ability to manipulate weather and bring the destruction of hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes, not to speak of deadly floods and mudslides. He also has the ability to make the earth “tremble” and “shake;” to engineer earthquakes and tsunamis. Think of the violence and devastation that he’s caused through these means!
Look again at the phrase, “made the world as a wilderness.” Satan is the one who took a global greenhouse, the way God created it in the beginning and made it, at least large parts of it, the extremes of either ice-caps or Sahara’s. I don’t know if any of you have driven along Interstate 8 from San Diego to Imperial Valley, but when I began in the ministry in 1974, my first church was in El Centro, and I found myself on that stretch of highway often. As you descend from the heights of the Laguna Mountains into the desert, there are places that seem that they are just nothing but boulders and rocks. Have you seen that area? I try to imagine what that must have looked like before the Flood, and how it changed into a “wilderness” because of sin. When you begin to go on the freeway 210 from 10, going to Highland, there’s a stretch that is barren and parched. I try to imagine, when going through wastelands like these, what they must have looked like when God created this earth. Satan’s the one responsible for destroying the earth and bringing all the woe and tragedy that has scarred this planet. It all started by his indulging ideas of self-exaltation.
Let’s go to the second passage in Scripture that talks about the beginnings of evil. Ezekiel 27 and 28 speak to the king of Tyre. Tyre was a wealthy kingdom that benefited from its seacoast location, on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean. It became successful in building and sailing ships, prospering through marine commerce and growing rich and proud of its accomplishments. Like Babylon, it made the tragic mistake of not ascribing its blessings to the Creator God, and for this reason was also an illustration of Lucifer. That was part of Satan’s problem. He came to think that all of his talents and wisdom were his own doing, rather than recognizing that they were gifts from God.
In this chapter we see the same “blending” approach, beginning with the king of Tyre but then progressing to the one who originated the ideas that Tyre copied. The prophecy begins in chapter 27 where we read, “Now, son of man, take up a lamentation (song of sorrow) for Tyre, and say to Tyre, ‘You who are situated at the entrance of the sea, merchant of the peoples on many coastlands, thus says the Lord GOD: “O Tyre, you have said, ‘I am perfect in beauty.’”’” Ezekiel 27:2, 3. We’ll see that their pride is an illustration of the one who first indulged thoughts of vanity and pride. The passage then goes on to describe how they developed their maritime skills and constructed their ships and how they became immensely successful in marketing their wares to many peoples.
It describes how they enjoyed huge prosperity and became fabulously wealthy, but because they refused to acknowledge God as the Source of all His blessings, the day would come when sadly they would meet their end. To the great shock of onlookers, Tyre, beautiful and prosperous Tyre would be no more. Their fall would be met figuratively by wails, lamentations and bitter cries. The story of Tyre is a story that begins in glory and ends in tragedy. It’s the story of ancient Babylon that we read in Isaiah 14. It’s the story of all the kingdoms which reigned and then fell. Didn’t someone by the name of Gibbons write a book about the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire? William Shirer wrote the book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, referring to Nazi Germany. The story of Tyre is a tragic one. “The merchants among the people will hiss at you; you will become a horror, and be no more forever.” Ezekiel 27:36. I’ve had the privilege of walking along the ruin-strewn Mediterranean shoreline where the once proud Tyre stood. It’s fall was meteoric and tragic. How could it be that something so glorious could end in such devastation? The story of Tyre is the story of Satan.
We’ll pick up the storyline in the last half of verse 12 of chapter 28. “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God (we know that can’t refer to the literal king of Tyre); every precious stone was your covering.” Let’s pause and consider that phrase for just a moment. We know that God “covers Himself with light as with a garment.” Psalm 104:2. And we know that Sister White describes Adam and Eve as being clothed with a gorgeous robe of light. She comments that the angels wore garments of light and beauty. We know that in ancient times robes of “many colors” were garments of distinction and wealth. That’s what Jacob gave to Joseph to set him apart. It says this about Tamar, the daughter of King David. “Now she had on a robe of many colors, for the king’s virgin daughters wore such apparel.” II Samuel 13:18.
With that in mind, here’s a question to ponder, as we consider the language in this poetic prophecy of Ezekiel as in his description of Lucifer he writes, “every precious stone was your covering,” realizing that the gems that are then listed would be dazzling in brilliance and exquisite in color. Was Lucifer given a “coat of many colors” of light, different colors of light that shimmered like the iridescent throat of a hummingbird? It’s something to think about! Next time when we consider the information that Sister White shares with us we’ll read that she describes Lucifer’s garments as being “light and beautiful.” Story of Redemption, p. 14.
Let’s continue on with the text. “The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created. (He was apparently very gifted in music.) You were the anointed cherub who covers. Here’s another question to consider. What’s the word for “anointed” in the Old Testament? It’s the word from which the term “messiah” comes. Lucifer was “a” messiah; “an” anointed one. Think of the lofty honors conferred on this beautiful angel, Lucifer! Think of the glorious picture that his appearance gave! Yet, he indulged pride, and the glory turned into ugly, repulsive selfishness. Yet he had been “an” anointed one, which makes his “fall” even more heartrending and catestrophic. The story of the Scriptures can be seen as the battle between the Messiah and a messiah.
