The Reality of the Devil and his Temptations

Part One



“It was in the early evening on a summer’s day in Juarez, Mexico. The circus had arrived in town and my father and his younger brother, my uncle, went to check it out.” So begins a short account given by a man by the name of Mr. Santos, who tells the true story about an experience that his father had in 1942. “There’s always lots of pretty girls at these traveling fairs, but my father wanted to see the freak shows. My father was always fascinated with the elastic-man, the cow with two heads, the singing chicken and all the other weird attractions these shows provide.

This time it was kind of a disappointment. There were the usual presentations, but nothing new and some of the acts were obviously faked. But they met two girls and were getting ready to go hear some live music when they ran into a short, stubby man wearing a dinner jacket who started talking to them.

This stranger introduced himself and started talking about the freak shows. Then he raised his arm and exclaimed he was the greatest illusionist in the world. He said he had a trick that was both scary and amazing. My father asked him if he was part of the circus. The man said he auditioned for a job, but the owner turned him down. My father asked him why. The man said his act was so frightening the owner accused him of being the devil.

Now my father and uncle were intrigued. They asked the man if they could see the trick. The man said of course, but they would have to come to the trailer where he lives. There he would show them. The man said his trailer was not far away.

My father, my uncle, and the two girls followed the stranger until they arrived at the stranger’s place. There were some steps leading up to the front door. The man showed them in and my father and company sat on a sofa. The trailer was a good size and well kept.

After turning up all the lights so his guests could see better, the stranger put on a cape, commenced with an introduction, bowed, held up his right hand then proceeded to put on a white glove on his right hand. He extended the arm and started running his left hand over, under and around his gloved right hand, all the time closing and opening his right hand, wiggling the fingers.

He started chanting some strange words in another language. Then with his left hand he grabbed the tip of the white glove, turned and looked at my father and asked him and the others if they were ready. They said yes and with a quick motion he removed the glove.

My father was in shock and disbelief, and so was my uncle. The girls screamed! There staring them in the face was the skeleton of the hand still wiggling the fingers! He turned the hand around so they could see the back. My father said it was real! Then my uncle got up to get a closer look. That's when the man grabbed the top of my uncle's head with his bony hand and said that now he was really going to show them something!

And that was all it took. The girls ran out the door screaming and crying, followed by my father and uncle! The man came out the door yelling and laughing! My father stopped and turned around. The stranger was standing there at the top of the steps with a grin on his face looking at my father.

On the ground was a wooden plank with long nails pointing up. The man jumped off the steps and landed right on those nails! The nails went right through his shoes! Blood started to flow. My father stood there transfixed. The man started to laugh again and pointed at my father with his bony finger. My uncle returned, grabbed my father by the arm and both of them ran!


My father and uncle knew that was the devil and they are so grateful they were able to escape. “


What about this story? Did it really happen? Mr. Santos believed that it did. His father told him it was true. If it did happen, was it really the devil? Probably not. The devil has more important things to do than to scare average people with parlor-like tricks. He is not out to scare people. He is out to destroy people. Stories like this, though possibly having occurred, distract from the real danger the devil and spiritual forces pose against the follower of Jesus Christ.


In our modern era people in general tend to discount the reality of the devil or, at least, the degree of influence, activity, and power he exercises in and around our lives. If people do believe in the devil he is someone out there, far away, maybe possessing a person here or there, but not involved in their lives.


The devil is real. How do we know this? We cannot see him. We have not heard his voice. We can know that he is real because the Lord Jesus Christ said he was. The most trustworthy teacher that ever lived was Jesus Christ. The best teachers in the world can sometimes be wrong. But Jesus was never wrong. If we know that Jesus is the Son of God then we also know that he must always be right. He was. And we can trust him completely.


Who is the devil and what is he like? The Bible teaches that he is a fallen angel who was cast out of heaven because of his rebellion against God along with one third of the other angels who followed Satan (one of his other names) in rebellion. This is why rebellion against God-ordained authorities such as parents, husbands, employers, elders of the church, and government officials is not a small matter. It is truly Satanic in origin. God has instituted authorities on the earth and these authorities represent Him even when they do not themselves realize that they do. These are what are known as delegated authorities. Rebellion against earthly authorities is actually and really a manifestation of rebellion against God. Of course, there are exceptions. One exception would be when a delegated authority is calling upon us to disobey God. That would be one of the few times when we not only may refuse their directives, but we must do so.


