Last week I mentioned I was reading Jacques Ellul. In his book The Subversion of Christianity I wanted to point you to an interesting take Ellul has on Jesus's comment in the gospels about seeing Satan fall from heaven like lightning:
Luke 10.17-18What might his passage mean? Ellul focuses on the literal interpretation of the Hebrew word הַשָּׂטָן (ha-satan)--accuser. So what might it mean that our accuser has "fallen from heaven"? Ellul's analysis:
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."
"I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning," Jesus tells us. This is basic. Let us recall again that Satan is not a person. (There is no real need to use a capital; the term is a common one.) He is not Satan but the accuser, or even the accusation. We have to say that wherever in any form or for any motive an accusation is made (including true and justified accusations), there is satan. Satan is then at work, is present, and becomes a person. The process (as for the devil) is clear-cut. The accusation crystallizes in some way, and it results in the development of a personalized accusing presence. We are familiar with the process in the development of accusations, for example, collective accusations. Jesus tells us that satan is no longer in heaven. What he means is clear. There is no longer any personified accusation before God (as in Job) now that Jesus the Son of God has come to pardon us. To use the patristic image, an advocate, not an accuser, now stands at the side of God.Most are familiar with the biblical allusions Ellul is making to Job and Jesus. You'll recall that Job's problems start with accusations made by Satan in the Heavenly Court:
Job 1.6-12So Job is afflicted because, as Ellul notes, the accuser stands before God in heaven. Consequently, throughout the book of Job Job cries out against this. Rather than an accuser standing before God in heaven Job wants a witness, intercessor, friend, advocate and redeemer, someone to compassionately plead his cause before Yahweh:
One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
Job 16.18-21; 19.23-27Curiously, we never see Job's prayer answered. The redeemer/friend/witness/advocate never makes an appearance in the book. But in the New Testament we do find an answer to Job's prayer. As Ellul notes, Satan is no longer accusing us in heaven. Instead of Satan we find Jesus at the right hand of God as our advocate, friend, and redeemer. Job's prayer is finally answered.
“Earth, do not cover my blood;
may my cry never be laid to rest!
Even now my witness is in heaven;
my advocate is on high.
My intercessor is my friend
as my eyes pour out tears to God;
on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend."
“Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!"
Hebrews 4.14-16So accusation has been cast out of heaven--"I saw Satan fall like lightning"--and in its place is the redeemer Job had longed for, an advocate at God's hand who can "empathize with our weaknesses."
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
But Ellul goes on. Given that accusation/satan has been cast down from heaven we confront the fact that accusation (the satanic) is now on earth. Accusation has become human sport. Ellul on this point:
God does not hear, does not want to hear, will not listen to the accusations that assail him from every side. But if accusations are no longer in heaven, if they no longer emanate from heaven, if God is not himself as accuser in any matter, then not only is accusation still on earth but it is also flourishing there. It is developing to the same degree as it is banished from heaven. That which no longer explodes as hatred and accusation in heaven is condensed on earth...Thus satan, accusation, proliferates in our world.In this sense, we are satan. We are the accusers. We act like Job's satan, judging and accusing each other before God. We speak the words of the Pharisee in Jesus's parable, "I thank you Lord that I'm not like these other people."
Or the words of the crowd seeking to stone the woman caught in the act of adultery: "The Law says to stone her."
Or the words of the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son: "This son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, and you kill the fattened calf for him!"
Or the words of the religious leaders to the disciples: "Your teacher eats with tax-collectors and sinners."
Satan on earth.
And guess who is really good at this accusation, and often the very source of it? The church. Ellul goes on:
The church becomes the origin, the perfecting, and finally the model of all accusations and all systems of inquisition. It has brought the mechanisms of accusation out of the individual and private domain and into the collective and institutional domain. I do no want to overemphasize the Inquisition but it is still true that this was a prodigious perversion of revelation. A totality based on pardon became a totality based on inquisition...[S]atan came to lodge in the church's heart, the church itself became the great mistress of accusation and transformed itself into an invading cancer, crushing without end.And because the church became preoccupied with accusation rather than pardon the rest of the world followed her example:
Alas, this development of accusation characterizes Christendom and then moves into secular movements. If our actual world is a world of insatiable accusation--political, social, intellectual, and moral--it is because of this mistaken switch on the church's part, under satan's influence. Satan made the church his special prey so that by means of it as his intermediary he might make the world truly mad.