Here’s a fun thought experiment: Where do you think the human race would be today if Satan hadn’t been in the garden with Adam and Eve? The third chapter of Genesis would certainly be different, but how different?
I don’t know. I’m not that smart, and I don’t suppose anyone but God is. But it’s still a question worth thinking about, because couched within it is another, far more important question:
How responsible is Satan for our sins?
The first question is ultimately a moot point—interesting to think about, but largely inconsequential. Satan was in the garden and no amount of hypothesizing will change that. That last question, though, does matter. At the end of the day, who’s responsible for your sins: you or Satan?
I think we know the answer to that question. If Satan is ultimately responsible, then the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was superfluous, because He would have been paying for sins that weren’t really our fault. But when James writes about sin, what does he say?
But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
Not a word about Satan. Not a word about the devil being to blame for our poor decisions. James instead points the finger squarely at our own desires. At us. The ultimate problem isn’t Satan, it’s us. Our hearts. Our desires. Our lusts.
In other words, we don’t need Satan to sin.
Think about that.
Back in the garden, our good friend Eve saw that the forbidden tree was “good for food … pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). Sure, Satan pointed it out to her. Sure, he made a compelling sales pitch. But Eve had eyes. She didn’t need Satan to see the tree. It had “knowledge of good and evil” right there in its name. Do you think she wasn’t already a little curious? Do you think she wasn’t already intrigued? Satan didn’t twist Eve’s arm; he played on a desire that was (at least partially) already there.
That’s what Satan does. He markets evil. Makes it look appealing. He can’t force you to buy it, but he sure knows how to make it hard not to look. “And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Satan used to be an angel of light, and he still knows how to put on that costume and pretend. He knows how to take something that’s rotten at the core and dress it up to make it look wholesome and good.
(Sidenote: Who convinced Lucifer to become Satan? No one. No one convinced God’s anointed covering cherub to become the most wicked being in the universe. He did that all on his own. He was led away by his own desires—and now he actively works to lead us away with our own desires as well.)
When an angel of God descends to lock Satan in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Revelation 20:13), the world will be rid of a lot of things. It will be rid of an ancient, evil enemy—”that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). It will be rid of masterfully crafted deceptions, illusions, and smokescreens. It will be rid of a malicious antagonist eager to derail the plan of God.
But it won’t be rid of sin. Not right away. Even with sin’s greatest salesman locked up for a thousand years, the human heart will still find the road to wickedness. In the book of Zechariah, God prophesies that during Christ’s Millennial reign, some nations will stubbornly refuse to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:9). Even without Satan to influence them, these nations will openly defy the God of the universe while following after their own desires.
So why does the binding of Satan matter? Why does it factor so heavily in the plan of God?
Satan might not be the source of sin, but he is its greatest champion. He devotes his energies to promoting rebellion, warping perspectives, muddying the waters, vilifying God and attacking His people. Before the world can ever handle a conversation with God about what’s right, the poster child for everything that’s wrong has got to go.
Our 24-hour fast during Atonement helps us to remember that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)—and the day itself pictures a time when the rest of the world will come to understand that, too. And I guess that’s the real beauty of this day. It might not picture the day when all is made right with the world, but it certainly pictures the day we start heading in that direction.
Wishing you all a deep and meaningful Day of Atonement.
Until next time,
P.S. Looking for more? Here’s my post from last year: “The Day We Win.”