What is Satan’s character like and what are his activities? The names that are ascribed to him or to one of his demons by the biblical authors reveal these things to us.


  1. He is called the devil. The English word “devil” is a translation of the Greek word διαβολος, meaning “accuser.”
  2. He is named Satan. This is a Hebrew word meaning “adversary” or “enemy.”
  3. Evil spirit. (I Sam. 18:10)
  4. Lying spirit. (I Kings 22:22; John 8:44)
  5. Spirit of fornication. (Hosea 4:12)
  6. Perverse spirit. (Isaiah 19:14)
  7. Unclean spirit (Luke 6:18)
  8. The tempter (Matthew 4:3)
  9. The strong man (Matthew 12:8)
  10.  A roaring lion (I Peter 5:8)
  11. Belial, meaning “Wicked One” or “Lawless One.” (2 Cor. 6:15)
  12. Beelzebub, meaning “lord of the flies.” (Matthew 12:24)
  13. Prince of this world (John 12:21)
  14. God of this world (2 Cor. 4:5)
  15. Prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2,17)
  16. Murderer (John 8:44)
  17. Ruler of the darkness of this world (Eph 6:12)
  18. Father of lies (John 8:44)
  19. Dragon (Rev 12:20)
  20. Evil one (Matthew 23:19)
  21. The destroyer (Rev 9:11)


He is not only named all these titles but he is all these things.


What power does he have? Some underestimate his power and some overestimate his power. If one underestimates his power then one may easily be taken advantage of. If one overestimates his power then one may be either overly fearful or experience paranoia. We need to have a good understanding of what the devil can do and what he cannot do.


When we speak of the devil we refer to a single person, Satan. There is only one devil, but there are multiple demons. They have the same nature. They are all fallen angels. Whatever is true of the devil himself is also true of the demons. It may be the case that Satan is a little smarter than other demons or a little stronger, but these things would only be a matter of small degree. (Variance in demonic strength is proven by Jesus’ words, “This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting.”) What is generally true of one is true of all. Therefore, when I speak about the power of the devil I am really speaking about the power of demons in general. This should be remembered because it will not be the devil who will be attacking you, but rather a demon.


[1.] Being an angel, he has power that far surpasses that of men. Just one angel or two, you recall, has the power to cause an entire town to go blind as we read regarding Sodom.


[2.] His knowledge far surpasses that of men.


  • He was cunning enough to deceive Adam and Eve before the fall. Know that Adam before the fall had a greater intellect than men today. Yet, Satan outsmarted Eve and Adam.
  • Satan is not hindered by the constraints of a brain since he is a spirit. He does not have a brain, only a mind. Minds of men must use the brain in order to function in the world.  Memory is modulated and greatly affected by the brain. Since a spirit has no brain, a spirit’s memory is perfect.
  • He has the advantage of thousands of years of accumulative knowledge, without forgetting.
  • He has been observing human behavior for thousands of years. In other words, he has the experience of dealing with men and with angels for millennia. He knows what people do and what influences them to do it.


[3.] He has the ability to place thoughts in our mind.  When Peter was rebuked by the Lord Jesus for a statement that he made, Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan.” (Mark 8:33) This shows that Satan placed the thought in Peter’s mind. In the explanation of the parable of the Sower, Jesus says that the bird who eats the seed represents the devil. He says, “then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:12) What can “take away the word from their hearts” mean except that they accept the thought, “This is not true, after all.” He has the ability to place thoughts in our mind.


[4.] He has the ability to cause disease.       “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

(Acts 10:38 ESV)


[5.] He has the power to control the weather. When he asked permission from God to afflict Job and receives it, he then causes a great wind that kills all of Job’s children as their house collapses (Job 1:19).


It can be quite disconcerting when we consider the vast power of the devil and demons. They have greater power, greater knowledge, they can inject thoughts into our minds, cause disease, and control the weather.


But there are many things they cannot do.


[1.] They have great power but, because they are spirits and spirits can barely function in a material world, they need a body to do their bidding. As far as physical things are concerned, they are actually weak. One spirit can do almost nothing. Although the spiritual realm is shrouded in mystery and we only know for certain what God has revealed, from what we do know and from the experience of those who deal with the paranormal it appears that, in those very rare instances where objects move “on their own” (i.e., by spiritual forces), it is by the combined effort of a multitude of demons. It is interesting that nothing heavy is ever invisibly moved. It appears that just one or a few demons are too weak to do anything in the physical realm. They need a body. This is one reason why, in the gospels, they always sought to be in someone.


