Saturday, 24 February 2007

The dark side

Though the events around Satan and hell are not treated extensively in the bible, there still is a reasonable amount of information to be gleaned. Enough to lay to rest many falsehoods and speculations by Christians. I will leave out passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel because they are not universally acknowledged as being about Satan, though I think a reasonable case could be made for the traditional belief.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1). This gives us a starting point for the material universe but whether the creation of the angels preceded or postdated this event is uncertain. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit existed from eternity past and the angelic realm is certainly created but to pin down the timeframe may prove to be difficult working within God's specific revelation.

God spoke to Job saying:
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?/
Tell me, if you have understanding./
...when the morning stars sang together/
and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4,7 ESV)
In the context the sons of God are angelic beings. Interestingly this (as well as other passages) tells us that stars metaphorically describe angels. Given God is describing the beginning of the creation of the earth, this would suggest that the angels were created prior to or about the time of Genesis 1:1. An alternative view would be day 4 if we associate the creation of the literal stars with that of the metaphorical ones.

This is followed by the creation of man and woman on day 6. This is the day that God described everything as very good (Gen 1:31). Although this is primarily a reference to the creation of the material universe, there may be information in this verse that tells us that the angels had yet to fall. We can be certain that the angelic fall predates the fall of man because the temptation by the serpent shows that evil had entered into spiritual realm.

We have an parallelism in Job above equating angels with stars. This is also (possibly) seen in Revelation.
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And 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. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!" (Revelation 12:7-12 ESV)
From this we see that Satan is equated with the dragon, the serpent and the devil; all traditional interpretations. A further traditional interpretation is that the passage about the dragon sweeping a third of the stars means that about a third of the angels fell at the time of the angelic fall. This is possible, though a third of the stars may be referring back to the stars crowning the woman. Given that the woman, the sun the moon and the stars likely represents Israel (Gen 37:9), this may be discussing some opposition of Satan against Israel. Another (or further) interpretation is that the woman, sun, and moon represent an astronomical configuration as per Ernest Martin.

I am not certain of the timeframe of these events discussed in Revelation, but it gives us information as to the identity of the serpent and tells us that Satan is the leader of many evil angels.

God told Adam and Eve to procreate and populate the world. This would have happened quickly given their perfect state. The fall of man is prior to Eve conceiving her first child and likely occurred shortly following her creation from Adam—almost certainly less than a month. Ussher suggests Day 10 based on subsequent commandment that the day of atonement should fall on day 10 of Tishri (Lev 16:29; 23:27). An argument for day 16 could also be made on this basis (10 days following day 6 of creation).

Though we have not established a complete relative order of events we have established some constraints. In terms of the material world we have:
  1. The beginning of the creation of the world.
  2. The creation of man and woman 6 days later.
  3. The fall of man (likely) several days later.
In terms of the immaterial world (who clearly can interact with the material world) we have:
  1. The creation of angels sometime prior to the fall of man and possibly prior to the creation of the world
  2. The fall of the angels prior to the fall of man, possibly after the creation of man, but prior to the creation of the world cannot be excluded.
There is some further information given us by Peter
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;... (2 Peter 2:4)
It is uncertain who, how, or when this fits into the above. Clearly not all fallen angels are in Tartarus. In the time of the New Testament we hear of demons requesting Jesus not send them into the abyss. So were some angels sent there at the angelic fall or was there some subsequent sin on behalf of some angels that demanded this imprisonment? And were these fallen angels, or were they angels who didn't side with Satan in his rebellion but have subsequently taken his side. However this passage at the least allows the possibility of some significant angelic event following the angelic fall.

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