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The Real Devil A Biblical Exploration  


5-28 Resist The Devil

James 4: 7: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you”.

1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”.

Popular Interpretation

These verses are taken to mean that the Devil is a monster, like a lion, actively choosing people to devour, against whom the Christian has to be on guard.


1. The Devil is like a roaring lion. Those who believe the Devil is a monster insist on reading verses like this literally. In this case they have a problem. seeing that the Devil is described as being like a snake and a dragon in Revelation 12: 9; a lion in 1 Peter 5:8; and a man in John 6: 70. If all of these are taken literally, it is unclear as to who or what the Devil really is.

2. Sin comes from within us (Jer. 17: 9; James 1:14-15). There is nothing outside of us that can enter us and cause us to sin (Mk. 7: 21-23). In the face of these clear statements, the passage under consideration cannot prove that there is a person who enters us and makes us sin, seeing that the Bible does not contradict itself.

3. If the Devil can literally walk about, roaring like a lion, why has no one seen or heard him?

4. How can human vigilance and resistance lead to the Devil fleeing from us, seeing he is supposed to have super-human powers? Either we are to take the Devil as a literal lion-like beast, or we must interpret this passage figuratively. The language of standing firm, in faith, is inappropriate for a battle against a literal lion. James 4 says that the Devil will flee from us if we stand firm. A literal lion will not flee just because the man s/he is hunting stands still. Once we understand the Devil here as some reference to spiritual evil, then the language of faith and holding in where we are takes on so much more meaning.

5. The Devil is said to “devour” people here; 2 Timothy 2:26 (A.V. margin) says that he captures them alive, and leads them after him (so the Greek of 1 Tim. 5:15 implies). Thus the devouring cannot be a literal death. When a roaring lion devours a man, it literally kills and consumes him. Seeing that the devouring is not literal, neither is the lion. ‘Devouring’ is part of the same figure as ‘going about’. The ‘movement’ of the Devil is therefore also figurative.

6. Lion-like characteristics have been applied to people (e.g. Ps. 22:12 & 13, concerning the Jews who crucified Christ; Ps. 57: 4; Prov. 28:15). Paul, in describing the success of his first appeal against the accusations he was being tried for, says he was, “delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim. 4:17), i.e. from the Roman court, whom he is likening to a lion. The Devil, like a lion seeking whom he may devour, may therefore refer to the Romans and Jews between them, seeking opportunity to condemn the Christians in court, hence Paul’s warnings regarding the Christian way of life in order not to give this Devil the chance of bringing them to court (2 Cor. 2:11; 1 Tim. 5:14-15; 3: 6-7; 2 Tim. 2:26; 2 Cor. 11:12).

There may be a parallel between 2 Timothy 4:17 regarding Paul being “delivered out of the mouth of the lion” and 2 Timothy 3: 11-13, where, concerning the persecutions the Jews brought upon him, Paul could say “out of them all the Lord delivered me...(from) evil men and seducers” (the Jewish false teachers - see “Suggested Explanations” No. 2 of 1 Tim. 5: 14-15).

Thus again it is possible to interpret the Devil, and in this case also the lion, on two levels:

- our evil desires and

- those evil desires manifested in the Roman and Jewish systems.

Suggested Explanations

James 4: 7

1. The preceding verses define the Devil in terms of our evil desires - “the spirit that dwelleth in us (naturally) lusteth to envy...God resisteth the proud” (vs. 5-6).

2. If we are proud, we are giving way to our evil desires (Gal. 5: 19; Mk. 7: 21-23); we are of the Devil. We are of impure hearts (James 4: 8). As we are not resisting the Devil, it will come nearer to us in that those evil desires will become stronger. But if we submit to God “draw nigh to God” - “He will draw nigh to you” (v. 8); if we are humble (v. 6) and single-minded in our commitment to resisting the Devil (v. 8), i.e. by having only the Word in our minds, then the Devil will flee from us. From personal experience we must all be aware that if we consciously resist our evil desires (the Devil), then they will decrease - they will flee away.

3. Ephesians 4: 27 says the same - “neither give place to the Devil” (see notes on that verse).

4. “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners” (James 4:7-8). This conjures up the picture of a man moving towards God, and God moving towards him. The closer he gets to God the further the Devil flees in the opposite direction.

Thus the more spiritual effort we make to move towards God, the wider the gap will be between us and the Devil. Note, too, how James implies that this coming to God is through repentance - “cleanse your hands”. This recalls Luke 15:20, where the father of the repentant prodigal son (i.e. God) comes out to meet him - He draws nigh to him as he draws nigh to Him. The cleansing of hands and purifying of hearts spoken of in v. 8 by which the Devil is overcome is by “the washing of water by the Word” (Eph. 5: 26) and by sanctifying by the Word (Jn. 17:17). Thus the Word overcomes the Devil, i.e. our evil minds, as we have seen so often; the Word affects our minds.

5. Resisting the Devil would result in it fleeing. Thus there is a parallelism between resisting and fleeing - the Christians were to flee from the Devil to escape it and resist it. Christ told the Christians to flee from the Jewish Devil both in its active persecution of them and subtly trying to mislead them doctrinally, Matthew 10:23 (example Acts 13:50-51; also Jn.10: 5). He warned them to flee from the Roman Devil in Matthew 24:16.

