The earliest source with a clue to Satan’s fall is not so much Isaiah or Ezekiel. What I’ve presented above are interpretations of those two passages that only go back as early as Tertullian, around AD 200 or so. However, the interpretations of the satanic Isaiah and Ezekiel passages only go back that far despite the actual writings themselves occurring much earlier by some 700–900 years. Actual, explicit references to Satan’s fall derive from apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings.
Written in the first century BC, the Wisdom of Solomon is an apocryphal work the early church found rather useful as a foundation for Christian theology. In this work, we read that God created man in His own image—an image defined in this work as one of immortality and eternity. However, death came into the world because the devil envied man, and the angels aligned with the devil tempt humanity as a consequence (Wisd. Sol. 2.23–24). Why precisely did Satan envy man? The answer to this question was given in the writing, The Life of Adam and Eve.
Written in the first century AD, Life of Adam and Eve details the first humans’ life after being cast from Eden until their deaths. In this work, Satan spoke to Adam and told him that when God created humanity in His image and likeness, Michael the archangel beckoned him and all other angels to worship humanity since they bore the very image and likeness of God. It wasn’t that man was to be worshiped, but the image of God in man was if that makes sense. Satan resisted worshipping Adam. He didn’t want to worship him because Adam was inferior and younger than Satan in the creation order and ranking. If anything, Satan believed Adam should worship him since he had existed before man was created. As other angels heard Satan’s reasoning, they joined him and refused to worship the image and likeness of God represented in humanity. It’s at this point that Satan said that he’d set his seat above the stars of heaven and would be like God—verbiage reminiscent of Isaiah’s passage. At this point, God banished Satan and his followers, other rebellious angels, from heaven and they were cast to earth. So we read of this contention,
And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Revelation 12:7–9)
This may very well line up with what Christ had told His seventy disciples after they returned from their mission, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). The story goes on, and Satan says that because of being cast from God’s presence, he decided to entrap Eve. He had caused Adam and Eve to be expelled from the Garden just as he had been driven from his glory in heaven (Adam and Eve 13–16). The early church taught this as the origin and fall of Satan as well (1).
While pride is often cited as the devil’s sin, we must conclude that the source of his pride was that he believed himself to have been better than humanity. His sense of pride led him to rebel and attempt to usurp the highness of God for himself. This made sense when John wrote that the devil has sinned from the beginning (1 John 3:8). We might assume that John’s “beginning” was meant to be understood as our creation and not so much the Devils. Since our beginning, he sinned, and pride is the trap into which he fell and that we ought also to be careful to avoid. Paul wrote to Timothy that a bishop ought not to be a novice lest with pride he falls into the same condemnation as the devil (1 Timothy 3:6). Therefore, pride over our having been created in the image and likeness of God and the esteem it brought to the hosts of heaven led the devil to be who we know him to be. Since he no longer enjoyed the glory of his angelic status, he turned next to his mission of pursuing humanity to destroy us as well.
Now downcast from heaven, Satan appears as a serpent to Eve. We mustn’t think of this serpent as a snake as we know it. This particular serpent, as a consequence of beguiling Eve, was cursed to go on its belly and eat the dust (Genesis 3:14) which leads us to believe that beforehand the serpent was capable of being upright, maybe even possessing legs. In the Ancient Near East, serpents were often representative of royalty or divinity, sometimes the two being inseparable. They also were viewed then as creatures of wisdom (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3).
What’s also possible is that the sort of serpent that Satan appeared as may have been an angelic creature (2). Linguistically, the Hebrew term translated in Genesis 3:1 as “serpent” and in Isaiah 6:1 as Seraphim—angelic creatures in God’s heavenly court—are synonymous (cf. Numbers 21:6–9; Isaiah 14:29; 30:6)(3). We read the Christian belief that Satan would transform himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and this may very well be what he did to deceive humanity(4). Whatever he did, and however he appeared, this serpent is identified by early Christian teaching as Satan, the devil (Revelation 12:9). However, he didn’t work alone. No, he had help, the help of his own angels.
- Irenaeus, On Apostolic Preaching 16; Cyprian of Carthage, Treatises 10.
- Miller, Lifted By Angels, 30–31.
- Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004), 789.
- Cf. Augustine, City of God 2.26; 19.9.