“I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of the fiery stones.” Remember that in Isaiah’s portrayal, Lucifer wanted to Apparently referring to the glorious surroundings of God’s sacred throne. Someday we’ll see and understand more of what descriptions like these actually mean. We’ll sympathize with those who were honored to be given glimpses of God’s glory and then struggled to find finite words to convey what they saw. “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found (not “put”) in you. (This makes it abundantly clear that God did not create a devil. He created a perfect being who chose to make himself into a devil.)
“By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned.” The “trading” that Lucifer was engaged in wasn’t exactly the same as what Tyre was involved in. It was “trading” in souls and lives. It was “bartering” for worship and adoration that didn’t belong to him. “Therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God; and I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones.” This part of the prophecy is presented from a future perspective, from the point of view when Satan’s destruction will have been accomplished. We’re not there yet, but that day will surely come, and God will have a clean universe, absent the unholy sentiments of Satan.
“Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.” Satan became vain with the beauty that was a gift from God. He ascribed the glory to himself, as if he had achieved his accomplishments on his own. “I cast you to the ground; I laid you before kings, that they might gaze at you (echoing the same thought we found in the Isaiah passage).” Ezekiel 28:12-17.
In the story of Absalom we see reflected the history of Satan. Absalom became disenchanted with his father’s rulership and sought to wrest the throne from him. But he didn’t go about it directly, at least at first. Oh no, his approach was more subtle. “Now Absalom would rise early and stand beside the way to the gate (where public business was conducted). So it was, whenever anyone who had a lawsuit came to the king for a decision, that Absalom would call to him and say, ‘What city are you from?’ And he would say, ‘Your servant is from such and such a tribe of Israel.’ Then Absalom would say to him, ‘Look, your case is good and right; but there is no deputy of the king to hear you. (Translation: “Dad’s not doing such a great job administering justice.”) Moreover Absalom would say, ‘Oh, that I were made judge in the land, and everyone who has any suit or cause would come to me; than I would give him justice.’ (Count the personal pronouns in Absalom’s speech.) And so it was, whenever anyone came near him to bow down to him, that he would put out his hand and take him and kiss him. In this manner Absalom acted toward all Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” II Samuel 15:2-6.
This story, which took place right in the middle of human history, is a window into understanding what happened in heaven. Lucifer felt sorry for himself and did his best to erode confidence in God’s sovereignty. He began a “whispering campaign” among the angels to stir up animosity and conflict.
We have one other Bible passage to look at dealing with the fall of Lucifer. It’s located in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. We read, “And war broke out in heaven; (The word “war” in the original is polemos, from which we get “polemics.” It describes a war of ideas and concepts, not necessarily a war of guns and grenades.) Michael (a code name for Jesus Christ in Scripture) and His angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth and his angels were cast out with him.” Revelation 12:7-9.
Notice the word “found” in that passage, “nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.” The word “found” is a legal word, as when the jury returns and says, “We find the defendant not guilty,” or a judge speaks of his “findings.” It suggests investigation, a weighing of evidence, followed by a decision based on the facts as determined. This word is bursting in meaning for Seventh-day Adventists, who believe that the Scriptures teach that prior to Jesus’ return there will be an “Investigative Judgment” conducted and concluded in heaven. Daniel 12:1 says, “At that time (Jesus’ Second Advent) your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book.” The “book” mentioned is obviously the Book of Life. In chapter 7 Daniel was given a view when the “court was seated and the books were opened.” This judgment is going on right now, and must be concluded prior to the return of our dear Savior, when He comes “with His reward.” Revelation 22:12.
The insight that Revelation 12 give to us is that, like as there is an Investigative Judgment that pertains to the inhabitants of Planet Earth, which determines their eternal destiny, likewise there was an Investigative Judgment in heaven dealing with the angels which determined their eternal destiny. “Nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.” That word suggests that there was, as we find repeated in the stories of the Bible, inquiry before action; investigation before sentencing.
So we see from the Scriptures that originally God created a talented, beautiful, wise and perfect creature who stood next to God’s throne. But he coveted God’s authority and desired the worship that belongs to God Himself. He wanted to take God’s place and destroy Him. He infected about one-third of the angels of heaven (Revelation 12:4) with his destructive philosophies and they were eventually evicted from heaven and found themselves on Planet Earth. Since that time, it has been his sole mission to bring pain to God’s heart through the misery he’s brought upon the human family. The lesson for us is that if Lucifer was successful in deceiving angels, in getting them to depart from God’s Word, His sacred law, how important it is for us, who are much more vulnerable because of the weakness of sin, to depend totally on God and His Word; to cling to Him in safety; to submit to Him in humility and let His Spirit bring us into harmony with heaven’s principles.
The Bible makes it clear that one day Satan will be destroyed and will be no more forever. God will save His children, all those who have accepted the gift of salvation, and He will one day cleanse this earth and purify it of all the effects of sin, and the “detour” of sin will at long last be over, and life as God had always planned it, serene and perfect will continue forever. And, undeserving as we are, God wants us to be a part of His great tomorrow! You don’t want to miss out on that!