Satan in the New Testament (3): The Devil and his angels

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  (Matthew 25:41 ESV )

This verse could mean:

(a) “… the eternal fire which has been prepared to receive the devil and his angels”; or

(b) “… the eternal fire which has been prepared for use by the devil and his angels”

H.A Kelly  comments on this verse: “This means either that Devil and his angels are destined to be punished for their own bad deeds, or that they are to be the punishers of the bad deeds of human”. He says the idea of Satan being in charge of eschatological punishment is deducible from a passage in Enoch 53:2-5 where the angels of plague are preparing the chains of Satan “for the Kings and Potentates of this earth in order that they may be destroyed thereby”.

There is a similar statement by Jesus elsewhere in the same Gospel that angels are involved in the work of judgment [2]. In the parable of the ‘tares’ (Matt 13:39-49) the angels have a role not described elsewhere: “The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. … The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers … So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous .” We should note of course that in this story they are “his angels” i.e. the Son of Man’s. A striking similarity is the fact that in this parable the angels cast the tares into “a furnace of fire”.

The expression “the devil and his angels” implies that these angels are in submission to the devil. It is clear from other Scriptures that the devil is in submission to God, and needs God’s permission in order to test the faithful. If the devil exercises the function of God’s Tester, a kind of heavenly Prosecutor, then the angels in submission to him could be described as both “his angels” and as the Son of Man’s angels. Could Matthew 25:41 then mean that the devil and the angels under his control are given the job of disposing of those rejected at the Judgment?

 

[1] Kelly, H.A., Satan: A Biography (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006), 92

[2] Matthew records several of Jesus’ sayings about the Son of man coming with the angels (16:27; 24:31; 25:31).

8 comments on “Satan in the New Testament (3): The Devil and his angels

  1. Matthew 25:41 seems to imply that the fire is some sort of PUNISHMENT for the “devil and his angels”.

    Could it be that it is the “goats” who are the “devil’s angels” who are consigned with him to the fire? Angels might mean “messengers”, whose words and actions proclaim the devil’s “message” of disobedience to God?

    Allon

  2. Stephen Cook says:

    Allon, thanks for the comment. Matthew 25:41 certainly refers to punishment of the ‘goats’, but the verse could mean, as Kelly suggested, ‘“Depart from me [you goats] into the eternal fire which has been prepared for use by the devil and his angels”. In other words, the goats are punished, but the devil and his angels are the punishers.

    I wouldn’t be dogmatic about this of course. I’m just exploring some possibilities.

  3. Sort of reminds one of the scenes in the Demi Moore movie “Ghost” and the angels’ (?) custodial role of hauling the evildoers down, down, down, into the Abyss upon their death. And, of course, there is the debate of the identity of the one who is able to destroy both PSUCHE and SOMA in Gehenna (Matthew 10: 28). Is it The Adversary or is it Almighty God to whom Jesus is referring.

  4. This is really interesting! Steve, do you think Revelation 20:10 might shed some light on this? The devil himself is thrown into the lake of fire and tormented. Also, in other places in the New Testament, the demons cry out to Jesus, “Are you here to torment us before the appointed time?”. which shows the demons’ fear. Or is it possible both that the Devil and his angels are themselves tormentors, at the same time as their being tormented? Maybe God finally gives Satan a pseudo-Kingdom–but it is a kingdom of darkness, and of death, and of absolute separation from God and therefore maximal torment for both fallen angels and man.

    • Stephen Cook says:

      Yes Brendan, I think Revelation 20:10 is relevant. Have you also noticed that in v.14 “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire”? While the popular notion is that hades is a place of fiery torment v.14 suggests that the “lake of fire” is seperate and distinct from “hades”. The idea that “death” (note, not “the dead”) and hades can be thrown into this lake of fire also suggests that the lake of fire is not a literal place, but probably a symbol for something else (annihilation perhaps). So it would be a symbol of death and hades coming to a complete end. If the lake of fire is a symbol of annihilation, which seems to be demanded by the sense of v.14, then v.10 would suggest that the devil, beast and false prophet also come to a complete end there.
      Having said that, your connection to Matthew 8:29 // Mark 5:7 // Luke 8:28 is a good one.

  5. Hi Stephen, I must assume I had always assumed meaning (a) and meaning (b) had never crossed my mind. While meaning (b) is intriguing, I don’t see a convincing argument for it in the immediate or wider context.

    While the NT has numerous references to the involvement of angels in eschatological judgment and punishment, the angels are usually specified as “his angels” with reference to the Son of Man (Matt. 13:41; 16:27; 24:31), God (Luke 12:8-9) or as “holy angels” (Mark 8:38/Luke 9:26; Rev. 14:10).

    By contrast, the devil’s angels are elsewhere described only as being in opposition to God and his angels (Rev. 12:7-9).

    I don’t disagree that God uses the devil and his minions to accomplish his will (2 Cor. 12:7-9 is a good example of this). But my understanding is that in the eschaton, the devil will have passed his sell-by date and will no longer be useful to God for any purpose except firewood.

  6. […] Satan is never associated with Sheol in the Hebrew Bible. In popular theology hell is ruled by Satan. Somewhat surprisingly the Hebrew Bible nevers links Sheol with Satan, and, perhaps even more surprising is the fact that the only time the New Testament mentions hell (hades) and the devil together is when it describes both the devil and hell being destroyed together in a lake of fire: “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever … Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:10, 14). According to this text the devil does not rule hell: he meets his end, together with hell, in a lake of fire. And hell isn’t a lake of fire: on the contrary, hell is destroyed in a lake of fire. Puzzling imagery indeed, and one which deserves more attention. (There is a similar reference in Matthew 25:41 to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” but see my short post here.) […]

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