The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)
In the Old Testament, Satan is nothing like God’s equal and opposite (namely, evil), but rather is just one of God’s angelic creatures who has a specific role to play in the heavenly court of being the accuser of humanity. In these texts, Satan is not particularly evil but recognizes human frailty and sinfulness and has the desire to bring this information, and accusation, to God. Satan’s desire is that God will be true to His just nature, judging the humans for their failures. One only has to consider Satan in Job 1-2 to see Satan as the figure who is trying to disabuse God of His love for humanity as being misplaced because in Satan’s opinion humans are not trustworthy. Later tradition portrays Satan as being jealous of God’s love for humans and hopes to redirect God’s favor to himself by discrediting the humans.
As Peter Schafer has noted, Satan is not a figure of complete evil here. He represents the principle of justice and wants to make the claim that Israel does not deserve forgiveness. (Gary Anderson, IN DOMINICO ELOQUIO – IN LORDLY ELOQUENCE, p 20)
Satan’s rebellion against God is because Satan doesn’t want God to be merciful and forgiving, but rather he wants God to be completely just – demanding retribution and satisfaction against humanity for every sinful infraction of which humans are guilty. We Christians should contemplate this: the one demanding God be absolutely just and thus condemning sinners is Satan! God remains true to His nature as Love and is ever willing to forgive or work with His human creatures, and thus rejects Satan’s demand for absolute justice. Even the story of Adam and Eve’s Fall in Genesis 3 doesn’t happen purely by human design, for Satan is willing to trick and trap the humans into rebelling against God. And the humans comply, and complicity do Satan’s bidding. Several Church Fathers noted it is only Satan, not Adam and Eve, who is cursed by God for sinning. For example, St Irenaeus writes:
The whole curse, however, fell upon the serpent who seduced them: And God said to the serpent, [the Scripture] says, because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle and above all wild animals on the earth (Genesis 3:14). The same thing the Lord said in the Gospel to those who will be found on his left, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). thereby indicating that eternal fire was not prepared originally for humankind, but for him who seduced humankind and caused humans to sin; for him I say, who is the prince of the rebellion, and for the angels who together with him became rebels. (AGAINST HERESIES Book 3, p 107)
Eve and Adam are appropriately disciplined by God for their infraction, but they are not cursed. Rather they are put at enmity with Satan who is cursed by God.
It takes a long time for Satan as the purely Evil One to emerge in the Scriptures. Some scholars feel that Satan as the Evil One really emerges in Israel rather late in its history under Babylonian influence. The Jews in exile and captivity in Babylon are influenced by the more dualistic theological ideas they encounter among their conquerors, and Satan grows in evil and power. By the time of the New Testament, Satan is deemed the father of lies in the New Testament and a murderer (John 8:44). Satan seems to have much more control over the earth and its inhabitants. Christ however comes to expose Satan as truly powerless since all power comes from God. In the presence of Christ, the demons even have to ask His permission to depart – they have absolutely no power in God’s presence. I have made that point numerous times in these blogs as some Christians seem to treat Satan as God’s equal and opposite and act as if we do live in a dualistic world torn between good (God) and evil (Satan), but that isn’t the witness of the entirety of Scripture, but only those parts which absorbed the dualistic influence of the culture around God’s people. Partly this may have occurred because people wonder reasonably if God is all powerful, why is there so much evil present in the world and in humans who are created in God’s image and likeness? If God is all powerful, why do His people suffer oppression?
As St Irenaeus notes from Matthew’s Gospel, the hell fires were created for Satan and his demons, not for humans. Satan and all his doings are temporary, not eternal and they belong to the fallen world which will pass away (Revelation 20:13-14). As God’s people, we do not need to live in fear of Satan’s activities as Satan’s world is passing away. There may be one area where we Christians though do need to pay attention to Satan’s influence. Satan is the father of lies, and those who lie and spread lies or disinformation or conspiracy theories all allow themselves to be under Satan’s influence. It is never acceptable for Christians to use lies to discredit political opponents or enemies because God never lies (Titus 1:2). With the internet and social media, lies spread faster and more broadly than ever. We should never participate in them or spread them because in so doing we show a rejection of God and a desire to follow the father of lies. Think about St Paul’s words which are a warning against those who embrace lies or spread them because these lies agree with their own political interests. If we choose to spread lies, God will allow a “strong delusion” to overtake our minds pushing us further away from God the Truth:
And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12)