Thunderstorm at night

What Did Jesus Mean When He Said “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”?


On it’s face value, Jesus words, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” seems to be referencing the fall of Satan. However, it’s more complex than one might imagine. For starters, the verses in the Bible that most people believe are about Satan, have nothing to do with him. Secondly, Jesus was not referring to a past event. Lastly, Satan is hardly mentioned in the Bible which makes it difficult to really know his story.

Traditionally, Christians have used 3 passages to build the story of Satan’s fall, Ezekiel 28:12-17, Isaiah 14:12-15 and Revelation 12:3-9. Before we can discuss the meat what Jesus was referring to, we must go over the biblical and references. That most attribute to Satan’s story.

Ezekiel 28:12-17

12 Mortal, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:

You were the signet of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
    every precious stone was your covering,
carnelian, chrysolite, and moonstone,
    beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, turquoise, and emerald;
    and worked in gold were your settings
    and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
14 With an anointed cherub as guardian I placed you;
    you were on the holy mountain of God;
    you walked among the stones of fire.
15 You were blameless in your ways
    from the day that you were created,
    until iniquity was found in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade
    you were filled with violence, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
    and the guardian cherub drove you out
    from among the stones of fire.
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you.

Isaiah 14:12-15

12 How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
13 You said in your heart,
    “I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
    above the stars of God;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    on the heights of Zaphon;
14 I will ascend to the tops of the clouds,
    I will make myself like the Most High.”
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
    to the depths of the Pit.

Revelation 12:3-9

And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

In each of these biblical passages there is an element that seems to be speaking about the fall of Satan. However, only one of the them is actually referring to Satan. The third passage is about Satan. Ezekiel is a prophetic word to king of Tyre, and Isaiah is a prophetic word to the King of Babylon. In fact, both passaged give the name of the recipients.

you (Isaiah) will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4)

raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him.. (Ezekiel 28:12)

Some who are aware of these facts will argue that the prophetic words were double in there meaning; claiming that in addition to messages to real people, they were also descriptions of Satan’s fall. However, such a thing would be a useless implementation of allegory since these were oracles dedicated to be delivered to the foreign kings who would have no idea that the prophecy also served as a history lesson.

What is more likely is that the prophetic messages are being delivered in such a way that the story of Satan’s fall was being evoked. It would have been common to have a prophetic judgment that drew on imagery from known history or folk-lore. However, that is as far as these Satan references go. In the very least we must concede that these passages are not about Satan (excepting Revelation) but at the very most we can only conclude that any resemblance to the Satan legends is merely there to evoke imagery of known legends. It does not prove that such legends existed.


Understanding Ezekiel’s Metaphor


In Ezekiels prophetic word, the Lord is writing a lamentation over how the King of Tyre was give all the advantages yet still did evil. This lament easily evokes themes of another fall from a great advantage; that of Adam and Eve. Yet, in the lament God depicts the King of Tyre in garden of Eden, not an characters from the original, such as the snake. This is clear through phrases such as the following:

every precious stone was your covering,
carnelian, chrysolite, and moonstone,
    beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, turquoise, and emerald;

The serpent in the garden was covered in stones and gems? Of course not. This is the description of a wealthy king who had a throne and likely a breastplate with many jewels. Certainly, the devil neither in angelic nor serpent form was covered in gem stone.

With an anointed cherub as guardian I placed you;
    you were on the holy mountain of God;
    you walked among the stones of fire.

Here God is referring to a protective cherub like the ones He placed in the garden after Adam and Eve were removed. God is saying that the King of Tyre was given such an advantage that it was like being placed on Mount Sinai where God descended with fire and thunder, and even protected by God’s own cherubs. In other words, the King of Tyre had an incredible advantage.

However, if we place Satan in this picture then why is God placing Satan on the holy mountain with protection by a cherub? Theoretically, the theophany at the mountain had not even happened yet so God had not claimed a mountain yet. This would mean that God placed Satan on the mountain after Satan had already fallen which makes little sense. If we assume it was before the fall of Satan then we must assume that God always had a thing for that mountain and the fact that it’s were Israel camped and received the 10 commandments isn’t the reason for God’s appearing there. It’s a strange thought.

 I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you.