[2.] Although their knowledge is greater than ours, they also know their end. It is so bad for them. They know it and we know it. That does not help them at all.


[3.] Although they have the ability to place a thought in our minds, they cannot read our minds. They do not know what we are thinking. How can that be? I do not know how it can be, but such things are true in the physical realm. It is easy to inject, say, a chemical into someone’s bloodstream. But it would be far more difficult to determine if they had that chemical in their bloodstream already. Only God can know our thoughts.


[4.] Although demons can cause disease they are limited when they do. Every disease process is still caused by an organism whether it is bacteria, a parasite, a virus, or something undiscovered. Hence, the devil or his helpers must manipulate our body’s defenses or the microscopic organisms themselves in order to cause disease.  Probably not every disease is caused by spiritual influence, only some. Most importantly, the book of Job teaches us that the bad things that demons do, like disease, still must be under the sovereignty of God. Nothing happens without his permission, even the worst things. The devil and his demons are restricted.


[5.] The same is true for the weather. Probably most adverse weather conditions such as floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes, are simply the product of physical forces that have been misaligned after the flood of Noah. If some do arise by spiritual forces they still must get permission from God.


Understanding what the devil can do and what he cannot do will help us to resist him in the right frame of mind and with the power of the Holy Spirit.


How then does the devil, or one of his demons, tempt us? As I have already pointed out, they can place thoughts in our minds. This does not mean that every sinful thought is from an evil spirit. Our own sinfulness can generate sinful thoughts on its own.


            But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

(James 1:14-15 ESV)


James tells us that we are lured and enticed by our own desires. We do not need much help from demons to sin. We can and do sin all on our own. But evil spirits can and do make this worse. They can bring about circumstances that place us in compromising positions or, knowing what are weaknesses are (simply by observing our past behavior), they can put a thought into our mind when opportunity to sin is easy.


Richard Baxter, the great Puritan theologian from the 17th century made a great study of the schemes of the devil, kinds of sin, and ways to overcome sin. He points out that there are certain sins that are basic and lead to other sins. The devil is smart enough to know this and concentrates on those sins. Briefly, some of these are:


[1.] Ignorance. Ignorance is a sin when it is willful. The Lord said, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)  Knowledge of spiritual truth is found in the Bible.  The enemy will try to keep you from reading and studying the Bible. Even those who do read the Bible will sometimes only go so far. They will think that they know a subject in the Bible and when a brother or sister in the Lord wish to show them more they are not willing to look into what the Scriptures teach on a matter. That is the sin of ignorance.


[2.] Error. This is believing the wrong thing about spiritual truths. In the same way that believing the wrong thing about mundane matters can be quite dangerous (e.g., thinking it is harmless mixing alcohol with certain prescription medications), so believing the wrong things about God, sin, or salvation can be quite dangerous. The enemy will seek to get you in error and keep you in error.


[3.] Unbelief. This was the sin of Adam and Eve. They chose not to believe what God had spoken and, instead, chose to believe the devil – “You shall not surely die…” He is still influencing people, even Christians, to question God’s word.


[4.] Pride. This was the sin of Satan. This is still a great sin. We have enough pride of our own. However, the enemy will stir it up even more if allowed to do so.


[5.] Unthankfulness. This attitude of the heart leads to many other sins and the devil knows this.


[6.] Sensuality. This sin leads to many other sins as well such as lust, fornication, drunkenness, gluttony, and others. If an evil spirit can influence you to focus on your senses and its pleasures, you either run into sin outright or you neglect godly duties.


Brother Baxter lists more and concludes his treatment of them by writing that the two which the devil mainly focuses upon above all the rest are pride and sensuality. He calls this group of foundational sins “the great heart sins” and “the gates of the infernal city, which Satan loveth above all the rest.”


Having then a better understanding of how evil spirits operate we must not think we are in peacetime when a battle is raging for the souls of men. It is not merely the eternal destiny of our friends and neighbors that are at stake. Even our own souls are in danger. There is a danger of someone being self-deceived – thinking that they belong to Christ when they actually do not belong to him. For those who truly belong to him there is not a danger of eternal perdition but there is still the peril of being ineffective for our Lord and of losing our first love. There is the awful hazard of losing our reward and even of being disciplined by the Lord both now and in the next age.


For these reasons we must fight the good fight. We must be aware of the devil’s schemes and we must resist him. Next time, by God’s grace, we will see how to do that.