What Bible Passages Actually Describe Satan’s Origin and Fall?

Satan Fall From Heaven

You’re right that the biblical material on Satan’s origin and fall is fairly scant.  The only explicit reference to Satan’s Fall is found in Jesus teaching and in Revelation. Here they are:

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” NIV

Luke 10:18

And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down — that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. NIV

Rev 12:7-9

Jesus obviously doesn’t give us a whole lot of information, but the basic idea is still important: if Satan “fell” that means his origin was once “on high”.  John agrees, the Dragon’s starting place was heaven.  Some debate whether this war takes place before human history, or during the end times drama that John is describing, or around the time of Jesus birth.  It does follow a reference to Christ’s birth (Rev 12:1-6), nevertheless, we know that Satan was ALREADY cast down to earth as the Creation Narrative (Gen 3) showed.  

The serpent figure was long associated with Satan therefore his fall must predate not only the arrival of Christ, but also the creation of man.  Thus we can infer a lot from just these two passages: that Satan must have been one of God’s creations, one of his angels and his rebellion happened in prehistory and he was not alone in his rebellion, taking many angels with him.  This agrees with what’s revealed in Jesus ministry who refers to “the Devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41) and with Job where the Accuser comes to the heavenly court with the “Sons of God” and thus must have also himself been an angel.

The Old Testament has other controversial passages that came to be associated with the origin and fall of Satan even though their overt reference was to specific human kings. For example, Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 which I’ll comment on later.  They refer to the King of Babylon and Tyre respectively, but came to be seen as descriptors of Satan’s origin and fall.

Why did the Jewish mind make this inference?  The Jewish mind was trained on Scripture and the most fundamental idea about God in the Bible is that God is Good and God is Self Existent. God is not contingent on anyone or anything else for his being. This is summarized in His covenant name, “Yahweh” – literally “I AM”. The Jews began to draw inferences from this one bit of revelation. For instance… If the self existent God is good, then goodness must be primary; badness must be secondary.

They parted from Pantheistic thought that tended to see good and bad in balance. Jews said they were at war!  Pantheists said they were both eternal.  The Jews said one is eternal, the other doomed to fade away.  And they said that God is the hero in the war who we should be cheering for – “the LORD is a warrior!” and “the God of gods”.  Badness they realized, has no intrinsic value. Everything a bad man does, he does for some good end, to increase his power or pleasure or wealth (which were inherently good things). Badness therefore was a parasite. Goodness was the real thing.

So the spiritual powers in the world that drove evil (and all Bible writers agreed that there were spiritual powers in the world) must have been, at one point, good since everything came from a good God. Badness was, therefore, only “corrupted goodness”, there is nothing that is bad for it’s own sake. In this way, without explicit revelation, the Jews (and the later Christians) accepted the idea that all evil powers started good and the greatest evil power started as the greatest thing God ever made.

This ‘spiritual intuition’ of the Jews agrees with and is built on what is explicitly known about Satan elsewhere, that he was a creation of God, that he was an angel originally good, that he rebelled against God in prehistory (as mentioned).  But it also explains perhaps why the Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 passages came to be associated with Satan even though they are not explicitly about him.  Here they are:

How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
13 You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.  
14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
15 But you are brought down to the grave,
to the depths of the pit. NIV

Isa 14:12-15

Though this is about the King of Babylon, the reference to a “star” brings to mind Job 38:7 which calls angels “morning stars” celebrating God’s work at creation.  The Hebrew word for morning star is a reference to Venus so early Christian translations of Isaiah substituted the Latin term for that star, Lucifer.  This is where Satan got that name.  But originally all Isaiah meant was “morning star” – he was not giving us Satan’s name.

A lot of criticism is cast on Christians who use this passage to flesh out our understanding of Satan’s origin and fall.  It is not explicitly about that, they say.  True enough.  However, given what WAS explicitly known about Satan from Genesis, and Job, the Jews already in the inter-testamental period began to associate this passage with Satan.  Those early interpreters (and later the church fathers) had much less of a problem than post Reformation scholars in seeing “layers” to Scripture.

Without denying that this passage was first about Babylon’s king, it’s eternal scope and cosmic language (“fallen from heaven”, “enthroned on the sacred mountain”, “make myself like the Most high”) brought to mind spiritual forces beyond an earthly king.  “Mountain”, “Brightness”, “Stars”, “sons of God” are all standard O.T. language for the unseen realm, and spiritual forces, used ubiquitously (Job 38, Psalm 82, Gen 6).  And no doubt as God’s people began to see more and more clearly the workings of spiritual forces of evil, the idea that a human king was merely a mimic or reflection of a true spiritual master, was entirely plausible.

The same inference was made by Jews and later by Christians for

‘You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. 14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. NIV

Ezek 28:12-17

Again this is FIRST about a human king of Tyre, no question.  But after a long taunt against him, Ezekiel’s language in verse 17 suddenly swings toward an eternal, cosmic scope and brings an observant reader to think about the heavenly realm.

The language as it refers to the King of Tyre therefore must be clear hyperbole, yet could it be literal if referring to the a spiritual King of Darkness?  Note the terms used: “model of perfection”, “you were in Eden”, “you were… a guardian cherub (a name for an angel)”, “you were blameless”, “mount of God”.  It’s not impossible to see this as flowery descriptions of the King of Tyre’s wealth and power and reputation… but the references strongly suggest another layer, as other prophetic literature has multiple layers of meaning.  Was this king really “perfect or blameless”?  No.  In what way was he a cherub?  It’s a stretch.  But, as it reflects a spiritual puppet master BEHIND such a proud and shiny king, it’s no stretch at all.

So I don’t dismiss the Isaiah or Ezekiel passages as clues to Satan’s origin and fall as easily as some scholars do.  Some, so fearful of reading into scripture something the author never intended, may diminish the richness of God’s Word as a source of revelation with layers of meaning.  I grant that if we go outside the author’s stated intent we are in speculative territory and we must be reserved. However, the application of these passage for clues to Satan’s origin and fall have long precedent in Jewish thought before Christ and in the church, and they are perfectly consistent with what we ALREADY know from other explicit scriptural teaching.

In fact, do we really rely on these passages as sources of Satan information that we can’t get anywhere else in the Bible?  I think the answer is no.  So why use them as such?   Because their language is prophetic and profound, and because here more than anywhere else do we get the sense of what Satan as “angel” really means:  that he was PERFECT; that he was GOOD.  Even this creature could turn against God.  They also underline that he and God are not coequal combatants in a dualistic struggle.  No, Satan’s counterpart is Michael, not God – who has no counterpart.  And God will have the last say, good will eventually win.

Finally, these passages prophetically and eloquently flesh out knowledge given to us in 1 Tim 3:6 – that whenever it happened, pride was Satan’s downfall and could be ours as well.