When Satan was theoretically cast from heaven, who were these kings? It would appear that Satan’s fall was before the creation of Adam and Eve since He was already on the earth and causing the very first humans to sin. So, God cast Satan from Heaven, to the earth, which was uninhabited, so that future kings could feast their eyes on him?

The passage becomes even stranger when the first part of chapter 28 is included in the metaphor.

Ezekiel 28:1-11

“Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God:

“Because your heart is proud,
    and you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of the gods,
    in the heart of the seas,’
yet you are but a man, and no god,
    though you make your heart like the heart of a god—
you are indeed wiser than Daniel;
    no secret is hidden from you;
by your wisdom and your understanding
    you have made wealth for yourself,
and have gathered gold and silver
    into your treasuries;
by your great wisdom in your trade
    you have increased your wealth,
    and your heart has become proud in your wealth—
therefore thus says the Lord God:
Because you make your heart
    like the heart of a god,
7 therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you,
    the most ruthless of the nations;
and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom
    and defile your splendor.
They shall thrust you down into the pit,
    and you shall die the death of the slain
    in the heart of the seas.
Will you still say, ‘I am a god,’
    in the presence of those who kill you,
though you are but a man, and no god,
    in the hands of those who slay you?
10 You shall die the death of the uncircumcised
    by the hand of foreigners;
    for I have spoken, declares the Lord God.”

Clearly the first and second portions of this chapter are parallel passages of prophecy and they are both referring to the King of Tyre. However, in the first portion (in bold) it is much clearer that the message is for a mere mortal, not Satan.


Understanding Isaiah’s Metaphor


The prophecy by Isaiah is typically much shorter because when read in context of the larger passage it’s painfully clear that this passage was not about Satan, or “Lucifer” as the KJV translates. The reason why we call the Devil Lucifer is actually because of this passage and this passage only.

 How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star (Lucifer), son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!

Ironically, Lucifer is not actually a name. It’s not even a translation of a name. It’s the Title “light bearer” that’s been translated 3 times from it’s original text and eventually lost it’s original meaning. Originally, the text used the Hebrew word “הֵילֵ֣ל” which means “the shining one”. This was translated into Greek as ἑωσφόρος” which means “light bearer”. It was then translated into Latin as Lucifer which also means “light bearer”. However, that is where things break down.

When the English translations were starting happen, translators sometimes relied more heavily on the Latin texts. By the time the KJV was being developed it was already popular to equate Lucifer with the devil since popular theology and legends confirmed this idea. However, Lucifer was never the Devil’s name. But the KJV translators though it was important to leave the title “Lucifer” in the text so people would not get confused about what the passage was about …. or at least what they thought it was about. The fact that they know Lucifer was incorrect is actually written right into the 1611 page margins.

Lucifer or Day star

Lucifer or Day star

The original text was calling the King of Babylon (in jest) the “light bearer”. This was mean to be a bit of a burn because by the time this prophecy was written, it was believed that light bearer was referring to the goddess and planet called Venus. Venus shone bright in the morning sky.

Babylonian and it’s kings were worshipers of Ishtar which was deeply connected with the Venus cult; Venus being the Star of Ishtar. As the nation lead by the Morning Star, Isaiah was declaring that the Lord had taken down Babylon. The great nation and her goddess are now fallen.


Understanding John’s Vision


Of the three passages above, only John really mentions Satan. When reading Revelation 12, we must ask ourselves if this is prophetic or historical?

And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

If it’s a prophetic vision then Satan has yet to be cast down from Heaven. If it’s historical then how can this be part of the apocalyptic end-times prophecy? It seems more plausible that this passage is actually a prophetic vision of the final battle or it’s about the events of the 1st century (if you believe in Preterism). What it’s definitely not, is a prophetic vision about how Satan fell in primordial times but somehow in the future.


Satan in Extra-biblical Texts


Book of Enoch fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls

Hanukah
4Q201 Parchment
Copied ca. 200-150 B.C.E.
[Source: loc.gov]

As dismissive as the above passages are, there is another side to this topic. That side is the numerous exilic and post-exilic writings that build up the story of Satan. There is no doubt that even if the Bible is mum on the topic that other texts easily make up for it. Here is a list of all the texts dealing with Satan and the legends used to build his story, before the common era, although some like the Testament of Solomon seems to have been written during the time that Jesus was alive or possible softly after. Though, it pulls from older teachings.