6. The Christians resisted the Jewish Devil in Acts 6:10 - “they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which (Stephen) spake”. Luke 21: 12 & 15 shows that they would resist both Jewish and Roman Devils: “They shall lay their hands on you...delivering you up to the synagogues (the Jewish Devil) and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers (the Roman Devil)...I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries (both Jewish and Roman) shall not be able to gainsay nor resist”.

We have suggested that Ephesians 6:11-13 is relevant to both the Jewish and Roman systems creating an “evil day” of persecution for the church. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand (same word translated “resist”) in the evil day” (Eph. 6:13), i.e. the church would be able to resist, or wrestle, against the Jewish and Roman systems successfully (in ultimate terms, at least).

1 Peter 5: 8

1. The greatest adversary we have is that of our own evil desires.

2. 1 Peter 5: 5-10 has many points of contact with James 4: 7-9; the following are some of the similarities between these two letters:

James 4: 6-11

1 Peter 5: 5-9

“Submit yourselves therefore...”

“Submit yourselves...”

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you.”

“Speak not evil one of another.”

“ subject one to another...”

“God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.”

“...God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

“Resist the Devil.”

“...the Devil...whom resist...”

Thus the Devil as defined in James 4: 7 is the same as that referred to in 1 Peter 5: 8, i.e. our evil desires and also the Roman and Jewish systems.

3. In the context of 1 Peter 5, Peter has been warning the Christians to be of a “ready mind” (v. 2), to have a humble mind (v. 5), to have an attitude of mind not too taken up with the cares of the present life (v. 7). This is to be equated with his warning in v. 8 about the Devil, i.e. against a proud and wrong attitude of mind. Thus again we see that the Devil can refer to the evil heart within man. Therefore v. 9 comforts them that all believers throughout the (Roman) world were experiencing the same problems - all believers everywhere are afflicted by the Devil of our evil desires, and this can be a comforting thought when we feel that we are being especially tempted.

4. The resisting of the Devil was by being steadfast in the faith, i.e. the “one faith” comprised of the doctrines taught by God’s Word (Eph. 4: 4-6). Thus the Word could overcome this Devil. The Word also overcoming evil desires of the mind, we can conclude that the Devil here can refer to them. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 Jn. 5: 4), thus equating the “world” with the “Devil”. “The world” is defined in 1 John 2:16 as the lusts of our flesh and eyes.

5. That the Devil whom the Christians had to resist was also the Roman and Jewish systems has been shown in our exposition of James 4: 7. Note how the lion represents wicked rulers in Prov. 19:12; 20:2; 28:15; Zeph. 3:3; Ez. 22:25. Paul refers to his persecution at the hands of the Romans as being as it were facing the mouth of a lion (2 Tim. 4:17).

6. 1 Peter 5: 9 “The same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world”. “The world” often refers to the Roman world - throughout the empire of the Roman Devil, the Christians were being persecuted (especially under the Emperors Nero and Diocletian). We have earlier commented on the connection between the Devil and the Roman authorities, and the “seeking” of opportunity to disgrace the Christians by both Jewish and Roman systems (remember how the Jews sought to trap Jesus in His words, Lk. 11:54, and the Judaizers sought “a proof of Christ” speaking in Paul, 2 Cor. 13: 3).

7. Members of the Jewish Satan are described as walking about, as the Devil is said to do in 1 Peter 5: 8 (e.g. Jn. 12:35 and context; Rom. 14:15; 2 Cor. 4:2).

8. There must be some allusion in this passage to Ezekiel 22:25: “There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof”. This refers to a group of apostate Jews in Jerusalem bent on spiritually ruining the nation, although giving an appearance of righteousness. They would exactly mirror the Jewish Judaizer Devil of the first century as roaring lion. Notice that they wanted to take her “precious things’. Is it just coincidence that “precious” occurs seven times in Peter’s letters to describe the precious things of the Christian faith - which the Judaizer Devil was trying to destroy? It occurs only ten other times in the whole of the New Testament.

9. The word “adversary” in the passage can mean an “adversary at law”, and would therefore be in a context of the oppression of the Christian in the courts by the Roman legal system, or Devil. The whole theme of Peter is to warn Christians of the coming period of persecution at the hands of the Roman/ Jewish Devil (1 Pet. 5: 9; 4:12, 16-19).

10. The Greek word translated “adversary” here is not the same one rendered ‘Satan’. It occurs in Luke 12: 58: “When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate (in time of persecution,v.53), as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison”. This parallels Matthew 5:25: “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison”. The adversary here is “thy brother” (Mt. 5: 24). Connecting these verses together, it appears from Matthew 5: 25 and Luke 12:58 that the adversary who would persecute the believers would be from among their own brethren. But the adversary is defined in 1 Peter 5: 8 as being like a lion, an ‘adversary at law’. This would suggest that the external persecution from the Roman and Jewish authorities was associated with the brethren within the ecclesia acting in collusion with them, which exactly fits into place if we understand the ‘Devil’ of 1 Peter 5: 8, that was seeking whom he could devour, as the Judaist members of the ecclesia searching for every opportunity to bring the believers within the clutches of the Roman or Jewish authorities.