  • The Testament of Solomon
  • The 1st Book of Enoch
  • The 2nd Book of Enoch
  • The 3rd Book of Enoch
  • The Book of Jubilees
  • The Book of Wisdom
  • The Life of Adam and Eve
  • The First Book of Adam and Eve (chapter 2)

The Testament of Solomon

The Testament of Solomon is a post-ressurection text usually dated between the 1st and 5th century CE. It reads a lot like Job, as it’s mainly a series of dialogues. The general outline of the setup surrounds Solomon and the building of the temple. During the building demons and their leader Beelzebub are harassing a young man but Solomon is able to subdue them all with a magic ring which was provided to him by Michael the Archangel. With the demons under control they assist in the building of them temple and Beelzebub tells solomon that he was once the highest ranking angel.

The dialogues continue and much information is revealed about the heavenly and hellish realms. From this book, much of our angelic and demonic folklore is developed. However, it should be noted that many of the names and ideas from this book can be found in some of the inter-testamental books such as Tobit as well as other Pseudo-graphical works from the inter-testamental period.

On the topic of Satan, much of what we believe about him comes from the Testimony of Solomon. Below are some of the snippets that have been part of the foundations of our demonic folklore.

we demons fly about in the air; and we hear the voices of the heavenly beings, and survey all the powers. And as having no ground (basis) on which to alight and rest, we lose strength and fall off like leaves from trees. And men seeing us imagine that the stars are falling from heaven. But it is not really so, O king; but we fall because of our weakness, and because we have nowhere anything to lay hold of; and so we fall down like lightnings3 in the depth of night and suddenly. (Testament of Solomon 20)

I summoned again to stand before me Beelzeboul, the prince of demons, and I sat him down on a raised seat of honour, and said to him: “Why art thou alone, prince of the demons?” And he said to me: “Because I alone am left of the angels of heaven that came down. For I was first angel in the first heaven being entitled Beelzeboul. And now I control all those who are bound in Tartarus. But I too have a child, and he haunts the Red Sea. And on any suitable occasion he comes up to me again, being subject to me; and reveals to me what he has done, and I support him. (Testament of Solomon 26)

The Book of enoch

The book of Enoch also includes a fair amount of demonology and angelic folklore. In this book, the fall of the demons is depicted and explained.

And the Lord said unto Michael: ‘Go, bind Semjaza and his associates who have united themselves with women so as to have defiled themselves with them in all their uncleanness.And when their sons have slain one another, and they have seen the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them fast for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth, till the day of their judgement and of their consummation, till the judgement that is for ever and ever is consummated.In those days they shall be led off to the abyss of fire: and to the torment and the prison in which they shall be confined for ever.’ (The 1st Book of Enoch )

Ironically, the book of Enoch and the fall of the angels is referenced by the author of 2nd Peter.

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah… (2 Peter 2:4-5)

The Book of Jubilees

dss 849 Book of Jubilees

Dead Sea Scroll fragment, from the Book of Jubilees

The Book of Jubilees is sometimes referred to as the little Genesis. It claims itself to be a revelation given by God to Moses through the medium of an angel. It contains a sort of historicity of Genesis, divided up into jubilee-periods of forty-nine years, from the creation to the coming of Moses.

The book happens to also be part of the biblical canon for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The texts were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and is quoted by a slew of early church authors and leaders. It’s generally accepted that it’s origin is from the 2nd century BCE.

In the Book of Jubilees, sets up the reason for Noah’s flood as a direct result of the angels producing offspring with the women of the earth. Post-flood the fallen angels were enslaved to Satan on the earth.


Conclusion


It is hard to know if texts like the Testament of Solomon influenced Luke or not, especially since it appears to have been written between the crucifixion and writing of Luke’s gospel, which means it was not exactly a “classic” of Jewish culture yet. It was however, an adaptation of common Jewish apocalyptic thinking.

So, what is the takeaway from this phrase by Jesus? I would suggest that by proclaiming the good news in power, we are placing the nails in the devil’s coffin. I am not sure that there is enough evidence to conclude that Jesus was confirming the popular notion that Satan was a fallen angel. However, if he had, it would not be unexpected.